The British Orthodox Church

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November 2009

Historical Articles

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Here, There and Everywhere

News of the Church from divers Quarters

Part 1: The British Orthodox Church

Recent Ordinations

On 5 July 2009, Father David SEEDS was ordained Hegoumenos at the Church of St. Mark & St. Hubert, Cusworth, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, at the hands of Abba Seraphim.

Tur Abdin Focus Group

In January 2009 a number of friends of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of Mor Gabriel in Tur Abdin (south-east Turkey) – who were concerned about a number of legal actions pending against the ancient monastery – met together in London to share information and monitor events. Hosted by the Bishop of Woolwich (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum) they decided it would be supportive of the monastery to keep a watchful eye over events. Out of this meeting the Tur Abdin Focus Group came into being, with Bishop Christopher as convenor. It was also fortunate to have the active participation of Father Stephen Griffiths, now Team Vicar of Mortlake with East Sheen but from 1997-2003 the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative in Turkey. The Group also has representatives of other organisations such as the Chichester Diocese Friends of Tur Abdin, the Syrian Orthodox Church in London and the Jubilee Campaign. Abba Seraphim represents the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK. A website is in preparation and Southwark Cathedral has offered to host an exhibition of photographs of the monastery later this year.

Glastonbury Pilgrimage

As in previous years, Abba Seraphim attended the annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury on 20 June 2009. Accompanied by Father Simon Smyth and Subdeacon Wulfric they were present during the celebration of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, celebrated in the Undercroft by Mitred Archpriest Benedict Ramsden of the Moscow Patriarchate. Following this they joined the procession of witness through the town and the Anglican Eucharist and were lunched with the other church and civic dignitaries.

Celebrating St. Thomas Day

On 3 July 2009 Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Fathers Simon Smyth and Seraphim Mina attended St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church in Brockley, south-east London, for the feast day of Saint Thomas the Apostle. The celebrant was Father M.S. Skariah, formerly the vicar of the parish. They were able to join in the splendid procession with processional crosses and ceremonial umbrellas, which ambled round the leafy streets singing devotional hymns.

Visits to Cusworth

Abba Seraphim visited the British Orthodox congregation at Cusworth from 4-5 July, during which he conducted an inspection of the church property so he could report back to the trustees about much needed repairs. During the summer a thorough external repainting of all the trust properties was undertaken, along with other repairs, including the renewal of the tarmacadam in front of the church.  He returned again on 10-11 October for a thanksgiving service to mark the seventieth anniversary of Father David Seeds’ birth, following which there was a reception and presentation.

Funeral of Annice Bourke

The funeral of Annice Bourke, widow of the late Father Philip Bourke, took place on 17 August and was attended by many church members as well as friends and colleagues from other organisations with which she was connected. The cortège left from the Church Secretariat at Charlton but paused briefly outside Annice’s home in Broad Walk, Blackheath, to allow neighbours to show their respect. The funeral service was conducted at Honor Oak Crematorium and four priests (Fathers Sergius Scott, Simon Smyth, Seraphim Mina and Peter Farrington) acted as pallbearers. Abba Seraphim gave the eulogy. Annice’s ashes were later interred at the Bournemouth Church alongside those of Father Philip.

On 23 November Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Father Sergius Scott, gave evidence at the inquest touching her death held at Southwark Crown Court, where an open verdict was returned.

Lunch with Archbishop’s Grandson

On 16 September Abba Seraphim lunched with Mr. Nicholas Plunket-Chechemian, the grandson of the late Archbishop Leon Chechemian (1848-1920), who was an Armenian Catholic vardapet who later served as a bishop in one of the precursor church’s to the British Orthodox Church. (See article in The Glastonbury Review 103 – November 2000 – pages 290-308).

Mr. Plunket-Chechemian brought with him relics of his grandfather’s ministry, including his vestments,his pectoral cross,  a handcross and his gavazan (his pastoral staff with serpents). The British Orthodox Secretariat has in its collection another, western pastoral, which also belonged to Archbishop Leon.

Autumn Reception at Secretariat

As has been customary for a number of years Abba Seraphim hosted an evening reception for scholars and church workers at the Church Secretariat on 24 September. Among the guests were Valeria, Viscountess Coke; Mr. Mark Hassall; Father Andrew Crosbie; Deacon Richard Downer; Dr. Carol Downer; Dr. Niall Finneran; Mr. James Carr, Miss Vanessa Tinker, ARCA; Father Simon Smyth and Mrs. Sheila Smyth; Mrs. Pauline Mace; Professor John Roberts; Dr. Diane Roberts; Mr. Louis Welcomme; Dr. Katharine Mori and Mr. Gordon Beamish.

