Saint Eustathius of Ethiopia and Controversey over His Enforcement of Sabbath Worship
|Born||21 Ḥamle, 1265 (Ge’ezCalendar)
15 July 1273 (Julian Calendar)
22 July 1273 (Gregorian Calendar)
Tsira’, Enderta province
|Died||18 Meskerem, 1345 (Ge’ez Calendar)
15 September 1352 (Julian Calendar)
23 September 1352 (Gregorian Calendar)
|Oriental Orthodox Churches
Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church
|Patronage||House of Ewostatewos|
Ewosṭatewos (Ge’ez ኤዎስጣቴዎስ ʾĒwōsṭātēwōs, also ዮስጣቴዎስ Yōsṭātēwōs, Eustathius, July 15, 1273 – September 15, 1352 according to the Julian Calendar) was an important religious leader of the Ethiopian Church. He was a forceful advocate for the Ethiopian form of observing the Sabbath. His followers, known as the House of Ewostatewos (individuals are known as Ewostathians), have been a historic force in the Ethiopian church.
Ewostatewos was born on 21 Ḥamle as Ma`iqabe Igzi (ማዕቃበ እግዚ Māʿiqāba ʾIgzī, modern Māʿiqābe ʾIgzī) to father Kristos Mo’a (ክሪስቶስ ሞአ Kristōs Mōʾā) and mother Sine Hiywet (ሥነ ሕይወት Śina Ḥiywat, modern Sine Hiywet). According to the 16th century Gadl (or Vita) of his pupil, Ananya, Ewostatewos was born in the Tsira` north east of Mekelle, part of Enderta province, now located with in Enderta wereda, near where he would later found the monastery of Debre Tserabi. Around 1280, while still young, he was sent to live with his uncle Abba Daniel (monastically known as Zekaryas), the abbot of Debre Maryam on mount Qorqor in Gar’alta a district of Enderta province . Daniel provided him with his earliest education and introducing him to monastic life. Ma`iqabe Igzi announced his intention to become a monk at 15 and with his decision was renamed to Ewostatewos.
Career as a religious figure
After being ordained a monk by his uncle, Ewostatewos left the community and founded his own monastery in Seraye, now part of Eritrea. There he attracted a large number of students, and explained his views until the arrival of Abuna Yaqob (c. 1337), who was opposed to his views. Ewostatewos, accompanied by most of his disciples including Bakamos Marqorewos and Gabra Iyasus, left Ethiopia. He first reached Cairo, where he met Patriarch Benjamin of Alexandria and defended his views before the church leader. He then visited Jerusalem, and eventually travelled to Armenia, where he died.
Ewostatewos view of the Sabbath was that it should be observed on both Saturday (the Lesser Sabbath) and Sunday (the Great Sabbath): Saturday for the original Sabbath of the Old Testament, and Sunday in honour of the resurrection of Christ in the New. He found support for his views in the Ten Commandments and the Canons of the Apostles. This has been the historical practice of the Ethiopian Church. Taddesse Tamrat cites evidence that suggests that the interpretation of Ewostatewos regarding the Sabbath was not his own innovation, but had been practiced in the Coptic Church before his time and only declared heretical in Egypt a few centuries before.
Influence on the Ethiopian Church
After his death, his students and disciples continued to advocate Ewostatewos’ religious views. When Ewostatewos left Ethiopia, he had entrusted his community to his senior disciple Abba Absadi, who had a difficult time keeping the community together until the other disciples returned to Ethiopia after a 14 year absence. Together they helped him establish a community at Debre Mariam. His followers later spread across northern Ethiopia, founding new monasteries that not only promoted Ewostatewos’ interpretation of the Sabbath, but created a religious hierarchy that was independent of the Abuna. Their persistence eventually led to their success in 1450 at the Council of Debre Mitmaq in Tegulet, where Emperor Zara Yaqob was able to convince the Egyptian leadership to acquiesce to this local observance.
James Bruce notes that the leader of this order, at the time of his visit to Ethiopia, was the abbot of Mahebar Selassie, in the northwestern corner of that country.
Gianfranco Ficcadori, “Ewosṭatewos” in Siegbert Uhlig, Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: D-Ha (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005), p. 469.
Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), pp. 206f.
Taddesse Tamrat, p. 209
James Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (1805 edition), vol. 5 p. 6