October 27 – Nestor the Chronicler; Frumentius

Nestor the Chronicler (ca. 1056–ca. 1114) was a monk in the Kievan Caves (they did let him out from time to time). His opinion was that people who read books “converse with God or the saints.” Wanting to do his part for this conversation, he wrote. And boy, did he wrote. He was the inaugural compiler/editor of the Primary Chronicle, the first (and only complete) account of the early history of the Rus’. The Chronicle starts (as do all saltworthy Chronicles) with the Biblical Flood, in which the Rus’ played no small part (indeed, no part at all) (bet you saw that coming). After some stuff about Cyril and Methodius and contemporaries, it settles in to chronicle the history of Kievan Rus’ between the eighth century and 1113, incorporating other chronicles which have since gotten lost (they should have left a trail of pebbles). Unfortunately his manuscript and the earliest copies followed their predecessors to the gingerbread scriptorium in the sky. He incorporated many stories which modern skeptical scoffers consider legendarious, including Oleg getting killed by a serpent that hid itself in his horse’s skeleton. Almost makes one want to learn medieval Russian.

Nestor also wrote an account of the holy passion-bearing brothers Boris and Gleb, a life of Theodosius (whose myrrh-streaming (as it turned out) remains had gone missing and were found by Nestor et al.), and a thing called the Reading, about which I could find no further information (not that I tried terribly hard). Ironically, he was called upon to cast a demon out of a hermit who had taken an unhealthy interest in the Old Testament. Guess not all books lead to divine conversation? He (Nestor) died in peace in the Caves, and other chroniclers picked up where he left off.

Frumentius (d. ca. 383) and his brother Aedesius, natives of Syria, were traveling down the Red Sea coast of Africa one day when their ship ran out of provisions and put in at a coastal city in Aksum (or “Axum”) (the kingdom subsequently known as “Ethiopia”). Suspicious of all things Roman (it was axiomatic), the Axumites slew the crew, permitting only the two young brothers to live, albeit as slaves to King Ousanas. Said king took a liking to them, and made Aedesius his cupbearer and Frumentius his secretary. As he lay dying, Ousanas gave Frum and Ed their freedom, but the queen begged them to stay and help her regentify until Prince (now King) Ezana was ready to rule. This they gladly did. During this time Frumentius discovered that Christianity had a tiny foothold there among the merchant class (whether the merchants had tiny feet, I cannot say), in part a remnant of the faith brought back by the Ethiopian eunuch mentioned in Acts 8.

When Ezana came of age, the two Syrians were given leave to leave. They traveled together as far as Alexandria, where they parted, Ed to his homeland, and Frum to Patriarch Athanasius, to ask for bishops and missionaries and stuffs for the Axumites. Ol’ Contra Mundum gathered his usual advice-givers, and they all looked at one another and then at Frumentius. “You da man,” they said, and Frumentius was made bishop and sent back to Aksum with his missionaries.

Upon his return, he converted King Ezana (by way of proof of which, Ezana’s early coins exhibit pagan religious symbols; his later ones, the cross), and established what would become the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo (“united,” referring to the natures of Christ) Church. “You didn’t do miracles before!” Ezana said. “I wasn’t clergy then,” Frumentius helpfully explained. Ultimately Christianity spread throughout the kingdom, and became the official religion. Frumentius was given the titles Kesate Birhan (Revealer of Light), Abba Salama (Father of Peace), and Abune (Patriarch of the EOTC). And, of course, “Saint.”