Abuna Merkorios (Patriarch and Catholicos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church) was the fourth Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, elected after the death of Abuna Takla Haymanot in May 1988. Merkorios remained Patriarch for three years until 1991, when the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) triumphed over the Communist military junta known as Derg in Addis Ababa.
Known before his elevation to the episcopacy as Abba (Father) Ze-Libanos Fanta, he was born into the minor nobility of Beghemidir Province. He was considered something of a liturgical expert, and served for many years at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa. Abba Ze-Libanos was raised to the rank of Bishop by Patriarch Abuna Takla Haymanot in 1976 over his home province of Beghemidir (then known as Gondar Province), taking the name Merkorios. Abuna Merkorios served as Archbishop of Gondar until he became Patriarch of Ethiopia in 1988. Abune Merkorios' tenure of Archbishop of Gondar included the period known as the "Red Terror" in Ethiopia, and which was carried out with particular brutality in the town and province of Gondar under the governorship of Melaku Teferra, a particularly notorious member of the Derg. Abuna Merkorios would later face accusations of not only having kept silent during the horrors of the "Red Terror" in Gondar, but of having a particularly close relationship with Governor Melaku. In a sign of the favor of the Derg regime, in 1987 Abune Merkorios was appointed as one of a very small and select group of clergy to serve as a member of the Shengo, the national parliament set up by the Derg when it proclaimed the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia that year. He remained a member of the parliament until his enthronement as Patriarch These allegations of closeness to the Communist Derg regime helped undermine the Patriarch, when the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) came to power.
Abuna Merkorios abdicated under circumstances that remain under dispute. He was followed on the throne of the Ethiopian Church by Abune Paulos, the fifth official patriarch of the church, although many Ethiopian churches in the diaspora continue to recognize Abuna Merkorios as patriarch and spiritual leader, claiming that he was forced to leave his position. A Synod in exile was set up in support of Patriarch Merkorios. Problems with the Synod inside Ethiopia escalated when the exile Synod anointed a number of new bishops in 2007, resulting in mutual excommunications being issued by the two synods.
In 2011, a Wikileaks cable was released in which former Prime Minister Tamirat Layne, during a 5 January 2009 meeting with U.S. ambassador Donald Yamamoto, revealed that "he wants to assist in the reconciliation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church based in America, because he signed the order that removed the original patriarch and bifurcated the church."
Efforts to heal the threatened schism had shown promising results through late 2011 and early 2012. However, the sudden deaths of both Patriarch Abune Paulos and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi caused efforts to slow down as the Addis Ababa Synod went through a leadership transition. During the reconciliation negotiations, the exiled Synod insisted that Abuna Merkorios be allowed to resume the Patriarchal throne, something that neither the Addis Ababa Synod nor the Ethiopian government was willing to consider. With the election of Abune Mathias as the 6th Patriarch of Ethiopia on February 28, 2013, reconciliation talks were ended for the time being.
As of May 2014, Abuna Merkorios lives in exile in New Jersey.