THE COPTIC CHURCH
FROM THE SEVENTH TO THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
FR. TADROS Y. MALATY
THE CENTURIES FROM THE SEVENTH TO THE TWENTIETH
It is very difficult to write in few pages on the history of such a long period of time that extends from the seventh to the twentieth century. However, it is not my objective to present historical review of the Coptic Church; I leave that to the historians. I rather aim at manifesting the wondrous and immeasurable work of God with His church throughout the centuries, to establish His Kingdom.
During these fourteen centuries, the church passed through critical events, and dealt with rulers belonging to various countries. This period could be subdivided into the following phases.
1. From the Seventh to the Tenth century, i.e., from the
Arab Conquest of Egypt to the beginning of the Fatimid era.
2. The Fatimid Era, (969-1171 A.D.).
3. The Time of the Crusades.
4. The Turkish Era.
5. The French Expedition.
6. The Nineteenth Century.
7. The Twentieth Century.
THE CENTURIES FROM THE
SEVENTH TO THE TENTH
By the Arab Conquest of Egypt, the yoke of Byzantium was removed from the Copts with regard to the heavy taxes. More important still that they obtained the right to choose their church leader, allowing him to practice his pastoral duties. The church restored from the state many church buildings and the Copts started repairing what was destroyed. Friendship prevailed in the relations between Pope Benjamin (38) and Amr-Ibu-Alaas.
The rulers who came in succession over Egypt bore a
spirit of indulgence, like Maslama at the time of Pope
Aghathon (39) who resorted to seven bishops to help him
handle the problem of the city of Sakha where some people
set fire to a number of government employees. Indeed they
succeeded in bringing back security. God granted the bishops
the gift of healing those who were wounded and punish the
However, Dr. A. S. Atiya1
mentions an important point,
that is the fear of the Caliphs lest the rulers of Egypt would
separate and rule Egypt independently. This made the
Caliphs refrain from allowing the rulers of Egypt to stay in
their posts for a long time. According to the tables compiled
by Stanley Lane-Poole2, Egypt was ruled by 108 rulers over
226 years. That extended until the Tulunids Era (869-905)
which marked the first Muslim rulers to administer inde-
pendently, followed by the Ikhshids (935-969). The average
period of each ruler was about two years, so short a period
that each ruler was never concerned about the welfare of the
public or the future growth of the land resources. The sole
matter that concerned them was how to send the largest
amount of tribute to the Caliph, apart from what he collected
for himself. For example Abd-Allah-Ibn-Saad, the first ruler
after Amr collected two million dinars over what Amr used
to collect. This weakened the potentiality of the country and
the Egyptians could not afford to pay. The ruler therefore
began to ask the clergy and the monks to pay tribute which
they calculated according to the (Hijrah) moon calendar and
not to the Coptic solar calendar.
Five rebellions took place in the period between 739 and
773 as a result of the intense oppression exerted in collecting
tributes and taxes. Some Muslims took a part in those
rebellions side by side with the Copts. Probably the most
serious of them was that which broke out in 831 during the
caliphate of Al-Mamun. He was obliged to go to Egypt when
peace returned to the country in order to appease its people.
Financial oppression was renewed in 869 when Ahmed Ibn-
Al-Mudabbir, the last of the Abbassid rulers counted the
clergy and imposed a certain amount of money upon the
We can give a true picture portraying the avarice of some
of the rulers and governors in collecting money in two
(1) In the 1st year of the papacy of Anba Michael I it
happened that Usama-Ibn-Yazid the tax-collector
overburdened all the Egyptians with heavy taxes which was
doubled on the Copts to the extent that some of them denied
their faith3 under the stress of ultimate need and financial
hardships. His exaggeration in embezzlement of money
shows in imposing a tax of ten dinars on whoever wants to
move from one town to another through the River Nile. It
once happened that a widow took a boat with her son who
was abducted by a crocodile in front of all the passengers
who were unable to save him. When this lady arrived to her
destination, the tax collectors who work for Usama asked
her to pay the tax, while she was weeping and wailing at the
loss of her son. She told them that she had already paid and
that the receipt was in her son's pocket. All the passengers
witnessed that, but they insisted that she should sell some of
her possessions to pay the taxes again4.
(2) When the Caliph Marawan took over the rule by force
and terrorism, he ordered the ruler to double the taxes on the
Copts in order to destroy their will and abolish their chances
to revolt against him. Consequently the ruler asked Pope
Michael to pay him a huge sum of money. When the Pope
could not pay, the ruler sent him to prison, put an iron collar
around his neck and tied his feet to heavy blocks of wood.
He also imprisoned with him Anba Mouisius bishop of
Ausim and Anba Theodore bishop of Babylon and Elias the
disciple of Anba Mouisius. The prison was a cave in the rock
without an opening for air or light. He also sent to prison a
large number of Copts, and the Pope kept consoling them
with words of grace. After a month the ruler set the Pope
free on the condition that he would travel all over the
country to collect money for him. When the Pope returned
from Upper Egypt a violent earthquake struck the city of
Fustat, so the ruler's heart softened at the anger of nature
and accepted the sum collected by the Pope without discon-
tent5. When Keriakos the king of Nubia heard about the im-
prisonment of the Pope, he led his army and conquered
Upper Egypt until he reached Fustat. But the Pope
interceded to him and asked him to return back to his coun-
try in tranquil. This intercession had the deepest effect on
King Abd-el-Malek Ibn-Marawan who loved the Pope,
became kind to the Copts and developed good relations with
The non-Egyptian caliph being out of the country all the
time tempted many people to covet and slander the Copts.
For example, after the death of Anba Benjamin, Aghathon
the priest was chosen to be patriarch. This priest used to
disguise as a carpenter during the period when the Pope
disappeared from the Byzabtians. He did that to minister the
Orthodox people and offer them the Holy Sacraments in
secret. At the time Theodosius the Chalcedonian and Yazid-
Ibn-Muawiah the governor of Damascus acted in concert to
entrust Theodosius with the leadership of the Church of
Alexandria. So he imposed a general tribute on all the
Orthodox people as well as annual tax on Pope Aghathon
and his close disciples. He announced that whoever found
the Pope will be free to stone him to death.
We give another example: The Chalcedonians aroused the
governor Abd-Al-Aziz Ibn-Marawan against Pope Yuonis III
by telling him that the Pope did not come out to receive him
because he felt he was a descendant to the Pharaohs and the
legitimate ruler of the country. He was also told that the
Pope had abundance of riches. The governor summoned him
to pay one hundred thousand dinars on the Paschal Tuesday.
Only two days had passed after which the governor honored
the Pope and both became friends. Good relations increased
between them and the governor favored to stay at the "Abu-
Sefein Monastery" at Tamuh when he felt he was in need of
some rest. In that visit he gave to the monks twenty
thousand dinars. He recovered fast from his illness, so he
took interest in setting up parks in Helwan. He also built
many mosques there and granted the Pope permission to build a church. When he learned that the Pope was sick and that he wanted to visit Alexandria, he ordered his men to prepare him a special ship.
A third example: During the time of Pope Simon I, a
delegation from India arrived to Egypt and requested the
Pope to ordain a bishop over India because they could not
reach Antioch. The Pope advised them to get the permission
from the prince of the country. On their way to see the
prince a group of Chalcedonians encountered them and con-
vinced them to resort to the alien patriarch. They listened to
them and went to see the alien patriarch who ordained for
them a bishop and two priests. At their departure from Egypt
they were arrested by the border guards and were sent
handcuffed to the Caliph Marawan, yet he sent them back to
his son in Egypt rebuking him for his unwatchfulness. The
Pope was arrested for trespassing the governor's authority
and Abd-al-Aziz refused to listen to the Pope. The Pope then
requested to be granted a grace period of three days. Indeed
on the third day a member of the Indian delegation escaped
from prison and came to the Pope who assured him and both
went to the governor. The Indian delegate recounted what
happened to the governor who apologized for what had
lapsed from him towards Pope Simon.
THE COPTS AND THE INDEPENDENT GOVERNORS "THE TULUNIDS" AND THE "IKHSHIDS"
The Tulunids and the Ikhshids ruled Egypt independently
although they remained under the authority of the Abbassid
caliphate. Baker regards that the history of Islamic Egypt
started by the Tulunids when Ahmed-Ibn-Tulun separated
the country (Egypt) from the central authority. He was not
so much interested in abusing the country as he was in its
welfare. He changed it from a subordinate governorate to the
center of a great empire and the situation in the country im-
proved6. The Tulunids wanted to take the Coptic people to
their side, so they treated them favorably, although the Pope
was imprisoned during this era. Some account to the fact
that Ibn-Tulun took every chance to impose fines on the
Pope to keep the church in a state of poverty and deprive
him from any public leadership. Therefore he treated the
Coptic people indulgently while he treated the Pope with oc-
casional rigor. In any case the Tulunid era - short as it was-
was marked by indulgence with the Copts generally. The
Ikhshids were not as tolerant because Mohammed Ibn-
Taghaj the Ikhshid resorted to oppressing the Copts and
embezzling their possessions, when he failed to pay the
salaries of his soldiers.
1. Atiya History of Eastern Christianity, p.85.
2. Egypt in the Middle Ages, p.45-58 (London 1936).
3. Anba Sawiris Ebn Almokafa, Bishop of Al-Ashmoneen...history of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, p. 134-136.
4. Iris Habib Al-Masry: The Story of the Coptic Church item 456- 460.
5. Previous reference, item 461-462 Stanley Lane-Poole; Egypt in the Middle Ages, p.27.
6. Encycl. de I'Islam, Egypte.
COPTIC PERSONALITIES IN THE
(FROM THE 7TH TO THE 10TH)
1. POPE BENJAMIN I
Pope Benjamin ascended the chair of St. Mark in the
period from 623 to 662 A.D. He lived in three different eras:
1- The Persian occupation (623-628). The Persians
occupied Egypt as a result of the immense chaos all over the
country where the Egyptians suffered under the Byzantine
high handiness and public deprivation. They were deprived
of practising national, human and religious rights. At least in
the time of the occupation period by the Persians some of the
Coptic patriarchs felt relief from the alien patriarchs
appointed by Byzantium to oppress the Egyptian Church, yet
we find that the Persians ruined and plundered the country
and destroyed the churches and monasteries.
2- The return of the Byzantine rule (628-640
approximately). This was a bitter period in which all the concern of Emperor Heraclius was to resist and shatter the church. Pope Benjamin was obliged to flee, and he disappeared for ten years during the time of that rule and three more years in the following era.
3- The Arab Conquest of Egypt in 640 A.D. when Al-
Muqauqus a name which was mostly pseudonym of the
Byzantine governor gave the country up to the Arabs. The
Pope was treated kindly by Amr Ibn-Alaas, and returned to his see after three years to practice his pastoral work.
CYRCUS' RESISTANCE TO THE CHURCH
The Persians took over Egypt by force from Heraclius.
Later he took it back and gave orders after three years to
transfer bishop Vasis of Asia Minor to Alexandria to
administer both ecclesiastical and civil authorities. By a
divine declaration Pope Benjamin 38 escaped with his
bishops to Scetis desert where he felt very badly to see the
land being devastated at the hands of the Persians, while he
was powerless unable to act under the Byzantine
arbitrariness. From there he fled to Upper Egypt where he
lived in one of the small monasteries scattered around The-
When Cyrus came to Alexandria and did not find the Pope, he arrested his brother Minas. The soldiers tortured him by burning his sides with fire to force him to reveal his brother's hiding place. He was enduring all that in silence, but the alien patriarch commanded to put him in a bag full of sand and throw him into the sea. He was the first martyr at the hands of that alien patriarch.
THE ARAB CONQUEST
Amidst that tense atmosphere, when Cyrcus had nothing
to occupy him other than chasing after the Coptic bishops,
priests and the monks to the deserts torturing and killing
them with a military campaign, the Arabs were advancing.
They conquered Persia then headed towards Syria and
Palestine, while Heraclius was motionless in Constantinople.
The Arab marched under Amr Ibn Alaas reached Egypt at
Pelusium (Al-Farama) on the Red Sea. The fighting lasted
for a month until they conquered the city and headed south.
After another month they occupied Belbais in the Nile delta
and rushed towards Babylon in Old Cairo where Trajan built
his castle in the second century. They besieged Babylon for
seven months, then Al-Muqauqus negotiated with them to
surrender the land to the Arabs. After that they marched to
Alexandria fighting on their way separate battles in each city
as the country had lost its unity and the governors appointed
by the emperor were lacking military experience. Nothing
concerned them other than collecting taxes and resisting the
church. Indifference was the common attitude.
Alexandria was capable of resisting the Arab invasion, especially that it is a marine city and supplies could reach it from the sea, yet factions ripped the city apart and caused it to surrender in a few months. The power then shifted from the Byzantines to the Arabs.
regards that the secret behind the Arab
Victory over the Byzantine army lies in the following
1. Emperor Justinian had concealed the system of unified leadership in Egypt lest the army commander might lead an independence movement, so he abolished the civil unity previously kept by the Romans. This resulted in Egypt being ruled by five dukes directly appointed by the emperor. Everyone had his own independent civil and military authorities and none cared to support the other.
2. The army was burdened by police duties and by helping
the tax collectors and interfering in the church disputes for
the benefit of the empire. There was no combat army or a
military leader in Egypt. Most of the soldiers were from the
simple inhabitants of Egypt who never practiced any military training or worked under a true leadership.
3. The spirits of the Byzantines declined after they learned about the Arab victories over the Persians.
4. The orientalist Alfred J. Butler2
thinks that there was
not a single Copt (probably from the military point of view)
in the battlefield and that it is wrong to assume that the
Copts were at that time capable of assembling or negotiating
with the Arabs. Indeed the Copts were suffering from the
Byzantine colonialism, but never calculated liberating
themselves from that rule by negotiating with the Arabs.
As for Al-Muqauqus who conferred with the Arabs, his
behavior remains a mystery. Many scholars think that he was
the alien patriarch as mentioned in one of the rare Coptic
documents discovered and referred to by Amelineux: [As for
Al-Quqious the alleged bishop, whose heart was filled with
hatred reached Fayoum, and when Father Samuel realized
that he was going to die he said to him, "You too the
deceitful Caledonian (Chalcedonian)3.] Butler tackled the
problem of the name "Al-Quqious," showing that it's not a
Coptic name. And that his name is derived from his native
land because he came from the land of Qolchice4 (Cyrus the
THE RETURN OF POPE BENJAMIN5
Amr Ibn Alaas settled in the "Fustat" and when everything
stabilized, a dialogue started between him and the Copts
about the return of the Pope and his bishops to their chairs.
Sanathius who was a believer, spoke to Amr about the
matter. He asked him to sent a message to the Pope to return
to his see in peace. It was Sanathius who carried the message and delivered it to the Pope in Upper Egypt.
Amr canceled the heavy Byzantine taxes and did not ask
the Egyptians to pay more than the tribute. He claimed for
reasonable moderate sums of money and differed in this
matter with Omer Ibn Al-Khattab (his commander the
caliph). He also gave the Egyptians freedom to worship and
free disposal in legal and administrative matters. He ap-
pointed some Copts as directors in various districts, yet he
exempted them from the military service, depriving them of
the honor of defending their country in case of need.
In an amicable atmosphere the Pope met with Amr who showed him esteem and veneration.
A BATTLE WITH THE BYZANTINES
Professor Iris Habib Al-Masry6
says that the Caliph
Omar-Ibn Al-Khattab was not happy with Amr because he
was expecting Amr to provide him with larger amounts of
money than he actually did. In one of his fits of anger at
Amr, he appointed Abdallah Ibn Said governor of Upper
Egypt and limited Amr's authority to Lower Egypt. Amr did
not accept that and resigned from his position as governor of
Before he departed, Byzantium sent her navy to take
Egypt back. A fierce battle occurred and both sides suffered
immense losses in lives. Amr was victorious and he vowed to
destroy the fences of Alexandria and ordered to burn the
With regards to burning the Library of Alexandria, we
find in the writings of the Persian traveler, Dr. Abd-Al-Latif
Al-Baghdadi (d. 1231 A.D.) and also of the Syrian prelate
Bar Hebraeus that Amr used the contents of the library as
fuel in the public baths at the orders of Caliph Omer Ibn-Al-
Khattab who said that if the contents of the library agreed
with the Quran (the Islamic book), they were unnecessary,
hence superfluous, and if they disagreed let them be burnt.
This opinion provokes discontentedness among the Islamic
circles7 which think that this never happened.
1. Jean Maspero: L'organization militaire de l'Egypte byzantine, Paris 1912.
2. A.J. Butler: The Arab Conquest of Egypt and the thirty years of the Roman dominion, Oxford 1902, p.252.
3. Fragments Coptes pour servir a l'histoire de la conquete de l'Egypte par les Arabes, Journal asiastiques,nov.-dec. 1888.
