To the faithful people of the Coptic Church in Egypt and throughout the world, our beloved in the Lord: grace and peace from on high.
The world’s heart stopped briefly in mourning as we all learned the sad news that His Holiness Pope Shenouda III fell asleep in the Lord. Yet, we do not mourn without consolation or hope (1 Thess. 4.13). For, Pope Shenouda left behind a legacy for all people and all ages.
He was a genuine pope inasmuch as he was spiritual father and loving pastor to so many in difficult circumstances over the 40 years that he led the Coptic Church, developing his local congregation into a united communion while at the same time expanding his church in the Western world, especially North America and Australia. He was an educated leader and theological mentor, informing his flock while at the same time seeking reconciliation with sister Orthodox Churches.
He was a wise defender of religious rights for minorities and a staunch critic of fundamentalist factions, being honored and respected widely – by Christians and Muslims alike – for his discernment and compassion. We had communicated with him personally on two occasions during the last year in order to express our solidarity and condolences for the tragedies that befell our pious Coptic brothers and sisters.
And he was a lover of a monasticism, which so definitively shaped the early and entire Christian Church, choosing to be buried now in his beloved Scetis of the Natrun Valley, where so many Desert Fathers lived and died before him: St. Macarius of Egypt, St. Arsenius the Great and St. Poemen the Shepherd.
We solemnly stand in prayer and in sympathy beside all of the beloved faithful flock of your Church and the entire world as we entrust to the Lord’s tender embrace the soul of the late Pope Shenouda III. And we wholeheartedly entreat the Lord to keep his faithful flock strengthened in this transitional period of their Church’s leadership.
As we send our sincerest condolences through our Patriarchal representative, we pray with the words of the Orthodox funeral service: “Blessed in the way that he walks today; for a place of rest and comfort has been prepared for him.”
At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, March 19, 2012
Your fervent supplicant before God,
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome
And Ecumenical Patriarch