Saint and forty-eighth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (775-799). John is known from the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS to have been a monk of WADI HABIB, without any specific mention of the monastery to which he belonged, though in all probability it was the monastery of Saint Macarius (DAYR ANBA MAQAR). After the death of Anba MINA, his predecessor, the throne of Saint Mark remained vacant for nearly two years, because the bishops and the clergy of Alexandria could not reach unanimity on a suitable candidate for the patriarchate. They ultimately reached a compromise whereby they wrote the names of three possible candidates on three tickets, placed them on the altar, then spent the night in prayers and supplication to the Lord to guide them to the right person. They then had a child select the ticket. This process was repeated three times, and each time the name of John emerged as the winner. This left no doubt in their minds that he was the one chosen by the Lord, and the usual procedure toward consecration followed.
According to the History of the Patriarchs, John was a monk of “perfect stature, inspired by God in all affairs. And everyone desired to behold his welcome form; and it was granted to him to be acceptable to all princes and governors” (Vol. 2, pt. 2, p. 383). During his patriarchate, the Copts seemed to fare well and live in security, and the patriarch’s chief concern was to build or restore the churches in the capital without being disturbed by the Muslim rulers, to whom he rendered the just KHARAJ, or annual tax, without trouble.
Perhaps the only disturbing element in the early years of his patriarchate was precipitated by a Chalcedonian named Julianus, who was a clever physician highly regarded by the Muslim rulers on account of his skill in his profession. He tried to poison the Muslim rulers’ minds toward John, but apparently failed to rouse them against him.
John IV was aided in his building program by a deacon named Mark (Murqus), who became a close disciple and participated with the patriarch in the celebration of the Liturgy and read the Gospel with a beautiful voice, which attracted the congregation. He helped John to complete the majestic structure of Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Alexandria in the span of five years. And when famine befell the country, Mark tirelessly stood by the patriarch in distributing provisions to the needy. Ultimately, the self-denying deacon decided to take the monastic vow, and the patriarch accompanied him to the monastery of Saint Macarius for this purpose. After he had been in the monastic garb for some time, his sanctity became known outside the confines of his monastery.
A man of great piety named Jirjis, from the district of Burullus, nominated him for the bishopric of Misr (al-Fustat), whose bishop, Anba Jirja, had just died. The patriarch readily summoned the deacon to consecrate him for the vacant bishopric. Though Mark responded to the patriarchal command by coming to Burullus, he utterly refused the elevation to the episcopate, and the faithful had to chain him in anticipation of his acceptance. But he persisted in his refusal and managed to escape his iron fetters and return to his convent. The patriarch’s wrath for this disobedience and flight was appeased only when a man of great piety told him that Mark was not meant for the episcopate, but that a prophecy had designated him for succession to the throne of Saint Mark, even against his will.
The patriarch, in the company of Anba Mikha’il, bishop of Misr, and Anba Jirja, bishop of Memphis, went to the governor, al-Layth ibn al-Fadl, who was sympathetic toward the Christians, to pay the annual kharaj tax, after which they sailed back to Alexandria. It was during their passage to the capital that John felt the end approaching. Before his death, he declared to the bishops that he regarded Mark as his worthy successor.
- Prise, F., ed. The Book of Calendars. New York, 1982.