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07/24/2019 Eritrea (International Christian Concern) – In a surprising turn of events, the leading Bishops in the Eritrean Orthodox Church have excommunicated the former patriarch, Abune Antonios, for heresy. According to reports done by the BBC, Antonios secretly released a video earlier this year, while under house arrest, in which he objected to Yoftahe Dimetros leading the church after the death of Abune Dioskoros in 2015. Antonios has long been critical of governmental interference in the Church, and was removed from his position as patriarch in 2006 because he refused to excommunicate 3,000 people who were involved in a Sunday School program when the government demanded it.

He was then replaced by Abune Dioskoros, who was backed by the government and was seen by many as a government sympathizer. Neither the leader of the Egyptian or Ethiopian Orthodox churches backed the appointment of Dioskoros, saying that Antonios was never rightfully removed. Then in 2014, the Union of Eritrean Monasteries excommuniced many of Dioskoros’ governmental allies, a priest named Habtom Russom Habte and the layman Yoftahe Dimetros. This means that Yoftahe has been working with the government for years and is likely why Antonios criticized him in the video released this year.

The bishops in Eritrea excommunicating Antonios at this time is a worrying sign that they are still being controlled heavily by the government. Five out of the six most senior bishops in the church signed the letter excommunicating Antonios. It is unclear why the sixth did not. This clearly shows though that the government in Eritrea is still controlling the church and does not allow for freedom of religion or statements against any government actions. Please pray for Father Antonios who has been under house arrest for over a decade and for the church in Eritrea who has been suffering under a restrictive government for decades.

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