Anastasius

ANASTASIUS

The thirty-sixth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (605- 616). Anastasius was a priest in Alexandria, a man of profound learning in the Scriptures and the doctrines of the Coptic faith, when he was unanimously selected by the bishops and the clergy of the Coptic church to succeed DAMIAN to the archiepiscopal throne of Alexandria. Although his biography has been compiled in detail by SAWIRUS IBN AL-MUQAFFA‘ in the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS, it seems strange that his name does not appear in the standard dictionaries of the Christian church. As we may be able to learn from the accounts of Sawrius, however, his election would have taken place at a time when the Chalcedonian influence must have been strong, not only in the capital city of Alexandria but also at the Byzantine court in Constantinople.

Actually, Coptic bishops of the Monophysite profession were forbidden entrance into Alexandria. Apparently, the Monophysite Coptic congregation in the capital city was subjected to great troubles, first by the Byzantine emperor, Tiberius II (578- 582), and an adjutant of his by the name of Belisarius. The policy of persecution was maintained by Tiberius son and successor, Maurice (582-602). When Maurice was murdered by a rebel named Phocas, who laid his hand on the Byzantine throne and became emperor in 602, circumstances surrounding Anastasius became even worse.

In Alexandria at this time, there was a Chalcedonian by the name of Eulogius who wrote a defamatory letter to Phocas about Anastasius. Consequently, the infuriated emperor issued an order to the prefect of Alexandria that the Coptic patriarch should be dispossessed of the important church of and Damian and all its dependencies and all that belonged to it, it should be given to Eulogius, the misguided Chalcedonian. The saddened Anastasius apparently fled to a neighboring monastery where he could bury his grief.

Due to his increasing difficulties on the internal front, the Coptic patriarch turned his attention to the unity of the church beyond his frontier where he was rewarded by the renewal of close contacts with Antioch. had succeeded Peter, a supporter of Chalcedonian doctrine, on the archiepiscopal throne of Antioch, which had been led into disunion with Egypt by Peter. With Peter’s death, anti-Chalcedonian doctrines received more favor.

When Anastasius heard of this change in the church of Antioch, he wrote a synodal letter to commending him for his wisdom and good faith in the rectification of errors and aberrations of Peter and urging him to work for the unity of the churches of Egypt and of Antioch. Consequently, on receiving this synodal missive, Athanasius summoned an ecclesiastical of his bishops whom he addressed in that vein, and it was decided to pursue the new trend by sending a delegation from Antioch to Alexandria in an attempt at cementing the unity. Together with five bishops from Antioch, sailed to Alexandria. On their arrival, however, they understood that Anastasius was still in a neighboring monastery.

Although it is not known where the delegation met Anastasius, the possibility remains that they must have headed directly to the monastery where he resided, because the Coptic bishops were not allowed to enter a city preponderantly held by the Chalcedonians. On the arrival of the delegation, Anastasius at once summoned his bishops and the Coptic clergy for a show of unity between Egypt and Antioch. Athanasius, quoting the Psalms, said in a warm discourse: “At this hour, O my friends, we must take the harp of David and sing the voice of the psalm, saying: Mercy and truth have met together . . . ” (History of the Patriarchs, Vol. 1, pt. 2, p. 482 [218]). The two patriarchs then embraced one another with a kiss of peace.

Egypt and Syria were declared to become one in doctrine. Afterward, the two leaders remained in the Coptic monastery “for a whole month meditating together upon the holy scriptures and profitable doctrine, speaking of these matters and discussing them.” Then returned to his province in peace and great honor after the conclusion of an act of unity between Antioch and Alexandria, which remains in effect today.

Anastasius spent his remaining years assiduously attending to the affairs of the church. Evidently, he was a prolific writer on theological matters, though most of his work has been lost. From the day he sat on the archiepiscopal throne of Alexandria, he wrote an epistle, festal letter, or homily each beginning with a different letter from the Coptic alphabet. According to the History of the Patriarchs, he wrote a book every year of his reign, whether mystagogic or synodal. In all, he presumably completed twelve books in his reign of twelve years.

AZIZ S.