Pagumen: The Thirteenth Month of Ethiopia

September 7,  2015
By Kassa Nigus

The Ethiopian Calendar has 13 months, 12 months of 30 days each and an additional month, at the end of the year, of 5 or 6 days depending on whether the year is a leap year or not. The 13th month of the modern Ethiopian solar calendar1 is one of the many unique ancient heritages Ethiopia has contributed to the entire world.

The Ethiopian calendar gives special consideration to Pagumen for a number of reasons. Let’s see few of them:

A. The Second Advent of Jesus Christ

While the exact date of the Second Advent is a mystery, there are four presiding opinions regarding the matter. One is that Christ will appear on Debre Zeit (Mount of Olives) in the year of St. John, in the month of March at mid night of Sunday. Debre Zeit is also used to name the Sunday that comes halfway through lent. The second opinion is that Christ will come during Pagumen. In this month, the church cites biblical words related to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The other two opinions have been believed to be occur in the months of Tahisas 4-6 /December13-15 and Sene25/July2.

B. The Festival of the Archangel Raphael
St. Raphael holds the third rank among the seven archangels next to St. Michael and St. Gabriel. Archangels St. Raguel, St. Urael, St. Faneuil and St. Saquel follow him in rank in the stated order.  Homily of Raphael, a holy book which contains the miracles of the Archangel, says that St. Raphael has been given the power to lock and open the gates of heaven. (Homily of Raphael, pp.185)

One of the most important miracles of St. Raphael is commemorated on the third day of Pagumen. The miracle is related to a church dedicated to the archangel and is said to have been constructed on an island outside the city of Alexandria in Egypt. It is said that the church was threatened to be demolished by a whale and started shaking whilst the believers were praying inside the church. It was later saved miraculously by the Archangel Raphael.

The story described in the Book of Tobit, an Old Testament scripture, states that St. Raphael was revealed to a man named Tobia who had a blind father called Tobit. The archangel instructed Tobia to fish in the River of Tigris and the heart and liver of a fish is said to have been served to Tobit, and that cured his eyes.
According to the same story, a woman named Sarah (not the wife of Abraham) was married to seven husbands one after another, but all died on the first night of the marriage.

St. Raphael intervened and told Tobia to marry Sarah. He miraculously exorcised the evil spirit and Tobia was spared the fate of Sarah’s previous husbands. St. Raphael is also believed to have been empowered by God to intervene for fruitful marriage, fertility and to reduce the labor during childbirth. He is also said to have performed a number of miracles on this day (Pagumen 3). That’s why the day is celebrated with special vivacity in the churches dedicated to the Archangel. 

Pagumen 3 is also called Rehiwe Semay2 literally meaning ‘The opening of heaven’. It is believed that on this day the prayers of believers reach before God in a special manner, and hence the term Rehiwe Semay.
The rain that falls on this day is also considered holy; it is believed that it blesses Christians and protects them from illness and bad fortune. On this day, we see children rinsing in the rain to receive blessing. Women add drops of the sacred rainwater to their dough to have their Injera and bread blessed.

C. The Holy Water of Pagumen
Besides Pagumen 3, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians also observe the other days of the month by rinsing themselves in holy water at different churches and monasteries. They do this to get sanctified and liberate themselves of all ailments, evil spirits and acts of witchcraft.

Christians also associate the days of pagumen with the five days during which the biblical Job was rinsed and cured from his wounds. Job is said to have been rinsed in the waters for five days and was cured on the fifth night. Therefore, the last night of pagumen (eve of New Year/ Enkutatash) is very significant to Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. Particularly in rural Ethiopia, ill and healthy people alike go to nearby rivers to bathe in the waters which are believed to be holy during this period.
•    Ethiopic Synaxarium: the month of Pagumen. 
•    ያሬድ ፈንታ ወልደ ዮሐንስ 2004 ዓ.ም. ባሕረ ሐሳብ የቀመርና የሥነ ፈለክ ምስጢር፡፡
•    Bantalem Tadesse, 2010. A Guide to the Intangible Treasure of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church: Historic Perspective and Symbolic interpretation of the Festivals.
1 Explain the four cycles of years (Year of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) in  the    Ethiopian calendar system.
2 Rehiwe semay literally means “the opening of the window of heaven”. On this day prayer is offered for the blessing of water and oil; the blessed water is drunk and the oil applied on the bodies of people for cure and blessing. It is believed that Rehiwe semay takes place seven times a year at intervals of 52 days  starting from Pagumen three. (Yared Fenta 2004 E.C PP.48)