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Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria

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Pope Shenouda III
Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
Pope shenouda
Pope Shenouda III
Papacy began 14 November 1971
Papacy ended Incumbent
Predecessor Cyril VI
Consecration 30 September 1962
Birth name Nazeer Gayed
Born 3 August 1920 (1920-08-03) (age 96)
Asyut, Egypt
Nationality Egyptian
Denomination Oriental Orthodox Christianity
Residence Coptic Orthodox Patriarchal Residence

Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria (Coptic: (born Nazeer Gayed on 3 August 1920, in Asyut, Egypt), is the 117th Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark the Evangelist of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. He is the head of The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria.

A graduate of Cairo University and the Coptic Orthodox Seminary, Nazeer Gayed became a monk under the name Fr. Antonios the Syrian after joining the Syrian Monastery of the Ever-Virgin Mary the Theotokos, where he was later elevated to the Priesthood.

Pope Cyril VI summoned Fr. Antonios to the patriarchate where he 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 a Coptic Saint and two previous Popes: Shenouda I (859-880) and Shenouda II (1047–1077).

He has served as Pope of Alexandria since 14 November 1971, presiding over a worldwide expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church. During his papacy, Pope Shenouda III has appointed the first-ever bishops to preside over North American dioceses that now contain over two hundred twenty four parishes (200 in the USA and 23 in Canada and 1 in Mexico), up from four in 1971, as well as the first bishops in Australia and the first Coptic Churches and bishops in South America.

He is known for his commitment to ecumenism(Christian unity) and has, since the 1970s, advocated inter-denominational Christian dialogue. He devotes his writings, teachings and actions to spread and propagate for the rules of understanding, peace, dialogue and forgiveness.

Early life

Papal styles of
Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria
Reference style His Holiness and His Most Blessed Beatitude
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Pope
Posthumous style NA

Born Nazeer Gayed on 3 August 1920 in Asyut, Upper Egypt, he is the youngest of a family of eight children. By the age of 16, Gayed was active in the Coptic Sunday School movement.

Gayed was very active in his church and served as a Sunday School teacher, first at Saint Anthony's Church in Shoubra and then at Saint Mary's Church in Mahmasha.[1]

After graduating from Cairo University with a degree in history, he worked as a high school English and Social Studies teacher in Cairo by day, and attended classes at the Coptic Theological Seminary by night. Upon graduation from the seminary in 1949, he was chosen to teach New Testament Studies.

Monastic life and educational service

On 18 July 1954, Mr. Gayed joined the monastic life at the Syrian Monastery in Scetes; he was given the name of Father Antonios el-Syriani (Anthony the Syrian, or Anthony of the Syrian Monastery). From 1956 to 1962, he lived in a cave about seven miles from the monastery, dedicating his time to meditation, prayer, and asceticism. Antonios el-Syriani was among the candidates nominated for the papal throne in 1956, but Pope Cyril VI was ultimately chosen for the post.

Later, at the Syrian Monastery, he became a monastic priest under the name of Fr. Antonios el-Syriani. He lived as a hermit.

Consecration as a Bishop

On 30 September 1962,[2] Pope Cyril VI appointed Fr. Antonios the Syrian to the bishopric of Christian Education and as Dean of the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary, whereupon he called him Shenouda. The relevance of the name emanates from the fact that the most renowned scholar and writer in Coptic was Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite.
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Under Bishop Shenouda's leadership, the number of students at the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary tripled.[2] Bishop Shenouda was suspended in 1966 by Pope Cyril VI.[10], [11] This was essentially the result of Bishop Shenouda's (as well as his students') enthusiastic 'campaigns for change' that used rather strong words, such as supporting peoples' right to choose their 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.

Enthroning as Pope of Alexandria

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 9 months after the death of Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria.

The ceremony was the first and, as yet, the only enthroning of a Coptic Pope to take place in the new Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo.

