The saint and sixty-eighth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (1092-1102). Little is known about Michael’s secular life before he took the monastic vow, nor do we know with precision the date of his enrollment in the monastic order. Historical references to him start with the statement that he was a middle-aged monk who, after attaining the priesthood, decided to become solitary in a secluded cell at SINJAR. There a deputation of bishops and clergy, together with a number of leading Coptic archons, mainly from Alexandria, offered him the church leadership. The group had first convened in Alexandria, then in Cairo, where they were joined by a number of Upper Egyptian bishops.
They were directed to a Syrian solitary monk by the name of Samuel by a deacon of the monastery of Saint Macarius. On interviewing Samuel, however, they had doubts about his orthodoxy and his knowledge of Coptic church traditions. Finally their search led them to Michael at Sinjar, to whom they offered the patriarchate on certain conditions, which he accepted in writing. Michael agreed that he would not use simony (CHEIROTONIA); that he would not claim any share in episcopal income; and that he would return to the bishops all the religious property and churches that his predecessors had confiscated.
After signing this document, Michael accompanied the delegation to Alexandria for his consecration, then to DAYR ANBA MAQAR, and finally to the Mu‘allaqah church in Old Cairo, where the seat of the patriarchate had been moved from Alexandria during the tenure of Pope CHRISTODOULUS (1047-1077).
There was no reticence on Michael’s part in accepting the nomination, as there had been with many previous patriarchs. And it is doubtful that he ever intended to keep his written promises to the delegation. His patriarchate was filled from the outset by problems relating to his signed documents, which he wanted to recover from the bishops after his investiture. After he became patriarch, he denied his promises and refused to return the confiscated churches and monasteries to the bishops. This resulted in a major clash between them—especially with Anba Sinhut, bishop of Misr. Michael even threatened the possessors of the signed document with excommunication if his will was resisted.
Anba Sinhut eventually had to flee to Dayr Anba Samu’il in Qalamun in the Fayyum province, where he found shelter from patriarchal wrath. But Anba Sinhut was popular with the congregation, which sent a delegation to the patriarch to seek a solution to the problem. They hinted that they might appeal to the Islamic state as a last resort. Thus, the intimidated patriarch had no choice but to absolve the bishop of Misr and allow him to return to his diocese. The root of the problem, which was the common interest of both in the finances and the ecclesiastical organization of a diocese shared between them, remained unsolved.
As a solution to the problem, the patriarch started to contemplate the excommunication of Anba Sinhut, who again fled, this time to the more distant Monastery of Saint Severus (DAYR ANBA SAWIRUS) in the region of Asyut. In 1102, Michael was stricken by the plague and died after a few days.
Perhaps the most momentous international event during Michael’s reign was the beginning of the Crusade movement in Western Europe and the fall of Jerusalem to the Latins in 1099. For the Copts this was a major event, since the Roman Catholic occupants of the Holy Land regarded the Coptic Monophysites as heretics and consequently barred them from pilgrimage to the holy places. This situation persisted until the recovery of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187.
- Lane-Poole, S. History of Egypt in the Middle Ages. London, 1901.
SUBHI Y. LABIB