4. A.J. Butler, Appendix C., p. 508-26.
5. The author's dictionary of the Church's fathers and saints p.915, 1986.
6. The Story of the Coptic Church, item 289.
7. Historia AEgypti Compendiosa, ed. J. White, Oxford 1800, p.114; Hist. Dyrastiarum, ed.
E. Pococke, Oxford 1663 p. 180 Arabic; Atiya p.81.
2. ANBA SAMUEL THE CONFESSOR
Born about 597 A.D., in the city of Daklube. When his
parents became sure of his persistence on monasticism, they
spent most of their money on building a superb church where
Samuel was ordained deacon to serve with his father the
priest. When his parents died he headed to Scetis' desert by a
divine proclamation where he was accompanied by an angel
in the form of a monk. He was a disciple of Anba Aghathon
and God granted him the gift of healing and performing
miracles. A large crowd came to him and many became his
When Heraclius imposed Cyrus as bishop of Alexandria
and governor over Egypt, he chased after Pope Benjamin
and sent his military commander out with two hundred
soldiers to the Natroun Valley where he occupied St.
Macarius' church. He called the monks to a meeting while St.
Yuanis (John) the protopriest of the desert was out to hide
the altar's vessels from the barbarians. Anba Samuel was
arrested and Maximian read to him the letter of "Actisius" or
"Cuchianius" (The letter of Cyrus who was from Vasis in
Colichius, Cyrus the Colchian) that contained the
Chalcedonian doctrine and Tome of Leo. When the
commander received no response he began to threaten him,
and St. Samuel shouted, "We do not agree to that Tome or
accept the Council of Chalcedon. We also do not recognize
any archbishop other than our father Anba Benjamin." He
asked the commander to show him the Tome, and when he
held it in his hand he announced the excommunication of the
Tome, the council, the Pope of Leo and whoever accepts
their doctrine, then he tore up the Tome. He was flogged
until his eyes scooped out and was left between life and
death. The monks carried him to a nearby cave and prayed
on him because they thought he had died. The saint recov-
ered and accompanied four monks to Mount Qalamun in the
Fayoum region. There, crowds of people carrying their sick
came to him to pray for them, and many became his
Al Muqauqus visited Fayoum and proceeded to the
monastery, so the saint escaped with his monks. Al
Muqauqus returned to Fayoum and commissioned his
soldiers to the monastery to arrest him. In Fayoum the saint
proclaimed his firmness of belief in front of Al-Muqauqus
who slapped him and ordered his soldiers to flog him to
death. Some of the nobles interfered and saved him.
Later he went to the "Rayan Valley." The barbarians at-
tacked this region, arrested the saint again and took him to
their country where he met in prison St. Yuanis (John) the
head of Scetis' monasteries. He suffered a lot from
Zarkandus the chief of the tribes who worshiped the sun.
Many loved St. Samuel because God made many signs and
miracles at his hands, yet Zarkandus was still tough with him.
One day his wife begged him to allow the saint to visit their
home and pray for her that God might heal her and give her a
child as she was barren. When she gave birth to a child
Zarkandus loved the saint so much and sent him back to
Egypt with great honor.
3. ANBA YUANIS (JOHN) AL-NIQUSI
A well known Coptic historian, who wrote the history of
the world from the creation to his time in 122 chapters
focusing on Egypt and the Egyptians, showed that they were
the first people to mold the gold, excavate the mines and
make war tools; he also wrote about the pyramids. His
writing about the Arab conquest of Egypt is concise but
considered one of the reliable references. Unfortunately the
Coptic origin was lost and the orientalist Zotenberg
translated the Ethiopian edition (which was translated from a
lost Arabic edition), to the French and published it in Paris in
He lived in the seventh century and acted as a secretary to
four Popes, from Pope Aghathon to Pope Isaac, then he was
installed bishop of Noqios, presently the village of Zawiet
Razine near Menuf in the Nile Delta. He was appointed
director of the Scetis' Valley monasteries in 694. It was said
that he gave an order to beat a monk because he committed
adultery in the desert and the monk died. He was suspended
from his clerical duties.
4. ANBA YUANIS (JOHN) PROTOPRIEST OF
Born around 585 A.D, he became a monk and dwelt in
the Scetis' desert around the year 603. He was the unknown
soldier who spared no effort in establishing the spiritual life
of the monks for more than 70 years until he passed away in
675. We do not know much about his biography except that
he was captured by the barbarians three times and suffered
great humiliation and agony. Anba Samuel the Confessor met
him in captivity. He returned from captivity at the beginning
of the Arab conquest of Egypt where he was installed
protopriest over Scetis'. It was said that he never participated
in Serving the holy Eucharist without seeing our Lord the
Savior in a revelation together with Virgin Mary.
Evelyn White says that the disciples of that saint were two
groups: one group kept the traditional conduct of the mono
theistic life in Scetis, while the other group tended towards renewal of monasticism.
5. THE SAINTS ABRAAM AND GAWARJI
Abraam was born in 608 A.D. His father loved the poor
and his mother was abducted by the Persians in 616. When
Heraclius conquered the Persians in 627 she was able to go
back to her son in Alexandria. He talked to his mother about
his desire to become a monk and found that she was
supportive to him, so he went to see Anba Yuaniss the
protopriest of Scetis. St. Abraam had the gift of discernment
and miracle working. He also enjoyed heavnly revelations.
While he was wandering about in St. Orion's (Horion) mountain, he met St. Gawarji and they agreed to dwell together in Scetis to support one another.
When he passed away, St. Macarius the Great and St. Yuanis with a troop of angels appeared receiving his pure soul. About five months later his friend St. Gawarji passed away in the Lord.
6. POPE SIMON I
Many Syrians were attracted to Egypt following the death
of St. Severus of Antioch there. In the seventh century
Simon the Syrian came with his parents to Alexandria where
he was ordained deacon. His parents brought him to Pope
Agathon who noticed his monastic tendencies and sent him
to Al-Zujaj (the Glass) monastery to be a student of Yuanis
the head of the monastery. When Yuanis was chosen Pope,
Simon the monk was a member of the delegation who went
to see Prince Abd-Al-Aziz Ibn Marawan, the Islamic ruler of
Egypt at that time, to inform him of the choice. Suddenly a
bishop said in front of the prince, "The monk who deserves
this honour is Simon." The prince gazed at Simon to explore
his opinion, so he replied, "Yuanis is my spiritual father, and
is more entitled to this ministry. He is pure like angels. It is
he who taught me all I know of theological sciences." They
were all touched by his answer and insisted on choosing him
Pope. He put the administration of the church into the hands
of his teacher Yuanis until he departed in the Lord,
honouring him as a student does to his teacher. Pope Simon
was not the only Syrian the Copts chose to be their Pope.
7. YUANIS THE SCRIBE
Abd-Al-Aziz Ibn Marawan was succeeded by a group of
governors over Egypt who treated the Egyptians in general
and the Copts in particular with severity and violence. Those
were Abd Allah, Qurrah, Usamah and Ubied Allah....etc. In
the meantime God used some elder (archon) Copts filled
with wisdom and grace to bring back peace to the church.
One of them was Gawargius Al Defrawy who boldly faced
the ruler Abd Allah and asked him: "Does my master aim at
arresting the Pope or getting money?" Then he asked him to
give Pope Alexandros II two months delay with his
warranty, so that he might travel across the country with him
to collect the required money.
In the same spirit Yuanis the Scribe acted with Qurrah the governor who asked to permit him collect the tribute according to everybody's capability. He acted this way in order not to overburden the poor.
8. SAID IBN-KATEB AL-FARAGHANI
This great architect appeared during the rule of Ahmed
Ibn Tulun the Turkish who was brought up in the court of
Caliph in Baghdad. He wanted to rule Egypt independently,
so he appointed the Egyptians to collect taxes instead of
aliens. He gave the Copts the chance to enjoy their religious
rights, build churches and monasteries, and run their
commercial and agricultural businesses. The governor tended
to lead an affluent life yet he was fast in using th sword, in
one day he killed 18,000. He did not impose new taxes on
the Copts but asked the Pope Mikhael III to pay 20,000
dinars. The Pope did not possess that amount so he was sent
to prison, and he had to sell a piece of land owned by the
patriarch to pay the money.
Said built the Nile gauge at Al-Rodah, Suburb of Cairo
during the days of Al-Mutawakil the Abbassid Caliph. When
Ahmed Ibn Tulun came into power he asked him to build a
barrage to provide the city of Qataieh which he took as his
headquarters with water. Ibn Tulun admired that
achievement but he sent the architect to prison and forgot
completely about him. After some time IbnTulun wanted to
build an unique mosque to be decorated by 300 columns.
This required the destruction of a large number of churches
to provide the columns. When the imprisoned architect heard
of that, he sent to Ibn Tulun telling him that he could build
an unique mosque that rises upon two columns only, re-
placing the other columns by supports of baked brick that
resists fire. So Ibn Tulun summoned the imprisoned architect
and put hunderdthousand dinars at his disposal. This mosque
remains until the present time, a marvelous piece of art,
known as Ibn Tulun mosque in Cairo. Ibn Tulun was de-
lighted with the mosque and distributed a lot of charities and
gifts on the inauguration day. Ibn Katib Al-Farahani got
10,000 dinars but Ibn Tulun asked him again to deny his
Christianity and when he refused he was killed by the sword.
Al-Massoudy, an Arab historian born in Baghdad and died
in 906 recounts that Ibn Tulun heard a Coptic philosopher
from Upper Egypt who was 130 years old. He was a genius
in astronomy and geography. One day Ibn Tulun summoned
him to the city of Qataieh and asked him about the secret
behind reaching that old age. He answered: "I have trained
myself, master, on moderation in clothing, food and drink,
and I think this is mostly the reason." He asked him about
the Nile sources. He said that he believed these sources "lie
on the top of high mountains where there is a vast lake and
where the day and night are equal all the years long." Ibn
Tulun liked him, honoured him and gave him generously. His
answers about the Nile sources were accurate and came to
be confirmed by the European scholars nine centuries later 1.
1. Iris Habib Al-Masry, The Story of the Coptic Church item 586.
THE FATIMID ERA
THE BENEVOLENCE OF THE FATIMID
The Fatimid era is considered as one of the best Islamic
eras for the Copts - During which they enjoyed much
freedom in practising their worship. They also had tremendous artistic activities of which splended traces fill the Coptic Museum. Moreover, they were allowed to assume important stately positions, and among them were found many famous writers, scribes and physicians.
Al-Muizz conquered Egypt in 972 and established the
Fatimid empire. Since he was afraid of the Syrians' attack on
Egypt, he has left Tunisia and founded Cairo as the capital of
his empire which extended from Morocco to Syria. During
his reign, Egypt flourished economically and artistically.
Since he was known for his knowledge capabilities along
with broadmindedness and justice, he was able to channel all
energies to work for his empire, and an atmosphere of
security spread all over the country.
He allowed the Copts to rebuild and renovate their
churches, and he chose a Copt, Abu-Al-Yomn Youssef to
administer collecting taxes from Egypt and from Palestine.
His son and successor, Al-Aziz (976-96) continued his fa-
ther's policy of religious tolerance. As a result, the Copts
were able to live in peace, their incomes increased, they
prospered and became able to pay the taxes with ease and
satisfiction. They built numerous churches and renovated the monasteries. Because of the sympathy between Al-Aziz and his princes, and between him and the Copts, a Jewish minister called Ibn-Kelsus, said spitefully that whoever wishes to succeed should convert to Christianity, which is the religion of both truth and gain.
One of those who wined Al-Muizz's favour and honor
was the Coptic physician Abu-Al-Fath Mansour Ibn-
CALIPH AL-HAKIM (996-1020)
The Fatimid era was darkened by Caliph Al-Hakim, who
was known for his brutality towards all, even the muslims,
and his bizarre actions. He lived during the first seven years
of his rule with justice, although his personality was obscure
and he was schizophrenic. He used to ride a grey donkey
during the night and climb the Muqattam hills pretending that
he was practicing astrology. Then he started to be aggressive
against all. For example, he confiscated the shoes of all
women to prevent them from going out, and prevented them
from looking through the windows or staying on the house
roofs. He ordered the killing of all the dogs, and forbade
slaughtering cattle except during the Islamic feast of Al-
Adha (Redeeming day). He also forbade selling beer and
wine, left the vines to dry and poured the honey in the Nile.
After three years he concentrated his violent acts on the Copts (and the Jews):
1. He ordered the Copts to wear black garments and forbade them to wear soft or colouredl clothes.
2. He prevented any muslim from working as a servant in
a Coptic household, or a boatman on a ship that belongs to a
3. Every Copt had to wear a five pounds wooden cross.
4. He beheaded his Coptic minister (Vizier), Fahd IbnIbrahim, and fired the Copts from the government posts.
An order was given to destroy the churches and confiscate their property. These acts agitated the populace against the Copts; they used to insult them kill them, and plunder their belongings.
5. He summoned Ghabriel Abu-Nagah, a Coptic archon
and requested him to deny his Christ in order to appoint him
his Vizier (minister). When he refused, an order was given to
be logged one thousand lashes, but he died half way through
6. He summoned ten Coptic archons and ordered them to
renounce their faith and to accept Islam. When they refused,
the soldiers fell on them heavily with lashes. Six of them
were martyred, one died after renouncing his faith and the
other three declared their penance after Al-Hakim's death.
7. He imprisoned Pope Zakaria, and ordered to release
hungry lions to kill him, but they did not approach him. Al-
Hakim supervised keeping the lions hungry and threw the
Pope again after staining his garment with blood. Once more
the lions did not hurt him, so Al-Hakim released him.
8.He ordered his Coptic scribe, Ibn-Abdoon, to sign on
his behalf a decree for burning the church of the
Resurrection. The scribe signed cowardly, however, after
few days he was fired from his job and his properties were
9.The Coptic scribe, Bakira, did not bear anymore to see
all these atrocities. He quit his work at the Caliph's court and
went to the Caliph's palace carrying his cross. At the door he
shouted: "Christ is the Son of God." Al-Hakim summoned
him and ordered him to renounce his faith. He refused and
was imprisoned, and a steel chain was put around his neck.
Bakira stood praying fervently in joy. One of his friends,
called Mina came and asked him if he wished to convey a
message to his family, upon which Bakira said, "Tell them to
be in peace since I shall be among them tonight." Indeed, Al-
Hakim released him and he went around encouraging the
afflicted. Three days later, everything changed and AlHakim
allowed the Copts to carry on with their affairs in freedom.
Al-Zahir (1020-1036) was tolerant, he allowed those who renounced their faith under pressure to return to Christianity, and declared that conversion to Islam must not be by force but voluntarily. This unique declaration is considered to be the most important event of his era.
During the era of Al-Mustansir (1036-1101) the Fatimid state became weak. The Turkish mercenaries plundered the Caliph's palace, and he became in need of money, Pope Christodoulus was imprisoned at that time.
Al-Aamer (1102-1131) was tolerant towards the Copts,
and he used to visit the monasteries. On the other hand, he
ordered that every Copt had to pay a tribute, regardless of
During the reign of Al-Hafez (1131-1149), Bahram the
Armenian was appointed as a minister (Vizier) but when
Radwan took Bahram's position, he afflicted the Copts se-
Generally speaking, we may say that the Fatimids were known for their tolerance. However, towards the end of their era their kingdom was weakened, they entered into war against Europeans in Syria. This was costly for them, and was a reason for oppressing the Copts.
COPTIC PERSONALITIES DURING
THE FATIMID ERA
1. POPE ABRAAM I
Abraam Ibn-Zaraa was Syrian by birth. He was a wealthy
merchant who visited Egypt several times and finally stayed
there. He was known for his goodness and piety, particularly
his care for the poor and for his knowledge. While the
bishops were convening in the church of St. Sergius (Abu-
Saga) for the ordination of the Pope, Abraam entered the
church. They admired him and unanimously consented to
elect him. They immediately took him to Alexandria where
he was consecrated in St. Mark's Church as the 62nd Patri-
arch. He distributed half of his properties among the poor,
and the other half was spent on church buildings.
HIS LOVE FOR THE POOR
This Pope was known for his love and care for the poor.
A Coptic vizier (minister) called Kozman Abu-Al-Yomn,
was appointed as a ruler on Palestine. He entrusted the Pope
with his wealth (about 100,000 dinars) and asked him to
distribute it among the needy and the churches if he would
die in Palestine. When the Pope heard of a rebellion broke in
Syria and Palestine he thought that Kozman died and so he
distributed the money. However, Kozman returned safely
and when the Pope told him of what he did with his deposit
HIS PASTORAL WORKS
He stopped bad habits and forbade accepting any bribe in
the church. He also firmly forbade his flock from having con-
cubines. Many feared God, freed their concubines, and
repented. However, one of the prominents did not care about
the Pope's forbidding. The Pope advised him several times
patiently, at last he went to his house to advise him for he
became a bad example to the people. The Pope knocked on
his door, but he would not open the door of his house. The
Pope remained for two hours knocking, then he said, "His
blood is on his head." He shook off the dust from his feet on
the door's step. Immediately, the stoned step split in front of
those who were present. After a short period the man was
fired from his job, lost all his wealth, suffered incurable dis-
eases, and became an example for sinners.
IN AL-MUIZZ'S COURT
Al-Muizz was known for his tolerance, justice and his interest in religious discussions.
