JOHN XVII, 105th patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (1726-1745). He was a native of Mallawi in Upper Egypt. As a young man by the name of ‘Abd-al-Sayyid, he retired to the monastery of Saint Paul (DAYR ANBA BULA) in the Eastern Desert for some years. He started by taking the monastic vow and was ultimately made presbyter by his predecessor PETER VI, who died in 1726. Consequently, he was escorted to Cairo in 1727 and consecrated as patriarch in the church of Saint Mercurius (ABU SAYFAYN).
During his reign, the Coptic community suffered greatly from the imposition of extraordinary taxation from which the hierarchy could not escape. In 1733, a firman (Turkish decree) was issued by the Ottoman sultan in Constantinople, whereby the kashif (governor) of each district was ordered to fine every Christian and Jew. These fines were divided into three categories to cope with the financial ability of each individual, including the clergy. The first category was assessed at 420 paras (dry measures) a head, the second at 270, and the third at 100. Coupled with a general state of famine and the failure in the crops that caused the price of an artep (dry measure) of wheat to soar to six gold dinars, many poor Copts failed to meet the new impost and were saved from punishment only by the intercession of certain archons in the Coptic society. The HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS mentions the names of Mu‘allim Nayruz, Mu‘allim Rizq al-Badawi, Mu‘allim Banub al-Ziftawi, and others who came to the rescue of their poorer coreligionists and saved them from incarceration by paying their dues.
The hardships to which people were subjected were multiplied by the general atmosphere of insecurity, the tyrannical rule of the Mamluks, and the continuous strife and murder of the amirs themselves. In the year A.H. 1155 (1742), an episode of this kind occurred when an amir by the name of ‘Uthman Bey was nominated sanjaq (ruler) against the will of the armed forces. The soldiers consequently took arms to stop the appointment and attacked and pillaged ‘Uthman's residence, from whence he fled to Upper Egypt and finally made his escape to Turkey.
The patriarch coped with the internal imposition, famine, and pestilence, but he also struggled with the Roman Catholic missionary tide, which attempted to proselytize the Copts. In fact, this movement toward proselytization, which had begun earlier, persisted during this and subsequent patriarchates. Through education and the dispatch of Coptic children to Rome, the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries hoped to sow the seeds of Catholicism in Egypt. Roman delegates worked hard in fruitless negotiations with the patriarchs to bring them to Roman obedience.
In the end, Pope Benedict XIV gave up the idea of trying to unite the Coptic church with the Roman church. In 1741 he consecrated a Roman Catholic metropolitan in Egypt, a position parallel to the native patriarch. His nominee, Athanasius, was a Copt who resided in Jerusalem. Athanasius appointed a native priest by the name of Justus Maraylik as his vicar-general in Egypt. In 1745, Justus appeared to receive a long letter of instructions directly from Pope Benedict. It was at this time that RUFA’IL AL-TUKHI was appointed Catholic bishop of Arsinoë. He was a native of Jirja, educated in Rome, and a convert with a great knowledge of Coptic. But he did not take residence for any length of time in his bishopric and instead returned to Rome, where he concentrated on the publication of a number of scholarly works pertaining to the Coptic church and Coptic language and literature. Facing these external difficulties, the Coptic patriarch had to work hard to keep his community intact.
After the death of abuna Krestodolu III (see ETHIOPIAN PRELATES) in 1743, the Abyssinian sovereign sent an embassy to the patriarch to ask for a new abun for the church of Ethiopia. The embassy consisted of three delegates, one Egyptian by the name of George and two Ethiopians named Likanios and Theodorus. The three were intercepted by the Muslim rulers at the port of Musawwa‘, and only Theodorus was able to make his escape after payment of a heavy ransom. He ultimately reached Cairo in 1745 when a new abun was soon nominated and dispatched with Theodorus to Abyssinia.
The spread of Roman Catholic activity in Egypt seems to have alarmed the sultan in Constantinople, who feared the increase of European influence within his realm. Sultan Mahmud I (1730-1754) consequently issued an order to the Greek patriarch to forbid his flock from attending foreign services on pain of a fine consisting of 1,000 purses. An Egyptian amir seized the occasion to arrest four Latin missionaries, who were freed only after payment of a heavy ransom.
An interesting episode occurred at this time, associated with a Coptic visionary who circulated a prophecy that the end of the world was coming in two days' time, on a Friday. Strangely, the prophecy was accepted by the Muslims, who said that the Copts were versed in astrology. With the approach of sunset on Friday, the fear-stricken people, apprehensive of the end of the world, were saved from perdition by one of the ‘ulemas’ (Muslim mentors) and a Muslim shaykh who solemnly announced that through the intercession of Sidi Ahmad al-Badawi, Sidi Ibrahim al-Disuqi, and Sidi al-Shafi‘i—three leading Muslim saints—the Almighty Allah granted their prayer and deferred the end of the world to a future date.
During John's patriarchate Richard POCOCKE made his famous journey to Egypt. Although he depended mainly on Muslim interpreters as well as the Roman Catholic missionaries, his accounts of the Copts and the Coptic churches are records of the highest interest. Foreign visitors were not mistreated by the natives, who found no purpose in abusing them. Thus, Pococke was able to travel around the country unharmed. He visited the city of al-Mahallah al-Kubra in the Delta, where he was told that 500 Copts constituted a fair number of its inhabitants. Afterward he ascended the Nile valley to the cities of Akhmim and Suhaj, where he saw the White and Red monasteries of ANBA BISHOI and ANBA SHINUDAH. Besides these impressive Coptic establishments, he went to Armant and there saw with admiration and astonishment its magnificent church, one of the oldest in Egypt. The country was relatively quiet during Pococke's visit. Another traveler, a captain in the Dutch navy named Frederick Norden, also visited Egypt in the same period and wrote voluminous accounts of his visit, but they have little bearing on the Copts.
From 1736 to 1743, the most powerful man in Egypt was ‘Uthman (Bey) Zulfiqar, who displayed only one virtue by not accepting bribes, but was tyrannical in his treatment of his subjects, Christian and Muslim alike. Unlike the Mamluk amirs, however, he escaped assassination and made his way to Constantinople, although his house was pillaged and sacked by local rebels and unruly soldiers.
Toward the end of John's patriarchate, in 1745, the sultan Mahmud I issued a secret order to the pasha of Egypt, Muhammad Raghib, to exterminate the troublesome but very powerful Katamish and Dimyati families. The pasha seized the opportunity to try to massacre all the Mamluk beys in a general meeting at the diwan. Evidently all came prepared for treachery and were heavily armed for defense. Thus only three of their number were killed and the rest fled to Upper Egypt, where they mustered forces for a civil war in which the Christians, as usual, suffered more than the Muslims.
AZIZ S. ATIYA
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