The Coptic Orthodox Church
|H.H. Pope Shenouda III by HG Bishop Youssef|
True Knowledge and Love:
"True knowledge is that which consists in the doctrine of the apostles and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout the entire world. It also consists in the distinctive manifestations of the body of Christ according to the succession of the bishops. For by this they have handed down that Church which exists in every place and which has come down even unto us. She is guarded and preserved without any forging of Holy Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine. She neither receives any addition to, nor does she allow any diminishing of, the truths which she believes. True knowledge also consists of reading the Word of God without falsification but with a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures but without danger and without blasphemy. Above all, it consists in the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all of the other gifts of God." (Irenaeus c. 180)
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III loves God, the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the people that comprise the blessed church. There is a profound understanding of this throughout his teaching and preaching. Capable of giving sound answers to theological questions and to threatening heretical situations requires great theological understanding but to have this understanding a great love for the Lord Jesus Christ must predispose it. This is a surrendering type of love that relinquishes all in the world to desire a spiritual union with the Holy Spirit and His Holiness cooperates fully with this union and therefore this type of love.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has demonstrated his infinite capacity to love his children in many exemplarily ways. The first is to teach us by knowledge and by spiritual example to stay far away from sin. While one sins, one cannot love our Lord nor follow His teachings. His Holiness Pope Shenouda living the virtues of the monastic way of life all the while overseeing the See of St. Mark has maintained his papal residence at St. Bishoy Monastery where His Holiness "over sees" papal work and prayer time was focused away from the worldly calls of life. His Holiness' admiration of a saint, St. Bishoy, and his endearing St. Mary Monastery, known as El-Sourian Monastery, nearby called him to choose to be surrounded by those whom enjoy the simplistic way of life that dedicated their life to the Lord Jesus Christ and nothing else. When we surround ourselves with the lives of the saints before us and those who are familiar to us that love the Lord and stay away from evil, we engage in True Love.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda is very sincere in his work. As a hard working, devoted Patriarch to his people he is in constant meditation and prayer related to those of the Coptic faith. When one is in constant meditation over spiritual matters it is difficult to give heed to the worldly nature of the world. When he is not in meditation and prayer he is in a spiritual work mode which flies him to multiple countries to encourage us to strengthen our faith and spread the Coptic Church throughout the land not just for the Coptic but for the convert as well. Noting that conversion of souls is equal in importance, equal in need for the Coptic Church to grow.
Look for a spiritual solution to a problem is the anthem in many of His Holiness sermons and teachings. How are we taught this?
St. Anthony taught, "Tire yourself in the reading of books as it saves you from impurity."
Mar Isaac said, "Diligently read books and the lives of the saints. Because continuous study, looking in books, and reading about the manners of the fathers will improve the quality of your thoughts, and it becomes easy to do what fears God in your eyes, and difficulties are solvable."
His Holiness has authored countless books and given infinite numbers of sermons which helps man to prevent thinking in sin. His Holiness gift is that not only do his teachings look for a solution to a problem but His Holiness draws his audience thoughts and attention in order to understand what he hears in a Christ-like manner. It abides with us, in us, and throughout our lives.
"Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father" ( I John 2:24).
Education and Leadership:
"No other teaching will have the right of being received as apostolic that that which is at the present day proclaimed in churches of apostolic foundation." (Tertullian c. 207)
As a youth His Holiness was very active in the church. His foundation was laid at St. Anthony Church in Shoubra. As a servant he grew in knowledge and wisdom, also he entered into theological college, whom at that time was intimate with the teachings of deacon and teacher Habib Guirguis. The growth formation of knowledge and understanding gained during this period of time of the seminary cannot be imagined by even the most intelligent among us.
Moving forward from St. Anthony Church he continued in the desire to worship the Lord wholly and dedicatedly without interruption from the world. In the El-Sourian Monastery he quietly became a monk and then became elevated through the will of God to a predestined role of Bishop.
Not only did His Holiness serve as Bishop of Education for the Coptic Orthodox community of believers, he would in his papacy establish a Bishop of Youth whose focus of service would be the children and youth of the Coptic Orthodox Church. His role of Bishop of Education had become a part of his spiritual nature and his desire to constantly improve upon the role has greatly pressed him to this day.
"And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (II Timothy 2:2).
One of my fondest memories during medical school was, His Holiness attending our Coptic Medical Society meetings every other week. The medical society, St. Stephen, was active in the Coptic Orthodox way and preservation, so it became somewhat a routine that His Holiness would come to speak. One particular afternoon we learned the pope was coming to speak about the topic of love. As a young male adult, I longed to hear of complicated topics, of philosophical issues, of early church fathers. Nonetheless to hear a lecture from His Holiness would be welcome no matter the topic. When leaving the lecture on love so vast was its impact upon us fellow aspiring physicians many of us departed in tears. So great was the pope's love and so introspective of His Holiness to spiritually know of our need for such a topic of those whose had chosen healing as a profession. It was not enough to study medicine and His Holiness made this point penitently clear.
