Source: Saint George and Saint Shenouda
On 25 April, as the Coptic Orthodox Church solemnly marked the fortieth day after the death of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III with prayers throughout the world, and a Special Service in St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, the British Orthodox Church throughout the United Kingdom joined them in this solemn commemoration.
In a letter sent to His Eminence Metropolitan Bakhomious, the Patriarchal locum tenens, Abba Seraphim wrote, “As today marks the fortieth day after the death of our beloved father, Pope Shenouda III, I wanted to assure you that the clergy and people of the British Orthodox stand alongside their brethren in Egypt in prayers for his repose. He was to us a very special father when he welcomed the British Orthodox Church back to its roots in the Oriental Orthodox family of churches and gave us encouragement and support for our mission to bring the Orthodox Faith to the British people. For this reason he will always have a very special place in our hearts.
As the Church now prepares herself for the task of discerning the Lord’s will for the future and finding a new shepherd to sit upon the Throne of St. Mark, we assure you of our prayers for the heavy responsibilities you have been given, asking that Almighty God will grant you strength and wisdom in the exercise of your duties. Once again, our prayers are joined with our brethren in Egypt that the widowhood of the Church of Alexandria will not be long and that we may enjoy the blessing of a new Pope chosen by the hand of God.”
On the eve of the fortieth day, Abba Seraphim gave a special interview about Pope Shenouda, which is now available on British Orthodox TV.
Abba Seraphim writes from Cairo: “The meeting of the Holy Synod which was held on 22 March was memorable for a number of reasons. In fact it was a joint meeting of the Holy Synod, the Maglis Milli (Coptic Community Council) and the Al Awkaf (Council for Church Endowments), so there were also a number of laity present. The session was opened by H.E. Metropolitan Bishoy, General Secretary of the Holy Synod, who spoke respectfully of the church’s loss of H.H. Pope Shenouda and, havimg circulated the 1957 Statutes governing the procedure to be followed after the death of a Pope, reminded us that our first task was to formally elect a locum tenens (sometimes called an Acting Patriarch) for the Church. By seniority this would fall to Metropolitan Mikhael of Assuit, but as he is a nonogenerian, he had humbly waived all rights and proposed that Metropolitan Bakhomious should preside. Whilst seniority is respected, the Synod is free to chose whoever it wishes from among its number. However, the unanimous choice of Metropolitan Bakhomious which followed owed nothing to his seniority and everything to the respect and affection in which he is held by those present. This election was made by 86 bishops and 20 members of the laity. As locum tenens, he will enjoy all the powers of the Pope with the exception of ordaining new bishops during the interregnum.
Assuming his position, the Metropolitan thanked the Synod for its confidence in him and expressed his unworthiness. He spoke of the critical times through which the church is passing and read from Ephesians IV: 1-6. He emphasised the necessity of living according to these verses and desired that we might live in love, peace and unity as we desire to know the will of God and to discover where the Lord is leading His church. Accordingly he encouraged everyone present to speak and be heard in that same spirit. There can be no room for individual interests, Pope Shenouda has left us with a precious treasure. The Church places us in a unique position; we cannot disappoint the people and we carry the responsibility together. It is our task to steer the ship of the church safely into the harbour.
The Synod lasted for five hours, 25 minutes, the longest session in recent memory, and many bishops and laity spoke constructively of their vision for the church’s future and addressed the many issues needing to be considered. It was a long, but fruitful meeting and there was a refeshing openness of debate. The next meeting of the Synod will be held on 27 March and Metropolitan Bakhomious indicated that, if necessary, it would meet twice a week to deal with all the required business. The public will be kept informed of its decisions and progress in the preparations for electing a new Pope by official statements issued from the Patriarchate.”
Abba Seraphim returns to London late on 23 March and will be attending the Memorial Service for H.H. Pope Shenouda III to be held at St. George’s Cathedral, Stevenage, on Saturday, 24 March at 3.00 p.m. He will be celebrating the Divine Liturgy as scheduled at Charlton on Sunday, 25 March.
On 21 March Abba Seraphim visited His Grace Athanasios of the French Coptic Orthodox at St. Mark’s Centre, Nasr City, to greet him and discuss matters of common interest for the church in France and the British Orthodox Church. Abba Athanasius extended a warm welcome to Abba Seraphim to visit France later this year and Abba Seraphim reciprocated with an invitation to the United Kingdom.