Society of St. John Chrysostom

Accompanied by Father Peter Farrington, Abba Seraphim attended a celebration of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom held at the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile in London on 1 October 2009. This liturgy was followed by the AGM of the Society of St John Chrysostom, and by an interesting lecture by Archimnandrite Ephrem Lash on ‘the Englishing of Byzantium’.

Fifty Years of Service

On 31 October Abba Seraphim attended a Reception and Dinner at the Royal Lancaster Hotel to mark the fiftieth anniversary of service in Great Britain of His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira & Great Britain. It was attended by His Majesty King Constantine of the Hellenes and ecclesiastical and civic dignitaries as well as representatives of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. In a message of greeting, Abba Seraphim wrote:

It gives me great pleasure to offer some words of appreciation on this memorable anniversary for His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, not only because he is a much-loved friend and brother-in-Christ but because he is deeply respected among the wider Christian community.

The Greek Archdiocese, with its roots stretching back to the seventeenth century, its extensive network of parishes, schools and charitable institutions, as well as being representative of the Great Church of Constantinople, possesses a prestige and dignity which place its chief hierarch in the forefront of our national life. Yet Archbishop Gregorios’ natural simplicity and modesty, with his ability to befriend the humble and the great, enable him to adorn his high office without the panoply of rank. Like the Master whom he has served so faithfully, his profound love and commitment draws others to him in mutual service.

The Archbishop possesses much of the charm and character of his compatriots from Cyprus and to hear him speak of that island and the trials that have befallen it makes one conscious of the deep cultural roots which bind him to his homeland.  Some words of the apostle Saint Paul seem to have a prophetic message, when he warns us “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews XIII: 2). The young Greek Cypriot who first came to these shores half a century ago as a stranger, has himself become an angel – a true messenger of the Gospel of salvation – raised to be the Angel of the Church in Thyateira – and certainly no longer a stranger among us. The paradox of becoming thoroughly British by identifying himself with the cares and aspirations of this country, yet still retaining his Hellenist heart, reminds us that in Christ there is an identity which unites “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (Revelation VIII: 9) so that we are “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians II: 19).

In our Orthodox tradition all bishops are monks and this is a further essential element of the Archbishop’s life which has formed and established his character. The church fathers spoke of monasticism as the ‘angelic life’ not only because the angels stand in God’s presence night and day singing His praises and worshipping His majesty, but also because their voluntary embracement of poverty, chastity and obedience offers a life without the snares of riches, the flesh, and our fallen will. Evagrios Pontikos says that the monk becomes equal to the angels through prayer, because of his longing to “behold the face of the Father who is in heaven (Matthew XVIII: 10) and Saint Benedict writing “On Humility,” highlights the vision of Jacob’s ladder (Genesis XXVIII:12) as signifying that monks “descend through exaltation and ascend through humility” and become a way of understanding God’s omniscience. St. Maximos the Confessor reminds us that this is achieved not only through our inward spiritual discipline but from our charity and love for our fellow man, “He who loves God lives the angelic life on earth, fasting and keeping vigils, praying and singing psalms and always thinking good of every man.”

Through leaving his homeland and coming among us in humility and service Archbishop Gregorios has brought us many blessings and we thank God for His great goodness in sending His angel and messenger among us.

Abba Seraphim in Bournemouth

During a celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Church of Christ the Saviour, Winton, Bournemouth, Abba Seraphim admitted Tony Holland of the Portsmouth Mission as a catechumen. As it was the nearest weekend to the anniversary of Pope Shenouda’s enthronement (14 November 1971) following the Liturgy Abba Seraphim gave a lecture about the use of the Lot in the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Dinner for Church historians

On 16 November 2009 Abba Seraphim hosted a dinner party at the Church Secretariat at Charlton to bring together church historians specialising in early British insular Christianity. These included Michelle Brown, professor of Medieval Manuscript Studies at London University; Dr. Niall Finneran, lecturer in Early Medieval Archaeology at the University of Winchester and Subdeacon Wulfric Paul Ashdown, an authority on the history of Glastonbury.

