The British Orthodox Church

within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate

HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE

News of the Church from divers Quarters

Part 1: The British Orthodox Church

Recent Ordinations

On 13 February 2011 Anthony John Holland, Daniel Martin Malyon and Roger Clive Morgan were ordained Readers at Christ the Saviour Church, Winton, Bournemouth, Hampshire, at the hands of Abba Seraphim.

On 3 July 2011 Roger Clive Morgan, Nicolae Popa and Edward Timothy Smyth were ordained Subdeacons at Christ the Saviour Church, Winton, Bournemouth, Hampshire, at the hands of Abba Seraphim.

On 3 July 2011 Christopher William Barnes was ordained Deacon at Christ the Saviour Church, Winton, Bournemouth, Hampshire, at the hands of Abba Seraphim.

On 3 July 2011 Father Gregory Tillett was ordained Hegoumenos at Christ the Saviour Church, Winton, Bournemouth, Hampshire, at the hands of Abba Seraphim.

Abba Seraphim celebrates Liturgy at Chatham

The British Orthodox community of St Alban’s in Chatham was pleased to be able to welcome Abba Seraphim on Sunday, 12 December, to celebrate the liturgy and be the guest of honour at a buffet lunch. The community was especially pleased because a new heated carpet had been installed during the week and this was the first opportunity to experience the difference it made.

Abba Seraphim celebrated the liturgy supported by Father Peter Farrington, Subdeacon Michael Kennedy, and Reader Seraphim Boorman. Even though the weather was still cold, the heated carpet meant that everyone inside the church remained warm and was able to concentrate on the service. During his homily Abba Seraphim reminded the congregation that the new carpet had been made possible by a bequest from Annice Bourke, the widow of Father Philip Bourke, whose memorial plaque has an honoured place in St Alban’s Church. He then spoke about the different senses in which we should consider this season of Advent. That there is the Advent of our Lord in the world by His Incarnation, the Advent of the Lord in our hearts as we welcome Him as Saviour and Master, and the Second Advent of the Lord when He will come to bring all things to their conclusion.

The congregation enjoyed a substantial buffet of fasting foods provided by members of the Church. It was a blessing to welcome a number of visitors and friends, and to be able to have a time of fellowship and conversation together. The warmer weather over the previous few days meant that any remaining snow in the Chatham area, and there had been a lot, had all disappeared and so made it possible for a good congregation to gather together.

Weather closes churches

The severe weather which has caused a great deal of chaos in the United Kingdom over the past few weeks resulted in services being cancelled at the Babingley, Chatham and Charlton churches for the weekend of 19 December. Even after the snow had stopped falling, the icy roads and wintry conditions made it dangerous to travel and public transport was largely brought to a standstill. One of Father Peter Farrington’s daughters, returning home from Spain for Christmas, found her flight diverted from Gatwick to Luton. As it landed passengers were instructed to brace themselves for an emergency-style landing. Her journey home through the snow took over six hours.

Babingley, being near the Norfolk coast, has suffered heavy snow and sub zero temperatures with Deacon Mark reporting that near him they reached -1°C, although Fr. Anthony Clements in Dumfries reported overnight temperatures there had plummeted to -17°C. At Cusworth, however, the annual Christmas Carol service was well attended with the congregation wrapped up to withstand the cold. On the previous Sunday Father David Seeds baptised and chrismated two new adult members into the Church. Father Simon Smyth also reported that the main roads were clear between Portsmouth and Bournemouth and services there were uninterrupted and the new underfloor heating made quite a difference. Abba Seraphim expressed regret at the cancellation of services but said he was concerned that church members should be safe and that their welfare was paramount. By God’s grace he had not heard of any accidents to church members either when driving or through the icy conditions on the streets, although he admitted that he himself had fallen over on the ice just outside the Church Secretariat, but without serious injury !

Abba Seraphim offers condolences to H.H. Pope Shenouda

Following the bombings at Al-Qidiseen Church in Alexandria, Abba Seraphim wrote to H.H. Pope Shenouda to express the “profound sadness” with which the British Orthodox clergy and faithful have been following reports of the tragedy at Alexandria, “our hearts are very heavy for the families of those who lost their loved ones in this wicked act of violence. We stand beside all our Coptic brothers and sisters in their grief and we yearn for a peaceful and just outcome.”

He expressed wholehearted support for His Holiness’ constant message for a just and peaceful response to the problems facing the Copts and assured him that all his “British Orthodox clergy and children unite with our Mother Church in that prayer and our churches and communities will be sharing in the days of prayer and reflection which have been planned here in the British Isles.”

Whilst forwarding on messages received from hierarchs and clergy of other churches, which had been sent to him, Abba Seraphim spoke warmly of their “sympathy and loving support” and their wish “to stand beside us when we commemorate the new Alexandrian martyrs as well as the other victims who survived. Their respect for the Coptic Orthodox Church and its constant call for peace and harmony in the face of the most devastating provocation has been a potent witness to our fidelity to the Gospel.”

As the Christmas celebration of the Coptic Church approached Abba Seraphim believed that “the world will see and respect that even these terrible crimes cannot deprive us of the joy at the Lord’s Incarnation. The shadow of recent events, which enjoins that this will be a muted and modest celebration can never separate us from the love of God, which is manifested in the glorious incarnation of His Only-Begotten Son for our salvation.”

Special Commemoration in all British Orthodox churches

In all British Orthodox congregations following events in Egypt special commemoration of the new Alexandrian martyrs were held and their names read out individually. These were held at noon following the normal Sunday service in order to coincide with similar services being held in Coptic churches throughout Europe. At Portsmouth the service was held on Saturday as the Divine Liturgy was already scheduled then as Father Simon Smyth celebrated the Sunday Liturgy in Bournemouth. The specially designed logo was reproduced and displayed around the Portsmouth Church as well as attached to the portable ikon stands. At Cusworth Father David Seeds announced that the church had sent a donation of £250 to the Barnabas Fund to support Coptic Christians in Alexandria.

During his address at Bournemouth, Father Simon referred to the cost of blessings, “True blessing doesn’t come cheap.” He also pointed to the example of the ascetic lives of the desert Fathers, to the inward pain of the Mother of God, Saint Mary (“My heart weeps when I gaze at Thee on the cross”) and spoke of the supreme example of the martyrs who paid the ultimate price for the great blessing of martyrdom. “We all want to enjoy God’s blessing – but are we willing to pray the price our beloved Coptic martyrs in Alexandria have just paid?” He emphasised that the Coptic Orthodox Church is par excellence the Church of martyrs. The memorial prayers for the martyred Copts throughout 2010 were prayed outside the Church building so as to give a greater public witness. The Church entrance gate and notice board were covered in symbols of the Alexandrian Martyrs with requests for people to pray for them with their names listed.

Downing Street Protest

The United Copts of Great Britain organised a peaceful protest on Saturday, 15 January, in Whitehall opposite the entrance to Downing Street. A large group of Copts from churches in London, Bromley and Rotherham gathered between noon and 3.00 p.m. holding crosses and banners recalling recent sectarian attacks on Copts in Egypt.

