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SAINT EUSTATHIUS () OF

ETHIOPIA
By Hadria n Mr lija h Bar Isral

Western scholars consistently remark


on the many trappings of "Judaism"
which may now be observed in the
faith and practice of the Ethiopian
Orthodox Tewahedo Church; many
believing that they are some kind of
throwback to some earlier custom,
which has possibly come from the
Middle East at an earlier time. Such
people miss altogether the point that
the Nazarani nature of the Ethiopian
Church
represents
an
intentional
decision by the synod and the
emperor at the Council of Debre
Mitmaq in Tegulet in 1450 A.D. to
expand the faith and to preserve the
real teachings of Jesus and His
apostles within the context of modern
Christianity. This is something few
westerners have either the education,
or the strength of will to do.
The story itself begins with Jesus and
His apostles, who like Ethiopians,
speak a Semitic language, and have a
long tradition of taking part in
pursuing both Semitic life and culture.

The
radical
monk
Eustathius
(+12731352 A.D.) is
without question, one of the most
famous and influential saints of the
Ethiopian
Orthodox
Tewahedo
Church. Born on 15 July 1273,
Eustathius (Ge'ez Ewostatewos from
the Greek ) was the leader
of what has come to be known as the
"Sabbatarian"
sect
within
the
Ethiopian
Orthodox
Tewahedo
Church. It is this sect, which although
severely
persecuted
during
his
lifetime, eventually came to dominate
the entire Ethiopian Orthodox Church
and set the Semitic cultural tone for
the future of Ethiop ia.
Although Ethiopia was under the
jurisdiction of the Pope in Alexandria,
the seat of Christian philosophy, the
Nazarani teaching which came from
the followers of Jesus were preserved
in Ethiopia, in part due to their great
distance from that city.
The ideas of the secular world were
likely to creep in however, just as

they had done in other places. The


world watched while the Syriac
Orthodox Church underwent a period
of mass
Hellenisation
after
it's
creation by Yacoub Bar Adus in the
6 t h centur y A.D.

Ethiopia, he had found him preaching


against the establishment of the
Church and wanted him punished.
Amda Zion had him flogged, claiming
that he had brought the empire to its
knees through the spreading of heresy.

Saint Eustathius parents,


Krists
M and ina iywat

named
him

MiqbaIgz,
meaning
literally
"Trust of the Lord" in the Ge'ez
language. In the year 1280, whilst
still a youth, they sent him to live
with his maternal uncle Zacharias
who was the Abbot of Babra Maryam
Monastery on Mount Qorqor in
Garalta, where at the age of fifteen,
he took his monastic vows, then being
renamed as Eustathius.

What Eustathius did preach against


was the establishment of the Church
which at that time, as now, existed
together with the state. He believed
that the monks and other followers of
Jesus were responsible to heaven
more so than to any of the trappings
of imperial and earthly power. This
same view is shared by modern day
Nazarani who together with all of the
true followers of Jesus, believe that
the Church should be independent of
the state, and the people of God
subject to His Kingdom, rather than
the kings h ip of men.

His vit, which in Ge'ez is known as


a gdl, was written by his disciple
Absadi. There are three different
versions of this gdl known in the
modern day Ethiopian Church. He
lived seventy- nine years in total,
fourteen of which were spent in
Armenia .
Around
1300
A.D.,
Eustathius
founded his own monastic community
at Sarayi in modern day Eritrea,
where the Sabbath was kept according
to biblica l custo m.
Sometime in 1337 A.D., the Egyptian
born metropolitan (i.e. archbishop)
named Jacob arrived at the royal court
dragging
Eustathius
with
him,
claiming that on his way through the

The Judaic doctrines which were


being complained about, were the
authentic doctrines of the
early
Church, including the keeping of the
Sabbath in accordance with biblical
norms.








