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Abuna Yesehaq

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His Eminence

Archbishop of the Western Hemisphere and South Africa
Native name
አቡነ ይስሐቕ
Personal details
Laike Maryam Mandefro

Died29 December 2005 (aged 72)
Newark, New Jersey
BuriedHoly Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Kingston

Abuna Yesehaq (Ge'ez: አቡነ ይስሐቕ; born Laike Maryam Mandefro; 1933 - 29 December 2005), was a leader of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in the Western hemisphere.


Laike was born to an Orthodox Christian family in Adwa, Tigray, attended Christian school in the monastery of Abune Gerima where he became a monk, and joined the priesthood. He was one of the clerics fortunate enough to be tutored personally by Emperor Haile Selassie I, the titular head of the Church.

In October 1959, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church officially established a branch in New York; Abba Laike Mandefro, as he was then known, was sent there in 1963 and was given the task of finding a more suitable building for the Church, which was purchased in 1966. Mandefro then returned to Ethiopia to seek assistance for renovations; unfortunately the building was taken by the New York City authorities in his absence.

With the assistance of Emperor Haile Selassie, and the Ethiopian consulate in New York, Mandefro returned to New York City and purchased another site for the Church in 1969.

In 1970, he was sent to Jamaica where he began to minister specifically to the Rastafari community, at the official invitation of Rasta elders including Joseph Hibbert, who was in turn named as a "Spiritual Organizer" by Mandefro. Many government officials and others in Jamaica were deeply disappointed that Abba Mandefro defended the Rastafarians' faith on many occasions, and that he baptised thousands of them, pointedly refusing to denounce their faith in Haile Selassie as the returned Christ. On the other hand, a large number of other Rastas were likewise disappointed because he would not baptise them in the name of the Emperor, but only in the name of Jesus Christ. This however did not disturb those Rastas who viewed Christ and Haile Selassie as one and the same, and readily underwent baptism at the hands of this man who had been sent from Ethiopia by their living God. Only after the Marxist Derg Revolution that toppled Haile Selassie and appointed their own Patriarch over the Church, did the requirement become enforced for prospective baptisees in Jamaica to renounce his divinity and cut their dreadlocks.

Abba Mandefro also founded many Orthodox Churches throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere, and received the title "Archbishop Yesehaq of the Western Hemisphere and South Africa" in 1979. On 4 November 1980, he baptized world-renowned Rastafari musician Bob Marley, then suffering from terminal illness, into the church.[1][2]

In the 1990s, a schism happened in the Orthodox Church when the new government of the EPRDF took power in Ethiopia and appointed their own Patriarch, Abuna Paulos. Abuna Yesehaq refused to recognise this political change, pointing out that according to the ancient Church canons, the Church leaders are to remain in office until they pass away, and cannot be dismissed or reappointed by any secular government. However, the New York City authorities took the side of the newly appointed Patriarch, and police interrupted a Church service on 9 August 1998 with guns drawn, using profanity, handcuffed children, and took possession of the Church in the name of Abuna Paulos.[citation needed]


Abuna Yesehaq died on December 29, 2005, at the Newark Beth Israel Medical Centre, Newark, New Jersey, USA, at the age of 72.[3] His death was announced by a spokesman for the archbishopric in Dallas, where he had recently moved his seat, and by Father Haile Malekot of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Kingston, Jamaica.[4] The Archbishop was buried in Jamaica in accordance with his personal wishes to fulfill his mission, directed by Emperor Haile Selassie I, to establish the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Jamaica, whose people had a love for Ethiopia and the Emperor.[3]

His funeral at the National Arena in Jamaica on January 20, 2006, drew hundreds of mourners including Jamaican politicians, celebrities and members of the Rastafarian community, and was marked by lengthy rituals of liturgical drumming and chanting in the ancient Ethiopian languages of Ge'ez and Amharic.[5]

His Mausoleum is in Kingston, Jamaica, at the Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Church on Maxfield Ave.[6]

As author[edit]

  • Archbishop Yesehaq. The Ethiopian Tewahedo Church: An Integrally African Church. J.C. Winston Pub. Co., 1997. 244 pp. ISBN 9781555237394


  1. ^ Marley, Rita (5 February 2013). No Woman, No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley. ISBN 9781401305697.
  2. ^ White, Timothy (7 January 2010). Catch A Fire: The Life Of Bob Marley. ISBN 9780857121363.
  3. ^ a b "Abuna Yesehaq to be buried in Jamaica". Yahoo. Archived from the original on 15 September 2015.
  4. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (8 January 2006). "Abuna Yesehaq Mandefro, Ethiopian Archbishop, 72, Dies". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2017-02-02.
  5. ^ "Juliet makes sad pilgrimage for long-time friend's service". Yahoo. Archived from the original on 12 September 2015.
  6. ^ "Ethiopian Orthodox Church Info". Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Archived from the original on 20 June 2013.