Democratizing access to the best data on religion since 1997

Religious Group Profiles

Scroll to Profile Section:

Eastern Liturgical (Orthodox) Family:

Religious Traditions:

Religious Families:

Search US Group Profiles

Ethiopian Orthodox Church (1959 - Present) - Religious Group

Religious Family: Eastern Liturgical (Orthodox)
Religious Tradition: Orthodox
Description: With worldwide estimated membership of about 36,000,000, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is the largest of the so-called Oriental Orthodox Churches (the others being Armenian, Coptic, Eritrean, Malankara-Indian, and Syriac). Unlike Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches recognize the validity of theological decisions of only the first three Ecumenical Councils. Headquartered in Addis Abbaba (Ethiopia), the history of Ethiopian Church dates back to the acceptance of Christianity by the Kingdom of Aksum in 330 AD. The word “Tewahedo” in Ge’ez (an archaic language used in Ethiopian worship services) means "united as one." This refers to the Oriental Orthodox belief (which is different from the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant Churches) in one perfectly unified nature of Christ (i.e., a complete union of the divine and human natures). The Ethiopian Church is unique in retaining a number of Jewish practices, such as circumcision, the observance of dietary laws, and Saturday as well as Sunday Sabbath. This is probably due to the fact that Christianity arrived in Ethiopia directly from Palestine, while it was still strongly influenced by its Jewish roots. Administratively, the Ethiopian Church was part of the Coptic Orthodox Church from the first half of the 4th century until 1959, when it was granted autocephaly (full independence) by the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church. In this same year, the first Ethiopian Orthodox parish was opened in the US: Holy Trinity Church in the Bronx, NY. Its founder was Fr. Laike Mandefro (later, Bishop Yesehaq), an Ethiopian priest who had studied in the U.S. Notably, this first parish was envisioned as a mission for African Americans rather than a church for Ethiopian immigrants. The 1974 Marxist revolution in Ethiopia not only overthrew the Emperor but also began a campaign against all religious groups in the country. The unrest triggered a wave of immigration to the U.S., and, subsequently, a dramatic increase in the number of Ethiopian churches in America. After the collapse of the Communist government (1991), the head of Ethiopian Church, Patriarch Merkorios, was accused of collaboration with the former regime. In 1997, he was exiled to the U.S. A number of other Ethiopian bishops joined him, which further intensified the spread of Ethiopian Orthodox churches in America. Eventually, the exiled group formed “The Legitimate Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church” with headquarters in Oakland, California – a Church body in opposition to the Synod of Bishops in Ethiopia. For a number of years, Ethiopian Orthodox churches in America were divided between the two rival factions. This schism lasted until 2018, when delegations from both sides, along with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, met in Washington, DC. An agreement was reached that provided for the return of Patriarch Merkorios to Ethiopia to become co-patriarch along with Patriarch Matthias (elected in Ethiopia in 2013). The two Patriarchs would be of equal dignity, and all the bishops of both Synods would be mutually recognized. Presently, Ethiopian Orthodox churches in the USA are divided into five dioceses, and they continue to grow rapidly. Between 2010 and 2020 alone, the number of parishes nearly doubled, increasing from 101 to 197.
Official Site:

Maps: Ethiopian Orthodox Church1

Adherence Rate per 1,000 (2020)

Congregations (2020)

Top 5 Ethiopian Orthodox Church States (2020)1 [View all States]

Rank State Congregations Adherents Adherence Rate
1 District Of Columbia 9 6,900 10.01
2 South Dakota 3 1,400 1.58
3 Nevada 4 4,250 1.37
4 Virginia 18 11,205 1.30
5 Maryland 9 7,470 1.21

Top 5 Ethiopian Orthodox Church Counties (2020)1 [View all Counties]

Rank County Congregations Adherents Adherence Rate
1 Alexandria city, VA 3 2,600 16.30
2 Nobles County, MN 1 300 13.46
3 District of Columbia, DC 9 6,900 10.01
4 Minnehaha County, SD 3 1,400 7.10
5 Randall County, TX 1 900 6.39

Top 5 Ethiopian Orthodox Church Metro Areas (2020)1 [View all Metro Areas]

Rank Metro Congregations Adherents Adherence Rate
1 Worthington, MN Micro Area 1 300 13.46
2 Sioux Falls, SD Metro Area 3 1,400 5.06
3 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metro Area 30 23,425 3.67
4 Amarillo, TX Metro Area 1 900 3.35
5 Columbus, OH Metro Area 5 4,700 2.20


1 The 2020 data were collected by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) and include data for 372 religious bodies or groups. Of these, the ASARB was able to gather data on congregations and adherents for 217 and on congregations only for 155. [More information on the data sources]

Our Sponsors

Our Affiliates

© 2023 The Association of Religion Data Archives. All rights reserved.