St. Shenouda Coptic Newsletter

Volume 2, No. 4 July 1996

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ST. SHENOUDA'S WRITINGS (5) (by Ashraf Hanna)


This is a continuation of a text translation from an Arabic sermon of St. Shenouda read on the 5th Sunday during Lent in the Coptic Church. The text preserves a Coptic tradition of the ancient story of Barlam and Yuwasaf, widely known in the Christian East. The text was transcribed from a microfilm copy of Paris Arabe 4761 (CML 1592). The first part was published in Volume 2, No. 3 of this Newsletter. This selection continues with the story that Barlam was telling Yuwasaf about the man who was holding fast to worldly pride.


... And then (the man) found honey seeping down from the tree and this man began to eat and forgot [what] sorrows he was in [ ] because of [ ] the honey.

And as he was like this, there came a wise [...] man [and he passed] by this (47R) mentioned man and said to him, "O ignorant one, who is mindless, who was distracted by the sweetness of the honey which is like eating and drinking and the desire of sexual intercourse and drunkenness and lavish spending and enjoyment. Do you not know that this lion, chasing you, is death who has no mercy on old man or little child and does not let the groom knows his bride and spares none till he takes him against his will. It is death who separates the beloved ones and keeps no one as (was) said to our father Adam, 'you are dust and to the dust you shall return.' So it was fulfilled and it became. Do you not know O ignorant man that the tree, that you are distracted by the sweetness of the honey (coming) out of it, is the life span given to you from God your creator. Do you not know that the two branches (47V) at which the rats were biting on, and soon will be cut off, are the night and the day who make the many years get closer until they become hours and degrees and minutes and the end gets nearer and the life gets closer to an end and the spirit parts from its body and becomes in the hands of he who will have no mercy upon it.

Because our father Adam and his sons lived for many years and out of them was Metushaleh who lived nine hundred and sixty-nine years and lord Noah and many others lived for long years and (despite) the multitude of days and nights, their lives ended as if they did not live but for few days . Or do you not know O ignorant man that the four serpents which you could not put your feet upon them because of their much colliding against (48R) each other, they are the four seasons of the year that changes upon you while you are not paying attention. They are the winter, the summer, the heat(?) and the autumn. And during each term of them you don not see its like except in another year if you stayed in your world without departing. And as for the well that you are in, it resembles the grave that will becomes yours after you depart your world and you will stay in it alone by yourself.

And those who were loving and caring and compassionate unto you, they will be unto you abandoning and forgetting, as the saying of David the prophet in some psalms 'I was forgotten from the heart like the dead one and became like a vessel that rotted, this is the conclusion of life.'

And you O man, occupied with a little enjoyment with the sweetness of the trip of life, do you (48V) not fear from the enjoyment that will lead you to destruction.

O this one, do you not fear from the disasters and your falling into this well in which you are staying in fear and trembling and occupied with the sweetness of the honey which is a symbol of your situation as we previously mentioned to you about the affairs of the world . And in a few days and nights your life will end and you will fall and will lose what you are hanging on to of the branches which its fall has neared.

And you see this terrible snake who is opening its mouth, desiring to swallow you, it resembles the lower Hades. This whom, when you depart your life without a deed pleasing to your Creator, will accompany you to your end (and you) will go to him and become tortured with the demons and will ask for help or salvation (49R) but will find none. As the saying of David the prophet in the sixth psalm, 'there is no one in death that will remember you nor anyone in Hades will thank you.' And he who does not remember God nor thank Him is one of the condemned.

Woe and woe unto him who will not be ready before leaving his world. If someone neglects getting ready to meet his Master, then what had happened to the five foolish virgins will also happen to him. Those whom when they knocked on the door to enter, He answered them saying, 'I do not know you', because they took little oil and did not get ready to meet Him like the wise ones.

Because God is compassionate and merciful for the sinner who repents unto Him. As He says in the Holy Gospel, 'that angels of heaven become joyful with one sinner who repents more than (49V) ninety-nine righteous ones who do not need repentance" ..............

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Hidden among other Bohairic Literary manuscripts on deposit in the Vatican Apostolic Library, is an Encomium (or eulogy) of an unknown Coptic Martyr from the 13th century AD. His name is John, from a village in Upper Egypt, called Phanidjoit or El-Zaitoun in Arabic. The manuscript was part of about 100 hagiographic and literary Bohairic manuscripts, acquired by the Vatican from the Coptic Monastery of Abu-Maqar in the 18th century. Raphael El-Tukhi was the first to transcribe the manuscript for the benefit of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith in the Vatican. G. Zoega later on, published some excerpts from it in his monumental catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in that Society. Prof. Amelineau, over a century ago, used El-Tukhi's transcription to publish the Coptic Text with a French translation. The customary textual imperfections in Amelineau's copy was corrected by Prof. Hyvernat in his edition of several Coptic Martyrdoms, early this century. In 1901, Prof. Casanova published a detailed study of the text, attempting to hypothetically reconstruct an Arabic original of it. Currently, Prof. Zanetti of the Society of the Bollandists is publishing an article about this saint in French.


