By Finn Våge
Abune Lukas, the effective leader of Eritrea’s Orthodox Church faced tough question from members of the Eritrean diaspora during a visit to Norway.
The Abune is said to be close to the Eritrean government, which arrested the Patriarch in 2007.
On Sunday critics bombarded the cleric with questions about what had happened to Patriarch Antonius.
They wanted to know why President Isaias had held the Patriarch under house arrest.
Abune Lukas replied that the Patriarch had ‘lost his faith’ in St. Mary, the Mother of Christ in 2007 – and backed a radical group called Teadso. This is apparently the first time this allegation has been made public.
Eritreans say this allegation is code for accusing the Patriarch of Protestant tendencies, since Protestants are accused by the Orthodox church of not giving the mother of Christ due respect.
Bishop Lukas was ordained by Patriarch Antonios but is accused of starting to work against him within days of being ordained, and he and others were subsequently excommunicated.
The Eritrean Orthodox Church in Diaspora is divided between those who support Patriarch Antonius and those who support the regime-friendly clerics like Abune Luke. In Norway there are 40 regime-friendly churches and 3 independent churches. These independent churches are now associated with Coptic Orthodox Pope in Egypt, through the Scandinavian bishop. the leader of the Eritrean orthodox Church.
Abune Lukas is Secretary General of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in Eritrea. Here he is seen with three other clergy who travelled to Norway from Eritrea. They are on a tour of Europe and came from the Netherlands before moving on to Switzerland.
The trip is being seen as an attempt to strengthen and control the regime-friendly churches among the diaspora, but probably also to prepare for the election of a new bishop for the Eritrean Orthodox Church in Europe, after the previous bishop died.
The clergyman, in the middle of the picture, said he believed that Antonius was being well taken care of and was not being deprivied of anything. He said there would be ‘good news’ about Patriarch Antonius in a month.
The Norwegian-Eritrean priest Estifanos Tewoldbrhan Zeweld, (seated on to the left) recently told a Norwegian newspaper (Agderposten 25 October 2018, page 12) that Patriarch Antonius is his spiritual father and will remain the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church until his death, since no-one can dismiss a Patriarch.
This conflict reflects divisions within the Eritrean Orthodox Church in Norway. It has split the community and led to the diaspora establishing independent churches, not aligned to the regime.
The critics of Abune Lukas who questioned him were from the independent Eritrean Orthodox Church, Medhanie-Alem in Oslo (Majorstue Kirke). Among those who asked these questions were Diacon Desbele and teacher Ogbazghi.