In the previous article, “Calumny” we tackled the choosing of Pope John IV through secret ballot. His name and those of two monks were written on three pieces of paper. Then, three masses were conducted. After that, a child was asked to grab one of these slips. Each time, the paper had monk John’s name on it. So, he was ordained patriarch. He was contemporary to caliph al-Mahdi, and was loved and trusted by everybody due to his decency and prudence.
No sooner than Pope John IV had sat on St. Mark See that he sent a communion message to the patriarch of Antioch which the latter gladly received. This showed the deep affection between the two churches. Then, the Pope started building and decorating churches, establishing a big church beside which was his residence. Due to the mutual love and respect between the Pope and proconsul of Egypt, the former restored churches and built St. Mark’s Church. The keenness on building and decorating churches filled the hearts of the congregation, which made them participate in both processes. Artists, architects, workers, and all the talented gave a hand. Likewise, some people donated money to the patriarch that he might continue the task successfully.
Not only did the Pope care for building and decorating churches, but also for his congregation. He gave them all sorts of spiritual, ideological, and material care. He also used to make them steadfast in the Orthodox faith. As we mentioned beforehand, the Melchite leader tried to make sedition between the Pope and the proconsul. Yet, he failed, for everybody strongly confided in the Pope.
It came to pass, however, that a severe famine struck the country. This took place as the harvest was quite scant. Hundreds of people died. This saddened the Pope immensely. So, he started to fast and pray fervently that God might show mercy and save the people, thus following prophet Jeremiah’s suit who used to weep before the Lord. Also, like prophet Isaiah, he would cry out, “O’ Lord! You are our Father. We are all but dust. You made us. Do not treat us according to our sins. Do not be angry for good. Do not remember our sins. O’ Lord! Look at us, for we are Your people.” Not only did he pray, but also opened the church’s warehouses, giving food to whoever was hungry, day and night, be they Copts or Muslims. Hence, whoever dropped by would find many people at his door, seeking help and getting it. He was as merciful as an angel. Thus, his good deeds became as sweet as incense which odor filled the country. Likewise, he used to entice the rich to help the poor and the needy, reminding them of their important role which God will ask them if they had performed it well. Also, he used to remind them that Bible said that charity saves from death, and never leaves anyone in the darkness.
People obeyed their loving father, helping the needy. Nobody was reluctant to offer charity, be it food or clothes, to the poor, especially widows and orphans who were suffering terribly from that tribulation. Thus, the Pope played a great role during the ordeal. Not only did he pray, fast and give the needy, but he also encouraged everybody to do so. God responded to his prayers. The next harvest was abundant. It even surpassed everybody’s needs!
After that, the patriarch of Antioch passed away. Another saintly patriarch, called Kyriako, was chosen. He cared a lot about emphasizing the love and communion between the two churches. He wrote a message to Pope John and dispatched it with a clerical delegation made up of the metropolitan of Damascus and two other bishops from Antioch. Pope John rejoiced. He read the message before the congregation. The metropolitan and the two bishops were amazed at the decorations, engravings, rituals, priests, and congregation in the church of Alexandria. Everybody was calm, and awed God.
After bishop Georgius of Babylon had departed, the congregation became sad: for he was a saintly man. So, they asked the Pope to ordain Mark, his secretary, bishop. The Pope rejoiced for he knew how pious and worthy of the grace of bishopric the man was. However, the moment the humble monk heard of the Pope’s intention, he fled and disappeared. Nobody knew where he was. This made the Pope ordain another monk, called Michael, bishop of Babylon.
Mark remained in his hiding place, which upset the Pope. So, he sent a message to a hermit, telling him he was still sad and angry with his beloved disciple for his disobedience and escape. The hermit replied in a message, telling the Pope that Mark’s fleeing from the bishopric is but God’s plan, for he will sit on St. Mark’s See after Pope John and take care of the congregation. The hermit wrote, “Do not be upset with your child for disobeying you; God had preserved him to take over after you.” The Pope rejoiced, and kept fetching his disciple until he found him and returned him to his post. Mark obeyed and accompanied the Pope wherever he went.
We spoke beforehand about Dehiya the Umayyad who rebelled in Upper Egypt. He made himself caliph of Egypt. Many Upper Egyptians followed him. He became so powerful that the proconsul could hardly resist him. Conflicts broke out fiercely there. It was only when al-Mahdi sent al-Fadl bin Saleh to Upper Egypt that these conflicts were overcome, and the country settled down. The proconsul was just. He treated the Copts gently, and was on good terms with Pope John. Later, he was deposed to be succeeded by Ali bin Soliman.
During his tenure, Ali bin Soliman decreed the demolition of the churches, though he treated Copts gently. This made others demolish more churches. Historians like Taghribirdi, Al-Kindi, and Al-Maqrizi say that Ali bin Soliman was just. He was kind to his subjects. He used to decree what is correct, and prohibit what is wrong. He prohibited nightclubs and wines. He demolished churches throughout Egypt. Copts asked him to leave their churches intact against fifty thousand dinars, but he refused and went on demolishing churches.
Al-Kindi wrote that he demolished a church called after St. Mary which was close to St. Shenouda’s church. Likewise, he demolished the churches of Constantine’s Fortress. When this sad news reached the Pope, he moved from Alexandria to Fustat to see to these churches’ issue. He was quite sad and pained for the demolition of the churches about which historians recount lots of stories… Stories never end in Beautiful Egypt.