H.H. Pope Shenouda III of good memory
Timeline of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III’s Life
1923 Aug 3 born in village of Sallaam, Assyut, Diocese of Manfalot
1954 Jul 18 consecrated as monk Fr Antonius El-Suryani
1958 Aug 31 ordained as priest by Bishop Theophilus, abbot of St Mary Monastery (the Syrian Monastery)
1962 Sep 30 ordained as General Bishop by Pope Kyrillos VI
1971 Nov 14 enthroned as Pope of Alexandria (4th Hatur, 1688 AM)
1972 Oct first Coptic Pope to visit Ecumenical Patriarch in 15 centuries
1973 May penned famous Christological statement agreed upon by Roman Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches on the Nature of Christ
1973 May 10 returned relics of St. Athanasius the Apostolic to Egypt
1974 Sep 25-30 pastoral trip to Ethiopia during reign of Emperor Haile Selassie
1977 Apr 14-May23 1st trip to U. S. A. and Canada
1981 Sep 3 H. H.’s exile decreed by President Anwar El-Sadat
1985 Jan 2 returned from exile by President Hosny Mubarak
1988 Apr 20 signed contract with El-Ahram News Agency, Cairo, to microfilm archives of the Coptic Orthodox Church
1989 Nov 18-Dec 10 1st trip to Australia
1991 Feb 5-26 2nd trip to Australia
1993 Aug 3rd trip to Australia
1994 edited new Sunday School Curriculum
1995 Aug-Sep 4th trip to Australia
1996 May 18-Dec 20 trip to U. K., Canada, U. S. A.; 5th to Australia (Silver Jubilee tour)
2002 Nov 6th trip to Australia
2008 Apr 11-13 historical 2nd trip to Ethiopia
For his orthodoxy, he has been called “Athanasius of the twentieth and twentieth-first centuries”; for his remarkable teaching ability, great writing skills, and clear, effective manner of rhetoric, “John Chrysostom of the twentieth century”; and for his reforms he is compared with Pope Kyrillos (Cyril) IV, “the Father of reformation”, and has been called the greatest reformer. He has been described as the most knowledgeable pope in history, a living and moving encyclopedia, a great professor, giant scholar and authority on the Bible, theology, dogma, rites, church history, law and patrology. He is the richest patriarch in terms of teaching and preaching, and in composing books and articles in all branches of religion. He is said to be the most gifted pope in speech, poetry, journalism, literature and administration. Despite all these accolades, he prefers the title “servant”.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was born Nazeer Gayed on August 3, 1923, to a pious Christian family in a village called Sallaam, province of Assyut, Diocese of Manfalot, Upper Egypt. He was the youngest of eight children – five girls and three boys, among whom were Rophael and Shawki (who later became Fr. Botros Gayed, 1918-1996). His mother died shortly after his birth. Hence, he moved to Damanhur to be cared for by his older brother Rophael. There, he attended the Coptic Primary School. Soon afterward, he studied at the American School in Banha.
He then moved to Shubra, Cairo, where he enrolled at the Faith Senior Secondary School. From the age of 14, Nazeer began reading many poems. Thus sprang the love of poetry, which flourished in him, till he wrote many poems himself, especially between 1946 and 1962. By the age of 16, he was very active in the Sunday School movement, and served at Saint Mary’s Church in Mahmasha. He also served at St. Anthony’s Church in Shubra. Later he became a head servant there and drew thousands of youth to the faith, through his blessed personality and simple style.
Academic Achievements and Theological Studies
In 1943, Nazeer entered the Cairo University, and completed a Bachelor of Arts (B. A.), majoring in English and History, while he spent his summer vacations at the Monastery of St. Mary (“Deir El-Suryan”). As a university student, he was a trainee in the Military Reserve Corps. Although at this time only graduates were admitted to evening classes at the Coptic Theological Seminary, in 1946 the dean, Archdeacon Habib Guirguis, admitted Nazeer while still in his final year of undergraduate studies. He then graduated with the B. A. in 1947.
After graduating, he completed his military service as dux (top of group), and began work as a teacher of English, History and Social Sciences in a Cairene high school. Meanwhile, he attended graduate courses in Archaeology and Classics at Cairo University.
