His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, (August 3, 1923 – ), born Nazeer Gayed, is the 117th Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of the Holy See of Saint Mark of the Coptic Orthodox Church. A graduate of Cairo University and the Coptic Orthodox Seminary, he became a monk under the name Fr. Antonious "the Syrian" after entering the Syrian Monastery of Ever-Virgin Mary the Theotokos where he was later elevated to the priesthood. The venerable saint, Pope Cyril VI summoned Fr. Antonious to the patriarchate where he ordained him Bishop of Christian Education and Dean of the Coptic Orthodox Theological University, whereupon he assumed the name His Grace Bishop Shenouda.
He has served as Pope of Alexandria since November 14, 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 one hundred Churches, up from four in 1971, as well as the first Bishops in Australia and the first Coptic Churches in South America.
He is known for his commitment to Christian unity and has, since the 1970s, advocated inter-denominational Christian dialogue.
Born on August 3, 1923 in Asyut, Upper Egypt, he is the youngest of a family of eight children. By the age of 16, Shenouda was active in the Coptic Sunday School movement.
Mr. 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.
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.
On July 18, 1954, Mr. Gayed was led to the monastic life at "El-Suryan" Monastery in the western desert of Egypt; he was given the name of Father Antonyos El-Suryaani. For six years, from 1956 to 1962, he lived a life of solitude in a cave about seven miles away from the monastery, dedicating all his time to meditation, prayer, and asceticism.
Later, at the monastery of the Theotokos Virgin Mary of the Syrians, he became a monastic priest under the name of Fr. Antonious. While Fr. Antonious was living as an hermit, Pope Cyril VI appointed him to be bishop of Christian Education and Dean of the Coptic Orthodox Theological University, whereupon he assumed the name of Shenouda. Under Shenouda's leadership, the number of students at the university tripled.
Pope Shenouda was consecrated as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark on November 14, 1971, nearly 9 months after the departure of Pope Kyrollos VI (See Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria).
H.H. Pope Shenouda III was consecrated as Pope of Alexandria and the See of St. Mark after a process in which he was selected by the Holy Spirit, and not by election (See Papal Election)
On September 3, 1981, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat ordered Pope Shenouda into exile at the Monastery of St. Bishoi. In addition, eight bishops, twenty-four priests, and many other prominent Copts were placed under arrest. Sadat replaced the church hierarchy with a committee of five bishops and referred to Pope Shenouda as the "ex-pope." On January 2, 1985, more than three years after Sadat's 1981 assassination, President Hosni Mubarak released Pope Shenouda from exile. He returned to Cairo to celebrate the January 7th Christmas mass to a crowd of more than ten thousand.
His papacy has coincided with a worldwide expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church: while there were only four Coptic churches in all of North America in 1971, today there are over one hundred. The growth of the American Coptic church has been such that in 1996, Pope Shenouda installed the first two Diocesan Bishops for the United States — one for Los Angeles, California and the other for the Southern United States.
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 Australia and New Zealand, there are currently 28 churches, and in 1999, His Holiness Pope Shenouda enthroned His Grace Bishop Suriel, the first bishop for Melbourne, Canberra, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand. Recently, his Grace Bishop Suriel established two churches in Fiji.
In 1994, under the guidance of His Holiness, the British Orthodox Church, which was originally established in 1866 as a part of the Syrian Orthodox Church, became canonically part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. At the feast of the Pentacost that same year, His Holiness ordained Abba Seraphim as Metropolitan for the British Orthodox Church, and thus joined the British Orthodox Church into the Coptic Orthodox Church.
In June 2002, His Grace Bishop Daniel was officially ordained 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 Europe, there are currently over fifty churches and ten bishops. Africa currently has two bishops serving in missions in nine African countries.
When Eritrea gained political independence from Ethiopia, President Isaias Afwerki requested that the local Church be made independent from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which required approval from Alexandria. Pope Shenouda III ordained the first patriarch of Eritrea with the name "His Holiness Patriarch Philip I" (Abuna Philipos of Eritrea). This was the second ordination of a patriarch by a Pope of Alexandria in the twentieth century (the first papal ordination of a patriarch in the twentieth century occurred when Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria ordained the first Catholicos-Patriarch of Ethiopia in the 1960s.)
Commitment to Christian Unity
In 1973, Pope Shenouda became the first Coptic Pope to meet the Catholic Pope in over 1500 years. In this visit, Popes Shenouda III and 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.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III is well known for his deep commitment to Christian unity. 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 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 first ecumenical office, in the Archdiocese of North America.
Pope Shenouda has emphasized Christian Unity in his work, believing it to be found upon a unity of faith and not of jurisdiction. As a result, His Holiness 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.
His Holiness has been the editor-in-chief of El-Keraza Magazine, the official publication of the Coptic Orthodox Church, 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 abroad, and at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies. He also established other branches of the Seminary in Egypt as well as abroad. Shenouda is also the author of over 100 books.