This text is preserved in a single parchment manuscript of 32 pages, arranged in two quires of 16 pages each. The text is written in one column, Bohairic only, in 33-34 lines per page. It is dated by the scribe in 1210 AD. It is bound as the second of seven manuscripts in Vatican Coptic Codex 69. The text includes an introductory paragraph written in a colorful frame of interwoven design. No other decoration is used in the text except for some simple design of the initial letter of each paragraph and a distinctive heading used to mark the end and the beginning of the quire. Some textual corrections can be seen in text. All probably are attributed to the scribe, Peter son of Abu El-Farag of Damanhur, or to the author, Mark the priest and disciple of a bishop in Lower Egypt.

The Text:

The text is arranged in three main sections, as follows:

The first section is a beautifully-composed text about the saint's conversion to Islam and his return again to the Christian fold. A return, when he made it in public, led to his beheading. The second and third sections are more historical in nature. Their style shows that of someone that was at least thinking in Arabic and trying to write it in Coptic. His record of the conversations that took place was intentionally written in a Coptic literal translation of the Arabic that was used in such conversation. His Biblical quotation and vocabulary are consistent with that of priest familiar mostly with the liturgical Coptic used in the Church at the time. His tone was anti-Islam and hopeful that other Christians will display the same courage that St. John displayed.

The Martyrdom:

In summary, this martyrdom is that of a linen-merchant who lived in an Upper-Egyptian village called Phanidjoit. His profession took him to Cairo where he dealt mostly with women, in particular Moslem ones. Such association eventually led to his falling in sin and consequently he was forced to abandon Christianity in favor of Islam. This happened sometime during the reign of Osman the Ayyubite (1193-98 AD). The resultant unholy union brought forth children. He eventually repented and returned back to his faith. He apparently took the children with him and took refuge in a village nearby his own, called Pepleu. This village, due to the benevolence of its ruler, was a haven for Christians who returned back to their faith.

He stayed there for a number of years until he felt within himself that it was time to declare our Lord Jesus Christ publicly by petitioning the Ayyubite king to grant him a pardon to officially return to his faith. So he sold what he had and gave it to his children, whom he entrusted to the care of people from his village.

The text goes on to detail his trip to Cairo. On the way he visited a priest who advised him to confer with the Patriarch at first. He instead went to Abu-Shaker, the Coptic physician of the King, El-Kamel. Abu-Shaker, tried to persuade him not to go to the king, but rather flee to another country where he can practice his faith freely. He main concern was the hardships that the rest of the Copts will endure if he weakens before the king and adopt Islam again. But our saint quietly continued on his way with the same determination. He stayed in Cairo, writing letters to the king, asking for that pardon or the sword's blade if he would not grant such pardon. Of course, no one answered his letters. He later attended a festival for St. George outside of Cairo in a village called Ponmonros. Upon meeting the priest of the Church, he received the first encouragement for what he was about to do.

On the following day he met the king as he was riding his horse in public. He asked El-Kamel publicly for the pardon or to be purified by the edge of the sword. Such words at that age seemed to the king to be that of a drunkard. Thus he ordered him to be jailed for three days to sober up. The news of his petition and arrest spread in the countryside like wild fire. The Coptic government officials were alarmed and asked Abu-Shaker to meet the saint. This second meeting with Abu-Shaker occurred on the first day of his detainment. A similar conversation occurred, with Abu-Shaker offering the possibility of a conditional pardon from the king. But St. John quietly persisted in his determination. As Abu-Shaker was leaving, he gave his guards some money to protect the saint. At that first night, he was also summoned by the king, may be due to a request by Abu-Shaker. There he was offered riches and safe haven out of the country where he can freely practice Christianity. All this was contingent on him confessing publicly that he is a Moslem. This was also not acceptable to the Saint. So he was put back in jail for the remainder of the three days.

