Cyrus of Alexandria (Arabic: المقوقس al-Muqawqis, Greek: Κῦρος Ἀλεξανδρείας) was a prominent figure in the 7th century. He served as a Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and held the position of the last Byzantine prefect of Egypt. Notably, he played a significant role in the development of monothelitism.[1] Cyrus died in Alexandria on March 21, 642.[2]

Bishop of Phasis


In 620, he assumed the position of Bishop of Phasis in Colchis. In 626, during the Persian campaign led by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, he was consulted regarding a plan proposed by Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, aimed at reconciling the Miaphysites of Egypt with the Church and gaining their support for the empire. This plan, known as the monenergist plan, involved accepting the Chalcedonian principle of two natures of Christ while effectively nullifying it by asserting that he possessed only one energy, referred to as hèn thélema kaì mía enérgeia (ἓν θέλημα καὶ μία ἐνέργεια).[3] Cyrus embraced this formula after Sergius assured him that Pope Honorius I in Rome had endorsed it[4] and that it did not contradict the teachings of the Church Fathers or the decisions made at the Council of Chalcedon. Cyrus was subsequently appointed by Heraclius as the Bishop of Alexandria in 630, in opposition to the Miaphysite Patriarch of Alexandria, with the intention of implementing this plan.

Patriach of Alexandria


Cyrus, once patriarch, made persistent efforts to reconcile the Miaphysites and Chalcedonians by promoting monenergism, which eventually developed into monothelitism—a belief in a single will. In June 633, he presented the Pact of Union, also known as the plerophoría of "Satisfactio," during a synod held in Alexandria. This agreement consisted of nine articles, with the seventh one boldly asserting monothelitism.[3] Although the Miaphysites, also referred to as Theodosians or Severians, welcomed the pact, they maintained that Chalcedon should come to them rather than vice versa. During this time, numerous clergy, soldiers, and common people converted to Cyrus's position, but the change did not endure[4]

There was an expectation that Pope Honorius I would be persuaded to adopt the monothelete stance. In 636, Cyrus attended another synod in Cyprus under Arkadios II,[4] where he served as a moderator. He allowed opponents of Monothelitism to present their case to the Emperor. After receiving the Emperor's Monothelite response, known as the Ecthesis, Cyrus signed it in 637. However, the monothelete compromise ultimately proved ineffective. It was condemned at the Lateran Council of 649[4] and soon lost credibility, earning the derogatory name "enôsis hydrobaphès" or "washy union" in Medieval Greek.

For a period of ten years, Cyrus harshly persecuted the Egyptians, attempting to forcefully convert them to his faith. However, the majority of the Egyptian people did not recognize him as their patriarch. Instead, they acknowledged Pope Benjamin I, who went into hiding and was relentlessly pursued by Cyrus, though without success. In one instance, Cyrus's troops captured Benjamin's brother, Mennas, subjecting him to a brutal torture. According to Severus ibn al-Muqaffa, Mennas was burned with torches until the fat dripped from his sides to the ground. Despite this torment, Mennas remained steadfast, refusing to renounce his faith even when his teeth were pulled out. He was then placed in a sack filled with sand, taken by boat a considerable distance from the shore, and thrown into the sea where he drowned. The biographer of Benjamin noted, "Yet it was not they who were victorious over Mennas, that champion of the faith, but Mennas who by Christian patience overcame them."[5]

On another occasion, Cyrus summoned Samuel the Confessor, an Egyptian abbot, and had him brought in chains. Samuel, full of joy in the Lord, expressed his willingness to shed his blood for the name of Christ. When Cyrus saw him, he ordered the soldiers to beat him mercilessly until his blood flowed abundantly. Cyrus questioned Samuel, saying, "Samuel, you wicked ascetic, who appointed you as the abbot of the monastery and instructed you to teach the monks to curse me and my faith?" The holy Abba Samuel responded, "It is better to obey God and His holy Archbishop Benjamin than to obey you and your devilish doctrine, O son of Satan, Antichrist, Beguiler." Enraged by Samuel's words, Cyrus commanded the soldiers to strike him dead, but the ruler of Faiyum intervened and saved him from their hands. As a result, Cyrus ordered Samuel to be banished from the Nitrian Desert.[5]

