Monday, March 19, 2012

Mt. Zeqwala monastery- A heaven in this world


The area of Mt. Zeqwala is a product of intense volcanic activity during a quaternary period. The cooling age produced a well preserved cone structure form of the volcanic eruption. The vent formed after the cooling of the eruption was filled by rain to become a huge crater lake. Written Church sources came to mention the place after the coming of his holiness Abune Gebre Menfes Kidus and his founding of the monastery that is still dedicated to him in 1168 Ethiopian calendar. However, the story of a church built by King Gebre Meskel and St. Yared on the mountain which vanished miraculously is told by the local monks.
Abuye [Ethiopic for our father] st. Gebre Menfes Kidus [means the salve of the Holy Spirit] was born of Egyptian parents called Simon and Aklisia on November 28, 868 E.C. From the moment he was born he praised the lord and refused to suckle the breast of his mother being separated from the ways of men for the glory of the lord. He has not as a result eaten a worldly food all his life. When he became three years old the Angle of God (St. Gabriel) took him from his parents and gave him to a saintly monk by the name ‘the relative of Light’ in an Egyptian Coptic monastery. He thus started to learn the Holy Scriptures until he was old enough to be made a deacon and a priest by a Bishop called Abraham. After that he was called by God to depart to a jungle and live the life of an anchorite. He faithfully obeyed and lived in a locality called ‘Gebota’ [most probably in Upper Egypt]. There he stayed for 300 years and his cloth wore out and he became perfectly naked suffering from the fierce heat and the terrible cold for in the rainy seasons. God seeing his fortitude and struggle against the weakness of the flesh gave him a white fur as thick as the wool of sheep. At last after 300 years our God Jesus Christ came to him followed by His holy mother and the Apostles including the heavenly angels and gave him his first covenant of forgiveness for the people of Gebota.
After that he was ordered by our Lord and God Jesus Christ to go and continue his prayers and struggle against evil spirits in Ethiopia. Being blessed and made strong by the Holy Spirit Saint Gebre Menfes Kidus came to Ethiopia, sitting on a cloud with his pets of 60 lions and leopards. He reached Ethiopia during the reign of St. Lalibela, and gave the saintly king his blessings. King Lalibela was exceedingly happy and bowed to the saint many times. These two saints then traveled side by side like father and son to Zeqwala. After reaching the mountain, saint Abune Gebre Menfes Kidus decided to stay , told King Lalibela to depart to a place    called Adadi and build a church in the name of Holy Mary. The saintly king then went and did just as the holy father had told him.
During his stay on Mount Zeqwala, our father entered the crater lake upside down, and prayed for Ethiopia and the whole world for 100 years. Then, millions of devils came and began to pound his bones until they became  powder and dissolve in the water. After the end of these years, our Lord Jesus Christ appeared, and told him that he would forgive the sins of the Ethiopian people.  The saint rejoicing traveled to Arabia and met a king who worshiped idols there. As soon as the king and his people saw the saint, a great fear came up on them and they asked him whether he was a beast or a human being because of the fur which covered him from head to toe. Then our father answered saying ‘Yes … I am a man and more a Christian.’ The evil king hearing this wanted to kill him but he and his people became dead instead. Our Father then prayed to God and raised them from the dead. This put the fear of the lord in their hearts and even the evil king became a changed man. Abune Gebre Menfes Kidus then baptized them all and made them Christians and came back to Ethiopia happy. Then he returned back to Ethiopia and stood for many years to pray at a place called Medre Kebd. Then the devil came in the shape of a craw and pulled out his eyes by his beak. Then God ordered the angels St. Gabrieal and Michael to come to him and breathe on his eyes and he was made as he was before. Then he was told by God to travel to the top of Zeqwala and destroy the devils his enemies who live in the heart of evil men who oppose all those who belong to God. He then traveled on a cloud and destroyed 700,000 devils.  Being an anchorite none saw him except a dozen anchorites who recorded his hagiography and others whom he preached the words of God and lived with since his birth.   
St. Gebre Menfes Kidus lived on the mountain for 262 years after establishing his Monastery. It is said that the saint lived on the place right up to his death in the 15th century. After that the then king of Ethiopia called Endreyas [Hisbe Nagn], built five churches (for St. Michael, for Saint Gabriel, for Holy Mary, for Savior of the world and the last for Abune Gebre Menfes Kidus) on and around the mountain in honor of the saint. These churches continued giving function up to the time of ‘Ahmed the left handed’ who destroyed it in the 16th century. Then Zeqwala and the famous monastery became a ruin for more than 400 years. After that a saintly saint anchorite and monk reached the place in the grace of the Holy Spirit and asked the Showa king Sahile Selassie to build a church on top of the mountain. The king sent soldiers who fought against the lions and bores which populated the place and cleared enough space to build a church. The place was made an important traditional worship site of the Oromo late in the 19th century during the founding of the Monastery once again by a saintly monk by the name Aba Gebre Hiwot. Even today a visitor might encounter these traditional worshipers on the mountain. St. Abo is said to have told a monk that such people will inherit the depth of hell for not believing in Christ seeing the wonders he has done and is doing on the monastery. 
After the elapse of this time Emperor Minilik built the present church and dedicated his time and power to preserve the forest on and around the mountain. In that effort, he gave fifes to the monastery and a tax collecting right. Observing the forest fires on the area he is said to have given the monks and priests thirty slaves who serve the monastery. There whose sole duty was to stop forest fires, bury the dead monks and serve the monastery in manual labor. The present people of Zeqwala are descendants of these faithful individuals.
During the Italian invasion a great miracle has occurred on mount Zeqwala. The Catholic Italians accusing that the monastery as a fort of patriots sent a jet to bombard the church. The pilot reaching the area tried to bomb the church but saw a being standing on the mountain and reaching the jet and pushing the bombs away from the Church and scared pilot then beat a hasty retreat. A monk also saw the event and was able to recognize Abune Gebre Menfes Kidus.

The well preserved and intact nature of the mountain natural forest, Crater Lake, wild life be it mammals or birds is still remembered by the elders up to the beginning of the second half of the 20th century. The reverse began to happen with the land proclamation of 1966 E.C. This policy has its own effect at the local level by creating a power vacuum in the area.  As a result with the reigning of chaos the forest on whole area was destroyed. To make matters worse Lutheran Mission was established on the area in 1989 E.C. and converted most of the farming society into Protestants with a deep hostility to the monastery. The so called ‘aid and development’ it planned to do was limited only with a modern headquarters and a huge seedlings of Eucalyptus yearly given to the peasant for free. Thus, the crippled, dependant and perverted peasants (those living at the surrounding lands away from Wanber kebele in most cases) still lead a life of poverty and apathy burning the forest now and then evil for themselves and others with no hope for a better tomorrow.

Today, the extremely dedicated monks in the likeliness of their father Abune Gebre Menfes kidus protect the forest from the surrounding people on and around Zeqwala thirsting for water during the summer months and shivering for warmth in the winter. Therefore, the Children of the EOTC must pay for pipe system to bring water to the place from the town at the base, build a modern hall for the priests and assist them to start apiculture. Helping them to build an all weather gravel road from Dire to the mountain is another area open for the kind laity seeking the blessing of Abune Gere Menfes Kidus. Therefore, all the laity and priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are called to save this wonderful and national heritage from destruction. May the blessing of our God Christ rest on Yuhanis of Debre Wifat the writer of this hagiography in the 15th Century hearing it told from the holy Gebre Menfes Kidus himself and all of us who love the saint. 

                       Glory to God and to His Holy Mother