Several Coptic clergy were present and Abba Seraphim and Father Sergius Scott were there to represent the British Orthodox Church. Among their supporters were Baroness Cox and Dr. Charles Tannock, Conservative MEP for the London Region, who are both passionate supporters of Christians suffering persecution. Dr. Tannock addressed the gathering and promised to raise the issue at the European Parliament at its next meeting.

Christian Unity Service at Babingley

Each year in January the British Orthodox Church at Babingley hosts one of the events for Churches’ Together in King’s Lynn to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which has proved very popular and has always been well attended. As British Orthodox clergy and members from the Bournemouth,London, Cusworth and Chatham parishes were planning to attend, Abba Seraphim hosted a lunch before the Unity service for members and friends at which he briefed them on the current situation in Egypt and answered questions.

By 3.00 p.m. on Saturday, 22 January, when Abba Seraphim welcomed the ecumenical guests to the Raising of Evening Incense, the church was packed. In his comments he spoke about the deep bond of prayer we all share at the present with the Catholic Diocese of East Anglia, for the health of Bishop Michael Evans, who was himself the speaker at this service in 2005. The speaker this year was Father Peter Farrington, parish priest at Chatham and also the Secretary of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches. His address was entitled, “Prophet, Priest and King: The high calling of the baptised” (see page 221 for the full text).

Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Forum meets

The Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum met for its half-yearly meeting on 24 January at the Syrian Orthodox Church in Acton. It was co-chaired by Bishop Geoffrey Rowell of Gibraltar in Europe and Bishop Angaelos. Hosting the meeting was Archbishop Athanasios Thoma Dawood and the Anglican representatives were joined for the first time by Bishop Christopher Chessum, the newly appointed Bishop of Southwark. Abba Seraphim was unable to attend as he had another pastoral commitment. The meeting made good progress in refining the Forum’s aims and objectives which include encouraging opportunities for common prayer and worship within the discipline of the respective churches; the discussion of current pastoral, social and political issues; and discovering and educating one another, the clergy and laity about the traditions of each church tradition. The Forum is the result of international dialogue between the churches but does not seek to duplicate the theological work of those dialogues but rather to receive and consider the documents issued by those dialogues and to take note of, discuss and explore relevant developments between both communions and to explore their local relevance and implications. The Forum plans to produce a booklet containing all the relevant common statements between the Churches.

Egypt Day of Prayer

On Saturday, 29 January, an ecumenical service was held at St. Mary’s,Bryanston Square,Wyndham Place,London,W1H 1PQ, as an “Egypt Day of Prayer”. The service had been organised by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in co-operation with other concerned groups before the current turmoil, to highlight the on going problems of Christians in Egypt following the Alexandrian bombing. Over five hundred worshippers from all Christian traditions came together to express their commitment and solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Christ and to witness to the transforming power of prayer in the face of the abuse of power and disregard for justice in Egypt.

The proceedings opened with traditional Coptic Orthodox prayers led by His Grace Bishop Angaelos and Metropolitan Seraphim, during which Deacon Meliton Oakes of the Archdiocese of Thyateira chanted the Gospel and Archbishop Kevin McDonald, formerly of Southwark, recited prayers. There were also Evangelical prayers with rousing choruses and reflective meditations on events, notably from Dr. Raafat Girguis, an international Coptic Christian broadcaster. The Orthodox Church was well represented: from the Coptic Orthodox Church were HG Bishop Angaelos and Father Moussa Roshdy of Rotherham; from the British Orthodox were Metropolitan Seraphim with Fathers Sergius Scott, Simon Smyth and Peter Farrington; from the Syric Orthodox Church was Archbishop Athanasios and one of his priests and from the Greek Orthodox Church (representing HE Archbishop Gregorios) was Deacon Meliton Oakes.

Father Michael Robson suffers a fall

Father Michael Robson suffered a fall on 3 February during which he fractured the pubic bone in his pelvis and was admitted to hospital for treatment before returning to Morden College. He then developed a chest infection which caused some concern and on Friday evening, 4 February Abba Seraphim, attended by the chaplain of Morden College, Father Nick Woodcock, visited him and administered Holy Unction. Although in some pain and sedated, Father Michael was alert and able to follow and join in the prayers.

Only two days earlier, on 1 February, Abba Seraphim, assisted by Father Peter Farrington and Subdeacon Dr. Michael Kennedy, had celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Chapel of Morden College. Father Michael was not well enough to attend but afterwards Holy Communion was taken to him in his room and he was able to enjoy a time of fellowship with some of those present. He has since made a good recovery but remains frail.

Your prayers are asked for Father Michael, who is in his 78th year.

Visit of Georgian Catholicos to London

His Holiness and Beatitude Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia visited London to consecrate a new Cathedral for the 30,000 strong community of Georgian Orthodox living in the United Kingdom. Having established a Diocese of Great Britain and Ireland with Bishop Zenon of Dmanisi as its first hierarch, the Catholicos – assisted by several bishops of the Georgian Orthodox Church and His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira – consecrated the Cathedral of the Nativity of our Lord at Rookwood Road, Clapton,London, N16 on Sunday, 6 February. The newly designated Cathedral was formerly known as The Ark of the Covenant and was built in 1892-5 to a design by Joseph Morris & Sons of Reading for the long extinct millenarian sect, the Agapemonites. Neglected after the war it was rented out to other church groups and at one time in the 1960s the British Orthodox Church used it on a monthly basis.

The same evening the Georgian Orthodox community held a reception at the Dorchester Hotel in London for the Catholicos, to which a number of ecumenical guests were invited. The Oriental Orthodox Churches were represented by Archbishop Athanasius of the Syriac Church, Abba Seraphim of the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate and Father Snork Bagdassarion of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Representing the hierarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Churches were Archbishop Gregorios and Metropolitan Kallistos whilst the Right Rev’d. Geoffrey Rowell represented the Archbishop of Canterbury. In his short address Catholicos Ilia spoke movingly of the hospitality of the British people and expressed his respect and admiration for H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. He also touched on the difficulties of living next to a powerful nation and the pain of having Georgia’s territorial integrity compromised.

Abba Seraphim presented Bishop Zenon, who had been raised to archiepiscopal rank that morning, with a copy of a rare booklet from the library of the British Orthodox Church, which marked the opening of the Ark of the Covenant in 1894 and described the symbolism of the building. Abba Seraphim spoke of the beauty of the church and its personal significance to him as he had himself been ordained there as a reader in 1965 and a subdeacon and deacon in 1967. He expressed his delight to know that this fine building was now consecrated as an Orthodox cathedral.

South Coast Ordinations

Abba Seraphim visited the British Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour on 13 February to ordain three new Readers for the Bournemouth and Portsmouth congregations. Despite the heavy and almost incessant rain throughout the day, the morning Liturgy was well attended and those present were delighted to witness Daniel Malyon, Anthony-Paul Holland and Roger-John Morgan receive the clerical tonsure and to be ordained as readers. Assisting Abba Seraphim were Fathers Simon Smyth and Seraphim Mina as well as Nicolae Popa and James-Antony Kelly, two long standing Readers.

