This Wikipedia article appears to be accurate and complete.  If you access Pope Shenouda III (1971- present) you will have the original, and a number of other sources. This is very helpful in understanding the history of our Coptic Christian brothers and sisters living in Egyptian culture.  Copts are little understood in western culture.

North Americans in particular have little experience with the sort of recent and current  religious persecution afflicted on the Copts. The closest Americans can come to understanding Coptic oppression is the racial oppression suffered by African-Americans prior to the 1960s.

This article is well worth the effort.

Fr. Orthohippo

Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria (Coptic: Ⲡⲁⲡⲁ Ⲁⲃⲃⲁ Ϣⲉⲛⲟⲩϯ ⲡⲓⲙⲁϩ ϣⲟⲩⲙⲧ[pronunciation?]; Arabic: بابا الإسكندرية شنودة الثالث‎; commonly Egyptian Arabic: البابا شنودة, IPA: [elˈbɑːbɑ ʃ(e)ˈnuːdæ]) (born Nazeer Gayed IPA: [nɑˈzˤiːɾ ˈɡæjjed], on 3 August 1923) is the 117th Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark the Evangelist of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. He is the head of The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria.

A graduate of Cairo University and the Coptic Orthodox Seminary, Nazeer Gayed became a monk under the name Fr. Antonios the Syrian after joining the Syrian Monastery of the Ever-Virgin Mary the Theotokos, where he was later elevated to the priesthood.

Pope Cyril VI summoned Fr. Antonios to the patriarchate where he consecrated him General Bishop for Christian Education and as Dean of the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary, whereupon he assumed the name Shenouda, which was the name of a Coptic Saint and two previous Popes: Shenouda I (859-880) and Shenouda II (1047–1077).

He has served as Pope of Alexandria since 14 November 1971, presiding over a worldwide expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church. During his papacy, Pope Shenouda III has appointed the first-ever bishops to preside over North American dioceses that now contain over two hundred parishes (200 in the United States, 23 in Canada and one in Mexico), up from four in 1971, as well as the first bishops in Australia and the first Coptic Churches and bishops in South America.

He is known for his commitment to ecumenism (Christian unity) and has, since the 1970s, advocated inter-denominational Christian dialogue. He devotes his writings, teachings and actions to spread and propagate for the rules of understanding, peace, dialogue and forgiveness.


Early life

Papal styles of Pope Shenouda III
Coptic cross.svg
Reference style His Most Blessed Beatitude and His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Pope and Patriarch
This article contains Coptic text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Coptic letters.

Born Nazeer Gayed Roufail on 3 August 1923 in Asyut, Upper Egypt, he is the youngest of a family of eight children. Nazeer’s mother died shortly after his birth. By the age of 16, Gayed was active in the Coptic Sunday School movement.

Gayed was very active in his church and served as a Sunday School teacher, first at Saint Anthony’s Church in Shoubra and then at Saint Mary’s Church in Mahmasha.[1]

After graduating from Cairo University with a degree in history, 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.

[Monastic life and educational service

On 18 July 1954, Nazeer joined the monastic life at the Syrian Monastery in Scetes; he was given the name of Father Antonios el-Syriani (Anthony the Syrian). From 1956 to 1962, he lived as a hermit in a cave about seven miles from the monastery, dedicating his time to meditation, prayer, and asceticism. Later, at the Syrian Monastery, he was ordained a priest. Antonios el-Syriani was among the candidates nominated for the papal throne in 1959, but Pope Kirollos VI was ultimately chosen for the post.


On 30 September 1962, Pope Cyril VI appointed him to the bishopric of Christian Education and as Dean of the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary, naming him . The relevance of the name emanates from the fact that the most renowned scholar and writer in Coptic was Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite.[2]

Under Bishop Shenouda’s leadership, the number of students at the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary tripled.[2] Bishop Shenouda was suspended in 1966 by Pope Cyril VI[3][4], esssentially because of “campaigns for change” instigated by Shenouda and his students. These campaigns, among other things, called for popular election of bishops and priests, a principle that Bishop Shenouda later applied when he became Pope of Alexandria. This conflict between Pope Cyril VI and Bishop Shenouda was later resolved.

Pope of Alexandria

He was enthroned as Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark on 14 November 1971, nearly nine months after the death of Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria. The ceremony was the first and, as yet, the only enthroning of a Coptic Pope to take place in the new Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo.