Because of his academic brilliance and achievements as dux of his year level in the Seminary, and, upon his completion of Bachelor of Theology in October, 1949, the Dean appointed him as a faculty member, lecturing in Old and New Testaments. In 1950 Nazeer resigned from his secular employment to take a full-time lecturing position.
Also in 1949, he became the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday School Monthly Magazine. In 1952 He was elected member of the Egyptian Journal Syndicate. In 1953, he was appointed a lecturer at the Monastic College in Helwan, offering courses in Theology there, and in the same year he began his dialogue with Jehovah’s Witnesses, writing articles about their beliefs in the Sunday School Magazine.
Nazeer and other servants labored for several years to establish a strong Sunday School and youth group at St. Anthony’s Church in Shubra. His ministry produced hundreds of devoted servants, who began establishing youth groups in neighbouring parishes.
An avid reader, he is a great student of languages and a man of vast ecumenical insights. He speaks fluent Arabic, English, Coptic and French, and reads Greek, Latin and Amharic.
Monastic Life and Educational Service
The road to monasticism was a natural consequence of the desire from his early years to consecrate his life to Christ. Pope Shenouda once said, “… I found in monasticism a life of complete freedom and clarification.” So he became a novice at the Western Desert Monastery of St. Mary, known as “Deir El-Suryan” (the “Syrian Monastery”) in 1954, choosing the solitude of the Egyptian desert and the angelic life of monasticism over everything else. Then on July 18 of that year, H. H. was consecrated a monk by the late H. G. Bishop Theophilus, Bishop and Abbot of the Syrian Monastery, and was given the name Fr. Antonius El-Suryani.
Ordination as a Priest
On August 31, 1958, Fr. Antonius was ordained a priest (a monk priest) in order to take confessions of newly consecrated monks. At the monastery, Fr. Antonius was placed in charge of the library and the printing press; he oversaw the printing of manuscripts, was the tour guide when foreigners visited, and at times was responsible for the monastery’s agriculture and buildings. However, to satisfy his desire for solitude, he adopted the life of a hermit, taking residence in a cave three and a half kilometers from the monastery.
In 1959, His Holiness Pope Kyrillos VI appointed him to be his personal secretary, but Fr. Antonius still preferred the life of solitude. He found his heart longing to return to the solitary life. Once Pope Kyrillos VI allowed him to return to the life for which his spirit yearned, he searched the desert and came upon a cave ten kilometers from the monastery at Bahr Al-Farigh; it became a new haven of spiritual growth and holy devotion.
In September, 1962, H. H. Pope Kyrillos VI summoned the hermit to the Patriarchate in Cairo, along with H. G. Bishop Theophilus, regarding the monastery’s administrative affairs. As Fr Antonius knelt in front of the Patriarch for a blessing and expecting to be relieved of his administrative duties in the monastery, the Patriarch placed his large hands firmly on the head of the hermit before he knew it, appointing him (General) Bishop for the Theological College and Sunday School (i.e. Bishop for Christian Education).
Ordination as a Bishop
On September 30, 1962, he was ordained at the Patriarchate by H. H. Pope Kyrillos VI as the first ever General Bishop for Christian Education. He was then known as His Grace Bishop Shenouda. Pope Kyrillos VI also assigned him President of the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary. His Holiness recalls the day of his ordination and cannot think of another day where he wept more. Upon receiving a congratulatory note, the newly ordained Bishop Shenouda offered a response indicative of the bitter sorrow and great reluctance he felt towards leaving his beloved life as a monk:
“… a letter of consolation, not of congratulations, was fit for the occasion. How may a monk be congratulated on leaving the calmness of the wilderness and abiding amidst the disturbance of the city? … For me, it is indeed a matter of shame. I remember that day of my consecration to the Episcopacy in tears and lamentation….”
Among his responsibilities were the spiritual leadership of the youth and the academic affairs of Christian education in all the dioceses of Egypt.
In 1963, H. G. Bishop Shenouda was delegated by the Coptic Orthodox Church to attend the 1000th year anniversary of the establishment of the monasteries of Mt. Athos, Greece. In 1965, Bishop Shenouda was appointed the first President of the Association of Theological Institutes in the Middle East (ATIME).
By late 1969 the enrollment of full-time students in the Theological Seminary doubled and that of part-time students increased 10 times its original number. Under His Holiness’ presidency, women were admitted to the College and several were appointed lecturers.