On the morning of the fourth day, he was summoned before the king in the Marketplace. There he was to be tried for the sin of wanting to be a Christian again! (to be continued)



The following are excerpts from the Coptic Martyrdom of St. John of Phanidjoit. A microfilm copy of the the original text is kept in the Society's "Coptic Microfilm Collection" (CML) under no. 857C. The Coptic text is a corrected one.


a. Preface:

The martyrdom of Saint John, the new martyr, the one from Phanidjoit (El-Zaitoun) in the province of Poushin who has accomplished it on the 4th (day) of the month Pashons on Thursday at the sixth hour, before the king El-Kamel, the son of the king El-Adel the Persian-Arab on the throne of Piban upon the mouths of the River (i.e. Nile) of Egypt in peace of God Amen.

b. St. John's Conversion to Islam:

And it came to pass in the kingdom of Osman, the son of Joseph (Salah al-Din), the king who was appointed over Babylon of Egypt and the Sea Coast and Syria and the affairs of Damascus and Tierbi. And this king, he is a kurd and an esteemed Persian ruler of the faith of the Agarinnians, as he is (lit. will) converted in his faith of the Arabs and the Ishmaelites. And he lived namely an Upper Egyptian man from a village called Phanidjoit (El-Zaitoun) in the affairs of the province called Poushin, whose name is John, the son of Markos. And this was a deacon and a Christian man, but he mixed with the Ishmaelite Moslem gentiles. Essentially with the fornicators and the adulterers especially (in) the places of the spreading of snare net, (and) the stumbling fornicating woman, the setters of division for the men from the begining. According to what is written, "They mixed with the gentiles and they learned their deeds." (Cf. Ps. 105:35)

Thus this one, John, he mixed also with these ones in this manner and he learned their deeds, because he was a linen merchant of those belonging to the women, from the Laura of Piseuerjis in the capital. He deceived him namely Satan with a desire of a saracen woman, and he fell with her in the fornication. And it became lord over him namely the iniquity to death, according to that which is written, "Behold the iniquity usually concieves and goes in travail and it gave birth to death." (Cf. Jam 1:15) Thus is that which happened to the righteous John.

c. St. John's Repentance:

And the righteous one John, he heard these words concerning Pepleu and he took his children and that which belongs to him and he went and lived in it. As his mind being upright with Christ, yearning night and day to cause Christ to accomplish his petitions for him, therefore in order that he dies in a death upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ openly. And he remained in this manner namely the saint John, the sweet pleasant name, in prayers and fasts in purity with a hidden mystery. For the whole world was becoming before him as nothing, according to that which is written, "A vanity of vanities was every living man." (Cf Ps 38:6)

d. His Meeting with Fr. (Papa) John and Abu-Shaker, the Physician:

There was a righteous priest man, his name is John, who had there a brother monk. He came namely the righteous one to look for him (prob. the monk) in his church and he did not find him, and he took the advice of the papa John concening this matter. The papa said to him, "Go to the Patriarch at first and take his advice in this matter until you hear his word." The blessed one said, "I fear concerning the patriarch in order that he cast fear in me concerning the death, but my patriarch and my advise is Christ in the death and the life. However I shall go to the Christ-loving elder and the wise man namely Abu-Shaker, the physician of the king El-Kamel to take his advice so I can hear his word in these matters." Thus he rose and went to him with a strong heart to the wise elder, the physician of the king. He told him of his matter from the beginning to the end. The wise one said to him, "I know you(?) that the words which you said them are not blasphemies but as makers of lies. And we say falsehood at every time, but the Scriptures said in the prayer ' do not enter us in temptation but deliver us from the evil one.' (Mt 6:13) You did not understand yourself that these people are very evil and (if) you reveal a word in this manner before them and perhaps you did not endure in some trials, then we shall be in shames. But go from this land and from the midst of these multitudes of people and the greatness of their hatred for us and go from town to town and (from) village to another village according to that which Christ said it in the Gospel, 'If they pursue you in this town, flee to another one, amen I say unto you you shall not attain to search out the towns of Israel until He comes namely the Son of Man.'" (Mt 10:23)

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News (by Hany N. Takla)

1. History of the Coptic Orthodox Church: At last we have in our hands a concise, readable, complete history of the Coptic Orthodox Church. This is the fruit of nearly a decade-long research project of the Rev. T. Hall Partrick, Ph.D. of Greensboro, North Carolina. The excellent and fluent writing style of this book deceptively hid the great scholarship involved. It is suitable for general reading as well as a starting point for doing extensive study on a specific period in history. The author takes the reader on a quick journey beginning with the early roots of the Church in the first century to its present day revival. He then concluded that the Coptic Church, with its glorious past, has survived the persecutions of many; and is currently growing in a vibrant fashion.

