The Feast of Abba Gerima

June 23, 2016

By Kassa Nigus 

Abba Gerima, or Yeshaq (Isaac), is one of the Nine Saints attributed to be the founder of Abba Gerima monastery in 494, some kilometers east of Adwa town, in northern Ethiopia. The monastery is the home of world’s earliest illustrated ancient manuscripts known as ‘Garima Gospels’ which is written and named after a saint himself. Aba Gerima, along with other eight saints greatly influenced the course of religious thought through his writings, contributing to the development of Ethiopian Orthodoxy.

The saint wrote and illustrated the complete Gospels in a single day; God stopped the sun from setting until the Saint completed his work, as stated in his Hagiography. The Nine Saints arrived in Axum, the first great capital city of Ethiopia, in 480 having fled the persecutions of Chalcedonian Council that declared Monophysitism heresy in 451 AD. Each of these saints has a saint’s day on the Ethiopian Church calendar. Accordingly, the Church celebrates the Feast of Abba Gerima on 17th day of each month of which Senie 17(June 24) is an annual feast dedicated to the saint. 

The nine saints came from various parts of the East Roman Empire, and contributed a lot  in the initial growth of Orthodox Christianity in Ethiopia during the late 5th century. They built churches, translated the Bible from Greek to Ge’ez, and created Christian centers in various places of Ethiopia. Their names were Abba Aftse, Abba Alef, Abba Aragawi, Abba Garima (Isaac, or Yeshaq), Abba Guba, Abba Liqanos, Abba Pantelewon, Abba Sehma, and Abba Yem’ata. According to His Gadl (hagiography) and Ethiopic Synaxarium, the brief biography of Abba Gerima recorded as follows: 

Abba Garima was the son of Emperor of Rome (Byzantium), Masfeyanos, and his wife, Sefengeya. His mother bore him through the intercession of the Virgin Mary after fifteen years of barrenness. He was sent to study theology and then he was appointed deacon, but later, on his father’s death, became king against his will. After he had ruled seven years, he was summoned by Abba Pantalewon and, with the help of the Archangel Gabriel, was able to reach Aksum in three hours during the reign of Alameda. There he joined Pantalewon and remained with his community for some years until they parted company, when he went to Madara and founded a monastery. He stayed there for twenty-three years performing miracles, driving out demons, and tending to the sick.

Among his amazing miracles one is written as follows, one day he sowed wheat at dawn, and reaped it in the evening and some of it he offered as an offering; and on the following day he took the remainder up to the threshing floor, and he trod out the sheaves of wheat, and obtained there seventy-seven measures of grain. He also planted a vine shoot on a rock, and it took root, and put forth leaves and bore fruit immediately.   Once when he was writing a letter; the sun was about to set, he commanded the sun to stand and God stopped the sun from setting until the Saint completed his letter. The spittle which he spat out, remained unto this day, and has been a means for healing the sick; and once when a reed fell from his hand, it took root that very day. 

One day as the saint was on the way along with his associates, priests of a certain parish asked him to celebrate the Mass, so that he accomplished what they asked as he was worthy of it unlike others who ate their food earlier. Later on, a certain men told to Abba Pantalewon saying, “Saint Isaac consecrated the Mass after he had eaten.”  Then, Abba Pantalewon having gone to him caught him on the road, and he said unto him, “Wait the men from you, so that I may tell you a secret.”  Then, Saint Isaac said unto him, “Let you leave the men rather remove the stones and forests from us”; at a moment stones and forests moved away miraculously for a certain distant.  Then, Abba Pantalewon said unto him, “O my son Isaac, you have stunned me,” and thereupon he was called ‘Abba Garima’. 

Having finished his good course, our Redeemer appeared unto him, and promised him that [He would forgive the sins of] those who call upon his name, and celebrate his commemoration. And straightway he was caught up in a shining cloud and disappeared. Some say Garima died on 17 Sanie (24 June). The Emperor Gabra-Masqal is reputed to have built him a church there, which he endowed liberally. 
• Synaxarium: The book of the saints of the Ethiopian Church.
• New home for ancient manuscripts (