Frumentius of Axum
Our venerable and God-bearing Father, Frumentius of Axum, introduced Christianity into Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in northeastern Africa during the fourth century. He was named the first bishop of Axum. He was later recognized as a saint and for his missionary labors became known as the Apostle of Ethiopia. He is commemorated on November 30.
Frumentius and his brother Edesius were young Phoenicians boys from Tyre in Palestine. In 316, accompanying their uncle Metropius on a trip to Abyssinia by ship, the crew was massacred in a port on the Red Sea and the boys taken as slaves to the King of Axum. In time, Frumentius and Edesius gained favor with the king and his family. Set free by the king as he died, the boys were asked by the widowed queen to help her educate her son the young prince, Erazanes, and assist in administration of the kingdom during his minority.
After they had agreed, Frumentius used their influence to spread the Christian faith in Abyssinia. Beginning by encouraging visiting Christian merchants to openly practice their faith in places of public worship, the brothers were able to bring some of the native Abyssinians to Christ. When the young prince came of age, the brothers were released from their commitment. Edesius returned to Tyre, but Frumentius stopped in Alexandria. Here he approached Archbishop Athanasius of Alexandria to send some clergy to Abyssinia. With Frumentius’ experience and enthusiasm Abp. Athanasius found Frumentius the most suitable candidate, and he consecrated Frumentius bishop of the mission to Abyssinia. The date of his consecration may have been in 328, but others consider the date to be between 340 and 346.
Frumentius returned to Abyssinia to establish his see in Axum. He baptized King Aeizanas, who had then succeeded to the throne. Through the years Frumentius built many churches and received many people as the Christian faith spread throughout the country. These Christian revered him, called him abouna (Our Father) and Abba Slama (Father of Peace). These titles are still used by the head of the Ethiopian Church. The people’s reverence for St. Frumentius was such that when, in 365, Emperor Constantius requested King Aeizanas to substitute the Arian bishop Theophilus for Frumentius, the request was in vain.
St. Frumentius died about 383.