John XI (?-1452)

JOHN XI (?-1452)

A Patriarch (89th, 1427-1452), ecumenist. John XI presided over the Coptic Orthodox Church during a difficult period marked by coerced conversions away from the Church, confiscation of the property of Copts and other dhimmis, and the destruction and pillaging of churches. Especially tragic for the Coptic community was the destruction in 1436 of the famous Marian pilgrimage center of Dayr al-Maghtis, near Lake Burullus in the north of the Delta.

In the midst of such difficulties, John’s contacts with Christian leaders outside Egypt took on special importance. He received the Syrian Orthodox patriarch in 1430 and was in regular contact with the great Ethiopian Emperor Zar’a Ya‘qob (1434-1468), although this sometimes aroused the suspicion and ire of the Mamluk authorities. In 1440, a delegation from Roman Catholic Pope Eugene IV invited John to join the union that had just been concluded between the Latin and Greek churches at the Council of Florence. John responded with a letter in Arabic to Pope Eugene, which he sent to Florence with a delegation of Coptic and Ethiopian monks led by Andrea, superior of the Monastery of St. Antony.

John’s letter, which has recently been edited with a commentary (by Philippe Luisier; see the bibliography), was the first of many written by Coptic patriarchs to Latin popes and high officials over the next three centuries. Although fulsome in its (often rhymed) expressions of respect for and gratitude to the Roman pope, John’s letter clearly reflects the medieval Copto-Arabic theological tradition and makes no concessions to the Latins, either on matters of papal primacy or on matters of Christology. All the same, in 1442 a bull of union between the Latin and Coptic churches, Cantate Domino, was signed by their representatives in Florence.

GAWDAT GABRA

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