In September, 1971, Bishop Shenouda represented the Coptic Orthodox Church in the theological dialogue organised by Pro Oriente between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church regarding the topic of the Nature of Christ. H. G. wrote a Christological statement which was accepted by all.
Later, he became the first patriarch of Alexandria since the fifth century A. D. to have been Dean of the Theological Seminary. Through his leadership of the seminary, the number of students tripled. Furthermore, as the Head of the Coptic Seminary he added to the original Seminary in Cairo, seven others in Egypt, at: Alexandria, Tanta, Monofeyya, El-Minia, El-Baliana, Damanhur, St. Mary’s Monastery (“Deir El-Muharraq”). He has also established five in the diaspora: Sydney (est. 1982), New Jersey (est. September, 1989), Los Angeles (est. November, 1989), U. K. (est. September, 1997) and St. Athanasius Theological College, Melbourne, Australia (est. February, 2001). He continues to lecture at these branches and also at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies.
El-Keraza (Preaching) Magazine
H. H. has been the Editor-in-Chief of El-Keraza Magazine, the official publication of the Coptic Orthodox Church, since 1962. He is the first patriarch to establish such a fortnightly magazine, which enters into hundreds of thousands of homes around the world.
Enthronement as Pope of Alexandria
On March 9, 1971, His Holiness Pope Kyrillos VI departed in peace. The Holy Synod met on March 22 to plan for the election of the new Patriarch. Among the final three candidates for the altar ballot was Bishop Shenouda.
On October 31, 1971, the altar ballot was conducted at the end of the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of St. Ruweiss. A blindfolded young boy handed the Locum Tenens (Acting Pope) His Eminence Metropolitan Antonyos a piece of paper from the box, who then declared the divinely chosen name, His Grace Bishop Shenouda, Bishop for Education.
On November 14, 1971 A. D. (the Coptic date was Hatur 4, 1688 A. M.), His Grace Bishop Shenouda was consecrated and enthroned as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. He is the 116th 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. The Coptic Pope’s 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.”
His Holiness has consistently stated that the Church’s primary function is to provide effective pastoral care to every soul. Thus, he has ordained 110 Metropolitans and Bishops till April, 2008, promoted more than 12 Metropolitans, and ordained over 600 priests since 1971.
Thus, since the day of H. H.’s enthronement, the Coptic Orthodox Church has witnessed a remarkable revival through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the pastoral care of H. H. Pope Shenouda conducts a weekly Wednesday night meeting, which is attended by over seven thousand of the faithful at the Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo. He also conducts fortnightly sermons in Alexandria. These two meetings are attended by people eager to hear and benefit from his nourishing words. His Holiness has a certain ability to examine, interpret and explain the details of the Holy Scriptures. As a dynamic preacher, His Holiness is well known for his captivating skill in the use of words, yet his simple style of speaking. He is the only patriarch to teach multitudes and answer their questions in such a weekly meeting, ever since his ordination as bishop in 1962.
His ability to expound the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was recognised in 1978 when he received the Browning Award (U. S. A.) as the Best Christian Preacher of the Year. For his erudition in theology and scripture, His Holiness has been awarded eight honourary Doctoral Degrees, from internationally recognised universities in America and Europe.
He has also received, on November 16, 2000, the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. Referring to the Scriptures, Pope Shenouda declared: “There is a way you can overcome your enemy, it is by changing your enemy into a friend. We need to win friends everywhere… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Gentleness and meekness are needed to have peace.”
His Holiness has divided the Holy Synod into seven subcommittees to facilitate more effective functioning and administration. In 1985, a constitution was drafted, setting forth the objectives, policies and procedures of the Holy Synod. In addition, His Holiness has revived many Canon laws and has directed a number of revisions and changes in the rites of the Church, including a revision of the Synaxarium (the book of biographies of saints, and feasts and occasions of the church). In all these endeavours, His Holiness has ensured that the authentic apostolic tradition is maintained.
H. H. has been very keen to ensure that candidates for the priesthood (and the episcopacy) are nominated by their respective parishes. H. H. also established three graduate institutes: Biblical Studies, Hymnology, and Coptic Language. On the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the Theological College on November 29, 1993, he officially opened the Institute of Pastoral Care, with the objective of building and developing the training of clergy and servants in the diverse field of pastoral work. His Holiness regularly holds seminars for the priests in Egypt and abroad to provide them with guidance and address their concerns and questions..
