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Originally published February 17, 2010 at 8:54 PM | Page modified February 20, 2010 at 7:08 PM

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Archbishop of Ethiopian church, in exile, dies at 72 in Seattle

Thousands of people are expected to come to Seattle on Saturday for the funeral service of Archbishop Abune Zena Markos, one of the top leaders of the worldwide Ethiopian Orthodox Church in exile. Archbishop Markos died Saturday at age 72.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thousands of people are expected to come to Seattle on Saturday for the funeral service of one of the top leaders of the worldwide Ethiopian Orthodox Church in exile.

Archbishop Abune Zena Markos, who lived in Seattle for about 16 years, died Saturday at Swedish Medical Center's Cherry Hill campus. Friends say they do not know the exact cause of his death, but it appeared to be due to complications from pneumonia. He was 72.

Archbishop Markos served as assistant patriarch for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Holy Synod in Exile, and as such was its No. 2 leader worldwide and head of all its churches in the U.S. and Canada.

Locally, he was instrumental in leading the effort to build St. Gebriel Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the Mount Baker neighborhood. It is the city's largest Ethiopian Orthodox Church with about 2,000 attendees.

"If I had to define a holy man, it would be him," said Ezra Teshome, 58, a member of St. Gebriel.

The archbishop encouraged those of his flock who had emigrated from Ethiopia to "not leave the faith and the culture behind," Teshome said.

Archbishop Markos was born in Ethiopia and early in life committed himself to being a celibate monk, according to a news release from St. Gebriel Church. After being ordained as a priest, he served in various churches and monasteries in Ethiopia and studied theology in Greece. In 1979, he was appointed to serve as an archbishop.

He and some other church leaders left Ethiopia in the early 1990s in a dispute over legitimate church leadership.

Archbishop Markos and the top church leader at the time, Patriarch Abune Merkorios, were appointed to their positions during the years Ethiopia was under Marxist military rule, 1974 to 1991. In 1991, when the military government was overthrown, a new church patriarch was appointed, displacing Merkorios, who fled the country.

In Seattle, some Ethiopian Orthodox Christians are loyal to the church still headquartered in Addis Ababa; others are loyal to the church in exile, which is headquartered in Oakland, Calif.

Estimates of the number of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in Seattle vary greatly, ranging from 3,000 to 10,000.

Members of St. Gebriel say the humble, soft-spoken archbishop was known for his teaching and his prayers.

He taught U.S.-born children of Ethiopian immigrants how to speak Amharic and about their culture and faith.

"He was such a good person, a fair person," said Selome Teshome, 29. "People really looked up to him. He lived the words he preached."

St. Gebriel members say about 2,000 people from around the world are expected at his memorial service at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Gebriel, 940 26th Ave. S., Seattle. Remembrances also may be sent to St. Gebriel.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or

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