Guest Post: Amsalu Tefera – SARĀBĀMON OF NIKOU IN ETHIOPIAN LITERATURE

St. Sarābāmon, Bishop of Nikou, lies among those important oriental saints whose reputation reached the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. According to his vita (see further below), he was a descendant of the proto-martyr Stephen and raised as a Jew in Jerusalem under the birth name of Simon.  After journeying to Alexandria, he was baptized by Archbishop Theonas (282-300), the 16th Pope of Alexandria, and then set about studying Scripture, including the Epistle of Ignatius and Balkiros.  He then became a monk in El-Zogag[1] monastery.  When the Alexandrian Patriarchate passed to Peter, the Seal of the Martyrs (300-311), Simon was made a patriarchal assistant, and later was appointed bishop of Nikou, with the ordained name of Sarābāmon, upon the death of John, the incumbent of that office.  The Ge‘ez version of the vita states:

ወእምዝ፡ ሤሞ፡ ርእሰ፡ ኤጲስ፡ ቆጶስ፡ ለቅዱስ፡ ሰራባሞን፡ ኤጲስ፡ ቆጶሰ። … ወተነበየ፡ ለከዊነ፡ ኤጲስ፡ ቆጶስ፡ ወነቢይ፡ ኅቡረ። ወእምድኅረ፡ ሤሞ፡ አንበሮ፡ ሰቡዐ፡ መዋዕለ፡ ኀቤሁ፡ በእንተ፡ ፍቅሩ። ወእምድኅረ፡ ሰቡዕ፡ ፈነዎ፡ ሀገረ፡ ሢመቱ፡ ምስለ፡ አብያጺሁ፡ ኤጲስ፡ ቆጶሳት፡… “And the Archbishop ordained St. Särabamon a bishop….. He foretold [of Sarābāmon’s] combined qualities as both a bishop and a prophet. After his ordination, [Peter] caused [Sarābāmon] to dwell with him for seven days because of his love [for the latter]. After seven days, he sent him towards his diocese with his fellow bishops.” (fol.131rv).

According to the vita, his welcoming into the city was so colorful and great that it compared to that of the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Among many other great deeds, Sarābāmon refuted the heresy of Sebalius, who taught the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one person, and also attacked the theological and Christological positions of Arius and Melitius.  After being repeatedly jailed and tortured by Diocletian, he was ultimately beheaded on Ḫedar 28 (December 7): ወከመዝ፡ ፈጸመ፡ ስምዖ፡ ወገድሎ፡ ቅዱስ፡ ሰራባሞን፡ አመ፡ ፳ወ፰፡ ለኅዳር። “And saint Sarābāmon completed his martyrdom and combat in such a way on the 28th of Ḫedar.”

Although not well-known in Ethiopian Christianity today, traditions about Sarābāmon are nonetheless preserved in several Ge‘ez texts.  The longest—and most important of these—is the Gadla Sarābāmon (“Life of Sarābāmon”), a complete hagiography of the saint translated from Arabic and preserved in a single late fifteenth century manuscript.  It was microfilmed in the late 1970s while in the possession of the famous monastery of Dabra Libānos in Shoa as EMML 6533; internal evidence indicates that it was commissioned by Marḥā Krestos (1408-1497),[2] ninth eččagē of the monastery. The entire manuscript spans 168 folios, with the first 118 of those consisting of a copy of the rare longer version of the Life of Paul[3] and the remainder being devoted to Gadla Sarābāmon.  The latter is comprised of a homily, attributed to Alexander, archbishop of Alexandria (†326), on the biography and combat of the saint, which is followed by his miracles and martyrdom.  An edition and English translation of the entire text is in preparation.  In addition to the Ge‘ez, an Arabic version of this hagiography is also known,[4] as is an incomplete Coptic witness to the martyrdom.[5]

Five much shorter Ethiopic texts are also devoted to this saint: the Synaxarium entry for Ḫǝdar 28 (December 7), two malke’at (Chaîne nos. 158 and 325), and two arke hymns (Chaîne no. 48 and that found in Wein[6] Athiop. 19).  The widespread creation of the latter two forms of literature in Ethiopia suggests that the compositions of those types dedicated to Sarābāmon were likely produced locally. Perhaps this indicates the greater veneration of this saint in one or more regions of mid-second millennium Ethiopia. Conversely, the Synaxarium entry, which preserves the main Ethiopian hagiographic memory of Sarābāmon, is derived from the Coptic, which similarly celebrates this saint’s life on Hatour 28.


[1] The monastery of Abba Severus, outside Alexandria. The Vita (fol. 129va) describes the monastery as እልሐብጡን.

[2] His gadl was edited by S. Kur, 1972, CSCO, SAe 62-63.

[3] Published in E. A. Wallis Budge, The Contendings of the Apostles: being the Histories of the Lives and martyrdoms and Deaths of the Twelve Apostles and Evangelists (2 vols.; London: Henry Frowde, 1898-1901), I:436-599 and II:527-707.

[4] Cf. G. Kraf, Catalogue de manuscrits Arabes Chrétiens conserves au Caire (Studi e Testi 63), 12.

[5] Published in H. Hyvernat, Les Actes des martyrs de l’Égypte, pp. 304-31.

[6] Catalogued by N. Rhodokanakis, Die Äthiopischen Handscriften der K. K. Hofbibliothek zu Wein, 59.

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About Alin Suciu

I am a researcher at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities. I write mostly on Coptic literature, Patristics, and apocryphal texts.
This entry was posted in Guest Post, Life of Sarapamon and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Guest Post: Amsalu Tefera – SARĀBĀMON OF NIKOU IN ETHIOPIAN LITERATURE

  1. Pingback: The Story of Sarabamon, from the Arabic synaxarion | hmmlorientalia

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