The Late Pope Shenouda III
Elected in October 1971 and consecrated a month later, He is the 117th successor to Saint Mark, one of the seventy Disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the author of the oldest canonical Gospel and the founder of the Coptic Orthodox Church. His official title, as well as that of His predecessors since the early years of the Church is: “Pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the see of Saint Mark.” Born, Nazeer Gayed, on August 3, 1923 from a religious family at Sallam, Assiut in Upper Egypt, He became very active in His Church. He graduated from Cairo University with a B.A. degree in History in 1947. As a student, He was also a trainee in the Military Reserve Corps. After graduation He taught Social Sciences and English in a high school in Cairo while attending evening classes at the Coptic Theological Seminary in Cairo. Because of His achievement He was appointed as a faculty member at the Seminary after his graduation in October 1949, he also offered courses in Theology at the Monastic School of Helwan. During his teaching He attended graduate courses in archaeology and classics at Cairo University. He also volunteered as journalist serving in the capacity of the Editor-in-Chief or the Sunday School Monthly Magazine, thus laying the foundation for the revival movement in Christian thought. In 1952 He was elected member of the Egyptian Journal Syndicate.
In 1954 He retired to the monastic life at the famous EI-Serian Monastery in the Western Desert, lived in a cave, slept on stones like the old Fathers of the Desert, and as a hermit, dedicated his days totally to contemplative meditation, prayer and fasting. He was then ordained a monk Archpriest with the name of Father Antonious Al-Seriany.
In 1962 the late Pope Cyril VI, His predecessor, ordained Him Bishop and assigned Him to the Presidential Chair of the Coptic Theological Seminary. Among His responsibilities were the spiritual leadership of the youth and the academic affairs of Christian education in all the dioceses of Egypt. During His administration the number of students tripled. Furthermore, as the Supreme Head of the Coptic Seminary he added to the original Seminary in Cairo, six others, at: Alexandria, Tanta, Shebin El-Kom, the Monastery of Al-Moharak, Minia, and El-Baliana.
Moreover, His Holiness ordered the establishment of two new Seminaries in the United States of America-one on the east coast in Jersey City and the other on the west coast in Los Angeles.
An avid reader and lover of the humanistic sciences, he is a great student of languages and a man of great ecumenical insights. He speaks fluent Arabic, English, Coptic, French, and reads Greek, Latin and Amharic.
His humility and ascetism have made him a charismatic personality with strong spiritual influence and indefatigable ability to lead His people. His preachings, sermons, and lectures have been witnessed for the last 25 years by thousands or persons from all over the country; mainly the youth, who in unpretentious pilgrimages, go to Cairo to see Him and hear His words at the newly built Saint Mark’s Cathedral at Anba Rweis Abbassia which easily accommodates 7000 persons. His ability to expound the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was recognized in 1979 when he received the Browning Award as the Best Preacher of the Year.
As a writer, poet and journalist He is recognized as one with great skills in style and simplicity besides being profound in details and purist interpreter of the Holy Scriptures. An excellent critic and spokesman on religious subjects, His Holiness always presents them clearly; in a way that anyone listening could not help but understand profit in spirit, enjoy and grow in the knowledge of Christ’s pristine doctrine.
He is the author of over fifty books and booklets plus a large number of articles in the Egyptian Press as well as Editor-in-Chief of AL-Keraza, the official weekly magazine of the Coptic Church. Most of His books were translated into English and German.
With a spirit of love, following the example of the Lord, and as a strong advocate of Christian unity, He paid fraternal visits to several Heads of Churches in Europe and Asia in 1972. His Holiness is known for His devotion to the unity of the Church. In 1971 He attended the first informal meeting with the Roman Catholic theologians, held in Vienna. He is the first Alexandrian Pontiff to visit the Vatican since the great schism of A.D. 451. On May 7 1973, together with Pope Paul VI, He signed a common declaration in which they expressed their mutual concern about church unity. A joint committee drawn from both the Coptic and Roman Catholic theologians was formed to follow up these efforts under His auspices Other visits were exchanged between His Holiness and the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, the Orthodox Patriarchs of Moscow, Rumania, Bulgaria and Antioch, and with the Catholic Patriarchs in the Middle Eastern countries.
The Coptic Church has also become a member of the Middle East Council of Churches, and has had a stimulating role in the area. Further steps have been taken towards bringing about a reconciliation with the Protestant Churches in Egypt; the first meeting of the Churches took place at the Patriarchate in December, 1976. A Higher Council for all Christian Churches in Egypt has also been set up.
Under His Holiness’ leadership, the Coptic Church’s active membership in the World Council of Churches has been greatly fostered. The Coptic Church has also become a member in the All Africa Conference of Churches with a lending role.
Through his never ending desire to shepherd Our Lord’s flock, He has paid pastoral visits to many countries, including: Russia, Rumania, Armenia, USA, Canada, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, Turkey, Libya, Central and East Africa, and England.
As a former hermit, Pope Shenouda III has devoted great efforts to rebuilding the old monasteries of Saint Antonious, Saint Pishoy the Assyrian and of the Baramos. Not only has he ordered the building of new Coptic-styled cells for the increasing number of monks at these monasteries, but he has also added large retreat houses where visitors can spend some time in the monasteries and enjoy the spiritual life with the monks. He also led the educational revival among the monks, preparing for a renaissance in Coptic culture. His care for the nunneries has bolstered the existing movement for social and cultural services among Coptic nuns.
Monastic life under his guidance was restored at two desolated ancient monasteries or Saint Pachomius at Edfu, Saint George of Rozaikat, Luxor; and as well to Saint Demiana’s Convent at Belkas in Lower Egypt. Monastic restoration is being extended to six other ancient monasteries in Upper Egypt. Consequently, the Monastic renaissance added hundreds of monks (mainly from the youth) from whom the army of the ministry of the Coptic Church found a good source.
Since his consecration in 1971, Pope Shenouda III has strongly supported the extension of pastoral care to every individual in His church. The number of bishops He has ordained during His papacy has risen to fifty-two and consequently raised the number or the Holy Synod to 64.
In Cairo and Alexandria, He ordained more than 250 priests. Over sixty new churches were added to the existing number or Coptic churches in Egypt. His Holiness has also devoted more attention to Coptic churches outside Egypt. As the Supreme Pontiff of the oldest church in Africa, He has responded to the repeated requests of various African countries, and entrusted two bishops with the task of conducting religious affairs in North and East Africa. In addition, there are two Coptic Metropolitans in the Sudan. There arc Coptic churches in Libya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Abu Dhabi, and Algeria.
Under His untiring ministry the number of Coptic Churches in the western world has burgeoned--from two to 40 in the United States of America, from two to nine in Canada, and from two to thirteen in Australia. In Europe, He established two churches in London, a Coptic Center and church in Birmingham; four churches in Scotland, Wales, Manchester and Ireland; seven churches and a monastery in Germany, two churches in Austria, and one in each of the following: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Brussels, Athens, Milan, Rome, Paris, Marseilles, Geneva, and Zurich. Moreover, a new Diocese was established in East Africa with Nairobi, Kenya as its center.
Pope Shenouda III passed died on March 17, 2012 secondary to liver and lung complications. He was buried at the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in Wadi-el-Natrun. It was estimated that over one million mourners visited St. Mark's Cathedral, in Cairo, following his passing. His Holiness was such a blessing to so many - may his blessing continue to come upon us!