Despite his many responsibilities, H. H. usually manages to spend three days a week in the monastery. His love of monasticism has led a monastic revival in the Coptic Orthodox Church. He has consecrated hundreds of monks and nuns and reestablished many monasteries and nunneries (convents). He is the first pope to establish Coptic monasteries outside Egypt, which presently number nine.
His Holiness has also given special attention to the ministry of women in the Coptic Church. Thousands of female servants teach catechism in Sunday school, youth meetings and family meetings. There are women that teach in the Coptic Institute and the Biblical Institute. There are also many women who serve in the field of social work. By establishing an order for Deaconesses, H.H. Pope Shenouda III has significantly enhanced the role of women within the Coptic community. Many educated women have consecrated their lives as deaconesses, and serve in most dioceses in Egypt.
He gives special attention to the youth of the church. H. H. has said many times, “A church without youth is a church without a future.” And so, His Holiness established the Bishopric of Youth in 1980 and ordained H.G. Bishop Moussa to look after its affairs. Later the Pope ordained H.G. Bishop Raphael to assist in the youth ministry.
For the flock in the world, H. H. is the first patriarch ever to cook and make the Holy Myron oil (Chrism) seven times during his papacy, the seventh being in April, 2008.
Period of Exile
During the early years of his enthronement, His Holiness Pope Shenouda had an amicable relationship with the late Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat. However, during his presidency, violent Islamic fundamentalist groups increased all over Egypt. They started attacking Coptic Christians, vandalising their businesses and burning their churches, which led Pope Shenouda to protest to the government. President Sadat reacted by issuing a presidential decree to exile His Holiness to the Monastery of St. Bishoy on September 3, 1981, imprison eight bishops, twenty-four priest, leading Coptic lay figures, and ban “El-Keraza” magazine and “Watany” newspaper.
Despite having to spend forty months away from his flock, His Holiness continued to care for them. He saw the exile as an opportunity for spiritual retreat and wrote sixteen books during that time.
A month after his decree, President Sadat was assassinated by the same fundamentalist groups. After much effort from His Holiness’ children inside and outside the Coptic Orthodox Church, and after three and a half years, the succeeding Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, released Pope Shenouda from exile on January 2, 1985. Accompanied by many bishops, His Holiness returned to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, where more than ten thousand people filled the Cathedral to receive the Pope, and he celebrated the Glorious Feast of the Divine Incarnation (Christmas) on January 7 of that year.
His Holiness, after praying the Prayer of Thanksgiving, greeted the flock with these words: “I have no residence except in your hearts, which are full of love. I have never been away from your hearts, not even for a twinkle of an eye.” He went on to say “I would like to do my best to deepen love, peace and reconciliation between the Church and the State, between the Church and our Muslim citizens. We are like organs in the one body, which is Egypt.”
His Holiness works tirelessly to improve relations between the Christians and Muslims in Egypt, in order to establish a peaceful social environment and to dispel sectarian divisions. The Pope and the President of Egypt, Mr. Hosny Mubarak, are in good relations, as well as with the moderate Muslims in Egypt.
The Coptic Church in the Diaspora
One of the most remarkable things about the growth of the Coptic Orthodox Church is her expansion worldwide. His Holiness has thus established a secretariat for the Pastoral Affairs of the Church abroad, and he became the first patriarch to travel to all the continents of the world teaching and preaching in Arabic and English. At the commencement of Pope Shenouda III’s papacy, there were only seven Coptic churches outside Egypt: two each in Canada, U. S. A. and Australia, and one in England.
At the commencement of his papacy, there were 23 dioceses in Egypt; in 2008 there are 50. There were three dioceses outside Egypt; now there are 25.
Under his leadership, the Coptic Orthodox Church has witnessed a growth in Australia and New Zealand, where there are currently 28 churches. In 1999, we witnessed the enthronement of the first bishop over Melbourne, Australia and New Zealand, His Grace Bishop Suriel. In Australia there are 42 churches, two theological colleges, five primary and secondary schools, three monasteries and an elderly hostel. We also have four churches in New Zealand. There are two churches in Fiji and one each in Japan, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Africa currently has two bishops serving in missions in eleven African countries with 42 churches. There are over 140 churches in the U. S. A. plus many organisations, 25 churches in Canada, and the city of Toronto houses a large Coptic Cultural Centre. In Europe, there are well over one hundred and twenty churches and ten bishops. In November 1991, the first Coptic Churches were established in South America, with a church each in Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. Priests have also been ordained for churches in the Caribbean, including Bermuda, the Virgin Islands and the West Indies.
