The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert

The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert
The Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes, Red Sea Desert, Egypt (1990)

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Death of Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria and the See of St. Mark

Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria and the See of St. Mark, the Coptic Pope of Egypt, has fallen asleep in the Lord.  I was blessed to have His Holiness open my photo exhibit on Coptic monasteries at the Washington National Cathedral in 1991. He also wrote a chapter for my book, "Monasticism in Egypt: Images and Words of the Desert Fathers," and was a true shepherd of his flock in the traditions of the ancient Desert Fathers.

Now that a new pope will be selected, it may be of interest to our readers to see how the Coptic Church selects its spiritual leader. Here is an article from Wikipedia that outlines the procedure:

The candidates for the Apostolic Throne of Alexandria must be at least 40 years old, and a lay person, a monk, a Hieromonk (Monk Priest or Monk Archpriest), or even a general bishop (not shepherding a diocese), as has been recently the practice (although it is against the definition of the candidates of the Canon Laws). The election is done when a draw is made by a blindfolded child selected from the congregation of a folded paper that has written on it the name of the candidate. This draw is made out of the three runner finalist candidates who are elected from several candidates through several elections made by the members of The Holy Synod of the Coptic Church and the General Lay Council of the Church, rather than being elected by other clergymen.

This ceremony is done at the end of a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, presided by the Locum tenens of the Throne, along with the entire body of the Holy Synod and in the presence of all members of the General Lay Council of the Church and in front of all the congregation. The last time this was seen was in 1971 after the departure of Pope Cyril VI, where Bishop Shenouda, general bishop and administrator of the Bishopric of Christian Education, became Pope Shenouda III.

In accordance with the old Coptic church tradition, for nineteen centuries it was essential that the Pope should not have been a Bishop beforehand. However, Pope Cyril VI was the only Monk in the 20th century to be chosen as the Coptic Pope without being a Bishop/Metropolitan before becoming the Pope. Before him, there was three Bishops/Metropolitans who became Popes: John XIX (1928–1942), Macarius III (1942–1944) and Pope Yousab II. After him, Pope Shenouda III  was a Bishop before becoming a Pope.

May His Holiness rest in the arms of the saints and his Lord Jesus Christ!