Coptic Orthodox

Author: H. H. Pope Shenouda Ill.

Do Not Despair, however weak your spiritual life may be, do not despair; for desperation is one of Satan's wars by which he wants to weaken your morals and stop your resistance, to fall in his hands. Even though you despair of yourself, never despair of the grace of God.

Read more: Do Not Despair
Monastic Library

"Everything we do, our every objective, must be undertaken for the sake of this purity of heart. This is why we take on loneliness, fasting, vigils, work, nakedness. For this we must practice the reading of the Scripture, together with all the other virtuous activities, and we do so to trap and to hold our hearts free of the harm of every dangerous passion and in order to rise step by step to the high point of love." (Conference One - The Goal or Objective of the Monk, John Cassian Conferences)
» A Season to "Set Aside"
» Making the Most Out of Life
» St. Moses the Black: Meditation Strengthens Spiritual Life
» St. Anthony the Great: Wisdom Derived from Humility
» St. Anthony - A Saint in Search of Perfection
» St. Anthony - Toward True Righteousness
» St. Macarius the Great: Clothed with the Holy Spirit
» Anba Bishoi: A Life of TRUE Submission
» Anba Abraam Late Bishop of Fayoum, "Merciful and Giving"
» The Virgin's Fast

» What is Monasticism?
» The Three Vows of Monasticism: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience
» The Letters of Saint Antony the Great
» Paradise of the Desert Fathers
» The Characteristics of and Conditions for Answered Prayers
» مميزات و شروط الصلاة المستجابة
» Palladius, The Lausiac History (1918)

Excerpts from the Paradise of the Holy Fathers
» The History of Abba Ammon
» The History of the Blessed Ammonius
» The History of Apollonius the Merchant
» The History of Didymus the Blind
» The History of Dorotheos of Thebes
» The Monks of Nitria
» The History of the Maiden Alexandra
» The History of the Blessed Man Pambo
» The History of Abba Macarius (the Alexandrian) and a Certain Virgin
» The History of the Natural Brethren Paesius and Isaiah
» The History of the Virgin Potamiaena

Stories of the Desert Fathers
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Agathon
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Anthony the Great
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Arsenius
» Stories from the Desert - on St. Basil the Great
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Cassian
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Daniel
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Isaac, Priest of the Cells
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Isidore the Priest
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba John the Dwarf (Short)
» Stories from the Desert - on St. John the Theban
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Macarius the Great
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Macarius of Alexandriat
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Mark, Disciple of Abba Silvanus
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Matoes
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Moses the Strong
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Pambo
» Stories from the Desert - on Abba Serapion

Writings of the Desert Fathers
» St. Anthony the Great - First Letter

(by H.H. Pope Shenouda)

What, according to our Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, is Monasticism, as it was founded and blossomed in the early centuries? Yes, what is the Monasticism that attracted many tourists to Egypt just to see our fathers in the desert and hear a word of wisdom from their mouths; or learn some lessons from their fathers' lives?

Yes, what is the Monasticism that our holy fathers lived and which Paladius, Rofinus, and John Cassian wrote about? And who is Saint Athanasius that explained a version in his book about St. Anthony?

Monasticism is not only a name or a monastery legacy. It does not reside in the monks' clothes nor is it attached to their kolonsowa (head garment) or their belts.

Monasticism is living a life of inner liberation from materialism. Our fathers have lived angelic lives. It is said that the monks are earthly angels and heavenly humans. They are people who have deprived themselves of every thing, to live humbly, and in contemplation in its highest level, executing the word of the Holy Bible."Do not love the world or the things in the world" (1 John 2:15-17).

"When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up." (John 2:15,17) Accordingly, monks rid themselves of all the worldly desires such as money, material things, positions, or fame. They leave everything so that God may be their world.

Monks no longer desire worldly ways or their positions, but they choose poverty exactly like their hero, St. Anthony fulfilled the word of the Bible "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven; and come follow Me (Matthew 19:21). So, he went and gave away all of his possessions to the needy before he began his monastic life, and he lived as a poor monk in the ascetic life.

