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*OLDEST CHURCH IN AFRICA* : *THE HOLY AROUSA CATHEDRAL BENIN CITY*
Holy Arousa is a unique church in Benin city, Edo state where Christians, Muslims and traditionalists worship together under the spiritual leadership of the Oba of Benin
Along the ever busy Akpakpava Street,in the ancient city of Benin, the Edo State capital, stands a concrete building housing the Holy Aruosa Church where Omo N’ Oba Ne Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba of Benin, worships. The Holy Aruosa is a combination of English and Bini word. Holy as it implies means to be pure while Aruosa is a place or site of worshipping God. According to sources close to the church, the Holy Aruosa was founded in 1506 during the reign of Oba Esigie.
The Church, said to be the oldest church in Africa, was established by the Portuguese before they started the Roman Catholic and other churches. Today, it is common to see tourists from America and Europe visiting the church. The purpose of their visit is to come and see the first church in Nigeria because according to them, they have seen that the establishment of churches in Nigeria have been expanding.
According to Harrison Okao, the Ohen- Osa, or Chief Priest of the Church, it was founded as a place of worshipping God directly without passing through any intermediary. “We don’t pray through Jesus not because we are against Jesus, we don’t pray through Mohammed not because we are against Mohammed, we don’t pray through the deities like Olokun, Ogun, Sango and all others, not because we are against them but because we believe that God existed before their existence. Therefore, if you want anything from your father, you ask him directly rather than going through an intermediary."
He explained that Holy Aruosa is a place where anybody can come to worship irrespective of tribe or religion. If you are a Christian, you can come here and worship, if you are a Muslim, you can come here to worship, if you are an idol worshipper, you can also worship at the church.
The only difference is that most of the religions pray through an intermediary but in Holy Aruosa they pray directly to God."
The priest went further, “we start the day’s service with an opening song otherwise known as “Ohenosa muegbugie. After that, we say the opening prayers before we pray for the Oba of Benin, we pray for the heir apparent to the throne, which is the Omo N’ Oba’s first son, we pray for the other Oba’s children both at home and abroad, we pray for the palace, the chiefs, the government of the day, starting from the president, the governors, local government chairmen, councillors and others in the position of authority.”
Okao added that they also pray for good things to happen in the Benin Kingdom and the state while concentrating on members present while we individually ask God for whatever we want from him.
Another wonderful feature about the Holy Aruosa is the choir which is made of elderly people otherwise known as the Edion Ni kao nomadode meaning the elders that will never go astray.
There is also the Chiefs Group, the Wardens’ Group, Youth and Children’s group. And Aruosa N okao, Osagbemwenorue, Ikiede and Ohen Nogu Osawe group as members of the church. These groups are for effective coordination of the church’s activities.
The difference between Holy Aruosa and the orthodox church is the mode of worship and belief. Okao explained that: “If you are talking about the fear of God, the Holy Aruosa members have the fear of God and we have it in our creed that if you sin against mankind, you must go and beg that man and if you don’t go and beg that person, you will receive punishment on earth and after death, you will receive the punishment. That is why we don’t commit sin.
“For instance, if you leave anything here and you come back in three days, nobody will take it because we believe that if you take what does not belong to you, it means you have sin already and you will not enter the kingdom of God. Sinners will not enter the kingdom of God, whoever fornicates will not enter the kingdom of God, whoever covets another person’s wife or property will not enter the kingdom of God and whoever kills cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
He disclosed that the church doctrine is against adultery because it is wrong for a man to sleep with another person’s wife and it is equally wrong for a woman to leave her husband’s house to go and sleep with another woman’s husband. It is wrong and so anybody that does this will not see the kingdom of God. But as a member of the Holy Aruosa church, if you want to marry more than 20 wives, the church cannot say no but would advise that you give them equal love but if you cannot share equal love with all of them, you have to hands off. So the idea of having a wife at home and maybe two or three concubines outside is a sin.”
Another feature is that the church has its own book of worship like the Bible. The difference is that it is known as the Book of Holy Aruosa and was written by the "wise men with the dictate, teachings and sayings of the ancient Benin kingdom." It is made up of the dos and don’ts that fore fathers bequeathed to the present generation. Okao explained further that the book is just like “the Old Testament in the Bible and if we have anything or any area that we want to refer to in the Bible, we do so, we also refer to the Koran for things to move on properly”.
The mode of worship in Aruosa follows the pattern of the Catholic.
Though in those days, there was no drumming in any church but drumming started in Holy Aruosa and a white Bishop in Lagos then, criticized Aruosa saying that is not the way to serve God. The case even went to court but today, every church drums and sings
The Oba of Benin is the spiritual head of the Church, while the heir apparent to the throne, that is the Omo N’Oba’s first son is number two and the Chief Priest of the Holy Aruosa is number three. All others work with the priest.
The ordination of the Chief Priest is done in the church after the confirmation from the Omo N’ Oba being the head and the selection. It mostly a spiritual exercise.