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THE COPTS AND COPTIC BISHOPS MAY LEARN A THING OR TWO FROM SYNESIUS BISHOP OF PTOLEMAIS IN THE PENTAPOLIS OF LIBYA

May 25, 2019

Synesius of Cyreneca (c. 373 – 414) was a Greek from Pentapolis in present day Libya. He was a Neo-Platonic philosopher who turned Christian later. He was married to an Egyptian wife and had three sons of her who sadly died in his life time. In 409 AD, the Coptic Patriarch, Theophilus (384 – 412), ordained him bishop of Ptolemais, one of the five Roman cities of Pentapolis (or Cyrenaica). Pentapolis was administatively under the Prefect of Alexandria, and ecclesiastically under the Archbishop of Alexandria.

Synesius was an extraordinary man and bishop, not so much because of his erudition but because of his believe in his civic duty of protecting his community. He did that before and after his ordination as bishop. Pentapolis in his days was cursed by wicked and weak governors, by earthquakes, famines and epidemics, and by frequent onslaughts by the Berber nomads who massacred and destroyed villages and cities in the region.

In the absence of effective defence by the imperial governors, generals, and troops, Synesius could not stay passive: he formed voluntary defence forces from the civilans and faced the barbarians in battles to protect his people. When he took his bishopric responsibilities in 410, he could not participate in war himself, but he preached the duty of self-defence, encouraged his people to fight back, and even organised the deacons and laity in combat forces.

This is an extraordinary bishop within the Coptic Church. He left many writings that dealt with the issue of war. The Copts will do well by making themselves familiar with Bishop Synesius and his writings.

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