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OUR DEPARTED POPE

The Life of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III

 

I WILL GIVE YOU SHEPHERDS ACCORDING TO MY HEART, WHO WILL FEED YOU WITH KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING.” Jeremiah 3:15

Consecrated as Pope Shenouda III on November 14, 1971 as the 117th Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of the See of St. Mark

Early Life

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct,

in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”  I Timothy 4:12

 

  • From his childhood, Nazeer Gayed had a profound love for God and the Church.  At the young age of sixteen, he had joined the Sunday school program at Saint Antony'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.

 

  • As a gifted writer, Nazeer regularly wrote articles and poems in the Sunday School magazine, and later was appointed as its Editor-in-Chief.  In 1947, he received his B.A. in English and Hstory from Cairo University.  His Holiness has used this education to his advantage, as is evidenced by his speeches, sermons, and books.

 

  • At the Coptic Orthodox Seminary in Egypt, Nazeer completed the Bachelor of Theology degree with academic brilliance, which led to his appointment as lecturer in the Old and New Testaments.  In 1950, he resigned from his secular employment to take the position of full-time lecturer and then in 1953 he was appointed lecturer at the Monastic College in Hellwan.

Monasticism

“In His shadow I desired and sat, and his fruit was sweet in my throat.”

Song of Songs 2:3

 

  • Deeply attracted to the spiritual joy of monastic life and desiring to consecrate his life totally to God, Nazeer Gayed separated himself from the world and joined St. Mary's Monastery of the Syrians in 1954.  He left everything and everyone to be with the only One.

 

  • On July 18, 1954, Nazeer Gayed was consecrated a monk by H.G. Bishop Theophilus and was given the name of Father Antony El-Souriany.

 

  • At the Monastery of the Syrians, Father Antony was placed in charge of the library.  These duties enabled him to devote his studies to the reading of the Church Fathers.  He recognized, however, that solitude was the key to consecrating his heart, soul, and mind to the Lord.  To satisfy his soul's burning desire for solitude, he adopted the life of a hermit, taking residence in a cave some three kilometers from the monastery.

 

  • In 1959, His Holiness Pope Cyril VI appointed him to be his personal secretary, but Father Antony still preferred the life of solitude.  He found his heart longing to return to the contemplative life of monasticism.  Once H.H. Pope Cyril 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.

 

  • Then, in September 1962, H.H. Pope Cyril VI summoned the hermit to the Patriarchate in Cairo because of some insignificant misunderstanding about the monastery's administrative affairs.  While kneeling in front of the Patriarch apologizing and expecting to be forgiven then relieved from his administrative duties in the monastery, the Patriarch placed his hands on the head of the hermit, consecrating him Bishop for the Theological College and Sunday School (i.e. Bishop of Education).  The ordination later took place in the Patriarchate on September 30, 1962.

 

  • 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:

 

  • “I thank you for your gentle words of congratulation sent to me…As a matter of fact, however, a letter of consolation-not of congratulation 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?  How can anyone congratulate Mary if she leaves her place at the feet of Christ and goes to labor with Martha in the kitchen?  For me, it is, indeed, a matter of shame.  I remember that day of my consecration to the Episcopacy in tears and lamentation.  Indeed, the glory of solitude and contemplation is above measure.  It may not be compared with that of the Episcopacy or even that of the Papacy.  The true consecration, my dear friend, is the consecration of the heart as a holy temple for the Lord, Who on the Last Day will not ask us for our pastoral grade but for our purity of heart.”

 

  • His Holiness expresses his reason for loving solitude when he says:  “To consecrate the whole mind for God alone and not have in mind anything but God.  Not to long for anything, but only for the salvation of the soul.  It is how to love God, how to leave everything for the sake of God.  It is how to have God abiding in the heart, and in the mind, all the time.  Not to care for anything, but only for God.  It is not mingling with the disturbances and shouts of the world, but through quietness of the body, one will gain the quietness of the heart and the quietness of thought.”

  • The depth of the monastic way in the life of the ascetic Pope has lead to a great resurgence of monasticism within the Church.  The numbers of men and women consecrating their lives to monasticism has greatly increased in the past thirty years.  His Holiness has personally ordained about 300 monks and 150 nuns.

 

  • His Holiness' commitment to monastic revival has remained powerfully evident.  During his papacy, eight monasteries have been established on four continents (Africa, Australia, Europe, and North America) and three monasteries have been recognized in Egypt.  His Holiness has also been instrumental in rebuilding and renovating many deserted monasteries and convents.