Abba Seraphim visits Dumfries

Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Trevor Maskery, visited Dumfries 31 November to bless the new home of Father Anthony and Diana Clements. The same evening Abba Seraphim and Father Anthony attended an ecumenical service for St. Andrew’s Day at the old Greyfriars Church, the Burgh Church of Dumfries.  Built in 1868 as a Presbyterian Church, it was closed in 2004 but saved from demolition and re-opened in 2008 under the ministry of Father Andrew Crosbie. The next morning, 1 December, assisted by Father Anthony, Abba Seraphim celebrated the Divine Liturgy for a small Orthodox congregation.

Orthodox Liturgy in College Chapel

In order to enable Father Michael Robson to attend celebrations of the Orthodox Liturgy, the Chaplain and trustees of Morden College at Blackheath have invited Abba Seraphim to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in the late seventeenth century chapel. These are now scheduled at bi-monthly intervals, the first being on 8 December 2009.

Pilgrimage to Malabar

Abba Seraphim led an ecumenical delegation from the group, Eastern Christian Links, on a pilgrimage to the Malankara Orthodox Church from 10-22 January. The group comprised Archimandrite Deiniol of the Wales Orthodox Mission of the Ukrainian Orthodox Archdiocese within the Ecumenical Patriarchate; Father John Whooley, Catholic priest of the Parish of St. Stephen and the Holy Ghost, Shepherd’s Bush, West London; Mark Hassell, former Reader in Roman Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London; Valeria, Viscountess Coke and Trevor Maskery.

The Orthodox Christian community in India is sadly divided into two rival jurisdictions. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church – now commonly called the Indian Orthodox Church (Methran Kakshi) is autocephalous and depends on an independent line of Catholicoi of the East, whilst the other, the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church comes under a separate Catholicos of the East, directly appointed by the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch (Bava Kakshi). As the division is essentially administrative and not theological, both communities are full members of the Oriental Orthodox family of churches and in full communion with its other members. The visit was at the invitation of the Indian Orthodox Church.

The group flew into Kochi in the early hours of 10 January.  Later that day they visited Udayamperoor Church, only eighteen miles south-east of Kochi, which was the site of the notorious Synod of Diamper (1599) under the Archbishop of Goa, Alexis de Menezes, at which the Malankara Church was subjugated to the Catholic Church. This church is known today as Marth Mariam Church, and because of its history, sometimes as the Synodal Church. In the ninth and tenth centuries it had been dedicated to Mar Sabhor and Prodh, popularly known as Quadijakal, but Menezes had changed its dedication to All Saints. Today the church is reminiscent of a nineteenth century provincial museum, with dusty glass-fronted display cabinets of assorted styles, displaying an odd miscellany of artefacts: chalices, candlesticks, crosses, vestments, statues and Syriac service books.

From Udayamperoor they drove to Saint George Forane Church, Edappally, some ten kilometres from Cochin. This is now a Roman Catholic Church although originally erected in 594 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The new church, built around 1080 now dominates the site.

On 11 January they visited the hilltop shrine of Saint Thomas at Malayattoor, so we decided to stop here on our way to Kottayam. It is some fifty-two kilometres from Kochi in the north-eastern corner of Ernakulam district. Saint Thomas is reputed to have fled to the hilltop, Kurisumudy, to escape the hostile natives and on its summit is a church and the imprint of the apostle’s footsteps. Later that day they travelled to the Orthodox Theological Seminary at Kottayam, arriving while evening prayer was in progress. This was founded in 1815. They were greeted by Father Abraham Thomas, until recently the Indian Orthodox priest in London, but now one of the Faculty professors and assistant warden. At the conclusion our party was conducted to a reception room by His Grace Mathews Mar Thimothios, the Malankara Metropolitan for UK, Europe and Africa. Abba Seraphim lectured to the students on the content of my 2006 book Flesh of our Brethren, or more specifically “Western Episcopal successions originating from the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.”  The talk was well received and generated some lively discussion, after which the party joined the students and professors for supper.

At Kottayam they visited he Valiapally (Big Church) at Kottayam was built in 1550 by Knanaya Christians, those claiming descent from Syrian Christians who traditionally migrated here in the fourth century.  This church is famous because it contains two granite slabs with incised crosses, dating from between thec sixth and ninth centuries, brought from Cranganore by the new settlers. Because they both contain inscriptions in pahalavi, the language of the Sassanian dynasty of Persia, they are referred to as Persian crosses. Nearby is the ‘new’ church commonly known as Cheriapally (Little Church), which was completed in 1579 and also dedicated to Saint Mary, established to minister to the non-Knanaya Orthodox.