It is true that monasticism and wealth are complete opposites which cannot travel in the same path of life. It is also true that monasticism and luxury do not correlate, because luxury is an easy way of life, to which poor people, other than monks, are not exposed to. Monks leave the world to live in the desert, mountains, and caves in order to live with God; the God they have dedicated their lives to.

How deep is the everlasting expression which identifies monasticism! Monasticism is a total withdrawal from every person and every material thing to connect to the One and Only "God", who fills the heart, mind, and time. A monk will never achieve this spiritual level if he still desires worldly things. Here we remember what Jesus Christ said to Martha, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed and Mary has chosen that good part which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42).

The goal of true monasticism is a continuous life filled with prayers. A life of continuous prayer is the main feature of a monk's life, which ordinary people cannot live because of their worldly engaging tasks and interests.

He who begins a monastic life trains himself to a continuous life of prayer. When he succeeds, he then begins a life of isolation, which then helps him in his prayers and contemplation.

This is why monasticism is a life of loneliness. From loneliness originated the name of the monk. The word in Greek (monakes) means lonely. In French, "moine" means a monk. In English…etc. In loneliness a monk may continue a life of prayer, contemplation, and songs without delay or distraction of any kind.

A true monk escapes people to be with God. This is what St. Arsanius the Great had done. St. Macarius of Alexandria once asked him saying, "Father why do you flee from us?" He answered saying, "The Lord knows that I love you all, but I cannot speak with God and people at the same time.' This is why the Spiritual Elder in his deep wonder expression once said, "The love of God made me a stranger to humans and their ways."

Fast or Feast for 2010 


The Holy Nativity Feast

January 7

The Circumcision Feast

January 14

The Holy Epiphany

January 19

Feast of the Wedding of Cana of Galilee

January 21

Jonah's (Nineveh) Fast

January 25–27

Jonah's (Nineveh) Feast

January 28

Holy Great Fast

February 8 – March 26

Presentation of the Lord into the Temple

February 15

The Feast of the Cross

March 19

Lazarus Saturday

March 27

Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem (Hosanna Sunday)

March 28

Holy Pascha

March 29–31

Covenant Thursday

April 1

Good Friday

April 2

Glorious Feast of the Resurrection

April 4

Annunciation Feast

April 7

Thomas’ Sunday

April 11

Martyrdom of St. Mark the Evangelist

May 8

The Holy Feast of Ascension

May 13

The Holy Pentecost Feast

May 23

The Apostles' Fast

May 24 – July 11

Entry of the Lord into Egypt

June 1

The Apostles' Feast (Martyrdom of St. Peter & St. Paul)

July 12

St. Mary's Fast

August 7–21

Transfiguration Feast

August 19

Assumption of St. Mary's Body

August 22

The Nayrouz Feast (Coptic New Year)

September 11

The Feast of the Cross (Three days)

September 27–29

The Holy Nativity Fast

November 25 – January 6

"Your people shall be willing in the day of your power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: you have the dew of your youth. The LORD has sworn, and will not relent, You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." (Ps 110:3)

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was born, Nazeer Gayed, on August 3, 1923, from a religious family in the Upper Egyptian province of Assyut. Since his very early childhood, Nazeer Gayeed was an active participant in the service of the church. At age 16, Nazeer began service in the Sunday School program of St. Anthony's Church in Shoubra, Cairo, where he also attended school. Nazeer graduated from Cairo University in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History. Nazeer then completed his Bachelors of Coptic Theology and upon his graduation from the Theological Seminary, was appointed a Seminary instructor of the Old and New Testaments due to his academic excellence in religious studies. In l953, he was appointed a lecturer at the Monastic College in Helwan.