In 1994, upon request of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), they gained Autocephaly (independence) from the Coptic Church. Both Churches still belong to the See of St. Mark and both confess one Orthodox doctrine. Eritrea, upon gaining independence from Ethiopia, received pastoral care from His Holiness Pope Shenouda III by his ordination of Eritrean bishops to form the Holy Synod for the Eritrean Orthodox Church, and thus H. H. became the first Coptic patriarch to ordain a patriarch for Eritrea.
In 1994, under the guidance of Pope Shenouda III, the British Orthodox Church, which was originally established in 1866 as a part of the Syriac Orthodox Church, became canonically part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. At the feast of Pentecost that same year, Pope Shenouda ordained Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury as Metropolitan for the British Orthodox Church, and thus joined the British Orthodox Church into the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.
Commitment to Christian Unity
H. H. has emphasised that Christian unity must be founded upon a unity of faith and not one of jurisdiction. As a result, he has paid many visits to the various Orthodox churches and their patriarchs, such as those of Constantinople, Moscow, Romania, and Antioch. A full communion of these churches with the Oriental Orthodox Churches seems imminent.
With a spirit of love, H. H. paid fraternal visits to several Heads of Churches in Europe and Asia in 1972. He is known for his devotion to the unity of the Church.
In 1971 Pope Shenouda attended the first meeting with Roman Catholic theologians, held in Vienna. In 1973, H. H. became the first Coptic Orthodox pope to visit the Vatican in over 1500 years. On May 7, 1973, together with Pope Paul VI of Rome, he signed a common declaration in which they expressed their mutual concern about church unity. A joint committee of both Coptic Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians was formed to follow up these efforts under his auspices. Pope Shenouda III wrote a Christological statement agreed upon by both those Churches.
Also in that historic visit, and around the 1600th anniversary of the Feast of St. Athanasius the Apostolic, the 20th Pope of Alexandria, H. H. personally received this saint’s relics from Pope Paul VI of Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on May 6, 1973 (see pictures below – Pope Shenouda being on the right, receiving St. Athanasius relics), and joyfully brought them back to Egypt on May 10, 1973.
H. H. received the late H. H. Pope John Paul II of the Roman Catholic Church in 2000 in Egypt. He also met H. G. Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury for the Church of England, in the U. K. in 2004, as well as many other church leaders throughout the world.
Other visits were exchanged between His Holiness and the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, the Orthodox Patriarchs of Moscow, Romania, Bulgaria and Antioch, and with the Catholic Patriarchs in the Middle Eastern countries.
There have also been dialogues with various Protestant churches worldwide. 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.
Under the leadership of H. H., the Coptic Orthodox Church is a full member of the World Council of Churches (WCC), of which H. H. was a former president; the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), of which H. H. was a former president; the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC); the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U. S. A. (NCC); the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC); the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI). In May 2000, he established the first ecumenical office, in the Archdiocese of North America.
Until now, His Holiness initiates and closely monitors theological dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Swedish Lutheran, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. His Holiness is presently one of the Presidents of the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches.
Writings and Lectures
H.H. is the author of over 140 books and booklets on a variety of subjects, over half of which have been translated into English, French, German, Italian, and other languages.
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 be greatly nourished in spirit, enjoy and grow in the knowledge of Christ’s pristine doctrine.
His Holiness has made scores of pastoral visits outside Egypt. From August to December 1989, H. H. made an historic 112-day visit to all the Coptic Churches in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. During his trip, His Holiness laid foundation stones of new Churches, consecrated most of the altars in the churches, baptised hundreds of children, consecrated hundreds of deacons, delivered many lectures at theological seminaries and universities, opened a theological seminary in New Jersey and in Los Angeles, and conducted numerous spiritual meetings.
Despite a heavy work-load, and several operations including spinal surgery on October 22, 2006 and a leg operation in 2008, H. H. works tirelessly, bringing souls to Christ.