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No matter how expected the death of HH Shenouda III was for me due to his long illness, I still couldn't but feel that the world has lost a man of faith who always held Christ in his heart and the Cross in his hand.
I first got to know Pope Shenouda when I was Assistant General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches in Cyprus and he was one of the four co-Presidents representing the family of Oriental Orthodox Churches. And the last time I met him was few years ago in London with Bishop Nathan, the then Primate of the Armenian Church in the UK.
Everyone knows how Bible-centred and exegetical the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church was and how he could easily speak for hours to his fellow church leaders as well as to audiences who came to listen to him every week. Moreover, many people also know the remarkable devotion and fondness a lot of Egyptian Copts had for him.
However, few are those who might still recall the harrowing times Pope Shenouda experienced during the late President Anwar Sadat's time, or the fact that this man was very much a monk at heart. Even fewer people outside Egypt are perhaps aware of his deep sense of humour that was so personal but also so Egyptian.
As Egypt undergoes the painful ructions of an uncertain revolution and the grave pitfalls of unclear change, not least in terms of Muslim-Christian relations, I hope that the successor to Pope Shenouda will manage to lift up the incredibly rooted Christian faith that Egyptian Copts possess - both in their homeland and across many other parts of the world.
My thoughts turn to all the friends of the Coptic Church whom I have met over long decades - not least Anba Angaelos and Metropolitan Seraphim here in the UK.
With his death, our Lenten season has become even more sober and perhaps also more meaningful.
* See also Dr Michael Marten's obituary note here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16406
© Harry Hagopian is an international lawyer, ecumenist and EU political consultant. He also acts as a Middle East and inter-faith advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and as Middle East consultant to ACEP (Christians in Politics) in Paris. He is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/HarryHagopian). Formerly an Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee and Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches, he is now an international fellow, Sorbonne III University, Paris, consultant to the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (UK) and author of The Armenian Church in the Holy Land. Dr Hagopian’s own website is www.epektasis.netTweet