March 4, 2019
Amshir 25, 1735
The Start of the Holy Great Fast
March 16, 2019
Commemoration of the departure of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark
Born Nazir Gayed Roufail (نظير جيد روفائيل, IPA: [nɑˈzˤiːɾ ˈɡæjjed ɾʊfæˈʔiːl]) on 3 August 1923, he became a monk in 1954 under the name Father Antonios the Syrian after joining the Syrian Monastery of the Ever-Virgin Mary the Theotokos. In 1958, he was elevated to the priesthood. In 1962, Pope Cyril VI summoned Fr. Antonios and consecrated him General Bishop for Christian Education and as Dean of the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary, whereupon he assumed the name Shenouda, which was the name of the Coptic saint Shenoute the Archimandrite (lived 347/348–465/466), as well as two previous popes: Shenouda I (Episcopate 859–880) and Shenouda II.
Following the death of Pope Cyril VI on 9 March 1971, the selection process resulted in Bishop Shenouda's becoming the new Pope. He was consecrated on 14 November 1971. During his papacy, the Coptic church grew significantly. He appointed the first bishops for North American dioceses, which now contain over two hundred parishes (214 in the United States, 38 in Canada and one in Mexico), up from four in 1971. He also appointed the first Coptic bishops in Europe, Australia and South America. Within Egypt, he struggled for the welfare of his people and the Church. Pope Shenouda III was known for his commitment to ecumenism and advocated inter-denominational Christian dialogue. He devoted his writings, teachings and actions to spreading and propagating guidelines for understanding, peace, dialogue and forgiveness.
At the time of his death, Pope Shenouda III was viewed as one of the Great Patriarchs of the ancient Church of Alexandria, a well-known church father and teacher, a chief defender of the faith, and a noted Egyptian leader of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Nazir Gayed Roufail was born on 3 August 1923 in the village of Salaam, which administratively belongs to the Governorate of Asyut in Upper Egypt but ecclesiastically belongs to the Diocese of Manfalut. He was the youngest of a family of eight children, five girls and three boys – among whom were Raphael (Rouphael) and Shawki (Fr. Botros Gayed, 1918–1996). Nazir's mother died shortly after his birth. He was raised by his older brother, Raphael, in Damanhur in lower Egypt, where he attended a Coptic Elementary School. Soon after, he studied at the American Middle School in Banha. He then moved to Shubra, a suburb of Cairo, where he enrolled at the Faith Senior Secondary (high school).
From the age of 14, Nazir began reading poetry and he wrote many poems himself, especially between 1946 and 1962. By the age of 16, he was active in the Coptic Sunday School movement. He served as a Sunday School teacher, first at Saint Anthony's Church in Shoubra and then at Saint Mary's Church in Mahmasha.
In 1943, Nazir enrolled in Cairo University (then called the University of King Fouad I) studying towards a Bachelor of Arts (B. A.) degree, majoring in English and History. Meanwhile, he spent his summer vacations at the Western Desert Monastery of St. Mary, known as “Deir El-Suryan” (Syrian Monastery). While a university student, he was a trainee in the Egyptian Military Reserve Corps.
In 1946, while still in his final year of undergraduate studies, he was allowed to enroll in the evening classes at the Coptic Theological Seminary usually open only to University graduates but the dean of the Seminary, Archdeacon Habib Girgis (d. 1951), made an exception in the case of Nazir. The Personality of Habib Girgis was instrumental in shaping that of the future Pope, and Pope Shenouda always spoke highly of Habib Girgis.
Nazir graduated from Cairo University with a BA in History in 1947. After graduation, he completed his military service as dux (top of group), and began work as a teacher of English, History and Social Sciences in a high school in Cairo. Meanwhile, he attended graduate courses in Archaeology and Classics at Cairo University specializing in the History of Ancient Egypt and Islamic Egypt. He worked as a high school English and Social Studies teacher by day, and attended classes at the Coptic Theological Seminary by night. Upon graduation from the seminary in 1949, he was appointed to teach New Testament and Old Testament Studies at the Seminary.[original research?]. In the same year, he became the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday School Monthly Magazine. In 1950 Nazir resigned from secular employment to take up a full-time lecturing position at the Seminary.
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.
Nazir with others laboured for several years to establish a strong Sunday School and youth group at St Anthony's Church in Shubra. His ministry produced many devoted servants, who began establishing youth groups in neighbouring parishes.
