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                  by Severus, Bishop of Al-Ushmunain (fl. ca. AD 955 - 

Translated from the Arabic by B. Evetts
(from _Patrologia Orientalis_, first series)


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, the One God.

This is the book of the lives of the Fathers and Patriarchs. May God grant us the blessing of their prayers!

These patriarchs were the successors of the father and missionary, Saint Mark the evangelist, who preached the holy gospel and the good news of the Lord Christ in the great city of Alexandria, and in the region of Egypt, and in the regions of Ethiopia and Nubia, and in Pentapolis in the West, which is also called Africa, and in the neighbouring territories; for all these countries fell by lot to his preaching, through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

And after he had preached and proclaimed the good tidings, and written the gospel in Greek, and finished his course, he became a martyr in the Caesarium, a quarter of Alexandria, which is called in the Hebrew language the city of Ammon [Jer. 46:25, Nahum 3:8]. His biography, which records that which was done to him, and how he preached, and what befell him, is set forth in the first of the histories contained in this book.

And after him our orthodox fathers, the patriarchs, were the heirs of his doctrines which save souls from hell; and they remained true to that which he delivered to them, in the guardianship of the orthodox faith and in attachment to it, and in patience under persecution for its sake, at all times, to their last breath, that is to say till death. They sat upon his episcopal throne, one after another, each of them succeeding his predecessor; and thus all were his representatives, and the shepherds of his flock, and his imitators in his Faith in Christ.

These histories here given were collected from various places by the care of the celebrated father, Abba Severus, son of Al-Mukaffa, bishop of the city of Al-Ushmunain, who relates that he gathered them together from the monastery of Saint Macarius and the monastery of Nahya and other monasteries, and from scattered fragments which he found in the hands of the Christians. And when these documents were put together by your poor brother into this single volume, after research and trouble on his part, God gave him a long life, until a day came when he wrote out this history and set it in order but it was not completed till the end of his eightieth year.

And now I implore God's help that we may understand what we read therein, and may obey these holy patriarchs, and carry out their precepts, and follow in their footsteps, and remain attached to their faith; for he is the God who hears and answers our prayers. Thanks be to him for ever and ever. Amen.


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, the One God.

Praise be to God, the origin and source of learning, the maker and creator of all things, who forms and brings into being all that exists: who guides and elects those whom he pleases, and raises those whom he desires among his servants to be his chosen ones and his holy people, whom he picks out and in whom he takes pleasure; who lifts up the poor from the ground, and the needy from the dunghill, that he may make him ruler over his people, and a prince to govern his servants and his land, and gives him as his inheritance the throne of power, that he may rule over the earth with justice, and among men with truth; that he may deliver the weak from the mighty, and save the oppressed from the oppressor. This is the judgment and wisdom of God which none of his creatures can comprehend, for his mysteries are hidden from the wise and learned; and he raises up at all times those who shall gently guide his people.

The merciful, the compassionate one, the Lord Christ, who gave himself by the mystery of his Incarnation to save his creatures, and vanquished the mighty by humility and weakness, who speaks through the mouth of his prophets by the Holy Ghost; when it pleased him to manifest himself on earth and become incarnate, that he might save his creatures whom he had created after the likeness of the image of his majesty, appeared among them in a human body, born of the Virgin Mary, most excellent of women in creation. For he had elected her from among the offspring of Adam, the sinner and rebel against his Lord, who obeyed his enemy and broke the commandment of his Creator, so that it was necessary that he should die, as God had said to him when he warned him not to disobey; but Adam would not listen, desiring to be a god and similar to his Creator, and so was caught in the net of stumbling. Yet even then God the Word had mercy upon him in pity for him, and became incarnate, - He, the uncreated in respect of his Godhead, the Man in respect of his Humanity, the pure from all sin. And the Virgin Mary bore him in her womb and brought him forth, by a mystery to which the intelligence of creatures cannot attain, and by which he exalted her above all other created beings in heaven or on earth; above the Angels, the Powers, the Principalities, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, and all whom God has made in heaven or on earth. For she became the throne of him who is Lord of the first and the last, without division or change, - of him whom no space can enclose, and no time contain.

And when, in his unattainable wisdom, he established his dispensation, the Union of his Humanity with his Divinity, the mystery of which is hidden from all in heaven or on earth, he chose his disciples, the apostles, gave them the great commission, authorising them to bind and to loose. And so likewise their successors after them inherit this gift in all regions of the world, each one following his predecessor. Thus the inheritance of this power, which Christ gave to the great father and evangelist, Mark, the apostle, is carried on to his successor, the patriarch who sits upon his episcopal throne in the great city of Alexandria, in the midst of the regions where he preached.

