The Sunday Mail

Defender of Faith

ON January 21 1965, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I received the title “Defender of Faith”.
The pious works of the Lion of Judah, Elect of God and Light of this World earned HIM the title.
In his personal life, His Imperial Majesty (HIM) was irreproachable in the conduct of his Christian practice.
Ethiopians generally knew that his last stop before leaving the country on a visit abroad, and his first stop upon his return was always to pray at a church, usually at the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
He attended church every Sunday, usually at the church of St. Mark when he lived at the Guenete Leul Palace.
He later donated that home to the University and moved to the Jubilee Palace, at the church of St. Stephen.
In every letter or public and private speech he ever gave, HIM humbled himself and acknowledged the greatness of his creator. When he heard any final legal appeal in his Supreme Court, he would do so standing in honour of Christ rather than sitting on his throne.
He always stood when listening to court cases presented before HIM, even in his 80s, no matter how long the hearing was. He also attended services at every church in Addis Ababa or any other town on its annual feast day no matter what day it was if he was in the city.
Facts that are not known include the fact that HIM took Holy Communion twice a month on the days dedicated to the saviour of the world (Medhane Alem) and our Lady Covenant of Mercy (Kidane Meheret).
He did this quietly without fanfare at the small Kidane Meheret church on the grounds of the old Menelik Imperial Palace.
During the many and long fasts of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, HIM not only stringently observed the fast, but refused to sleep on his bed. He would instead sleep on a sheet on the floor of his room in the Palace.
It was during HIM’s reign that His Holiness Baba Yacob II and the Saint/Pope H.H. Baba Kyrillos VI granted autonomy to Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church; the regaining of two Chapels in the Holy Sepulchre/Dier al-Sultan and the conference of the Oriental/Non-Chalcedonian Churches.
Every Ethiopian monarch from St. Lallibela onwards had pleaded with Alexandria to allow for native bishops to preside over the Ethiopia Church.
For centuries, a single Coptic bishop was responsible for ordaining all the priests and deacons and blessing every new church built in a large Empire populated by a people whose language he could not speak.
HIM was also able to canonically achieve self-government for the church and its own Patriarch in legitimate succession to the seat of St. Mark of Alexandria.
HIM built many important churches in Ethiopia, including the new Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion at Axum, Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, and St. Tekle Haimanot’s Church at the Debre Libanos Monastery, among many others. He also supported a multitude of others.
In accepting the pious title, “Defender of Faith” the Lion of Judah recited the following speech:
“Venerable and Holy Fathers, in listening to the profound spiritual message conveyed by your closing addresses, and appreciating the happy outcome of your sustained efforts, our heart has been touched by profound gladness.
“It should therefore be clear to the whole world from the result of your work that your Holiness have been guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit to accomplish your task in love and unity.
“The great common tasks accomplished by the conference in unison bestow on the true faith and true order of the Oriental Orthodox Church the admiration of the whole world.
“As Solomon says, physical distance cannot be a barrier to love. Likewise, the distances among your respective countries have been abolished by the proximity of your hearts. You have thus been able to speak a single mind. We thank Almighty God for enabling us to witness the realisation of our dream in the successful outcome of the historic conference.
“We are therefore happy to express to you our readiness, fortified by the results of this conference, to invite you and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and also other churches at a later date. We ardently hope that we shall meet once again in the not too distant future.
“We are gratified in particular to note that the work of this conference has been concerned purely with religious spiritual matters free from extraneous political considerations. This is only fitting and proper, for the church, as a symbol of peace.
“In this connection we are glad to note that your evangelistic mission in the world has received due emphasis in your deliberations, together with the recognition of the Christian duty to pray for the rights of man and the peace of the world.
“For world peace can only be made abiding by the grace of God through the prayers of the holy fathers.
“The truth of this cardinal fact is evident to all mankind.
“We ardently hope that Almighty God shall bless the implementation of our important resolutions and decisions, just as he has made possible the successful convening and conclusion of this historic conference.
“Holy Fathers, we have welcomed the title you have given us, ‘Defender of the Faith’, with great honour. May Almighty God grace your name. May God welcome your work. We have received this title given us by you Holy Fathers, with religious reverence. May your prayers help us in our effort to fulfil the task entrusted to us.”

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