Enthroning a Bishop as Pope

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Some Coptic adherents argue that the choice of Pope Shenouda III as Pope (and Bishop) of the City of Alexandria was not canonical (against Canon 15 of Nicea and other Church Councils and Canons), because Pope Shenouda was already a bishop (without episcopate) in the 1960s.[12], [13] However, there are also modern day examples from other Churches, of patriarchs who were previously bishops before their election as patriarchs, e.g., Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

This issue caused an ongoing dispute in the Coptic Orthodox Church since 1928, and although the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church considered in the 1960s the General Bishops to be secretaries to the Pope in the degree of a Bishop, Pope Shenouda III, who was a general Bishop before, is sometimes considered to be the fourth Bishop to become a Pope after Popes John XIX (1928–1942), Macarius III (1942–1944) and Joseph II (1946–1956).[3]

The Ethiopian Church Crisis

Following the arrest, imprisonment of Abune Tewophilos, Patriarch of Ethiopia, by the Marxist Derg regime that had deposed Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, Pope Shenouda III refused to recognize the cleric who was installed as the Ethiopian Patriarch's successor. He (and the holy Synod) argued that the removal of Patriarch Abune Tewophilos was illegal and un-canonical as it was an act of political interference. Further, in the eyes of the Church of Alexandria and the Pope Shenouda III, Abune Tewophilos remained the legitimate Patriarch of Ethiopia.

Patriarch Tewophilos had been executed, but the government of Ethiopia at that time would not acknowledge that this had happened. Thus, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria refused to recognize any other Patriarch as long as Abune Tewophilos' death had not been confirmed. Formal ties between the Churches of Alexandria and Ethiopia were severed although they remained in full communion. Formal relations between the two churches resumed on 13 July 2007.[4]

Period of exile

By the late 1970s the Egyptian Copts had suffered attacks by the Muslim extremists. President Sadat did not respond to the demand of the Copts for protection. After almost a year of negotiations and petitions no active protection was offered.

As a result, in 1981, Pope Shenouda III decided not to hold public Church celebrations of Easter as this would have entailed receiving delegates from the President of Egypt, who traditionally sends greetings the Church and Coptic Orthodox Christians on such occasions.

On 3 September 1981, the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed a decree deposing Pope Shenouda and ordered him into exile at the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in the Nitrian Desert.

In addition, eight bishops, twenty-four priests, and many other prominent Copts were placed under arrest. Sadat replaced His Holiness Pope Shenouda III with a committee of five bishops. The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church rejected this presidential decision. On 2 January 1985, 4 years after Sadat's assassination in 1981, President Hosni Mubarak released Pope Shenouda upon a decision of the Egypt's High Court.

Shenouda III returned to Cairo to celebrate the January 7th 1985 Christmas Liturgy.

Political stances

The Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt suffered much since the Arab Invasion in the seventh century. The building of churches has been strongly restricted to the fulfillment of the Ten Conditions of Al-Ezabi - an Ottoman decree to restrict the building of churches in Egypt. Until recently, the President of Egypt had to sign the building order of a church. Even small repairs to church buildings had to be signed by the President.

In the 1990s and 2000s churches were burned and monks and monasteries attacked by extremists. The historic monastery of St. Antonius was attacked by the army in 2004. The monstary of Abo Fana was attacked repeatedly under the eyes of the police. In Egypt, where it is illegal for a Muslim to become a Christian there have been reports of young children and women being kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and to marry Muslims. Many reports are available at the IGFM (ISHR) under [5]. See also [6] and [7] ,[8] ,[9],[10] ,[11] ,[12] ,[13]

After the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, the Israelis confiscated from the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of Jerusalem and All the Near East some of its properties within the compound of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and also the Coptic Monastery in Jerusalem (known as Deir El-Sultan), which was confiscated from the possession of the Coptic Orthodox Church and relegated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Upon the application of some bishops, the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod, based on the direction of Pope Shenouda, decided to ask Copts not to visit Jerusalem until the Church possessions and the monastery be returned.

Again, a Holy Synod decree issued in 2006 urged Copts not to visit the Christian holy places in Israel, including Jerusalem.[14] According to that decree, such Copts are automatically banned from receiving Holy Communion in the Coptic Orthodox Church.

On Sunday January 2, 2000, 21 Coptic Christians in el-Kosheh village in Upper Egypt, located 450 kilometers south of Cairo, were massacred by Muslim extremists (see On December 1, 2000, a criminal court in Egypt's Sohag governorate released without bail all 89 defendants charged in the New Year's massacre in el-Kosheh. Pope Shenouda III rejected the verdict openly, and told reporters "We want to challenge this ruling. We don't accept it." As this court sentence is final, Pope Shenouda III has said, that "we revise this sentence by GOD".

Theological disputes

Pope Shenouda III has been involved in theological disagreements with Father Matta El-Meskeen concerning the issue of theosis (the divinisation of the Christian who puts into practice the teachings of Christ). As result of this, Pope Shenouda III published eight booklets explaining his view of theosis. Pope Shenouda taught others about the issue in the theological seminary of Cairo and also in the seminary of Alexandria.