He had a Jewish vizier (minister) called Ibn-Killis (Celsus)
who asked the Caliph to allow a jewish person called Moses
to debate with the Pope in his presence. Al-Muizz told the
Pope courteously about this matter, then the Pope went to
meet him, he came together with Anba Sawiris (Severus)
Ibn-Al-Maqaffa, bishop of Al-Ashmunain. The Pope allowed
the bisop to speak, and the bishop said, "It is not suitable
that I speak to a jew in the presence of a Caliph." Moses
became extremely angry and considered this an insult and an
accusation of ignorance. The bishop answered calmly; "The
prophet Isaiah says: The ox knows its owner, and the donkey
its master crib, but Israel does not know" Is.1:3.
The caliph liked the jest and wanted to stop the debate,
but the Jewish vizier considered this a great insult and started
to read with his friend Moses in the New Testament until
they found this verse: "If you have faith as a mustard seed,
you will say to this mountain, move from here to there and it
will move: Matt.17:20; Mark 11:23. They showed this verse
to the Caliph and enticed him to ask the Pope if he had faith
as a mustard seed to move the Muqattam Mountain. The Ca-
liph sent for the Pope and asked him if such a verse really
exists, and Anba Abraam affirmed it. Upon this the Caliph
asked him to fulfill it or else the Copts would be subjected to
the sword. The Pope asked for a three days' respite, he went
directly to St. Mary's Church (Al-Muallaqa "Suspended"),
sent for some bishops, priests, monks, laymen and requested
them all to fast and pray during these three days. All, along
with the Pope, prayed in one spirit with bitter hearts. Before
the dawn of the third day, as the Pope dozed off because of
the severity of grief and vigil, he saw the Virgin Mary asking:
"What is the matter with you?." He answered: "You, the
Lady of the Heavenly Hosts, know what is happening." She
comforted him and asked him to go out of the iron gate
leading to the market, and told him that he shall meet a one-
eyed man carrying a pitcher and he will move the mountain.
The Pope waked up and hurried out when he found the
mentioned man, the latter tried to decline but when he knew
about the Pope's vision he put himself at the patriarch,
pleading that he tell nobody about him until the matter ends.
The Pope came to know that the man was called "Simon,"
and that he worked as a cobbler. One day a woman came to
repair her shoes and tried to incite him with her beatiful legs,
he poked his eye with a needle and pulled it out, and thus the
woman cried and fled. He used to wake up early every
morning, fills his pitches with water to distribute among the
aged and infirm. After this he goes to his work and stays fasting till sunset.
The Pope, bishops, priests, monks, archons and some of
the people went up to the Muqattam mountain. The Caliph
stood beside the Pope, and the vizier had already aroused
many people against the Copts. Simon stood behind the
Pope. All prayed, and when they cried "Kyrie layson" or
"Lord have mercy" and knelt, the mountain was raised up.
The Caliph cried seeking safety. The matter was repeated
thrice, then the Pope embraced the Caliph, and the two
became close friends.
Al-Muizz requested the Pope to ask for anything he
wished. He refused but on the Caliph's insistence the Pope
asked for rebuilding of the churches, particularly that of St.
Mercurius in Babylon. The Caliph issued a decree for
rebuilding the churches and offered him a great sum of
money. The Pope thanked him for the decree but refused the
money, and thus Al-Muizz honoured him highly, for his piety
and renouncement. Al-Muizz went by himself to put the
foundation of the church.
Anba Abraam remained for three years and six days on the chair of St. Mark, and he departed in the Lord on the 6th of Kyahk.
2. ST. SAWIRIS (SEVERUS) IBN-AL-MOQAFFAA
He was one of prominent personalities not only in the
Fatimids' era but also in the history of the Coptic church. He
wrote many books and essays, mastered the Greek, Coptic
and Arabic languages, had a vast knowledge in the Holy
Bible, the church laws and rites. He wrote many books as
well as saints' biographies. His most known book is "History of the Coptic Church of Alexandria," for which he extracted material from Greek and Coptic references. It includes the biographies of the Fathers from St. Mark to Anba Shenouda the 55th Pope. He departed in the Lord at the age of 90, without finishing the book, but many people helped in completing this interesting work after him.
His religious discussions with the Jews, Muslims and the
Chalcedonians, even before the rulers, showed his courage
and wisdom, and encouraged him in writing theology. His
writings on the Oneness of God and the Holy Trinity are
considered as principal sources for the Christian Arab
writers, because he wrote them in a style that suited the era
and the atmosphere surrounding him. He applied expressions
that were appropriate to the culture of his epoch.
3. ANBA ELIJAH (ELIAS) OF TAMOUH
Towards the end of the Fatimid state the situation of the Copts changed. They underwent many troubles and tribulations, because the ruler changed the tolerance into oppression, and due to the miss- ruling, famines, diseases etc. However there were many witnessess for Christ. His divine work was in many persons during the papacy of Christodulus, here are some examples:
1. While Anba Elias, the bishop of Tamouh was praying, a very bright light shined on St. Mary's icon, and the worshippers became exceedingly glad in their hearts. By that God confirmed His presence among His people, and that the saints were supporting them.
2. Twenty-one thousand children were victims of small-
pox. Some people hurried to Psois, a saintly monk in the
monastery of Anba John (Yuanis) Cama at the Scetis, asking
for his prayers on behalf of the Egyptians. He prayed all
night long and at dawn he told the delegates: "Return
comfortably and inform those who have sent you, that Jesus
Christ had compassion upon us, and with His grace He will
lift up the epidemic disease." On their return they found the
disease completely subsided.
3. Anba Michael, the bishop of Tanis, whose name in full
was Abu-Habib-Mikhail Ibn-Badir El-Damanhoury, became
a monk at St. Macariusus Monastery, and was a friend of
Bakir Al-Rashidy. He hidded with him and others for fifteen
days in the Monastery of Anba John (Yuanis) Cama at Monk
Psois' cell. They were busy in writing and reviewing the bio-
graphies of the Patriarchs (from the 56th to the 65th Pope),
and they used to keep vigil until midnight. Pope Philotheos
(63rd Pope) elected him as his private scribe, and Pope
Christodoulus (66th Pope) ordained him Bishop of Tanis
near Lake "Manzalah."
AGES OF CRUSADES
The First crusade (1096-1099) commenced at the end of the Fatimid age. This and Mamluk's are considered the worst ages the Copts had lived through.
The Copts' position, during the ages of Crusades, may be summarized as follows:
1. An Itallian monk, Peter the Ascetic, succeeded in
enraging European's kings and princes to prepare an army
bearing the banner of the cross with the purpose of freeing
the holy lands from Muslims' hands. Hence, Barons' armies
whose number was about half a million horsemen at that time
were sent to raid these lands. Nevertheless, they lacked
congruence of leadership, diplomacy and knowledge of the
environments of the countries they were attacking. Let alone
the personal ambition of European nobles who in fact aspired
to become rulers of rich countries of the East under the
cover of defending the holy lands.
Alexius the emperor of Constantinople thought that these
raids could fortify his kingdom. The Caliph Al-Afdal, also
thought of it as a buffer against the Saljuks' expansionism
(Turkic-Tatar tribes), but they soon found out how wrong
they both were.
As for the Copts, they were the victimes of all these raids.
On one hand as the Muslims saw the invaders carrying
crosses on their chests, they assumed that the Copts would
side with the invaders, especially that the Muslims
coincidentally were imposing heavy tributes on the Copts.
On the other hand, the Latins viewed the Copts (mia-
physites) as outcast schism and in general worse than
heretics in their view. That was the reason why subsequent
to their occupation of Jerusalem, the Crusades disallowed
the Copts from going on pilgrimages to the holy city as
Copts were considered atheists. Renaudot reported that a
Coptic historian complained about this treatment of the
Copts saying that the Copts sorrow was not less than that of
the Muslims. He also wrote: ..."Whose right is it to prevent
the Nazarene Copts from pilgrimages to Jerusalem or from
coming near the city? The Crusades hated the Copts as if
they had deviated from the steadfast faith1.
Futhermore, the Crusade wars exhausted the resources of
these countries which resulted in raising their spending dra-
matically and henceforth led to raising the taxes in general
and more persistently on the Copts. The tribute ranged
between 3,000 to 6,000 dinars for the enthronement of the
Pope with the fear that it may still not be ratified by the
In this rather difficult atomsphere it was highly possible to elude to the Caliph that the Copts give churches' collections to help the Europeans.
2. Subsequent to the peace agreement between Shawer,
the Egyptian ruler and the Europeans, they both renegued on
their promises. Jerusalem's Latin King Amalrich as he
invaded Egypt through Bilbeis, he killed all its natives,
enslaving women and children. He killed the Muslims and the
Christians indiscrimminately. When Shawer sensed the
danger approaching, he poured 20,000 barrels of tar on the
city of Fustat (Egypt's capital for three centuries), and had
his men inflame it with 10,000 torches. The inferno went on
for 54 days. The majority of the inhabitants were Copts, they
lost all their possessions. As a whole Egyptians felt that their
capital had been destroyed because of the betrayal of the
Europeans and Shawr (Fatimid vizier). Therefore many
joined up with Shirkuh who brought with him a young
nephew by the name of Saladin (Salah-Al-Din the Ayyubid),
to defeat Shawar and take his palace in two days time.
Shirkuh acknowledged through this event - the burning of
Fustat - that the Europeans did not distinguish between Mus-
lims and Copts, and that many Copts had been martyred by
the Europeans, and also their Crusade had been burnt down
by them, but he still acted violently against the Copts.
3. In the period between the Fatimid era and the begining
of the Ayyubid rule, Egypt suffered from troubles, and
famines; the Copts were laid off from their jobs, banned from
riding horses and forced to wear certain clothes and a heavy
tribute beyond their potentialities was imposed upon them. It
was so much that some in Upper Egypt had to enslave
themselves to survive and many others denied their Christ.
At that time the orders were given to destroy St. Mark's
Cathedral with the excuse that the Crusades could take shel-
ter in it when they land at Alexandria. St. Mark's Cathedral
was unique in its art and size. The Copts in vain offered to
pay 2000 dinars to save it.
In the year 1173 a raid attacked Nubia (south of Egypt),
destroyed St. Simon's monastery near Aswan and another
near Ihrim. Monastries' inhabitants were arrested including
the Coptic bishop, and were sold in the slave market. The
destruction prevailed over the city of Quft in Upper Egypt which was leveled to the ground.
4. In Salah El-Din's era stability and justice were restored
along with generosity and abundance which made all Egyp-
tians, both Christians and Muslims, cherish him and become
loyal to him. In his era the Copts enjoyed peace for the
a. He ended the confusion and vandaliam which prevailed at the end of the Fatimids.
b. He abolished the various "Crescent"taxes which were imposed by the last caliph of the Fatimids.
c. Although on the first of his appointment by the Caliph
Al-Adid as a minister, replacing Shirkuh, he gave orders ban-
ning the Copts from all government jobs, he soon realized
how efficient and capable the Copts were and that they did
not pose any danger to his rule as the Prime Muslim leader in
the Middle East. He selected a Copt Safi-Al-Dawla Ibn Abi
Al-Ma-al, surnamed Ibn Sharafi - as his private secretary,
who loyally served him until the day of his death3. He also
had many Copts as friends, and readmitted the Copts to the
government jobs. Moreever, he returned to them their
properties which were previously confiscated. These are the
things that made some historians view his dismissal of the
Copts at the onset of his era as a clean up against Fatimids
then against the Copts. Besides, he felt that the eastern
Christians in general are those who, through their persistence
against the Crusades, enabled him to regain Jerusalem.
Furthermore, in his raid on the holy lands, he was
accompanied by a lage entourage of Copts as his clerks,
workers and craftsmen, as a result he granted them "Deer-
Al-Sultan" (Al- Sultan Monastery), and allowed them the
pilgrimage to the holy lands after they were disallowed under
d. His citadel on the Moquattam Mountain, which was
designed by two Coptic architects Abu-Mansour and Abu
Mashkour, became the main government office and remained
as such until Ismail built "Abdeen Palace" in 1874. The
Copts also contributed to many magnificent works in all aspects of art. Although they did not obtain the same concessions as they did under the Fatimids, they however enjoyed peace and security.
5. Inspite of the ease, with which the Ayyoubids were
characterized, the two Crusades waged by Jean De Brienne
and king Louis IX left deep scars on the Copts. On one side
the Crusader treated the Copts as atheists. When the First
Crusade occupied Damietta they ordained a metropolite from
the Latin Church of Rome. They took the liberty to kill the
Copts regardless of their age or sex. On the other side, when
the Crusade reached Damietta's Shore violent strifes took
place in Cairo because the public thought that the Copts al-
lies themselves with the Crusaders4. During these strifes the
ruler pressed the Copts - including the clergymen - to pay for
the war exuberant sums. When the soldiers were sent from
Cairo to Damietta they had immense hatred to the Crusaders,
they avenged by robbing the churches that paced by and
destroying them. Because of many hardships some Copts had
to flee from Egypt. The Nubian king "El-Nagashi" gave a
permission to "Labilela" to accept 10,000 Copts to refuge in
As the King "Al-Malek" regained Damietta he realized the
true position of the Copts, he brought them closer and re-
stored what was taken from them. He visited with his entou-
rage many monasteries in the Secits Desert. Hence,
congeniality prevailed between Muslims and Copts. As for
the Muslims they appreciated the Copts and appointed
Henein Ebn Isaac as "the chief physician of his time."
6. The Mamluk's era started in 1250, they were originally
slaves who were set free. They committed massacre after
massacre among themselves. However they finally united to
face their common enemy. The Mamluks and Turks were not
afraid of revolutionary movements by the Copts. They
realized this from their long experience since the begining of
the Crusaders. They were all assured that the Copts were
peace-lovers. The Copts never took advantage of the
Crusaders neither did sympathize with the western invasion
against their Muslim brethren in Egypt.
All the Mamluks cared for was to make use of the Copts'
artistic, administrative and financial abilities. This era was
known for its severe poverty and confusion along with the
involvement in wars which exhausted the country's financial
resource. Therefore, the Sultan had sometimes to resort to a
Copt to run the financial affairs and tax collection in the
meantime, however, he also resorted to abuse the Copt's
There were some moderate Sultan as Qalaun and his son
Al-Ashraf Khalil who restored the Copts to their positions
subsequent to laying them off. This whole era however, is
considered a chaos for Egypt in general and for the Copts in
particular. Henceforth the Copts lived in isolution from the
rest of the world. Ethiopia's kings, however, had to resort
from time to time to pressing the Sultans to deal kindly with the Copts.
The Muslim historian "Al-Makrizy" and also the Coptic
historian Al-Mofadal-Ebn-Abi El-Fadel both reported that in
Pipurs' era, in 1265, a large number of Copts were brought
around to be burnt alive near the citadel. It took quite an
effort to get the Sultan to agree to accept a heavy tribute
from them instead.
In 1301 as a Morocan minister visited Egypt, while the
Copts were then living in peace, he provoked the king Al-
Nasser Ibn Qalaun to humiliate the Copts, by closing their
churches and forcing them to wear blue turbans and sacks
around their waists.
The year 1320 was one of the worst years for the Copts.
The Muslim historian Al-Maqrizy (1364-1442) reported in
bitterness how the churches were destroyed and the wor-
shipers were killed, and how the general atmosphere was
charged against the Copts throughout the country. All the
energies in the country were directed towards humiliating the
Copts in every way. Al-Maqrizy reported these events with
During the reign of Al-Narrer Mohamed Ebn Qalaun, the
Aragon Spanish government sent emissaries to the Sultan
appealing to reopen the Melkites' churches and to free a
Spanish person who was detained in Egypt. The Sultan at
first agreed to both requests. However, shortly after he went
back on his word and demanded a ransom otherwise he
would bring the hostage back into captivity before leaving
Alexandria. The emissaries refused to pay the ransom and
further they kidnapped the Sultan's emissaries to Spain. So
the Sultan was enraged against the Copts, laying them off
their jobs because they were Christians as the Spanish were.
As King Al-Saleh II came to power, he was extremely
malicious, not only against the devout Copts but also against
those who had denied their Christ and converted to Islam.
He appointed Alaa-El-Dine Ibn Zenbour as his vizier
(minister) for he was converted to Islam together with his
whole family. But as the King later was told that Alaa's Islam
was only superficial, he had Alaa, his family and servants all
tortured until he knew all about Alaa's properties, then he
confiscated them and exiled Alaa to Quos, in Upper Egypt.
He also destroyed many churches and monasteries and
confiscated all church properties. Besides he had Pope Mark
IV jailed and tortured, and ordered all local governors to lay
off the Copts from their jobs. The Nubia's king intervened
and had the Pope set free.
During the papacy of Yuanis (John) X, the Crusaders in
1365, confiscated the properties of both Muslims and
Christians alike. The daughter of a priest by the name of
Girgis Ibn-Fadel, had to offer all she owned in order to save
the Church. Also the authorities summoned the Pope to the
court where he and his companions were severely humiliated
and lost all their possessions.
So every time there was a foreign attack on Egypt, the
Copts suffered heavy afflictions. During the papacy of
Matthew (Mathewos) I, the Europeans waged a raid on
Alexandria where they looted, vandalized and took women
as hostages and fled. Prince Yalbougha was enraged against
the Copts, seized the abbot (President) of St. Anthony's
Monastery and some of his monks and took them to Cairo.
