Pope Shenouda III – RIP

Just heard the news that Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Church has died in Egypt at the age of 88 after being the Coptic Pope for 41 years.

Just before being ordained, I spent some time in Egypt and one of the evenings I remember most positively from that time in my life was an evening spent in the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo at one of Shenouda’s bible studies.

The deal was, if you wanted a bible study with the pope, you just turned up on a Wednesday evening. That is an extraordinary thought and some of the things I saw that evening still inspire me in my cathedral ministry now. Using a Cathedral as a place of renewal in that way is directly connected with the day I’ve just spent today on our Diocesan Pilgrimage Day. When I went to Pope Shenouda’s bible study there were about 5000 other folk there.

We are working up to that.

Pope Shenouda knew how to use a little razzle-dazzle to attract people and had a fair dose of wisdom to impart on them when he had attracted their attention. I particularly remember him arriving at something of a trot in the Cathedral to great whoops, ullulations and cheering about an hour after the evening had started. There was no doubt he was a hero and in his eyes the light of faith burned brightly.

Shenouda and I wouldn’t have seen eye to eye about terribly much. I well remember one of the monks in Egypt saying something like, “Well, all you Anglicans are heretics anyway. Some are worse heretics than others though.”

Notwithstanding differences in moral outlook, I’ve a huge admiration for what Shenouda and others have achieved in the Coptic church. They know what mission is about. They know it starts with adult Christian education and are proof positive that you can make an unlikely church flourish on Bible Study and an extraordinary passion for the liturgy. We would do well to think about how they’ve done it.

I’m sorry to hear of Pope Shenouda’s passing. I was once a guest in his guest house. He has now gone to a place with many mansions. I’ll remember to say a wee prayer for him tomorrow. The odd prayer of thanksgiving from a distant heretic can’t do any harm.


  1. Rosemary Hannah says

    Church starts (IMHO) when one can admire the qualities of those with whom one disagrees. But it is a trick balancing act (thinking of yesterday’s news) to admire and not capitulate. To reach across and keep one’s footing. To be rejected and to stay open,and yet not internalise the objections.

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