Key Fact: Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church
Detained Since: May 27, 2007
Biography: Patriarch Abune Antonios was born on July 12, 1927, in Himberti, a town north of the Eritrean capital, Asmara. His father was a priest. At the age of five, Patriarch Antonios entered the monastery of Debre Tsege Abuna Andrewes, where he was educated, ordained a deacon at the age of 12, and then served as a monk. Patriarch Antonios was ordained a priest in 1942 and was eventually elected Abbot in 1955.
When the Eritrean Orthodox Church first sought its independence, Patriarch Antonios was one of the five abbots from monasteries sent to Egypt to be ordained a bishop so that the church would be able to constitute its own Holy Synod. Antonios was ordained as Bishop Antonios of Hamasien-Asmara on June 19, 1994, in Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo by His Holiness Shenouda III, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria.
Following the death in 2003 of Abune Yacoub, then Patriarch of the Eritrean Church, Patriarch Antonios was elected as the third Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church by a joint vote of the Holy Synod and representatives of all dioceses in the presence of the delegates of the Holy Synod of the Egyptian Orthodox Church. Pope Shenouda III, assisted by Eritrean and Coptic Orthodox Metropolitans and Bishops, ordained and enthroned Antonios as Patriarch on April 23, 2004.
The Eritrean government notified Antonios on January 20, 2006, that he no longer would lead the country’s largest religious denomination. After Patriarch Antonios called for the release of political prisoners and refused to excommunicate 3,000 parishioners who opposed the government. One year later, on January 20, 2007, authorities confiscated Patriarch Antonios’ personal pontifical insignia. On May 27, 2007, the Eritrean government replaced Patriarch Antonios with Bishop Dioscoros of Mendefera, forcefully removed the Patriarch from his home, and placed him under house arrest at an undisclosed location. Patriarch Antonios, who is 89 years old, continues to be held incommunicado and reportedly is being denied medical care despite suffering from severe diabetes.
Press Release: USCIRF Calls for Release of Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios (January 20, 2015)
Related Reports and Briefs
Op-Ed: The Christian Science Monitor -- Is Eritrea the North Korea of Africa? (August 18, 2015)