His Grace Geevarghese Mar Osthathios, former Metropolitan of Niranam, died on 16 February 2012 aged 92 years.
Born at Cherukole Mavelikkara on 9 December 1918, he was ordained deacon on 8 August 1948, priest on 10 May 1956 and consecrated to the episcopate as Metropolitan of Niranam on 16 February 1975, from which he retired in 2005. He served as President of the Mission Training Centre at Mevelikara, which had responsibility for training lay missionaries and also initiated more than 40 humanitarian institutions, movements and projects all over India for poor people, HIV positive patients and their children, cancer patients, leprosy patients and their children and orphans, old age homes for men and women, Sick Aid Foundation, House Building Aid Foundation, Self Education and Employment Loan Fund, Save a Heart Foundation, Karunya Guidance Centre, Visrantibhavan, etc. Until 1992 he was also the Head of the Youth Movement. He was a prolific writer, with 13 of his 56 titles published in English. taught at the Old Seminary in Kottayam for over 50 years. Memory Eternal !
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, 117th Pope & Patriarch of Alexandria, died in Cairo on 17 March 2012, aged 88 years.
Nazeer Gayed Roufail was born on 3 August 1923 into a comfortable and devout Coptic family in the village of Salaam, in the upper Egyptian governorate of Assiut. He was the youngest of a family of eight children (five girls and three boys) but his mother died shortly after his birth so he was largely brought up by his older brother, Raphael, in Damanhur, the capital of Beheira province in the Delta. Here he attended a Coptic Elementary School before attending the American School in Banha, 48 km north of Cairo He subsequently moved to Shubra, a suburb of Cairo, where he enrolled at the Iman Coptic School, which educated several generations of Copts until the nationalisation of all Egyptian schools in 1961. From 1943-1947 he studied for his B.A. in English & History at King Fouad I University (later called Cairo University).
As a youth Nazeer was an avid reader, tackling writers from many cultures and epochs: Shakespeare, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky; but poetry became his great love and soon he began writing poems himself. At his own admission this was before he had learnt the fundamental rules of poetry, but this proved a medium by which he was able to express some of the deepest feelings about God and His providential purposes for mankind. Apart from his early command of English he also demonstrated an impressive facility in his native Arabic. In his interests and knowledge, as well as his thinking and outlook on life, he early demonstrated a maturity beyond his years. Although in one sense he was a solitary child, his natural charm, intelligence and kindness attracted people to him. When it was suggested to him that his contermporaries sought him out for his advice, he suggested it was because he was a good listener, but he learned a lot himself by observing and listening to others.
Whilst at secondary school Nazeer became active in the Coptic Sunday School movement and, because of his knowledge, he was soon teaching at St. Antony’s Church in Shubra and, later, at Saint Mary’s Church in Mahmasha. The Sunday School Movement was an attempt to counteract the proselytising activities of Protestants and Catholics by educating Copts in their own faith and traditions. It was founded at the end of the nineteenth century by Archdeacon Habib Girgis (1876-1951), the respected head of the Coptic Theological Seminary. In 1946, whist still an undergraduate studies, he was allowed to enrol in the evening classes at the Coptic Theological Seminary usually open only to University graduates. However, recognising his abilities, Girgis granted him a dispensation. In 1947 Nazeer was instrumental in founding the Sunday School Magazine to which he contributed many articles. During the 1940s the Movement went through another revival, which coincided with Girgis’s death. The respect for his pioneering work was eloquently expressed in one of Nazeer’s poems:
“Such was your piety
Your faith and your love
Here is your world
All thorns and crucifixion
But who are you?
Are you a messenger?
For you are brighter than a messenger
You are the throbbing heart
The heart embracing a whole nation
A deep spring of compassion and charitable elation
O great saint!
What a strength without violence
Meekness without weakness
Nobility of temperament
Ever ready to forgive offenses
A father on whose chest we all crawled.”
During his time at university, Nazeer passed his summer vacations at the ancient Western Desert Monastery of St. Mary, known as “Deir El-Suryan” (Syrian Monastery). In 1948 Pope Yusab II consecrated the monastery’s abbot to the episcopate. Bishop Teofilos (1908-1989) was both a profoundly spiritual and administratively able abbot, whose dynamic leadership inspired numerous vocations both in his own monastery and at the neighbouring monastery of St. Bishoy, which had fallen into decline.
