Saint Zacharias


The eighth-century bishop of Sakha (feast day: 21 Amshir). The son of a presbyter, Zacharias received adequate training in profane and ecclesiastical letters to open for himself a career as secretary of the diwan. Arabic was prescribed for official documents in 706, which would indicate that Zacharias was proficient in Arabic and Greek as well as in his native Coptic, still the spoken language of Egypt in the first century of Arab rule.

Disenchanted with service at the diwan, he and his friend and companion Aplatas, governor of Sakha, decided to take vows in the monastery of JOHN COLOBOS in the wilderness of SCETIS. Their ascetic training was performed under ABRAHAM AND GEORGE of that monastery.

In his search for men of spiritual excellence and profound learning for the episcopate, SIMON I, late seventh-century patriarch Alexandria, selected Zacharias and ordained him bishop of Salcha, where he is reported to have served thirty years. Since his homily on Jonah and Nineveh is dated in the year 715, he must still have been active under Patriarch ALEXANDER II in the early eighth-century. Testimony of his gifts as a writer and preacher are the homilies, which survive until the present.

One of his major works concerned John Colobos, the saint of his monastery. Zacharias not only produced an edifying homily for the memorial day of that saint, 20 Babah, but he developed it into a comprehensive historical treatise as well. This work may be classified as a biography in the form of a panegyric. Zacharias recorded written sources for his work, including the APOPHTHEGMATA PATRUM of older times, obviously an epitome of the great Greek book, as well as a separate tradition from POEMEN. He also quoted oral information transmitted from patristic sources and inserted a piece of anti-Chalcedonian polemic in his work composed in full harmony with the prevailing rules of classical Coptic rhetoric. A Bohairic version of this work is known, as well as a partial Sahidic one; there is also an extant Arabic recension.

Further treatises on the spiritual life and history of his monastery can be found in the Panegyrics of Zacharias, notably those related to his mentors, Apa Abraham and Apa George, which were transmitted in Arabic.

The consolation homily on Jonah is an example of the attempt of Zacharias to explain the Bible. Because of two epidemic diseases that devastated great parts of Lower Egypt, Zacharias was prompted to deal with Jonah and his tribulations. Zacharias wrote another famous homily in a Coptic (Bohairic) original in which he discusses Jesus’ presentation in the Temple and the blessing of Simeon (Lk. 2:22-35). The comments of Zacharias on the Incarnation are extant as well as comments on the exchange between Simeon and Mary, the Eucharist (with a special prayer), and the deportment of Christians after receiving the Eucharist. He describes in eloquent terms the connection between Simeon holding the Infant Jesus and the Christians receiving the eucharistic elements.

Several Arabic recensions of an extensive homily on the Holy Family in Egypt are still extant. In surveying the journey of the Holy Family, Zacharias chronicles every site known to him.

Zacharias is an important figure in Coptic literature (especially Bohairic) and he was a fine preacher, a master in the use of faultless rhetoric, filling his homilies with historical and ascetic pronouncements. Arabic translations of his works indicate the esteem with which he was regarded even during his lifetime. In fact, many details of Zacharias’ illustrious career still remain to be brought to light.


  • Amélineau, E. Histoire des monastères de la Basse-Egypte, vie des Saints Paul, Antoine, Macaire, Maxime et Domèce, ed. Jean Le Nain. Annales du Musée Guimet 25, pp. 316-410; 411-25. Paris 1894.
  • Evelyn-White, H. G., and W. Hauser. The Monasteries of the Wadi ’n Natrun, Part 2, p. 285. New York, 1932.
  • Hebbelynck, A., and A. van Lantschoot. Codices Coptici Vaticani, Barberiniani, Borgiani, Rossiani, Vol. 1, pp. 386-87, 393-94, 503-506. Vatican City, 1937.
  • Hopfner, T. Über die koptisch-sa‘idischen Apophthegmata Patrum Aegyptiorum. Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, Philosophisch-historische Klasse, Denkschriften 61, Part 2: Abhandlung, pp. 33-37. Vienna, 1918. But Zacharias wrote no book of the holy elders of the desert; see H. J. Polotsky, in Orientalistische Literaturzeitung, Vol. 33, 1930, cols. 871-81, especially col. 872, now also in Collected Papers, pp. 342-347, Jerusalem, 1971. This work is a recension of Vis, below.
  • Müller, C. D. G. Die alte koptische Predigt (Versuch eines Überblicks). Ph. D. diss. Heidelberg, 1953, pp. 23-24, 61-74, 300-49; published in Darmstadt, 1954.
  • . “Einige Bemerkungen zur ars praedicandi der alten koptischen Kirche.” Le Muséon 67 (1954):231-70.
  • Vis, H. de. Homélies coptes de la Vaticane. Coptica 2, pp. 1-30, 31-57. Copenhagen, 1929.
  • Wüstenfeld, F. Synaxarium das ist Heiligen-Kalender der Coptischen Christen, pp. 309-10. Gotha, 1979.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *