Evangelistic Activities

According to the chronological lists of the Ethiopian bishops, Frumentius was succeeded by the Bishop Minas. He was apparently of Egyptian origin. From this time onward began the peculiar Alexandrian jurisdiction over Ethiopian Church, which was to last for sixteen hundred years. Throughout this period Ethiopians were not considered to be eligible for consecration as bishops. Minas left certain literary works concerning his missionary activities but the major contribution in the missionary field was that of the nine Saints. They came to Axum about 480, and well received by the emperor Ella Amida and by the inhabitants of the city. The most outstanding figures among the Nine Saints were Za-Mikael Aregawi, Pantalewon, Afse, and Garima or Isaac (Yeshaq). As their names indicate, they came from different parts of the Eastern Roman Empire, such as Constantinople and Syria. They were all adherents of the same doctrine, however it seems that they left the countries of their origin because of religious differences; they were anti-Chalcedonian, and thus were persecuted by the roman emperor, who was an ardent supporter of the Chalcedonian doctrines. They went first to Egypt, and lived some years at the monastery founded by Pachomius, before proceeding to Ethiopia. In Axum they studied the language and became familiar with the people and customs. After this preparation they set out in different directions to proselytize and to introduce monastic institutions. Only two of them, Abba Libanos and Abba Pantalewon, remained near Axum itself, the others went further east of the capital and founded hermitages in the old pagan centres. Za-Mikael went to Debra Damo where the worship of the serpent had long flourished. He succeeded in eradicating the cult, and founded a monastery there. Abba Pantalewon transformed a pagan temple into a church. Abba Afse went to Yeha, the renowned Sabaean center, and likewise transformed the famous temple there into a church. The Afse went to Yeha, the renowned Sabaean center, and likewise transformed the famous temple there into church. The efforts of the Nine Saints to wipe out paganism did not result in their persecution, as had happened in the Roman Empire, since in Axum they had the protection and support of the sovereign.


The Nine Saints also contributed greatly to the development of the Ge’ez liturgy and literature. They introduced terms and vocabulary into Ge’ez, such as Haymanote, Religion, qasis, priest, and ta’ot, idols. But their major contribution was undoubtedly their great work of Biblical translation into Ge’ez. The work of translation had begun in part during the time of Frumentius, at that time only a few of the basic Books for worship, such as passages of the psalms, had been translated as revealed in contemporary inscriptions. The Nine Saints undertook the massive task of translating the whole Bible. Since they were familiar with both Syriac and Greek, they used a Syrio-Greek text for this purpose. Most probably each of the Nine Saints translated one portion of the Bible. This is why the Ethiopic version reveals considerable differences in style from one Book to another. The Ethiopic version is one of the earliest Bible translations, and as such it is great importance in textual criticism and in establishing the original text.


The Nine Saints also translated a number of basic religious works into Ge’ez. These are of both doctrinal and literary content. Under the title of Qerllos (Cyril) were translated dogmatical treatises and homilies of the Church Fathers, in particular the work known as de Recta Fide by St.Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria. On this book which was translated from the Greek text, is based the teaching of the Ethiopian Church. Other works translated at this period include The Ascetic Rules of Pachomius, which still today regulate the monastic life of Ethiopia, and the Life of Saint Anthony by St, Athanasius, which is still widely read in Ethiopian Church circles.