At the Patriarchate in Anba Rueiss Their Eminences Metropolitan Bakhomious of Beheira and Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette (General Secretary of the Holy Synod), supported by a number of bishops, spent the whole day receiving a stream of visitors who had come to offer condolences on the death of H.H. Pope Shenouda.
On 22 March the Holy Synod, the Maglis Milli (Coptic Community Council) and Council for Church Endowments (Al Awkaf) will meet together at the Patriarchate to begin the process leading to the election of a new Pope.
On 20 March Abba Seraphim, along with other members of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, representatives of Christian Churches, Islamic religious leaders, diplomats, high Egyptian state and military officials, politicians and thousands of ordinary people, attended the Funeral of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III in St. Mark’s Cathedral, Abbeseya. An official day of mourning had been declared throughout Egypt. with flags flying at half-mast whilst the streets around the cathedral were lined with hundreds of soldiers. Loudspeakers broadcast the service into the surrounding streets. His Holiness’s body, which had been transferred the previous evening from the Throne of St. Mark to an impressive white casket, lay in front of the sanctuary in the midst of the khorus with the lid opened to reveal his face. This image of him, looking peaceful in death, had already become familiar as it had appeared on the front page of most national newspapers as well as having been widely viewed on television during his public lying-in-state, when thousands of mourners had passed through the cathedral to take their leave of a beloved father.
The funeral was preceded by another celebration of the Divine Liturgy, by members of the Holy Synod, presided over by His Eminence Metropolitan Bakhomious of Beheira. New carpets had been laid at the entrance to the khorus and the steps to the sanctuary were lined with an abundance of fragrant white flowers. Although the cathedral was packed, guests continued to arrive throughout the service. While the crowd waited a huge wave of clapping spontaneously burst out among the congregation as a bird, which had flown into the cathedral, soured above them. For many this symbolised the passing of the Pope’s spirit to the heavenly realm.
The funeral service commenced with prayers and a chant in Ge’ez by His Holiness Abune Paulos, the Patriarch of Ethiopia, who also spoke movingly of Pope Shenouda’s great legacy to the church. After this His Holiness Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch, frail and confined to a wheelchair, also spoke in a powerful voice about the Pope and led the chanting of funeral hymns by accompanying Syriac bishops. Many of the officiating clergy and those in the congregation were visibly moved. When the dignified figure of Metropolitan Bakhomious addressed the congregation in a hearfelt tribute to the Pope’s work and enduring legacy, the crowd heard him in rapt attention, but his spontaneous sentiments so eloquently expressed so perfectly captured the feelings of many and roused them to deafening applause. The service concluded as the casket was carried into the sanctuary by priests and then, assisted by soldiers down the north steps from the cathedral to a waiting white ambulance. This was conducted by outriders and police cars to a military airfield in the suburbs of Cairo. As it left the Patriarchate many of the awaiting crowd surged forward to be near it and the frenzied worshippers chased out of the precincts, beating following cars in an expression of their sadness and grief. It had been intended to fly members of the Holy Synod in an additional military plane accompanying the one used for taking His Holiness to an airfield in the Wadi Natrun, but at the last minute these plans were changed, so only about a third of the members attended the burial at St. Bishoy’s monastery.
Abba Seraphim accompanied His Grace Bishop Angaelos by car to the monastery, where they joined just over a hundred monks in the small building in the ancient precincts, which had been constructed in 2003 to serve as a monastic museum, but which had now been transformed into a tomb. Built in the shape of a cross, with four semi-domes in each apse containing traditional Coptic ikons, a white marble sarcophagus had been erected in the centre. The waiting monks had already dropped fragrant herbs and spices into the tomb and those crowded outside the tomb were passing small folded slips of papers containing prayer requests, which the monks also dropped into the sarcophagus. While everyone waited the monks lustily sang Coptic hymns, proud that their Pope, always first a simple monk, was finally coming back to be with them. Soon after dusk had fallen the casket, accompanied by Metropolitan Bakhomious and other bishops, who had travelled on the plane, was brought into the monastery. Overwhelmed by grief the crowd outside exploded into shouts and wailing and many others pushed forward behind the cortege so that the previously still tomb, where those inside had probably risen to two hundred, burst into frantic activity as the soldiers and monks attempted to lower the casket into the sarcophagus and place the great marble slab on the top. Flowers and fragrant oil was poured on the top and the sarcophagus received the first of many anointings, while mourners lovingly kissed the resting place of a most beloved Pope. This will surely be a foremost place of pilgrimage for Copts and all who respect the memory and legacy of Pope Shenouda and will also be a source of many blessings for generations to come.
Photograph Sources: Facebook and OCP
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