Obituary: Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq Mandefro

Ethiopians and Orthodox Christians around the world are mourning the death of Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq Mandefro. He spent decades launching congregations throughout the United States and the Caribbean and is credited with leading thousands of Rastafarians -- including reggae great Bob Marley -- toward Orthodox Christianity.

From the Washington Post:

As a young cleric, Yesehaq was a protege of Emperor Haile Selassie, titular head of the Ethiopian church. Yesehaq was sent to the United States in the 1960s and eventually became administrator of the church in the hemisphere, launching about 70 congregations, his followers say.

Yesehaq's work in the Caribbean began after Selassie visited Jamaica in 1966 and was thronged by local Rastafarians, who saw Selassie as a modern-day messiah. According to church leaders, Selassie denied being a deity and urged Yesehaq to try to draw the Rastafarians to the Ethiopian church. Yesehaq served many Jamaicans and others of Caribbean descent, in the islands and in immigrant enclaves in the United States. Among them was Marley, at whose funeral Yesehaq officiated in 1981.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of Christianity's oldest branches, was linked to the Coptic Church in Egypt until the 1050s, when it began conducting worship in the ancient Ethiopian language of Geez.

In the 1990s, Yesehaq declared the Western branch of Ethiopian Orthodoxy independent of the hierarchy in Addis Ababa, rejecting the authority of the new patriarch, Abuna Paulos. The rift endures today, although there are no liturgical differences between the two branches.


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