Wilfred James Spence , died 30 March, 2006 aged 84 years.
Wilfred Spence was a devout and committed High Church Anglican who combined a great love of Orthodoxy with a genuine ecumenical spirit. He had been profoundly influenced by some spiritual giants of Anglicanism, especially the Mirfield fathers and although he was deeply troubled by modern trends in Anglicanism, he could not bring himself to make the total break with his past tradition.
Wilfred Spence was born in Darlington on 19 October 1922. His family were Wesleyan Methodists and he was baptised at Bondgate Wesleyan Church on 5 November 1922. After elementary education he attended Darlington Technical College. During 1940-1946 he saw service in the R.A,F. and it was whilst on a troop ship travelling from Durban to Suez that he began confirmation classes which culminated in his confirmation by Bishop Graham-Browne of Jerusalem at All Saints’ Cathedral, Beirut, on 24 March 1942. After three months as R.A.F. representative to Damascus, in December 1942 he was sent to Egypt for Christmas and then back to Durban for a month before moving to Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia for a flying course with the Rhodesian Air Training Group of the Empire Air Training Scheme. He was to spend the next four years here, when involvement with Salisbury Anglican Cathedral under its Dean, Father Osmund Victor, CR, brought him into close contact with the Mirfield Fathers and introduced him to a wide range of ecumenical contacts, including the Catholic and Greek Orthodox communities. In 1944 he joined the newly formed Legion of the Resurrection and was admitted a Mirfield Companion during release leave in 1946.
Returning to England after the war, he married Evelyn on 28 July 1952, who bore him three sons, Andrew (born 1959), Godfrey and Rhoderick (twins, born 1962). During this period he was working as an Industrial Chemist at Stockton-on-Tees, first at Hartlepool Shipyards, Billingham and later at the Roll Foundry and I.C.I Nylon Works. Throughout this time he worshipped regularly at St. John the Baptist, Stockton-on-Tees. In April 1962 he sailed for Capetown to take up a position with the South African Steel and Iron Company in the Transvaal and was not joined by his family until two years later. In November 1965 he moved to Redcliffe, Rhodesia, to work with the Rhodesia Iron & Steel Company, where he remained until 1976. During this period he remained active with church work, serving as reader in the diocese of Matabeleland.
Returning to England to work for British Telecom, he settled in Woolwich in April 1977 and began worshipping at St. Thomas’s Parish Church, Old Charlton. He enrolled in the Southwark Diocesan Readers’ Course and was licenced to serve at the neighbouring parish of St. Michael & All Angels.
When the British Orthodox began using St. Thomas Church, Old Charlton, in May 1989, through the good offices of Father Maurice Horsey, Wilfred frequently attended the Orthodox services and expressed his great love and respect for Orthodoxy. Since he had reached the age of 70, Wilfred had been obliged to retire from active ministry as a Reader, which he felt keenly and, having been received into the Orthodox Church, in October 1994 he was ordained Reader at the hands of Abba Seraphim. Unfortunately, shortly after this his eyesight deteriorated markedly and whilst he continued to assist at services, reading became a problem for him. It wasn’t long before Wilfred’s many ecumenical activities and membership of numerous societies and confraternities challenged him with the difference between the Eucharistic disciplines of Anglicanism and Orthodoxy. He felt deeply the inability to receive the sacrament with his Anglican friends and a year later asked to return to return to Anglicanism. This did not impair his good relations with the Orthodox congregation at St. Thomas’s and until recently he would climb the steep hill to the church to attend the services. At times he would express regret at his decision and express a wish to return to Orthodoxy but he was always held back by the knowledge that he could not belong to two churches at the same time.
Father Matta El Meskeen died on 8 June 2006 aged 87 years.
Youssef Eskander was born into a wealthy family in Benha, El Kaliobia, in the Delta area of Lower Egypt, on 1 November 1919. In 1944, he graduated in Pharmacy from the University of Cairo. In 1948, after leading a successful life – owning two pharmacies, two villas, and two cars – he renounced the worldly life and entered the Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor Qualamun, in the Western Desert in Upper Egypt, taking the name of Matta El Meskeen (Matthew the Poor).
In 1951 he was ordained priest by Bishop Theophilus of the Syrian Monastery. In 1953 appointed Patriarchal Steward in Alexandria but dismissed by Pope Yousab II and returned to Syrian monastery. In 1957 he was among five monks nominated as Patriarch but was ineligible because of the church rules.
After living some years there he moved out into Wadi El Rayan in the late 1950s. For nearly a decade he had lived a solitary ascetic life, but by 1960 seven other Coptic monks had joined him, and the community expanded to 12 by 1964. The valley was entirely cut off from the outside world. For 12 years they lived in caves and read no newspapers and heard no radio. 1960-1969 he was deprived of his priestly and monastic rank. Restored by Pope Kyrillos in 1969 but sent with 12 monks to the Monastery of St. Macarius to rebuild and revive the monastery which was then in a dilapidated and enfeebled state with only a few elderly monks. In 1971 he was among 9 monks nominated for Patriarchate. That same year there were 30 monks in the monastery, by 1981 over 80 and in 1991 over 100. In the 1980s President Sadat donated 2,000 hectares of desert land to the monks and a fleet of tractors to work it. A new well was drilled to obtain water. The monastery purchased a printing pres, which enabled Father Matta’s books and articles to be distributed throughout the world, often in parallel Arabic/English texts. Today it is home to 120 monks who, besides their main activity of spiritual quest and worship, work on a 1500-feddan modern farm. Their efforts and prayers have made the barren desert bloom with dates, olives, apples, bananas, mangoes, and potatoes. Abu-Maqar’s monastery was the first to introduce the cultivation of sugar beets in Egypt, and its produce has an excellent name on the market in Egypt and abroad.
