Recently something or other drew my attention to a mysterious saint named “John the Merciful”. A google search took me to a dreadful Wikipedia article – since modified – which merely repeated anecdotes from his Life, itself online elsewhere. He was described as “John V” and patriarch of Alexandria.
With some effort, I discovered that he was in fact the Melkite patriarch – not the Coptic patriarch – at the time of the Sassanid Persian occupation of Egypt under Heraclius. He was the state appointed patriarch in a hostile land, and he sensibly legged it straight out of Dodge when the Persians arrived, along with Nicetas the governor. He’s a saint in the Greek orthodox world, although curiously he may also be a Coptic saint – the online material is confusing. There is an account of him in Butler’s The Arab Conquest of Egypt, although this is very old.
This lead me to wonder where I could find a reliable, scholarly list of bishops of Alexandria. It isn’t easy to answer that question, whichever episcopal see you are interested in. You can find such things online, but never referenced, and you never know quite what you’re looking at or how reliable it might be.
After some googling around, for quite some time, I did find some sort of answer. There is a list in Walter Eder, Chronologies of the Ancient World: Names, Dates, Dynasties, Leiden (2007), which is supplement 1 for Der Neue Pauly. Section XIII, p.315-332, gives lists of bishops and patriarchs, for Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, together with a “synoptic chart”, a table of dates and bishops showing who was presiding where at what time. Each section has a brief bibliography. The Melkite patriarchs of Alexandria are in there. The series ends with the Muslim conquest, when the Melkite patriarch, a state official, sensibly disappeared off to Constantinople. A figurehead “Greek Orthodox Patriarch” was re-established about a century later, to serve the needs of visitors, with the consent of the Muslim rulers, and this post still exists today.
The same question could reasonably be asked of other sees. Name any ancient see. Now consider: just where would I find a reliable list of bishops? Ideally with primary source references? Surely this must exist?