Some Copts argue that the choice of Pope Shenouda III as Pope (and Bishop) of Alexandria was not canonical, as Shenouda was already a bishop (though without a diocesis), arguably violating Canon 15 of the Council of Nicea against the translation of bishops from one See to another.[5][6] This issue caused an ongoing dispute in the Coptic Orthodox Church since 1928, and although the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church considered in the 1960s the General Bishops to be secretaries to the Pope in the degree of a Bishop, Pope Shenouda III is sometimes considered to be the fourth Bishop to become a Pope after Popes John XIX (1928–1942), Macarius III (1942–1944) and Joseph II (1946–1956).[7]

The Ethiopian Church Crisis

Following the arrest and imprisonment of Abune Tewophilos, Patriarch of Ethiopia, by the Marxist Derg regime that had deposed Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, Pope Shenouda III refused to recognize the cleric who was installed as the Ethiopian Patriarch’s successor. He (and the holy Synod) argued that the removal of Patriarch Abune Tewophilos was illegal and un-canonical as it was an act of political interference. Further, in the eyes of the Church of Alexandria and the Pope Shenouda III, Abune Tewophilos remained the legitimate Patriarch of Ethiopia.

Patriarch Tewophilos had been executed, but the government of Ethiopia at that time would not acknowledge that this had happened. Thus, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria refused to recognize any other Patriarch as long as Abune Tewophilos‘ death had not been confirmed. Formal ties between the Churches of Alexandria and Ethiopia were severed although they remained in full communion. Formal relations between the two churches resumed on 13 July 2007.[8]

Some of the Coptic property within the compound of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (including the Coptic Monastery known as Deir El-Sultan) was relegated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Upon the application of some bishops, the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod, based on the direction of Pope Shenouda, decided to ask Copts not to visit Jerusalem until the Church possessions and the monastery be returned. In 2006, the Holy Synod renewed the decree, urging Copts not to visit the Christian holy places in Israel, including Jerusalem.[9] According to that decree, such Copts are automatically banned from receiving Holy Communion in the Coptic Orthodox Church.


By the late 1970s the Egyptian Copts had suffered attacks by the Muslim extremists. President Sadat did not respond to demands for protection and as a year of negotiations and petitions yielded no results, Pope Shenouda III decided not to hold public Easter celebrations, as this traditionally included receiving delegates and greetings from the President. On 3 September 1981, President Sadat signed a decree deposing Pope Shenouda and exiling him at the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in the Nitrian Desert. In addition, eight bishops, twenty-four priests, and many other prominent Copts were placed under arrest. Sadat replaced Pope Shenouda III with a committee of five bishops, which was however rejected by the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Shenouda remained exiled for over three years, until Egypt’s High Court issued a ruling in the Copts’ favour and President Hosni Mubarak released the Pope on 2 January 1985. Shenouda returned to Cairo on 7 January 1985 to celebrate the Christmas Liturgy.

Political stances

The building of churches has been strongly restricted to the fulfillment of the Ten Conditions of Al-Ezabi – an Ottoman decree to restrict the building of churches in Egypt. Until recently, the President of Egypt had to sign the building order of a church, even for small repairs.

On Sunday, January 2, 2000, twenty-one Coptic Christians in Kosheh village in Upper Egypt, 450 kilometers south of Cairo, were massacred by Muslim extremists (see Kosheh Martyrs). On December 1, 2000, a criminal court in Sohag governorate released without bail all 89 defendants charged in the New Year’s massacre in Kosheh. Pope Shenouda III rejected the verdict openly, and told reporters, “We want to challenge this ruling. We don’t accept it.” Because this court sentence is final, Pope Shenouda III has said, “We revise this sentence by God”.

Supervised worldwide growth of the Church

The papacy of Pope Shenouda III has seen a worldwide expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria: while there were only four Coptic Orthodox churches in all of North America in 1971, today there are more than two hundred.[10][11]

The Americas

The growth of the Coptic Orthodox Church in North America has been such that in 1995, Pope Shenouda established the first two dioceses and installed Diocesan bishops for the United States, one for Los Angeles, California, and the other for the Southern United States, plus two General Bishops, Exarchs of the Throne in New Jersey.

In the Caribbean, Mission churches have been founded in Bermuda, St. Kitts, and in the U.S. Virgin Islands in St. Thomas.

Moreover, Pope Shenouda’s tenure has also included the founding of the first Coptic Orthodox Church in South America (in São Paulo, Brazil), and the second in Bolivia. In February 2006, Pope Shenouda visited and consecrated the church of St. Mark in São Paulo and the church of St. Mary and St. Mark in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. Later, on the Feast of Pentcost 2006, the two monk priests of the two churches were consecrated bishops, Bishop Agathon of Brazil and Bishop Youssef of Bolivia. Recently a church was established in Tlayacapan, Mexico.


In 1994, under the guidance of Pope Shenouda III, the British Orthodox Church, which was originally established in 1866 as a part of the Syriac Orthodox Church, became canonically part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. At the feast of the Pentecost that same year, Pope Shenouda ordained Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury as Metropolitan for the British Orthodox Church, and thus joined the British Orthodox Church, as an Autonomous Church, into the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. In Europe, there are currently over fifty churches and ten bishops. On 21 August 2011 Pope Shenouda III consecrated the first coptic orthodox church in Central Europe: in Budapest (Hungary).

