Abba Giorgis of Gascha

July 13, 2022

The righteous father Abba Giorgis of Gascha was born in the region of Wello, Borena province in 1357 E.C. His father Hizbe Sion was known by his contemporaries as “a comprehender of the Scriptures like Salathiel” (Salathiel refers to Ezra the Scribe). His mother was Emmena Seyon from Bete Amhara.

His first Church teaching was by his father Hizbe Sion. He was so slow in learning that his teacher had lost hope at one point. Ethiopian education of the time relied heavily on memorization and without showing ability one would not get very far in studies where knowledge was preserved orally. It is said, “Faced with this problem, Abba Giorgis went daily to Church, where he prayed with tears and total concentration to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him to be diligent in his learning, forgoing even sleeping by night.” After, his father took him to Lake Stephen Monastery to Abba Samuel of Garma who taught him the hymns of Yared. He was also serving the fathers in the Lake Stephen Monastery by grinding grain. The stone Abba Giorgis used to grind grain still found in the monastery.
Abba Giorgis was among the monks who have been students of Ethiopian saint and monastic leader Iyasus Mo’a at Lake Hayq’s prominent monastery. He has composed hymns and wrote beginning books at early age. During the reign of Emperor Dawit, He was teaching children of the royal family along with writing Holy Scriptures. Abba Giorgis’ thoughts concerning the Sabbath, however, got him into trouble with other churchmen and Dawit I, who imprisoned him. Disputes about the Sabbath were politically destabilizing and the realm was troubled with monastic infighting during the 15th century. Ethiopia of that time had much contact with the outside world, which brought many missionaries of competing traditions and other travelers into the country. The Miaphysite Church and monastic leaders found themselves occasionally at odds with foreigners who managed to influence political leaders. A foreigner called Bitu, who had wielded great influence on the emperor, was involved in a decision to imprison Abba Giorgis. There were differences in religious views between Bitu and Abba Giorgis, as shown in the Book of Mystery where Abba Giorgis devotes a chapter to refute Bitu’s views on the Image of God. He was finally released when one of his former royal students, Tewodros I, rose to the throne. Despite his dissidence, he continued to hold influence until his death during the reign of emperor Yeshaq I. While Giorgis had wished to join a monastery of Dabra Libanos, disputes about the Sabbath led him to join Dabra Gol in historical Wollo region instead. There, late in his life, he became the head of the community of Abba Batsalota-Mikael. Many of his former royal students, who were the eight sons of emperor Dawit I, one by one became rulers of the Ethiopian Empire. Abba Giorgis was also known his defending the teaching of the Church from external and internal enemies suppressing different heresies which arose at that time which had become a place of pilgrimage already during Iyasus Mo’a’s lifetime.

Abba Giorgis produced more works, possibly than any other writer in the Church of Ethiopia. With that he earned the title of ‘Light of Ethiopia.’ He was also known as the “Yared the second.” In ‘Abba Giorgis ZeGasitcha’ monastery Located in Wollo, Borena, manuscripts, which are used in the lifetime of Abba Giorgis ZeGasitcha, who built the monastery still exist. The exact number of his books are not known. But Some of the few known books are:- Hohite Birhan, Arganon , Sequoia Dingil, Wndassie Meskel, Mesihafe Sibhat, Anapboras, Wodassie Hawariat, Se‘atati Zeme‘aliti Wezeleliti, Fikre Haimanot, Mesihafe Mistir.

Abba Giorgis was among the prominent theological in Ge’ez language during the fifteenth century in medieval Ethiopia. Out of his writing, he is mostly remembered for his book of hours, Hours (Sa’atat), and The Book of Mystery (Masehafa mestir). Before his work on calendars, the Ge’ez version of the Coptic Book of Hours was a widely used book, even though many monasteries opted to compile their own books of hours. Use of the Coptic Book of Hours prevailed to some extent, despite Abba Giorgis’ book being the most prevalent book in use. His book was gradually expanded to include additional material, such as hymns, during the century following from its inception. A late 17th-century Ethiopian book from Gondar, the Miracles of Mary (Te’amire Maryam), includes a story how Virgin Mary favored Abba Giorgis’ book of hours.

Abbba Giorgis wrote in his Book of Mystery that man is a creature of God with an immortal soul. With the divine gift of soul, man becomes different from other creatures, as man is an intelligent and speaking thing. Giyorgis’ view of man can be characterized as dualistic. With the book, Abba Giorgis also attempted to refute heretical beliefs. It is an extensive anti-heretical work composed of 30 chapters. Treatises on heresy are meant to be read during important feast days of the Ethiopian Church. Each treatise concentrates on a different heretical doctrine, and the book refutes them one by one. The book was completed on 21 June 1424. It is the most important original Ethiopian theological work. The book is still used in liturgy.

Abba Giorgis held the position of abbot (Nebura’ed) of the important monastery of Debre Damo. He also founded the monastery of Debre Bahriy in Gesecha. At the monastery named after him, there is a crosscut in warka tree’s bark claimed to have been left behind by Abba Giorgis himself.

The Ethiopian Saint, Oriental Orthodox monk and author of religious books died at the age of July 7, 1408 E.C. at the age of 60.

May His prayer and blessing be upon us!