The Ethiopian church followed the Coptic (Egyptian) church (now called the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria) in rejecting the Christological decision issued by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE that the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ were equally present in one person without commingling. Opposed to this dyophysitism, or two-nature doctrine, the Coptic and Ethiopian churches held that the human and divine natures were equally present through the mystery of the Incarnation within a single nature. This position—called miaphysitism, or single-nature doctrine—was interpreted by the Roman and Greek churches as a heresy called monophysitism, the belief that Christ had only one nature, which was divine.
Aksum has long been regarded a holy city for the Ethiopian Orthodox church. It forms the setting of the 14th-century work Kebra Negast (“Glory of the Kings”), which relates the tradition of the transference of the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Aksum by King Menilek I, legendary son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Makeda). According to tradition, the Church of St. Mary of Zion contains the Ark of the Covenant. Over the centuries, however, the church has been destroyed and rebuilt several times; the present structure dates from the 17th century. Emperor Haile Selassie I built the new Church of St. Mary of Zion near the old one in 1965.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, autocephalous Oriental Orthodox church in Ethiopia. Headquarters are in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital.
Tradition holds that Ethiopia was first evangelized by St. Matthew and St. Bartholomew in the 1st century CE, and the first Ethiopian convert is thought to have been the eunuch in Jerusalem mentioned in The Acts of the Apostles (8:27–40). Ethiopia was further Christianized in the 4th century CE by two men (likely brothers) from Tyre—St. Frumentius, later consecrated the first Ethiopian bishop, and Aedesius. They won the confidence of the king at Aksum (a powerful kingdom in northern Ethiopia) and were allowed to evangelize. The succeeding king, Ezana, was baptized by Frumentius, and Christianity was made the state religion. Toward the end of the 5th century, nine monks from Syria are said to have brought monasticism to Ethiopia and encouraged the translation of the Scriptures into the Geʿez language.