His Holiness Pope Shenouda III
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was born, Nazeer Gayed on August 3, 1923, from a religious family in the Upper Egyptian province of Assyut. Since his very early childhood, Nazeer Gayed was an active participant in the service of the church. At age 16, Nazeer began service in the Sunday school program at St. Anthony's Church in Shoubra, Cairo, where he also attended school. Nazeer graduated from Cairo University in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History. Nazeer then completed his Bachelors of Coptic Theology and upon his graduation from the Theological Seminary, was appointed a Seminary instructor of the Old and New Testaments due to his academic excellence in religious studies. In 1953, he was appointed a lecturer at the Monastic College in Helwan.
On July 18, 1954, Nazeer Gayed dedicated his life to meditation, prayer, and asceticism entering into the El-Souryan Monastery within the Western Desert of the Coptic homeland of Egypt. His name would become Father Antonius El-Souryan and his solitary life would become one patterned after St. Anthony the Great who renounced the world and resided further and further into the arid, dry western desert, whose self-discipline and spiritual life grew from within a cave during his lifetime and today whose cave and life is ascribed to by religious scholars worldwide, as the origin of Christian monasticism. History would record St. Anthony as desiring to spend his lifetime in search of solitude, desiring only the Lord, but put his desires aside just enough to become an inspired teacher, a humble example of practicing rigid self-denial, and a source of practical wisdom without worldliness to those also seeking an abundant spiritual life though long suffering and solitude.
From 1954 to 1962, Father Antonious El-Souryan lived the life of solitude he desired totally devoted to contemplation, fasting, and prayer. He would become ordained a priest. Father Antonious El-Souryan would see an end to his cherished hermetic life and adhere to the calling to set his desires aside and obediently accept the ordination of Bishop of Christian Education and become the director of the Theological Seminary. Father Antonious was given the name of Abba Shenouda. His Grace was responsible for the Christian guidance for the youth and the Christian education in all dioceses of Egypt. Under His Grace's administration in the Theological Seminary, the number of students attending tripled. On November 14, 1971 His Grace Bishop Shenouda was once again called upon to be obedient and was then enthroned as our beloved Pope.
On Saturday, March 17, 2012, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the faithful and mighty shepherd of the Coptic Orthodox Church for over four decades, was taken up to heaven to be joined with the saints. His Holiness leaves behind a flock of millions of Coptic Orthodox Christians spread over six continents who grieve for his departure, but rejoice in the knowledge that he has gained the reward for which he struggled, and is now united with our Heavenly Father.
In all things, His Holiness was a devoted father and teacher. Despite his innumerable competing responsibilities and obligations, he never desisted from his weekly lectures, continuing to prepare and offer them even while in the throes of his illness. His millions of children throughout the globe learned not only from these weekly lectures, or his countless books and publications, but by the example he set as a model of discipline, courage and compassion.
His Holiness’ papacy saw an unprecedented expansion in the Coptic Church throughout the world. It also marked revivals in Sunday School education and monasticism that will impact generations of Coptic Orthodox Christians to come. Yet, we remember him especially for the genuine love with which he cared for his children for over forty years and the true joy he displayed in Christ.
May God repose the soul of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and give heavenly comfort to his children.