 

Christian Education

“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.  Convince, rebuke, exhort,

with all longsuffering and teaching.” II Timothy 4:2

  • One of His Holiness' most striking qualities, which has helped him serve as a great leader, is his remarkable teaching ability and his great writing skills.  This wonderful talent stems from his bountiful knowledge and clear, effective manner in rhetoric.  It is for that reason that H.H. Pope Shenouda III is commonly referred to as "the John Chrysostom of the twentieth century."

 

  • Using the talents given to him by the Lord, His Holiness has worked tirelessly to strengthen the state of Christian Education within the Church.  Upon succeeding to the pontifical Chair of St. Mark, Pope Shenouda III did not cease his involvement in the Theological College.  His Holiness continues to lecture at the branches of the College in Australia, Egypt, and the United States, and also lectures at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies.  It was in fact, under the guidance of the Pope's personal attention, that the Seminary College has expanded through the addition of eleven branches: six have been established in Egypt and five in the Diaspora.  His Holiness has also established three graduate institutes: Biblical Studies, Hymnology, and Coptic Language.  In all these efforts, His Holiness has revived and revitalized contemporary theological scholarship within the Coptic Orthodox Church.

 

  • As a renowned theologian and a scriptural scholar, His Holiness has been a prolific writer, publishing over one hundred books on various topics.  These invaluable books, which have been translated into many languages, serve to edify the people on the Scripture's message, as well as address contemporary issues of society and Christianity.  Many of His Holiness' writings have come from his lectures at the Seminary College and his weekly sermons with the general public, which he started shortly after his ordination as the Bishop for Education in 1962.

 

  • His Holiness' weekly sermons in Cairo and biweekly sermons in Alexandria are attended by thousands of 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. A key feature of the Pope's sermons is his ability to speak about diverse and innovative topics, while correlating them with common life situations and personal problems.  Consequently, each individual present at the meetings feels that the words of His Holiness are being spoken to him or her directly.

 

  • The weekly Wednesday sermon is one of the most joyful sights of the Christian world, as it is unparalleled in attendance both inside and outside of Egypt.  Such direct contact with the congregation is of great importance to the Pope. His Holiness has strived to provide extensive responses to issues and questions that are brought to him.  Never turning away an inquiry, the Pope has always tried to provide his people with the guidance and knowledge they seek.  His sermons fill every home, edifying people and bringing them closer to our Lord.

 

  • His Holiness has received 5 Honorary Doctorate degress-5 from American Universities and 1 from a German University.

 

  • This immense personal concern that His Holiness shows towards his people has granted him the title of "The People's Pope," or "the Popular Pope."  In all his extensive teaching and publishing of books, articles and audio tapes, His Holiness has sought to provide pastoral care for his flock.

Pastoral Care

“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Acts 20:28

  • His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has always been greatly concerned about ensuring pastoral care for every individual.  His Holiness reminds us that wherever our Lord Jesus Christ traveled, even though multitudes flocked to see and hear Him, He always gave personal care and attention to every person (e.g. Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, Matthew the tax collector, etc.).  Thus His Holiness has consistently stated that the Church’s primary function is to provide effective pastoral care to everyone.  Addressing the clergy at the conclusion of a reception marking the 23rd anniversary of his enthronement, His Holiness spoke about the significance of personal touch and faithfulness in the service:
  • How many people did we lead to repentance?  Service is not words or activities.  It is spiritually handed from one person to another.  Between ourselves, we can forsake our rights but never forsake the rights of God, the rights of the Kingdom of God, and the rights of the Canons of the Church.  In serving the Lord, we must labor.”

 

  • In working to serve the Lord and to provide essential pastoral care to his children everywhere, His Holiness has ordained scores of bishops and priests.  In 1971, the Holy Synod, the highest Ecclesiastical Body in the Church, totaled twenty-four bishops.  Today the Holy Synod consists of over eighty members.  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.  In all these endeavors, His Holiness has ensured that the authentic Apostolic tradition is maintained.  His Holiness has ordained 96 bishops and more than 600 priests.

 

  • Pertaining to priests, His Holiness has been very keen to ensure that candidates for the priesthood (and the episcopacy) are nominated by their respective parish.  On the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the Theological College on November 29, 1993, His Holiness officially opened the Institute of Pastoral Affairs 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.  The Pope has ordained thousands of deacons to assist the priests in their responsibilities.  His Holiness has also ensured that lay people are actively involved in aiding the priest and in the administration of every parish, through the parish's council.

 

  • With respect to the family, His Holiness emphasizes that love is the foundation of marriage and that the family should be a "small church."  His Holiness has stressed the importance of the mother's role in Christian education, since she is the child's first teacher.  To the end of strengthening the family unit, His Holiness has presided over several conferences relating to the family and has reconstructed the Clerical Council to contain an Ecclesiastical Tribunal to address marriage-related issues.

