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Tekle Haimanot II

Coptic Orthodox Cross
Note: This article or section represents an Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonian) perspective, which may differ from an Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian) understanding.

Patriarch Tekle Haimanot II (also transliterated as Takla Haymanot) was the sixty-first head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and its third patriarch. Both during his lifetime and since his death Abune Tekle Haimanot was known as a holy man and father of the Church of Ethiopia.

Early life

The future patriarch was born Mekuriya Welde Mika'el to Welde Mika'el Wendimu and Zewditu Kasa on September 18, 1917 in the small village of Wetebet in the northwestern Ethiopian province of Gojam. At a young age Mekuriya joined a nearby church school led by Merigeta Begenaw Wese. There he learned how to read and write the fidel (the Ethiopian alphabet), pray the Psalms, and sing the tones of Ethiopian Orthodox hymnography. Following the completion of these introductory studies the young Mekuriya left his home village to study Ethiopian Orthodox poetry (qene) under Memhir Lisane Werq in Yerez, Gojam.

Life as a monk

At age 16 Mekuriya left Gojam for the southern province of Sidamo and settled at Sodo, changing his name to Melaku to avoid being found by his family. There in Sodo he became the disciple of the hermit Desta (Joy in English) at St. Tekle Haimanot's Monastery. Prior to Mekuriya's arrival Fr. Desta had prophesied to his brother monks at Debre Menkirat that a great hermit would soon come to Sodo.

Following the death of Fr. Desta, Fr. Melaku replaced him as the spiritual father of Debre Menkirat and became responsible for teaching the Ethiopian Orthodox faithful in Sodo and organizing schools in the Wolaita district. The Wolaita loved Fr. Melaku because of his pure life and his refusal to either ask for donations or be paid a salary for his work. Because of this he was able to raise a great deal of money for the construction of churches and schools throughout Wolaita, which historically was not an Orthodox Christian area.

When the Communist Derg overthrew Emperor Haile Silase and came to power in Ethiopia the incomes that had supported the 64 churches and 24 schools built under Fr. Melaku in Wolaita were cut off. Consequently Fr. Melaku traveled to Addis Abeba to raise money as well as to obtain tabots from Patriarch Abune Tewoflos for the consecration of recently built churches in the district. He received two tabots at this time and was told to come back for the other three.

Fr. Melaku returned to the capital at the time of his appointment with Abune Tewoflos to receive the three remaining tabots only to find that the patriarch had been forcibly removed and imprisoned by the Derg because of his past ties with the imperial government. In seeking Abune Tewoflos at the Patriarchate, Fr. Melaku met the head of the church committee appointed to search for a new patriarch, who under the pretext that Abune Tewoflos was away from Addis interviewed Fr. Melaku.

The next day Fr. Melaku discovered that Patriarch Tewoflos had been imprisoned and returned to Wolaita in shock. In the meantime his biography was included with those of other candidates for the patriarchate being distributed in Addis Abeba and met with a great deal of favor from both the faithful members of the Church to be involved in the election of a new patriarch and those controlled by the Derg, which thought that an ignorant monk from a backwater district of one of the least developed provinces of Ethiopia would make for an easily manipulated patriarch.


When elections were held for a new patriarch in July 1976 the absent Fr. Melaku, who had remained in Wolaita since his last visit to Addis Abeba, was elected patriarch by a high number of the assembled voters. After the results of the election were confirmed in August, Fr. Melaku was told to go to the capital immediately without being told why he was wanted there. Immediately upon his arrival in Addis Abeba, Fr. Melaku was taken to Holy Trinity Cathedral in the center of the city where all the free hierarchs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church together with many thousands of the faithful had assembled.

There at Holy Trinity the announcement of Fr. Melaku's election as patriarch was read much to his shock and horror. In tears, he asked, "How can this be? What strength do I have to fulfill this responsibility?" Nevertheless, Fr. Melaku accepted the results of the election and spent the time between the announcement and his consecration praying at St. Mary's Church next door to the Patriarchate at Amist Kilo. Despite efforts to have Fr. Melaku wear "worthy" clothes he refused, choosing to continue to go shoeless and wear the clothes of a country monk.

On August 31, 1976 Fr. Melaku was consecrated to the episcopacy at Holy Trinity Cathedral with the name Tekle Haimanot and enthroned as the third Patriarch of Ethiopia. Despite the relative opulence of his surroundings and rank Abune Tekle Haimanot continued to only eat bread and drink tea and water. Despite his popularity in Ethiopia the Church of Alexandria (Coptic) refused to recognize Abune Tekle Haimanot as patriarch since the previous patriarch, Abune Tewoflos, had been illegally removed and his death had yet to be announced at the time. The two sister Orthodox Churches remained in communion nevertheless.

The Derg was greatly pleased with Abune Tekle Haimanot's enthronement, believing that he would improve its international reputation and also allow it to use its sympathizers in the Patriarchate to steal church money for the government. Instead Abune Tekle Haimanot caught an official trying to steal from the Patriarchate and used his almost overnight fame in Ethiopia and abroad to force Mengistu Haile Maryam, head of the Derg, to replace the official.

When approached by the Derg about closing churches in central Addis Abeba and turning them into museums Abune Tekle Haimanot cleverly responded by saying that the churches weren't the property of the Patriarchate, but of all the members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and that he would have to consult with the entire Church before he could give his assent. Through this and the debacle with the corrupt official the Derg learned that they had not helped bring a weak patriarch to the throne, but a strong one instead.

Abune Tekle Haimanot proved to be an able leader and administrator of the Church throughout the years of his patriarchate. In May 1988 Abune Tekle Haimanot returned to Wolaita to bless the cornerstone of a new church being built in the district. After the blessing of the church site Abune Tekle Haimanot was taken to a relatively luxurious residence to rest, but he asked to be taken instead to his old hermit cave. While resting there he felt a sharp pain and became unconscious, being rushed back to the capital only to die there on June 7, 1988 at the age of 71.

Following his repose Abune Tekle Haimanot was buried with state honors at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Abeba. He was buried in the courtyard of the cathedral to the west of its main doors and his tomb remains a site of veneration by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians to this day, who remember and contrast his great humility and austerity with the pomp and opulence that has overtaken the Patriarchate since the overthrow of the Communist regime.

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