Whilst presenting them to Abba Seraphim for ordination Father Simon read letters of support including one from Mina Riwes of Washington DC, who had attended British Orthodox services at Bournemouth and Portsmouth whilst he was working in Britain last year and another from Father Marcos A. Marcos of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Scarborough, Toronto, who had received Roger-John into the Orthodox Church in Canada, who wrote, “Indeed they are worthy to join in the sacramental celebrations of our holy Church. On Sunday I will announce this news to our congregation and we will be sharing your joys singing ‘Axios,Axios,Axios’ “. Another message came from Negati & Safaa Banayoty, through whom Roger-John had come to know the British Orthodox Church in Bournemouth and who were later to be his godparents. Daniel and Anthony Paul will largely serve at Portsmouth and Roger-John at Bournemouth, but as the two congregations are both under Father Simon’s pastoral care, they will often support both churches.

In his address Abba Seraphim spoke of the importance of the minor orders and their place in the ministry of the church and highlighted St. Paul’s injunction that “it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful”(1 Corinthians IV: 1-2) as well as the Lord’s promise to those who are faithful over a few things, “I will make thee ruler over many things” (Matthew XXV: 21).

A happy time of fellowship followed after the service and a buffet lunch was shared by those present.

Abba Seraphim attends Armenian Patronal Festival

The Armenian Church of St. Sarkis in Kensington,London, celebrated the eve of its patronal festival on 19 February with an Ecumenical Service for Peace. Officiating was the Right Rev’d Dr. Vahan Hovhanessian, Primate of the Armenian Church of Great Britain , assisted by Fr. Snork Bagdassarian. The Mayor and Mayoress of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea were present, as were a number of ecumenical visitors, including H.E. Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira (Oecumenical Patriarchate), Abba Seraphim (British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate & the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches), Archpriest Vadim Zakrevsky (representing Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh, Moscow Patriarchate). A canon of the diocese of St. David’s (Church in Wales) read the Old Testament lection and Abba Seraphim read the epistle, before Fr. Snork intoned the Gospel. Fr. Vahan spoke briefly about St. Sarkis and his significance today. Towards the end of the service Dr. Hratch Tchilingirian, Hon. President of the St. Sarkis Church Trust made a presentation and spoke in honour of Mr. John Kurkjian and Deacon Stepan Ovanessoff, two long-serving former trustees, who had both recently retired after more than forty years of devoted service to the Trust, the Church and their associated Armenian charities.

Following the service a reception took place for the whole congregation in the Church hall.

Forty years of priesthood

On 27 February Abba Seraphim marked the fortieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood as well as his 63rd birthday. There were no special celebrations organised but thanksgiving prayers were held in all British Orthodox churches and congratulations were received from many clergy in other churches. Abba Seraphim visited Father Michael Robson at Morden College in the morning and was delighted to find him sitting up out of bed and much improved in health and spirits. Later he celebrated the monthly Liturgy atSt. Thomas’s Church in Charlton, assisted by Father Sergius Scott and Deacon Theodore de Quincey and preached on the Spiritual Purpose of Great Lent. The regular congregation was delighted to be joined by Reader Seraphim-Mark Boorman and his wife, Susannah, from the Chatham Church also Father Deacon Richard & Dr. Carol Downer from the Melkite Church who had come to greet Abba Seraphim. After the service everyone stayed for tea with a small portion of birthday cake.

Monday, 28 February was the thirty-second anniversary of the death of the late Metropolitan Georgius and Abba Seraphim’s succession as head of the British Orthodox Church.

Family & Friends at St. Albans

Father Peter and the congregation of St Albans Orthodox Church in Chatham organised a Family and Friends Liturgy at the start of Great Lent. This seemed an appropriate opportunity to pause and consider the meaning of the Christian life both for the regular congregation and for those folk with whom they are in contact. Emails were sent to people who had been welcomed as occasional worshippers or as enquirers, as well as wider family members, and Father Peter wrote some personal invitations to quite a few people.

On the Sunday the Church looked beautiful. Members of the congregation had been in early to make sure everything was clean, and to arrange fresh flowers and light the candles. As usual it is never known who would respond, but they had prayed and left the outcome in God’s hands, since the harvest belongs to the Lord.

By the time the Liturgy proper was underway some eight visitors, many of whom had never worshipped there before, had joined the regular congregation. Father Peter personally greeted each one at the Peace, and afterwards made sure that each received some of the antidoran and a blessing. He had deliberately made use of the prospect of seeing some new faces to preach a sermon on fasting which considered its Biblical origins and its being part of the tradition of the Church from the very beginning.

Afterwards some of the congregation had prepared a buffet to share with the guests, and they all stayed for conversation and a light lunch. It was felt that this was a useful means of inviting people to a fairly non-threatening situation, where they are welcomed s Friends and Family. The Church has plans to organise a similar event later in the year and hopes that some of the relationships which were strengthened on that Sunday will blossom into a greater desire to share the Orthodox Christian life.

Enthronement of new Bishop of Southwark

Abba Seraphim was among the ecumenical guests who attended the enthronement of the Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum as tenth Bishop of Southwark, in Southwark Cathedral on 6 March. Bishop Christopher has served as a very popular Suffragen Bishop of Woolwich for the past eight years and his appointment as diocesan bishop has been well received. Abba Seraphim works together with Bishop Christopher on the Tur Abdin Focus Group. His love for the Orthodox Churches has also been demonstrated by his support for the campaign to free Abune Antonios of Eritrea and he has also recently joined the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum. Bishop Christopher has supported and encouraged the long-standing warm relations between the United Benefice of St. Luke & St. Thomas at Charlton, where the British Orthodox Church has been accorded hospitality for more than two decades.

The Enthronement took place during Choral Evensong and was followed by a reception in nearby Glaziers’ Hall. A large number of Anglican bishops were in attendance, including Bishop Christopher’s three immediate predecessors in the diocese of Southwark and four bishops from the Anglican diocese of Zimbabwe, which is twinned with Southwark. Earlier in the day Bishop Christopher and the Bishop of London (The Right Rev’d Richard Chartres) had met together symbolically on London Bridge to pledge co-operation in Christian witness in London, which is divided between the two dioceses. Also present was the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark (Most Rev’d Peter Smith).

Abba Seraphim meets with south coast deacons

On 5 March Abba Seraphim met with the deacons for the congregations at Bournemouth and Portsmouth at the home of Father Simon Smyth near Portsmouth to talk to them about the principles of good ministry in the church. Abba Seraphim emphasised the importance of thorough preparation and encouraged the deacons to come to church not only in a state of spiritual preparedness but also having checked the lectionary and the synaxarion for the day. It is their responsibility to support the celebrant in his ministry and to ensure that the liturgical services flow smoothly so that all might benefit from the experience of worship.

Abba Seraphim attends lecture on historic Georgian monastery

On 8 March Abba Seraphim attended the last in the present series of Late Antique & Byzantine Seminars at King’s College,London, which was given by Dr. Irene Giviashili, Postdoctoral Fellow. Although a centre of the ancient Georgian principality of Tao-Klarjeti, which comprised what is now the north-eastern Turkish provinces of Erzurum, Artvin, Ardahan and Kars, it was one of the most important ecclesiastical centres of ancient Georgia and today remains a centre of pilgrimage and academic study. Sadly, in recent years it has been neglected and vandalised but serious conservation co-operation is being discussed between the Georgian and Turkish governments to preserve this significant site.

