The Short Biography of Abba Iyyesus Moa

December 7, 2015

By Kassa Nigus

Abba Iyesus-Mo’a, one of the saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, was the founder and abbot of the famous monastery of St. Stephen of Lake Hayq in Wollo, about 630 km North of Addis Ababa. According to his hagiography, Abba Iyyesus Mo’a was conceived to his father Zekristos and his mother Egzi’e Kibra on Sunday, August 26, 1205 and was born on Wednesday, May 26, 1206 E.C during the reign of Ne’akuto Le’ab in a place called Dahina Gabriel, in Gondar. 

He was raised up in his parents’ house learning religious and ethical education. At the age of thirty, he went to the Monastery of Debre Damo and started his ascetic life. After years of harsh trial and education, he received the monastic order from   Abba Yohanni, the seventh abbot of Dabra Damo around 1247 E.C. 

According to his hagiography, one day, the angle of God, St. Gabriel, appeared and told him to go to the place known as “Haiq,” where his name will be glorified and his legacy celebrated through generations. Then, he asked the angle saying, “How can I know the place?”  But the angle ordered him to go forward obeying the order, so he started his journey and reached hurriedly after six hours walk, which could be a journey of several months, by the help of the angle.  

Before his arrival to the Monastery of Haiq Estifanos, he remained and served there for about six months in the church of Saints Peter and Paul, which is found north of the Monastery. He offered evangelical sermons for the people in the day time and then entered into the lake in the night for prayer. As his Gadl (hagiography) has recorded,  the entrance and departure of Abba Iyyesus Mo’a (in the form of light) into and from the lake every morning and every evening is divinely revealed to church fathers lived around the church of Haiq Estiphanos. 

Eventually through the request of the fathers of the Monastery and by the order of God, he was nominated as abbot of the Monastery. During his stay of forty-four years as an abbot, he collected several manuscripts from different monasteries and made them to be copied, and he established the first modern Ethiopian church libraries. Similarly, he established the first great church schools there where he trained 800 disciples and sent them across the country for evangelical services authorizing with a title Neburane’ed (nebure’ed being the highest hierarchal church position). 

 Dabre Hayq became a center of education and pilgrimage even during the lifetime of its founder. Abba Iyyesus Mo’a is one of the most eminent personalities of Ethiopian monasticism and is said to have been the spiritual father of many disciples, who stayed with him on the island and who in return established other monasteries. Among the few prominent disciples of Abba Iyyesus Mo’a are: 

  •   Abune Tekle Haymanot of Debre Libanos
  • Abba Hirute Amlak of Tana Haiq 
  • Abba Giyorgis of Gasicha 
  • Abba Ze Iyyesus
  • Abba Betselote Michael
  • Abba Aron of Zedebre Daret (of the Parish of Daret)

 According to the same source, Abba Iyyasus  Mo’a played a great role in the restoration of the Solomonic Dynasty in 1270. There was a strong relationship between Abba Iyyasus Mo’a and Yekunno Amlak. It has been known that before Yekunno Amlak, the Solomonic Daynasty was lost and the power was seized by the Zaguwe Dynasty for about 373 years.  

Gadle Abba Iyyasus Mo’a narrated this historical event as follows: “…ወእምዝ ፈነወቶ ለሕፃን ምስለ ወልዳ ከመ ይትመሀር  ቃለ እግዚአብሔር እምኀበ…. ኢየሱስ ሞዓ ወሶበ አእመረ ኢየሱስ ሞዓ ከመ ሀሎ ኃይለ እግዚአብሔር ላዕለ ውእቱ ሕፃን ይቤሎ ለሕፃን ለእመ አግብአ ለከ እግዚአብሔር  መንግሥተ አቡከ መሐል ሊተ ከመ ትግበር ፈቃደ ልብየ ወመሐለ ሎቱ..’Then, she sent him to learn the word of God from Abba Iyyesus Mo’a; during this time, Abba Iyyasus Mo’a had understood divinely as the Power of God exists upon this boy (Yekunno Amlak) so that he must be credited with helping the young boy to seize power from the Zaguwe Daynasty.

 Then Abba Iyyasus Mo’a made the boy to promise, to accomplish his will if he became a king, and Yekunno Amlak promised’”.   Thus, Yekunno Amlak was grown and studied under Abba Iyyasus Mo’a. Later on, when Yekunno Amlak came to power, he accomplished what he promised to Abba Iyyasus Mo’a. The covenant made between Abba Iyyasus Mo’a and Yekunno Amlak was listed below:

  • The children of Abba Iyyasus Mo’a shall attend when the letter of the king is presented (declared).
  • The succeeding kings shall not loot the Gult (plot of land given to the monastery for its service) given to Abba Iyyasus Mo’a.
  • Any criminal shall be saved from the judgment of death if he entered into the compound of the Monastery of Haiq. 
  • Those who are born in flesh (the laity) shall not inherit the inheritance of the Monastery.
  • Those who have not accepted the monastic yoke shall not inherit the inheritance of the Monastery.
  • The king also granted Abba Iyyasus Mo’a the authority of Aqqabe Sa‘at (administrative head), the title given to the one who was the third of the kingdom. 

Abba Iyessus Mo’a was also responsible for cleansing Atse Yikuno Amlak from his sin through repentance when the king was claimed to have married the wife of his father, which is strongly condemned in the Christian matrimonial custom. Due to this historical ties, Abba Iyyesus Mo’a has had a strong relationship with the emperors of the time. For instance, the manuscript of the four gospels Abuna Iyyasus Mo’a donated to the Monastery  is still found in its library  and it contains written references for visits to the Monastery by the two most powerful Ethiopian monarchs of the day, Yekunno Amlak (1270-1285) and Amda Seyon (1314-1344).

Abba Iyyesus Mo’a contributed, with unreserved effort, in the restoration of Christianity after the damage by Yodit Gudit through his evangelical programs by sending his disciples across the country especially towards southern parts of the country. Most of the monasteries that we have today are the fruit of his efforts and that of his disciples trained from Haiq Estiphanos, the ancient church university. 

Abba Iyyesus Mo’a died on Sunday, November 26/ 1292 E.C after he lived there for 44 years. According to his hagiography, during his departure from this world, light was occupying the surrounding area witnessing his religious devotions.


  •   The Hagiography of Abba Iyyesus Mo’a.
  •  The Dictionary of Ethiopian Biography, V.1, 1975.