His Grace Abuna Mathias, Archbishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem, is to be anointed today as the sixth Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC). The new patriarch will replace his Holiness Abuna Nathnael, who took over the post of Acting Patriarch following the sudden death of His Holiness Abuna Paulos, Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haimanot, Archbishop of Axum. His Holiness Abuna Nathnael was the Archbishop of the Arsi Diocese before was the interim Head of the EOC.
Abuna Paulos, 76, passed away on August 15, 2012 at the Dejazmach Balcha Hospital in Addis Ababa, where he was being treated for diabetes.
Abuna Paulos was the fifth Ethiopian Patriarch after this top religious post was transferred to Ethiopian hands in 1959. Previously, the patriarch was sent from Alexandria, Egypt. So far, he has been the longest-serving Patriarch in the last 53 years, being anointed in July 1992.
The first Ethiopian Patriarch was Abuna Baslios, who died over 49 years ago. The second Patriarch, Abuna Tewoflos, was killed in prison by the former Derg regime 35 years ago.
The third Patriarch, Abuna Tekle Haimanot, died from natural causes 25 years ago, while the Fourth Patriarch, Abuna Merkorios, is still alive and is the Head of the EOC faction in the United States of America.
The new Patriarch of EOC will take the title of His Holiness and remain the Head of the Church. His position will only be changed in case of death or infirmity that would result in an election for another patriarch.
Abuna Mathias was elected by a landslide two-thirds majority of the votes cast by the electoral college, representing various sections of the Church. He received 500 votes out of 806, easily overcoming the challenges of His Grace Abuna Yoseph and Abuna Mathewos, who collected 98 votes each. Abuna Yoseph is the archbishop of the Bale diocese and Abuna Mathewos is archbishop of the Wolayita diocese.
The remaining two other candidates, His Grace Abuna Hezkael (Archbishop for the Diocese of the North and West districts of Addis Ababa and the Kaffa Diocese) and His Grace Abuna Elsa (Archbishop of the North Gondar Diocese) received the remaining votes.
Out of the 806 voting delegates, five are from the Egyptian Coptic Church, which until 1959 nominated and appointed patriarchs for EOTC.
The Ethiopian side had the same number of delegates during the election of Theodoros II as the 118th Pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church, who was elected on November 4, 2012. The previous Egyptian pope Shenouda III died on March 17, 2012 of heart failure.
The anointment of the new patriarch for Ethiopia is expected to be observed by representatives of the Indian, Syrian, Armenian and Greek Orthodox Church.
Representatives of the Vatican church, the highest authoritative body for Roman Catholics and the largest Christian denomination with more than a billion adherents, are also expected to attend the anointment, which will come to pass at the Saint Trinity Cathedral.
According to the 2007 National Census conducted by the Central Statistical Agency (CSA), out of a population of 73,750, 932, adherents of the EOC was the single largest religious majority, at 43 percent.
Islam came second in the number of adherents at 33 percent, followed by Protestants at 19 percent, practitioners of traditional religion at three percent, Catholics at one percent and other religions totalling just one percent.