Attempted Assassination of Ecumenical Patriarch

In March reports were received of a foiled assassination attempt against the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomaeos. The Turkish police announced that they have arrested two young men who planned the attack to take place in the Phanar district of Istanbul, where the patriarchate is located. Writing to Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira to express his profound shock at this news, Abba Seraphim also gave thanks to Almighty God “for His Providential Mercy in preventing such wickedness to triumph.” He found it very difficult to believe that anyone should wish to deprive us of so wise and gentle a peacemaker and said that in our troubled world we not only need more people who follow his eirenic example but we also need to listen to them carefully and cherish their message. Abba Seraphim accordingly instructed all his clergy to offer prayers of thanksgiving for the Patriarch’s deliverance and to pray that God will grant him a long and fruitful ministry among us.

Baptism at Portsmouth

On Saturday, 12 March, the regular British Orthodox congregation at Portsmouth was swelled by many family members attending for the baptism and chrismation of Daniel, son of Michael and Nujat Lloyd. The baptism was performed by Father Simon Smyth. Among the godparents was the recently ordained Reader, Daniel Malyon. Following the chrismation young Daniel Lloyd was dressed, in accordance with Coptic custom, in miniature priest’s vestments emphasising the church’s high theology of baptism and chrismation and reminding us that through these sacraments all Christians become kings and priests.

Father Simon returns to Moorlands College

On 14 March, in response to an invitation by Alistair McKitterick, Tutor and Lecturer in Biblical and Theological Studies, Father Simon gave an illustrated lecture on Ikons to students at Moorlands Bible College near Sopley in the New Forest. This was the third year he had been invited to lecture on this subject. The lecture included the theological justification and requirement for ikons as well as analyses of specific teaching points in various ikons. A good discussion with several students followed which widened beyond the specifics of ikonography to how we learn through participation in worship and being present in holy places.

Abba Seraphim supports Cardinal on Pakistan aid

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, recently spoke out against government plans to double overseas aid to Pakistan to more than £445 million, without requiring any commitment to religious freedom for Christians. The Cardinal has said that conditions should be attached to any aid payments requiring a definite commitment to protection for Christians and other religious minorities, including Shia Muslims.

Writing to the Cardinal, Abba Seraphim told him that he believed this was a fair requirement, as the Coalition government, “appears to give little prominence to the plight of Christian minorities abroad, which is disappointing. Following the papal visit last year I had some hope that Pope Benedict’s message was being listened to by the government. Indeed, many Christians here felt that His Holiness was speaking for us all when he addressed issues about the role of Christians in our society and the need for the government to consider them.

After the bombing of the Coptic Church in Alexandria in January, many people were surprised and disappointed at the tardiness with which our government responded, especially when forceful statements about the Christian minority in Egypt were being made by other world leaders. One fears that the Prime Minister’s concerns when he visited Egypt recently would not have included the plight of the Christian minority.

Mr Cameron recently warned that time is running out to to halt the consolidation of the Gadaffi regime following the revolution in Libya. In this case we have pressed for financial, economic and political sanctions to protect the civil rights of the protesters against an iniquitous autocracy. We recognise that we cannot intervene directly in the affairs of other sovereign states, so we use other means at our disposal to apply pressure for change or reform. Sadly, we have done very little to support Christian minorities in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where British forces and finance underpin the current governments. I am also concerned that recently President Karzai has instigated severe measures against Christian converts and that we have not intervened politically to prevent this.

The assassination in January of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, and more recently of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister of Minorities, both of whom campaigned bravely for a change in the Blasphemy Laws, shows an intolerance towards Christianity which is alarming. Were it a matter only of secular civil liberties one feels that our government would be quick to speak up and demand action, but for some reason religious liberties seem to be unfashionable at the present.” He expressed gratitude for the Cardinal’s example.

The Daily Telegraph of 16 March also published a letter from Abba Seraphim under the heading “Disregarded Christians” publicly expressing his support for the Cardinal and making many of the above points.

Father Silas visits Church Secretariat

Father Silas from India, flew into London on 16 March and was met at Heathrow airport by Abba Seraphim, before travelling to the Church Secretariat at Charlton, where he was staying. Upon arrival, Father Silas made a report of his ministry in northern India and in the evening helped to prepare a Lenten Curry Supper for local clergy and members of the British Orthodox Church, during which he spoke of his experiences of ministry over many years. His words were deeply appreciated. He recalled being the first person to stay at the present Church Secretariat, whilst it was still undergoing renovation before Abba Seraphim took up residence in January 1983. Father Silas was on his way to Canada where he will assist Fr. Athanasius Iskander at St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Kitchener,Ontario.

African Bishop attends Orthodox Liturgy at Blackheath

Every two months Abba Seraphim celebrates the Divine Liturgy in the late 17th century Chapel of Morden College at Blackheath. This is where Father Michael Robson has lived for a number of years and the use of the chapel was kindly offered to the British Orthodox Church to minister to Fr. Michael. A warm welcome is always accorded to Abba Seraphim and Fr. Peter Farrington by the College Chaplain and his staff and many others residents of the College frequently attend and support the Orthodox celebrations. The Liturgy on 5 April was also attended by The Right Rev’d Patrick Mwachiko, Bishop of Masasi, one of the sixteen dioceses in the Province of Tanzania, who was visiting friends at Morden College. After the Liturgy there was a convivial gathering for coffee for all those present. Bishop Patrick and his wife were returning home that evening and Abba Seraphim wished them God-speed and assured them that he would pray for the ministry in Masasi.

British Orthodox Churches celebrate Holy Pascha

As once again, the date for Holy Pascha was common to both East and West, there was a great sense of oneness among Christians in celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection. British Orthodox congregations observed the Holy Week services whilst at Charlton, Father Sergius Scott joined in an Ecumenical Procession of Witness on Good Friday. In all our churches the Paschal Vigil and Liturgy was celebrated on Pascha Eve (23 April), which also coincided with the traditional observance of St. George’s Day in England. The exceptionally fine weather and the fact that so many trees, shrubs and flowers had burst into bloom, added to the sense of the glory of the new life revealed in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because of its elderly congregation and the church being isolated in the countryside, St, Mary & St. Felix at Babingley in Norfolk began the Vigil service just before sunset. Abba Seraphim presided and was the first to proclaim, “Christ is Risen”. As there were a good number of Orthodox Christians from Moldova and Russia joining the regular congregation, they were also greeted in Russian. At the conclusion of the Liturgy when Abba Seraphim blessed and distributed dyed eggs, he also blessed their traditional festive foods of pascha and kullich, which they had brought to the church. Father Simon reports that the Bournemouth and Portsmouth congregations celebrated Holy Week and the feast at the Church of Christ the Saviour at Winton (Bournemouth) and services were well supported. Following the Vigil and Liturgy on Pascha Eve, on the forenoon of Pascha, prayers for the departed were said at church and in a long-established local tradition their graves at Wimborne Road Cemetery were visited and the Resurrection hymn sung as eggs were placed on their graves. At Cusworth the local congregation were also joined by Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe and the church was filled, whilst at Chatham a new catechumen was received during the evening and the joyous celebration concluded with an extensive buffet which continued into the early hours.

