Nine Saints

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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.

The Nine Roman Saints are credited with enculturating the Orthodox Faith in the Ethiopian Empire after its conversion by St. Frumentius in the fourth century and are widely venerated in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Arrival of the Nine Saints

It is said that the Nine Saints arrived in Aksum, the first great capital city of Ethiopia, in 480. They came from various parts of the East Roman Empire, having fled the persecutions of the Orthodox who remained faithful to the teaching of St. Cyril after Chalcedon's acceptance of the semi-Nestorian tome of Pope Leo the Great. The most prominent among the Nine Saints were the hieromonks Abba Zemika'el, Abba Aregawi, Abba P'antalewon (Panteleimon), Abba Aftse, and Abba Gerima (also known as Yisihaq/Isaac).

Missionary Efforts of the Nine Saints

The histories of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church record that the Nine Saints lived for a time at St. Pachomius' Monastery in Egypt before continuing on to Ethiopia. After their arrival in Aksum the Nine Saints studied Ge'ez, the national language at that time, and learned the customs of the Ethiopian people. They then spread out in different directions, preaching the Gospel and establishing monasteries wherever they went. Only Abba Libanos ('Fr. Lebanon' - possibly a title derived from his home country and not his actual name) and Abba P'antalewon remained near Aksum, the later founding a church on the outskirts of this city that continues in use to this day.

Of the Nine Saints who left the vicinity of Aksum several established monasteries and churches on old center of pagan worship. In the place where a serpent had long been worshiped Abba Zemika'el overthrown the pagan cult and founded the famous Monastery of Debre Damo. Abba Aftse traveled to the once great city of Yiha, where he converted its ancient Sabaean temple into a church.

Thanks to the work of the Nine Roman Saints the Apostolic Faith was firmly planted in Ethiopia and began to use the Ge'ez language in its divine services instead of Greek. The Nine Saints were themselves responsible for having the translation of the Holy Bible, begun in the time of St. Frumentius, completed. They also had a number of the writings of the Fathers, including those of Sts. Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria and Pachomius the Great, translated into Ge'ez.

Legacy of the Nine Saints

The Nine Saints are credited in Ethiopia with inaugurating a new era in the life of the young Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The development of the country's sacred music, liturgical life, and literature all received a boost as a result of the Nine Saints' labors and those of their disciples. One of their disciples, St. Yared (Jared), devised the tonal system of Ethiopian Orthodox sacred music and also wrote many hymns. They also enriched the original Alexandrian Orthodox foundations of the Church with a number of Syriac Orthodox artistic, liturgical, and architectural influences. To this day the monasteries and churches they founded in northern Ethiopia are centers of pilgrimage for the Orthodox faithful as well as repositories of ancient texts, relics, and works of art.

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