The Sickle & the Cross
By Mitiku Adisu
To Ethiopian ears the name Filippovich will sound familiar. Did not the Spirit of the Christ prompt Philip (Filippos ፊሊጶስ) the Evangelist to "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza" and once there, to approach the chariot of the Ethiopian dignitary on his way back from worshipping in Jerusalem? And did not Philip then explain that the reference in ኢሳይያስ Esaias  to One “led like a sheep to the slaughter” was in fact the same Jesus who hung on a cross outside the gates of Jerusalem for our salvation? (Has the Ethiopian been to Jerusalem and back for nothing then?) Finally understanding the meaning of what he was reading did not His Excellency profess his faith in Jesus and request water baptism there and then? And because of all this did he not go “on his way rejoicing?”
How come Filippos of old now has a different sounding name? Well, it is because Filippovich is Russian and is none other than the traveler/adventurer and tour operator Fyodor Filippovich Konyukhov.
What is interesting is that Filippovich and Philip do share a few similarities. Philip, according to the account in Acts 8: 26-40 was led by the Spirit to Gaza desert. Two thousand years later, Filippovich is talking about a 35-day expedition to “a hot African desert” on a camel train. Obviously, the purposes of their journey could not have been more dissimilar. For Filippovich the call came from the government of Ethiopia [read: fame and fortune] and not from God. Of all the differences between the two travelers the one that stands out is the quest they are on. For Philip it was all about proclaiming “the good news about Jesus." For Filippovich the quest was “to see with his own eyes the legendary Arc of the Covenant that preserved the Scrolls received by Moses on Mount Sinai.” And between the two seekers presided the Ethiopian official who took the arduous journey to Jerusalem to “see” the Arc only to be met by Jesus on his way home [the same Jesus – the Living Word of God, God in the flesh - who is greater than Moses and who came and fulfilled every letter of the Scroll handed to Moses on Mount Sinai]. In the presence of Jesus, Moses and Elijah would have to bow down and bow out! (Matthew 17)
Filippovich, too, is on a mission. He says he has plans to build St. George’s Russian Orthodox Chapel in Addis. And for that dream to come true he’s had to touch base with the powers that be. First, he made sure he received ordination as deacon in the Russian Orthodox Church as well as blessings of Kyrill [of San Francisco Diocese? Kirill is over Russia]. According to Filippovich, the Arc of the Covenant “has never been shown to any non-consecrated person.” Further, he says he has the backing of the Ethiopian government and the Russian Embassy in Addis. And above all he contends he was privy to “out of this world” information. According to The Voice of Russia [not to be confused with The Voice of America], “Fyodor Konyukhov has become the first European to see with his own eyes the legendary Arc of the Covenant that preserved the Scrolls received by Moses on the Mount Sinai.” (sic) Not many Ethiopians could make such a bombastic claim! Or believe Filippovich's story!
His rejoicing may not compare to that of Philip's though it could come quite close considering the impression "the sight" left on him. “I did not expect it, but the Ethiopians showed me the Arc of the Covenant,” says Fyodor Konyukhov. “It was four O’ clock, and I was with priests at the service. I was standing near the keeper of the relic and I looked into his eyes. I have never seen such a person. Light was emitting from his eyes. He could not talk to me, because priests do not talk during Lent. The Arc of the Covenant was taken out and it was shown to me. An Ethiopian operator was at the scene and filmed the event,” Fyodor Konyukhov said.
Questions remain. Did the “keeper of the relic” really show Filippovich the Arc? Did Filippovich know one relic from another? How much did Filippovich compensate the keeper for the rare privilege? According to Ethiopian government sources, “Patriarch Paulos or any future Patriarch of Ethiopia does not have the spiritual or temporal powers to order the display to the public of the original Ark of Covenant. The centuries old fiat to maintain and protect the Ark of the Covenant away from the gaze of the public remains as done and dusted a matter under H.H. Pawlos I, Patriarch of Ethiopia, as it had always been the case.” Why were Bob Cornuke and other “Ark hunters” turned down a year ago and Filippovich was not? Why is the cupola for the Chapel not made in Ethiopia? Does Ethiopia really need a Chapel from Russia having gone through nearly two decades of Hammer & Sickle trauma? And finally, how will publicity stunt of this nature help protect cultural/historical artifacts from falling into the hands of “Ark hunters” and soldiers of fortune? The only convert in this drama is, sadly, Fyodor Filippovich!