At the conclusion of the service at Babingley Abba Seraphim read the Paschal message from His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and all churches prayed with great fervour for Pope Shenouda and also Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka of Antioch, having a great burden of concern for their brothers and sisters in Egypt and Syria who are caught up in the civil disturbances in both countries.

Abba Seraphim returned to London at noon on Holy Pascha and went first to greet Father Michael Robson at Morden College, Blackheath, before visiting sick and housebound members of the church with Holy Communion.

Abba Seraphim visits Malta

At the invitation of the Faculty of Theology of theUniversityofMaltaand the Mediterranean Institute Abba Seraphim was invited to Malta to preside at an ecumenical service to commemorate the new Coptic Martyrs of Alexandria and to deliver two public addresses.

On 27 April, Abba Seraphim, accompanied by his PA, Mr. Trevor Maskery, arrived in Malta, where he was greeted by the Rev’d Dr. Hector Scerri, Head of the Department of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Malta and President of the Ecumenical Commission,Malta. He was driven to the Archbishop’s Seminary at Rabat, where he resided throughout his stay and was welcomed by the Rector, Fr. Jimmy Bonnici.

The following morning, Abba Seraphim and his party were taken by Miss Anna Caruana-Colombo, a member of the Ecumenical Commission, toSt. Paul’s Grotto in Rabat where they were guided around the Church, Grotto and Museum by Mgr. John Azzopardi, Chancellor of St. Paul’s Collegiate Church at Rabat. Following this they visited the prehistoric stone temples at Mnajdra and Hagar Qim at Qrendi, where they were guided by Mr. Clive Cortis. Returning to Rabat they were entertained to lunch on behalf of the University of Malta by Professor Emmanuel Agius, Dean of the Faculty of Theology, and Dr. Simon Mercieca, Director of the Mediterranean Institute.

In the evening Abba Seraphim was welcomed at Mary Immaculate Collegiate Church, Conspicua, where he presided at an Ecumenical Service. In his message of welcome, the Rev’d Canon Joseph Mifsud, Archpriest of Conspicua, said, “Our intention … during this ecumenical prayer service is to commemorate the new Coptic Martyrs, killed through violence in recent months in the land of Egypt. As members of different Christian Churches, we come together in faith, hope and love to acknowledge as stated by Tertullian – that the blood of the martyrs generates new life among the members of the Body of Christ. We affirm strongly that the mutual recognition of the martyrs belonging to different Churches is a positive step on our ecumenical path.” The service was well attended and the rich musical contribution of the Chorus Urbanus under the direction of Maestro Dr. John Galea enhanced the dignity of the service. Abba Seraphim preached on the subject, “Building Bridges: A Witness to be borne jointly.” Following the service a reception was held in the beautiful Oratory of the Holy Cross.

More photos of this event can be found at the Cospicua parish website: http://www.cospicuaparish.org.mt

On 29 April Abba Seraphim and his party were taken by Mr. Carmel Grima, another member of the Ecumenical Commission, toVallettato visitSt. John’sco-Cathedral. Here there were conducted around the Cathedral and its Museum by Mgr. Laurence Mifsud. Following this they visited the Malta Emigrants Commission (Dar l-Emigrant) at Castille Place, Valletta, where they watched a film about the religious history of Malta, “The Sacred Island” before meeting the Rev’d Fr. Alfred Vella, the Director, and Mgr. Philip Calleja, its founder. Abba Seraphim was able to discuss his own experience of dealing with Asylum seekers and other immigrants in theUK.

In the evening Abba Seraphim was welcomed at the Aula Magna at the Valletta Campus of the University of Malta, where, after welcome speeches by Professor Agius and Dr. Mercieca he delivered a public lecture “Believing in Dialogue: Preventing the Misuse of Faith.” Among the distinguished audience attending the lecture were His Grace Mgr. Paul Cremona OP, Archbishop of Malta, and His Excellency Douglas W. Kmiec, United States Ambassador to Malta. Following the lecture there was a reception at the University followed by dinner for Abba Seraphim’s party hosted by the Foundation of Theological Studies.

On 30 April Abba Seraphim and his party, accompanied by Father Reuben Gauci of the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission, made a courtesy call to the Archidiocesan Curia at Floriana,Valletta, where he was received by His Grace Mgr. Cremona and also met with Bishop Annetto Depasquale, Vicar-General ofMalta. Abba Seraphim presented Mgr. Cremona with published copies of some of his theological lectures and the Glastonbury Review and, in returned, received a Commemorative medal for the visit to Malta of H.H. Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. Taking his leave of Mgr. Cremona, Abba Seraphim travelled to Mdina, where he visitSt. Paul’s Cathedral and was guided around the Cathedral by Mgr. Mifsud and the Museum by Fr. Edgar Vella. Returning toRabat, Abba Seraphim made a courtesy call on His Excellency Mgr. Tommaso Caputo, Titular Archbishop of Otriculum and Apostolic Nuncio toMalta&Libya, where they discussed the humanitarian issues faced by the Maltese and other governments as a result of the large number of refugees leaving Libya and Tunisia.

After lunch at the Archbishop’s Seminary at Rabat, Abba Seraphim said farewell to his hosts and returned to London that evening.

Reflections on Abba Seraphim’s visit in the “Sunday Times of Malta”:

The Sunday Times of Malta on 1 May 2011 published the following comments on Abba Seraphim’s visit to Malta in an interview with the Rev. Prof. Peter Serracino Inglott in his weekly page on the paper.

The organisers of the visit by Metropolitan Seraphim of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria mentioned that the original stimulus to organising the visit came from this column. How valuable do you think the visit proved to be?

The Ecumenical Service at Cospicua last Thursday certainly served to raise our awareness of the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt, which has continued in spite of the end of the Mubarak regime, as well as of the present outright persecution of Christians in more than forty states. Christian martyrs have been more numerous in our lifetime than in the years of the worst persecutions by the Roman emperors.
An unforgettable moment in my own life was when I was invited to attend, for some unexplained reason, what had been described as a Muslim Summit Conference in Cairo. Casually, I met at the Maltese Embassy a young Coptic lady whose community had just suffered serious physical violence.

Somewhat naively, I asked her whether this pressure was weakening the Christian faithful. She rolled up her sleeve, showed me a cross tattooed on her arm and kissed it. She reminded me that by 725, almost a hundred years after the Muslim conquest, 95 per cent of Egyptians were still Christian. Even at that moment in the mid- 1990s more than one out of 10 Egyptians still belonged to the Coptic Church. However, Copts by the thousands were emigrating or trying to.The American Coptic Association asserted that at least a million Copts had fled their country, 400,000 of whom were said to live in the US. The reason for it was somewhat paradoxical. Mubarak was troubled especially by the fact that many hundreds of the Egyptian volunteers who had gone to fight the Soviet occupants of Afghanistan returned to Egypt eager to establish an Islamist state, possibly using the Urban Guerrilla tactics they had learnt.