Saint Mark, then, was the first patriarch who fed the flock of Christ; and in after times he was followed by the inspired fathers and patriarchs, generation after generation. This see of his is independent, and separate from all other sees. And no patriarch is promoted to it, nor does any obtain from God this glorious station and this high and sublime degree, save one whom he has proved and tried, and who has experienced such trouble and adversity and resistance of enemies and attacks of heretics that by these things he resembles Christ's disciples and apostles, who were assisted by his Holy Spirit, - those pure ones, those preachers of good tidings, who suffered contempt and blows and scourging and stoning and crucifixion and shipwreck, and burning by fire, and wounds, and casting down from high places to the ground, and death by the sword, and all kinds of torment, which if we were to relate in detail, our narrative would be too long and the description of it would be too copious, and listeners would tremble at the hearing of it, and books and volumes would not contain even a small part of the history. Yet they lived in patience, enduring all these sufferings, and imitating their Lord, their Master and their Christ, who sent them to baptize all men and all nations, and draw them to faith in him. They taught men that by which they might profit through all ages and generations and times to the end of the world, namely the means of saving their souls in this world and the next; and they bequeathed their doctrines to their successors, the fathers and patriarchs, in every region to which their preaching was extended; for the patriarchs are indeed their successors and their followers. So they laid down their lives to preserve their trusted ones among the baptized, the faithful and orthodox. As the great apostle and excellent teacher Paul, the elect one and lamp of the Church of God, says, "Rather we glory in the tribulation that we suffer; for we know that tribulation perfects patience in us, and patience trial and probation, and hardships call forth hope, and hope disappoints not, because it pours into our hearts the love of God by the Holy Ghost" [Rom. 5:3-4]. As he says in another place, "Verily if ye be allowed to wander free, and be left without chastisement, and be not branded as the elect friends of God were branded before you, then are ye become strangers to God and are not near to him" [Heb. 12:8]. And there are many similar testimonies in the books of the Church, from Paul and from others of the inspired apostles and fathers and teachers, since the venerated prophets.

The patriarchs did not cease to repel the doctrines of the heretics, striving to refute them, resisting them, overthrowing their false tenets, revealing to men their misbelief and the corruption of their creeds. And they composed a homily on every text, until they filled the Church of God with their homilies and sermons and spiritual learning. They never abandoned the study of the scriptures and writings and commandments of God, reading all the ecclesiastical books and other works which they needed for the composition of their homilies, and searching out every jewel of the Divine Word and of other literature. So at last they attained their desire and obeyed the summons of their Creator who called them, saying, each one of them, "Here am I with the sons whom thou gavest me, for not one of them has perished !" [cf. John 17:12, 18:9]. Thus they obtained their high degrees, and the mansions, brilliant with happiness and light, the blessings of which are eternal and imperishable.

They did not in the time of their pastorate fear haughty princes. Their hearts and purposes never faltered in the love of God, nor in teaching men, both secretly and openly, the means of saving their souls. And while they governed the Church, they were never careless nor frivolous, nor did they acquire aught belonging to this transitory world; but they were obedient to their Lord's commands, and applied themselves to their duties of instruction and imparting discipline, and observed the canons and precepts of God. So in the eyes of their flock they were great and learned; and when one of their disciples, or one of those who resisted them and their doctrine, beheld them and their deeds, he glorified God for their works, because the words of the Gospel which Christ uttered were now fulfilled: "You are the light of the world. A city when it is placed upon a hill, cannot be hidden, and a lamp, when it is lighted, is not set under a bushel, but on a candlestick, to enlighten all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" [Matt. 5:14-16].