On completion of his degree Nazeer did his National Service as an officer in the Egyptian Army and later in the Egyptian Military Reserve Corps. As a patriotic Egyptian he had great respect for the armed forces and the valuable discipline it instilled, so he was unsympathetic to Copts who tried to avoid military service. On returning to civilian life he became a teacher of English, History and Social Sciences in a high school in Cairo, whilst undertaking post-graduate studies in archaeology and classical Arabic at Cairo University. Upon graduation from the Theological Seminary in 1949, he was appointed, at the age of twenty-six, to teach New Testament and Old Testament Studies at the Seminary, giving up his secular teaching to lecture full-time at the seminary. In 1953 he was appointed lecturer at the Monastic College in Helwan, a city just south of Cairo. Throughout this period he remained an active servant at St. Antony’s, Shubra; continued as editor-in-chief of the Sunday School Magazine and was elected to membership of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate.
Nazeer joined the Syrian monastery and on 18 July 1954, was professed a monk and given the name of Father Antonios el-Suriani. This move had been long in gestation and is summoned up in his poem, “Stranger”:
“I lived my life as a stranger,
As a pilgrim like my fathers.
My ways, my thoughts and my dreams are different.
Nobody understood me.
While the people lived in a loud, noisy and reckless world
I stayed in the lonely, peaceful distance,
A stranger who hasn’t found a place to be sheltered.
I deserted the charms of the world.
I haven’t enjoyed it
And I started to go away from it.
I had no desire for it.
I kept my ears clear;
I didn’t listen to the calls of its people
But with my harp and my flute
And with hymns I enjoy.
I have stayed alone for holy hours with my Creator
I say to every demon who wants to distract me,
Stay away from me
I live as a stranger like my fathers.”
He was given responsibility for the monastery’s library, which contained many rare and ancient manuscripts, and continued to write articles and booklets on patristic, monastic and ecclesiastical history. For six years, between 1956 to 1962, he lived as a hermit in a cave some seven miles from the monastery, dedicating his time to meditation, prayer, and asceticism.
On 30 September 1962, Pope Kyrillos VI consecrated Father Antony as a General Bishop, giving him the name, Shenouda, with charge of the newly established bishopric of Christian Education which included the office of Dean of the Coptic Theological College. Under Bishop Shenouda’s leadership, the number of students at the Theological College underwent significant increase. By the end of 1969 the number of full-time students increased from 100 to 207 and those studying part-time rose from 30 to 300. For the first time, women were admitted to the college and some became lecturers. He also began his weekly public sermons (originally held on Friday evenings), which he continued right up to his death. He also represented the Coptic Orthodox Church at international theological conferences, especially the Pro Oriente in Vienna in September 1971.
Pope Kyrillos VI died on 9 March 1971 and it was not surprising that Bishop Shenouda should be among the candidates nominated for the papacy and the final three candidates whose names were submitted to the ‘altar ballot’ on 31 October 1971. Following the revelation of his name, through the Holy Lot, he was enthroned in the still unfinished St. Mark’s Cathedral at Abbesseya on 14 November 1971, ascending the Throne of St. Mark as Pope Shenouda III.
A significant early step in his pontificate was his visit in October 1972 to the Oecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul to meet the newly elected Patriarch, Demetrios I (1972-1991), which was followed by the opening of official dialogue between the two families of Orthodox Churches, using the Christological formula he had presented to the Pro Oriente conference. In May 1973 he visited Pope Paul VI at the Vatican and together they signed another significant theological agreement. The warm relations established by this visit was symbolised by the return of some of the relics of St. Athanasius the Apostolic, where they were deposited in the crypt of St. Mark’s Cathedral.
Relations between church and state had been good under President Nasser and Pope Kyrillos VI. Anwar Sadat, who had succeeded Nasser in October 1970, at first had good relations with Pope Shenouda. The situation changed, however, with the rise of Muslim fundamentalists, whom Sadat tried to appease in an attempt to strengthen his own position against the unpopularity of the 1979 Egyptian-Isreali peace treaty, accusations of corruption and domestic bread riots. The increasing incidence of attacks on Coptic Christians and the attempt in 1980 to amend the Constitution so it would recognise Sharia law as the principal source of legislation caused Pope Shenouda to express the concerns of Christians and relations with Sadat declined markedly. On 3 September 1981 the President rescinded his decree recognising Shenouda as Pope and exiled him to St. Bishoy’s monastery. At the same time some eight bishops, twenty-four priests as well as other leading Coptic laity were imprisoned. A committee of five bishops, under Bishop Samuel was appointed by the President to run the church in the Pope’s absence. The church, however, still considered Pope Shenouda as its legitimate head and refused to countenance his replacement. Only a month later, on 6 October 1981, Sadat was assassinated by those Muslim extremists he had sought to appease. Among those killed alongside him was Bishop Samuel. This was actually a happy and fulfilling time for Pope Shenouda and he was able to immerse himself in various building projects at St. Bishoy’s monastery, where he created the Papal Residence as well as writing and living his life back in a monastery. When it came to an end, on 2 January 1985, by decree of President Mubarak, Pope Shenouda returned to Cairo in triumph to celebrate the Nativity Feast, but the peace of the monastic life was now disrupted again by the need to be at the centre of church life in Cairo. Although he returned to the monastery each weekend, the pace of life was to change irrevocably.
