Patriarch Basilios, the first native-born bishop in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, later became its first patriarch independent of Egypt.
Basilios was born Gebre Giyorgis and became a monk of Debra Libanos, the dominant monastery in the country. In 1933 he was sent to Jerusalem to take charge of Ethiopian churches and monasteries there. He returned to Ethiopia at the time of the 1935 Italian invasion, where he served in the Battle of Maichew as a chaplain. Basilios, once more back in Jerusalem during the subsequent Italian occupation, maintained contact with the resistance movement.
From the time of FRUMENTIUS in the fourth century, all bishops of the Ethiopian church had been sent from Egypt to the patriarch of Alexandria. Because it takes 12 bishops to elect a patriarch, the number of dioceses in Ethiopia was deliberately kept below that number, to the increasing detriment of the Ethiopian church. Negotiations were held between authorities in Addis Ababa and Cairo starting in the 1930s to correct this inequity. The break with Alexandria during the Italian occupation hastened Ethiopia's religious independence, and strong support from Emperor HAILE SELASSIE brought the matter to a head.
In Jerusalem, Gebre Giyorgis was ordained a bishop (1948) in preparation for the transition and became the 11th archbishop in 1950, taking the name Basilios. He was placed in charge of church administration, including management of the extensive church properties. Following church-state traditions in Ethiopia, he was appointed to the Senate in 1957. In 1959 he was chosen patriarch, removing him from temporal matters, but vesting all spiritual and religious authority in him. An enlightened man, Basilios was still very much the servant of the emperor and did little to innovate or modernize the church.