On July 18, 1954 Nazeer Gayed dedicated his life to meditation, prayer, and asceticism entering into the El-Souryan Monastery within the Western Desert of the Coptic homeland of Egypt. His name would become Father Antonius El-Souryan and his solitary life would become one patterned after St. Anthony the Great who renounced the world and resided further and further into the arid, dry western desert, whose self-discipline and spiritual life grew from within a cave during his lifetime and today whose cave and life is ascribed to by religious scholars world wide, as the origin of Christian monasticism. History would record St. Anthony as desiring to spend his lifetime in search of solitude, desiring only the Lord, but put his desires aside just enough to become an inspired teacher, a humble example of practicing rigid self-denial, and a source of practical wisdom without worldliness to those also seeking an abundant spiritual life through long suffering and solitude.


From l954 to l962, Father Antonius El-Souryan lived the life of solitude he desired totally devoted to contemplation, fasting, and prayer. He would become ordained a priest. Father Antonius El-Souryan would see an end to his cherished hermetic life and adhere to the calling to set his desires aside and obediently accept the ordination of Bishop of Christian Education and became the director of the Theological Seminary. Father Antonius was then given the name of Abba Shenouda. His Grace was responsible for the Christian guidance for the youth and the Christian education in all the dioceses of Egypt. Under His Grace's administration in the Theological Seminary, the number of students attending tripled. On November 14, l971 His Grace Bishop Shenouda was once again called upon to be obedient and was then enthroned as our beloved Pope.

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the 116th* successor of St. Mark the Apostle, the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark Papacy exemplifies…

A Life of Considered, Complete, and Lifelong Commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ

The Lord Jesus Christ said, "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:33) Certainly to be a disciple meant to consider the cost of following the Lord Jesus Christ and willingly pay it. The cost of monasticism demands everything a person has, is, and will become. Divine inspiration proclaimed in the Holy Book of Wisdom (4:1), "How good is the chaste generation." St. Paul taught that God calls us in holiness (Thessalonians 4:3). We can be sure, Pope Shenouda in considering the monastic way of life desired to live the life of angels in Heaven while here on earth. The Lord of Glory said, "For in the Resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels of God in Heaven" (Matthew 22:30).

The considered virtuous life of His Holiness Pope Shenouda, it is evident, has not been lived through the flesh but through the spirit. Father John Cassian wrote, "There will be no virtue which makes a human resemble the angels like the virtue of chastity, because the human life with chastity, while still residing in the body, as if the body does not exist, will "not be in the flesh but in the Spirit" with the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:9). The human person who can live in chastity and purity is higher than the angels who live without bodies which desire against their spirits."

His Holiness stands as a constant example to all people and to those monastic in particular. St John the celibate disciple was known as the one "Jesus loved." He was so endeared to the Lord that he leaned on His bosom at the Last Supper, and dared to boldly ask what the rest of the disciples certainly did not, "Lord who is one who betrayed You?" (John 21:20) When the Lord Jesus Christ would later suddenly show Himself at the Sea of Tiberius, following His Glorious Resurrection, not one of His chosen disciples who were present would recognize their beloved Lord, except St. John the celibate who would in awe exclaim to St. Peter, "It is the Lord" (John 21:1-7). St. Eronimos explained this significant recorded event as "nobody recognized Him except John, because it was only the celibate who knew the Celibate, the Son of the Celibate."


Certainly there is the greatest of honor in the example of the inspired life led by His Holiness. In his Holy Revelation, St John the celibate foretold of the superiority of a chaste and pure life in the Heavenly abode. He told of the one hundred and forty-four thousand celibates whom he saw standing on the heavenly Mount Zion, singing a new song which only those celibate could learn to sing. These one hundred and forty-four had a special song that belonged to them and them alone and it was further recorded that they were twice blessed with another special privilege which was to also "follow the Lamb wherever He goes" (Revelation 14:1-4).

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III not only is a devoted example of the monastic way of life but is an example of purity of spirit to the youth. The need for purity of spirit is made abundantly clear in the Holy Bible. Because of impurity God wiped out entire nations in the older world by the flood, use fire and brimstone to burn down greatly populated cities such as Sodom and Gomorrah, and brought down the strongest of men whose enemies plucked out his eyes and degraded him to the level of an animal. Just as the pigeon which Noah freed returned to the ark when it found no place among the dead corpses, the same is with the Holy Spirit of the Lord, it never dwells in the impure but in those who seek the virtue of purity. Certainly a youth who is not a prisoner to a life of desires is one who is successful in all aspects of his life. As His Holiness well exemplifies, the life of virtue bears many fruits of spiritual growth.

