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Christodoulus - Coptic Wiki


The sixty-sixth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (1047-1077). Christodoulus, whose original name as a monk of the ENATON, west of Alexandria, was Theodore, was a native of the village of Burah, but his date of birth is unknown. The first known event in his life concerns his castrating himself. This happened when an Arab community descended on the monastery and one of their maids tempted the monk Theodore. After yielding to her, he castrated himself in penitence and was saved from bleeding to death by the superintendent of the monastery.

After that, he is said to have gone to the wilderness of and, after residing in DAYR AL-BARAMUS for an unknown period, decided to become a solitary in a cave at the seashore near the town of Nastaruh. He is said to have resided there with a coffin containing the body of Saint the Apostolic. A of Saint Paul, Thecla was martyred by being thrown to the lions, and then her body was cast into the fire at Antioch. However, her body had remained intact and worked miracles.

When SHENUTE II died in 1046, and the search was begun for a successor, it was the turn of the Alexandrians to make the choice. Their first preference was a HEGUMENOS of Alexandria, a saintly cleric by the name of Yuhanna ibn Tirus. But when it was learned that he was the godfather of ‘Alwan ibn Zakariyya, an influential Copt in the Muslim administration with close ties to ‘Ali ibn Ahmad al-Jurjani, the vizier of the caliph al-Mustansir, his name was eliminated from consideration.

Then the name of Theodore the eunuch was promoted by Abu al-Malih Mansur, known as Ibn al-‘Alami, a secretary of the diwan in Alexandria, together with a presbyter of Saint Mark’s Cathedral named Simon, who later became bishop of Tanis. The secretary, accompanied by a delegation of archons from Alexandria, went to Theodore’s hermitage to prevail upon him to accept the nomination. At first he refused, but with the persuasive influence of a relative of his named Zikri ibn Marquriyus, he accepted, though he was a poor man who possessed only 2¾ dirhams.

Thus, the delegation took him to Alexandria, where he was initially consecrated under the name Christodoulus. Later, according to established tradition, he was to be taken for another formal consecration in the ancient Church of Abu Sarjah (Saint Sergius) in Old Cairo, but he decided that this should be done in the al- Mu‘allaqah church. This proved to be the beginning of a new landmark in the story of the seat of Saint Mark, which was eventually moved from Alexandria to al-Mu‘allaqah, within reach of the Islamic capital, probably in response to a caliphal suggestion.

However, before leaving Alexandria, Christodoulus consecrated six churches in the city: the churches of Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Mercurius, the archangel Raphael, Saint Menas, Saint George, and Saint Mark. Moreover, he invested one person with the priesthood, appointed sixty deacons, and issued his long doctrinal ordinance covering all church traditions, the major points of which were:

  1. Male and female children should not be baptized in the same baptismal
  2. Private bread should not be mixed with the sacramental bread for holy communion before the
  3. Believers must drink thrice from the water used in the sanctuary and avoid spilling it on the
  4. The faithful should stand in awe during Sunday and feast day liturgies.
  5. The faithful should refrain from talking to one another during the
  6. The faithful should listen attentively throughout the
  7. There should be no mixing of sexes in
  8. The faithful should, in all humility, keep the fasts; and there should be no marital ceremonies during fast
  9. No baptism or funeral rites should be allowed during the holy week; the Gospel of Intercession (tarhim) should be read for the dead, after Saint Paul’s Epistle, but funeral rites should wait until Easter is
  10. The liturgy of Maundy Thursday should be observed in silence, without the kiss or
  11. No baptism nor ordination should be performed during the fifty days’
  12. There should be no weeping or lamentations or speeches for the dead on Sundays, only prayer for their
  13. The fast of the Apostles, which is after Pentecost, should be required of the faithful, lasting until the fifth of Abib, which is the feast day. If it falls on a Wednesday, they should break the fast, but not on a
  14. If a Feast of the Illustrious Nativity falls on a Wednesday or Friday, the faithful should break the fast on those days; otherwise the fast on Wednesday and Friday is obligatory throughout the whole
  15. Baptism is not allowed without the Eucharist; an infant could only be baptized if he fasted before the
  16. The making of eucharistic bread at the homes of the faithful is permitted; previously it had to be prepared on the church premises.

In his ordinance, Christodoulus made clear to the bishops his firm determination to rule within his ecclesiastical prerogative, something that the bishops were not accustomed to during previous patriarchates. Eventually, they gave vent to their dissatisfaction with the pope, and a movement for finding a pretext to depose him was led by Anba Yuhanna, bishop of Sakha, who was joined by Anba MIKHA‘IL, bishop of Tanis; Anba Khayal, bishop of Qutur; Iliyya, bishop of Tamwayh; Anba Jirja, bishop of al-Khandaq; and Anba Murqus, bishop of al-Balyana.

In addition, a number of clergymen convened in Cairo to depose the patriarch, on the basis of a technicality in which certain prayers were not recited at his consecration. However, thanks to the of Shaykh Abu Zikri Yahya ibn Maqarah, the Coptic secretary and chief scribe of the caliphal office, this tempestuous movement within the church subsided.