On 13 January they visited Devalokam, about four kilometres south east of Kottayam town. The Catholicate Palace (Devalokam Aramana) is not only the residence of the Catholicos of the East but also the headquarters and central secretariat of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. Upon arrival they were again greeted by Bishop Mathews Mar Thimothios and Father John Mathew, the Secretary of the Inter-Church Relations Committee and were warmly welcomed by the Council and exchanged views before all being received in audience by His Holiness the Catholicos, His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Didymos I. At the conclusion of this audience the group was taken to a nearby hotel for a luncheon in their honour by the Inter-Church Relations Committee and were able to exchange ideas and information about our churches.

After lunch they drove to Parumala where Saint Gregorios Bishop of Niranam (1848-1902), popularly known as Parumala Thirumeni, . lived and was buried. He is a universally venerated Indian Orthodox saint, canonised by both the Bava and Methran factions. His ascetic lifestyle and pastoral ministry are deeply attractive and he has proved a great miracle worker for those who resort to him in prayer. After praying at the tomb and offering incense in the new church, we were shown around the site and offered refreshments by the three assistant managers of the seminary. Their visit coincided with one from His Grace Yuhanon Mar Polykarpos, the Bishop of Ankamaky and was marked by the presentation of gifts in the form of a traditional Indian Orthodox brass lamp and three ceremonial umbrellas.

The next morning the group returned to the Kottayam Seminary and visited the historic Old Seminary before travelling to Alappuzha for a tour of the famous Keralan Backwaters.

The following day the party travelled south to Kollam by train. The railway station was packed as hundreds of Hindu pilgrims were returning from one of their principal pilgrimages. At Kollam they were the guests of Father V.M. James, superior of Mount Horeb Ashramam at Sasthamkotta, about twenty-seven kilometres outside Kollam. The community was founded in 1991 and covers some sixty-five acres on the banks of Sasthamcotta fresh water lake with seven members in the ashramam. It also manages the educational institutions under the Trust, such as a College of Engineering, a Higher Secondary School, an English Medium School, a Boys’ Home, St. Basil Bible School and a family retreat centre and camp site. The community is involved in various spiritual activities of the Church as well as in the management of the institutions under the trust.

From Kollam the party travelled out Varkala, the only place in southern Kerala where cliffs adjoin the Arabian sea before returning to visit a Hindu scholar in his home in order to better understand aspects of Hinduism.

On Sunday, 17 January they attended the Divine Liturgy at the historic Saint George’s Orthodox Church at Cheppad.  At the conclusion of the service the group was formally welcomed and the congregation of about four hundred people each came to receive Abba Seraphim’s blessing. That evening they returned to Kochi to dine at the home of Dr. and Mrs. George John, a retired but eminent Consultant Psychiatrist. Kochi to dine at the home of Dr. and Mrs. George John, a retired but eminent Consultant Psychiatrist.

Among those invited were Father Abraham Thomas from the Kottayam Seminary, and a delegation from the impressive Orthodoxy Beyond Limits (OBL), an international Online Resource for Orthodox Christian Unity & Faith (http://theorthodoxchurch) comprising Father Thomas John, Subin Varghese (Chairman), George Alexander (Spokesperson) and Mr. K.C. Jacob.

This was to be a typical Keralan Christian home, but the splendid welcome and reception in this modern, but traditionally designed, Keralan standing in its lush garden overlooking the backwaters and the delicious Keralan dishes proved a memorable and delightful end to the day.

The next day the party visited the Athirappally Waterfalls, a local scenic spot, some seventy-eight kilometres from Kochi. That evening they visited the Convent of Bethlehem St. Mary at Kizhakkambalam, which was founded in 1939. The superior here is Sister Deena, who had accompanied Abba Seraphim  to Egypt in May 2007. They were greeted in the convent chapel by His Grace Paulose Mar Pachomius, Metropolitan of Mavelikara who is the convent’s visitor, His Grace Yuhanon Mar Polykarpos, the Metropolitan of His Grace Geevarghese Mar Koorilos, Metropolitan of Mumbai, who was an old friend of Abba Seraphim, from the time when he served as Vicar of the Indian Orthodox parish in London. After vespers there were welcome speeches – especially from the indefatigable Sister Deena – and presentation of gifts before everyone sat down to a delicious dinner with the bishops, clergy and senior sisters.  Apart from its High School of 2,500 girls, the convent runs an orphanage, a home for mentally and physically handicapped children and a number of other programmes to support the practical and spiritual wellbeing of women and girls. The evening proved a happy and memorable meeting of old and new friends.