And God ended His
work which He had

made on the sev enth


day;
and
on
the
sev enth day He rested
from
His
work .
(Genes is 2:2)

And God blessed


sev enth
day
consecrated
because on it
rested from all of
work He made
Creation. (Genesis

the
and
it,
He
the
in
2:3)

It is because of this consecration that


we honour the Sabbath and keep it
holy. Jesus said to His apostles that:

The Sabbath was made


because of man and
not man because of the
Sabbath, therefore the
Son of Man is also the
Lord of the Sabbath.
(Mark 2:27- 28)
Thus we should

Remember the Sabbath


day and k eep it holy.
(Ex odus 20:8)
After the accusations in Askum, he
returned to Sarayi, and was nearly
stoned to death in his own cell.
Within a year he left control of the
monastery to Abba Absadi, who had
been his faithful disciple, and taking
may of his other disciples with him,
left Ethiopia and travelled to Cairo to
meet with Pope Benjamin II (+13271339),
the
82nd
Patriarch
of
Alexa ndr ia about his views .
He felt very strongly that the Bible
itself was sufficient support for his
views on the celebration of both the
Jewish feasts and the Sabbath, the
keeping of the white linen garments,
the use of turbans by the clergy, and
other aspects of what are now thought
to be purely Ethiopian religious
culture. Of course the Judaic seeming
aspects of the ministry of Eustathius
were not new, nor where they foreign

to the Coptic Orthodox Church or


hierarchy.
But
they
had
been
superseded
by
more
than
two
centuries by the adoption of a
platonic
view
of
the
Churchs
traditio n, practice and theolo gy.
Pope Benjamin II was very gracious
to Eustathius, but explained to him
that regardless of the biblical position,
the teaching of the church had long
surpassed the truth of the scriptures
and could not be change d.
Eustathius then undertook life as an
eremitical monk at the monastery of
St. Elijah in the Sketis desert for
several years before undertaking to
travel to Jerusalem, where he hoped
to meet Nazarani who agreed with his
strong positions. After a pilgrimage
to Cyprus he visited Jerusalem, which
had a flourishing Ethiopian diaspora
even in that period. He also toured
Nazareth, Bethlehem, Golgotha, and
bathed in the Jordan river. Finding
himself satisfied with his work in the
Holy Land, he then travelled to
Armenia, to Cilicia, where he died on
15 September 1352 A.D.
After Eustathius death, his disciples
returned to northern Ethiopia, where
they set up a centre of learning and
began to grow in numbers, including
many nobility.
Eventually Eustathius views became
the mainline view of the Ethiopian
Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which

now celebrates both the Friday night


to Saturday sundown Sabbath (the
Lesser Sabbath) and the Saturday
night to Sunday evening Sabbath (the
Greater Sabbath) representing the
incarnation of YAH (i.e. Life) in
the form of Jesus the Messiah.
Emperor Zara Yaqob vindicated Abba
Eustathius at the Council of Debre
Mitmaq in Tegulet (1450 A.D.),
which adopted his views, making
Ethiopia the last great bastion of
Nazarani belief prior to the 2012
foundation of the Nazarani Church,
which
itself
holds
apostolic
succession
from
the
Ethiopian
Orthodox Church.

BIBLIOGRAP HY
Ta ddes s e Ta m ra t, Church and State i n Ethi opi a,
Oxf ord, Cl a rendon Pres s , 1972
Tes f a ye G ebre Ma ri a m , A Structura l A na l ys i s of
G dl T kl Ha ym a not, A f ri ca n La ng ua g es a nd
Cul tures , V ol . 10, N o. 2 ( 1997) , pp. 181 - 198,
Publ i s hed by: Ta yl or & F ra nci s , Ltd., retri eved
28
October
2015
f rom
http://ww w. j s t or .o rg /s t a bl e / 177 17 14
G eorg e
W ynn
Brereton Hunti ng f ord,
The
Hi s tori ca l G eog ra phy of Ethi opi a : F rom the F i rs t
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hi s tori a e
A f ri ca na e,
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The
Bri ti s h
A ca dem y, 1989, ISBN 0197260551
G i a nf ra nco
F i cca dori ,
" Ewos a tewos "
in
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