The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I
About Our planning and initiating gradual improvements and reforms in the work of the clergy
Since time immemorial the Kings of Ethiopia, just as they were responsible for the entire business of government, were also in charge of the affairs of the church; they would select persons from among the savants and the learned and make appointments to, as well as dismissals from, office at the various churches and monasteries and, in general, have the authority to control all their functions. But with the gradual increase in government business and the occasional waging of wars against the pagans in neighbouring countries, they simply did not have the time to control in full the affairs of the church; consequently, there were many things detrimental to the ordinances of the church which had in error penetrated into the community of the clergy and had by custom persisted.
But now that We had established a constitution and had introduced a legal framework into each ministry and had also arranged for ministers to carry out their respective functions with full responsibility, We brought about a progressive and step by step improvement in the work of the clergy as We were meeting church leaders and priors in the time left over from affairs of state.
These improvements were as follows:
(1) Since the people of Ethiopia, great and small, men and women, were firm in their Christianity, they went to Church and heard mass each week on Sunday and on each of the great festivals. Whoever was able to would receive the eucharist. But as holy mass was in the Ge’ez language which not all the people could understand, many would return home without comprehending the words explaining the mysteries—just listening to the sound of the chants. But now We arranged for holy mass to be translated into Amharic and to be printed, and once it had been distributed in every church, the people began to understand when the text was read out in their own language, even if not all of it, then at least the main part. It was likewise arranged for the gospels, acts of the apostles, and epistles to be read to them in Amharic.
(2) With a view to bringing about a cessation of the quarrels which flare up from time to time, as regards their livelihood, between deans, priests, and church custodians, or abbots, monks, and adjuvants who live in the various large churches and monasteries, We assembled the savants and the learned and made them bring along the ancient customs and rules of life of each of the churches and monasteries; by getting them to set up new and improved regulations great benefit was attained. Improved and newly established regulations are to be found at Zequala, Dabra Libanos, Jerusalem, and all other monasteries.
(3) The fact that there is to be found in each church a copy of the mashafa taklil constitutes proof of the existence in Ethiopia in earlier times of a crowning ceremony at the marriage service. However, the ceremonial of the church was progressively diminished and, therefore, marriage by crowning was not very wide-spread, not even among the clergy, let alone among the people; but it is not known whether this happened at the time of the uprising of Ahmad Gran or during the extermination of Christians when Yodit of the Falasha tribe reigned. Nonetheless, there were many among the clergy and the people who were strengthening their marriage by receiving eucharist together with their spouses.
But now We have urged the savants and the learned to preach exalting marriage by crowning and, as a result, it has again become customary.
(4) In earlier times, when a person died, his family, in arranging the tazkar (memorial service), would prepare talla (beer), tadj (honey-mead), and other intoxicating matter and would invite the priests to the house of the deceased; they would offer them food and drink beyond measure and would make them exceed what has been ordained. But now, since We have become convinced that conduct of this kind does not conform to the new era of civilization and is also forbidden by the Holy Scriptures, We have arranged that the tazkar should cease consisting of intoxicating drink and excessive amounts of food and that, instead, the relatives of the deceased should have the absolution prayers performed and give, according to their means, some money to the priests for the performance of absolution. It should not, however, be forbidden to offer food and drink to the poor, provided this is done in moderation. We also urged the bishops and priors to preach in this sense.
Intending to be a model and example to the people, when Our daughter, Princess Zanaba Warq, died, We distributed gifts of money, for the absolution rites, among various churches and monasteries. Many people then began to do likewise.
(5) Since early times it was the custom in some provinces for some of the relatives of a deceased person to manifest mourning by cutting their hair, beating their breasts and by general wailing. But now We have given instructions to the savants to go round the various churches and to preach that the family of the deceased should—apart from wearing a black patch on the edge of the dress as a sign of mourning—cease the cutting of hair, the beating of breasts, and wearing special mourning clothes. Hence, as the savants preached with diligence, the hopeless mourning for a dead person has gradually eased.
(6) As We were convinced that We had the responsibility to protect the church and to see that the laws given to her were firmly kept lest her faith be shaken, We granted one day each week on which the savants and doctors might approach Us and draw attention, personally, to all the difficulties of the church; consequently, the problems of the church gradually eased.
Apart from this, while regulations have been drafted, the following matters have for the time being remained in abeyance:
In Ethiopia the number of priests is very large. To all of these the government had allocated as rest—land, individually in each province, from one half to one gasha of land (i.e. approx. 40 to 80 acres). This land, having been assigned as hereditary, passes on to children’s children and, therefore, the church is unable to make provisions with regard to it. Furthermore, beginning with the Emperor, princes, noblemen, and all others like them, not even ladies excluded, could assume the duties of church wardens, and in that case the Emperor used to allocate to them hereditary land of between 200 and 700 gashas. It was Our intention, however, to bring about a situation where hereditary land should cease to belong to individuals by virtue of this church-wardenship but should become that of the church; that the deans of churches should allocate, from the income of these properties, adequate amounts to the priests, deacons, choristers, and readers for their livelihood; as regards any surplus, the deans of churches should build—after proper consultations and with the government helping them over any deficit that might arise—schools and hospitals, homes for the aged and educational establishments for the children of the poor.
As it would take Us a long time to have these ideas of Ours carried out in the churches all over Ethiopia, We arranged to make a start, by demonstrating the usefulness of the scheme and its working method, in the monasteries of Zequala, Addis Alam, and Assabot as well as the churches of Addis Ababa and in the Menelik II Mausoleum church.
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January 14, 2017