The next day they drove to North Paravoor where they visited the magnificent St. Thomas Church. It is now under the oversight of the Bava Kakshi but is also of great significance as it contains the tomb of Mar Gregorios Abdal Jaleel, Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of Jerusalem, who was buried here in 1681. A little further along the road, they visited Cheraman Juna Masjid (Friday mosque). This is claimed to be the second oldest mosque in the world to offer Friday prayers and was founded during the lifetime of Mohammed. Arab merchants brought the new faith with them on their visits to the Malabar coast.

Eventually arriving at Kunnamkulam the were received by the Bishop of Kunnamkulam, His Beatitude Paulose Mar Milithios, who was elected as Catholicos-Designate in 2006. They were formally welcomed and afterwards entertained to a celebratory lunch at which His Beatitude explained more about the ministry of the Malankara Church.  Following lunch two priests of the diocese conducted the party on a visit to several of the historic churches in the vicinity: Saint Mary’s Cathedral at Chattukulangara or Arthat; St. Lazarus Church at Chiralayam Pally; the old and almost completed new church at Pazhanji and the National Catholic Shrine at Palayur. Following this they visited the Punnthur Kotta elephant sanctuary attached to the Guruvayur Vishnu temple, some three kilometres away. Around sixty-three elephants are housed here of whom the majority are used for processional purposes.

Returning to Kochi that evening they attended a performance of kathakali, a highly stylised classical Indian dance drama known as “the poor man’s rich art form”.

The final two days were spent visiting Kochi and Mattancherry, with a boat trip of Kochi Harbour. Mattancherry. Here is the church where in 1653 the famous Oath of Koonan Cross was taken. Archdeacon publicly led thousands of non-Catholic Malabar Christians in their rejection of papal dominion. Within only a short walking distance of Mattancherry is the Jewish quarter known as Jew Town, with the Paradesi Synagogue – dating from 1664 – being the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth.

A Pilgrimage to Malabar. A memoir of a visit to the Malankara Orthodox Church in January 2010 by Abba Seraphim (British Orthodox Press), 78 pages, illustrated, can be ordered online, at www.lulu.com.

Royal Martyr Commemoration

Accompanied by Father Simon Smyth, Abba Seraphim attended the annual Commemoration of the execution of King Charles I at the Banqueting House at Whitehall on 30 January. The service was organised by the Anglican Society of King Charles the Martyr. Although a committed Monarchist, Abba Seraphim attended mindful that his kinsman, Sir Gregory Norton, 1st baronet (1593-1652), was a regicide whose signature is on the Death Warrant of the King.

The celebrant was Father Charles Card-Reynolds, Vicar of St. Bartholomew, Stamford Hill and an excellent sermon was given by Dr. Colin Podmore, Secretary of the House of Clergy of the General Synod. Afterwards Abba Seraphim and other clergy were entertained to lunch at Westminster by Father Andrew Crosbie.

Farewell to Bishop Nathan

After nine years of service Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian has been recalled to service at the Mother Church at Holy Etchmiadzin. Formerly Armenian Primate of the Ukraine (1997-2000) he succeeded the much- loved Archbishop Yeghishe Gazirian. He soon became active in ecumenical circles and has served as one of the four Presidents of Churches Together in England. He was acting President of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches (COOC) 2000-2006 and played an active role in all inter-church dialogues. Apart from this he was an accomplished pianist and a convivial host. COOC held a farewell reception for Bishop Nathan at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church at which His Grace was able to introduce his successor as Primate of the Armenian Diocese, Father Vahan Hovhannessian.

