A Great Cloud of Witnesses

On June 10, 2009, I published a post about our first weekly saint, St. Columba.  Since then, the list has grown considerably.  Most of them get the big ST, but not all.  The principle has been the examination of the lives and teachings of those who have gone before us.  Not all Christians of interest get the big ST.

We have looked at ancient, mediaeval, and post-mediaeval (‘modern’) Christians.  We have looked at Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and one Ethiopian Orthodox.  Apostolic men stand alongside poets who shake hands with mystics and martyrs.  All of these people have lived lives for Christ, and I hope that all of them can help bring us nearer to Christ by their example and teaching.

My selection has sometimes been from the Church Calendar.  Sometimes it has started there, as with Edmund James Peck (see in the list) and then extended by association; following Peck I wrote about other missionaries to the Arctic.  Sometimes they are chosen because I am reading about them or studying their work.

Often, if you have been following these weekly saints, you will have noticed that I give a brief biography of the saint, but not always.  Sometimes I offer a meditation on some aspect of the saint’s life and teaching.  Sometimes I ponder how best we might be able to honour or learn from a particular saint.  I hope these have been a blessing and will continue to bless!  Enjoy!

There are no women.  This is too bad.  I should fix this.  I meant to St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, when her feast rolled on by, but posted about no saint that week.  She and others shall make their way into the saints for 2011.  Here are the Weekly Saints thus far:

St. Joseph the Carpenter

Pope St. Leo the Great (here & here)

St. John of the Cross

St. Ambrose of Milan

St. Andrew the Apostle

St. Albert Lacombe

St. John the Baptist

St. Thomas the Apostle

St. Matthias the Apostle

St. Boniface

St. Augustine of Canterbury

St. Anthony of Padua

Emperor Constantine the Great

St. Athanasius

Dante Alighieri

St. George the Dragonslayer

George MacDonald

Thomas Cranmer

St. Cuthbert

St. Gregory of Nyssa

John Wesley (here & here)

St. Polycarp of Smyrna

St. Valentine

St. Antony the Great

St. Jean de Brebeuf

St. Francis of Assisi

Hans Egede

St. Juvenaly of Alaska

Edmund James Peck

St. John of Damascus

Abba Giyorgis Saglawi

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Maximilian Kolbe

CS Lewis

St. Alban the Martyr

Sts. Peter and Paul

St. Basil the Great

St. Columba

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Saint of the Week: Abba Giyorgis Saglawi

From an Ethiopian prayerbook
From an Ethiopian prayerbook

Abba Giyorgis (d. 1426) was an Ethiopian monk who was chaplain to Emperor Dawit I (r. 1380-1412).  According to “The Miracle of Saint Uriel the Archangel,” the English translation of which takes up pp. 9-13 of this document,* he was descended from the son of King Solomon whom Solomon sent to live among the Ethiopians.  Like many great men, Abba Giyorgis was born to parents who at first seemed infertile, but through constant prayer and supplication, their infertility was cured.

The second miracle, besides his birth, was when Abba Giyorgis was taught by the Archangel Uriel the alphabet.  He had spent 7 years at Hayq, “the Paradise of the East,” unable to learn his letters.  The Archangel, who had previously granted his parents the gift of this son, granted to Giyorgis the ability to read and write.

Immediately, as “The Miracle of Saint Uriel” relates, he began writing.  Abba Giyorgis Saglawi wrote a lot.  According to the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, he wrote

the “Arganona Wedase” (“Hymns of Praise”), the “Wedase Masqal” (“Praises of the Cross”), the “Matshafa Sebhat” (“Book of Thanks”), also called the “Matshafa Berhan” (“Book of Light”), the “Matshafa Mestir” (“Book of Mysteries”), which is a compilation of doctrines, completed two years before his death, and the “Matshafa Saatat” (“Book of Hymns”).

He also became abbot of the monastery of Dabro Damo as well as chaplain to Emperor Dawit, as mentioned above.  Like many men of active mind, he got himself into controversy and, thence, into prison.  He got out of prison as a result of a new emperor, Tewodros, who was one of his former pupils.

I became aware of Abba Giyorgis because of his role in the daily office of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.**  The last book in the list of his writings, the “Matshafa Saatat” is the book of the daily office.  Sa’atat is the Ethiopian hours or horologion.

The Sa’atat of Abba Giyorgis is the most common version of the daily office in use in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  To quote Taft on Giyorgis’ sa’atat:

This . . . sa’atat, apparently the only one still in common use, comprises nocturns and an eleventh and twelfth hour.  Nocturns and vespers or the eleventh hour are little more than a series of four Scripture lessons, with a responsorial pslam before the last, always a gospel, at nocturns.  This lection unit is enclosed in a framework of opening prayers and concluding intercessions, hymns, orations, canticles, etc.  The twelfth hour is a devotional office in praise of Mary.

Thus the Ethiopians can lay claim to having transformed the hours into a Liturgy of the Word centered on Scripture lections a century before Luther. (269, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West)

I hope this brief telling about Abba Giyorgis has been enlightening.  For me, it is a reminder of the international character of Christianity, that is not just Catholics, Protestants, and the Eastern Orthodox, but that there are Egyptians, Ethiopians, Iraqis, Indians, Iranians, and others who are part of the historic line of the Christian faith founded upon the teachings of the Apostles.

And the traditions of the Church, such as the praying of the daily office, are part of that historic, international tradition.

*If you know Amharic, the English translation is, of course, unnecessary.

**In Robert Taft, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West (Liturgical Press, 1986), p. 269.