JOHN OF PARALLOS, SAINT (c. 540-610/620) (feast day: 19 Kiyahk),
bishop of Nikiou in lower Egypt, who was one of the most important Egyptian churchmen and theologians of his time. John of Parallos (Burullus in Arabic) vigorously opposed heresy in his writings and as an active participant in church politics; possibly he was valued adviser to DAMIAN, patriarch of Alexandria. He was probably born about 540 in a respected clerical family of Lower Egypt. Like his parents he was recognized for his charity. After their death he used his inheritance to build a hospice, where he himself cared for the sick and wandering. A monk who visited him in his hospice persuaded him to relinquish all he owned and follow an ascetic life.
Accordingly, he became a monk in the Monastery of DAYR ANBA MAQAR (Monastery of Saint Macarius) in Scetis under the hegumenos Daniel. Later he became an anchorite as a better way to confront the devil. He was probably ordained in 576 by PETER IV, patriarch of Alexandria.
We can reconstruct John’s activities from his writings, as well as from the Copto-Arabic SYNAXARION. Undoubtedly he knew Greek and Coptic, and perhaps Syriac. Standing firmly against every heresy, he did not share the Coptic inclination to search for instruction in unorthodox books or in the Egyptian Gnostic quest to decipher God’s secrets not found in the Bible. Rather, he labored arduously against any book encompassing doctrines or revelations additional to those recognized as orthodox. He investigated monastery libraries and burned virtually every such book that he found.
He wrote a Homily about the archangel Michael in which he condemned the heretical books read in the orthodox churches in the Coptic (Sahidic) language. He mentioned five such heretical books, among them The Institution of Saint Michael. He supported the teachings of the Bible, denying later revelations about the creation of angels, The Institution of Saint Michael, and the fall of Satan. In a similar manner, he decried teachings about ABBATON, the angel of the dead. The Institution of Saint Michael, however, survived in Sahidic and Fayyumic versions, written in the second half of the eighth century, which were discovered in the Monastery of Saint Michael at Sopehes on the southwestern border of the Fayyum.
As a theologian of strict orthodoxy, John influenced seven groups of Christians who were following unorthodox doctrines to return to the official faith. He also grappled with two visionary monks who claimed to have been inspired by the archangel Michael and the Prophet Habakkuk and who were able to mislead many of the faithful. Nevertheless, he found opponents not only in the strong Syrian colony in Lower Egypt but also in his own circles.
Other bishops did not follow his teachings, nor did all of the patriarchs (e.g., JOHN III in the seventh century).
Other writings by John include works about the Resurrection and the Last Judgment, as well as about the verses of the Psalms, “the Lord shall rejoice in His works” and “who has dealt bountifully with me is the Lord” (Ps. 104 :37 and 116 :7). He composed other treatises on the holy and orthodox faith; on the right faith; and thirteen anathemas on the Confessio patrum (against Christological errors; taken out of a book entitled Tartib al-Kanisah [Order of the church]). He left a life of the Holy Virgin Damiana. All these works are extant in Arabic or Ethiopic translations. The originals were, of course, Coptic.
John of Parallos played a major part in the dogmatic controversy between DAMIAN, patriarch of Alexandria, and Peter of Kallinikon in Syria, where he stayed for four months, helping Damian. It is possible that he contributed to the redaction of Damian’s treatises sent to Syria.
- Lantschoot, A. van. “Fragments coptes d’une homélie de Jean de Parallos contre les livres hérétiques.” Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati 1, offprint with own pagination. Studi e Testi 121, pp. 1-31. Vatican City, 1946.
- . “Un texte palimpseste de Vat. Copte 65.” Le Muséon 60 (1947):261-68.
- Müller, C. D. G. Die alte koptische Predigt (Versuch eines Überblicks), pp. 102-103, 150-56, 300-349. Darmstadt, 1954.
- . “Einige Bemerkungen zur ars praedicandi der alten koptischen Kirche.” Le Muséon 67 (1954):231-70.
- . “Die koptische Kirche zwischen Chalkedon und dem Arabereinmarsch.” Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 75 (1964):271-308.
- . “Aufbau und Entwicklung der koptischen Kirche nach Chalkedon 457.” Kyrios 10 (1970):202-210.
- Wüstenfeld, H. F. Synaxarium, das ist, Heiligen-Kalender der Coptischen Christen, pp. 187-89. Gotha, 1979.
C. DETLEF G. MÜLLER