So, on one hand, Mubarak set about suppressing extreme Islamism in Pharaonic style but on the other he promoted his own quiescent brand of Islam in response to growing popular pressures for a more Islamic society. This pressure included castigation of foreigners, Jews and, of course, the Coptic Christians. Perhaps the country where persecution of Christians is now at its worst is Eritrea. Of course, we should not practise any kind of religious discrimination when it is a matter of humanitarian aid, but surely we should take some account of the fact that immigrants may be seeking refuge here because of the lack of religious freedom in their own country. I personally am particularly sensitive to the current sufferings of Christians in northern Nigeria following the election, apparently democratic, of a Christian to the presidency, because of my personal knowledge over many years of some of the protagonists involved. I am always perplexed why the religious dimension is sometimes exaggerated and at other times left out in reporting of current events, for instance that in the Ivory Coast the Catholic Bishops went on clearly supporting the Christian Laurent Gbagbo against the Muslim Alassane Ouattara and that the Christians are at present suffering harshly for it. I feel very deeply that a truly planetary consciousness and solidarity is still not as developed as it should be in a Church which calls itself Catholic in the age of the internet.

Does the message of the Metropolitan Seraphim relate to today’s Feast of the Divine Mercy established by Pope John Paul II whose beatification is also very aptly taking place today?

The most interesting aspect of this relationship is perhaps this. On one hand, devotion among Christians to the Divine Mercy as such (as distinct from say the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which has flourished since the 17th century) only became widespread through the impetus given to it by Pope John Paul II in his first Encyclical.It was devoted to this theme and clearly inspired by his knowledge of Sister Faustina whom he canonised. On the other hand, it had been highlighted in the Muslim tradition since its very beginning. Prophet Mohammed said: “To God belongs 99 names…” the first two being “Ar-rahman” and “Ar-rahim”, which mean “the most compassionate” and “Merciful”.

When I was in Cairo, Muslims greeted me with the words: Salamo Alik Wa Rahmat Allah wa Barakato which means peace, mercy and blessing of Allah be on you. Curiously enough, just a few months ago Christians in Malaysia faced problems because some potent Muslims wanted to forbid them from using the name Allah for the Christian God, because they refused to accept that He was the same as the prophet’s.
The increasing centrality of the reference to the Divine Mercy in the Catholic Church – the bestselling religious book in France at the moment is called May Thy Mercy Come – should contribute to show the Malaysians that they are misidentifying the Christian Allah.

Actually the Metropolitan Seraphim began the Ecumenical Service at Cospicua with the Coptic Prayer of Thanksgiving , the first words of which are: “Let us give thanks unto the Beneficent and Merciful God, the Father of our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

I can well understand why we Western Christians should be discovering the significance of mercy as the defining attribute of God in these years.

But for it, if we just contemplate it, the disastrous situation of the world and especially of our own responsibilities for it, we could easily despair.

What was the remark you had made which actually prompted the invitation to the Metropolitan Seraphim?

I wished that there would be a confluence between those of us who were concerned to see the development of the Euro-Mediterranean political and economic network centred around a holistic marine policy and those invited to respond to Pope John Paul’s call to the Maltese Church to concentrate on Judeo-Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Fr Peter Serracino Inglott was talking to Miriam Vincenti.

Oriental Orthodox Festival 2011

On Saturday, 14th May, clergy and laity from all of the Oriental Orthodox churches gathered together for the 4th annual Oriental Orthodox Festival. The festival provides an opportunity for the members of the various Orthodox communities to meet together and share in the celebration of the Liturgy, and then have an opportunity for fellowship over a varied buffet lunch provided by the different Orthodox traditions and ethnicities represented.

The latest festival took place at St Michael’s Eritrean Orthodox Church in Camberwell,London. Participating bishops included His Grace Bishop Angaelos and His Eminence Archbishop Athanasius in the presence of His Grace Bishop Markos. The attending priests represented the British Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Indian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Churches. There were many deacons from the various Churches and the sanctuary was filled with a wonderful fraternal spirit. As Father Youhannes began the prayers of the Liturgy a spiritual atmosphere descended upon the crowded Church.

Many British Orthodox clergy and faithful had travelled to Camberwell to participate in the Festival. They included Father Sergius, Father Simon and Father Peter, together with Deacon Theodore from the French Coptic Orthodox Church, and servants and laity from the South Coastcongregations. Many other friends of the British Orthodox Church were present in the congregation, including Father Deacon Richard Downer and Dr Carol Downer.

The Liturgy was conducted with the participation of the various clergy, and the congregation was marked by enthusiastic singing of the hymns and chants of the Eritrean tradition. It always makes a great impression to see so many of the faithful dressed in their traditional white clothes. It is important that this concelebrated liturgy takes place each year so that we provide a visible manifestation of our unity as Orthodox Christians.

After the Liturgy the choir of the Eritrean Orthodox church sang many of their traditional songs with the accompaniment of drums. It was a great blessing to see such devotion and seriousness in the young Eritrean Christians who sang and performed their liturgical dance, but also to see the joy and spiritual delight in the faces of the many members of the congregation who joined in. His Grace Bishop Angaelos addressed the congregation, as did His Grace Bishop Markos, whose message of welcome was translated by Father Youhannes.

But the Festival was more than the concelebrated Liturgy, and all were invited to the basement of the Church where the various churches represented had laid out diverse foods from their own cultural traditions. After a great deal of warm conversation it seemed that most people had a plate of food in front of them. In addition to the traditional Eritrean food there was the opportunity to talk with some of the other clergy. Father Youhannes was tireless in his hospitality and hardly had time to sit down himself.

To conclude the Festival the choir of the Indian Orthodox church had arranged to share some of their musical repetoire. As they started their first song the church filled up with clergy and laity. The choir sang enthusiastically, and the choir director even managed to urge the Eritrean Orthodox choir to join in with their drums. The congregation were given an opportunity to try and sing one of the Indian Orthodox songs, but pronouncing the Malayalam words properly was quite a challenge.

After a final prayer Father Youhannes dismissed the congregation. It was another most successful gathering and several clergy said they had received messages from those who had been able to attend and who had enjoyed the Festival.

The Provision of Palliative Care

On 16 May Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Archimandrite Deiniol, Administrator of the Wales Orthodox Mission, attended a lecture on “The Provision of Palliative Care: An Ethical and Legal Duty” at the House of Lords. The lecture was given by Professor John Keown of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University and was hosted by Baroness Ilora Findlay and sponsored by the Anscombe Bioethics Centre of Blackfriars Hall,Oxford.

The British Orthodox Church has long been a committed supporter of St. Christopher’s Hospice at Sydenham.

