MARQUS IBN AL-QUNBAR (?-1208)
A Priest, reformer. Marqus ibn al-Qunbar (“son of the lark”), sometimes referred to as “Marqus the Blind,” flourished in the final third of the 12th century as a traveling priest and spiritual teacher who gathered a following known as the “Qanabira.” Falling afoul of Coptic Patriarch Mark III ibn Zur‘ah (73rd, 1166-1189), he and his followers went over to the Melchite Church. Later, perhaps after another round of switching allegiances, he attempted to return to the Coptic Church but was refused; having antagonized the hierarchies of two churches, he spent the last years of his life quietly at the Melchite Monastery of al-Qusayr, south of Cairo, where he died in 1208.
Marqus is an interesting witness to the language shift that was taking place among the Copts in the 12th century: He gathered great crowds to himself by teaching and interpreting the Bible in Arabic at a time when Coptic Christian theology and culture were still largely bound to the Coptic language. His importance to Coptic Church history lies especially in a cluster of ideas that he insistently promoted (as can be seen from his allegorical Commentary on the Pentateuch and from the catechetical Book of the Master and the Disciple in eight chapters): that every Christian should partake of the Eucharistic elements frequently, though only after confession to a spiritual master and performance of penance, necessitating that every Christian have a spiritual master or father-confessor.
Although Marqus’ ideas (including a number of Melchite teachings that he adopted) were firmly rejected by Mikha’il, Metropolitan of Damietta, his insistence on recovering the ancient practice of auricular confession to a priest—which had fallen out of practice in the 12th-century Coptic Church—began a debate that continued into the next century, when auricular confession received support in The Book of Confession, written by Da’ud al-Fayyumi (before he became Patriarch Cyril III ibn Laqlaq), Bulus al-Bushi, and al-As‘ad ibn al-‘Assal.