On the way they were beaten, humiliated and were not given
food or drink. When they asked for some water he mocked
them snobbishly. The elder St. Markos the Antonian who
was among them raised his eyes to heaven and said, "For you
refused to give us water, the Lord will do so Himself." As
soon as he finished these words heaven actually poured rain
and they all drank. However, Yalbougha's heart was not
changed, but by the time they reached "Atfeeh" the Sultan
had decreed to free them.
As for Sultan Barquq (1382-98), he trusted Pope
Matthew I. It was said that he consulted the Pope prior to
accepting the "Sultanship," and they continued to have a
good relationship, so much that the Sultan asked the Pope to
mediate between him and king David of Ethiopia. Also when
the mobs were enraged and wished to burn the "Muallaqa"
(Suspended) Church and Shahran Monastery alleging them
being repaired, the Sultan sent their designate "Four Islam
Judges" who found all allegations were unfounded.
At the end of that period as the relationship between Egypt and Ethiopia soured, it became difficult for the Pope of Alexandria to ordain a bishop for Ethiopia. Therefore, the Portuguese advised the Ethiopian King to request a bishop from the Roman Pope instead. An army-physician by the name of Boas-Barmodaz was ordained for Ethiopia and named "Patriarch of Alexandria."
At the end of their era the Mamluks were preoccupied
with external wars and domestic strifes themselves which
diverted their attention away from the Copts, who together
with their Muslim brothers - were relieved during the era of
As approximately the centuries succeeded the Council of
Chalcedon another attempt was initiated to unify Rome from
one side with the Copts and with the Ethiopians from the
other, at the synod of Florence in 1438/39. The unity was
announced but remained totally unmoved. Another attempt
was initiated at the end of the sixtenth century, but as the
declaration of unity was ready to be signed, Pope Yuanis
(John) XIV (1571-1586) of Alexandria died the night before.
Rome's delegate was arrested and accused of espionage.
Rome had to pay a huge ransom to free him and bring him
back to his country.
1. E. Renaudot: Historia Patriarcharum Alexandruinorum Jacobitorum, Paris 1713,
2. Iris Habib El-Masry: Story of the Coptic Church, vol. 2, article 160 (in Arabic); Dr. Stiya: Hist. of East Christ.,p. 95.
3. Yacoub Nakhla Roufails: HIST of the Coptic Nation, 1899, p.176 (in Arabic).
4. Dr. Abdel Aziz Mirzik: El Nasser Mohamed Ibn Klawoon, p.13 (in Arabic); J. Tager: The Copts and Muslims, p.168 (in Arabic)
5. Coulbeaux: Hist. of Ethiop., p.256,226.
6. Dr. Atiya, p.97.
7. 7. Iris H. El-Masry, vol. 3 article 286 (in Arabic).
COPTIC PERSONALITIES DURING
THE AYYUBID AND MAMLUKS ERAS
During this long era many Coptic personalities appeared
among the clergy, laymen of high ranking positions in the
state, and those of artistic and literary talents like physicans,
architects etc... I have mentioned some names when we dis-
cussed that epoch, and here I will limit the discussion to
some of the writers, particularly those of the thirteenth
century, since a great literary movement took place from the
eleventh to the thirteeth century.
1. ST. BOUTROS (PETER) EL-SEDMANT I
He was a monk in the monastery of St. George in Jebel
Sedmant in the province of Faiyum. He left to us as a legacy
about 14 books of great religious and theological value, most
of them are in the National Library of Paris, the Vatican
Library and libraries of some monasteries in Lebanon. The
Jesuit monk Van Akberg was interested in these writings.
One of them called "Al- Tasheeh..." (The Elucidation of the
Passions of Christ).
2. IBN-KATEB-KAISAR (CEASAR)
He lived in the thirteenth century. He wrote an
introduction to the Coptic language, called "Al-Tabserah..."
[The enlightening of the Coptic language rules]. A copy is in
the National Library of Paris (Bibliotheque Nationale). He
also wrote expositions to the Gospel according to St.
Matthew, the Acts, the Epistles of St. Paul, the Catholic Epistles and the Revelation.
He was one of the prominent thinkers of the thirteenth
century. He died in Damascus in 1273. His name was Girgis
Ibn- Al-Amid, and his brother was Al-Assaad Ibrahim, the
scribe of armies during the rule of King Al-Aadel (The Just).
We do not know much about his biography; however, in his love to God he abstained from the world's glory and dedicated his life to worship, asceticism and study in the monastery of Abbot Yuanis El-Kasir (the Short) in Torah, south of Cairo. He became proficient in Coptic, Arabic, Greek, Logic, astronomy and history.
He worte dogmas (doctrines), civic history and completed the history work of "El-Tabari."
Iris Habib El Masry: Story of the Coptic Church, vol.3, 1971, p.251,252 (in Arabic).
He was the scribe of Sultan Baybars (1260-77). He was
loyal to him and helped him in writing a valuable book still
present as a manuscript: "Zobdat Al-Fikr Fi Tarikh Al-Higra"
[The precious thinking in the history of the immigration].
He left the Sultan's service and was ordained a priest on St. Mary's Church (Muallaqqa-Suspended). He gave much attention to the spiritual pastoral care for his people, and wrote many books which prove that he is an honorable scholar, deep theologian and a church historian. He died on 15 Bashans 1040 Coptic (A.D. 1323).
Amongst his work are:
1. On Holy Chrism (Mayroun).
2."Galaa-al-Eqoul..." contains 18 chapters on the oneness of God and the Holy Trinity and on the incarnation. A copy is preserved in the Vatican Library and another in Danascus.
3. "Misbah Al-Zolmah..." [The Lamp of Darkness and Elucidation of Service], a church theological encyclopedia. Copies are preserved in the Vatican, Berlin and Paris (Natlional) Libraries.
4. The Great Ladder, a Coptic Dictionary, was published in Rome in 1643, in Coptic, Latin and Arabic. It is considered one of the most valuable Coptic books.
5. Against predestinarianism.
6. Sermons on feasts and occasions.
Iris Habib Al-Masry: The Story of the Coptic Church, vol.3, 1971, p.298-300 (in Arabic).
5. AWLAD (SONS OF) AL-ASSAAL
They were eminent Coptic scholars in the thirteenth
century. Apparently they were from Sedmant in Upper
Egypt, migrated to Cairo and settled there. Some of them
worked in government services and other dedicated their
lives to serving God. They had high ranking status during the
Ayyubids era, particularly "Abu-Ishaq" who accompanied the
Ayyubids to Syria. They were also prominent in the Church.
One of them, namely "Al-Safiy Abu- Al-Fadil" was chosen to
act as the "First Secretary" for the holy Synod which was
assembled to solve a church dispute during the patrichate of
Pope Kyrillos Ibn-Loklok (75th Pope).
They were well-educated in science, arts and languages, and were well known for their beautiful Arabic writings and to them is attributed the "Asaadi Arabic writing." They excelled in Coptic, Arabic, Greek and Syrian languages, beside their interest in the "Law" and Canons. They wrote Arabic poems at a high level.
Here is a note of their works and short accounts of the life of each of them:
AL-MUTAMAN ABU-ISHAQ IBRAHIM IBN-AL-AS-
He was ascetic, true worshiper and lover of studying and
searching for knowledge. After the death of his pious wife
his brother, Al-Safiy, sent him a message urging him to
continue his ascetic life after the loss of the helpmate. This
message was well accepted and he became a disciple of St.
Boutros (Peter) the Confined. His contemporary Bishop of
Damietta, Ibn-Al-Dahiry, called him: "The elder, ascetic
chief, worshiper and the faithful (Al-Mutaman) One."
He was ordained priest, then protopriest, and remained in
the patriachate as a secretary of Pope Kyrillos Ibn-Loklok.
He wrote more than 10 books in theology, Coptic
language, sermons etc...
B. AL-ASAAD ABU-AL-FARAJ HIBAT-ALLAH:
Eight books are known from his works in the Coptic language, introduction to the Pauline Epistles, "Al-Abaqti" system in astronomical and historical principals etc...
C. AL-SAFIE ABU-AL-FADIL:
Ten books are known from his works in defending the Gospel, the church canons, in the Holy Trinity, in church history, sermons etc...
6. ANBA BOULOS AL-BUSHY: (Bishop of Babylon:)
He is considered one of the most eminent Coptic thinkers in the thirteenth century. He was born in "Bush" (in BeniSuef province, and became a monk in the monasteries of Faiyum, along with Dawud Ibn-Loklok who lately became Pope Kyrillos Ibn-Loklok (75th Pope).
The Dutch Fr. Jacques Muyser stated that Anba Boulos
had self-control, loved his people, far from impartiality, had
no aim except church's edification. He was a dignified
scholar who had deep knowledge in religious affairs. A priest
whose heart was inflamed with the zeal of the apostle Paul,
and a mighty interpreter of the word of God, who explained
the obscure, and clarified any ambiguity as regards the
Bible's teaching. He was a successful preacher who lifted the
hearts of believers towards the highest and inflamed them.
Being an excellent apologist he had a brilliant mind. His
arguments are like the five smooth stones from David's brook used against Goliath.
He was nominated for the papal candidacy along with
Archdeacon Abu-Shaker Boutros of Al-Muallaqa
(Suspended) Church, and Dawoud Ibn-Loklok. The election
battle was warm and the church was divided into many
parties. However, Anba Boulos who was self-denying was
not eager to take this position, but during the storm of
election he was busy with his close friend Dawoud Ibn-
Loklok in writing a book on the principals of religion and in
arguing against those who renounced their faith. On the
other hand Dawoud was very anxious to occupy this position
and inflamed the battle. Because of this disaccord the papal
throne remained unoccupied for nineteen and a half years.
During this time all bishops of Egypt died except three. At
last Dawoud was elected in June 1235, and his era was
marked with mistakes that caused lots of troubles to the
church, inspite of his good-education, as manifested in the
church laws he issued, and his book on "Confession" which
is known as, "The Teacher and The Student." Anba Boulos
helped him in these works.
One of the main tasks accomplished by Pope Kyrillos Ibn-
Loklok was the ordination of many eminent bishops, among
whom were Anba Boulos Al-Bushy, Anba Christodolus of
Damitta, Anba Yuanis of Samanud and Anda Yusab of
Fuwwah who worte "History of the Patriarchs" as a
continuation of that of Sawiris Ibn-Al- Muqaffa.
Anba Boulos remained the close friend to Pope Kyrillos,
helped him during his troubles as he used to calm the people
who were agitated against him and gave wise advice to the
Pope. He gave much attention to teaching the people, with a
spirit of ture humility, thus he attracted many to the Kingdom of God.
When the mistakes of Pope Kyrillos Ibn-Loklok increased, the holy Synod assembled and appointed two of the bishops - including Anba Boulos to help him in running the affairs of the Patriarchate.
His writings still exist, but are not published till now,
except some sermons (mymers) on the feasts of the Lord.
He wrote on the mystery of incarnation, spirituality, apologetical writings between Christians and Muslims, and an interpretation of the book of Revelation.
7. BASTAWRIUS THE MARTYR
He was martyred during the tribulations which occurred in Pope Benjamin's (II) era, in the fourteenth century.
Some people incited the ruler against him, for his mother
renounced her Christian faith and he stayed with his father.
The ruler tried to lure him to renounce his faith but he re-
fused. As he was thrown in prison a white pigeon came and
settled over his head, and the prison guard informed the ruler
of this incident. He was brought back to the ruler who
threatened him with burning. Bastawrius remained calm and
addressed the ruler with courage: "Do whatever you wish for
you have authority just on my body."
He was sent to the arena where he was insulted, cursed
and beaten by the mob. He endured all hardship with
patience and calmness. Finally, he received the crown of
martyrdom as he was beheaded. Many wonders and miracles
were brought by God through the martyr's body.
Wallis Budge: The Ethiopic Synazarium, Cambridge 1928, p.842.
8. ST. BARSOUM AL-ERIAN (THE NAKED)1
One of the saints of the thirteenth century, lived in the midst of severe troubles and tribulations, bearing a living faith, through it he not only trampled the serpents and scorpions but he also offered the comfort of the Holy Spirit to the suffering people. Moreover, God granted him the gift of performing signs and miracles.
He was born in A.D. 1257 from pious parents. His father
was called "Al-Wagieh Al-Mafafal" [The Honorable], whom
Queen Shagaret-Al-Dur appointed her Chief Secretary (Chief
His parents recieved him as a divine gift, for he was the
fruit of their fasting and praying. They brought him up in the
fear of God and cared for his spiritual life and Bible studies.
His father died followed by his mother within a year. His
uncle was greedy and coveted the inheritance. Barsoum did
not enter with him in a strife, remembering the words of the
wise man: "Vanity of vanities all is vanity" Eccl. 1:2. Some
of his relatives tried to incite him to sue his uncle but he
HIS LOVE FOR SOLITUDE
He went out of Al-Fustat to live in a cave, bearing the
heat of summer and the cold of winter, heedless to the
danger of the wildness. He stayed there for five years in
serious ascetic life, practising unceasing prayers and
kneelings (Metanias). He used to wear only a goat-skin
around his waist, therefore he was called "Al-Erian" [the Na-
IN THE CAVE OF ST. MERCERIUS' CHURCH
God guided him to a cave beside the northern entrance of
St. Mercerius' Church in Old Cairo, (which is still preserved
to this day). It was a huge serpent which hindered the people
from descending the cave. When St. Barsoum tried to get
into the cave he was prevented by the servants of the church
because they feared for his life. However, he raised his hands
towards heaven and prayed, then he made the sign of the
cross on himself and preceded towards the serpent saying:
"You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra. The young lion
and the serpent you shall trample underfoot" Ps. 91:13. God
tamed the serpent and it became a companion to the saint in
the cave for 20 years. He smelt the fragrance of Christ, thus
the crowds came from all the cities seeking his prayers.
HIS AID TO THE SUFFERING PEOPLE:
In his time, the church suffered severe tribulation towards
the end of Khalil Ibn-Qalaun's rule. Churches were closed all
over Egypt except Alexandria. St. Barsoum continued
praying in the church and refused to put on the blue turban
imposed on the copts. Some people incited the ruler against
him. He ordered him to be flogged, and imprisoned him.
Then he set him free. St. Barsoum then went to live on the
roof of the church, offering prayers and kneelyings
(metanias) with tears, practising a severe ascetic life. The
Divine Grace supported him and granted him the gift of
performing miracles. The suffering people came to him seek-
ing Divine comfort. Through his prayers God stopped the
Al-Mahaba Bookstore: Anba Barsoum Al-Erian, Cairo, Egypt 1978 (in Arabic).
9. POPE MATTHEWS (MATTHEOS) I1
Some historians consider him to be St. Mattheos the poor
(Al-Meskin), from the monastery of Al-Fakhoury (the
Potter), in Asfoun-Mataana, west of Esna in Upper Egypt, who was known for his friendship with the wild beasts.
As a young lad he tended the sheep, used to distribute his
food among the shepherds and spend long hours in praying.
When he was fourteen years old he was admitted to the
monastery to practice asceticism and worship. He was
ordained a priest at the age of eighteen by the bishop of that
era. When he felt the honour bestowed on him he escaped to
St Anthony's Monastery. He did not tell the monks there
about his priesthood and served as a deacon. While he was
reading the gospel, a celestial hand appeared and offered him
incense three times. The elders of the monastery recognised
that he would be ordained patriarch. He left vainglory and
escaped to the holy land to work as a builder and practise
worship during the night. The glory followed him again so he
returned to St. Anthony's Monastery. He was made the abbot
of this monastery when Prince Yalpogha led some of the
monks, including the abbot, in humility to Cairo to avenge in
them deeds of the Crusaders.
Once again he escaped from the monastery to Al-
Muharraq Monastery to carry sand, work in the kitchen and
serve the sick, elders and visitors. He led a life of self-denial,
and had only one garment. He was exposed to many fearful
wars against the devil but he conquered him. The wild beasts
used to keep him company outside the monastery.
When he was chosen to be ordained patriarch he escaped
hiding in the bottom of a ship, but God revealed him by a lit-
tle child. Then he cut the tip of his tongue hoping they would release him, but God cured him at once. Finally he sought the counsel of the elders of St. Anthony's monastery and accepted the ordination.
He cared for the poor, loved to give alms, and he was
self-denying. He did not keep any properties to himself and
ditributed even his clergical vestments. He bought some
crops before a famine and when it took place he distributed
the crops among those who asked without any discrimination
between Muslims, Jews or Christians. He used to give
generously and God blessed the crops so they did not
Out of his love towards his people he used to help those
who worked on the meanest jobs, at the same time he was
extremely venerated. When he stood before the sanctuary his
face often glowed with divine light and his eyes glittered,
looking towards our Lord Christ who often appeared to him.
Because of his heavenly wisdom, people used to ask for
his counsel in all their private matters. The ruler Barquq
asked his advice before accepting the "Sultanism," an he in
turn asked for the prayers of Father Markos Al-Anthony.
Sultan Barquq asked the Pope to write to the king of
Ethiopia, namely "Wedom Asgar," who was a wicked
person, but the Pope wrote to his older brother, David
(Dawoud), and when the messengers objected because they
feared the king he insisted on writing to David. On their
arrival to Ethiopia they found that David became the king, he
received the patriarchal letter and asked them about the two
presents sent to him by the Pope, namely a cross and a hand-
kerchief. They were astonished that he knew about these
presents, but he told them that the Pope had appeared to him in a dream and told him, what was going to happen.
