THE CHURCH OF ALEXANDRIA AFTER THE JUSTINIAN ERA
FR. TADROS Y. MALATY
Emperor Justian died on November 14th, 565. He was
succeeded in turn by Justine II (565-578), Tiberus (578-
582), Maurice (582-602) and Phocas (602-610). They all
followed in the line of Justinian I in supporting the alien
patriarch who represented the Byzantine authority not the
ecclesiastical ministry. The tension between the Egyptians
and the aliens was rather slight during the days of Justine II
and Tiberus, though the legitimate pope was unable to enter
Alexandria. Yet no sooner was Emperor Maurice seated on
the throne of Constantinople than the tension became more
severe, this matter pushed the Egyptians to rebel against the
emperor. Three Egyptians, Mina and his two brothers
Abuskhayron and Jacob led a revolution that triumphed over
the Roman forces. The emperor then asked the alien
patriarch Eulogius to negotiate a reconciliation with the
leaders and with a deceptive plan he could be able to arrest
and behead them.
This picture shows the ecclesiastical, psychological and national situation of the Copts. They were under pressure from Byzantium as a result of interference in their faith and deposal of their legitimate popes.
Emperor Phocas was so much more oppressive than
other emperors that the bishops were obliged to escape from
the cities to the deserts to practice their worship and minister
by letters. In spite of that Pope Anastasius, the son of a noble
family in Alexandria was ordained during his reign. The ruler
was unable to send him away from Alexandria and the Pope
faced the threats with indifference. He was able to ordain a
large number of priests and regain some Churches from the
The alien patriarch Eulogius sent a message to Emperor
Phocas informing him that the Pope had held a council in
which he condemned the Council of Chalcedon and
excommunicated its supporters. So the emperor commanded
the ruler to confiscate the church of "SS. Cosman, Damien,
their mother and sister" and to put more pressure on the
Egyptians. The ruler acted by entering the church accompa-
nied by Eulogius and a battalion. The congregation revolted
and many fell dead, so the Pope was obliged to withdraw to
the desert of Shiheet wailing the daughter of his people like
Jeremiah the prophet.
THE INVASION OF THE PERSIANS
The Persians immigrated to Egypt. They were fond of
destruction for the sake of destruction. They destroyed the
monasteries and dispersed the hermits then entered
Alexandria where the king announced his desire to meet with
all the people of the city to put the basis of mutual
understanding. They were about 800,000 persons whom his
army massacred on that day.
Egyptians remained under the persecution of the Persians who were themselves sun worshipers but who oppressed the Egyptians and Syrians and commanded them to accept Nestorianism. When they refused they fell victims of their brutality. This lasted until Emperor Heraclius came and expelled them from Egypt.
THE HAND OF GOD AT WORK
If we have presented a picture that might look gloomy of the state of the Egyptian Church under the yoke of some emperors, now we need to talk about the bright side.
1. The flourishing of monasticism and the presence of
abbots in the wilderness who were saints, was an occasional
soothing factor to some emperors, from time to time. This
also served as a support to the popes who were deprived of
entering Alexandria most of the time of their papacy and also
to the bishops who were banished away from their people.
We will not forget when King Zeno found out about his daughter Hilaria who escaped to Egypt and lived in disguise as a monk in solitude, he opened his heart and coffers to the monasteries in Egypt, in particular St. Macarius' Monastery. Enormous castles and beautiful churches with beautiful marble pillars were also built.
2. The appearance of a number of highly spiritual personalities who had the gift of miracles making was as a support to the church. Among those were Anba Psentaius of Qift and Abbot Samuel the Confessor.
3. Many Copts were obliged to immigrate to Nubia, probably because of the severe oppression. Those immigrants did spread the Christian faith in Nubia. In the year 542 the emperor sent a delegation to the kingdom bordering with Egypt, but its King Silko refused the imperial delegation and announced that he was satisfied with the services of the Copts among his people.
4. In this stormy atmosphere, the popes found the
opportunity not only to write spiritual, educational and
doctrinal letters to their people, but some of them wrote books and articles of great value.
In brief, we can say that the Egyptian Church which
carried the cross and endured even at the hands of her sisters
churches, experienced the invisible hand of God supporting
her according to His promise: "Blessed be Egypt my people"
Isa. 19, granting her His heavenly consolation, and helping
her to surmount all difficulties with true inner joy.
SOME PERSONALITIES OF THAT TIME
1. ST. PSENTAIUS THE BISHOP1
St. Psentaius (Psenthaisus, Psenda) was born in A.D
568, at the village of Shamir in the district of Armant in
Upper Egypt from pious parents who raised him on the
evangelic thought. His heart became aflamed with the
monastic life. He rushed to see Abbot "Elijah the Great," the
head of "Abu-Fam" Monastery on the mount of Shama.
He was known for his serious ascetic life, his love for the Bible and his continuous prayers.
There is a story told that a brother was watching him
from the opening of his cell when he saw him read the
Prophets. While he was reading a prophet came to him
and towards the end of the book the prophet kissed him and
ascended towards heaven. This brother saw him praying with
great fear. His fingers were glowing with light.
