New Survey Examines the Beliefs and Practices of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christian Population

An Orthodox priest at Nakuto Lab Rock Church, outside Lalibela, Ethiopia. About three-quarters of Orthodox Ethiopians say they attend church every week. (Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)

Ethiopia has the largest Orthodox Christian population outside Europe, and, by many measures, Orthodox Ethiopians have much higher levels of religious commitment than do Orthodox Christians in the faith’s heartland of Central and Eastern Europe.

The country in the Horn of Africa has 36 million Orthodox Christians, the world’s second-largest Orthodox population after Russia.

Nearly all Orthodox Ethiopians (98%) say religion is very important to them, compared with a median of 34% of Orthodox saying this across 13 countries surveyed in Central and Eastern Europe. About three-quarters of Orthodox Ethiopians say they attend church every week (78%), compared with a median of 10% in Central and Eastern Europe and just 6% in Russia.

Orthodox Ethiopians are more likely than Orthodox Christians in Central and Eastern Europe to wear religious symbols (93% vs. median of 64%), to say they believe in God with absolute certainty (89% vs. 56%), to fast during holy times such as Lent (87% vs. 27%), and to tithe (57% vs. 14%). Indeed, these gaps between Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia and Europe mirror broader differences in religious commitment between people living in sub-Saharan Africa, where religious observance is relatively high among all major religious groups, and those in more secular societies in Central and Eastern Europe.

Orthodox Ethiopians also tend to be more conservative on social issues than are other Orthodox Christians surveyed; they express higher levels of moral opposition to homosexuality, prostitution, abortion, divorce and drinking alcohol. For instance, Orthodox Ethiopians are much more likely to say that having an abortion is morally wrong than are Orthodox Christians in Central and Eastern Europe (83% vs. median of 46%).

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SOURCE: Pew Research Center

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