19 March 2012
In this 6 January 2010 photo, Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic Orthodox patriarch, blesses the congregation during a Divine Liturgy celebrating Christmas at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, Egypt. (photo: CNS/Asmaa Waguih, Reuters)
A lion of the universal church died on Saturday, 17 March.
Shenouda III, pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark, led some 15 million Coptic Orthodox Christians — most of whom live in Egypt — since his election in 1971.
Not since the earliest days of the Egyptian church has one man impacted the Christian community of the region more than Pope Shenouda III. Picking up where his predecessor, Pope Kyrillos VI (1959-1971), left off, Pope Shenouda III spearheaded a revival in catechesis, particularly among youth, that spawned a resurgence in monastic life, renewed liturgical life and stimulated theological learning and Scripture study.
The pope also ended centuries of near isolation of the Coptic Orthodox Church, strengthening relations with other churches with which it maintains full communion — the Armenian Apostolic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Malankara Syrian and Syriac Orthodox churches. He also reached out to other churches, particularly the Anglican, Byzantine Orthodox and Catholic churches. In May 1973, Pope Shenouda III and Pope Paul VI issued a joint statement that put to rest the Christological discord that divided the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic churches since the fifth century.
“He who is God eternal and invisible,” declared the popes, “became visible in the flesh, and took upon himself the form of a servant. In him are preserved all the properties of the divinity and all the properties of humanity, together in a real, perfect, indivisible and inseparable union.”
Egyptian Christianity is as old as Christianity itself, predating Islam and the Arab invasion of the country by six centuries. Despite 15 centuries marked by periods of persecution and peace, the Coptic Orthodox Church (which today accounts for up to eight million of Egypt’s 80 million people) thrives. Churches are packed with young and old; ancient monasteries flourish with monks and nuns; social outreach programs touch the needy and catechetical programs instill values and a sense of identity for the young — who are increasingly emigrating to the West.
Pope Shenouda III responded by setting up jurisdictions and establishing hundreds of parishes throughout Europe, North America and Oceania. Today, perhaps as many as four million Copt Orthodox Christians live outside Egypt, all of whom today are joining with their families back home in mourning the death of their beloved papa.
Tags: Egypt Patriarchs Coptic Christians Coptic Orthodox Church Monasticism