Eve of St. Dunstan Ecumenical Service & Reception

On 18 May, Abba Seraphim attended Evensong at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Chapel at Lambeth Palace, followed by the Annual Ecumenical Reception by the Nikaean Club in the Guard Room. As the Archbishop was absent abroad, the Bishop of Wakefield (The Right Rev’d Stephen Platten) presided. The sermon was preached by The Rev’d Dr. David Chapman, Minister of London Road Methodist Church, Horsham and a member of the Joint Commission for Dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church. The commemoration traditionally takes place on the Eve of the Feast of St. Dunstan (909-988), Archbishop of Canterbury, which is significant for the British Orthodox Church as St. Dunstan had earlier served as Abbot of Glastonbury. Other Oriental Orthodox hierarchs present were: His Eminence Archbishop Mor Athanasius Touma of the Syrian Orthodox Church and His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Article published in Serbian Orthodox theological journal

Father Peter Farrington’s article, The Christology of St Severus of Antioch, has been translated and published in the reputable Serbian Orthodox magazine Teološki pogledi (Theological views) which is published by the Holy Synod of bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The article had been reviewed by the editorial board whose members include current Serbian theologians such as His Grace Metropolitan Amfilohije, and His Grace Bishop Atanasije Rakita.

Teološki pogledi has been considering extending their usual content of Eastern Orthodox theological writers to include contributions from the Oriental Orthodox communion, and Father Peter was pleased to have been contacted some little while ago to be asked for his permission to include his article ‘The Christology of St Severus of Antioch’ in a future edition. This has now been published and Teološki pogledi and its editor, Father Aleksandar Djakovac, have expressed a desire to continue to publish articles related to Oriental Orthodox Christology.

Prayer Vigil at Eritrean Embassy

The British Orthodox Church was among a number of groups which stood in solidarity with imprisoned Eritreans at a Prayer Vigil outside the Eritrean Embassy in London on 26 May. Abba Seraphim, supported by Father Simon Smyth and Deacon Theodore de Quincey, joined representatives from Human Rights Concern – Eritrea, Church in Chains, Release Eritrea, the Evangelical Alliance, Release, Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide for prayer, scripture readings and spiritual songs. Abba Seraphim opened the proceedings with the Prayer of Thanksgiving and later spoke about the unjust imprisonment of Abune Antonios, the canonical Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Despite the torrential showers (the first for many weeks) all those present stood their ground and remained constant in their vigil. At the end of the proceedings, Abba Seraphim crossed the road to the Embassy and handed in a letter on behalf of all those present.

H.E. Mr. Tesfamicael Gerahtu

Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland

Embassy of the State of Eritrea

96 White Lion Street

London N1 9PF

ENGLAND

26 May 2011

Your Excellency,

We have gathered today, representing thousands of Christians in Britain and Ireland, to mark the ninth anniversary of the forced closure of all churches in Eritrea, apart from those belonging to the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions.

Standing in solidarity with fellow Christians in Eritrea, we once again call for the granting of full religious freedom, and for the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in Eritrea.

We are dismayed at the continuing imprisonment without charge or trial of tens of thousands of Eritrean citizens, including several thousand Christians, detained solely on account of their faith. We are also deeply troubled at the increasing harassment of authorised churches, as illustrated by the illegal dismissal and indefinite detention of Abune Antonios, the canonically-ordained Orthodox patriarch, and the imprisonment, dismissal and forcible conscription of scores of Orthodox clergyman.

Credible reports continue to emerge from Eritrea of Christians being incarcerated in inhumane conditions, physically and mentally abused, and deprived of access to adequate food, potable water and medication. We are aware that over a dozen have died following mistreatment and/or denial of medical attention, and are particularly concerned at the continuing practice of requiring prisoners to sign statements renouncing their faith as a prerequisite to obtaining their freedom.

We assure you, once again, that these Christians pose no threat to the government in the peaceful practice of their faith, and can affirm that the teachings and principles of their faith encourage good citizenship and loyalty to one’s country. We are confident that Christians in Eritrea are committed to strengthening the nation, and to contributing positively towards its development.

We urge you to convey to your government our appeal for swift and positive action to ensure the release of all prisoners of conscience, regardless of their creed, and to facilitate every human right outlined in Eritrea’s commendable national constitution, including the right to religious freedom.

Please be assured of our continued prayers for the well-being and prosperity of your people and nation. We remain committed to the people of Eritrea, and seek to support the nation’s progresses towards a just and equitable future.

Among the speakers at the Vigil was Elsa Chyrum, who spoke movingly of the plight of Eritrean refugees:

“Eritrea has just celebrated its 20th independence anniversary.

Let me start with the latest events regarding Eritrea and Eritreans that may highlight the irony of the independence of Eritrea. The regime, in its usual fanfare, has prepared Grand Festivals to celebrate the 20th year of the nation’s independence. This totalitarian regime dares to call these 20 years “20 Years of Dignity”. But the indignity of it all is to be seen in the latest tragic events that have affected Eritreans everywhere.

First, you must have heard of the tragedy that occurred lately in the Mediterranean Sea, as thousands of African refugees tried to escape the turmoil of the Libyan uprising. The plight of black Africans was compounded by the unfounded rumour that they are serving as mercenaries in Gadaffi’s army. Many Eritrean refuge es had no other option but to escape this double jeopardy. As a result, sadly, the greatest number of those who perished in the Mediterranean Sea happen to be Eritreans – so far, hundreds of them.

The other tragedy is the ongoing problem in the Sinai desert: human trafficking. In this peninsula, Bedouin human traffickers, in close collaboration with Eritrean criminal elements, are openly conducting a ransom-for-hostage enterprise. Here, there are about 400 Eritrean refugees still held in captivity, waiting for ransom money to arrive from family members and close relatives in the West. For each captive, the traffickers ask more than US $10,000. If ransom money is not paid, the hostages are subjected to constant rape, torture, involuntary removal of organs, and murder. This living hell has become a business. The ransom amounts that are paid encourage the smugglers to raise their demands. The higher the sum, the harder it is for the family abroad to raise the money. This results in an even longer period of imprisonment and torture for the refugees many of whom die before or even after the ransom has been paid. So far, the Egyptian government is unwilling to do anything about it – even a personal plea from the Pope had no effect at all.

Eritrean asylum seekers have been criminalized for trying to escape from a living hell in their own country and enter Egypt illegally. They are imprisoned incommunicado, physically tortured and psychologically abused. They have been herded like animals into what are little more than cages. Small rooms house forty or fifty asylum seekers night and day at high, unbearable temperatures with no ventilation or any other basic hygiene, leading to skin rashes and more serious ailments none of which are treated, for adults and children alike.

Some of the Eritreans who have tried to cross to Israel have been shot dead, or wounded and consequently imprisoned in Egypt.

Little enough to celebrate so far, but the tragedy doesn’t end there:

On 22nd May 2011, at around 3:30 a.m, four Eritrean refugees were burnt to death and one was critically scorched at the Tunisian refugee camp near the Libyan border. The victims had recently fled from Libya and were waiting to be resettled to a safe country via UNHCR. Their tents were deliberately set on fire. Two Sudanese refugees have been arrested in connection with the crime, and they are remanded in custody. There has been a clash between the local Tunisian community and certain groups of the refugee communities in the Sousha camp which has led to more violence and destruction. The refugees in the camp are very anxious and tension is very high. Unless urgent action is taken by The Tunisian government and the UNHCR, the situation could escalate into further tragedy resulting in further loss of life.