A monk denounced faith and became a tyrant, as he slan-
dered the monks to the rulers. Someone asked the Pope to
curse him, but he told them that he prayed for his return to
the true faith and to gift him the crown of martyrdom, and
this took place.
Through his cordial relations with Sultan Barquq he
stopped the mob from burning "al-Moallaqqa" church and
the "Shahran" Monastery, claiming that new constructions
are taking place therein. The Sultan appointed the four
Judges of Islam who declared the falsehood of that claim.
Two of the Mamluks princes, Mentach and Yalpogha,
banished Sultan Barquq and took the reign. Mentach
inflicted severe sufferings upon the Pope who did bear them
bravely, this made the prince feel ashamed of himself. Yal-
pogha was very svere in his persecution but the Pope sternly
objected to that, and therefore the prince imprisoned him.
When he wanted to behead the Pope by a sword, the Pope
stretched his neck; saying: "Kill me at once." The prince was
astonished and released him. Yalpogha himself was later
imprisoned and died in prison in Alexandria.
When Barquq returned to his rule, the copts and the Jews
came joyfully together with the muslims to welcome him.
When David, the king of Ethiopia raided Aswan; the Pope
sent him a bishop with a message, accompanied by a delegate
from the Sultan, the king responded favourably and returned
to his country.
The Pope was involved in shepherding his people,
particularly the poor and sick. God granted him the gift to
perform signs and miracles and to heal the sick. During the
renovation of St. Mary's Church a large stone fell over a
labourer and he died. The Pope prayed over his body and the
Lord raised him up.
Al-Nasser Farag took the reign after his father Sultan
Barquq, and behaved like him. However, a prince known as
Prince Sodon plundered the palace of Al-Nasser. He was
violent, and plotted with some of his followers to massacre
the copts. The Pope devoted seven days to fasting and
praying in St. Marcorius' Church untill St. Mary appeared to
him and conforted him. He came out of the church, and his
face was glowing like an angel. Sodon summoned the Pope
and confessed to him about the plot he intended against the
Copts and then released him.
Yet the tribulations inflicted upon the Copts by Sodon's
supporters became very severe. The Pope retreated to the
Archangel Michael's Church resorting to fasting and prayers.
He sent one of his disciples to the palace, who got to know
that a horseman stabbed the prince six days ago (i.e., at the
time the Pope started his retreat) and that he remained in
anguish untill he died.
Gamal-Al-Din, one of the Mamluks, raised troubles
against the Pope and persecuted the Copts. He imposed on
the Pope a tribute of five hundred thousand dinars which the
people collected for him. Gamal-Al-Din continued his
persecution and sommoned the Pope, but the latter asked the
messengers to wait till the following day. God took the
Pope's soul at that night. God also did not let the Prince go
unpunished, for Sultan Abd-El-Aziz Ibn Barquq was agitated
against him, arrested him and ordered the soldiers to beat him to death.
1. Kmael Saleh Nakhla: Hist. of the Alexandrian Patriarchs.
Iris Habib Al-Masry: Story of the Coptic Church, vol.3, p.330f.
10. ST. RUIES
H.H. Pope Shenouds III says the St. Ruies was a layman,
never received the grace of priesthood nor lived away in the
desert as a monk, but he surpassed many of those who had
clergical ranks. Many patriarchs and Popes asked him to pray
A boy by the name of Foraig was born in a village called
"Meniet-Yamin" at the western province in the Delta Nile.
He used to help his father in the farm and to sell salt on his
little camel named "Ruies." He gained the love of all his
At the end of the 14th century, the Copts were subjected
to great pressure to such a degree that his father denied his
faith. Ruies fled to a nearby wilderness called "Sheikh
wilderness." Afterwards he went to Cairo and travelled all
over Egypt from far south "Quose," to far north
"Alexandria" and "Damietta," bearing his camel's name
"Ruies." He never ceased to tell with tears whoever he met
about their salvation.
He was ascetic, who used to seive corn and give money to
the needy. As he became famous, he called himself "Tegi
Eflo," i.e. "the mad neighbour." It was said that once he
locked himself up in a spiritual hermitage in the house of a
woman called "Mother of Jacoub" in Cairo. When he got
hungry, she offered him some bread to eat, but he only ate a
bit of wet pollard, which made her unhappy. He said to her:
"Why do you become upset when I eat the pollard and not
the bread while you ought to be sad for the sins of others?
Don't you know that sin destroys the spirit, but the pollard
supports the body in any case? And if the body suffers a bit,
it is only to reduce sin?"
HIS FEAR OF GOD AND OF HIS SACRAMENTS:
The saint used to partake of the holy Communion in fear
and great hesitation, looking to himself as unworthy to
partake of these holy sacraments. Once he saw the sanctuary
brightly lit up and God's glory on the partakers' heads.
Another time he saw the Cherubim and the Seraphim above
the baptisary waving around a child who is being baptized.
He was granted many spiritual visions and performed miracles, attracting many to repentance.
Sultan Barquq heard about him and yearned to see him.
When Prince Sodon flared his tyranny against Pope Matheos,
he summoned Anba Ruies and asked him about his life and
deeds, but he did not utter a word. So he ordered that he
should be beaten four hundred lashes until his blood flowed,
but he remained silent. The soldiers paraded in the streets
while they were beating him, spitting upon him, and pulling
out his beard, but he remained silent. Finally they threw him
in prison along with one of his disciples. The Lord of Glory
appeared to them and healed them. The imprisoned Copts
who were about eighty asked him to pray for them. On the
same day Pope Matheos came to them in prison with the
order of their release.
When Prince Yalpogha imprisoned the Pope, Anba Ruies prayed for him, and said, "St. Mary will deliver him." In fact, some of Yalpogha's opponents broke the prison's gates and released all who were inside.
Anba Ruies spent the last nine years lying on the ground
because of the severity of his illness. However, during his
sufferings many were granted healing through his prayers. In
his illness he continued to counsel the visitors with deep
One of the believers who lived close to him said about
Anba-Ruies' reposal in the Lord: "I saw at that time a woman
who was bright like the sun sitting behind this father, and she
received his blessed soul according to his desire (which was
St. Mary who might have come to help him at that
THE TURKISH ERA
By the time Selim I (the Turkish Sultan) seized power in
Egypt in A.D. 1517 after he had conquered Toman-Bay, the
era of the Mamluks "Circassians" came to an end. Selim I
removed from the Mamluks the public authority and
government leaving for them the regional and local
authorities. The Turkish era is known for its tyranny,
violence and utter destruction of the Egyptian civilization by
moving the skillful artists, laborers and craftsmen to Turkey.
This changed Egypt from an empire to a subordinate country
subject to foreign rule, thus losing its prestige.
The Turks had two objectives: secure their authority and collect money from all Egyptians and Copts in particular, therefore, they reorganized the state as follows:
(a) The "Pasha" was given the authority to collect the tribute. His term did not last long for fear that he might seize the government. This put the Pasha in the position of money collector on account of the public welfare.
(b) The army had an independent council.
(c) The Mamluks remained to manage the affairs of the
local regions and look after collecting revenue for the
governing authorities and for themselves as well. Whenever
the governor conveyed by "Al-Bab-Al-Ali" [the Turkish
Sultan] showed any weakness, the Mamluks held monopoly over the actual authority.
Under such circumstances Egypt survived three centuries
in political disgrace, scientific and financial poverty and
social inferiority to the extent that an English writer said that
they (the Turks) left nothing on the map of Egypt other than
the eternal pyramids.
We can imagine the situation of the Copts in such a crucial age from the following examples:
1- Sultan Soliman son of Selim the conqueror resorted to
a Jewish astrologer who advised him to kill all the Nazerites
in the East because they represent danger for his kingdom,
but byruz Pasha the minister brought the sultan back to his
senses. This happened during the time of Pope Gabriel VII
The sultan imposed such huge sums of money on the nonmuslims, that the Pope was obliged to flee to St. Anthony"s monastery. He kept praying bitterly that God might be merciful to His people, and he passed away there.
2- Sultan Murad forced Pope Yuanis the fourteenth to
pay a surtax he had to collect during his pastoral voyage for
the purpose of visiting his people and collecting the tribute.
At that time the Turkish rulers tightened control over Christians in Nubia through terrorism, and relieving the people of their money. Many were obliged to immigrate, others fell martyrs and the rest denied their faith. As a result Christianity disappeared from Nubia.
3- In December 1582 Yuhanna Al-Qaliubi the monk from
Anba Pishoy's monastery was martyred, when one of the
governors arrested him while coming out of the monastery
and tried to force him to deny his faith. When the monk
refused he stabbed sharp knives into his hands and put fire
into his shoulders, mounted him on a camel's back and
handed him to the mob to show him around the city. At last
he tied him up to a wood beam and kept torturing him until
4- When Pope Matthews III was installed in 1631
somebody slandered him at Khalil Pasha's the governor that
the Pope ignored him by not paying the tribute of his
installation. When the Coptic archons heard of that they re-
quested to meet the governor; so he levied on them four
thousand piastres to be paid immediately. They borrowed the
amount from a jew until the Pope was able to pay it back
after his trip to upper Egypt.
The governor destroyed the great church at Mehalla-Al-
Kubra and built a school in its place.
5- Pope Mark VI was imprisoned and the governor
announced that he was the heir of any Copt. In order to
inherit he killed one or two every day. His victims reached
about one thousand and two hundred who were killed
leaving behind them widows and orphans without any
6- In the time of Anba Matthrews IV a tax was levied on
every man (Copt) getting out of home. The Copts were
subject to two kinds of taxes: one, which was a small amount
to be paid either to the mosques, or the Sheikh Al-Bakry
(descendent of Abu-Bakr Al- Saddiq), or to some nobles (the sadat). The second was to be paid to the sultan's coffer.
In 1664 the governor issued a decree to consolidate both
taxes into one tax to be paid to the sultan. The governor
would pay the share of the mosques and the nobles, then
deposit the rest into the sultan's coffer after deducting his
personal share. He established a fixed tax on everybody
regardless of the individual capabilities, so the poor had to
escape to the mountains in fear of the whip of the governor
and his followers.
7- In the time of Pope Yuanis VI the governor issued a
decree that every Copt should hang two sleigh bells around
his neck before entering the public bath and wear a black
turban. A Copt was not allowed to wear clothes made of
broadcloth or wool, and the Coptic ladies had to wear black
not white garments.
The Pope urges the rich to help the poor.
8- In the time of Pope Peter VI a discussion erupted in
1719 putting the country in a state of semi-civil war. In that
period the Mamluks enjoyed strong influence while the
governors appointed by Turkey lost their prestige. The land
suffered from anarchy, looting and plundering. Everybody -
Muslim or Christian felt insecure. In Alexandria the Copts
fell subject to heavy fines, churches were destroyed and
many had to flee from the city. This situation remained for
78 years until the French Campaign came to Egypt. Periods
of stability were very rare and lasted for short.
9- In the days of Pope Mark VIII, although Hassan Pasha
the Turkish designee was busy fighting the Mamluks
especially Murad Bey and Ibrahim Bey, he issued very harsh decrees against the Copts. He ordered any copts not wearing the clothes designed for the Copts to be stoned.
THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CHURCH OF
ROME AND THE WESTERN CHURCHES
Every Copt yearns from all his heart for the unity of
churches on the basis of unity of faith. Unfortunately during
that rough period in which Egypt in general and the Copts in
particular suffered under the Ottoman rule, Rome played a
painful role. She seized every opportunity to benefit from the
degradation and hardships that surmounted the Coptic
Church as a chance to impose Copts to accept Rome's
leadership. Pretending to play the role of saviour and helper
if the Coptic Church do resign, an attitude that the Copts in
general did not comply with. For example:
1. In the Mamluks' era, the relations between Egypt and
Ethiopia deteriorated badly. The Mamluks refused to let the
Pope contact the church in Ethiopia or install a bishop for
her. Rome seized that opportunity and installed a Catholic
Portuguese bishop and named him "Patriarch of Alexandria";
yet King Glaudius stopped him. The attempt to affiliate
Ethiopia to Rome was repeated more than once during the
hard times the Coptic Church went through.
2. In the time of Pope Gabriel VII the Pope of Rome sent
messengers to Alexandria suggesting the affiliation under his
patronage. Pope Gabriel met them with benevolence and
affirmed his strict adherence to the faith of his fathers.
3. In the time of Pope Yuanis XIV the same thing was
repeated. The Jesuit monks dispatched by Rome assured that
Rome would not ask Egypt to give up her faith, offering
many attractive promises. A council was convened in
February 1583 in Manf but it split into two camps. Some
considered joining up with Rome but the majority refused the
principle ecclesiastically and nationally regardless of how se-
vere the persecution was. The matter was again repeated in
the epoch of Pope Gabriel VIII.
4. In the time of Pope Yuanis VI certain people from the west tried to gain favours from Al-Bab-Al-Ali (the sultan) concerning the holy land on account of the Orthodox Church. This matter happened repeatedly.
5. In the Turkish Era the system of "foreign privileges"
came to existence. No foreigner had to pay taxes no matter
how much income he earned. A foreigner was exempted
from standing in-front of the Egyptian courts even if he
committed crimes. This happened while Copt suffered from
heavy taxes and fines regardless of his limitations, and bore
the burden of anguish guilt. Besides, money poured forth
from aboard on foreigners to attract the Copts to abandon
6. The missionaries built schools and offered some to
travel to Rome to complete their studies like Roufail Al-
Toukhi whom they promised to become bishop over Arsino
(al-Fayoum). But the Pope of Rome called on him to stay
there for the rest of his life and work on printing Coptic
prayer books after making some alterations to agree with the
Twelve young men were brought to Rome where Roufail received them and taught them to invite their families to adopt Catholicism. He was the first catholic bishop to be installed over the Catholic Copts in 1741 by the name of Athanasius. He resided in Jerusalem and appointed a general representative for the whole of Egypt.
7. In the time of Anba Yuanis XVIII the Pope of Rome invited him for affiliation.
COPTIC PERSONALITIES DURING
THE OTTOMAN ERA
1. POPE MATTHEOS (MATTHEW) IV
He was called Guirguis. He descended from a pious and
rich family. He was educated in the Kettab (a school attached
to the church), and became a monk in the Scetis wilderness.
After six years he saw in a dream that his parents were sad
because they did not know his whereabouts. After consulting
the fathers, he went to visit his parents. They were glad to
see him and wished to see him married, but he fled back to
the monastery. His parents realized his wish in the monastic
life and were comforted.
He was much liked by the monks, who chose him as their spiritual father and he was ordained priest. He was faithful and vigilant as being their shepherd. He was elected as pope of Alexandria on the 3rd of Hator 1376 (1660 A.D.), and became a great support for his people during the tribulations which the rulers inflicted on them.
Once a Copt did a favor to the ruler, and started collecting taxes from the Copts in additions to the required tax. The Pope admonished him to stop that cruelty, and when he disobeyed he was excommunicated and died in bad circumstances shortly after.
A lady went to the Pope complaining of her husband who
married another woman. The Pope called the man and the
second wife and exhorted them, but the woman replied that
she had conceived and could not separate from him. The
Pope answered earnestly: "The Lord Christ discerns the truth
from the false," and then he kept silent. As soon as the
woman returned, the fetus was aborted and people were
filled with God's fear.
Some of the rebellions went to St. Mercerius' church
aiming at destroying it. They requested the "Dewan" [the
government office] to appoint an "Agha" [a responsible man]
to facilitate and assist them in their vicious play. The pope
had no resource other than the Heavenly Father, and he
spent the night in vigilance and prayers. The rebellions stayed
overnight beside the church planning to commence their
work at dawn. However, the wall of the adjacent house fell
on them and they all died. Then no one else ventured to de-
stroy the church. One of the known writings of Pope
Mattheos IV is an essay, with an upright orthodox mind,
about the "Divine presence in the Eucharist."
When He felt that the end of his sojourn on the earth was near he went to pray near the tomb of the popes in the church of Abi-Seffin (St. Mercerius), and was heard saying: "Open and allow me to dwell among brothers."
During his era, Vansleb1, a Dominican monk, visited Egypt and wrote "History of the Coptic Church," in which he recorded his observations about the Coptic ecclesiastical life. He carried with him 300 manuscripts.
Also during his era some of the Venicians stole the icon of
the Archangel Michael from St. Mark's church in Alexandria
and took it to the ship on their way to Europe, but the ship
could not sail until they returned the icon to its place. It was said that the icon was one of St. Luke's work.
1. Also known as J.M. Wansleben, a German traveler,
visited Egypt first in 1664, then in 1672, and in 1673. His
works were published in Paris in 1677, under the title:
"Histoire de' l'eglise d'Alexandrie fonfee' per S. Marc., que nous appelons celle des jacobites - Coptes d'Egypte, Ecrities au Caire meme en at 1673."
