His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. Was born on August 3, 1923, to a very religious family from Asyout Egypt. He was the youngest of eight children in his family, and his name at birth was Nazeer Gayed. Nazeer was active in the church service since his early childhood. At age 16, Nazeer began service in the Sunday school program of St. Anthony's Church in Shoubra, Cairo, where he also attended school. Nazeer then attended Cairo University and graduated in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and history. After which 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 where he earned a Bachelors in Coptic theology in 1949. Upon graduation from the seminary, he was chosen to teach The Old, and New Testaments due to his academic excellence in religious studies. Nazeer was then appointed a lecturer at the Monastic College in Helwan in 1953. Nazeer wanted to dedicate his life to meditation, prayer, and simplicity. Therefore on July 18, 1954 he joined the Syrian Monastery of The Virgin Mary and became a monk. He was ordained a priest and given the name Father Antonios the Syrian.
From l954 to l962, Father Antonios El-Souryan lived the life of solitude devoted to meditation, fasting, and prayer. From his early years he vowed to consecrate his life to Christ. "...I found in monasticism," Pope Shenouda once said, "a life of complete freedom and clarification." Wishing to live in complete solitude and devotion to our Lord, he became a hermit and lived in a cave that he had carved out himself. He lived in the cave for a period of six years from 1956 to 1962. However, his life of solitude had to end when Father Antonios El-Souryan would have to adhere to the calling to set his desires aside and obediently accept the ordination of Bishop of Christian Education and became the director of the Theological Seminary. Father Antonios was then given the name of Abba Shenouda. His Grace was responsible for the Christian guidance for the youth and the Christian education in all the dioceses of Egypt. Under His Grace's administration in the Theological Seminary, the number of students attending tripled.
Then, 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 Antonios 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 Antonios, who then joyfully declared God's chosen shepherd for His church as His Grace Bishop Shenouda, Bishop of Education. Then on November 14, 1971, His Grace Bishop Shenouda was consecrated and began his journey as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III.
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 institutes: Biblical Studies, Hymnology, and Coptic Language. On November 29, 1993, he officially opened the Institute of Pastoral Care. For his sophistication 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 spiritually uplifting sermons have won international acclaim; in 1978 the Browning Institute awarded him the prize for the best Christian preacher in the world.
Since H. H. Pope Shenouda began his journey as pope, the Coptic Orthodox Church has witnessed a remarkable revival and growth in Egypt and throughout the world. During his papacy, he has ordained more than 80 Metropolitans and Bishops, and also over 600 priests. Pope Shenouda III has also appointed the first-ever Bishops to preside over North American dioceses, as well as the first Bishops in Australia, France, England, Scotland, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and the first Coptic Churches in South America.
From his youth, His Holiness enjoyed writing very much, especially poems; he was a remarkably literate man as evidenced by the over 101 books that have been written by him. About half of these books have been translated into English, French, German, Italian, and other languages. Over the past 20 years, His Holiness has been the Editor-in-Chief of the Church's official magazine, EL-KERAZA.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda was well known for his deep commitment to Christian unity. In an address he gave at an ecumenical forum during the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity held at Saint Mark's cathedral in Cairo in 1974, His Holiness declared that: "The whole Christian world is anxious to see the Church unite. Christian people, being fed up with divisions and dispersion, are pushing their Church leaders to do something about Church unity and I am sure that the Holy Spirit is inspiring us." He has emphasized that Christian unity must be founded upon a unity of Faith and not upon a unity of jurisdiction. Under his leadership, the Coptic Orthodox Church is a full member of the World Council of churches.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III departed on March 17, 2012.