Matthew The Poor of Alexandria

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His Holiness Matthew (or Mattheos I) The Poor (or El-Meskeen) was the 87th Coptic Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark (1378 - 1408). He is revered as a saint by the Coptic Church.

Early life

As a young boy, Matthew worked tending his father's sheep. He used to give his food to the shepherds, and spend the whole day fasting. When he was fourteen he was admitted to the monastery to practice asceticism and worship. He was ordained a priest at the age of eighteen. Then he left to St. Anthony's monastery to escape vainglory. He did not tell any of the monks about his priesthood, but rather used to serve mass as a deacon. Once, while he was reading the Gospel a heavenly hand appeared and offered him incense three times. Seeing that, the elders of the monastery said that he should be elected a patriarch.

For the second time he escaped to Palestine, and worked in construction. But when he heard that the Copts were persecuted because of the Crusaders' actions, he returned to St. Anthony's Monastery where he was appointed abbot of the monastery.

Shortly after his ordination, Prince Yalpogha led the monks and their abbot in humility through the streets of Cairo to avenge the Crusaders. For the Crusaders had raided Alexandria, killing many, and kidnapping others before they fled; and since they bore the sign of the Cross on their breasts, this roused the ruling prince and his men against the Copts.

Once again, Matthew left for Al-Muharraq monastery to work in the kitchen, and serve the elders. He lived a life of self-denial, and did not allow himself to have more than one garment. It was said that he was a friend of the wild beasts who kept him company outside the monastery.

On the death of Gabriel IV, Patriarch of Alexandria (1378), Father Mattheos was elected be the next Patriarch. On hearing the news, Matthew escaped and hid in the bottom of a ship, but a little child exposed his hiding place. Finally, he solicited the opinion of the council of the elders of St. Anthony's monastery, and accepted their decision. Escorted to Alexandria, he was consecrated as Pope, and gave himself the title El-Meskeen ("The Poor"). (Not to be confused with [1] and [2].)

Pope of the See of St. Mark

The fact that Father Matthew became the Pope of the See of St. Mark did not change him a bit. He cared for the poor, loved to give alms, and was always humble. Through the heavenly wisdom given to him, it happened that he was inspired to buy lots of wheat before a famine. And when the famine struck he distributed the grains to anyone who asked for it, without any discrimination between Muslims, Jews, or Christians. He gave generously, and God blessed his crop, so it did not diminish.

Matthew is said to have always been venerated by God and by men. When he stood before the Altar, his face often radiated with divine light and his eyes glittered, as he looked to our Saviour Jesus Christ who often appeared to him. Also, because of his heavenly wisdom, people used to ask his advice about their private matters. The Sultan Barquq is said to have asked the Pope's advice before accepting the Sultanate.

One day, Sultan Barquq asked Pope Matthew to write to the Emperor of Ethiopia, Wedem Asfare. But Matthew wrote to his brother Dawit instead. When the messengers arrived in Ethiopia, they found out that Wedem Asfare had died, and that Dawit had become the new Emperor. Dawit received the letter, and asked them about the two presents sent to him by the Pope (which were a cross and a handkerchief). The messengers were astonished that he knew about these presents, but he told them that the Pope appeared to him in a dream and told him about what was going to happen.

Through his cordial relation with Sultan Barquq, he was able to stop the mob from burning Al-Muallaqa church and the Shahran monastery, because the Muslims were claiming that new constructions were taking place in those two locations. The Sultan appointed four Islamic judges who declared such claims to be false.

However, the situation worsened when two Mamaluk princes exiled Sultan Barquq, and took his place. Mentach and Yalpogha inflicted severe sufferings upon the Copts and their Pope. Finally, Yalpogha arrested Pope Mattheos and imprisoned him. When he tried to kill him by the sword, the Pope stretched out his neck to him. The prince was deeply troubled, and he ordered Pope Matthew to be released. Later, Yalpogha himself was imprisoned and died in chains in Alexandria.

Tradition states that Pope Matthew was granted the gift of performing miracles. During the renovation of St. Mary's church, a large stone fell on one of the workers and killed him instantly. The Pope prayed over the body, and the Lord raised the worker from the dead.

During the reign of Sultan Al-Nasser Faraj, the prince Sodon plundered the Sultan's palace. Sodon plotted with some of his followers to massacre the Copts. In response, it is said that Pope Mattheos devoted seven days to fasting and praying in St. Marcorius' church, and at the end of those seven days the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and comforted him. Shortly after that, Sodon summoned the Pope to the palace and confessed to him the plot he intended against the Copts.

However, the tribulations inflicted upon the Copts by Sodon and his supporters became very severe. The Pope retreated this time to the church of Archangel Michael to dedicate his time to prayer and fasting. Then news came from the palace that Sodon was stabbed by a horseman six days ago, on the exact day when the Pope started his retreat.

One of the Mamaluks, Gamal-El-Din, also caused trouble for the Pope by persecuting Christians. He imposed on the Pope a tribute of five hundred thousand dinars, which the Copts had to raise amongst themselves. Gamal-El-Din continued his persecution, and he ordered the Pope to appear before him in the palace. But the Pope asked the messengers to wait until the next day. That night, Pope Matthew died after serving his flock for 30 years and five months, having named as his successor Gabriel V. The miracles that are believed to have come through his prayers continued after his death and continue until this day.