2. MUALLEM RIZK (RIZK AGHA)
He was one of the prominent Coptic personalities of the
eighteenth century. He had knowledge in ecclesiology,
mathematics and astronomy. Ali-Bey Al-Kabir, the ruler at
that time depended on him and appointed him as his vizier
When Bruce, an English traveler, visited Egypt on his way
to Ethiopia, the Port authorities thought that what he was
carrying of astronomical and geographical instruments were
military equipments, thus they confiscated them. However,
Muallem Rizk released the materials and learnt how to use
them. The traveler tried to reward the vizier but he refused
his gifts. Moreover the vizier honored the traveler as his own
He was the source of great comfort to the Copts. Inspite
of his loyalty to the ruler he was assassinated by Abu-Al-
Dahab and his body was kept hanging at Zewela's gate for
two days and nobody dared to bring him down for burial.
1. Kamel Saleh Nakhla: His. of the Coptic Nation, p.140-1 (in Arabic).
3. ANBA YUSAB AL-ABAHH
He was born in Al-Nekhela, South of Abu-Teeg in Upper
Egypt and was educated in the "kettab" annex to the church.
He was inflamed by divine love and earnestly desired the
celibate life. At the age of 25 he went to the city of Bush
where the abbot of St. Anthony's monastery lived. He was
admitted to the monastery and he devoted his life to worship
along with continuous reading and study, and a sincere desire
of serving his brothers. He was ordained priest, then
protopriest without changing his name "Youssef."
Pope Yuanis XVIII asked for him and wanted to ordain him bishop. He was ordained bishop on the Bishopric of Akhimin and Girga, under the name of "Anba Yusab."
His predecessor was Anba Antonius who sided with Ca-
tholicism and the people revolted against him. The ruler
became doubtful and ordered his imprisonment until the
French Consul intervened on his behalf and he was released.
However, he could not bear the fact that his people
neglected him and denounced his actions, and he left to
Anba Yusab visited his people and explained to them the
orthodox dogmas and erased the confusion caused by Anba
When the Pope of Rome requested the Alexandrian Pope
to join under the former's authority, the Pope of Alexandria
asked Anba Yusab to explain to Rome the Orthodox
Many books, letters and articles were written by this bishop, although he related some of them to Pope Yuanis as a kind of humility and self-denial.
4. MUALLEM IBRAHIM AL-GAWHARY1
He was born in the eighteenth century of poor, humble
and pious parents. He was known for being diligent. His
father, Yousef Al-Gawhary, was a tailor in Qalioub. He was
educated in the "Kettab" of his town and mastered writing
and mathematics since his early boyhood. He used to
transcribe the religious books and present them to Pope Yua-
nis XVIII (107th Pope). The Pope was pleased with his piety
and zeal, drew him near to himself, and used to say to him,
"May the Lord exalt your name, bless your work and
preserve your remembrance for ever."
He started his work as a scribe for a Mamluk prince. The
Pope intervened on his behalf to Muallem Rizk, the Chief
Scribe of Ali Bey Al-Kabir who took him as his private
scribe, and he remained in this task until the end of Ali Bey
Al-Kabir's rule. Then he employed him in his service. When
Mohamed Bey Abu-Al- Dahab took over the rule, Muallem
Rizk left his position and was succeeded by Muallem
Ibrahim. The latter's star began to glitter until he became the
Chief Scribe for the whole of Egypt at the time of Ibrahim
Bey, a post which nowadays is equivalent to that of the
prime minister. This position increased his humbleness,
humility and generosity, and all the hearts of Egyptians were
attracted to him.
He had a son named Yousef and a daughter named
Demiana. The former died after his father had arranged a
fully equipped house in preparation for his marriage. The
parent's souls became bitter to the extent that the father
locked the door and demolished the stairs so that no one
enters his son's house. However, this bitterness changed to a
strong desire for helping the widows and orphans and
comforting the grieved and the afflicted. St. Anthony
appeared to Ibrahim and his wife one night and comforted
A coup did take place in the ruling regime, and Hassan
Pasha Qaptan came to Egypt sent by the Sultan. He fought
Ibrahim Bey and Murad Bey who were compelled to flee to
Upper Egypt along with Ibrahim Al-Gawhry and some of
their princes and scribes. Qaptan Pasha looted the palaces of
the "Bey's," princes and sheikhs and persecuted the
Christians and took the properties of Muallem Ibrahim, those
of his family and all he had endowed to the churches and
His wife fled and hid in the house of Hassan Agha of Ali
Bey, but some people informed the Pasha about her. He
summoned her and she guided him to her properties. Her
daughter Damiana was also brought before the Pasha and she
asked him to give her sometime to present her case. She
gathered some of the poor and needy and presented them to
the Pasha saying: "All my father's wealth is in the bellies and
bodies of these people," and it seemed that the Pasha was
somewhat impressed by this conduct and did not harm her.
Ibrahim Bey and Mourad Bey returned to Cairo on
August 7, 1791, and with them Muallem Ibrahim. The latter
was much loved by the rulers and the people who used to
call him "Sultan of the Copts," this was shown in an old
inscription on an Iconstasis of a church in Anba Paul's
monastery in the eastern desert, and also in a "Lectionary (Katamaris)" which is kept in the same monastery.
The well-known historian Al-Gabarty writes about
Muallem Ibrahim: [He surpassed all his country men in
attaining glory, authority and a great fame for a long period.
He was consulted in the major and minor problems for he
was one of the brilliant men of his time. He had a good
memory even even for the finest details. He used to cover the
weaknesses of everybody, and the people hearts were
attracted by love towards him. At the beginning of the month
of "Ramadan" [the month of fasting for the Muslims] he used
to send candles and gifts to the prominent Muslim people as
well as others who were not well known. During his time,
the churches and monasteries flourished and he endowed on
them many properties and lands. Besides, he arranged con-
siderable amounts of money and grains to be sent regularly
Anba Yusab Al-Abahh of Guirga and Akhmim said about him that he loved everybody regardless of his religion, was a peace-maker who, fulfilled the needs of many without discrimination and executed justice.
Through his good relations with the authorities in Egypt
and Turkey he obtained favourable decrees (firmons)
concerning the building and renovations of churches. He offered much of his properties and endowments to the churches and monasteries, and payed attention to the transcription of many religious books at his expense and offered them to churches.
One day his brother, Guirguis, came complaining of some
of youth who insulted him on his way home, and he asked
Muallem Ibrahim to take an action against them through his
authority. The answer was that he would cut their tongues.
The next day while he was walking along the same route he
found himself being much loved and honoured by the same
youth. When he inquired about what happened, Muallem
Ibrahim told him that he sent them many gifts and thus he cut
their tongues, and they abstained from pronouncing evil.
He used to pray in St. Mary's Church in Haret Zewela.
One day he was in a hurry and sent to the protopriest
Ibrahim Al- Asphoury one of his contemporary scholars
saying: "The Muallem tells you to hast and to start the
prayers early so that he can be in time for the "Diwan (The
government office)." The priest answered, "The Muallem
(Master) in heaven is One, and the church is God's and not of
anybody else; if he is not happy let him build another
church." Muallem Ibrahim accepted the answer with neither
fury nor anger. He considered this as a voice of God to built
a church on the name of St. Merceruis Abu-Sefein in the
northern side of St. Mary's Church. The priest came to
congratulate him saying, "Thank God who made your
dissatisfaction a cause for building another church and thus
your heavenly inheritance and good deeds had increased."
HIS LONGING FOR SERVING OTHERS
Muallem Ibrahim returned after the Easter liturgy at mid-
night and found his house in darkness. When he asked his
wife about the cause, she answered, "How could we be
joyous and celebrate the feast of Light that shone through
the empty tomb, while the wife of an imprisoned Copt and
her children are in need of food and clothes?!" She added,
"God helped me, I went to Muallem Fanous' wife, whose
husband succeeded in procuring his release." Muallem Ibra-
him used his influence to release the imprisoned man and he
put on the lights and celebrated the feast, together with the
man and his family. What is more astonishing is that when
Muallem Ibrahim offered this man a job, he told Muallem
Ibrahim that he had a friend who was in more need of this
job. The Muallem was very delighted by the man's openness
of heart and love, and offered another job to his friend.
LOVE THAT CONQUERS DEATH
Muallem Ibrahim departed in the Lord in the 15th of
Bashans 1511 (31st May, 1795). The ruler of Egypt, Prince
Ibrahim Bey was grieved as he esteemed him very much. He
attended his funeral service, and Pope Yuanis delivered the
His life did not end by death. It was said that a man used
to come, perhaps from another city, asking financial help at
regular intervals. When he came to the Muallem's house and
knew that he died he was deeply grieved. He went to his
tomb and wept bitterly until he slept from weariness.
Muallem Ibrahim appeared to him in a vision and said to him,
"Do not weep! Mr. N. the merchant of oil (el-Zayat) in
Boulaq owed me ten golden coins (Bondoga). Go to him,
give him my greetings and ask him for the money and he will
hand the coins to you." When the man woke up, he felt
ashamed to go to El-Zayat. At night, Muallem Ibrahim
appeared to him again in a vision and asked him to do as he
was told. He hesitated again, and for the third time he said to
him "Do not have inquietude, go as I told you and I will
inform him about the matter." The poor man rose up and
went without mentioning anything to El-Zayat. The latter
asked him to recount what happened, and when he informed
him, he said "You said the truth because Muallem Ibrahim appeared to me too and told me about the message he gave you. Take what I owed him, and an additional equivalent amount from me."
LOVE WITHOUT FANATICISM
Tawfik Eskaros tells us in his book, "The prominent and
famous Copts of the nineteenth century," that a Syrian
Orthodox family from Allepo continued to celebrate a holy
liturgy of Eucharist (Mass) in the name of Muallem Ibrahim.
It happened that their head of the family suffered a severe
tribulation and lost his properties in Allepo. So he went to
Egypt where Muallem Ibrahim took care of him and
managed to support his trade. The Lord helped him, he suc-
ceeded and collected a vast fortune then went back to his
family recounting what Copts had done to their good. Since
then, they dedicated a yearly liturgy of Eucharist in his name
in acknowledgement of his favour.
1. Fr. Malaty: Dict. of the Fathers of the Church and her saints, 1986, vol. 1 (in Arabic).
THE FRENCH EXPEDITION
Although the French expedition lasted for a very short period (AD 1798-1801), it played an important role in the history of the Copts.
Napoleon Bonaparte, the son of the French Revolution,
came to Egypt for the establishment of a Middle Eastern
empire under the pretext of the defence of Islam. At the
walls of Alexandria Napoleon said: "We are not the atheists
of the barbarian ages who came to attack your faith. We
acknowledge the splendour of your faith, and we will accept
your religion at the time when the mature French people
become true believers." Thus he gained every chance to de-
clare his favours toward Muslims and Islam. Shortly after
conquering Egypt, one month before entering Alexandria, he
gave orders to celebrate the "Prophet's (Mohamed) Birth-
day" in an exceeding way to attract the Muslims' attention.
Muslims realised that Napoleon was atheist in his innermost,
though he had put on eastern clothes and a turban. Then he
accompanied all his generals along with hundred sheikhs
(Muslims' pastors), and went to the main mosque to recite
religious songs (Tawasheeh) and moved his head in pre-
Bonaparte felt that Muslims accepted his reign unwillingly
and were waiting for a chance to get rid of him. This was ap-
parent from the revolution that erupted against him in "Al-
Azher" mosque in Cairo, where large numbers of the French
and their supporters from the Muslims and Copts were killed
. Bonaparte forgave the revolutionaries, and inspite of this
when the Ottoman force occupied Abuqir's castle (near
Alexandria) the Muslims expressed their joy. Napoleon
defeated the Ottomans, and when the Muslims' sheikh and
leaders came to congratulate him pretentiously, he said to
them: [I am amazed of your sorrow for my victory. Till now
you can't appreciate my stand towards you, even though I
have repeated to you that I am Muslim, that I believe there is
only One God and that I love your prophet and the
Muslims]. He continued to show his sincerity but they con-
tinued to look at him as an atheist who commanded an army
Bonaparte tried to gain the Muslims' favour by all means.
On the other hand he did not persecute the Copts, maybe be-
cause he gained the fraternity spirit from the French
Revolution, or because he needed their experience in
collecting the revenues. However, he did not grant the Copts
any rights that are worth mentioning. He wrote in August 22,
1799 to General Kleber: "I intended, if everything took its
normal path, to set a new system for tax-collecting which
would have made the services of the Copts dispensable." He
might have wanted to collect higher sums of taxes, more
than that the Copts used to collect, or he might have wanted
to please the Muslims populace to accept him as their leader.
We can say that Napoleon did not persecute the Copts, but he was not a friend to them, and he sought to substitute them with Europeans so as to collect the taxes.
The Copts did request Bonaparte to delete the restrictions
which were put on them. He sent a letter, dated December 7,
1799, to "Muallem (Master) Guirgis Al-Gawhary" in which
he mentioned: "You can inform them that from now on they
are allowed to carry weapons, ride mules and horses, put on
turbans, and get dressed in suitable clothes1." However,
Bonaparte retracted his short lived plan and ordered the
continuation of the restrictions taking into consideration the
feelings of the Islamic majority and ignoring the Coptic
The French started to give attention to the Copts only in Kleber's reign when the second revolution took place in Cairo against the French. At that time, the restrictions against the Copts were stricken out3. However, after Kleber assassination, leadership was taken up by Mino who converted to Islam in order to marry a Muslim woman4. He became harsh with the Copts and fired them from the government jobs and tax-collection5.
The story concerning "Muallem" Yaqub (Jacob) Hanna,
who seemed to be an ally of the French as he was appointed
leader of Klebers army, was obscure, and many could not
understand his intention. The majority of Muslim historians
did not doubt his patriotism and he was not accused of being
a traitor. Truly, he was the first voice to come out of Egypt
calling for her independence from the Ottoman empire. He
made his utmost to create a patriotic Egyptian army. The
French felt the need, for him so they liked him and depended
on him. Likewise, he liked them and did not betray them.
However, his motive was not to request their occupation but
to seek the independence of his country. He saw in the
French occupation an opportunity to be separated from the
Ottoman. He fought with the French against the Memluks in
Upper Egypt, seeking the independence of his country. The
French granted him the rank of "General."
When the French signed a treaty in A.D. 1801, leaving
Cairo in the hands of the Turks, Muallem Yaqub preferred to
leave Egypt, and was going to France on a British battleship
"Pallas." He was carrying with him a plan for Egypt's
independence. The essence of the plan was that the opposing
interests of the great European countries, particularly France
and England, required the independence of Egypt so that all
the European countries could benefit from trade6. However,
the death of Yaqub during his sea trip buried his plan with
1. Tawfik Iskaros: Illustrious and Eminent Copts in the 19th centry, 1913, p.290.
2. Riad Sorial: The Coptic Society in the 17th century, 1984, p.103.
3. Ibid, p.103.
4. Abdel Rahman El-Rafae: The History of Nationalism, 1958, 2nd Ed. p.197.
5. Yacoub Nakhla Rafail: The History of the Coptic Nation, 1988, p.295.
6. cf.: Riad Sorial, p.95-101 Shfik Gobrial: General Yacoub and Laskarious &
pendence Project in 1801, 1932, p.41-51. Dr. Ahmed Ezat Abdel-Karim: Research in the
Egyptian History, 1942. Dr. Mohamed Sabry: Egypt Mordern History, 1926, p.29.
Ahmed Zaky Badawy: History of the Egyptian Society, 1935, p.209.
COPTIC PERSONALITIES FROM THE
ERA OF THE FRENCH EXPEDITION
1. GENERAL YAQUB
The name of General Yaqub is associated with the French
expedition. Before this expedition he was an assistant scribe
(director of finances) for Soliman Bey, one of the influential
Mamluks. He was well-known for the financial and
administrative circles, and was a master horseman. Hence, he
became a man of great fortune. He joined up with Murad
Bey in the battle of Manshiya near Assuit where he con-
quered their enemy. When the French expedition started, he
wanted to support it temporarily in order to deliver Egypt
from the Ottoman rule. He joined up with Desaix in his war
against the Mamluks in upper Egypt and he conquered them
with a lot of courage and because of his acquaintance with
the Egyptian roads and means of communication. The army
of Desaix was called in Upper-Egypt: "The Army of
His aim was the liberation and the independence of Egypt.
He set a plan for independence which he yearned to present
to Britain and France, but he died on his way to Europe.
2. ANTOUN ABU-TAKIA (ANTHONY THE
He was called "Abu-Takia," "The Headdress holder," be-
cause his father was a merchant of headdress "takias,"
Egyptian hats were used by the majority of Egyptians, but now usually used only in villages.
It is said that he was called "Abu-Takia" because when
Napoleon visited him at the end of 1799 and he was in
financial need, Muallem Antoun took off his headdress (hat),
filled it with gold coins and offered it to him. He was highly
appreciated by Napoleon, who appointed him in outstanding
positions. But since he treated all the Egyptians mercifully in
collecting taxes, the French arrested and imprisoned him in
the citadel until he pays all taxes appointed on the Country,
and he paid it from his own money.