Asia and Pacific

In Australia and New Zealand, there are currently over 50 churches, and in 1999, Pope Shenouda enthroned Bishop Suriel, the first bishop for Melbourne, Canberra, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand. Since that time, Bishop Suriel established two churches in Fiji.

In June 2002, Bishop Daniel was officially consecrated and appointed the first bishop with jurisdiction for the Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland, and the Northern Territory, as well as South and North East Asia.


In the early 1990s, when Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki requested that the local Church be made independent from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which required a patriarch enthroned by the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria.

Previously, the church in Eritrea was an Archdiocese of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. The Patriarch and Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church agreed to the elevation of the Church in Eritrea and Shenouda III thus anointed the first Patriarch of Eritrea with the name Patriarch Philip I (Abuna Philipos of Eritrea). This was the second consecration of a Patriarch by the Pope of Alexandria in the twentieth century (the first Patriarchal consecration in the twentieth century occurred when Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria consecrated the first Catholicos-Patriarch of Ethiopia in 1959.)

Commitment to Christian Unity

In 1973, Pope Shenouda III became the first Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria to meet the Pope of Rome in over 1500 years. In this visit, Pope Shenouda III and Pope Paul VI signed a common declaration on the issue of Christology and agreed to further discussions on Christian unity. There have also been dialogues with various Protestant churches worldwide.

Pope Shenouda III is well known for his deep commitment to ecumenism. In an address he gave at an ecumenical forum during the International Week of Prayer in 1974, he declared, “The whole Christian world is anxious to see the church unite. Christian people, being fed up with divisions, are pushing their church leaders to do something about church unity and I am sure that the Holy Spirit is inspiring us.”

Under his leadership, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria has become a full member of the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, the All-African Council of Churches, the National Council of the Churches in Christ in the U.S.A., the Canadian Council of Churches, and the Australian Council of Churches. In May 2000, he established the Office of Ecumenical Affairs, in the Archdiocese of North America.

Pope Shenouda III has emphasized ecumenism in his work, believing it to be founded upon a unity of faith and not of jurisdiction. As a result, he has paid many visits to the various sister Orthodox churches and their patriarchs, such as those of Constantinople, Moscow, Romania and Antioch, with the goal of a full communion of these churches with the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

In 2006, during the Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy, he said that while admitting that he had not read the exact words used by Pope, “any remarks which offend Islam and Muslims are against the teachings of Christ.”[12]

In 2007, he criticized the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith‘s declaration on “Subsistit in” in Lumen Gentium.[13]

Theological disputes

Pope Shenouda III has been involved in theological disagreements concerning the issue of theosis – the divinisation of the Christian who puts into practice the teachings of Christ. As result of this, Pope Shenouda III published eight booklets explaining his view of theosis. Pope Shenouda III taught others about the issue in the theological seminary of Cairo and also in the seminary of Alexandria. Following the death of Matta El Meskeen, who held an opposing view, Pope Shenouda III issued warnings against those views.[14][15] This was criticised by theologians and intellectuals, as Shenouda had never criticized Father Matta’s teachings during his life.

Pope Shenouda has also been involved in theological disputes with Dr. George Habib Bebawi and other theologians, including non-Coptic Orthodox church leaders.

Writings and lectures

Pope Shenouda III has been the editor-in-chief of El-Keraza Magazine, the official publication of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, since 1962. He became the first Patriarch of Alexandria since the fifth century to have been head of the Theological Seminary and continues to lecture at the Seminary branches in Cairo, Alexandria and several other Theological Seminaries created in different dioceses in Egypt and abroad, and at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies. He also established other branches of the Seminary in Egypt as well as abroad. Pope Shenouda is also the author of over 100 books.

In his new book, “Have You Seen the One I Love“, Pope Shenouda contemplates the Song of Songs

In 2000, he was awarded the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence by UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura on the recommendation of an international jury. The award was “for promoting exchange and understanding between Christianity and Islam in today’s Middle East and his deep concern to pursue dialogue with all the great religious faiths and his major role in forging ecumenical links with all other members of the Christian family throughout the planet.”[16]

is known for his commitment to ecumenism (Christian unity) and has, since the 1970s, advocated inter-denominational Christian dialogue. He devotes his writings, teachings and actions to spread and propagate for the rules of understanding, peace, dialogue and forgiveness.



In 2000, he was awarded the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence by UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura on the recommendation of an international jury. The award was “for promoting exchange and understanding between Christianity and Islam in today’s Middle East and his deep concern to pursue dialogue with all the great religious faiths and his major role in forging ecumenical links with all other members of the Christian family throughout the planet.”[16]


About Fr. Orthohippo

The blog of a retired Anglican priest (MSJ), his musings, journey, humor, wonderment, and comments on today's scene.
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  1. Judy Kirkpatrick says:

    This is one of your more interesting articles.

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