 

  • 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.

 

  • Ever since his lay ministry, His Holiness has greatly loved the youth and cared for them.  At that time, he was the leader of a service that was directly and fervently concentrated on the youth.  As a Patriarch, His Holiness continues his pastoral care of the youth, in Egypt and abroad.  His Holiness firmly believes that a Church without a strong and active youth, is a Church without a future.  Accordingly, 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.  His Holiness also meets regularly with the youth in Egypt and abroad and constantly ordains priests to minister to them.

 

  • As a result of His Holiness' tireless endeavors to shepherd his people, the Coptic Orthodox Church has seen an unprecedented expansion throughout the world.  In 1971, at the time of His Holiness' enthronement, there were only seven Coptic churches in the Diaspora.  Today there are over one hundred and fifty churches outside of Egypt and the number continues to grow.  His Holiness has thus established a secretariat for the Pastoral Affairs of the Church abroad, and has also established eight dioceses in the lands of immigration to provide the necessary pastoral care.

 

  • Now established on every continent (excluding Antarctica), Coptic churches have texts that are translated into several languages to facilitate church involvement among those living outside of Egypt, and are particularly useful in accommodating today's youth.  His Holiness has been greatly concerned for the spiritual welfare of the second generation of Coptic Youth abroad.  The Pope has commissioned a broad movement for translation and thus the Divine Liturgy is presently prayed in English, French, German, Italian, Greek, and Swahili, and other African tribal languages, as well as several languages used in the churches in South America.  His Holiness also constantly sends bishops to hold spiritual meetings, retreats and conferences for both youth and adults.

 

  • Every year, His Holiness visits many continents to personally look after the welfare of his flock.  During these visits, His Holiness lectures at many of the seminaries; lays the foundation stones of new churches; consecrates altars and icons; ordains priests, monks and deacons; baptizes children; conducts seminars for the priests; and holds spiritual meetings for the congregation.  Through God's grace and His Holiness' deep commitment to his children in the Diaspora, Copts have remained united with one another, in scripture, doctrine and practice, and thus they have remained united in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This unity has been the most remarkable and spiritually affirming aspect of the Church's expansion throughout the world.

 

Evangelism & Mission

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20

  • As the leader of the oldest Church in Africa, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has zealously pursued the extension of the Apostolic Mission of St. Mark across all of Africa.  In June of 1976, His Holiness ordained His Grace Bishop Antonious-Marcos to consolidate missionary work among the African tribes of Kenya.  Three years later, His Holiness embarked on a pastoral visit to Kenya, Zaire, and the Congo, where he was enthusiastically received as the spiritual leader of the Mother Church of Africa.

 

  • Over the past thirty years, there have been two cathedrals and two monasteries established in Africa.  There are now about thirty-three Coptic churches among twelve African Tribes in Kenya, Zaire, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa, as well as fourteen branch churches among four tribes in Akamba, Kikuyu, Abalahya and Lou.  His Holiness has ensured proper pastoral care for the African mission by ordaining many Egyptian, as well as native priests and deacons to serve there.  In 1995, His Holiness also ordained H.G. Bishop Paul to serve as Bishop for Mission and Evangelism.  The missionary service in Africa has brought the light of Jesus Christ our Lord and born fruit in the form of thousands of converts.

 

  • His Holiness' efforts in evangelism can also be seen on other continents.  The Pope has established mission churches in the U. S. Virgin Islands in St. Thomas, Bermuda, and St. Kitts.  His Holiness also founded the first Coptic Orthodox Church in South America in Brazil, and the second in Bolivia.  Moreover, the Gospel's message has been introduced in Europe and Asia.

 

  • While missionary work has thrived under the guidance of His Holiness, his love for Christ has also brought great strides in uniting the churches of the world.  His Holiness has enthusiastically worked to attain Christian unity between the Coptic Orthodox Church and other churches.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Church at large has experienced a great movement towards unity during the pontificate of Pope Shenouda III.

 

 

Conclusion

  • His Holiness Pope Shenouda's faithful service during the last thirty one years has been the catalyst for a great revival in the Coptic Orthodox Church.  Like a faithful disciple, His Holiness has desired nothing but to sit at the feet of Christ our Lord.  Like a good shepherd, His Holiness has devotedly looked after the salvation of his people.  Like an evangelist, His Holiness has diligently worked toward preaching the word of God.  Like a true Christian, His Holiness has greatly sought after unity and peace in the world.

 

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