Keep in mind that this work is a history of the Coptic Church and not a book of the saints. In such context we will encounter painful lessons that God has allowed to happen. To hide or water-down such events we will be doing a disservice to ourselves and the generations that will follow us. History is a collections of lessons learned in the present from events of the past to help us shape our future. This work is a good start toward the writing of a comprehensive history of the Coptic Orthodox Church. A history that would address the ecclesiastical issues as well as those of the forgotten populace.

Because of the importance of this work, the Society became its major distributor. The retail price for a single copy is $14.95. As a benefit to our dues-paying members, we offer it at $10. Others in US Eastern and Midwestern States and Canada should order through our distributor, Dr. George M. Bassaly, Tel/Fax No. (201)229-0412. Members worldwide and others living in Southern and Western US States, should order through the Society. Quantity discounts are available: 10-49 copies for $13.50 each, and 50 or more copies for $12.50. Organizations or individuals, interested in distributing the book in Australia or Europe, should contact the Society. A special discount will be given to such distributors for order of 50 or more copies. Over 1,100 copies were distributed within a week after the book was received from the Publisher on 6/12/96, so hurry!

2. The Society on The Internet: We are still at the same address, however we completely redesigned the site to include maps, electronic forms, and other new features. Now you can electronically order any of the Society's publications or software. Two main groups of documents were added. The first is a colorful clickable map of the Coptic Alphabet that link to graphical examples of each character along with the pronunciation rules. This is the first step toward publishing Coptic Lessons on the web. The second and more ambitious is a manual of Coptic Studies. This group of documents will deal with all branches of Coptic Studies. The emphasis will be placed on providing the necessary tools to all interested to pursue any subject of interest within this field. Be patient this site will take a while to be fully developed, but it will have something for every one.

Starting with the last edition of the Newsletter (Vol. 2, No. 3) we made it available to our electronic mailing list. Such edition had the full text of the printed edition except for any Coptic text included. We are still working on a directory listing of persons with a particular expertise in the different disciplines related to Coptic Studies. The idea was submitted by Mr. Shenouda Mamdouh of Cairo Egypt ( This will be incorporated as part of our Manual of Coptic Studies Section.

3. The Sixth International Coptic Congress: During the period of July 20-26, the International Association for Coptic Studies will be holding its 6th International Coptic Congress in Münster, Germany. This is held once every four years. The Society will be represented by a 5-member delegation from Los Angeles. Three of the five will be presenting papers. Mr. Maged S. Mikhail, UCLA, will be presenting a paper titled "The Thought of St. Shenouda of Atripe". Mr. Mark R. Moussa, CUA, will present a paper titled, "THE ANTI-CHALCEDONIAN MOVEMENT IN BYZANTINE EGYPT: An Evaluation of Current Interpretations and Past Scholarship". Mr. Mikhail and Mr. Moussa are graduate students in Coptic History, and they are both working part-time as Research Assistants at the Coptic Center in Los Angeles. The last paper will be by Hany N. Takla, the Society's president, and is titled, "The 13th Century Coptic Martyrdom of John of Phanidjoit, Reconsidered".

Other members of the Society from the US and Canada are also scheduled to present papers. Prof. Fayek M. Ishak, Ph.D. of Ontario, Canada will present a paper titled, "The Orthodox Eschatological and Ontological Metaphysics of Being and the Incessant Quest after the Supernatural Knowability. The Manuscripts Treasures of Dayr as-Suryan and Dayr Anba Maqar". Dr. Zakariah Wahba, of Maryland, will be presenting a paper dealing with the history of the Coptic Community in North America.

The Society's delegation will also include Mr. Ramses Wassif, the Society's Secretary, accompanied by his wife, and Mr. Joseph Fahim, the Assistant Director of the Society's Orange County Coptic Regional Center. God's willing will be arriving in Münster on the 19th of July.

4. The California Orange County Coptic Regional Center: Since its official opening on July 22, 1995, the center completed the two consecutive Introductory Coptic Grammar Class. The instructor is Mr. Joseph Fahim, center's assistant director. For more details about the Regional Center, contact Mr. Fahim at (714) 842-1344 or email to If you are in the Orange County area, be sure to visit the Regional Center, located within the confines of Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church at 4405 Edinger Blvd., Santa Ana CA 92704.

5. Coptic Word Games Handbook: Vol. 1 of the Coptic Word Games Handbook is in distribution. About 500 of the original 2,000 copies printed are left. The reaction was very favorable to this publication, a truly proud fruit of the effort of 18 predominantly college-age Coptic students in our Orange County Regional Center. It is an excellent tool to pleasantly introduce our younger and even older generations to the language of our fathers. We are hoping to include this in the Coptic Language curriculum that the Los Angeles Diocese is planning. The nominal price charged is $2.00 for members and $3.00 for non-members.

