Sem‘On (D. 1617)

SEM‘ON (d. 1617)

The exact date of the arrival in Ethiopia of the successor to Abuna Petros III is not recorded in Ethiopian documents, but from the information available, it appears that Susenyos (Seltan Sagad; 1607-1632) had him sent from Cairo, no doubt to fill the vacancy left by the death of Petros III. Sem‘on probably arrived in Ethiopia around 1608, a date that seems to be confirmed by the fact that— according to the Jesuit Pero Páez, who was then in the country— Sem‘on was the who proceeded with the solemn coronation of Susenyos in the cathedral of Axum on 23 March 1609. Thus, Sem‘on must have been chosen and consecrated by the Mark V (1602-1618).

According to Páez, in 1615 the eccage Zawangel, eighteenth abbot of and head of all the regular clergy, asked Susenyos to proclaim that the power to ordain deacons and be granted to the eccage, while the power to consecrate the holy chrism (qeddus meron) remain with the metropolitan. But this request could have led to the separation of the Ethiopian church from the Egyptian church, for, according to tradition, the power to confer holy orders belonged only to the metropolitan, while that of consecrating the belonged only to the Coptic patriarch. Therefore, Abuna Sem‘on opposed Zawangel request, which was then denied by the negus. As a result there was no schism.

In 1603 the Jesuits had undertaken their work in Ethiopia, and their influence—which was favored by the prudent and clever conduct of Páez—soon spread, above all in the court circles. When Sem‘on perceived the king’s inclination toward Catholicism (as well as that of some members of the royal household), he tried to thwart it. In Jesuit writings Semon is often of being the “soul of the rebellion,” but it is not difficult to understand that this was endeavoring to support those Ethiopian groups fighting to maintain the faith of their traditional church. That is why, when Yolyos, Susenyos’ son-in-law, revolted against the king and his religious politics, Sem‘on allied himself with Yolyos, joined with the rebel troops, whom he blessed and urged to fight, and issued an anathema against the royal army.

However, victory went to Susenyos, for on 6 Genbot 1609 of the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 11 May 1617), both Sem‘on and Yolyos died on the battlefield at Sadda. According to the chronicle of Susenyos, the negus sincerely grieved over the metropolitan’s death and ordered that he be buried in the church with all honors due his rank. However, in the manifesto issued by Susenyos around 1624, the negus criticized Sem‘on’s entire conduct, blaming him not only for having incited Yolyos to revolt but also for having led a deplorable private life because he had kept several concubines.

According to a report written by the Jesuit Aloysius de Azevedo from Fremona in Tigre and dated 8 July 1619, after Sem‘on’s death, Susenyos hastened to ask the —doubtless John XV (1619-1634)—to send a new to Ethiopia. De Azevedo added that the new metropolitan, a man of “a certain age” with grizzled hair, left Egypt for Ethiopia but died route. Since this Coptic bishop, whose very name is unknown, never was able to exercise his duties, it is logical not to include him among the metropolitans of the Ethiopian church.

After this initial request, Susenyos no longer addressed the Coptic patriarchate. In 1622 he publicly embraced Catholicism and in 1626 he received the Jesuit Alphonso Mendez as successor to Páez and solemnly gave him the title patriarch of Ethiopia.

It was only after the abdication of Susenyos, followed by Ethiopia’s official return to the faith of the church of Alexandria (1632), that the new negus, Fasiladas, son of Susenyos, could think of asking the Coptic patriarchate to send a new metropolitan. Thus, the successor of Abuna Semon was Abuna Marqos III.


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