Gabriel II, Ibn Turayk

GABRIEL II, ibn Turayk

The seventieth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (1131-1145) (feast day: 10 Bavamudah). Gabriel ibn Turayk was one of three laymen selected to occupy the Coptic patriarchate in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries during the late Fatimid caliphate and the early Ayyubid sultanate. He had the rather anomalous name of Abu al-‘Ala’, which could be applied equally to a Copt as well as a Muslim; however, its use is known to have been more frequent in Islamic communities. Nevertheless, he is known to have descended from an old and noble Coptic family of scribes in the new Egyptian capital of Cairo. He was brought up and educated in the Christian tradition and, owing to his strict religious temperament, he became a deacon in the ancient Church of Saint Mercurius (ABU SAYFAYN) in Old Cairo, where he spent time in ardent prayer during his youth.

As a mature man, he lived a celibate life of chastity and devoted himself to helping the needy, the sick, and the poor widows and orphans of his community. In his forties, he worked as a scribe with a dual function divided between the office of state correspondence (diwan al-Mukatabat) and the important department of taxation (Bayt al-Mal), an unusual combination that points to his significant skill.

In spite of his heavy involvement in the state administration, he found time to concentrate on the study of religious literature, and he became an accomplished copyist of biblical books. He was an active participant in most religious offices during the patriarchate of MACARIUS II (1102-1128). After Macarius’ death, the patriarchal seat remained vacant for three years. Finally, a leading Coptic archon by the name of Shaykh Abu-al-Barakat ibn al-Mabatt discovered a solution to this national problem by promoting Abu-al-‘Ala’ to the position of patriarch; and since no one had anything against the candidate, the archons of Alexandria, to whom the selection had fallen this time, decided to accept him. Consequently, he was taken to the ancient AL-MU‘ALLAQAH church in Old Cairo where he was anointed.

Afterward, he was taken to the traditional religious capital of Alexandria for formal consecration on 9 Amshir A.M. 847/A.D. 1130 (History of the Patriarchs, Vol. 3, pt. 1, p. 26). In the following year (A.D. 1131) at the age of forty-seven, he was finally confirmed as the seventieth patriarch of the Coptic church, even before consulting with the monks of DAYR ANBA MAQAR in WADI AL-NATRUN.

These formalities were accomplished during the governorship of Egypt by the famous Ahmad ibn al-Afdal Shahinshah, the son of the mighty military head of the armies of the Fatimid caliph al-Hafiz (1130-1149), according to his biographer, Marcus ibn Zar‘ah.

The monks of Dayr Anba Maqar gathered to consider the consecration of the new patriarch and decided to seek the opinion of a saintly recluse by the name of Yusuf the Syrian, who appeased their feelings about the election of Gabriel ibn Turayk. The new patriarch, in conformity with established tradition, went to Dayr Anba Maqar. There he celebrated a pontifical mass where he seems to have had an argument with the monks over the literal pronouncement of the union of the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ at the consecration of the holy bread for communion. The argument was soon settled by the incorporation of the additional phrase “without mixing and without confusion,” which became part of the Coptic liturgy.

With the solution of this theological difference with the conservative monks, the new patriarch became universally recognized, and his reign lasted fourteen years and six months until his death in 1145.

Gabriel instituted the policy of forbidding the burial of the faithful within the churches. The church of HARIT ZUWAYLAH was closed for a time because a priest by the name of Psus had been buried there, contrary to the pontifical command. The patriarch withdrew the body of his predecessor, Macarius II, from al- Mu‘allaqah church and sent it to Dayr Anba Maqar in Wadi al- Natrun for an honorable burial.

The most important decision in his internal policy, however, proved to be the suppression of the simoniacal practice that his predecessors had used to levy funds from newly consecrated episcopal candidates in exchange for their nomination. He nominated the extraordinary number of fifty-three bishops without receiving any funds from his appointees.

The general state of the country under Caliph al-Hafiz was rather confused and full of conflicts. Nevertheless, the church enjoyed an undisturbed period of security and independence when the vizierate of al-Hafiz fell to an Armenian Christian named Bahram, who had previously come to Egypt in the entourage of another famous Islamized Armenian, BADR AL-JAMALI. During Bahram’s rule, the Christians, including both Armenians and Copts, fared extremely well. The Armenians held numerous governorships of the provinces, and the Copts monopolized the highest posts in the administration, notably the offices of both finances and taxation.