As one of the wise men says: "He who mounts the steps of learning and public affairs becomes great in the eyes of the multitudes, and he whose nature is noble has his rights acknowledged; to him who despises money men's hopes are directed; he who is reasonable ceases to be unjust; the just man's judgements are carried out; the leader is he who defends his faith with his possessions, and does not defend his possessions by means of faith." But the best is what is said in one of the jewels of literature as follows: "The good shepherd does good to his flock and with justice rules creation. He who is just in his government is independent of his assistants. He who excels among men by his rank of governor and his superiority as ruler is bound to guard his rank by his good administration, so that his property may continue and that he may be fortunate both in spiritual and temporal matters. He whom God has put into possession of his land and territory, and entrusted with his people and servants, and whose place and rank he has exalted, ought to give thanks to God in faith, and to preserve his religion, and embellish his life and purify his thoughts, and make virtue his constant habit, and salvation his aim and object. But injustice slips on its feet, and draws down vengeance, and destroys happiness and makes the nations perish. The hasty man fails even when he gains; but the deliberate man succeeds even when he loses. He who relies on his own opinion falls into the net of his enemies. He who rides on haste comes to a fall. He who does what he pleases gets what is evil. The fall of dynasties is caused by the employment of the lowest of the people. He who asks help of the wise gains what he hopes for. He who asks the advice of the prudent walks in the right path. Good government is the light of sovereignty, but evil administration is the source of destruction. To favour the fool is the worst of baseness, but to employ the wise is the best of merits; for the employment of the wise leads to the establishment of wisdom, but the employment of the fool to the maintenance of folly. Every man inclines to his like, and every bird roosts with its fellow. Learn that the cause of the ruin of princes is to be found in the rejection of the virtuous and the employment of the base, and in making light of the counsellor's advice, and in the deception that arises from placing the trust in the flatterer. But God assists the right by his bounty and glory and power and majesty. Verily, he can bring to pass all that he pleases. To him be glory for ever!"


By Severus, Bishop of Al-Ushmunain

The author of this history, Severus, son of Al-Mukaffa, the compiler, says thus:

When I, - the wretched and sinful one, drowning in the seas of my transgressions, I, the penitent, who waste my days in sin, and grieve over my negligence and the loss of the months and years of my life in hopes and procrastinations, ruinous to my faith and my condition; - learnt and ascertained the graces which the Lord Christ, the Saviour, has granted, remembering his worshippers, to all the baptized who he bought with his precious blood; and how he gave his authority, and bestowed the Holy Ghost upon his disciples and followers, the chosen Twelve and Seventy, and upon those that came after them, such as Paul, the teacher of the Church, whom God specially called because he knew the strength of his faith and his zeal, and such as those whom he elected to the episcopal throne of his martyr and disciple and evangelist, whom he sent as apostle to his people, and as the first of the patriarchs of Egypt, and of Pentapolis, which is Barca and Fezzan and Al-Kairuwan and Tripoli of the West and Africa, and of Ethiopia and Nubia, - all of which countries fell under his preaching by command of the Holy Ghost, - whose martyrdom took place in the city of Alexandria, after he had preached the name of the Lord Christ, according to the evidence of his biography, of whose doctrines which save souls from hell our fathers, the patriarchs, became heirs, sitting upon his episcopal throne one after another, each on in succession to his predecessor, all being the successors of Saint Mark, handing down his authority one to another, and the shepherds of his flock, and imitators of his faith in Christ, - of Saint Mark, the pure evangelist who saw Christ's face, - from whose successors, the patriarchs who came after him, descends to us the knowledge of their history and their names and the changing fortunes of each of them in his time and age, and the troubles and sorrows and struggles which fell to the lot of each of them for the name of his Lord and his Christ, and the preservation of his flock year after year and age after age, - then, since I am one of those who are not fit to write down with their wretched, perishing hands any of the histories of these patriarchs, I requested the help of those Christian brethren with whose fitness I was acquainted, and begged them to assist me in translating the histories that we found written in the Coptic and Greek languages into the Arabic tongue, current among the people of the present day in the region of Egypt, most of whom are ignorant of the Coptic and the Greek, so that they might be satisfied with such translations when they read them.

And I implored him who gives speech to the stammerer, and opens the mouths of the dull, and calls those weighted down by burdens, as I am, in accordance with the words of the gospel, spoken by his own holy mouth, which say: "Come to me, ye that are weary and carry burdens, that I may give you rest: and learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart, that ye may receive rest for your souls; and bear my yoke upon you, for my yoke is light and my burden is good." [Matt 11:28] - I implored him to pardon my slips, and to forgive the progress which I make in indulgence towards my blameworthy deeds and faults and frequent sins. And I copied that which I knew not from the men of old, in agreement with the canons of the Church, according to that which is now about to be related, besides what tradition and history teach. And I added to the rest what I knew of the histories of the fathers and patriarchs whom I had myself beheld. And I asked God - whose power is glorious - to pardon me the superfluous eloquence and beautified language that the histories contain, and all that I can claim as the work of my sinful self in relating the accounts of those whose meanest disciple I am unworthy to be, and my description of the virtues of holy monks inspired by the grace of the Holy Ghost, partly from what I have myself beheld and partly from translations of histories.