6. The Scriptorium in Egypt: We received a written communication from Prof. Scott Carroll of the Scriptorium in regards to the completion of their second excavation season in the Western desert of Wadi 'N Natrun, Egypt. The activities of the Scriptorium during that season were three-fold. Aside form the grueling excavation activities, they introduced the first edition of "Spring Semester in Egypt." This 16 semester-units curriculum afforded the participants the chance to learn about Coptic monasticism, Language, History, and Art as well as to participate in the excavation under the direction of renowned scholars in each of these respective fields. Also an interactive Internet Program was made that linked some pre-selected schools in the US Midwest to the excavation site. Too much progress was hoped for, and a lot was accomplished. But with a relatively small number of people subjected to many unfamiliar circumstances, disappointments came about. The difficulties were concentrated in integrating the Study program with the demanding excavation work. As a result, the Scriptorium decided not to offer such program next year, to allow maximum effort to be devoted to this monumental excavation. This excavation, God's willing, will bring us better understanding of the development of our all-important Monastic heritage. For more information on the great summer educational activities of the Scriptorium, please contact Prof. Jerry Pattengale at (800) 333-8373.

7. Research Projects: Three important projects were referred to or worked on by the Coptic Center during the past period. The first is writing an encyclopedia entry on the Copts, in Macmillan upcoming Encyclopedia of Immigrant America. Dr. Donald Spanel of the Brooklyn Museum recommended us for that project. The entry was submitted in April and accepted for contents and now awaiting final review. The Second is assisting Dr. Harvey Staal in editing the famous Hibat Alllah ibn Al-Assal's 13th century critical Arabic translation of the Coptic Gospels. The task assigned to our staff is to transcribe the multitude of Coptic glosses included in this Arabic text as well as to link them to the corresponding Arabic word. These glosses were written sometimes wherever space was available between the text lines. The third project is to assist Dr. Tim Vivian of Cal-State Bakersfield in editing the Life of St. John Kolobos (the Little). The tasks that we will be involved with is the transcription and first translation of the Bohairic Coptic text, and possibly that of the Arabic text if we can secure a copy of the manuscript. Our Research assistants Maged Mikhail and Mark Moussa are participating with Hany Takla, the center's director in these projects.

Our staff at the center is also involved in other internal research projects.

8. Coptic Book Library: Several more volumes were added in the Monastic, History, Art, and Literature Sections our Coptic library. Most notable are Dr. Rubenson's monumental work on the letters of St. Antony, DR. Walters' Monastic Archaeology in Egypt, and some of Dr. Meinardus' early books on the Coptic Church. The last two items were gifts from the library of St. Bishoy Monastery in Egypt.

9. Coptic Classes: A new session for the Introductory Bohairic Coptic Class will begin on August 3rd at the center. The Advanced Coptic Seminar is holding two sessions on Sundays, one translating Bohairic literary texts, and the other Sahidic monastic texts. Prof. Loprieno of UCLA will be offering either a 4- or 8-unit Coptic Sahidic class in the Winter Quarter, (January 97). The Coptic Dialect class, he offered in the Spring quarter, was completed in June. Six Coptic students enrolled in that class which used the Bohairic Life of St. Shenouda as the primary text for the course.

10. Analysis of the Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil: Mr. Monir B. Raphael of Chicago IL has enriched Copts and Coptic liturgical studies alike with a most important publication. It is designed to aid in the comprehension of the Coptic Liturgy. The book is titled The Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil - Coptic Language Analysis. This 3-vol. set publishes the text of the Liturgy of St. Basil in 3 columns, Arabic, Coptic, and English. The Coptic text is coded with numbers that one can use to look up the meaning as well as the grammatical analysis of the word on the opposing page or in the footnote section. There are also detailed appendices on the Coptic as well as the Greek grammar used in the liturgy. It is a must-reference to any Copt or any person interested in learning the proper meaning of the Coptic Liturgy. The price for members is $32.00 for all three volumes (vol. 1 $17, vol. 2 $7, vol. 3 $8) and for non-members $38.00 (vol. 1 $20, vol. 2 $8, vol. 3 $10). Multiple-copy discount is available. Vol. 2 requires vol. 1, and vol. 3 requires vol. 1&2. This set is an enlarged as well as an enhanced edition of what the author has produced in Egypt nearly 30 years ago in Coptic and Arabic only.

11. Regrets: The Society was saddened by the May 6th, sudden death of Mr. George W. Hanna, the brother of Ashraf, our most energetic staff member of the Coptic Center. May the Lord repose his soul and grant his family His heavenly consolation.

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Prepared by Hany N. Takla. Last Update 7/9/96

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