Qerelos II (D. 1828) – Ethiopian Saints

QERELOS II (d. 1828)

Qerelos became metropolitan during the Age of the Princes (Zamana Masafent, 1796-1855), a period during which the Ethiopian state sank into anarchy. Powerless to control the various regional chiefs, the sovereigns of the Solomonic dynasty reigned only nominally, the country being in fact at the mercy of a “Protector of the Throne,” the military chief most powerful among those who disputed for scraps of power.

Information about Qerelos II and his episcopate comes primarily from the royal chronicle of Ethiopia for the years 1800-1840. But since it is fragmentary, this information gives only an incomplete picture. A new metropolitan had been requested by the ras Walda Sallase, lord of Tigre, who was making his second request to this end, for ten years earlier (a little before 1805) his first attempt to fill the void left by the death of the Abuna Yosab II had not succeeded. This second attempt had a favorable result: in the course of the year 1815, the Coptic patriarch PETER VI (1809-1852) named and consecrated for Ethiopia a monk calling himself Qerelos, who reached Massawa in November of the same year and made his entry to Calaqot, the residence of the ras Walda Sellase, on 3 Yakkatit 1808 in the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 10 February 1816), or a little before the death of the old ras, which took place on 24 Genbot (31 May) of the same year.

Qerelos II began by residing in Tigre for about three years, but without winning the hearts of his flock. Meanwhile, at Gonder there grew a need for the abun, for since the death of Yosab II, there had not been in the capital any ordinations of priests or consecrations of new sellat (slabs). (In the Ethiopian church the sellat, placed in the tabot, is the movable shelf of the altar with the ten commandments inscribed on it, and its consecration by the bishop makes a holy place of the new church in which this shelf is placed.) Summoned by Negus Iyyo’as II (1818-1821) and by the ras Gugsa, who was Protector of the Throne, Qerelos II went to Gonder, where he made his entry on 17 Sane 1811 (A.D. 23 June 1819), and began by ordaining many priests and consecrating several tabot.

But his coming launched at Gonder a revival of the Christological quarrel: the majority of the monks of the capital followed the doctrine of Ya- sagga lej (Son by Grace) and the doctrine of sost ledat (three births), but when it was demanded of Qerelos II that he make known his views on the subject, he could not avoid rejecting these doctrines and excommunicating those who followed them.

Since the clergy of the capital protested vigorously against the metropolitan’s decisions, it was decided to submit the questions to a synod held at Gonder in the presence of Negus Iyyo’as II, toward the beginning of 1820. The defender of the theses condemned by the metropolitan was the abbot of the monastic order founded by Takla Haymanot, the eccage Walda Yona, the former fierce adversary of the Abuna Yosab II. Before the synod, the metropolitan could only confirm the doctrine of karra (knife), which was that prescribed by the Coptic patriarchate and had been defended by his two predecessors.

Harshly attacked by the adversaries, the metropolitan asked for a delay to answer all the objections. He was then asked to begin by retracting the general excommunication he had launched, but as soon as he had pronounced this retraction, he was himself excommunicated by Walda Yona and expelled from Gonder by order of the negus and the Protector of the Throne. Qerelos II retired again to Tigre, where from that time he resided until his death.

In Tigre, the period of confusion that had followed the death of the ras Walda Sellase came to an end when one of his lieutenants, the dajjazmac Sabagadis, was able to seize the power. The majority of the clergy of Tigre then supported the doctrine of unction, but Sabagadis, acting above all on political considerations, decided to adhere to the principles defended by the metropolitan, that is, the doctrine of karra. This friendly understanding proved advantageous for both parties; immediately most of the clergy of Tigre followed the example of Sabagadis. The religious who did not allow themselves to be convinced were expelled and took refuge at Gonder.

On his side, the metropolitan obtained several material advantages from his support of Sabagadis. But some time later, relations between the two men deteriorated, so much so that when the metropolitan suddenly disappeared, the rumor spread that he was dead and that his death was due to poisoning ordered by Sabagadis. The grounds for this rumor seem questionable. Abba Takla Haymanot of Memsah, a priest who, after having adhered to Catholicism, wrote a kind of history of this period, recorded another version of the metropolitan’s death: Qerelos II is said to have been poisoned by the azzaz Taklu, a local chief and vassal of Sabagadis, because he coveted certain lands of the village of Addi Abun, a traditional fief of the metropolitans, and had experienced violent disputes with the metropolitan.

The exact date of his death is not known, but since the royal chronicle states that his episcopate lasted for about thirteen years, one may deduce that Qerelos II died toward the end of 1828. After his death, Ethiopia remained once more without a metropolitan for about thirteen years, until the arrival in 1841 of Abuna Salama III.


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