“He is a chosen vessel of mine” (Acts 9: 15)
On Saturday, 14th November 2009 the Coptic Orthodox Church worldwide celebrated the 38th Anniversary of the enthronement of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III as the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Holy and Apostolic See of St. Mark. The unprecedented revival of the Coptic Church toward the second half of the 20th Century and the first decade of the 21st Century is one of the great historical events of world Christianity. This is directly due to the indescribable leadership of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, who has transformed the entire landscape of the Church.
Dynamic preacher and teacher
Of the many great qualities evident in the distinguished personality of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III one is most striking; His Holiness is an erudite teacher who has rightly been referred to as the St. John Chrysostom of the 21st Century. In 1978, His Holiness was awarded the Browning Institute Prize for the Best Preacher in the World.
His Holiness is known for his captivating skill in the use of words, as well as a certain deftness in exposition of the detail and interpretation of Scripture. His weekly sermons in Cairo (attended by 8,000-10,000 people) and biweekly sermons in Alexandria are attended by thousands of people eager to hear and benefit from his nourishing words. The weekly Wednesday sermon is one of the most joyful sights of the Christian world at the beginning of the 21st Century. It has no equivalent and no equal either in or outside Egypt. “I shall give you shepherds according to my heart who shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15). These prophetic words are most evident in the edifying preaching and teaching of Pope Shenouda.
Author and poet
As a renowned theologian and scriptural scholar His Holiness has been a prolific writer. His Holiness is the author of 121 books on a variety of scriptural, doctrinal and spiritual topics and 27 poems. Some of these poems have become popular Christian hymns sung in our Churches. His Holiness is also editor in chief of the bi-weekly magazine El Keraza.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda is well known for his deep commitment to Christian unity. Over the past three decades His Holiness has invested tremendous time and effort to enhance the relationship of the Coptic Orthodox Church with other Churches in three principal areas: theological dialogue, constructing bridges of love, and participation in ecumenical bodies and conferences.
His Holiness initiated dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Churches (1985), the Roman Catholic Church (1973), the Anglican Church (1985), the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (1993) and the Lutheran Church (2005). In recognition of this work, His Holiness was elected president of the WCC (World Council of Churches) (1991-1998) and for 3 consecutive terms of the MECC (Middle East Council of Churches) (1994-2007). Pope Shenouda hosted the first meeting of Heads of Oriental Orthodox Churches in 1998 and a standing committee was established to follow up the meetings. His Holiness always emphasizes that Christian unity must be built on unity of Faith not Jurisdiction.
His monastic life
The depth of the monastic life as evident in the life of the ascetic Patriarch, Pope Shenouda III has been reflected in the monastic revival initiated by His Holiness over the last 38 years of his blessed pontificate.
The number of monasteries in Egypt increased from 9 in 1971 to 26 in 2009. Abroad there are monasteries in America (2), Australia (2), Europe (2), South Africa (1), Kenya (1), Sudan (2) and Jerusalem (1). Every week His Holiness retires to the monatery of St. Bishoy for retreat, reflection and then returns to enlighten and nourish his flock. A man of prayer and meditation, Pope Shenouda is an authentic monk, who radiates joy and peace to all who come into contact with him.
The Clerical College
Upon succeeding to the pontifical Throne of St. Mark, His Holiness became the first Patriarch of Alexandria since the 5th-century to have been Dean of the Theological College. His Holiness continues to lecture at the branches of the College in Cairo and Alexandria, and at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies. Owing to His Holiness’ personal attention, the College has expanded and enlarged. His Holiness has established eight branches of the College in Egypt and six in the Diaspora (two in the USA, two in Australia and two in Europe). His Holiness also established the Institute of Pastoral Affairs in 1993.
In recognition of his theological and spiritual scholarship Pope Shenouda has been awarded eight honorary degrees:
Recognizing that the harvest is plentiful and the labourers are few (Luke 10:2), His Holiness has placed great emphasis on pastoral care to be rendered to young and old. His Holiness increased the number of dioceses from 23 in 1971 to 48 in 2009.
Pope Shenouda has ordained 117 Bishops and two Eriterian Patriarchs (Abouna Philopos, May 1998 and Abouna Antonious , May 2002). His Holiness has ordained over 1000 priests for Egypt and abroad and over 700 monks and nuns. His Holiness also ordained over 150 consecrated sisters and deaconesses to assist Bishops and priests in their vast ministry. To address youth issues and concerns His Holiness ordained His Grace Bishop Moussa as the first Bishop of Youth Affairs, in May 1980.
The Holy Myron
As a result of the unprecedented increase in the geographical expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church, His Holiness did the sanctification of the Holy Myron (Chrismation) seven times in the monastery of St. Bishoy; 1981, 1987, 1993, 1995, 2005, 2008 and in September 2004 in Eriteria.
The Church abroad
When His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was enthroned, there were only seven Coptic Churches outside of Egypt: two each in Canada, the USA and Australia and one in England. Despite his numerous commitments, His Holiness has taken direct responsibility for the pastoral care of the growing number of Coptic Churches in the Diaspora. As a result of His Holiness’ tireless efforts, the Churches in the Diaspora have grown and flourished in a remarkable way.
His Holiness established hundreds of Churches and 15 dioceses outside Egypt and instructed the Bishops and priests to take particular care of children and youth ministry. His Holiness encouraged the establishment of schools. Today there are five Coptic Schools in Australia, three in Canada and two in the USA.
In order to respond adequately to the needs of the Copts abroad, to bring Churches in the Diaspora together and to relate them individually and collectively as a unified whole to the Mother Church, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has made many pastoral visits to Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, Africa and Latin America.
To date, Pope Shenouda has undertaken 82 trips to 36 different countries. During his visits, Pope Shenouda prays liturgies, consecrates altars, ordains priests and deacons and baptizes children. His Holiness also conducts pastoral meetings with priests, meets with heads of Churches and Civic leaders, holds press conferences and delivers homilies and sermons.
Mission and evangelism
As Head of the oldest Church in Africa, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has been very keen to extend the Apostolic Mission of St. Mark across all of Africa. In June 1976 His Holiness ordained Bishop Antonious Markos to consolidate missionary work among the African tribes of Kenya.
In 1995, His Holiness ordained Bishop Paul to assist in this vast field in Africa. In 2006 His Holiness ordained Bishop Agathon and Bishop Youssef, the former for Brazil and the later Bolivia, to undertake missionary work in Latin America.
As we honour His Holiness, we glorify and praise God who gave His Holiness grace, strength and wisdom to serve the Church. Furthermore, His Holiness’ “honour is not from men but from God.” (Romans 2:29). As Daniel the prophet says, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3).
“We ask and entreat Your goodness, O Lover of Mankind, to remember O Lord, our Patriarch, the Honoured Father, the High Priest, Abba Shenouda III. Keep him unto us for many years and peaceful times, fulfilling that holy high priesthood, with which You have entrusted him, from Yourself, according to Your Holy and Blessed Will, rightly defining the word of truth; shepherding Your people in purity and righteousness. Amen.”
The author is parish priest of St George Coptic Orthodox church, Sydney, Australia, and Youth Priest in the Diocese of Sydney