By Ramez Atallah
A YOUNG EGYPTIAN 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 verse 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 comprise half of the 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 on March 17, 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 his 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 forty years was the hunger and thirst for the Scriptures which Pope Shenouda, 88, 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 television 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 was called.
Pope Shenouda…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 describe 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 officially gave all Christians three days off to mourn, and all cultural events in the nation were cancelled….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 told how the local mosque in his neighborhood had announced condolences from the loud speaker. As hundreds of thousands gathered at the cathedral to pay their last respects, Muslims [nearby] provided water and sandwiches.
Such goodwill is indeed precious, especially at this time. Egyptian Christians [who comprise about a tenth of Egypt’s 80 million people] feel his loss acutely because of the threat they feel these days with the Islamic takeover of the Egyptian Parliament and Senate….Christians feel much more vulnerable without a strong spokesman…. TAP
Ramez Atallah is General Director of the Bible Society of Egypt. See www.bsoe.org.
By Ramez Atallah