Abba Seraphim welcomed the news that land belonging to the ancient Syriac Monastery of Mor Gabriel, Tur Abdin, near Midyat, is to be returned as part of Turkey’s “democratisation package”. The announcement by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on 30 September, came after some five stressful years of litigation following claims by the Forestry Ministry and local villages that the monastery had been occupying their fields. In solidarity with the monastery, the Tur Abdin Focus Group was formed in Britain in 2008 under the chairmanship of The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum, then Bishop of Woolwich and now Bishop of Southwark. Father Stephen Griffiths, whose contacts with Mor Gabriel goes back some sixteen years, became the Secretary. Abba Seraphim, who visited Tur Abdin in 2001 and 2005, has served on the group as the representative of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches since the beginning. The Anglican dioceses of Southwark and Chichester have both proved very staunch supporters and in 2010 the then Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Rowan Williams) opened a special exhibition of photographs of the monastery by Guilio Paletta at Southwark Cathedral, which toured a number of other churches.
The news comes at an auspicious time, as next week Bishop Christopher, Abba Seraphim and Father Stephen will be visiting Mor Gabriel monastery with a group of pilgrims, and will be able to offer thanksgiving in the monastery itself and among the community whose welfare has been their particular concern these past years.