"Study therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles." (Ignatius c. 105)
Preaching and teaching:
"At that time after the Ascension, His apostles were eleven in number. To them was added Matthias, in the place of the traitor Judas. And afterwards Paul was added. Then they were dispersed throughout all the earth to preach the Holy Gospel as the Lord their Master had commanded them. For the next twenty-five years until the beginning of the reign of Emperor Nero, they busied themselves in laying the foundations of the church in every province and city." (Lactantius c. 320)
Our beloved pope's advancing age nor its associated medical conditions has not hindered His Holiness love of the Lord Jesus Christ and he continues to minister, consecrate altars, bless retreat centers, and schools to this current day. It is true; those that age in human years do not in spiritual years. It is also true an increase in age is an increase in life's trials that produce greater wisdom. His Holiness flies to further the Holy Church millions of miles away from His centralized papal residence, His Holiness' beloved St. Bishoy Monastery.
Evangelism has frequently been acclaimed to be an overflowing gift and talent of His Holiness Pope Shenouda. It is the spiritual nature from which His Holiness is comprised. To present day His Holiness has established the Holy and Apostolic Church throughout the world. Coptic Churches have altars blessed in countries never before having a Coptic Orthodox altar consecrated. Africa, Austria, England, France, Greece, Holland, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, and Switzerland are among these countries now with a Coptic Orthodox presence.
It must be said that the United States and Australia once countries with a few scattered Coptic Orthodox churches in a few major metropolitan cities have hundreds of Coptic Orthodox churches within their continents.
Coptic Churches, Coptic monasteries, Coptic theological colleges, Coptic retreat centers, Coptic hospitals, Coptic schools, and Coptic university clubs are coming to the fore front in many countries outside the motherland of Egypt through the faithful and fruitful prayers of His Holiness His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. All carry their Coptic heritage through the names of the beloved saints, beloved fathers, and of course beloved popes many of which bear the name of St. Shenouda.
His Holiness His Holiness Pope Shenouda has authored countless books in the hundreds, in multiple languages, from the lives of the saints to how orthodoxy impacts our lives. His Holiness' books teach love, provide knowledge of church history, illustrate the life of the early fathers as well as the saints, and foremost Biblical interpretation and sound doctrine. One of the favorites of many, in the Southern USA diocese, is "Salvation in the Orthodox Understanding" and "What is Man?".
Organization and Order of the Church:
"Our Lord...describing the house of a bishop and the order of His Church, speaks in the Holy Gospel and say to St. Peter, "I say unto you, ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.'"...From there, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onward. So that the Church is founded upon the bishops. And every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers." (Cyprian c. 250)
It must be said that as the Coptic Orthodox Church grew in locality, throughout continents, and in evangelism, the Holy Synod grew in number as well throughout our beloved His Holiness Pope Shenouda's papacy and continues to grow in numbers today.
Large dioceses throughout the motherland of Egypt were divided into smaller dioceses so that bishops could function and serve more efficiently. While this productivity could be said to enlarge the number of bishops, the bishops in turn could pray to the Lord for additional priests to serve the congregations. A cycle of a more personal nature was developed to help all to stay firmly grounded in the Coptic faith particularly during times of upheaval and persecution.
Order of the Church is not inclusive within the faith. It incorporates those of other religions understanding the Coptic Orthodox way of life. In essence, it entails sowing the seeds of our faith with those leaders of other religions. His Holiness Pope Shenouda has brought this predilection to the public's eye with spiritual grace all his own. There have been declarations of understanding with the Roman Catholic Pope, the Patriarch of the Russia of Russian Orthodox Church, and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Recognizing that without constant prayer and worship the nature of man's existence is for naught, our beloved His Holiness Pope Shenouda furthered the establishment of the monastic way of life. Many monasteries have been erected both in Egypt and in countries abroad including, St. George monastery in El Khatatba, and Archangel Gabriel in Fayoum. Our country, the United States of America has two monasteries, St. Anthony in California and St. Mary and St. Moses in Texas.
Carrying the name sake of the monk St. Shenoute of Atripe of the White Monastery way of life Pope Shenouda III, 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark bears many of the same gifts and talents. Pallidus in the Lausiac history and John Cassian in the Conferences make no mention of Shenoute of Atripe. St. Shenoute's name is not recorded in the Apophthegmata Patrum or in the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto. What was the reason for such an omission? These were Greek writings and most readers were of a Greek descent.
This is important to know about His Holiness name sake. St. Shenoute of Atripe was fluent in Coptic, a language at the time not fluently used among those considered most educated in nations outside of Egypt in particular. He was a Copt. His way of thinking, reasoning, and speaking was Coptic. The monks he led in the monastery were Coptic. All his surviving letters and sermons were written in Coptic. He developed and continued to propagate Coptic literature. His writings were not Coptic translations of the Greek interpretation of Holy Scripture but original Coptic translations. One could appreciate his thoughts, his contemplations and his character by reading what he wrote. St. Shenoute was an original not a copy.
In many aspects His Holiness Pope Shenouda carries the likeness of his name sake. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark is a sacred deposit of spirituality from the Church of the apostles themselves. His Holiness is an original in his own spiritual right.
"If that doctrine has existed from the beginning which has the apostles for its authors, then it will certainly be quite evident that the doctrine which comes down from the apostles is that which has been kept as a sacred deposit in the churches of apostles." (Tertullian c.207)
His Holiness 117th Pope of Alexandria and See of St. Mark, so like a disciple of Christ,