Pope Shenouda disagreed with him over some dogmatic theological issues and wrote against these. When asked why he didn’t suspend him, the Pope responded, “We don’t fight a person but we fight a certain thought” Despite their differences, they always retained brotherly affection. Pope Shenouda visited the monastery of St. Macarius in November 1996, a date which coincided with the Silver Jubilee of his consecration as Pope, and was warmly welcomed by Father Matta who described the visit as a “special blessing”. The Pope had visited the monastery before in 1978, and he also made a point of visiting Fr Matta in the hospital when he was sick. He remained in contact with the Pope until about a month prior to his death.
In tribute to his memory Metropolitan Mikhael of Assuit, Head of the Monastery of St. Macarius, wrote, “Deep inside, he sensed the beauty of a life spent with the Lord, and decided to dedicate his entire life to Christ the King…… He was a bright milestone and represented a new era in writing, during his monastic period and continues after he fought and struggled as an honourable knight who never lost sight of his target and took precise aim at it.
James Ignatius Stuart died on 9 September 2006 aged 63 years.
Jamie Stuart suffered from poor physical and mental health for a long time, which prevented him from fulfilling his potential. Academically gifted, he obtained degrees at both bachelor’s and master’s level and worked for a number of years as a librarian before ill health and a nervous breakdown obliged him to give up work. A devout Roman Catholic, he became disillusioned with the changes following Vatican II and turned to Orthodoxy, being received initially into the Russian Orthodox Church before joining the British Orthodox Church with which he first came into contact in 1997. He was ordained a Reader on 22 May 2006 and served at both the Chatham and Charlton parishes as well as assisting at Trotton on a few occasions. He was born Stuart James Way at Mortlake, South London on 8 April 1943 but changed his name by Deed Poll on 12 May 2004. Writing to his widow, Abba Seraphim said, “We grew fond of him because of his humility and his desire to be of service … Throughout all this time he was in poor health but he tried to remain cheerful and kept his faith in God.” Memory Eternal !
His Eminence Mor Dioscoros Luka Shaya, Syrian Orthodox Archbishop and Abbot of Mor Matta Monastery, Iraq, died 22 September 2006 aged 77 years.
Born at Bartellah, Iraq, on 10 February 1928, he studied at the Syrian Orthodox Seminary 1944-1953 before becoming a monk at Mor Matta monastery in 1953. Ordained priest on 14 September 1955 he was consecrated to the episcopate on 1 December 1963, serving as Patriarchal Vicar in Damascus 1963-66. He was an official observer at the Second Vatican Council 1964-65 and then served as Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem 1966-1981. In 19o81 he was appointed Abbot of Mor Matta monastery.
Tamev Ireny, Abbess of Abu-Seifein Convent in Old Cairo, died on 31 October 2006.
Mother Ireny became a nun of Abu-Seifein convent in the late 1940s. In 1954 the convent’s father confessor (who was to become Pope Kyrillos VI in 1959) predicted that although she was the youngest and most recently professed nun, she would one day become their Abbess. In 1962 Pope Kyrillos blessed her as Abbess. Under her oversight the community underwent great spiritual revival, the number of nuns increased dramatically and the old buildings were renovated and expanded, with two new churches being added. In the 1990s a new Abu-Seifein convent was established on the North Coast.
Hegoumen Antonious Henein , Priest of Holy Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, died on 16 November 2006, aged 62 years.
Born Nabil Latif Henein in Egypt on 1 March 1944, he graduated from Ain Shams University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in July 1965 and was appointed as an instructor at the same college from 1965 to 1968. He immigrated to California in August 1968. He returned to Egypt ready to dedicate his life to the Lord as a monk but was persuaded by Pope Shenouda to serve as a priest in the lands of immigration. On 14 October, 1973 in Alexandria Egypt, Pope Shenouda ordained him as the first priest dedicated for the churches in Los Angeles. At this time Los Angeles only had one Church: Saint Mark. Fr. Antonious, seeing the need for a second Church in Los Angeles as more Copts arrived, purchased a Presbyterian Church in Highland Park in August 1974 and named it Holy Virgin Mary Church. He continued to serve this Church for the next 32 years. He was ordained to the priestly rank of Hegumen on April 1, 1981.
He was a distinguished priest in the Coptic diaspora noted for his homilies and writings. His love of the Church Fathers and his knowledge of iconography were much appreciated and he supervised numerous English-language translations of Coptic liturgical texts. In 1993 he earned a master’s degree from Claremont Graduate School in Religious Studies.