Now I will make frequent prostrations on behalf of those who shall read what I have written, that they may pray for pardon for me for that which I have attempted and undertaken, and may beg for forgiveness and indulgence and absolution for me, through the intercession of the elect Lady of the first and the last, the Throne of the Lord of the worlds; and through the intercession of the angels who stand beside him, and of the spiritual orders, and of the truth- announcing and inspired prophets, and of the pure and elect apostles, and of the militant martyrs, and of the holy and righteous fathers, and of the virtuous elders, and of all among the posterity of Adam with whose works God is well pleased. Amen.

O God, I pray thee to open the eyes of my heart and my sight, that I may understand thy words, and my hearing, that I may hear and do that which is right. In thy mercy be not angry with me for that which I have written, but pardon and forgive the faults therein caused by my negligence. And shew thy favour to him who here speaks, relying upon God's pardon.


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, the One God.

Great is the Lord and exceedingly to be praised, and great are his works, and inscrutable are his mysteries and his wisdom; nor can any man comprehend any of God's dealings, which are too high for the understanding of those that understand, or of the learned in the law. For these when they are questioned, humble themselves and say: O God, who hast created us and favoured us, and given us commands and prohibitions, and by punishments made us fear to do what thou hast forbidden, and hast guided us towards the salvation of our souls and the good way; we have slipped in our thoughts, and have rebelled in our free will.

Therefore we implore thee, O long-suffering and beneficent and mighty and gracious One, who pardonest all that come to thee with honest purpose, to be gracious to us, and to be our starting-point and our assistance and our final perfection in the road by which we advance to thee; and to open the darkened eyes of our hearts and our clouded thoughts, so that we may observe and do what we read in thy holy books, and in the histories of those whom thou didst love, and didst choose from among thy followers, and didst elect, namely those militant ones, who overcame their desires, who abandoned the world on account of their love for thee, and their obedience to thy commandments and precepts; and to grant us a good end, so that our departure from this world may be the departure of thy chosen ones, who are saved from sins and iniquities, from which no man is free, and that we may be delivered from the terrible and dreaded place, if thou wilt have mercy upon us, and wilt liberate us from the power of the Devil, and from the service of sin; and to grant to us spiritual wisdom, with which we may trample down worldly desires by striving to keep thy commandments; and to let us go forth from this perishing world with provisions for the eternal life; and to give us words of welcome before thy dreaded and terrible tribunal.

And among thy benefits to us, guide the course of our life in this world, that it may be passed in doing what pleases thee and in obeying thee, and following thy guiding and life-giving Law; and lead us to thy directing Life, that our minds may be directed to thy kingdom, and that our actions may be ruled by the doctrines of thy holy gospel. Thou sayest, O Lord: "Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you [Matt.7:7, Luke 11:9]". So I ask of thee, confiding in thy words, without an action that I have done that can please thee, and having no good deeds which I have offered to thee; but for the sake of thy name by which we are called, as the blessed David says in a Psalm [Ps.113:9-11 LXX, 115:1-3 KJV]: "Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to thy name give the glory because of thy mercy and thy truth, that the gentiles may not say: Where is their God? And our God is in heaven and on earth; all that pleases him he has done".

O God deliver us and save us, and be to us in this world of ours a Protector and Saviour in all our affairs, whether small or great, whether glorious or mean. And be merciful, O compassionate one, and vouchsafe, O merciful one, to lead us to that which pleases thee, and remove us far from what offends thee. For thou sayest, O Lord: "Return to me, and I will forgive you, even if your sins are as numerous as the sands of the sea, and the stars of heaven". Therefore fulfil thy promise to us sinners, and do not ask of us repentance or works, but by thy mercy and pity and goodness, grant help to the prayer of thy sinful servant, although he neglects thy commandments, namely to him who writes these glorious histories, and hereby begins by saying:

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, the One God.

Let us begin, with the help of God and with his blessed assistance, to write the histories of the holy Church. The author says: That which I, the sinner, have written, I collected from the monastery of Saint Macarius, and the monasteries of Upper Egypt; and the religious deacon, Michael, son of Apater, was commissioned to make translations of some of the documents from the Coptic language into Arabic, as will be mentioned in its place. This was in addition to that which was found in the great city, and the abridgements of certain histories which were found, the first of them relating to Christ, my Help and my Hope and my Defender and my Salvation. For the first of these documents is that which was translated in the monastery of our Lady at Nahya, concerning the matter of the priesthood of Christ the Lord, whose name is glorious, and of his entrance into the temple. In the peace of God. Amen. Amen. Amen.


The St. Pachomius Orthodox Library, July 1995.

Have mercy, O Lord, upon Thy servants the translator Basil, the scribes 
Paul, Noel, and Lucian, and Lavinia. 


               THE END, AND TO GOD BE THE GLORY!