ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — As Ethiopia enters its third millennium, so does its Orthodox church, a venerable state-backed institution whose dominance is increasingly threatened by a myriad of evangelical faiths.Note the pejorative term "stranglehold". Of course, the fact that Protestants (mainly backed by Americans) come with money, setting up schools and hospitals while actively proselytising the local Christian population, has nothing to do with the rise of Evangelicalism. The quotes from the Evangelical pastor and the young person color the reporter's perspective. "Ethiopian church followers are expected to observe strict practices such as lengthy fasting periods -- practices younger people find out-of-date." The reporter makes a blanket statement about the views of young people rather than clarifying that it is the Evangelical young people who find fasting "out-of-date". C'est la vie!
Patriarch Paulos, the current head of the 40-million-strong Ethiopian Orthodox Church, downplays any rivalry and stresses, as one of the presidents of the World Council of Churches, he has invited the leaders of other denominations on numerous occasions.
Millennium celebrations put the spotlight on the church and believers turned out in larger than usual numbers for a September 27 procession celebrating a "Finding of the Cross" festival.
But the church's ages-old stranglehold on Christianity here is now challenged by a growing number of evangelical denominations that have mushroomed all over the continent.
"A lot of people are coming," said David Ibiobamimo, an Addis Ababa-based pastor for one of these churches, the Winners' Chapel International. "Sometimes our new arrivals number 300 a week, most of whom are from the younger generation."
The 40-year-old said that the traditional customs of the Orthodox church -- sometimes perceived as archaic -- were among the reasons why evangelical institutions were seeing a surge in the number of young converts.
"The power of the Orthodox church is breaking, people are seeing the light," he said. "People are questing for new knowledge. They are getting fed up with the old and traditional settings, they are seeking new experiences."
Ethiopian church followers are expected to observe strict practices such as lengthy fasting periods -- practices younger people find out-of-date.
"They are very old traditions. I don't believe that God can be served this way in the 21st century," said 27-year-old Rahel, who gave only her first name.
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