Cyrus appointed Chalcedonian bishops to govern every Egyptian city up to Ansena, and Coptic priests were put to death whenever discovered. Despite the absence of priests, the Coptic people continued to hold secret gatherings. One priest, Agathon, risked his life each night to administer communion in Alexandria. Later, he succeeded Benjamin as Pope. Some Copts made an attempt on Cyrus's life, but the plot was uncovered by Eudocianus, the brother of Domentianus, who was a general in the Muslim conquest of Egypt. The conspirators were summarily executed without trial.

Military prefect


During the period when Umar's general, 'Amr ibn al-'As, also known as Amru to the Romans, posed a threat to the Prefecture of Egypt, Cyrus was appointed as prefect and given the responsibility of leading the war efforts. In order to maintain peace, Cyrus agreed to certain conditions that were deemed humiliating. However, this decision displeased his superior to such an extent that he was recalled and harshly accused of colluding with the Rashidun Caliphate. Despite these accusations, Cyrus was eventually reinstated to his former position due to the imminent siege of Alexandria. Unfortunately, he was unable to prevent the fall of the illustrious city in 641. Subsequently, on November 8, 641, he signed a peace treaty that resulted in the surrender of Alexandria and Egypt. Cyrus died in 642.[6]



Cyrus communicated with Sergius through three letters, known as the "Satisfactio," which have been preserved in the acts of the Roman Synod of the Lateran and the Sixth Ecumenical Council (Mansi, X, 1004; XI, 560, 562, 964).

In the first letter, Cyrus expressed his acceptance of the Ecthesis. The second letter described his dilemma between Pope Leo and Sergius, while the third letter narrated the conversion of the Theodosians.

One of the articles in the "Satisfactio," specifically the seventh article, states: "The one and same Christ, the Son, performs the works proper to God and to man by one theandric operation according to St. Dionysius."

Cyrus faced opposition from St. Sophronius, who died in 638 (Epistola synodica, Mansi, XI, 480), and St. Maximus, who died in 662 (Epistola ad Nicandrum; disputatio cum Pyrrho, P.G., XCI, 101, 345). They accused him of tempering with the revered text of Dionysius and introducing alterations. They also refuted his claim of support from the Church Fathers and explained that while the divine and human natures of Christ are referred to as one because they belong to the same person and work in harmony, they cannot be physically identified, as they have distinct origins. Historians hold differing opinions on how Cyrus adopted these views. Some believe he had a predisposition towards Monophysitism from the beginning, while others argue that he was influenced by Sergius and Heraclius.

Posthumously, Cyrus was condemned as a heretic at the Lateran Council of 649 (Denzinger, Enchiridion, 217, 219) and again in 680 at the Third Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (Denzinger, 238; Mansi, XI, 554).

See also



  1. ^ Abba Cyrus Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University, 2007. Retrieved 15 November 2013.
  2. ^ Bierbrier, Morris (2008). Historical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. Scarecrow Press. p. 56. ISBN 9780810862500.
  3. ^ a b Neil, Bronwen (2010). "Review of Sophronius of Jerusalem and Seventh-Century Heresy. The Synodical Letter and Other Documents". The Catholic Historical Review. 96 (2): 321–322. ISSN 0008-8080. JSTOR 27806548.
  4. ^ a b c d TANNOUS, JACK (2014). "In Search of Monotheletism". Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 68: 29–67. ISSN 0070-7546. JSTOR 24643755.
  5. ^ a b Butler, Albert J. (1903). The Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty Years under Roman Dominion (PDF). Oxford University Press. ISBN 1724498029.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  6. ^ Bierbrier, Morris L. (2008). Historical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. Scarecrow Press. p. 56. ISBN 9780810862500. Retrieved 27 September 2019.


Preceded by Greek Patriarch of Alexandria
Succeeded by