YUSAB I, saint and fifty-second patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (830-849). Yusab was an orphaned child born in the city of Upper Minuf (MINUF AL-‘ULYA). He was adopted by a Coptic archon from Nikiou, where he lived to the age of maturity and began to aspire to monastic life and the flight to the wilderness of Wadi Habib. Tadrus, his sponsor, took him to Alexandria, where he introduced him to Pope MARK II, who took charge of his education. Mark entrusted him to one of his deacons to teach him Greek and acquaint him with the Byzantine world before sending him to the monastery of Saint Macarius (DAYR ANBA MAQAR). There, again, Mark entrusted him to an enlightened HEGUMENOS by the name of Paul, who continued his instruction, not only in Coptic but also in Coptic church rites and traditions. In due course, he was made a deacon and ultimately became a priest, confirmed by Pope Mark himself. He spent most of his time in prayer and studying the lives of the great fathers of the church. His sanctity and Christian humility, as well as his theological knowledge, became known to his colleagues and to the archons and clergy in the valley. Nevertheless, after the death of his mentor, the hegumenos Paul, he led the life of a recluse until the time came when the bishops decided to recruit him for the patriarchate.
Following the death of Simon II, the clergy and the bishops as well as the archons in Alexandria were divided on the question of nomination to the throne of Saint Mark, and a strong party was lured by the immense wealth of a certain Coptic layman residing in al-Fustat (Cairo) named Ishaq ibn Andunah, who coveted the throne of Saint Mark, which he was offered. He himself approached the Muslim governor of Alexandria, ‘Abdallah ibn Yazid, and promised him a thousand dinars if he could help him attain that dignity by dissuading other bishops from the search for another candidate. But Ishaq was a married man with children, not just a layman, and this would constitute a serious departure from established church tradition. Hence, the older bishops, including Mikha’il, bishop of Bilbeis; Mikha’il, bishop of Sa; John, bishop of Bana; and others, decided to call a general synod to consider the situation. The bishops supporting Ishaq ibn Andunah included Zacharias, bishop of Awsim, and Tadrus, bishop of Misr, who were silenced and put to shame for the breach of church tradition. When a decision was reached, the loyal bishops informed the local governor of Alexandria that they would go to al-Fustat to put their case before the governor of the whole of Egypt. Thus, the intimidated local governor had no choice but to sanction their request.
After the solution of this rather bizarre problem, the loyal bishops proceeded to the monastery of Saint Macarius and approached the monk Yusab in his solitary cell, offering him the throne of Saint Mark. He protested their request in all humility and said in tears that he was below that dignity. The delegation insisted, put Yusab in chains, and conducted him by force to Alexandria, where he was consecrated against his will on 21 Hatur.
After his inauguration, Yusab first devoted his attention to the material welfare of the church, which was dwindling. He sponsored the cultivation of vineyards and the establishment of mills and oil presses, rather than using the funds of the church in church building, which seemed to infuriate some of the faithful who thought that the Muslim administration might be tempted to exploit these lucrative foundations. The persons commissioned with the levy of the kharaj tax at the time were Ahmad ibn al-Asbat and Ibrahim ibn Tamim, who laid a heavy hand on the patriarch and the community while a sudden wave of famine and pestilence befell the country. People were perishing like flies and were stricken by such hunger as to offer their children for sale just to survive. The inhabitants rebelled against these humiliating pressures and extraordinary financial imposts.
The contemporary caliphs were al-Ma’mun (813-833); al-Mu‘tasim (833-842), known in the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS as Ibrahim; al-Wathiq (842-847); and al-Mutawakkil (847-861), all members of the Abbasid dynasty. During the reign of al-Ma’mun the Coptic rebellion flared up in Egypt, its most dangerous center being the marshland of the Bashmurites, who were able to kill the Muslim soldiers and flee behind their unapproachable marshes in the north Delta of the Nile. Al-Ma’mun dispatched his strong battalions under the leadership of one of his ablest generals, al-Afshin, who slew the conspirators and rebels from the Eastern part of Egypt until he reached Alexandria. Yusab, in profound grief, could only watch the murder of his flock. The situation was worsened by the outbreak of pestilence and famine. So serious was the situation that al-Ma’mun himself had to come to Egypt. He brought with him Dionysius, patriarch of Antioch, and summoned Yusab for an audience to command him to prevail upon his Bashmurite flock to desist from the killing of Muslim soldiers and to live in peace. Apparently the patriarch undertook the mission ordained by the caliph, but without ostensible results, for the Bashmurites continued their conflict with the Muslim soldiers. Eventually, al-Ma’mun mustered greater armies and with the help of local villagers, notably those of Tandah and Shubra-Sanbut, sought to discover the hiding places of the Bashmurites. In this way, the Bashmurites were defeated and massacred and their homes and villages put to flames.
All this happened within sight of the grieving patriarch, whose reign turned out to be a sorry age for the community of the faithful. The History of the Patriarchs records an episode that sheds light on the character of Yusab: in an attempt to conciliate his old rival Ishaq ibn Andunah, Yusab made him a deacon of the church. Nevertheless, the two disloyal bishops who had supported the nomination of Ishaq continued to stir up trouble against Yusab and were consequently deposed and excommunicated. One of the two visited al-Afshin, the military commander, to persuade him to kill Yusab, but his maneuver failed, and the patriarch remained safe and secure until his death. Caliph al-Ma’mun issued a special decree requesting patriarchal mediation for the pacification of the remaining Bashmurites, which he did in his later years. He also mediated with Nubia and Abyssinia on behalf of the Muslim state. Within the church, he filled the void caused by the deposition of the bishops of Misr and Awsim. He entrusted the episcopal seat of Misr to his old rival Ishaq ibn Andunah, while also consecrating him as bishop of Awsm. Apparently Ibn Andunah retained the two bishoprics until his death.
SUBHI Y. LABIB
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