After this, a local problem emerged when Abu Zikri’s nephew committed a felony, for which the patriarch was asked to absolve him. Despite Abu Zikri’s former support for the patriarch and his high position in the administration of the country, Christodoulus rejected the demand.

With the return to peace within the church, Christodoulus embarked on a pastoral visitation to Damanhur, DAMRU, and the DAYR ANBA MAQAR in the wilderness of Wadi Habib, where he had a dispute with its monks over their habit of preserving the holy bread from the Sunday of Olives to the Wednesday of Holy Week, which he forbade after producing an ancient mimar (homily) supporting his theory.

Another problem of ecclesiastical significance between the sister churches of Alexandria and Antioch arose over the Antiochan use of oil and salt in baking sacramental bread. Christodoulus stood fast against this, even though the Antiochene custom was supported by so mighty a Syriac personality as Abu Bishr, the private physician of the caliphal court.

An instance of the papal fearlessness occurred in the case of a young Copt named Bagham, who, after apostatizing to Islam, recanted to his old Christian faith, an action that the Islamic state punished by death. Bagham was decapitated, and his body was left outside the church of Saint Michael. The pope courageously declared the victim a holy martyr and permitted his body to be honorably buried within the sanctuary of the church, irrespective of the position of the state.

Another problem, concerning the head of Saint Mark, was solved outside the patriarchal domain. The vizier Mi‘dad al-Dawlah of the administration was informed that the Byzantines were offering to pay 10,000 dinars for procuring the head, which seems to have been hidden in the house of a Copt by the name of Abu al-Fath ibn Mufarrij in Alexandria. Mi‘dad al-Dawlah arrested Abu al-Fath until he could be persuaded to cede the head. In the meantime, the head was moved, and Abu al-Fath denied that he possessed it. Instead, he offered the vizier 600 dinars to secure his liberty, and the situation was hushed up afterward.

A serious situation developed at Damru, where Christodoulus was residing, involving a highly placed judge named Abu al-Hasan ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab ibn ‘Ali al-Sirafi, who hated the Christians. The judge reported to the vizier al-Yazuri that the patriarch had been building new churches without permission and that in Damru alone he had seventeen churches.

Consequently, al-Yazuri issued an order for the closure of churches in Misr, an order that seems to have been attenuated by the arrival of a rich Christian donation from Byzantium, including gold and silver, precious textiles, and fifty mules. This was the period of the emergence from the east of the Saljuq menace to the and the caliphate, whose united front was their only way of saving their territories.

The position of the church under Christodoulus was not altogether precarious, however. In Alexandria, the caliph had appointed a Berber governor from the North African tribe of Kutamah. He was sympathetic to the Copts, and the caliph gave him the keys to the closed church of Saint George established by Saint Anianus, who had succeeded Saint Mark in the first century. He even allowed the Copts, under the protection of his guards, to hold a Pentecostal procession from the Church of Saint Sergius to the Church of the Savior, a procession that had been suspended for fifteen years.

Christodoulus had to face other difficulties, which arose from within the church itself. A monk called Colluthus (Filutus), who solicited the episcopate and was refused by Christodoulus, who found him unfit for the dignity, started a wave of calumnious reports to the caliph about the pope. In spite of the efforts of the archons Abu al-Yumn ibn Makrawah and Abu al-Tayyib al-Razawi, as well as Abu al-Surur Yuhanna ibn Yusuf al-Abahh, to dissuade him, the caliph sent his soldiers to the patriarchal residence in Damru, where they seized Christodoulus’ fortune of 6,000 dinars and arrested him. Later, he gained his freedom through the of influential Coptic archons, but his money was confiscated.

The situation was somewhat improved by the murder of the vizier Nasir al-Dawlah, a hater of Christians, followed by the arrival of Badr al-Jamali, an Islamized Christian of Armenian extraction. Though this seemed to offer the Copts a breathing space, the confusion within the state of Egypt, torn between the hostile armies of North Africa, the Armenians, the Turks, and the Sudanese, was worsened by the failure of the Nile to flood and the resulting famine. This situation is eloquently described by the Muslim historian of the Copts, Taqiy al-Din al-MAQRIZI. In these calamitous circumstances, the Copts were generally victimized, and the Islamic government intensified its imposts from the church, which Christodoulus had to face with his bishops.

Other sources indicate that the Copts were numerous in the desert oases, and Christodoulus was requested to send them a special bishop. Christodoulus was aided in his relations with the Islamic administration by the Christian kingdom of Nubia, whose sovereign paid the BAQT, or monetary levy, to Egypt for some years.

On the international scene, Christodoulus was a contemporary of the important battle of Manzi Kert (Malaz Jard) in 1071 in the upper Euphrates, which opened the road to the west for the Saljuqs. Thus, he witnessed the root events that led to the outbreak of the Crusades from Western Europe.

After a reign lasting thirty tempestuous years, Christodoulus died on 14 Kiyahk. He was buried in the Church of al-Mu‘allaqah in Old Cairo.


  • Lane-Poole, S. The Mohammadan Dynasties. London, 1894.
  •  _____. History of Egypt in the Middle Ages. London, 1901.