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November 30, 2015

Saint Frumentius of Ethiopia as a Model for our Lives

St. Frumentius of Ethiopia (Feast Day - November 30)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Innumerable are the spiritual stars that shine in the noetic firmament of the Church, and with their brilliance they illuminate the ends of the world. Countless are the multitudes of saints, who like fragrant flowers intoxicate with their fragrance, namely their life and conduct, as well as their inspired words and "Christ-loving intellect". But many of our saints are completely unknown, although they offered much to society with their illumined personalities. Like signposts which lead in the right direction and along the correct path, they lead to illumination and the salvation of countless souls throughout the ages. To this category belongs the saint whose pious life we will recount.

Frumentius was born in Tyre in the fourth century. At a young age he visited Ethiopia (known as India at that time) with his teacher and brother. On their return their ship wrecked and were rescued ashore, but captured by bandits. Their teacher was killed. The two brothers were not sold, like the others, but by divine economy were given as gifts to the King, who considering their many talents made them his collaborators, and appointed them curator and steward. Eventually, after having stayed in Ethiopia for many years, they were set free to return to their homeland. However Frumentius, unlike his brother, did not go to his homeland, but to Alexandria to meet with the Patriarch, who at that time was Athanasius the Great. He spoke to him about his adventures in Ethiopia, as well as the thirst of the people to be catechized in the faith of Christ and be baptized, and he requested that a missionary be sent there. Athanasius the Great unequivocally stated that he did not consider anyone more suitable for this task than Frumentius himself. Without delay, he was ordained and sent to Ethiopia as Archbishop. His sacred biographer notes that he worked with unequaled zeal and led many rational sheep to the spiritual pen of Christ, the Church.

The personality, work and venerable life of the Saint gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, nothing that happens in our life is accidental. God is the one Who directs history, as well as each of our lives, yet without violating our freedom. The seemingly unfortunate event of the shipwreck and captivity of the Saint became the reason to begin serious missionary work in the large country of Ethiopia. A misfortune, an accident, was the cause for the evangelism and salvation of many. God knows how to make the bitter end up sweet. If you show patience in setbacks and failures, it could prove to be a cause of great blessings.

Second, every project in the Church should be done with the permission and consent of the Bishop. Whatever is done without this blessing is not blessed by God and will not have a happy ending and produce good results. One can discern in the whole behavior of Frumentius a dynamic personality with inspired zeal, love for God and people, and an ecclesiastical mindset. He did not begin his missionary work of his own accord. He met with the Prelate of the region, obeyed him, and began with his prayers and blessings.

Third, he undertook his missionary work after first being ordained. He was not sent as a layman, but as an Archbishop. Although the laity have a position and mission in the Church, there is no Church without the Bishop. Besides the task of teaching and catechesis is that of the Bishop. No one can catechize and teach unless they have the blessing of the Bishop. The work of preaching and missions cannot be done arbitrarily by anyone, in any place and by everyone without discrimination, because it can bring quite the opposite effect than that which is desired. A mission must be carried out primarily through prayer and example. Noteworthy is what Saint Seraphim of Sarov says about missionary work:

"One must not open to others their hearts without need. Among a thousand people there is perhaps one who is able to enter into its mysteries. With a normal person one must speak of human matters. But with those who have their intellects open to the supernatural, they must speak of heavenly things. One must not discuss spiritual matters with people who are not interested, but we must remember the words of the Lord: 'Do not give dogs what is holy; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces' (Matt. 7:6). Missionary work can do more harm than good, when it is done carelessly and with just anybody. Rather, missionary work that is done with prayer, with intensity towards the inner life, and by example, is the only type that has value."

May we acquire the Orthodox missionary spirit and intercessions of Saint Frumentius.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ἰσαπόστολος Φρουμέντιος Ἀρχιεπίσκοπος Ἰνδίας", November 1998. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.