When the Christians of El-Kosheh in upper Egypt were attacked and killed on New Year’s Eve 2000, it marked the escalation of inter-communal strife, with increased attacks on Coptic churches, looting of Coptic homes and business, abduction of Coptic girls. The totally inadequate response of the Egyptian government and its periodic shedding of crocodile tears brought continued unease for over a decade whilst the refusal of the growing Coptic diaspora to remain silent in the face of such abuses heightened both international concern and church-state tensions. At heart, Pope Shenouda was a patriot and a nationalist who looked back to the days of National Unity, when Egyptians had sought to be free of British imperialism, as a model for the future. He established a working relationship with President Mubarak and the two men came to respect each other. Pope Shenouda always believed that if he asked Mubarak for something important for the Coptic community, the President would grant it; though there were limits on what could be expected as it became clear that President Mubarak was also at the mercy of events beyond his control. Even after his eventual downfall, Pope continued to speak of him with respect and concern for his well-being.
In 1988, after some nine years of staying in Egypt, Pope Shenouda began a series of world tours which continued to almost the end of his life. These not only bound the growing Coptic communities of the diaspora to the Alexandrian See but also established and reinforced relations with Orthodox and other Christian communities. The minute diaspora which existed at the start of his pontificate grew into a truly international communion with dioceses established in Australia, North and South America and across Europe. The erection of separate dioceses for British and French Orthodox faithful in 1994 showed the extent of the church’s outreach.
Relations with the Ethiopian Church, interrupted by the Communist revolution and the murder of both the Emperor Haile Selassie and the Ethiopian Patriarch, were eventually resumed and whilst the granting of autocephaly to the Eritrean Church in 1994 caused an initial souring of relations with Ethiopia, these were normalised again in 2007. Pope Shenouda’s strong sense of justice and loyalty was expressed by his holding a full funeral service in Cairo for the murdered Emperor and his equal refusal to recognise the deposition of the Eritrean Patriarch, Abune Antonios or the actions of the government controlled Synod in Asmara, which replaced him.
During the last few years, as the Pope’s health declined and the burdens of office became heavier, the pain – both spiritual and physical – became etched on his face. He dismissed the idea of resting but drove himself with a strength which only a Divine source could have supplied. He had preached the ideal of unstinting service to the people of God through the Church and he lived it to the end. Autocratic yet accessible; stern but gentle; dignified but humble, the Church has lost one of her greatest leaders whilst heaven has received a faithful son.
Memory eternal ! Memory eternal ! Memory eternal !
Lyndsey Clare Pratt died at Waterlooville, Hampshire, on 26 April 2012, aged 48.
Lyndsey Pratt (née Hollingshead) was the devoted wife of David Pratt, and mother of Hannah and Sam, of the BOC Portsmouth Parish. Although she had been suffering from cancer since 2005, Lyndsey was determined to make the most of whatever time remained to her and, with her usual energy and enthusiasm ensured that family life would continue to be purposeful, productive and joyful, which it did until only days before her death. Sustained by her Christian faith and supported by her local Catholic parish, Sacred Heart Church in Waterlooville, she remained entirely positive in the face of illness.
Abba Seraphim and Father Simon Smyth and several members of the BOC congregations in Bournemouth and Portsmouth also attended because of the high regard in which she was held. In his homily, Father Kevin Bidgood emphasised that throughout her long illness she had shown great Christian fortitude and was determined to live her life to the full, undertaking several strenuous sponsored activities to raise funds for cancer charities and demonstrating her strong Christian Faith. At the end of the service, Abba Seraphim was invited to intone an Orthodox Prayer of Commendation whilst at the graveside in Catherington Cemetery he led the Orthodox mourners in singing the Paschal Troparion. Memory Eternal !
His Grace Paulose Mar Pachomios, Metropolitan of Mavelikkara, died on 1 August 2012, aged 67 years.
He was born at Kurichi, Kottaytam, on 26 January 1946, into a family which had produced the celebrated Geevarghese Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril and His Holiness Mar Baselius Geevarghese, Catholicos of the East 1925-1928. In 1968 he joined the Bethany Ashram. After gaining his B.FD. from the prestigious Bishops College, in Calcutta he went to England in 1978, returning with his M.Th. from Leeds University in 1980. Ordained deacon in 1973 and priest on 8 January 1074, he as elected the superior of Bethany Ashram in 1986, which he served until he was elected as bishop. He was consecrated to the episcopate on 16 August 1993 , serving as Assistant Metropolitan for Malabar until the erection of the diocese of Mavelikkara in 2002. Memory Eternal !