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January 3, 2014

Yoannis 19Coptic Patriarch 113, Pope Yoannis (John) XIX (1928 – 1942)- mosaic at the Cathedral of Saint Mark in Azbakiyya, Cairo, where he resided (Photo, Michael Ghali

Professor Johannes den Heijer says in the Coptic Encyclopaedia under History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, quoting Kamil Salih Nakhlah,[i] that the recent lives of Coptic Patriarchs 110-113 are “due to the keeper of the Patriarchal Library, the hegumenos ‘Abd al-Masih Salib al-Mas’udi of Dayr al-Baramus.”[ii] The 110th patriarch is Kyrillos (Cyril) IV (1854 – 1861); the 111th patriarch is Demetrius II (1861 -1870); the 112th is Kyrillos (Cyril) V (1874 – 1927); and the 113th is Yoannis (John) XIX (1928 – 1942).

The History of the Coptic Patriarchs (for that is what I prefer to call it)[iii] is published in its entirety, in both its Arabic original and English translation, by the Société d’archéologie copte in Cairo under the title, History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church: known as the History of the Holy Church / by Sawirus ibn al-Mukaffa`, Bishop of al-Ashmunin. The last life it covers is that of the 112th Patriarch, Kyrillos (Cyril) V;[iv] however, it does not extend to his repose date in 1927 but ends in 1894. The published History of the Coptic Patriarchs, therefore, misses 33 years of Kyrillos V[v] life as patriarch and does not include the life of Yoannis XIX. So, where is the Life of Patriarch Yoannis XIX?

Hegumenos (Qumus)[vi] ‘Abd al-Masih Salib al-Mas’udi was a Coptic monk at the Monastery of al-Baramus (Monastery of the Romans) in Wadi al-Natrun, and keeper of the Patriarchal Library in Cairo for some time. His date of birth is unknown to me and it is likely that he died in 1932 or shortly thereafter. He is known to have authored several books and edited and published others, the Al-Kholagi al-Muqaddas (Holy Liturgy) being the most famous.[vii] In one of his books, tuhfat al-sa’ileen fi zikr  ad’yrat ruhban al-masry’yeen, which is about Coptic monasteries, he adds a short biography of  Yoannis XIX, but only up to 1932, the year he published his book.

Yoannis XIX is interesting in Coptic history particularly because he was the first bishop and metropolitan to have been elected patriarch of the Coptic Church.[viii] Previously, patriarchs were elected from amongst monks and laymen who held no prior bishopric responsibility as the ecclesiastical canons stipulated.  During the patriarchate of Kyrillos V conflict erupted between some of the laity, who were represented in the Majlis al-Milli (Lay Council) and the clergy of the Church, headed by the Patriarch. The bone of contention was, inter alia, the control of the possessions (waqf)[ix] of churches and monasteries. In the context of that dispute, Yoannis XIX was elected, and he was a staunch defender of the Church awqaf. Al-Mas’udi, who was against the Community Council in its desire to cease all ecclesiastical waqf,[x] does not give us an adequate exposition of the new patriarch’s position on the matter but only a hint. The full story will have to wait for Iris Habib al-Masri to tell us in her qisat al-kaneesa al-qibtiyya (The Story of the Coptic Church), Volume 6A, which was published in 1985; but her book, though accepted by the Church, does not form part of the official history.

By the way, contrary to what Kamil Salih Nakhlah, who was quoted by Johannes den Heijer, believes, I do think, for reasons of textual criticism, that Qumus ‘Abd al-Masih Salib al-Mas’udi did not write only the lives of Coptic Patriarchs 110-113 but also those of Yoannis (John) XVIII (1769 – 1796), Marqus (Mark) VIII (1796 – 1809), and Butrus (Peter) VII (1809 – 1852), who are the 107th, 108th, and 109th patriarchs, respectively. But now I reproduce below the Life of Yoannis XIX, the 113th Patriarch, which is included in tuhfat al-sa’ileen fi zikr  ad’yrat ruhban al-masry’yeen, and one day, I hope, I would be able to translate it into English.


[i] Kamil Salih Nakhlah, kitab tarikh wa-jadawil batarikat al-iskandariyyah al-qibt. Tarikh al-ummah al-qibtiyyah 4 (Cairo, 1943).

[ii] Johannes den Heijer, History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria. In Coptic Encyclopedia; ed. A S Atiya; Vol. 4, p. 1241 (New York, 1991).

[iii] I find the title History of the Coptic Patriarchs more accurate and convenient to give to this work than any other title given such as History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria, which was given by B. Evett; History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church, which was given byO.H.E. Burmester et al; or even History of the Holy Church, which is the direct translation from the original name in Arabic تاريخ البيعة المقدسة.

[iv] The Lives of Cyril II to Cyril V (d. 1894), which were translated by Antoine Khater & O.H.E. Khs-Burmester, and appeared in 1970 as Volume III, Part III.

[v] It is not known to me if Hegumenos ‘Abd al-Masih Salib al-Mas’udi had updated the Life of Kyrillos V to include the years between 1894 and 1927.

[vi] Although qumus is often translated hegumenos, which in Eastern Orthodoxy means head of monastery, in the Coptic Church, qumus means archpriest.

[vii] Iris Habib al-Masri, qisat al-kaneesa al-qibtiyya, Volume 5 (Cairo, 1984); p. 108.

[viii] The two subsequent patriarchs, Macari (Macarius) III (1942 – 1945) and Yousab (Joseph) II (1946 – 1956) were also bishops before election to the patriarchate position.

[ix] For the meaning of Coptic waqf, see: Adel Azer Bestawros, Coptic waqf, Coptic Encyclopedia, Volume 7 (New York, 1991).

[x] Awqaf is the plural of waqf.

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