One day a monk entered into the cell of that father after
knocking on the door several times. He thought that he was
sick, unable to rise up and open the door, but he found him
talking with another person. The monk kissed that man
before he left them, then said to St. Psentaius: "I ask you
father to tell me the name of that saint, because when I held
his hand to kiss it and put it on my face, I felt great power
overwhelmed me. My heart was filled with happiness and
joy, and I became as if intoxicated with wine. St. Psentaius
answered: "God has regarded my weakness, fatigue and
loneliness, as my body was very weak and overcome with
sickness, and I haven't seen anybody since I left you, so He
sent me one of His favorite saints, Elijah the Tishbite of
Mount Carmel who consoled me with his divine words."
This saint was known for the miracles God performed through him.
He accepted the bishopric in the time of Pope Damianos
in the year A.D. 598, after a divine revelation. He was
known for giving every spiritual care to his people, and for
his vow of poverty. He was always cheerful, entertaining and
venerable. Nobody could look straight at his face, and when
he went up to the altar, his face glowed like fire also while
watching the Holy Spirit coming down onto the oblations.
He was contemporary to the Persian invasion of Egypt.
1. Manuscript 97470 History 18, Library of the Coptic Museum, from the 14th century, published by Mr. Nabil Selim (in Arabic).
2. ST. YUANIS (JOHN) BISHOP OF BURULLUS
He was contemporaneous to St. Psentaius. He joined the
monastery headed by Abbot Daniel, the priest of Scetis, then
he was chosen to be bishop of Burullus. He was known for
his love for the word of God, and personally serving the poor
and the strangers. It is said that his face glowed while he was
serving the holy liturgy. He wrote many biographies of the
Fathers, martyrs and confessors to be read to the
congregation. This was the beginning of using the Si-
naxarium (biographies of the saints) in the church.
3. ST. DANIEL, PRIEST OF SCETIS
The biography of this saint remains a living witness to
the vitality and glory of the Coptic monasticism in the sixth
He was born in A.D 485, and when he was still a boy he
set out to Shiheet Desert. He was captured three times by
the barbarians during his early monastic life, probably be-
cause of his desire to penetrate into inner desert. On the third
time he threw a stone at his captor who fell dead on the
ground. He fled away, yet his conscience was troubled for
the rest of his life. He asked Pope Timothy III (A.D 518-
536) to impose a penalty on him because he felt badly embit-
tered. The pope tried to convince him that what he did was
in self-defence. He was not convinced; so he departed to
Rome, Constantinople, Ephesus, Jerusalem and Antioch ask-
ing the bishops of these cities for punishment. When he could
not find comfort he surrendered himself to the court in
Alexandria, but the judge released him telling him he wished
he had killed seven of those violent barbarians.
This saint's life was marked by his numerous travels throughout Egypt and abroad.
Many church leaders became his disciples and later became venerable bishops. He also cared for the communities of virgins.
He was a guide to St. Anastasia, one of the deaconesses who escaped with St. Severus of Antioch to Egypt in A.D. 518. She was so rich that Justinian wanted to marry her. She lived disguised as a monk in a cave close to the monastery. She lived for 28 years as a hermit in solitude under the guidance of Abbot Daniel.
St. Daniel met with Eulogius in about A.D 52. At that
time Eulogius was a stone-cutter and was concerned with
taking care of strangers. St. Daniel prayed to God to give
Eulogius generously that he might increase his loving deeds.
While Eulogius was cutting stones he discovered a valuable
treasure (a pot full of gold), so he went to Constantinople
where he tried to influence the authorities using this gold to
nominate him a minister. The saint tried to see him but the
soldiers refused and sent him away. The saint prayed that
Eulogius' soul might be saved. Indeed Eulogius took part in
a conspiracy against Emperor Justinian in A.D. 532. When
the emperor wanted to punish him, he fled to his hometown
to work again in stone-cutting. St. Daniel came to console
and support him and brought him back to loving the poor.
St. Daniel revealed the truth about St. Anasimon the queen, who disguised herself as a foolish woman to live at one of the Egyptian convents. He also revealed the personality of a great saint named Mark who was begging in front of the patriarchal building.
A thief once wanted to steal the possessions of a
convent, so he disguised himself as St. Daniel and entered
the convent by night. One of the nuns asked him to pray for a
blind nun. Because this man was not a Christian he asked the
nuns to wash her face with the water they washed his feet
with. When the nun's eyes were healed the thief was deeply
touched and rushed out to see St. Daniel who met him
cheerfully. He told him that he was with him in spirit when
he entered into the convent. The thief was converted and
became a disciple of St. Daniel.
St. Daniel was subjected to severe beating that he was
about to die when he condemned the Tome of Leo and the
doctrine of Chalcedon in front of the delegate of Emperor
Justinian. He was obliged to take refuge in the city of
Tambuk (town of Shubrakheat) beside which he built a
monastery where he stayed until Justinian died in A.D 565.
St. Daniel was connected with the story of Andrewnicos
and his wife Athanasia. They were of a wealthy family from
Antioch. All their children died suddenly, so they were badly
grief-stricken. Later they had a life of submission and
decided to lead a monastic life. The husband came to St.
Daniel who advised him to commend his wife to one of the
convents and come back to him. Whence Andrewnicos
became a disciple of St. Daniel for 12 years. One day he
desired to visit the holy place in Jerusalem. He encountered
another monk who also wanted to visit Jerusalem. They kept
talking together along the road and vowed to stay together
when they returned from Jerusalem. Indeed they settled at
the 18th monastery in Alexandria (Octocaydiceathon), and
remained there for 12 years where St. Daniel used to visit
them. At last the monk died and Andrewnicos discovered
that the monk was his wife Athanasia. He dwelled in her cell
for a short time after.