Father Vahan was elected as Primate by the Armenian Community and Church Council in December 2009 and took up his new position on 10 February 2010. He was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1963, ordained deacon in 1988 and sent to St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary in New York to continue his studies. He was ordained a celibate priest in 1990 and became a vardapet in 1995 and was promoted to Dzayraguyn Vardapet in 2006.  He received his Doctoral Degree from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education. He is a New Testament scholar. During his service in the Eastern Diocese of the USA, he served as the pastor of the Church of the Holy Cross, New York, the Church of Sts. Ghevondiants, New Jersey, and the Church of Holy Martyrs, Bayside, New York. He also served as Sacristan of the St. Vartan Cathedral in New York.

Snippets

Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Mr. Trevor Maskery was the guest of Archimandrite Deiniol of the Wales Orthodox Mission in Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales, 11-14 August 2009, during which they met with a number of Eritrean Orthodox workers at Pwllheli, to whom Father Deiniol is ministering.

On 23 October 2009 Abba Seraphim hosted the annual dinner to mark the birthday of the late Archdeacon James Goddard after which a collection was made towards the work of St. Christopher’s Hospice at Sydenham. Since his death in 1993 the sum of £3,500 has been donated from collections made at these dinners.

On 18 December 2009 Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Father Simon Smyth, were among the ecumenical guests at Chichester Cathedral, who attended the funeral of the late Dr. Eric Kemp, former Bishop of Chichester.

On 8 March 2010 Dr. John Fenwick, Bishop of the Northern Province of the Free Church of England, dined at the Secretariat with Abba Seraphim.

On 9 March 2010 Father Andrew Crosbie, Dr. Colin Podmore and Mr. Thomas Ormond dined at the Secretariat with Abba Seraphim.

Forthcoming Dates

Abba Seraphim will officiate at the Holy Week and Paschal services at St. Felix, Babingley from Holy and Great Friday until Holy Pascha.

Abba Seraphim will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Morden College, Blackheath, on 6 April, 8 June, 24 August, 12 October and 14 December.

Abba Seraphim will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Portsmouth on 10 April.

The 2010 Oriental Orthodox Festival will  be celebrated at the Coptic Church Centre at Stevenage on 8 May.

Abba Seraphim will lead a Pilgrimage to Egypt 16-24 May and attend the Holy Synod meeting and Feast of Pentecost in Cairo.

Abba Seraphim will be the Orthodox celebrant in the morning of the annual Glastonbury Pilgrimage, 19 June.

Part 2: News from the Mother Church

Pope Shenouda on sectarian issues

In a recent interview with Asharq Al-Awsat[1], a leading Arabic international newspaper owned by the Saudi royal family, H.H. Pope Shenouda expressed the view that there is no common solution to sectarian problems that arise from time to time in Egypt. “Every problem should be tackled in its own context and [according to] the environment in which it emerged and should be tackled by all relevant parties,” he said.

With regards to sectarian problems, the Pope stated, “there is only a role for security forces whilst MPs and municipal councils are absent. After the security forces get involved, religious institutions also intervene in support of the security solution. After that, we attack religious figures and accuse them of being political.” His Holiness denied that these were isolated incidents saying, “If isolated incidents are happening again and again they cannot be described as isolated incidents.” He also expressed the view that not all problems are dealt with objectively but refused to name any parties that he believes are not impartial.

The Pope considered that Muslim-Coptic ties in general in Egypt were not satisfactory. “The Sheikh of Al Azhar is a good, merciful man and we have a good friendship and we meet on various occasions. But this does not necessarily mean that there is a good relationship between Muslims and Copts as well.”

Marian Appearances at Warraq

The following report was received from a correspondent in Cairo on 23 December:

“On Thursday 10 December 2009 there began to be appearances of the Virgin Mary over a Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael Coptic Church in Warraq (a district looking over the Nile in North Cairo, yet affiliated to the Diocese of Giza). During the first three days her appearance took a full form where people could see the colours of her clothes in white, blue and rose. The appearance was in very bright light, in three dimensions and it moved like a human being over the three domes of the church before moving to the main gate which is in the centre of the fence (15 metres from the church building). The appearances took place at night ranging between 11:30 pm and 4:00 am. Coming from all districts of Cairo, Christians and Muslims gathered round the church. Until dawn Copts were singing traditional Marian hymns. On the first day of the appearance Copts living in all Cairo saw lights in the sky. People living near the pyramids, people in Nasr City, Imbaba and many other places saw lights and doves in the sky.  During the following days, in Warraq, appearances of lights and doves of light were reported between 1:30-4:30 am. The doves were big, suffused with light, and flew in groups making the form of the cross and other shapes. They appear to fly without moving their wings and came from nowhere and disappeared into nowhere.

