Abba Zemika'el Aregawi

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Note: This article or section represents an Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonian) perspective, which may differ from an Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian) understanding.

Abba Zemika'el Aregawi was one of the Nine Saints credited in Ethiopia with enculturating and spreading the Orthodox Faith in the country following its official conversion by St. Frumentius of Axum. Abba Aregawi is commemorated on 14 T'iqemt (October 24).


In the medieval account of his life preserved by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Abba Aregawi is said to have been a son of a Roman emperor and to have gathered the other eight Roman saints to himself at St. Pachomius' Monastery before departing with them for Ethiopia. It is more commonly believed that the Nine Saints arrived in Axum, the first great capital city of Ethiopia, in 480 and that they came from different parts of the East Roman Empire, having fled the persecutions of the Orthodox who remained faithful to the teaching of St. Cyril of Alexandria after the Council at Chalcedon.

In Abba Aregawi's life it is said that the Nine Saints remained in Axum for 12 years before they left the city to evangelize the outlying districts of the Ethiopian Empire. Abba Aregawi became known as 'Aregawi' ('the elder') because of his preeminence amongst the Nine. He together with his mother, who had become a nun, and his disciple Abba Matewos left Axum for a wide, rocky pillar (much like those of Meteora) to found a monastery. When the monastics could reach the top of the pillar a serpent came and helped them get to its top, which is why Abba Aregawi is often portrayed next to the site of his monastery (Debre Damo) climbing to it on a snake.

During Abba Aregawi's life Debre Damo became a large monastery and has remained famous in Tigray and all of Ethiopia to this day. Upon Abba Aregawi's repose he was succeeded as abbot of Debre Damo by his disciple Abba Matewos.

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