Abune Tekle Haymanot

Our patron Father Abune Tekle Haymanot is the most prominent saint in Ethiopia. He is one of the very few, if not the only human on earth given wings! It is good to note here that saint Tekle Haymanot is one of the very few saints that Christians celebrate their birthday. He is probably the only Ethiopian saint celebrated officially in foreign churches such as Egypt and Rome. He has a monthly feast on the 24th day of every month in the Ethiopian calendar (which is the same as the Coptic calendar and derived from it). He performs many miracles daily in the lives of his children and we commemorate it in holy church.  (Coptic Synaxarium)

Abune Tekle Haymanot was a saint and monk mostly venerated as a hermit. He was the Abuna of Ethiopia who founded a major monastery in his native province of Shewa. His feast days are on January 2 (Tahesas 24 is his birth day) and 30 August (Nehase 24 is his departure day), and the 24th day of every month in the Ethiopian calendar is dedicated to Tekle Haymanot.

Early life

Tekle Haymanot was born in Zorare, a district in Selale which lies on the eastern edge of Shewa. He was the son of the priest Tsega Zeab (“Gift of Faith”) and his wife Egzi’e Haraya (“Choice of God”), who is also known as Sarah; Tekle Haymanot was born after his parents, who had failed to have children, pledged their firstborn to God.

During his youth, Shewa was subject to a number of devastating raids by Matolomi, the pagan king of Damot, which lay beyond the Jamma River. One of Matolomi’s most notorious predations was the raid which led to the abduction of Egzi’e Haraya; she is said to have been reunited with Tsega Zeab through the intercession of the Archangel Michael; when Matolomi found out that they were escaping he threw a spear who turned from them to his direction and killed him.  There are several traditions like that one, some of less historical value than others, which describe Tekle Haymanot’s interactions with King Matolomi.

His father gave Tekle Haymanot their earliest religious instruction; later he was ordained a priest by the Egyptian Bishop Cyril (known as Kirollos in Coptic).

Later career

The first significant event in his life was when Tekle Haymanot, at the age of 30, travelled north to seek further religious education. His journey took him from Selale to Grarya, then Katata, Damot, Amhara, to end at the monastery of Iyasus Mo’a, who had only a few years before founded a monastery on an island in the middle of Lake Hayq in the district of Amba Sel (the present-day Amhara Region). There Tekle Haymanot studied under the abbot for nine years before travelling to Tigray, where he visited Axum, then stayed for a while at the monastery of Debre Damo, where he studied under Abbot Yohannes, Iyasus Mo’a’s spiritual teacher. By this point he had developed a small group of followers, attracted by his reputation.

Eventually, Tekle Haymanot left Debre Damo with his followers to return to Shewa. En route, he stopped at the monastery of Iyasus Mo’a, where tradition states he received the full investiture of an Ethiopian monk’s habit. The historian Taddesse Tamrat sees in the existing accounts of this act an attempt by later writers to justify the seniority of the monastery in Lake Hayq over the followers of Tekle Haymanot.

Once in Shewa, he introduced the spirit of renewal that Christianity was experiencing in the northern provinces. He settled in the central area between Selale and Grarya, where he founded in 1284 the monastery of Debre Atsbo (renamed in the 15th century Debre Libanos). This monastery became one of the most important religious institutions of Ethiopia, not only founding a number of daughter houses, but its abbot became one of the principal leaders of the Ethiopian Church, called the Echege, second only to the Abuna.

Tekle Haymanot lived for 29 years after the foundation of this monastery, dying in the year before Emperor Wedem Arad did; this would date Tekle Haymanot’s death to 1313. He was first buried in the cave where he had originally lived as a hermit; almost 60 years later he was reinterred at Debre Libanos. In the 1950s, Emperor Haile Selassie constructed a new church at Debre Libanos Monastery over the site of the Saint’s tomb. It remains a place of pilgrimage and a favored site for burial for many people across Ethiopia.

Later traditions

One day Tekele Haymnot thought of  going to Jerusalem to see the Garden of Gethsemane and the hill of the skull that is called Golgotha. But Shaitan (Satan) planned to stop Tekla Haymanot going on his journey to the Holy Land, and he cut the rope which led from the rock to the ground just as Tekla Haymanot started to climb down. Then God gave Tekla Haymanot six wings and he flew down to the valley below … and from that day onwards Tekle Haimanot would fly back and forth to Jerusalem above the clouds like an aeroplane.

Many scriptures state that Tekle Haymanot played a significant role in Yekuno Amlak’s ascension as the restored monarchy of the Solomonic dynasty, following two centuries of rule by the Zagwe dynasty, although historians like Taddesse Tamrat believe these are later inventions. (A few older traditions credit Iyasus Mo’a with this honour.)

Another tradition credits Tekle Haymanot as the only Archbishops  of Ethiopia who was born in Ethiopia and who was Ethiopian. The Christian population and Bishops of Ethiopia wanted Tekle Haimanot to become the Archbishops of Ethiopia. After the new Arch Bishops  Abuna Yohannes from Egypt sent by the Patriarch of Alexandria arrived at Ethiopia he decided to separate: One part of Ethiopia to Tekle Haimanot and one part to himself, but Tekle Haimanot didn’t want the high rank as Arch Bishops anymore and retired from his position to become a monk again.

A number of hagiographies of this saint have been written. There are two different Hagiographies to be mentioned here. “one written by Abba Samuel of Waldiba in the first quarter of the 15th century and the other by one Gibra Maskel of Debre Libanos early in the 16th century”. The Life of Täklä Haymanot, which is attributed to one Täklä Sion is another scripture to be mentioned. Another version, popular at the monastery of Debre Libanos and containing far more details of the saint’s life than any other version of the Hagiography and written by Ichege Yohannis Kema is another book containing the story of our righteous father Tekele Haymanot.

May his intercession be with us, Amen!