On 22 December, apparitions of our Lady started in four churches in different places at the same time including Ain Shams, Ezbet El-Nakhl, and Shoubra. Those in Shoubra (Virgin Mary Church – Massarra) and Ain Shams was the most spectacular, where our Lady appeared in full form, thousands of Christians and Muslims gathered blocking even main streets in Cairo like El-Shoubra street.

I went to Zeitoun around 11:00 pm and stayed until 3:00 am. As I arrived the appearance was over, yet we stayed for the whole night in all streets surrounding the church of Zeitoun. I witnessed the crowds of people reminding me of the photographs of the historical 1968 appearance in Zeitoun. I was also interested to see the reaction of the Security, who seemed very cooperative and supportive despite the fact that we blocked very vital streets of Zeitoun over the whole night.

Copts are wondering about the message our Lady wants to convey. From past experience they learned that such appearances happen before or after big disasters as sign of heavenly support from God and the Virgin Mary to the people. Many started wondering what disaster is to happen and whether it is a big church problem, or a big political problem or problems for Christians living in the districts where she appeared or a big H1N1 pandemic with high tolls of deaths. In his weekly lecture tonight Pope Shenouda said that our Lady loves Egypt where she stayed for three and a half years with St Joseph and the infant Lord Jesus. He said that ‘she loves to come back’. An official statement from the church is expected next week about the Warraq events and various appearances.”

Anba Theodosius, General Bishop for Giza, issued a statement saying, “The Bishopric of Giza announces that the Holy Virgin has appeared at the Church named after her in Warraq al-Hadar, Giza … This is a great blessing for the Church and for all the people of Egypt. May her blessing and intercession benefit us all.” The apparitions also received wide media coverage in Egyptian newspapers and Arabic TV channels. They coincided with the beginning of the Coptic month of Kiahk, better known as ‘Mary’s month.’ The last paragraph may be considered significant in view of the tragic events at Nag Hammadi on Christmas Eve.

Bishop Makarios assigned to North American diocese

Attempts by the government-appointed Eritrean Orthodox Synod to destabilise the Eritrean Orthodox diocese of North America because of its loyalty to the canonical Patriarch Antonios, met a serious setback following a meeting of the Clergy Council of the diocese on 26 September 2009. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, who has always upheld the Patriarch’s authority and refused to acknowledge the government’s appointee, Bishop Dioscoros, announced the appointment of His Grace Bishop Makarios to serve as bishop of the North American diocese. Bishop Makarios held his first meeting with his clergy on 17 October 2009.

Bishop Makarios, who was originally consecrated by Pope Shenouda on 20 May 1991 as a General Bishop to serve the Eritrean diaspora during the problems following the break-up of Ethiopia and the collapse of the Dergue, has been serving as a General Bishop of the Coptic Church based in New Jersey. He is an excellent linguist and probably the best educated of all Eritrean bishops and is highly respected for his pastoral ministry. He is untainted by the deceits and compromises which characterise most of the Eritrean hierarchy and is noted for his integrity and loyalty to canonical church order, which has been so brutally disregarded by the Eritrean government.

Writing to Bishop Makarios to congratulate him on his appointment, Abba Seraphim said: “I was overjoyed at this news as the priests there have been unfalteringly loyal to Patriarch Antonios and have valiantly resisted attempts by the Eritrean government to support Bishop Dioscoros and the faithless synod. ….. My joy for the North American diocese is made greater by the knowledge that His Holiness has chosen wisely and that Your Grace is eminently suited to provide the strong pastoral leadership needed and to uphold the Orthodox faith with truth and integrity.”

Bishops offer advice for the 2010 U.S. Census

A recent circular letter from the four Coptic bishops in the United States has advised the clergy and laity about       the March 2010 census being conducted by the US Department of Commerce Census Bureau. As it will include a question about the race of each person, the bishops have advised that those of Coptic descent write the word ‘Coptic’ in the box labelled “Some other race.”

Although the term ‘race’ is subject to a number of definitions, the general intention of such surveys is largely intended to indicate ethnicity and the Coptic bishops are wise to encourage their flocks to distinguish themselves in this way. Both Egypt and Syria are officially described as “Arab Republics” in total disregard of the indigenous Coptic and Syrian population who predate the Arab invasions.


[1] 28 July 2009

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