An avid reader, he was a keen student of languages and a man of vast ecumenical insights. He spoke fluent Arabic (Standard, Egyptian and Sa'idi variants), speaks fluent English and French, and reads Greek (both Ancient and Modern variants), Latin as well as mastering the Amharic language.
Monastic life and educational service
On 18 July 1954, Nazir joined the monastic life at the Syrian Monastery of the Ever-Virgin Mary the Theotokos in Scetes in the Nitrian Desert (Western desert in Egypt). He was given the name of Father Antonios el-Syriani (Anthony the Syrian). From 1956 to 1962, he lived as a hermit in a cave about seven miles from the monastery, dedicating his time to meditation, prayer, and asceticism. His austerity was known to be exceptional even by monastic standards.
On 31 August 1958, he was ordained as priest by the Late Bishop Theophilus, then abbot of St Mary Monastery (Syrian Monastery).
Antonios el-Syriani was among the candidates nominated for the papal throne in 1959, but at that time, Pope Cyril VI was chosen for the post.[original research?]
On 30 September 1962, Pope Cyril VI appointed him to the bishopric of Christian Education and as Dean of the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary, and renamed him Shenouda in honour of the most renowned scholar and writer in Coptic, Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite (lived 347/348–465/466).
Under Bishop Shenouda's leadership, the number of students at the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary tripled. Bishop Shenouda was suspended in 1966 by Pope Cyril VI, essentially because of "campaigns for change" instigated by Shenouda and his students. These campaigns, among other things, called for popular election of bishops and priests, a principle that Bishop Shenouda later applied when he became Pope of Alexandria. This conflict between Pope Cyril VI and Bishop Shenouda was later resolved.
Pope and Patriarch
Pope Shenouda III at the consecration of a Coptic Church in Staten Island, New York City.
He was enthroned as Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark on 14 November 1971, nearly nine months after the death of Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria. The ceremony was the first enthroning of a Coptic Pope to take place in the new Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. He was the third Alexandrian Patriarch to take the name Shenouda; his namesakes were Shenouda I (859–880) and Shenouda II (1047–1077).
Less than one year after becoming Pope of the Church of Alexandria, in October 1972, Pope Shenouda visited the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope of Rome, becoming the first Alexandrian Pope to do so since the Christological schism of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE. In May 1973, he penned a Christological statement that was agreed upon with the Roman Catholic Church and the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches on the Nature of Christ, in a step towards settling the dispute of 451 and moving towards Christian unity. On 10 May 1973, he celebrated the return by the Roman Catholic Church of part of the relics of St Athanasius of Alexandria. From 25 to 30 September 1974, he went on a pastoral trip to visit the Ethiopian Church during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.
Between 14 April and 23 May 1974, he became the first Archbishop of Alexandria to visit North America when he visited the US and Canada. It was to become the first of many visits to that part of the world during his long Episcopate. He also visited Australia six times. The first visit was in 1989 (18 November – 10 December), the second was in 1991 (5–26 February), the third in 1993, the fourth in 1995 (August–September), and the fifth in 1996. His sixth and final trip took place in November 2002. He conducted an extended Silver Jubilee tour from 18 May to 20 December 1996 which took him to Europe, Canada, USA and Australia. From 11 to 13 April 2008, he made a second historical trip to Ethiopia following the resolution of the strain in the relationship between the two Churches caused by the communist coup in Ethiopia decades earlier.
Falling out with President Sadat
Pope Shenouda III died on 17 March 2012 (8 Paremhat 1728 in the Coptic calendar) of lung and liver complications at his official residence shortly after returning from medical treatment abroad. He had stopped taking medication because he was too weak. However, Al Jazeera English's Coptic Egyptian reporter Sherine Tadros reported that he had been in good spirits prior to his death. The funeral took place after three days of lying in state; on 20 March, he was buried at the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in Wadi el-Natrun, in accordance with his wishes. Metropolitan Pachomious of Beheira and Pentapolis was appointed to take over papal duties until the election of a new Pope, being the second-most senior Metropolitan in the Holy Synod in age after Anba Mikhail, but due to his failing health and age delegated this duty to Metropolitan Pachomios during the first meeting of the Holy Synod after Shenouda's death.
May His blessings be with us all, Amen.