A young Egyptian man was walking by the Bible Society bookshop in downtown Cairo. As was his daily habit, he stopped to read the passage from the open page of the Bible in the display window.
That day the following verses struck him:
So Jesus said to them, "The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you." (John 12:35)
This was God’s call for him to enter Christian ministry and serve the Lord. Upon completing his undergraduate studies, he entered seminary, and eventually in 1971, he became Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and spiritual leader to millions of Egyptian Christians (who are half of Arabic-speaking Christians in the world).
Nearly seventy years since that day in 1945, Pope Shenouda III, is now hearing the words, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
As all of Egypt mourns his death, we at the Bible Society of Egypt feel the terrible loss of one of our strongest supporters.
Over the years we nicknamed him “the Pope of the Bible” because of his incredible love for the Scriptures and passion to teach, preach, memorize and promote the Bible as the foundation of the Christian faith and the focal point of the believer’s life.
One of the main reasons for the rapid growth and expansion of Bible work in Egypt during the past 40 years was the hunger and thirst for the Scriptures which Pope Shenouda fostered in the Coptic Orthodox Church.
We mourn the loss of one of the few Christian leaders in our generation whose whole life and ministry was totally centered on the Holy Scriptures and who practically knew the Bible by heart.
The grief in all of Egyptian society at his loss is moving. Minutes after the news of his death was announced all Egyptian TV channels began talking about this remarkable leader who left his imprint on all Egyptians.
Many are quoting his famous saying: “Egypt is not a country in which we live, but rather Egypt lives in us”. All are effusive in their expressions of admiration for this gifted leader, preacher, poet, thinker and “teacher of generations” as he is called.
Egypt has not had many charismatic leaders of integrity in recent history. Pope Shenouda thus stood head and shoulders above any of the current leaders in the country, a rare statesman of great wisdom. Egyptians mourn his death as a personal loss as well as a loss to the whole nation of Egypt.
It is difficult to express the depth of emotion and the impact of this one man. One of our staff shared that a few years ago, a non-Christian man pulled him aside at the book fair booth and said, “I want the Bible Pope Shenouda reads.”
The government has officially given all Christians three days off to mourn, and all cultural events in the nation have been cancelled.
The atmosphere of respect and unity in this time of national mourning is overwhelming. While all political leaders are expressing solidarity, heartfelt words of condolence are coming from Muslim neighbors, colleagues, and strangers who have no obligation to care or to share.
One man shared how the local mosque in their neighborhood had announced condolences from the loud speaker. As hundreds of thousands gathered at the cathedral the past two days to pay their last respects, Muslims in neighboring buildings provided water, while others have passed out sandwiches.
Such good will is indeed precious especially at this time. Egyptian Christians feel his loss acutely because of the threat they feel these days with the Islamic takeover of the Egyptian Parliament and Senate. His absence at a time when Egypt is moving towards the Islamization of our society makes Christians feel much more vulnerable without a strong spokesman on their behalf.
More than one person has suggested that maybe God has deliberately chosen this strategic time in history to take the Pope home, in order to help unify the country.
The Bible Society publishing team immediately gathered together on Sunday (March 18) to prepare a Scripture selection for distribution at today’s funeral. An initial 1,000,000 leaflets are being printed, celebrating Pope Shenouda's life and love for the Scriptures.
Please pray for the logistics of distributing these Scripture portions. At least two people have already died in the crowded masses. It is a security nightmare and we pray for divine protection for all. We plan to have more of these selections printed and distributed to all the churches in the nation in time for services on Friday and Sunday, March 23 and 24.