After the departure of Father Matta El-Meskeen, there were warnings issued by Pope Shenouda III against his teachings published in El-Keraza Magazine. They can be found in both English[14] and Arabic.[15]

Supervised worldwide growth of the Church

The papacy of Pope Shenouda III has seen a worldwide expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria: while there were only four Coptic Orthodox churches in all of North America in 1971, today there are more than two hundred.[16][17]

The Americas

The growth of the Coptic Orthodox Church in North America has been such that in 1995, Pope Shenouda established the first two dioceses and installed Diocesan bishops for the United States, one for Los Angeles, California and the other for the Southern United States plus two General Bishops, Exarchs of the Throne in New Jersey.

In the Caribbean, Mission churches have been founded in Bermuda, St. Kitts, and in the U.S. Virgin Islands in St. Thomas.

Moreover, Pope Shenouda's tenure has also included the founding of the first Coptic Orthodox Church in South America (in São Paulo, Brazil), and the second, in Bolivia. In February 2006, Pope Shenouda visited and consecrated the church of St. Mark in São Paulo, Brazil and the church of St. Mary and St. Mark in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Later, on the Feast of Pentcost 2006, the two monk priests of the two churches were consecrated bishops, Bishop Agathon of Brazil and Bishop Youssef of Bolivia.


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 the 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, as an Autonomous Church, into the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. In Europe, there are currently over fifty churches and ten bishops.

Asia and Pacific

In Australia and New Zealand, there are currently 28 churches, and in 1999, Pope Shenouda enthroned Bishop Suriel, the first bishop for Melbourne, Canberra, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand. Since that time, Bishop Suriel established two churches in Fiji.

In June 2002, Bishop Daniel was officially consecrated and appointed the first bishop with jurisdiction for the Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland, and the Northern Territory, as well as South and North East Asia.


In the early 1990s, when Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki requested that the local Church be made independent from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which required a patriarch enthroned by the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria.

Previously, the church in Eritrea was an Archdiocese of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. The Patriarch and Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church agreed to the elevation of the Church in Eritrea and Shenouda III thus anointed the first Patriarch of Eritrea with the name Patriarch Philip I (Abuna Philipos of Eritrea). This was the second consecration of a Patriarch by the Pope of Alexandria in the twentieth century (the first Patriarchal consecration in the twentieth century occurred when Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria consecrated the first Catholicos-Patriarch of Ethiopia in 1959.)

Commitment to Christian Unity

In 1973, Pope Shenouda III became the first Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria to meet the Pope of Rome in over 1500 years. In this visit, Pope Shenouda III and Pope Paul VI signed a common declaration on the issue of Christology and agreed to further discussions on Christian unity. There have also been dialogues with various Protestant churches worldwide.

Pope Shenouda III is well known for his deep commitment to ecumenism. In an address he gave at an ecumenical forum during the International Week of Prayer in 1974, he declared, "The whole Christian world is anxious to see the church unite. Christian people, being fed up with divisions, are pushing their church leaders to do something about church unity and I am sure that the Holy Spirit is inspiring us."

Under his leadership, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria has become a full member of the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, the All-African Council of Churches, the National Council of the Churches in Christ in the U.S.A., the Canadian Council of Churches, and the Australian Council of Churches. In May 2000, he established the Office of Ecumenical Affairs, in the Archdiocese of North America.

Pope Shenouda III has emphasized ecumenism in his work, believing it to be founded upon a unity of faith and not of jurisdiction. As a result, he has paid many visits to the various sister Orthodox churches and their patriarchs, such as those of Constantinople, Moscow, Romania and Antioch, with the goal of a full communion of these churches with the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

He also won, in the year 2000, the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence by UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura on the recommendation of an international jury.

In 2006, during the Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy, he said that while admitting that he had not read the exact words used by Pope, "any remarks which offend Islam and Muslims are against the teachings of Christ."[18]

In 2007, he criticized the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's declaration on "Subsistit in" in Lumen Gentium.[19]

Writings and lectures

Pope Shenouda III has been the editor-in-chief of El-Keraza Magazine, the official publication of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, since 1962. He became the first Patriarch of Alexandria since the fifth century to have been head of the Theological Seminary and continues to lecture at the Seminary branches in Cairo, Alexandria and several other Theological Seminaries created in different dioceses in Egypt and abroad, and at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies. He also established other branches of the Seminary in Egypt as well as abroad. Pope Shenouda is also the author of over 100 books.

In his new book, "Have You Seen the One I Love", Pope Shenouda contemplates the Song of Songs.

See also


External links

Preceded by
Cyril VI
Coptic Pope


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