In fact, there was a complete reversal of the formal policies of Coptic persecution that had existed during the harsh reign of al-HAKIM (996-1021). In fact, some authorities began to fear that Islamized Copts might be tempted to abjure their new faith and return wholesale to their Coptic Christian beliefs. This, indeed, may have been one of the factors that precipitated the rebellion of Hasan, al-Hafiz’s son, against his father, which led to the temporary deposition of the caliph and the application of restrictive measures on the Copts. It was during this interlude that Hasan arrested and incarcerated Gabriel. Gabriel was released after paying an impost of a thousand dinars that had been raised by the Coptic archons and rich merchants.

The gravity of the internal situation within the country was intensified by conflicts between the Sudanese and the Turkish batallions within the military forces of the caliphate. This led to the ousting of Hasan and the return of al-Hafiz to his throne. A new leader by the name of Rudwan ibn Walkhasi seized ministerial power. Under these circumstances, Bahram became uneasy and, with his Armenians, decided to withdraw completely from Egypt. Rudwan reversed the former lenient policy toward all Christians, Armenians and Copts alike. Legislation was enacted to forbid the employment of Christians in the administration, although this rule was not literally applied to the Copts for practical reasons.

The HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS (Vol. 3, pt. 1, p. 31) records the appointment of Abu Zikri ibn Yahya ibn Bulus, the Copt, as chief scribe together with twelve other Christian assistant scribes, while there were only two Muslims in the government administrations at a later date. Nevertheless, Christian institutions in Cairo and al- Khandaq were exposed to mob violence, and the Armenian monastery of al-Zuhri was destroyed. Vestment restrictions on Christians were renewed, and they were prohibited from riding horses. What probably was worse was the doubling of the poll tax (JIZYAH) on all Christians and Jews, without exception.

Muslims all over the country became more aggressive and some fanatical mobs attacked the churches, although the caliph himself regarded their actions with disfavor. The History of the Patriarchs records that a Muslim mob attacked a church that had been restored by the bishop of Sahrajt in the city of Minyat-Zifta and turned it into a mosque. The bishop complained to the administration authorities, and a writ was issued promptly for its restoration as a church and an explicit order was given for its preservation and security.

In the realm of foreign policy, Gabriel II watched over the interest of the church in his relations with Ethiopia. The Ethiopian emperor wanted the patriarch to consecrate numerous bishops for his country, but Gabriel insisted on the preservation of old-established traditions of nominating the usual Coptic ABUN. The Abyssinian emperor wrote to the caliph to bring pressure to bear upon the patriarch to respond favorably to his request. Gabriel explained to the caliph that such a measure might lead the Ethiopians to consecrate their own Catholicus, or patriarch, and become separated from the mother church in Egypt, which would also be a loss of Egyptian influence over the Abyssinian Muslims. Apparently this argument convinced the caliph and the matter was closed.

In the literary field, Gabriel distinguished himself, not merely as a highly-skilled copyist of biblical and other religious texts but also as a compiler and translator of works by the fathers of the church. Apparently he commanded considerable knowledge of Coptic, although it is doubtful whether he knew Greek. On the practical side of his career, he is known to have compiled three important series of canons (Graf, 1947, p. 325) and two liturgical books and a Nomocanon in seventy-four chapters. This was long thought to have been lost, but according to Simaykah’s catalogue (1939-1942, cf. no. 570), it was recently rediscovered in the library of the patriarchate in Cairo though incomplete. Some of his collection of canons, however, has been preserved in the important Nomocanon left by MIKHA’IL, bishop of Damietta, during the patriarchate of MARK III (1167-1189).

On the whole, the patriarchate of Gabriel II proved to be relatively peaceful and, if we overlook a number of occasional incidents and the interlude of the oppressive rules of Hasan, son of al-Hafiz, and Rudwan ibn Walkhasi, the Copts lived in relative security and enjoyed considerable collaboration with the late Fatimid administration of the country. Gabriel II concluded his reign peacefully in 1145.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Butcher, E. L. The Story of the Church of Egypt, 2 vols. London, 1897.
  • Lane-Poole, S. A History of Egypt in the Middle Ages. London, 1901. Repr. New York, 1969.
  • Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt Ancient and Modern, 2nd rev. ed. Cairo, 1977.
  • Neale, J. M. A History of the Holy Eastern Church, 2 vols. London, 1847.
  • Roncaglia, M. Histoire de l’église copte, 4 vols., 2nd ed. Beirut, 1985-.

SUBHI Y. LABIB

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