Due to forced conscription and endless military service in Eritrea, tens of thousands are fleeing to Ethiopia and Sudan and much farther to Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Australia, Europe, the US and other countries. Yet the plight of these Eritreans is largely misunderstood. They go through a lot of hardship and pain in search of a safe haven and freedom by escaping from one country only to find themselves virtual or actual prisoners in another.

Thousands of Eritreans whose asylum claims have been refused become illegally resident in Europe, USA, Australia, etc., spend long periods in detention awaiting deportation or are left to live on the streets in destitution. Legislation bars these individuals from access to basic public services – shelter, food, etc and they are prevented from working. Most of these destitute asylum seekers rely on support from families, religious organisations or well-wishers.

We are here this afternoon to demonstrate our awareness of their troubles, to show our solidarity with those of our people who have suffered, and are suffering, at the hands of the Eritrean government and its supporters, and to signal to the Eritrean government and those Eritreans in diaspora who continue to finance its evildoing, that the truth cannot be hidden by phoney celebrations praising a country which remains a prison for so many of its citizens. We are here now, and we will be here again, and we will not go away even if it takes another twenty years to bring true freedom to our people, to stop the suffering of Eritrean refugees.”

Abba Seraphim speaks to priests in Exeter

On 6 June Abba Seraphim addressed the St. Boniface Society at the Catholic Chaplaincy of Exeter University, on the subject of ‘The Two Families of Orthodoxy. An Ecumenical Perspective.’ After discussing the historical background to the division, tracing from the Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Second Council of Ephesus in 449 through to the Councils of Chalcedon (451) and Constantinople II (553); he examined the significant steps on the road to Unity, culminating in the meetings of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches between 1985-1990 with suggestions about the Way Forward. The Society is a priestly fellowship of both Anglican and Catholic priests and holds Study Days and Lectures once a month.

Bishops meet: a friendship renewed

On 17 June Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Father Gregory Tillett, paid a courtesy call to greet His Grace Yakob Mar Elias, Bishop of the Brahmavar diocese within the Indian Orthodox Church. His Grace Mar Elias was staying at St. Gregorios Orthodox Church in Brockley,London, during a brief visit to the United Kingdom, which includes visits to Chichester (where he studied theology), Newcastle and Holy Island. Mar Elias received Abba Seraphim and his party when they visited Mount Horeb Ashraman at Sassthamkotta in January 2010, shortly before his consecration at a bishop and both bishops were anxious to renew the friendship they had established during that visit. Father John Samuel, parish priest of St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church was also in attendance on Mar Elias.

Annual Pentecost meeting of the Holy Synod cancelled

Traditionally the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church meets in Cairo on the Eve of the Feast of Pentecost in plenary session. However, this year it was cancelled at short notice and Pope Shenouda remained in Cleveland, Ohio, where he had gone for routine medical treatment.

As Abba Seraphim had booked his flights some time previously he planned to go ahead with his visit. However, after a few weeks of relative calm following the Revolution, there were two recent incidents in central Cairo which gave cause for concern. In one a female reporter from Coptic TV went down toTahrir Square, where a group of young men surrounded her and attempted to rape her. When she desperately called for help a police officer arrived and shot into the air to disperse the crowd. The criminals took both his gun and his phone away and beat him almost to death. On the same day, the Ezbekia Police Station (near the main railway station) was burnt down following rumours that a police officer had killed a microbus driver. As a result of these incidents, which indicate a potential resurgence in violence, Abba Seraphim was advised against travelling to Cairo at the present and, acting on this advice, reluctantly cancelled his planned trip to Egypt. These incidents will probably not be reported by the European media.

New lych-gate dedicated at Cusworth Church

On 18 June Abba Seraphim, assisted by Fathers David Seeds and Gregory Tillett with Archdeacon Alexander Astill, dedicated a new lych gate at St. Mark & St. Hubert’s Church, Cusworth, Doncaster,South Yorkshire. The previous lych gate, had fallen into disrepair after some forty-five years and the entrance to the churchyard was lacking its traditional gate. The new lych-gate, like its predecessor, was fashioned from seasoned hardwood and built by a local carpenter but was roofed with traditional pantiles to match the church roof.

Lychgates have a long tradition in Britain and there are several surviving examples from mediaeval times, though as they were traditionally constructed of wood this has meant that many have not survived the test of time. Having the design of a porch-style gateway into the churchyard the name derives from the the old-English word ‘lych’ meaning corpse, as it was here that the clergy met the corpse of the faithful departed and the bier rested while part of the burial service was read. The gate also served to shelter the pall-bearers while the bier was brought from the church during inclement weather.

Following the service a buffet lunch was provided in the Battie-Wrightson Memorial Hall and a time of fellowship was held. Abba Seraphim presided at the Raising of Evening Incense at the Cusworth Church, during which Father Gregory, gave an address, before his party travelled on to King’s Lynn where Abba Seraphim celebrated the Liturgy at St. Felix, Babingley, on Sunday, 19 June.

Bournemouth Church’s Diamond Jubilee

The British Orthodox Parish of Christ the Saviour at Winton,Bournemouth, celebrated the church’s Diamond Jubilee with a visit from Abba Seraphim combining services and events over the weekend of 2-3 July. Although the parish was founded 75 years ago, the church – formerly a stable and carpenter’s workshop – was not purchased and converted until 1951. The celebrations began at the Church with Midday prayer and an address by Father Gregory Tillett on ‘The Year of Jubilee’ and Abba Seraphim spoke about some of the witness and contribution made by departed church members, especially the faithful women of the church. This was followed by a Reception and Buffet lunch in the Lounge of nearby St. Alban’s Church, Charminster. Among those attending were Fr. Robin Nash, parish priest ofSt. Albansand Father Marcus Brisley, parish priest of the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, Charminster. Also present were Councillor Beryl Baxter (Mayor of Bournemouth 2009-2010) and her husband, who live next to the Orthodox Church. Visiting BOC clergy included Fathers Sergius Scott and Seraphim Mina from London.

After lunch Fr. Gregory gave a talk, ‘The Mission to the Ninevites: Universal Orthodoxy in the West’, which was followed by a lively discussion. At 4.30 p.m. Abba Seraphim led a good number of clergy and people in prayers for past members and clergy of the church at the Wimborne Road Cemetery and flowers were placed on the graves of Archdeacon James Goddard, Flora Peckham, Father Stephen Hatherly and Martha Coppin. Evening Incense was raised at the Church and a Celebration Dinner was held at Bates Restaurant in Charminster.

On Sunday morning Abba Seraphim celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Church and Fr. Simon preached the homily, weaving together the themes of the various lessons to emphasise the importance of fidelity. During the Liturgy Abba Seraphim ordained Readers Nicolae Popa, John Morgan and Edward Smyth as subdeacons, the first two to serve at Bournemouth, the third at Portsmouth and Bournemouth. Subdeacon Christopher Barnes was ordained as a deacon to serve the Babingley Parish and Father Gregory Tillett, who is attached to the Bournemouth Church when in the United Kingdom, was elevated to the order of hegoumenos.




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