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Illegal appointment of new Patriarch by Eritrean government

24 Apr 2007

In an indication of increasing government control of the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC), a renegade bishop has been declared its new Patriarch 16 months after the ordained pontiff was illegally removed from office.

According to a report on the Eritrean website [urlint=][/urlint] quoting Orthodox sources in Asmara, Bishop Dioscoros was selected as Patriarch in the presence of government officials and other "reluctant" bishops who "took no part in the decision".

The report indicates that Yoftahe Dimetros, a government-appointed lay-person who assumed the role of General Secretary of the Holy Synod in violation of the church's constitution, is reported to have overseen Dioscoros' appointment.

Dimetros was instrumental in engineering the unlawful removal of Patriarch Antonios in 2006. He is also reported to have authorized the seizure of the Patriarch's robes of office and pontifical insignia in February this year.

Reports indicate that Dioscoros' consecration is set to take place on the Day of Pentecost. In the meantime, Abune Antonios, the legitimate Patriarch of the EOC, has remained under a stringent regime of house arrest since his illegal dismissal from office in January 2006. Later that year, and in an indication of future developments, a government news release referred to Dioscoros as "His Holiness" and "Head of the EOC".

Patriarch Antonios is one of approximately 2000 Christians currently detained without trial or charge in Eritrea. On 31 May, Christian Solidarity Worldwide Worldwide (CSW), Release Eritrea and Christian Concern for Freedom of Conscience (CCFC) will hold a rally outside the Eritrean Embassy in London to protest at the continuing detention and mistreatment of Christians and other prisoners of conscience in Eritrea.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said: "This is yet another low in the sad litany of Eritrean government interference in church affairs. In addition to the appalling mistreatment of the legitimate pontiff, who continues to be held without charge or trial, the Eritrean authorities appear determined to usurp the authority to appoint a leader for a church with a 17 century history. CSW calls for the immediate release of Abune Antonios and his reinstatement as head of the EOC. We hope the Orthodox Papacy will issue a strong statement on this unwelcome development. Such an unprecedented level of state interference in church affairs is wholly unacceptable in this day and age."

Notes to editors

1.Since his ordination by Pope Shenouda in April 2004, Patriarch Antonios is reported to have been increasingly resistant to the government's continual interventions into church matters. In January 2005, and for the first time ever, the traditional Orthodox Annual Christmas message was not aired on national media after the patriarch allegedly objected to the detention in November 2004 of three Orthodox priests from the Medhane Alem Church. The patriarch also opposed requests to close down the church, which is linked to the Orthodox renewal movement and attracts thousands of young people.

2.In 2005, reported that prior to his removal from his administrative duties, the Patriarch had increasingly begun to challenge the regime on spiritual grounds, and had objected to government intrusion through Mr. Dimetros in the administration of the Patriarchate. Mr. Dimetros is said to have repeatedly clashed with the Patriarch as he attempted to coerce the Orthodox Church to adopt government inspired policies. He is also reported to have accompanied an Eritrean Bishop to Egypt to the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church in July in an attempt to persuade the Papacy to oust Patriarch Antonios.

3.The Patriarch was officially removed from office in January 2006. However, a living patriarch can only be ousted if he is seriously ill, commits grievous sin or if he adheres to heresy. Moreover, such a removal can only be undertaken by appropriately mandated church authorities. In a robust letter challenging his arbitrary removal from office, the Patriarch excommunicated several people, including Mr. Demitros, and implored Bishop Dioscoros to refrain from unspecified ?negative activities'.



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