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October 24, 2017

Saint Elesbaan, King of Ethiopia (+ 555)

St. Elesbaan of Axum (Feast Day - October 24)

Saint Elesbaan, also known as Kaleb, was King of Ethiopia, and lived when Arabia was ruled by Dunaan, the oppressor of Christians. The pious Elesbaan was unable to look on indifferently as believers in Christ were being massacred. He declared war on Dunaan, but his military campaign was unsuccessful.

Wishing to learn the reason for his defeat, Elesbaan, with prompting from above, turned to a certain hermit. He revealed to the emperor that he had proceeded unrighteously in deciding to take revenge against Dunaan, since the Lord had said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Heb 10:30).

The hermit counseled King Elesbaan make a vow to devote his final days of life to God, to escape the wrath of God for his self-willed revenge, and then to defeat Dunaan. Elesbaan made a vow to the Lord, and marching off with his army against the enemy, he defeated, captured and executed him. After the victory the Saint resigned as king, sent his royal crown to Jerusalem to be kept in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and secluded himself within a monastery, where for fifteen years he dwelt in strict fasting and asceticism. God endowed him with the grace of miracle-working before and after his death. He entered into rest in the year 555.

In the monastery where the blessed King Elesbaan reposed, a monk developed the habit of visiting a tavern often, getting drunk there, and even committing immoral acts with women. One day, returning from the tavern, a terrifyingly huge snake began chasing him and gained on him rapidly. In great torment and anguish, the monk cried out: "Depart from me, as you would from the holy and righteous Elesbaan!" Suddenly, the snake stopped. And the monk heard as it were a human voice from the serpent: "An angel of God commanded me to consume you because of your impurity and foulness, for you vowed to serve God in purity, but now you soil your body and anger the Holy Spirit." The monk vowed never to sin again, returned to the monastery, and sinned no more up to his death. Thus, God rebuked, and showed mercy, by the prayers of the Holy King Elesbaan.

Besides several inscriptions bearing his name, Axum also contains a pair of ruined structures, one said to be his tomb and its partner said to be the tomb of his son Gabra Masqal. (Tradition gives him a second son, Israel, whom it has been suggested is identical with the Axumite king Israel.) This structure was first examined as an archaeological subject by Henry Salt in the early 19th century; almost a century later, it was partially cleared and mapped out by the Deutsche Aksum-Expedition in 1906. The most recent excavation of this tomb was in 1973 by the British Institute in East Africa.