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Eritrea Makes Illegal Appointment of New Patriarch

ICC NOTE: The Eritrean government is increasing its control steadily over the Orthodox church.

3/25/07 Eritrea For the full article (Christianity Today) In an indication of increasing government control of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, 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 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 authorised 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, CSW, Release Eritrea and Christian Concern for Freedom of Conscience 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.”