When the French left Egypt, Mohamed Ali arrested him
and put him to death in 1802, along with another two high
ranking Copts, namely Muallem Ibrahim Zeidan and
Muallem Adb-Alla Barakat, and sold their possessions in a
In 1853, his grandson, Muallem Ibrahim Awad, went to
Paris and asked Napoleon III to remit the money which his
grandfather gave to Napoleon I. However, Napoleon III
answered him that what "Abu-Takia" has paid was a tax on
behalf of the Copts, and gave Ibrahim Awad the travel
1. Rev. Mennasa Yuhanna: Hist. of the Coptic Church, 1983, p.490-1 (in Arabic).
3. MUALLEM MALATY
He was a scribe to Ayoub Bey the Defterdar (i.e., the
Minister of Finance at that time), who was one of the
Mamluks of Mohammed Bey Abu-El-Dahab. The Coptic
cathedral of Al-Azbakia was built in the property of Muallems Malaty and Yaqub.
When the French Expedition came and Ayoub Bey was
conquered, Muallem Malaty remained in his house. After
sometime, Bonaparte appointed him the president of the
commission instituted for local justice, which had twelve
members, six were Muslim business men and six of them
were Copts. The president, Muallem Malaty liked all,
Muslims and Copts.
Before the withdrawal of the French from Egypt , Mino was converted to Islam to win the Muslims' favour. He fired the Copts, among whom was Muallem Malaty. When the Turks returned to Egypt's rule, they arrested him, beheaded him and threw his head at Zewela's gate where it remained for two days, nobody dared to bury it. The Turks confiscated his home and belongings, but his biography still remains witnessing his love for his country.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
MOHAMMED ALI PASHA
I am not in a position to evaluate the works of
Mohammed Ali Pasha who saved Egypt from the troubles of
the Memluks and the Turks, by leading the movement of
Egypt's independence of the Ottoman empire. He was
supported by many Egyptians, among them was Rizk Agha,
the grandson of Muallem (Master) Rizk the chief of Ali Bey's
mint. Therefore, Mohammed Ali appointed Rizk a governor
on the Sharquia province, among some Copts who were
appointed governors on other provinces.
Inspite of his care for developing agriculture and all the other resources of the country, Mohammed Ali Pasha prevented every private property, considering himself the only owner of cultivated land, and he monopolized commerce and industry. Afterwards he created a class of landlords, namely members of his family, his government and his supporters from the Turks and Circassians. He rarely gave a Copt some of these dominions.
Mohammed Ali was greedy and requested more and more
taxes. Muallem (Master) Girgis opposed this trend but Mual-
lem Ghali fulfilled Mohammed Ali's desire. The former
sensed the danger and fled to Upper Egypt, while the latter
was appointed the chief-supervisor. At the end, Mohammed
Ali's increasing greed led to the firing and the imprisonment
of Ghali, then his exile to Damietta. In 1822, Ibrahim Pasha
killed Ghali in Zafta. This was due to a forged letter which
was written by Muallem Francis, in Mohammed Ali's name, to Leo XII of Rome, asking him to appoint Ibrahim Kashour an Archbishop over Memphis in return for putting the Copts under his papacy. This letter came as a consequence to a dispute that took place between Francis and Maximius (the Catholic bishop) over a divorce case.
Mohammed Ali sent to console Basilius, Gahli's son, for
his father's death. Basilius bent to kiss the Pasha's hand,
saying: "May God prolong your rule, for as long as you are
alive I consider myself one who hasn't lost his father," and so
Mohammed Ali appointed him his father's former position.
By the conversion of Ghali, his son, his brother and their families and their followers to Catholicism, the Catholic Church had her roots in Egypt.
It is worthy to note that the Copts were forbidden from
having the honour of military service during Mohammed
Ali's rule and consequently also prevented from entering
government schools which Mohammed Ali established for
Therefore, he did not send any Copt to educational
missions to Europe. Although some Christian names were
found among the later missions, however they were not
History testifies that Copts remained faithful to their
country even during the darkest ages. This was clear when
the Ceasar of Russia sent his delegate to the Coptic church,
offering to Pope Boutros (Peter) El-Gawli Caesar's
protection to the Orthodox. The Pope asked the prince:
"Does your Ceasar live forever?" When the prince answered
that he would die like all human beings, the Pope told him
that the Coptic Church was under the protection of the Great
God whom she would not substitute1. The prince admired
the Pope's faith and his patriotism, and said, "I am not moved
by the greatness of the pyramids and their height, nor by the
height of the obelisks and their inscriptions, indeed, the
numerous antiques of the ancient Egyptians, their inscrip-
tions and workmanship did not excite my soul as much as the
example which I saw (in the Pope)2." When Mohammed Ali
heard about the incident, he considered this action from the
side of the Pope to be an honour to himself and to the Copts,
and hurried to thank the Pope. The latter said to him, "Do
not thank someone who fulfilled his duty toward his country
which embraces him and his brothers in the same nationality
and patriotism." The tears flew from Mohammed Ali's eyes,
and the church enjoyed freedom and peace.
Zahra Pasha, Mohammed Ali's daughter and the wife of
Ahmed Bey El-Defterdar, was possessed with an evil spirit
and the physicians could not cure her. On the
recommendation of some people from the royal palace,
Mohammed Ali asked the Pope for help. The Pope sent to
him Anba Sarapamon of Menoufia who exorcized the evil
spirit by praying.
During the reign of Mohammed Ali, his son Ibrahim
Pasha called Pope Boutros and asked him about the light that
shines out of the holy tomb of Christ on Saturday of the
Holy Week. Ibrahim pasha asked to accompany Pope
Boutros to Jerusalem to see what happens. When they
arrived, Pope Boutros told him that the Roman Orthodox
Patriarch is accustomed to enter the tomb for praying before
the light's emission, and they were allowed to enter together.
The crowd were let out of the church of the Resurrection
and the door was closed. As the two Patriarchs were praying
fervently that God may save His church, the light emitted
from the Holy tomb, went around the church and split on the
left side of the entrance and was seen by all the crowd.
Ibrahim Pasha was known for his love to Egypt and the
Egyptians, and he was loved by both, Muslims and
Christians. He used to speak only the Arabic language. Since
he was asked by one of the soldiers why was he against the
Turks although he was one of them, he answered, "I am not
a Turk. I came to Egypt as a young lad, and her sun made
me Egyptian and changed my blood..." Ibrahim ruled Egypt
only for a few months at the end of his father's reign.
SAID PASHA'S ERA
Said Pasha did renew the freedom of worship, in contrary to his predecessor Abbas I who prohibited the Copts from building new churches or even renovating the old ones, and also neglected education in general.
During Said's reign, the tribute was lifted up from the
Copts and this was proclaimed as a law (firman) in 1855. He
also ordered the recruiting of the Copts to the army. This
order was abused, as they recruited many Copts who were
the only bread-winners in their families, and some of the
Copts suffered persecution in the army service to renounce
Pope Kyrillos (Cyril) IV was ordained one year before the beginning of Said's rule, and so he had a chance to practise many progressive efforts, in the spiritual, educational and social fields. One of his patriotic stands was his role in settling the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia.
When the pope requested the emperor of Ethiopia to cast
out the English missionaries, they put agent provocateur
between the Pope and the emperor on one hand, and
between Said and the Pope on the other hand3, and this
ended by poisoning the Pope and his reposal in the Lord.
KHEDIVE ISMAIL PASHA'S ERA
When Ismail Pasha saw that Pope Demetrius II has great
zeal for spreading the education like his predecessor, Pope
Kyrillos IV, he granted him 1500 acres of land for building
Coptic Schools. He also helped the Pope in opposing the
Protestant missionaries, maybe because he thought that they
would publicise the oppression of the Egyptian peasants in
When the Protestant denominations attacked the Coptic
Church and burnt the icons, Pope Demetrius complained
about this act to the Khedive who exiled them. However,the
consuls of America and England protected them frrom being
Ismail Pasha is considered to be the most tolerant ruler of Mohammed Ali's family. He appointed the Copt Wasif Bey Azmi his chief-protocol, and Abd-Allah Bey Serour governor of Qalubia province. He renewed the recruitment of the Copts in the army service in regularity.
When the Khedive discussed with Nubar Pasha the
election of members of the "House of Representatives" he
said to him:"We have also Copts among the elected. We
have opened the doors for Muslims and Copts without
discrimination." Among the members of the "House of
Representatives" in 1866 there were two Copts: Girgis
Barsoum, Mayor of Beni-Salama, and Mkhail Salama,
Mayor of Ashrouba. As we said before there was almost no
class at the time of Mohamed Ali because of the monopo-
lization of all sources. Personal ownership started only with
Said's regulation in 1858, but it was incomplete until Khedive
Ismail opened the door for everybody to work and to own
lands. The Copts seized this opportunity and gave attention
to commence, particularly with the Sudan, and made great
fortunes. Tadros Al- Mankabady in 1884 established an
incorporated company in Assuit, to deal with household
equipments. From its tithes a land was bought and dedicated
to the Coptic School of Assuit. He also promoted the idea of
"Savings" in 1890 before it was adopted by the Post Office.
In 1896 Wisa Boctor's family established a factory for
extraction and refinement of sugar from sugarcane, and
bought most of the shares of "Fayoum Train Co." Boushra
Bey and Senout Bey established a bank in Upper-Egypt to
protect the merchants from the greedy moneylenders. High
orders were given that some Copts were to be appointed
As far as the Cabinet is concerned, no Coptic minister was
appointed (in the 19th century) until Khedive Abbas' era,
when Boutros Ghali Pasha was appointed and remained the
only Coptic minister until 1910. Nevertheless, Abbas' era
was severe for the Copts as he hated Christianity and
expelled many of the Copts from civil service. He requested
the Coptic Supervisors (in Revenue Department) to train
young Muslim students to take over their places, threatening
that if they did not accomplish this within a year they would
be thrown into the Nile. Some supervisors noticing after one
or two months that the students were not apt for learning
and practising the job, were preparing themselves to face
death. However, the marvellous hand of God rescued them
because before the end of the year Abbas fell dead in his palace in 18544.
During the era of Tawfik Pasha, who succeeded Ismail Pasha in 1879, a delegation from the Ethiopian emperor visited Egypt and presented valuable gifts to the Khedive and the Pope, asking the Khedive for continuation of the friendly relationship between the two countries.
The army, which included Muslims and Copts, supported
Orabi in his attempt to cast away the foreign influence and
stop Khedive Tawfik's tyranny. When the Khedive ordered
his dismissal, Arabi asked the Copt Yaqub to call for
convening the General Assembly which was held at the
ministry of the External Affairs on Saturday July12, 1882.
The meeting was attended by about 500 of the prominent
Egyptians. At their forefront were the Sheikh of Al-Azher
and Pope Kyrillos V, supporting Orabi. At the populace level
both Copts and Muslims offered supplies, and donations
flowed to support the army against the British overrun.
The mob in Alexandria committed a great massacre
during which the Christians suffered all kinds of tortures.
Some of the Christians from all denominations took refuge in
the patriarchate, but the majority of Christians were forced
to leave Alexandria. Thus, Orabi's revolution took a religious
At the same time, the Mahdi's Revolution took place in
Sudan, and before it ended, the Copts fled to Egypt, and the
bishop of Sudan and some of the priests and laymen who
could not escape were forced to deny their faith and many
1. Ramzy Tadrous: The Copts in the 20th century, 1911, 1st Ed. p.50.
2. Tawfik Eskarous: III.
3. Riad Sorial: The Coptic Society in Egypt in the 19th century, 1984, p.106.
4. Ibid. p.65.
5. Fr. Menasa Yohana: History of the Coptic Church, 1979, p.610.
6. Ibid., p 610.
COPTIC PERSONALITIES IN THE
1. POPE KYRILLOS (CYRIL) IV
FATHER OF THE COPTIC REFORM
Pope Kyrillos IV (110th) the greatest Coptic person in the
19th century, led a strong and large state spiritual, scientific
and social movement, therefore he is known as the "Father of
the Coptic Reform." He established many schools. He
opened the first girl's college in Egypt, preceding even the
government in female education. He imported the first
national printing press from Italy and on its arrival at
Alexandria he ordered an impressing official reception of
deacons in ecclesiatical vestments chanting hymns all the way
from Cairo station to the Patriarchate. He asked Said Pasha
the Khedive of Egypt at that time to permit the Copts to be
recruited to the army like the Muslims, so that the Copts
might not feel that they are foreigners, while they live in their
own country. According to Said Pasha's wish he went to
Ethiopia to make a reconciliation between the Khedive and
Theodore II, Negus (emperor) of Ethiopia. Said was jealous
of the Pope's success and he planned to get rid of him by
putting poison in his coffee. The Pope accompanied with the
Roman Orthodox Patriarch and the American Orthodox
Patriarch went to the city of Bush to visit St. Anthony's
Monastery in the eastern desert. The English Consul
slandered against the Pope saying that the three patriarchs
met in the monastery to ask the protection of Russia for the
Orthodox Churches of Egypt. Said Pasha asked the Pope to return immediately to meet him, but the Pope ignored him and continued his trip. On his return he met the Khedive, and in his palace he knew that they had put poison in the coffee for him, as he understood the Turkish language. He refused to drink then, but Said Pasha succeeded in poisoning him through his medication, in January 1862.
This great reformer believed in the importance of educa-
tion. He opened schools to all students, Muslims and
Christians without discrimination1, and to all nationalities,
and made education free in these schools. He even
distributed books and stationery without charge. Outstanding
professors were appointed to teach Arabic, Coptic, English,
French, Italian, Turkish as well as the usual subjects of an
academic curriculum. He was very generous with professors
who were Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, Italian and English.
He used to be present among the students and to enter in
dialogues with them.
Beside the scientific subject he took care of the students'
talents, encouraging them to practise playing music, hymns,
chanting, painting pictures etc. He set a chorus for chanting
The Church teachers (Muallems),
who were often blind,
and were teaching children in special schools (Katateeb) at-
tached to the church, became agitated, making rumors about
the schools which the Pope opened, accusing these schools
of being sources of atheism. The Pope did not resist them but
kindly met them and granted them monthly stipend as
compensation for closing their "Katateebs," and asked them
to teach in the primary schools.
He also established a national public library in the Coptic School of Cairo.
1. Rev. Shenouda Hanna: Who are the Copts? 1955, p.288
2. POPE DEMETRIUS II (11TH POPE)
He was ordained in 1863, during Said Pasha's era. After his ordination, he met the Khedive who honored him, and said: "Don't be like your predecessor; ask me directly for all your needs and I will realize them." Perhaps he meant that his predecessor, Pope Kyrillos IV did not return when he summoned him but continued his trip to the monastery then he came after the trip was over.
When the Western missions saw the good relations
between the Khedive and the Pope, the American Consul
met Said Pasha asking him to grant the American mission a
spacious mansion and a large building on Mouski Street,
which was then one of Cairo's main thoroughfares.
As the Egyptian government permitted the Western
missions to establish foreign schools in Egypt, it realised
later that these schools had their role in weakening the stu-
dents' patriotism. Ismail Pasha then encouraged Pope
Demetrius to visit Upper Egypt and ask his people to return
to their Orthodoxy, for these schools encouraged them to
leave their church and to renounce their Orthodox faith. The
Western missionaries roused the vehemence of their
proselytes to burn the Coptic Church in Assuit in upper
Egypt, claiming that she was full of fable and pagan
doctrines. When they could not burn the building as it was
awesome, they destroyed the icons and some church articles.
On the occasion of Sultan Abd-Al-Aziz visit to Khedive
Ismail Pasha, Pope Demetrius came to salute the eminent
guest. It was the custom that everybody had to kiss the hem
of the Sultan's garment. The Pope kissed the Sultan on the
left side of his breast. All were astonished, and the Sultan
asked about the cause of this conduct. Through the priest
Salama who spoke Turkish fluently, the pope said, "In our
Holy Book it is written that the king's heart is in the hand of
God, so in kissing your breast, I have kissed the King of
Kings and the Sultan of Sultans." This statement so pleased
Abd-Al-Aziz that Ismail granted the Pope 1500 acres of land
for building Coptic schools and other Coptic institutions.
The Pope was interested in building schools and in
progressing education. Elias the Ayyubid described the
American school of Egypt in comparison to the Coptic one,
saying: "Their great schools for boys was at first in the hands
of the Copts who accepted Protestantism, they did not
succeed with in administration or in education, everything
was in confusion. On the contrary the two girl's schools in
Haret-El-Saqayeen and Al-Azbakia (Coptic schools) were
among the best schools at that time1."
1. Elias Ayyubid: Ismail Era, vol. 1, p. 221 (in Arabic).
3. ANBA SERAPAMON OF MENOFIAH
He was a contemporary of Mohammed Ali Pasha and Pope Boutros Al-Gawly, and was known by his saintly life, his eagerness to give alms, and his gift for exorcism.
He was called Salib (Cross). When he was young some
evil woman seized him and accused him of murdering a
young man they had killed in the market. In the court, he
lifted up his heart to God and with tears he asked the help of
St. Mary and other saints. He looked to the slain person and
asked him to confess before the judge who killed him. The
slain person rose up and told the judge about the mur-
deresses. The judge was astonished and set Salib free.
Salib left the court and went immediately to St. Anthony's
Monastery to become a monk. The Pope chose him to be a
bishop of Menofiah. And when Mohammed Ali Pasha asked
the Pope's help concerning his daughter Zahra Hanem who
was possessed by an evil spirit, he sent him Anba Serapamon
who healed her with praying over her. Mohammed Ali
offered him money, but he refused to take the money an-
nouncing that God's gifts are free. As Mohammed Ali
insisted, the bishop asked him to reinstate the Copts to their
jobs in civil service, and he took a small amount of money
and distributed it among the guards of the palace.
