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Gabriel V - Coptic Wiki


The eighty-eighth of the See of Saint Mark (1409-1427). Born probably in the province of GIZA, south of Cairo, Gabriel became a government functionary charged with collecting taxes. At an unknown age, he abandoned his official responsibilities in his province in order to become a monk. He entered the monastery of Anba SAMUEL OF QALAMUN in the Fayyum (History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church, Vol. 3, pt. 3, p. 158 [Arabic]; p. 272 [English]). While there, he was ordained a priest.

His election to the patriarchate was facilitated by a prophecy of his predecessor, MATTHEW I (1378-1409). The story is told thus in the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS (Vol. 3, pt. 3, p. 271): Matthew had indicated to his disciples, before his death, that the Father Anba Gabriel would be after him. And some of the people did not believe him, until this Father appeared to them on the day on which they called Gabriel to be ordained HEGUMENOS.

At the time when the people were assembled in the CHURCH OF AL- MU‘ALLAQAH, one of the saintly elders who were assembled on that day saw this Father in the spirit standing at the side of the altar, and he was laying his hand with the hand of the Fathers the bishops on the head of Anba Gabriel. And when the elder saw this, he marveled, and he resolved to be blessed by him before he vanished from him, and Matthew blessed him.

Gabriel was consequently made HEGUMENOS of the Church of the Virgin, al-Mu‘allaqah, in Old Cairo. On 21 April 1409, he was consecrated patriarch.

Gabriel V faced a difficult period for the church. Politically, Egypt was unstable. Assassinations and were frequent. In 1421 alone, four sultans held successive rule. Incessant wars made Egypt economically weak. In a period of thirty years, four plagues ravaged the country.

More than any other group, with the possible exception of the Jews, the Copts suffered under these conditions. The Muslim historian of that period, Ahmad Darraj, wrote:

The persecutions are the result of government directives…. These directives can be classified in several categories: (1) prohibition against employing [Christians and Jews] in government offices; (2) confiscations, contributions imposed on the community, various types of financial obligation; (3) humiliating measures regarding dress and manners; (4) demolition of religious edifices.

These multiple harassments, which are periodically renewed, explain the frequent conversions of Christians and Jews who desire to maintain their positions in government; Abu al-Mahasin’s forceful comment on the situation is telling: “The Qadi of the ruler is a recently converted Muslim, his Shaykh is a Christian, and his pilgrim is a spy” (1961, p. 141-42).

One can compare Darraj’s observations with other evidence of the persecution of the Copts under the Bahrite Mamluks. Samir (1979) offers an analysis of four studies and mentions five others.

In 1412, in the presence of Muslim leaders, Sultan al-Mu‘ayyad gathered Jews and Copts in the mosque of the caliph al-HAKIM and there demanded that non-Muslims pay double the current tax (JIZYAH). In 1413 measures became even more stringent. In 1414 and 1419, al-Mu‘ayyad forbade the Copts access to his offices and those of his emirs. In 1419, he increased restrictions regarding vestments and their usage (see Darraj, 1961, 142-43).

Persecutions continued under the rule of Barsbay (1422-1438). On 1 May 1422, a new directive was issued prohibiting the employment of Copts in public offices. A heavy had to be paid to abolish this interdiction (Darraj, 1961, p. 143).

Because Catalans and Genoese pirates were harassing Egypt, in 1422 Barsbay forbade Christian pilgrims access to the Holy Sepulcher. In answer to this, the negus Yeshaq attacked the Muslims of Ethiopia in 1423 and ravaged the Islamic kingdom of Jabart. In return, Barsbay took vengeance on the Copts. Only through the intervention of Eric VII, king of Denmark, was the Holy Sepulcher reopened in 1426 (Darraj, 1961, p. 338; see also Cerulli, 1943a).

To add to Gabriel’s problems, he and the negus of Ethiopia were not on good terms. In fact, Yeshaq ceased to send the traditional contribution of the kings of Ethiopia to the Egyptian church.

In both Coptic and Ethiopian traditions, the name of Gabriel V remained linked with a miracle reported to have taken place at the time of the transfer of the relics of Saint George to the church in Old that bears his name (‘Abdallah, 1962, p. 34, fn. 32). Ethiopian tradition mentions Gabriel V in connection with Isaac, the superior at the monastery of Mitmaq, who refused to obey his bishop. It is reported that Gabriel restored good relations between them (Cerulli, 1943b).

