Shenouda III (Gayyid) of Alexandria

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A Brief Biography of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III

His Holiness was born on August 3, 1923 in the city of Asuit in Upper Egypt; he was given the name of Nazir Gayed. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in History in 1947 from the University of Cairo. Mr. Gayed was very active in his church and served as a Sunday School teacher, first at Saint Anthony's Church in Shobra and then at Saint Mary's Church in Mahmasha. 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. He was appointed in 1953 as a teacher in the Monastic School.

From his youth, His Holiness enjoyed writing very much, especially poems; he is a remarkably literate man as evidenced by the over 100 books that have been written by him. For many years, he was the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday School Magazine. At the same time, he followed his post-graduate studies at the Seminary of Archeology.

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.

In 1962, he was ordained by the late Pope Cyril VI as Bishop of Ecclesiastical (Religious) Education and was named President of the Coptic Theological Seminary; he was given the name of Bishop Shenouda on September 30, 1962. Continuing from his literary past, Bishop Shenouda published the first issue of "El-Keraza" magazine in Arabic in 1965, and remains the Editor-in-Chief to this day.

On November 14, 1971, His Holiness was enthroned as Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria, and successor of the see of St. Mark.

Early Life

His Holiness Pope Shenouda II was born the youngest of eight children on August 3, 1923 in the Upper Egyptian province of Assyut, and was named Nazeer Gayed. By the age of sixteen, Nazeer began service in the Sunday School of St. Anthony's Church in Shobra, Cairo, where he also went to school.

In 1943, Nazeer entered the University of Cairo and completed a Bachelor of Arts in English and History while he spent his summer vacations at the Monastery of St. Mary (Souryan). Although at this time only graduate students were admitted to the evening classes at the Coptic Theological Seminary, Dean Archdeacon Habib Guirguis admitted Nazeer while he was still in his final year of undergraduate study.

After graduation from the University of Cairo in 1947, Nazeer completed his military service and began work as a teacher of English and History. Meanwhile, he completed his Bachelor of Theology and the Dean appointed him as lecturer in the Old and New Testaments. In 1950 Nazeer resigned from his secular employment to take a full-time lecturing position. In 1953, he was appointed a lecturer at the Monastic College in Helwan.

Nazeer and other servants labored for several years to establish a strong Sunday School and youth group at St. Anthony's Church in Shobra. his service produced hundreds of devoted servants who began establishing youth groups in neighboring parishes.

Monastic Life

The road to monasticism was a natural consequence of the desire from his early years to consecrate his life to Christ. "...I found in monasticism," Pope Shenouda once said, "a life of complete freedom and clarification." he joined the Souryan Monastery in Wadi El-Natroun and, a year later, he was ordained a priest, taking the name Fr. Antonyos (Anthony) El-Souryani. In 1959, His Holiness Pope Kyrillos VI appointed Fr. Antonyos as his personal secretary.

On September 30, 1962, Pope Kyrillos VI ordained Fr. Antonyos as Bishop Shenouda, the first bishop for Christian Education. He became the President and Dean of the Theological Seminary, and by late 1969 the enrollment of full-time students doubled and the enrollment of part-time students increased 10 times its original number. Under his presidency, women were admitted to the College and several were appointed lecturers. His Grace's efforts were recognized in 1969 when he was elected President of the Association of Middle East Theological Colleges.

Enthronement as Pope of Alexandria

On March 9, 1971, His Holiness Pope Kyrillos (Cyril) VI departed in peace. The Holy Synod met on March 22 to plan for the election of the new Patriarch. Among the final three candidates was Bishop Shenouda. On October 31, 1971, the altar ballot was conducted during the Pix/Dividers/divine Liturgy on the Feast of Saint Reweis. At the end of the Liturgy, His Eminence Metropolitan Antonyos, laid his hands on a young boy who was then blindfolded and told to choose one of the three pieces of paper from the box. The ballot box had been taken from the altar and placed on an elevated table. As the congregation prayed the Lord's Prayer and the words "Lord Have Mercy," the boy chose one of the pieces of paper and gave it to Metropolitan Antonyos, who then joyfully declared God's chosen shepherd for His church as His Grace Bishop Shenouda, Bishop of Education.

On November 14, 1971, in Saint Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was enthroned as 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark. His Holiness became the first patriarch of Alexandria since the fifth century to have been Dean of the Theological Seminary. He continues to lecture at the branches of the Seminary in Cairo, Alexandria, and abroad and at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies. To meet the expanding ministry of Christian education, His Holiness established other branches of the seminary in Egypt, as well as three graduate institues: Biblical Studies, Hymnology, and Coptic Language. On November 29, 1993, he officially opened the Institute of Pastoral Care. For his erudition in theology and scripture, His Holiness has been awarded four honorary Doctoral Degrees in Theology, three from American Universities and one from a German University.

His Holiness' edifying and spiritually uplifting sermons have won international acclaim; in 1978 the Browning Institute awarded him the prize for the best Christian preacher in the world. His Holiness is also the author of more than eighty books on a variety of subjects, and over the past 20 years, he has been the Editor-in-Chief of the Church's official magazine, EL-KERAZA.

Pastoral Activities

His Holiness ordained more than seventy bishops, established general bishoprics, including the first Bishopric of Youth, more than four hundred priests, and countless deacons for Cairo, Alexandra and the Churches abroad. This extended the pastoral care to every city, village and family all over the See of St. Mark. His Holiness continually holds meetings and seminars with the clergy to discuss any pastoral problems or needs.

His Holiness also gives special attention to the service of women in the Coptic Orthodox Church. "We felt a great need of the work of women and we wanted women to have a certain order and service in the Church, not only to have girls as Sunday School teachers who give a part of their time whenever they can, but we want girls and women to give their whole life to God and serve the church." His Holiness says.

Despite his many responsibilities, His Holiness usually manages to spend three days a week in the monastery. His love of monasticism has led to a monastic revival in the Coptic Church. He has ordained hundreds of monks and nuns and renovated and reestablished many monasteries and convents. He is the first Pope to establish Coptic monasteries outside of Egypt, which presently number eight.

As a Bishop for Christian Education, His Grace has overseen the education of Sunday School Curriculum, and during his papacy, has continued to hold meetings for Sunday School teachers to establish a Sunday School curriculum for the churches abroad.

The Exile and Efforts of National Unity

During the early years of his enthronement, His Holiness Pope Shenouda had an amicable relationship with the late Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat. However, during his presidency, violent Islamic fundamentalist groups increased all over Egypt, especially in the Universities. They started to attack the Copts, vandalize their businesses, and burn their churches, which led Pope Shenouda to protest to the government against this repeated violence. Sadat reacted by issuing a presidential decree to exile His Holiness to the Monastery of St. Bishoy, imprison eight bishops, twenty-four priest, leading Coptic lay figures, and ban “El-Keraza