He used to stay a long time at the patriarchate in Cairo and converted it to a hospital for sick people who visited him asking for his prayers.
In one of his pastoral visits to an archon, who was the
uncle of Youakim Bey Mansour, the mother of Youakim
brought her dead child (Youakim) of 10 months only, put
him in the bishop's lap, saying: "This is my only child, who
died yesterday." The bishop bore him on his hands and blew
in his face, saying, "Don't be afraid your child is well by
God's grace. God blesses him and makes him householder of
your family." Immediately God granted life to the child, and
he lived till he retired in 1909, repeating his story which he
heard from his mother.
After a violent struggle between a couple, the wife left her
house and went to a brother, and her husband went to the
bishop to complain of her. The bishop asked him not to be
quick in his judgment against her, and asked him to come
back on the next day. The bishop disguised and met the
woman who confessed that she had not commit adultery yet.
He asked her to go to the house of a pious priest, and on the
next day the husband found her in the priest's house. The
husband left with peace in heart, and the bishop whispered in
his ears to be kind to his wife.
While the bishop was praying the liturgy of the Eucharist
in Shebeen-Al-Koom, he cried: "O, mother of Light, help!"
Then he asked a person who was near him to go towards the
well in the yard of the church. There he found a child by the
name of Michael Tadros who had fell in the well while he
was playing with other children. He threw down a rope to
the child who held it fast and was saved. All were astonished
that the child's garment was not wet. The child said that
when he fell down he found a woman sitting on a throne
floating on the water, and her face was shinning, she received
him in her bosom until the rope was thrown to him.
Once a thief met him while he was riding a donkey on one
of his pastoral trips. The thief lifted up his hand to strike the
bishop with a stick to steal his money. The bishop said to
him, "You lifted up your hand! Let it be like that and leave
me!" Then he continued his trip and when he returned, he
saw the thief standing in his place crying from the agony of
having his hand lifted up all that time. The bishop then had
mercy upon the thief, and said, "How great is your sin, Salib
(his name before ordination)! May God bless you, my son!"
The thief was immediately relieved and he repented.
Abbas Pasha, who ordered that all magicians and
astrologers must be killed, summoned the bishop. He
mocked at the bishop, saying: "Did you heal Zahra Hanem?
How?" The bishop replied: "By God's power." The Pasha
cried out with terror, "Aman Ya-Baba- Aman" [Peace! O my
He was contemporary to Pope Kyrillos IV, and he was called "Abu-Tarha (The veiled person)," for he used to cover his head with a veil covering his eyes1.
1. Tawfik Iskaros: Nawabegh Al-Akpat Wa-Mashaherhom (The Illustrious Copts), 1910,
4. ANBA ABRAAM OF FAYOUM
In France, the English writer "Leeder" heard about an
Egyptian saintly bishop. He hastened with his wife to visit
Egypt, in order to meet him. He wrote a special chapter
concerning his biography, wherein he said, "This old saint,
whose power is known all over the Eastern world, is the
direct and unbroken succession of those early Christians."
His wife expressed how they felt about their meeting with
the bishop, saying: "We were in the presence of Christ, we
were filled with the Spirit of God."
HIS EARLY LIFE
This saint was born in A.D. 1829 in Galad, a village in the diocese of Deirout. His name was Boulos Ghabriel. His parents were righteous and feared God. He recited the psalms and studied the Holy Bible from his childhood. As his heart was filled with Divine love he joined Virgin Mary's Monastery "El-Muharraq."
Anba Yakoubos of Minieh called him to serve God. He
changed the Bishopric to a shelter for the poor. He remained
in this service for four years and was ordained a priest in
His desire for monastic life urged him to return to his
monastery where he was chosen to be in charge of the
monastery. Many young men heard about him and asked him
to be their guide. However as he opened the gates of the
monastery to the poor, offering all that he had for Christ's
brethren, some monks rebelled against him, took away his
authority and asked him to leave the monastery. Father
Boulos and his disciples were dismissed because of their love
for the poor, so they went to the Monastery of St. Mary the
Virgin "El-Baramous" at Wadi-Al-Natroun where he de-
voted himself to worshipping and studying the Holy Bible.
In 1881 he was ordained Bishop of Fayoum, Beni-Souef and Giza, by the name of "Anba Abraam." Once again he converted his home to a shelter for the poor.
THE FRIEND OF THE POOR
The bishop assigned the first floor of his house for the
poor, the blind and the sick people. He gave them his
personal attention to see that they got the required service.
Whenever a poor person entered his home, he stretched his
hand under the pillow to give him all the money there, and if
he did not find any money, he gave his shawl or his robe.
There are many wonderful stories in this respect.
A BISHOPRIC IN HEAVEN
It was said that the nobles of the bishopric realized
that the bishop's home was not convenient, and decided upon
his agreement to renovate it. Every time they collected a sum
of money they gave it to him to keep it. Eventually they came asking him to make an appointment with the building contractor to discuss what should be done. He looked at them, saying: "My sons, it is already gone, I have built you a house in Eternal life 4."
A MISUSE OF HIS LOVING KINDNESS
One well known story was told about three young men
who plotted to take advantage of the Bishop's love for the
poor. Two of them approached him saying that the third had
died and that they had nothing to bury him with. He asked
them, "Did he really die?" They answered, "Yes, he died."
Then he nodded his head and gave them an offering , saying,
"Take it to bury him ." They left him and laughed, but soon
they burst into tears when they found out their friend had
A MAN OF PRAYER
Many persons who slept in the room next to his, related that he used to rise up at midnight to pray the psalms and stay until dawn. And he used to repeat the words, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and righteous spirit within me," saying it with zeal.
All who met him testified that his prayers were very deep in spirit even in his senility, Mr. Leeder said: ..." never had I heard prayer which seemed to establish a link with the Throne of Grace with such instant security, it seemed as if earth fell away, to leave this man speaking in the clear presence of God Himself."
We would not be exaggerating if we said that hundreds
but thousands of miracles had happened thanks to his
He was simple in his food and clothing, He lived on
virtually nothing, having self- control. Once he desired to eat
a chicken. He asked his disciple to cook one and bring it to
him. When the table was prepared he prayed and asked his
disciple to take the chicken away and to bring it next day.
The same thing happened on the second and the third days.
And on the fourth day the chicken was spoiled, so he looked
at it saying to himself, "O myself, eat what you have desire."
Mr. Leeder said, "he was distressed that I felt obliged to kneel (before him)..."
One of his great habits was that he never permitted any of
the deacons to say in his presence any statement, that they
usually say before reading the Bible to show their respect to
him. He absolutely did not distinguish himself from his
people, and he never sat on a chair different from that of his
sons. He was very pleased when any of his sons called him
"Our father, the Bishop," and never permitted anyone to call
him "Our Master, the bishop."
When Prince Serguios (uncle of Nicola, the Tzar of
Russia) and his wife, heard about him they visited him in
1898. The governor received them, and the Coptic
Noblemen of El-Fayoum tried to buy new furniture for the
Bishop's home for this occasion, but the Bishop refused
completely. The visitors came and bowed in front of him on
the ground, and he prayed for them. When they offered him a
bag full of golden pounds he refused, and lastly he took one
pound and gave it to his son "Rizk." The Prince said that he
never felt such an inspiring awe all his life as at that moment
when he was standing in front of this saint.
AN EVANGELISTIC BISHOP
Anba Isidore (Isizores) said that he loved to read and study the Holy Bible, to such a degree that he learned the texts by heart and recited them repeatedly. It is said that he used to read the whole Bible every forty days.
He used to gather his people every evening for praying and studying the Holy Bible.
HIS POWER IN EXORCISM OF EVIL SPIRITS
The English writer Leeder said; "The Bishop's power in
exorcism of evil spirits has perhaps brought him more
visitors from distant parts than any of other gifts for which
he is famous.
Before our father's departure he summoned Fr. Abd-El-
Sayed and some deacons, and asked them to recite the
psalms outside his room and not to open his door before half
an hour. When they opened the door they found him resting
It is well-known that Mr. Selim Saeb the governor of
Fayoum called his wife and said to her "Oh! The Bishop of
the Nazarenes died...Look at those horses and the people
who are riding them, they are around him crying;
"EQOUAB! EQOUAB." Then he went out and met Mr. El-
Barnachawi asking him the meaning of the word
"EQOUAB." He told him that it means "Holy" and it is the
hymn of the heavenly creatures.
Fr. T.Y. Malaty: Anba Abraam, the Friend of the poor, Alexandria, 1974.
5. MARTYR SIDHOM BISHAY
Sidhom Bishay was a native of Damietta, who worked as
a clerk in Alexandria. One day someone accused him falsely
of insulting Islam, and two persons - one a barbarian and the
other a donkey-driver - witnessed against him. The judge
gave the verdict that he would be scourged. He was put on a
buffalo facing backward in order to mock at him in the
streets. They poked him with steel rods, and threw boiling
tar on him until he arrived to the government-building, and
they did not stop until he was nearly dead, then they threw
him before the door of his house.
After 5 days he died as a result of his wounds and sufferings which he accepted with thanks. The Christians were agitated and the European Consuls interfered, the case was raised to Mohammed Ali Pasha who ordered to renew the case. The judge and the governor were fired and Mohammed Ali permitted the Christians to lift up the Cross in the funeral processions as a kind of recompensation.
6. IBRAHIM BEY AND SALEH NAKHLA
Two brothers, Ibrahim and Saleh together with the Coptic
archons of Alexandrian were involved in building a great ca-
thedral on the tomb of St. Mark in Alexandria. They also
built a school and renovated the patriarchate building.
Pope Demetrius II and Pope Kyrillos V admired the two brothers, prayed for them and encouraged them to do God's work. Pope Kyrillos V appointed Ibrahim supervisor on St. Mark's Church legacies and its school, and his brother Saleh a supervisor on St. Mark's Church.
7. PROTOPRIEST PHILOTHIUS BAGHDADY
He was one of the well known priests who stood beside
Pope Demetrius II and helped him in his efforts to keep the
Orthodox faith and to update the educational system for the
He was born in A.D. 1837, in Tanta, He was educated in
the Kettab (a school attached to the church), learned the
Coptic and Italian languages and then got some experience in
business and accounting. When Said Pasha visited Tanta, he
was met by the prominent Copts who asked him to permit
them to build a new church. Their old church was destroyed
and they were not allowed to build another one. Said Pasha
gave them permission, but the building was stalled by the
local authorities. Muallem Philothius (his name before or-
dination as a priest) was elected along with Muallem Awad
Saleeb, and with the help of the ruler's scribe Muallem
Philothius Bishay, to meet Said Pasha and present their
grievance. They succeeded in their mission.
He worked in the "Clerks Department" in "Rowdet-El-
Bahrien" province which included the provinces of Gharbieh
and Monofia. When he went to Cairo with his friend
Muallem Erian Moftah to visit Pope Kyrillos IV and ask for
his blessings, the Pope admired him and asked him to join the
"High School," and he agreed. The Pope appointed him the
headmaster of the school which he established in Mansourah,
but he left after the Pope's martyrdom. He was appointed a
teacher of Coptic language at the "High School" and the
School of Haret-El-Sakayeen. He was ordained priest in
Tanta and there he cooperated with the protopriest Tadros
Awad Saleeb Al-Byrawy.
He was known for his ability to preach and to defend the
Orthodox faith. He used to deliver his sermons in the Holy
Land, Beirut and Damascus where he was admired by the
Antiochene patriarch. He also preached in Upper Egypt in
the presence of Pope Demetrius II. Besides his pastoral work
in Tanta he looked after the Coptic Schools. He took part in
establishing a "Community Religious Council" (Maglis Melli)
to oversee the general projects of the church. When the
disputes took place between the Council and Pope Kyrillos
V, the protopriest Philothius limited himself to the priestly
work. A medal of the fifth grade was bestowed upon him by
Tawfeek Pasha, and another of the fourth grade by Abbas
In his preaching he was able to attract children to their mother church, and at the same time he continued to publish books and write articles in contemporary magazines.
He slept in the Lord on the first of Baramhat 1620, March 10, A.D. 1904.
8. YAQOUB BEY NAKHLA RUFAILA
He graduated from the "High School" which was
established by Pope Kyrillos IV. He became a teacher of the
English and Italian languages in that school, then a
headmaster of the same school. He worked in the govern-
ment printing house, then supervised the printing press of
(the Coptic) Al-Tawfik Society, and participated in
establishing the ancient "El-Watan" press and its newspaper.
He worked in the ministry of Public Works and the Khedive
conferred on him the title of "Bey." He left the government
work and spent two years in Alexandria. Thereafter he
became the Secretary of the "Faiyum Railways Company."
He established two schools in Faiyum and started a branch of
Al-Tawfik Society there. He was interested in establishing schools wherever he was. He wrote: "The History of the Coptic Nation" and some books for teaching the English language. He was elected a member of the "Community Religious Council" in 1883 and A.D. 1892.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
I am not presenting the history of the Coptic Church in
this century, but I wish to present some of the characteristics
of the church as well as important events which the church
witnessed. These can be summarized in the following points:
1. Egypt was subjected to the British occupation, which
created a kind of fanaticism between Muslims and Copts; for
its own advantage. The Copts always confirmed their
patriotism, and also played a vital role in liberating Egypt
from the British occupation. Some Muslims and also some
Copts misunderstood each other. While those who where
wise enough worked together for the good of their country.
For example, the known Copt Wissa Wassef was a
member of the administrative committee of "El-Watan," the
socialist party. Many of the Coptic archons helped Moustafa
Kamel in his struggle to create a national movement against
the British occupation, but Moustafa Kamel tried to push
Egypt to follow the Ottoman Caliphate as a kind of loyalty to
the General Islamic union. This resulted in huge problems
and discord emerged between Muslims and Copts.
The revolution of 1919 against the British occupation
arose by all Egyptians, Muslims and Copts, and from both
parties, some suffered exile, imprisonment, and distress. The
leader Saad Zagloul, in his speech on 19th September 1923
stated that because of the patriotism of the Copts and their
deep sincerity they did not accept the foreigners' call to protect them, and they deserve respect and honour instead of exile, imprisonment and detainment1.
The British military court pronounced a sentence on the
9th of August 1923 against four Copts and three Muslims.
William Wadel stated that the eagerness of the Copts in
liberating their country was not less than that of the
2. The Coptic Church is known for her sincere patriotism
and at the same time, she is alien from politics. She is
dedicated to spiritual work, and the evangelic goal of
creating a true believer and a good citizen. The moderate
Muslims often witness to this attitude of the church, even
when President Sadat accused H.H. Pope Shenouda of
interference in politics, and of planning to set a Coptic state,
whose capital would be the city of Assuit, this accusation
was baseless, unacceptable and strange for both Muslims and
Copts. Sadat said that he made a kind of balance between the
extreme Islamic thoughts and the church, meanwhile he
himself encouraged the former until his presidency was in
danger, then he decided to arrest some of Muslim and Copt
I do not wish to present details of the events of
September 1981 when Sadat detained more than a thousand
of the Muslims and Christian leaders, but I wish to explain
the position of H.H. Pope Shenouda III and some of the
clergy. They attempted to complain to Sadat against the
Muslim extremists who planted bombs in Coptic Churches,
killing some clergymen, looting and burning Christian
Sadat unjustly accused the church of disloyalty. He put
the Pope under house arrest and imprisoned 7 bishops, one
khori-Episcopas, 24 priests and more then a hundred laymen.
A short time after Sadat was assassinated by Muslim
extremists while he was reviewing the armed forces in the
military parade of the 6th of October 1981. After his death
the Christian-Muslim relationship was gradually restored,
diminishing the spirit of hatred Sadat had planted. Pope
Shenouda, the Christian clergymen and laity were freed by
Hosny Moubarak, Sadat successor, as people all over the
world media were continuously following these events.
3. One of the great events of the Coptic Church in the
twentieth century was the establishing of Sunday School by
Deacon Habib Guirguis. Later it was named the "School of
Church Education." Pope Shenouda himself and many
bishops and priests were brought up in Sunday School, and it
is now an integral part of the Coptic church structure.
4. In the twentieth century the Coptic Church has become an active member of the World Council of Churches and many other ecumenical councils, like the Middle East Council of churches, Council of All Churches of Africa etc. Moreover there exist now many dialogues between the Coptic Church and other foreign Churches.
5. At the end of the sixties a movement of immigration of
Egyptians to U.S.A., Canada and Australia started, has
grown up and is still alive and strong till today in an
unexpected manner. Besides, there is also an immigration
movement of Copts to Europe, some African and Arab
countries for work. Such migration of the Copts from Egypt
added an extra responsibility to the mother Church of Egypt
that has to take care of her children abroad, that they may become witnesses to Orthodoxy.
1. Dr. Nicola Fayad: Al-Khataba (Preaching), 1930, p.242 (in Arabic).
2. Publications of St. Menas Miracle-performer society of Alexandria: A page in Coptic History, 1954, p.189 (in Arabic).
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