Coptic tradition reports that in 1412 Mar Basile Bahnam was chosen of the Syrians at Mardin. Bearing the name Ignatius IX, he came to Egypt via Jerusalem (Ephrem, 1976). Gabriel convened a synod that charged three bishops with his consecration: Michael al-Ghamri, bishop of Samannud and dean of the Episcopal College; Gabriel ibn Katib al-Qudiyyah, bishop of Asyut and superior of the monastery of Saint Macarius; and Cyril the Syrian, bishop of Jerusalem. In addition, Abu al-Faraj (later to succeed Gabriel V under the name of JOHN XI), parish priest of the church of Saint Mercurius (ABU SAYFAYN) in Old Cairo, helped with the ordination. After his consecration in the church of Saint Mercurius, Ignatius IX then returned to Jerusalem. These events have been registered in two manuscripts of dealing with the preparation of the holy chrism, one in the Coptic Patriarchal Library (Liturgy 286) and the other in the Coptic Museum Library (Liturgy 128).

In general, the consecration of Ignatius IX illustrates that relations between the Coptic and Syrian churches were strong during this period. In the event of internal troubles the Syrians could depend on the Copts for help.

The Muslim historian al-MAQRIZI (1364-1441), a contemporary of Gabriel V, summarized the life of the patriarch:

After having spent some time as one of the many functionaries he rose in the ranks until he reached the patriarchal seat. The Christians were never so unhappy as during his reign.

He himself was subjected, on several occasions, to prejudicial treatment and humiliation. He had to go in the streets on foot. When he presented himself for an audience with the Sultan or his emirs, he was left standing. He was so impoverished that, on more than one occasion, he was obliged to go from village to village imploring the generosity of the Christian population. He was unable to obtain aid from them since they themselves were in a state of poverty and distress.

In days gone by, the Abyssinian kings sent annually considerable amounts of money to the of Alexandria. During Gabriel’s reign, however, they renounced this custom. They had very little consideration for this prelate who had once been a functionary and had thus, in their opinion, contributed to the vexations exercised against his own people.

In short, I have never seen any who was less esteemed than this one and whose pontificate was less honoured.

Here then is the opinion of an outsider. Coptic tradition will have it that this was ascetic, choosing travel on foot and leading an austere and simple life (Kamil Salih Nakhlah, 1954, p. 8, no. 6).

It is apparent that Gabriel had a difficult reign. It was during this period that the Venetians stole the Copts’ chief relic of the head of Saint MARK, an act that deeply affected the Coptic community. On the religious front, Gabriel distinguished himself by his liturgical reforms in the Coptic church, comparable to those made by Pius V for the Western Latin Church.

Gabriel V left only one written work, the Ordo (Arabic, Kitab Tartib). He thereby reorganized the liturgy of the church, giving it the definitive form that it currently retains. Without creating or modifying anything in the body of the liturgy, he assembled all its elements and traditions with minute precision and indicated all gestures and prayers of the liturgical offices.

Gabriel’s method is instructive, being set forth identically in the two manuscripts that contain parts of the Ordo (‘Abdallah, 1962, pp. 113, 290 [Arabic text]; pp. 319, 440 [Italian trans.]): He studied a number of extant older ordos, lists of daily offices and feasts, comparing them and collating a single ordo that integrated the maximum substance of their original elements. On Sunday, 3 May 1411, at the Church of ABU SAYFAYN in Old Cairo, he assembled the priests, notables, and deacons of the entire Christian community and submitted the new Ordo to them. The assembly gave its unanimous approval to this Ordo and the consequently decreed its exclusive use in all Coptic churches.

The main part of the Ordo is contained in a Paris manuscript, arabe 98, transcribed at the beginning of the seventeenth century according to A. ‘Abdallah, or in the fifteenth century according to G. Troupeau. Only folios 1a-136a contain the Ordo. The rest of the manuscript contains materials pertaining to other authors.

The manuscript, Coptic Vatican 46, transcribed in Egypt at the beginning of the seventeenth century, contains in folios 136a-143a a single piece, the Ordo of the Consecration of New Sanctuaries. This particular ordo is missing in the Paris manuscript. A detailed analysis of the whole Vatican manuscript was done by A. Hebbelynck and A. van Lantschoot (1937).

The Arabic and Coptic texts of the Ordo were edited by ‘Abdallah (1962, pp. 113-267, 290-315) along with an Italian translation (pp. 319-433, 440-59). Between pages 50-51 and 66-67 are photographic plates reproducing Paris arabe 98, folios la, 45a,

134a, and Vatican Coptic 46, folio 136a. Note that pages 268-89 of the Arabic text (pp. 434-39 of the Italian trans.) are not by Gabriel V (‘Abdallah, 1962, p. 51, 3).

The contents of Gabriel’s Ordo are as follows (page numbers refer to ‘Abdallah’s work):

  1. Ordo of baptism (ed., pp. 113-27; trans. pp. 319-30); for the poem on baptism that follows it, see below.
  2. Ordo of marriage (ed., pp. 130-48; trans., pp. 333-44).
  3. Ordo on the anointing of the sick (ed., pp. 149-51; trans., pp. 345-47).
  4. Ordo of Saint Abu Tarbu (ed., pp. 152-55; trans., pp. 348-50).

