A forty-first patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (686-689). Isaac was a native of the district of Shubra, now part of modern Cairo, before he took the monastic vow at DAYR ANBA MAQAR. Little is known about his early secular life. In his monastery, however, he became the spiritual son of a bishop by the name of Zacharias, who was known for his Christian virtues, his dignity, his theological learning, and his humility. Following his mentor in his qualities, Isaac also concentrated on the literary activity of the monastery and became a noted scribe of religious and biblical works. When JOHN III, his predecessor, came to know of him, he invited him to join him in Alexandria, where he actively assisted the patriarch in combating a three-year famine and participated in the discharge of all the rest of the patriarchal responsibilities.
John III willed his succession to Isaac, his admirable assistant. Soon after his death, a council of bishops met to elect the new patriarch. This council consisted of Gregorius, bishop of al-Qays; Jacob, bishop of Arwat; JOHN OF NIKIOU; and a number of other unnamed bishops, together with the clergy and the archons of Alexandria. To the amazement of the congregation, their choice fell, not on Isaac, John’s nominee, but on a deacon from Sakha by the name of Jirja. The election was made on a weekday without consulting ‘Abd al Aziz ibn Marwan, the Arab governor of Egypt, for his advance approval. The archdeacon of the city of Alexandria protested, as the clergy were taking rapid steps to consecrate their nominee. He insisted that the election should be made on a Sunday in agreement with established tradition and that the late patriarch’s recommendation must be respected. At this moment the governor’s delegates reached Alexandria and stopped the preparatory measures taken for consecrating Jirja. On reporting to the governor, ‘Abd al- Aziz decided in favor of the late patriarch’s nominee, and so Isaac was formally invested. The history of the patriarchs comments on the event as being the will of the Lord.
In spite of the brevity of Isaac’s reign, for he remained on the throne of Saint Mark only three years, his days were pregnant with major events, both locally and internationally. First, on the local scene, he restored the crumbling walks of Saint Mark’s Cathedral and renovated the patriarchal residence. Second, he celebrated the Coptic liturgies in many churches previously dominated by the Chalcedonians. Third, he built a church and founded a monastery of Our Lady in Hilwan; at the same time he encouraged the Coptic archons of the country to build dwellings at Hilwan in the neighborhood of the palace of ‘Abd al-Aziz, who favored living there. On the international scene, without consulting the Arab governor of Egypt, Isaac mediated between the emperor of Ethiopia and the Christian king of Nubia, who were in conflict at the time.
Apparently, this infuriated ‘Abd al-Aziz, who put the patriarch under house arrest in Alexandria to prevent him from crossing the frontier to the African potentates with whom Egypt was not in harmony. But curiously his fury went beyond the patriarch to the whole of the Coptic church, and the governor ordered all crosses, even gold and silver ones, to be broken from churches. Furthermore, he issued an order that posters should be fixed on the gates of all churches bearing the inscription that Muhammad is the apostle of Allah and that Jesus is only the prophet of God and not his son, for Allah is neither born nor bearing.
At this unhappy juncture, Isaac died in 689 and was quietly buried in the Cathedral of Saint Mark in a tomb that he had prepared for himself next to that of his predecessor.
- Lane-Poole, S. History of Egypt in the Middle Ages. London, 1901.
- . The Mohammadan Dynasties. Paris, 1925.