The sixty-seventh patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (1078-1092). Cyril was a monk of the Monastery of Saint Macarius (DAYR ANBA MAQAR), and his original name was George (Jirja). Nothing is known about his secular life or his date of birth beyond the fact that he was a native of the province of Beheira when he joined his monastery.
After the death of Patriarch CHRISTODOULUS, a large body of bishops, a number of the clergymen of Cairo and Alexandria, and some ARCHONS went to the Monastery of Saint Macarius in search of a candidate. The episcopal delegation included Quzman, bishop of Nusa; John, bishop of Sakha, known as Ibn al-Zalim; Mark, bishop of Abu Sir; Mercurius, bishop of Masil; Gabriel, bishop of Bastah (al-Khandaq); Khayal, bishop of Qutur; Theodorus (Tadrus), bishop of Khirbita; George (Jirja), bishop of Ibtu; John (Yuhanna), bishop of Atrib; Mark (Murqus), bishop of al-Balyana; Peter (Butrus), bishop of al- Bahnasa; Macarius (Maqarah), bishop of al-Qays; and Mina, bishop of al-Baynayn. They deliberated for two months, without coming to a decision.
Hence, accompanied by the archdeacon of Saint Macarius, they moved to a neighboring monastery, DAYR YUHANNIS KAMA, where they selected a saintly man by the name of Bisus. But he protested that he was a common man unfit for that dignity and began banging his chest with a stone until he was almost dead. So the delegation moved back to the Monastery of Saint Macarius, where they discovered a middle-aged monk of great sanctity by the name of George, on whom they settled as their candidate. They took him against his will, clothed him with the patriarchal garb, and named him Cyril (Kyrillos). Then they took him to Alexandria, where he was formally consecrated.
He then went to Cairo to pay homage to the caliph, al-Mustansir, where he was received with honor. Later he called on his vizier, Badr al- Jamali, who issued a special decree for his administration to execute all the patriarchal wishes. The position of the church thus became secure, after the hardships it had sustained under Caliph al-HAKIM.
Cyril began his reign with the exchange of synodical epistles with his spiritual brother, Dionysius, patriarch of Antioch. Then he started to fill vacant dioceses with bishops. He refrained from demanding simony (CHEIROTONIA), unlike most of his predecessors. Nevertheless, he did come to an understanding with the new bishops that they should share their income with him. Apparently this did not suit a number of bishops, who began a rebellious movement by submitting complaints against Cyril to Badr al-Jamali.
Consequently, Badr ordered the patriarch to convene a general council of his bishops to settle their differences. The HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS (Vol. 2, pt. 3, pp. 214-15) gives a very rare list of forty-seven bishops who attended, including twenty-two from Lower Egypt and a similar number from Upper Egypt, in addition to the bishops of Misr, Giza, and al-Khandaq. This meeting took place in A.M. 802/A.D. 1086, and resulted in the revision of the Coptic legal system, which the patriarch reported to Badr al-Jamali, who seems to have supported Cyril and requested the bishops to obey him.
The History of the Patriarchs (Vol. 2, pt. 2, pp. 187ff.) lists a series of encounters between Cyril and Badr al-Jamali, which makes clear that the position of the church was secure and peaceful in al- Mustansir’s caliphate. When it came to financial considerations, however, the government imposed the land tax of the KHARAJ, without the slightest diminution. Thus, the church was taxed 4,000 dinars per annum, and this was divided evenly among the bishops of Lower Egypt and those of Upper Egypt.
Furthermore, the poll tax, or JIZYAH, was imposed on all Christians at the rate of, in the language of the time, one dinar and a third and a quarter, per person. There were also extraordinary financial imposts arising from unusual situations. Perhaps the most significant example of this occurred when all Alexandrians, Copts, Muslims, and Jews alike, were subjected to a tremendous fine of 12,000 dinars as a penalty for their complicity with al-Afdal’s son, who in 1085 had revolted against his father and fortified himself in the capital city.
Relations with the Christian kingdom of NUBIA were complex. While the country was ecclesiastically under Cyril II, the Islamic administration had parallel interests in the country, and Cyril’s influence was supportive of Egypt’s general position in Nubia. Furthermore, it is known that the Nubian king, Solomon, abdicated his throne to a nephew and retired to Egypt for worship in its sacred wilderness. Although Solomon was later seized by the Fatimid agents and taken to Cairo, Badr al-Jamali treated him with deference, as a guest rather than a prisoner, and placed him in one of the state palaces. When he died shortly afterward, he was buried in Saint George’s Monastery at al-Khandaq with all the Coptic funerary celebrations.
Relations with Ethiopia during Cyril’s reign began with the consecration of Sawiros as archbishop of the diocese. He was a vigorous middle-aged politician besides being an ecclesiastic, and he conferred with Badr al-Jamali over the Egyptian policy toward Ethiopia. Badr al-Jamali sought two things in Ethiopia: the building of some mosques for its Muslim inhabitants and the assurance of safe conduct for Egyptian merchants. He granted the archbishop some funds for the building of mosques, and Sawiros sanctioned the restoration of seven mosques, which the Ethiopian Christians had destroyed.
Moreover, Egyptian merchants in Ethiopia continued to be subjected to seizure and pillage. Badr al- Jamali summoned Cyril II, whom he openly rebuked and requested to act sternly with his Abyssinian coreligionists. This was a serious problem for Cyril. Participating in the deliberations was the Coptic archon Abu al- Malih Mina ibn Zakariyya, who was an important functionary in the Islamic administration of the country.
It was decided to strengthen the position of Sawiros by dispatching two bishops to the Ethiopian court—Mark (Murqus), bishop of Awsim and Giza, and Theodorus (Tadrus), bishop of Sinjar—in an attempt to rectify this situation. Apparently no satisfactory solution was reached, but the story is indicative of the position of the Coptic patriarchate in these international relations.
After a reign lasting fourteen years and three months, Cyril II died in Cairo on 12 Ba’unah and was temporarily buried in the Church of Saint Michael on the island of Rodah. His remains were later transferred to the monastery of Saint Macarius in Wadi al- Natrun in the Western Desert.
- Amélineau, E. Géographie de l’Egypte à l’époque copte. Paris, 1893.
- Lane-Poole, S. The Mohammadan Dynasties. London, 1894.
- ___. History of Egypt in the Middle Ages. London, 1901.
SUBHI Y. LABIB