This liturgical rite is practiced against dog bites, still one of the most popular ceremonies performed in the Coptic church.

  1. Ordo of the vesperal and matinal office for the incense (ed., pp. 156-70; trans., pp. 351-60).
  2. Ordo of the Mass of Saint Basil (ed., pp. 171-200; trans., pp. 361-83).
  3. Rites concerning clerics (ed., pp. 201-29; trans., pp. 384-404):
    – Enthronement of a new bishop (ed., pp. 201-15; trans., pp. 384- 94);
    – Ordination of hegumenoi and priests (ed., pp. 216-19; trans. pp. 395-97);
    – Ordo of the Acclamation (zaffah) of a new priest (ed., pp. 202-203; trans., pp. 398-400);
    – Ordo of the ordination of ministers: readers, subdeacons, and deacons (ed., pp. 224-29; trans., pp. 401-40).
  4. Rites concerning monks (text, pp., 230-40; trans., pp. 405-14):
    – Ordo on the clothing of monks;
    – Service of the holy Schema (monastic habit);
    – Ordo of the vestments used universally.
  5. Funerary rites (ed., pp. 241-59; trans., pp. 414-29):
    of patriarchs and bishops (ed., pp. 241-52; trans., pp. 415-23);
    of hegumenoi, priests, and faithful (ed., pp. 253-58; trans., pp. 424-27);
    – Commemoration of the dead (ed., 258f.; trans. 428f.).
  6. Ordo to fill the chalice, if pouring the wine during mass has been inadvertently omitted or if the wine has turned to vinegar; based on a manuscript found in the Monastery of Saint Macarius (DAYR ANBA MAQAR) (ed., pp. 260-67; trans., pp. 430-33).
  7. Ordo of the consecration of the sacred vessels (ed., pp. 268-88; trans., pp. 434-38). As already noted, this Ordo did not derive from Gabriel V; it was added here because of its appearance in the Paris manuscript and owing to the similarity of contents.
  8. Ordo of the consecration of new sanctuaries (ed., pp. 290-315; trans., pp. 449-59).

A poem on baptism occurs on pages 128-30 (trans., pp. 331f.). Contrary to ‘Abdallah’s opinion, this poem was not composed by Gabriel V but by Athanasius, bishop of Qus. According to G. Graf (1951, pp. 128, 129, §a), this Athanasius belongs to the fifteenth- sixteenth centuries and should be distinguished from another ATHANASIUS, bishop of Qus, who lived in the thirteenth- fourteenth centuries and authored the Qiladat al-Tahrir (Graf, 1934, p. 445; 1947). This distinction, however, is far from certain. It is likely, in fact, that he is one and the same bishop who lived in the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries.

  • ‘Abdallah, A., O.F.M. L’Ordinamento Liturgico di Gabriele V, 88o patriarca copto (1409-1427) Studia Orientalia Christiana Aegyptica. Cairo, 1962. Gabriel’s life appears on pp. 24-42; his work on pp. 43-73.
  • Cerulli, E. Etiopi in Palestina. Storia della communita etiopica di Gerusalemme, Vol. 1, pp. 230-33. Rome, 1943a. See chapter 23, “Il Negus Yeshaq e la chiusura della del Santo Sepolcre nel 1423.”
  • . Il libro etiopico dei Miracoli di Maria, pp. 201-202. Rome, 1943b.
  • Darraj, A. L’Egypte sous le règne de Barsbay (825-841/1422-1438).
  • Damascus, 1961. See especially chapter 4, “Les Expédients,” and chapter 8, “Les Lieux-Saints Chrétiens.”
  • Ephrem 1st Barsaum. Al-Lu’lu’ al-Manthur fi tarikh al-‘ulum wa al- adab al-suryaniyyah, 3rd ed., pp. 446-47. Baghdad, 1976.
  • Graf, G. Catalogue de manuscrits arabes chrétiens conservés au Caire, no. 99. Vatican City, 1934.
  • Hebbelynck, A., and A. van Lantschoot. Codices Coptici Vaticani Barberiniani Borgiani Rossiani. Vol. 1, Codices Coptici Vaticani, pp. 257-306, especially pp. 280-89. Vatican City, 1937.
  • Kamil Salih Nakhlah. Silsilat Tarkh al-Babawat Batarikat al-Kursi al-Iskandari, Vol. 4, pp. 6-9. Dayr al-Suryan, 1954. A well- documented study on the life of Gabriel V.
  • Khalil Samir. “Chrétiens sous les Mamluks.” Bulletin d’Arabe chrétien 3 (1979):68-74.
  • Muyser, J. “Contribution à l’étude des listes épiscopales de l’église copte.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 10 (1944):115- 76, especially pp. 167-68.
  • Troupeau, G. Catalogue des manuscrits arabes de la Bibliothèque nationale, Vol. 1, pt. 1. Manuscrits chrétiens. Paris, 1972.