Yesehaq (Mandefro) of the Western Hemisphere

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His Eminence Archbishop Yesehaq (Mandefro) of the Western Hemisphere, also Abuna Yesehaq or Father Isaac was a leader of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in the Western Hemisphere, who split his congregations in the Americas from the mother church in Addis Ababa during the political upheaval in Ethiopia in the early 1990's. He was born Laike Maryam Mandefro in 1933 in Adwa, Ethiopia and died on December 29, 2005 in Newark, New Jersey.

Archbishop Yesehaq was also the hierarch who baptized Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician Bob Marley (†1981) into the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Kingston, Jamaica, on November 4, 1980.[1][2]


In Ethiopia

Archbishop Yesehaq was born Laike Maryam Mandefro to an Ethiopian Orthodox family in 1933. He attended liturgical schools in Ethiopia, and was ordained a deacon and priest there.[3] He was one of the clerics fortunate enough to be tutored personally by Emperor Haile Selassie I, the titular head of the Church.[3]

In the US

Coming west, he first went to Buffalo and later to New York City to continue his divinity studies, and received advanced degrees in religious education and theology from New York Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary.[3]

Abba Laike Mandefro, as he was then known, was originally appointed by the Emperor Haile Selassie and was sent to the Americas in 1962 to tend to Ethiopians principally in the United States and Jamaica.[3] Since October 1959, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church had officially established a branch in New York, and Abba Laike Mandefro was given the task of finding a more suitable building for the Church, which was purchased in 1966. However when Mandefro returned to Ethiopia to seek assistance for renovations, the building was claimed by the New York City authorities in his absence. With the assistance of Emperor Haile Selassie however, and the Ethiopian consulate in New York, Mandefro returned to New York City and purchased another site for the Church in 1969.

In Jamaica and the Caribbean

In 1970 he was sent to Jamaica where he began to minister specifically to the Rastafari community, at the official invitation of Rasta elders including Joseph Hibbert, who was in turn named as a "Spiritual Organizer" by Mandefro. Many government officials and others in Jamaica were deeply disappointed that Abba Mandefro defended the Rastafarians' faith on many occasions, and that he baptised thousands of them, pointedly refusing to denounce their faith in Haile Selassie as the returned Christ.

On the other hand, a large number of other Rastas were likewise disappointed because he would not baptise them in the name of the Emperor, but only in the name of Jesus Christ.

This however did not disturb those Rastas who viewed Christ and Haile Selassie as one and the same, and readily underwent baptism at the hands of this man who had been sent from Ethiopia by their living God. Only after the Marxist Derg Revolution that toppled Haile Selassie (on September 12, 1974) and appointed their own Patriarch over the Church, did the requirement become enforced for prospective baptisees in Jamaica to renounce his divinity and cut their dreadlocks.

Abba Mandefro also founded many Oriental Orthodox Churches throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere, and in 1979 he received the title "Archbishop Yesehaq of the Western Hemisphere and South Africa".[3] He was credited with forming more than 70 congregations, with more than 300,000 members, with many in the Caribbean.[3]

Holy Synod in Exile of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

When Patriarch Abune Paulos was elected in 1992 under the new government of the EPRDF, the incumbent Patriarch Catholicos of All Ethiopia Abune Merkorios and his supporters went into exile, establishing a rival synod in the United States, thus creating a schism in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Abuna Yesehaq refused to recognise this political change, pointing out that according to the ancient Church canons, the Church leaders are to remain in office until they pass away, and cannot be dismissed or reappointed by any secular government. Thus he declared the Western Hemisphere branch independent of Addis Ababa rather than accept the pre-eminence of the new patriarch, Abuna Paulos.[3] In the ensuing dispute over the authority of the two prelates, adherents of Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq clung to their own interpretation of canon law and continued to follow him, instead of the patriarch in Addis Ababa.[3]

However, the New York City authorities took the side of the newly-appointed Patriarch, and police interrupted a Church service on August 9, 1998 with guns drawn, using profanity, handcuffing children, and taking possession of the Church in the name of Abuna Paulos.


His death was announced by a spokesman for the archbishopric in Dallas, where he had recently moved his seat, and by Father Haile Malekot of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Kingston, Jamaica.[3]

See also