Complete commitment incorporates an ultimate love for the Lord Jesus first and above all, then family and lastly self as evidenced by His teaching, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). Certainly all men are called to have honorable relationships with family but the complete and first prioritized relationship must be with the Lord our God. This relationship is to incorporate love, not only in emotion but also in humility.

Humility can be expressed in many different ways. As a peacemaker is one very significant way. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III is the first Alexandrian pope to visit Constantinople since the great schism of 451 AD, and in addition His Holiness is the first Coptic pope to visit the Vatican since that time period. In May 1973 His Holiness together with Pope Paul VI signed a declaration of mutual concern regarding church unity. His Holiness actively participated in the negotiation process of unity between Chalcedonian and non Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches. St. Augustine stated that the Son of God became incarnate to make peace between man and God, and to cure the heart of men from the illness of pride.

In humility His Holiness has never stop striving in his complete commitment, or "death to the worldly." His papal duties have made His Holiness more diligent to personal teaching and instruction rather than less. Writing many books translated in many languages, preaching and teaching by word and example in many languages, traveling extensively abroad regardless of health and security concerns reveals His Holiness's humility patterned after that of the Lord Jesus Christ, as it is written, "He made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of man" (Philippians 2:7).

Praise nor oppression nor violent times have deterred this papacy in His Holiness endeavors to further the growth of the church. Indeed His Holiness Pope Shenouda the III has followed in this example given by St. Macarius the Great whom gave this lesson to a monk who wanted to know how to be saved. St. Macarius instructed the monk to go to the graves and curse the dead buried there. The monk went and cursed and stoned the dead's graves. St. Macarius then asked him, "Did they answer you back?" The monk answered "no." He told the monk, "Go tomorrow and praise the dead instead." Again the monk went and highly praised the dead. St. Macarius again asked the monk if they answered him back, he replied "no." Then St Macarius told him, "If you have really died with Christ and were buried with Him, be like those dead people, because curses or praises do not affect the dead. This is how you can be saved."

Lifelong commitment is necessary to be a true disciple. For those who have committed their life to the Lord Jesus Christ, being without the Lord in their life at every moment would be similar to salt without its seasoning capability as noted in this question to the disciples, "Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?" (Luke 14:34) For His Holiness lifelong commitment has been pursued in both an ascetic and scholarly life.

As previously mentioned, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, was obedient to the call of scholarly life, and was instrumental in founding the Sunday School movement within the Coptic Church, provides weekly educational and spiritual teachings at the Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo, and assumes an active role in teaching the Catechetical School in both Cairo and Alexandria.

Many Coptic Orthodox churches have been established abroad in Europe, North and South America, Australia. His Holiness has blessed many with his constant visiting of these newly established churches giving the joy of celebration to their congregations.

 Irenaeus, Bishop of the Church at Lyons (c.180) wrote regarding the Apostolic Succession and the papacy: "It behooves us to learn the truth from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech...They expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God not dishonoring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets" (Berkot, D. W. 2000. Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, p. 30).

We ask and entreat Your goodness, O Lover of Mankind, to remember, O Lord, our patriarch, the honored father, the high priest, Abba Shenouda III…Keep him unto us for many years and peaceful times, fulfilling that holy high priesthood, with which You have entrusted him, from Yourself, according to Your Holy and Blessed Will; rightly defining the Word of Truth; shepherding Your people in purity and righteousness. Amen.

His Holiness Pope Shenouda the III is the 117th Pope of the See of St. Mark, but considered the 116th successor as St. Mark the founder of the Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the seventy two apostles appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and one of the four evangelists was not a successor as he is regarded as the first, therefore not a successor, of an unbroken chain of 117 patriarchs.

To learn more, visit His Holiness Pope Shenouda's Official Web site.

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