Thursday, October 27, 2011
October 27 -- Feast of Saints Frumentius and Aedisius
I know that I have already written that St. Philip the Deacon was the first to Christianize Ethiopia. I do not mean to take anything away from Phil's accomplishments, but churches need attention like trees need water. Sure, they can go a long time without it, but they'll wither and die if you let them go too long.
Thus, in the early fourth century, the young lads Frumentius and Aedisius (or Aedeius) found themselves in a country without Christianity. They were not, at least not by intention, missionaries. Rather, they were accompanying their tutor (perhaps also their uncle), Meropius of Tyre, on his journey to India. Or what he called India, which seemed to be Arabia. Anyway, they had a spot of bad weather in the Red Sea and decided to put in to an Ethiopian port. The treaty between Ethiopia and Rome had lapsed, and after a brief debate on the pier, the crew and passengers were all put to death.
Well, that wouldn't have been much of a story, and we all know that the folks in Axum (the empire that Romans called Ethiopia) loved a good story, so they spared these two scholarly boys. In fact, the local port authority decided that the boys would make a good present for the king. Good call, as the boys proved very useful. Aedisius was appointed royal cup-bearer (a position of both great ceremony and tremendous trust, if you think about it). Frumentius was appointed steward of the palace.
Although the kingdom was split between the indigenous, serpent-dominated faith and Judaism, the king did not dissuade the boys from practicing, nor discussing, Christianity. After his death, the Queen ruled on behalf of her young sons and enjoined the brothers to take on even more of the national administration. Their roles seem to have included Treasurer, Secretary of State, and tutors to Ezana and Sayzana, the future kings.
When Ezana had grown to maturity and took the throne, Frumentius and Aedisius begged leave to return to their own empire. Aedisius went home to Tyre and became a priest. Frumentius went to Alexandria, where he asked Athanasius the Patriarch to send a bishop to Axum to evangelize. Athanasius' momma didn't raise no dummies -- Frumentius was promptly ordained Bishop of Ethiopia and put on the next southbound boat.
He was welcomed on return, evangelized the place for the rest of his life, and is generally credited with being the first to actually plant the extant Christian Church there. Sorry, Phil.
Posted by Tom Major at 4:00 AM