July 11, 2019

Saint Arsenios, Patriarch of Alexandria (+ 1010)

St. Arsenios of Alexandria (Feast Day - July 11)

Arsenios was the brother of the wife of the Fatimid Caliph al-Aziz (975-996), which greatly contributed to the ecclesiastical career of both Arsenios himself, who became the Metropolitan of Memphis, and his brother Orestes, who became the Patriarch of Jerusalem in 986.

After the death of Patriarch Elias II of Alexandria, upon the direct instructions of Caliph al-Hakim (996-1021), the son and successor of al-Aziz, Arsenios was elevated to be the Patriarch of Alexandria on June 17, 1000.

Taking advantage of the location of the ruling dynasty, the Brother-Patriarchs achieved "primacy" among the non-Muslim confessions of Egypt. After the death of Orestes in 1005, Patriarch Arsenios also took over the administration of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, thus concentrating power over the entire Orthodox community of the Fatimid caliphate.

At the time Patriarch Orestes departed, a controversy had been ongoing among the Christians of Palestine concerning the establishment of a unified celebration of Pascha that Patriarch Orestes had not settled. When the Egyptian Christians reached an agreement, the Palestinian Christians would not approve it. Finally, Patriarch Arsenios firmly established the terms of the unified celebration.

With the beginning of the brutal persecutions of Christians undertaken by al-Hakim in 1008, the Patriarch lost all his privileges. The severity of the Caliph’s anti-Christian decrees was aggravated by his mental illness, which resulted in manic suspicion and mercilessness — the caliph seriously undertook to eradicate the Christians, who were almost half of his subjects. There were mass riots that arose against churches and Christian neighborhoods, and there was a desecration of Christian cemeteries.

Anticipating that he could not avoid reprisals, Arsenios increased his piety and asceticism, spending his days in fasting and prayer. On April 25, 1010, the Patriarch's residence was destroyed - the Dair al-Qusayr Monastery (also known as the Monastery of Saint Arsenios the Great) near Cairo was razed to the ground, the monks were driven out, and the Christian cemetery was desecrated. On July 4 of the same year, at the order of the Caliph, Patriarch Arsenios was secretly killed.

Patriarch Arsenios is not listed in any calendars of the Orthodox Church as a Saint, however in a manuscript among the Fonds Coislin collection (402 f. 166) in the National Library of Paris, we read under July 11th the following commemoration: "On this day Arsenios Patriarch of Alexandria who was slain."