The thirty-fifth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (569-605). (Some sources list the beginning of his reign as 578.) He was contemporary to four Byzantine emperors, Justin II (565-578), Tiberius II (578-582), Maurice (582-602), and Phocas (602-610). During their reigns, the Byzantine rulers were distracted from the imposition of the Chalcedonian profession of faith on Egypt by the Persian wars in the east and the Barbarian inroads in the north. Inasmuch as Alexandria remained essentially a Melchite fortress, the national patriarchs resided in neighboring Coptic monasteries.
Damian was of Syrian origin, his father and brother being officials at Edessa. He had long been a monk at SCETIS when PETER IV brought him as deacon and secretary to his headquarters at the ENATON monastery. On Peter’s death Damian was elected and consecrated to the patriarchate.
The early years of Damian’s pontificate were consumed by burning problems of an ecclesiastical nature with Antioch. Jacob Baradaeus, the missionary prelate from Antioch, departed for Alexandria to confer with Damian on the problem of PAUL THE BLACK, the Egyptian patriarch of Antioch, who seemed to be in error doctrinally. But Jacob died en route and his party disintegrated. Damian attempted to install another person as patriarch of Antioch whose orthodoxy was assured. But he and his party were compelled to flee from Antioch before secretly consecrating a rival candidate.
Then the scene of events moved to Constantinople, where the Arab Christian prince al-Nu‘man ibn al-Mundhir (al-Mundaras of Christian sources) called an inconclusive conference to solve the Antiochene problem. Thus Damian returned home and gave up the attempt to establish the ecumenical precedence of Alexandria. He ultimately broke off communion with Peter Callinicus, the next patriarch of Antioch. He accused him of tritheism, whose formula of three persons sharing a common godhead was suspected to introduce a fourth principle, thus giving rise to the new term Tetradite. The ensuing schism between the Copts and the Syrians persisted beyond Damian’s reign until the concordat of 616, concluded between ANASTASIUS, his successor, and Athanasius, patriarch of Antioch.
Meanwhile Bishop Longinus, failing to secure support for his candidate for Alexandria, Theodorus, returned to Nubia. An effort was made to replace him, but he was locally supported, and after an adventurous desert journey planted the church among the Alaudae further south (probably near Khartoum). The Nubian church, thus established, was long an important ally of the Coptic church.
Within Egypt, Damian’s administration was both vigorous and successful. He took residence at the Enaton monastery in the western Delta, but paid frequent visits to Alexandria. He managed to exterminate the remaining schismatic vestiges of the Melitians (see MELITIAN SCHISM) and the ACEPHALOI, which had plagued the peace of the church for decades. Thus he left behind him a well- organized and united church.
Damian’s teaching on the Incarnation and the Trinity was clearly expounded in his letter to Jacob Baradaeus together with the clergy and people of Antioch, in which he repudiated Paul the Black. This document has been preserved in a Syriac version (Michael Syrus, 10.14) and is inscribed in Coptic on the walls of the monastery of Saint Epiphanius (DAYR EPIPHANIUS) at Thebes. It has also been adapted as a discourse on the Logos in the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS (Vol. 1, , p. 474) by omitting the Syrian references at the beginning and replacing the epistolary conclusion with a homiletic one, including prayers for the emperor and a doxology. Essentially this document must have been prepared at Enaton Monastery for general circulation among the Egyptian clergy.
After a life abounding in fasts, prayers, and struggles against all manner of heretical teachings and schisms for thirty-six years, Damian died on 28 Ba’unah (History of the Patriarchs, Vol. 1, , p. 478), on which day he is commemorated annually by the Coptic church.
- Bréhier, L.; P. de Labriole; G. Bardy; and G. de Plinval. “De la mort de Théodose à l’avènement de Grégoire le Grand.” In Histoire de l’église, ed. A. Fliche and V. Martin, Vol. 4, pp. 490-93. Paris, 1937.
- Frend, W. H. C. The Rise of the Monophysite Movement, pp. 341-42. Cambridge, 1972.
- Hardy, E. R. Christian Egypt, pp. 152-54, 162, 169-71, 178. New York, 1952.
- Jülicher, A. “Die Liste der alexandrinischen Patriarchen im 6. und 7. Jahrhundert.” In Festgabe Karl Mueller. Tübingen, 1922. Maspéro, J. Histoire des Patriarches d’Alexandrie, chap. 9. Paris, 1923.
- Syrus, Michael. Chronique de Michel le Syrien X, ed. and trans. J.- B. Chabot, Vol. 2, pp. 13-22. Paris, 1901.
- Timothy of Constantinople. De Receptione Haereticorum. In PG 86, pp. 11-74.
- Winlock, H. E., and W. E. Crum. The Monastery of Epiphanius at Thebes, , pp. 148-52, 331-42. New York, 1926.