A Monk, bishop, teacher, writer, politician, and 117th patriarch of the Coptic Church (1971-). He was born Nazir Gayed in Assiut. He played a great role in the renaissance of the Coptic Church. He studied history and graduated from Cairo University in 1947 and from the Clerical College in 1949. He served as an officer during his military service. He enjoyed postgraduate studies in archaeology and edited the Sunday School Monthly Magazine. In 1952, he was elected member of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate.
In 1954, he joined the Monastery of the Syrians. As Father Antonius al-Suryani, he retired in a cave in Wadi al-Natrun for extended periods. In 1962, Pope Cyril VI ordained him as bishop for Christian education. The new Bishop Shenouda was also the dean of the Clerical College, which had been greatly developed under him. He supervised the Sunday School movement that was instrumental in Coptic renewal and lay education.
In 1971, he was consecrated patriarch of the Coptic Church. Pope Shenouda III is convinced that when monasticism in the Egyptian deserts is strong, then Christianity and the Coptic Church are strong. Therefore, he repopulated many of the abandoned monasteries and encouraged the monasteries to be cultural centers and to receive visitors.
The number of the monks and nuns is still growing. Coptic monasteries provided the Coptic Church with educated monks who were consecrated bishops in the new dioceses that Pope Shenouda established all over Egypt. Monks were sent also to serve in the monasteries that were founded in the United States, Australia, Europe, and Africa. In 1973, he visited Rome and with Pope Paul VI issued a joint statement on Christology.
He visited the Archbishop of Canterbury in England in 1979. They both issued a joint statement based on the Nicene Creed in 1987 at the Monastery of St. Pshoi in Wadi al-Natrun. In the same year, he, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, and the Armenian Catholicon confessed the same faith in Christ “fundamentally and essentially.” In 1988 there was a meeting between the Coptic Evangelical Community Council and Coptic Orthodox theologians upon the invitation of Pope Shenouda, which led to theological dialogue between the two churches. He ordained 180 deaconesses in 1981, and the Holy Synod issued the decree of the “consecrated women” in 1991.
Before the reign of Pope Shenouda, there were only a few Coptic churches in the Coptic Diaspora. Today, there are 125 churches in the United States, 27 churches in Canada, 37 churches in Australia, in addition to many churches in Europe and Africa. He traveled extensively for pastoral visits all over the world. Pope Shenouda is a great preacher who is admired by thousands of Copts attending his Wednesday lectures in the Cairo Cathedral. He is known as a poet of quality. He has written hundreds of books and articles on spirituality and theology. He is a writer for the most important newspaper in the Arab world, Al-Ahram.
He has been editing his own weekly al-Kiraza for decades. Pope Shenouda reacted to the increasing attacks against the properties of Copts and their churches by Muslim extremists with only the minimum interference of the government to protect them. In 1981, he canceled all the Easter celebrations all over Egypt. Anwar al-Sadat issued a presidential decree that ordered the pope to leave to Wadi al-Natrun under what was effectively “monastery arrest.”
A committee of bishops had to perform the duties of the patriarchate until 1985 when President Hosny Mubarak revoked President Sadat’s decree. Shenouda was received by thousands of Copts as a hero at the Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo. Some of his opponents argued that the church became the main social outlet for the majority of the educated Copts, who were more excluded from the national and political life during his pontificate.