Here, There and Everywhere
News of the Church from divers Quarters – Part 1: The British Orthodox Church
On 19 November 2011 Habton Ftuwi was ordained Priest for the Medhane Alem Eritrean Orthodox Church in Manchester, at the Church of St. Mark & St. Hubert, Cusworth Village, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, at the hands of Abba Seraphim acting upon the mandate of Bishop Macarios El Suriani, Bishop for the Eritrean diaspora.
On 8 January 2012 Roman Ivanovich Benchak was ordained Reader at St. Alban’s Church, St. Alban’s Walk, Chatham, Kent, at the hands of Abba Seraphim.
New veil for the iconostasis at St Alban’s
The congregation of St Alban’s Orthodox Church in Chatham are very pleased to have the beautiful veil for the iconostasis now hanging in place. This veil was a gift from Abba Seraphim and was manufactured in Egypt. It was brought back to the UK by one of our members after a recent visit. The old veil was replaced by Roman, another of our members, who has put in a great deal of effort to make sure that the veil opens smoothly, and is at just the right height. We are very grateful to him. Roman has also repaired and replaced the hanging sign outside the Church, which you will see if you are able to visit St Albans.
Following the opening of St. John the Evangelist Coptic Orthodox Church at Bromley and the establishment of brotherly ties with its priest, Father Antonius Nagib, and members of the congregation, Father Sergius Scott, who has served as a General Priest since he relinquished the pastoral care of the Charlton congregation; met with Abba Seraphim to request a transfer to work in Bishop Antony’s Coptic Diocese of Ireland, Scotland, the North East of England and its affiliated regions. As this would enable him to have more frequent access to worship and the sacraments and to be more actively involved in general church life than is currently available at Charlton, Abba Seraphim gave his blessing to this request, whilst Bishop Antony was happy to welcome him. In commending him to Bishop Antony’s care Abba Seraphim thanked Father Sergius for his long years of service and wished him well in his new ministry at Bromley.
Coptic Language Schools at King’s College, London
Father Peter Farrington has organised two intensive Coptic Language course which took place at King’s College, London. In September 2011 a four day introductory course was followed by an intermediate course in January 2012. An Advanced course is planned for around Easter this year. Using Thomas Lambdin’s Introduction to Sahidic Coptic and with the inspiring teaching of Dr. Carol Downer, one of the few experts in Coptic teaching in the UK at the present time the students progressed through the studies at a very fast pace while also working together so that no-one was left behind. The group included a variety of university lecturers from different institutions, several PhD students, and a handful of independent students.
Another baptism at BOC Portsmouth Parish
Edmund John Sihua Humphreys received the Holy Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion on Sunday, 2 October to become the latest communicant member of the British Orthodox Parish of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black, Portsmouth. Edmund’s journey to Orthodoxy had begun several years previously during a visit to Moscow with an encounter with an icon in one the Russian Orthodox Kremlin Churches. Although finding it difficult to articulate the experience to others (as is often the case with such personal spiritual moments) Edmund was prompted to seek further into Orthodox Christianity and thanks to the online British Orthodox Forum discovered the British Orthodox Church in the city of Portsmouth where he lives. He has attended faithfully both in Portsmouth and Bournemouth, worshipping through one Holy Pascha as an enquirer and another as a catechumen, joining in the Bournemouth Weekend of Worship in 2010 and sharing the parish pilgrimage to Stevenage for the Oriental Orthodox Festival. Not surprisingly, there was a good turn-out of Church members representing both the Portsmouth and Bournemouth congregations to support and welcome Edmund home to the Orthodox Church.
Maspero: Abba Seraphim’s Message to Pope Shenouda
Your Holiness, dear Father in God,
For the second time this year it is my melancholy duty to send to you the profound condolences of your British Orthodox clergy and faithful at the deaths of so many faithful Christians who were peacefully protesting against recent attacks on Coptic churches. We join wholeheartedly in the three days of prayer and fasting and share the grief and shock which the loss of so many innocent lives deserves.
We also extend our deep sympathy to the families and friends of all the departed as well as well as those who were injured in the vicious and unwarranted attacks which took place.
We earnestly pray for peace and justice in Egypt so that all sections of society may be united in rebuilding a free and fair society so that the people of Egypt may be united together in common cause for the benefit of all.
We thank God for preserving Your Holiness in health and safety to lead the church and ask Him to uphold you in your sacred ministry.
Commending myself to Your Holiness’s prayers.
Your loving and faithful son-in-Christ,
BOC South Coast Churches’ Three Days’ Observance
In response to the deaths of two dozen and the wounding of very, very many of our beloved Coptic Orthodox brethren in Cairo on Sunday and the Holy Synod call for three days of fasting and prayer “so that the Lord dwells with His peace in our beloved country Egypt” the British Orthodox Church stood in firm solidarity with the Mother Church.
Members of the Portsmouth congregation kept the three days of fasting and prayer concluding with a special prayer service on Thursday evening during which these latest martyrs were remembered.
Similarly the Bournemouth and Southampton congregations observed the three days fasting and prayer.
The prayers in the Bournemouth Church each day centred around Sixth Hour (Noon) Prayers with the Gospel lesson from Matthew chapter 5 so appropriate: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:10-12) Particular verses from the Psalms also resonated powerfully: “O God, in Thy Name save me… hearken unto my prayer… strangers are risen up against me, and mighty men have sought after my soul…” (Psalm 53) The words of Psalm 92 also remind us that though “the rivers have lifted up their voices” that though they “lift up their waves as the voices of many waters”, that whatever “the surgings of the sea”, above them all “wonderful on high is the Lord”. “The Lord is King, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength…”
The Southampton Mission under the patronage of Saint Polycarp similarly centred their prayers around the Sixth Hour Prayers.
The three days culminated in the Bournemouth Church (also joined and supported by members of the Southampton Mission) with Twelfth Hour (Evening) Prayer and special prayers for the Mother Church in Egypt as well as remembering the new martyrs. Father Simon led the congregation as they stood before icons of Saint Antony and Saint Paul, Saint Bishoy, Saint Moses the Black, asking their intercessions for the monasteries that bear their names and for all the monasteries and holy places. Standing in prayer before their icons the intercessions of Saint Mary the Mother of God and of Saint Mark were invoked for the whole Church in Egypt. These prayers concluded before the icon of Saint Simon the Tanner whose intercessions were also sought, this great saint whose prayers God had answered a thousand years ago after the three days of fasting and prayers in similar times of danger and trouble for the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Abba Seraphim joins Festival for Saint Gregorios
Abba Seraphim was able to join the Indian Orthodox Parish of St. Gregorios at Brockley, in south-east London, for the celebration of their patronal festival over the weekend of 4 & 5 November. The parish was also privileged to have visiting His Grace Yuhanon Mar Dioscorus, Bishop of Chennai (Madras), who presided at all the services. Abba Seraphim joined them for Saturday Evening Prayer after which there was a procession around the outside of the church. This was followed by “Divyarchana”, traditional Christian Folk Arts, in which both the choir and many of the younger members of the congreagation participated enthusiastically.
On Sunday morning, 6 November, Abba Seraphim concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with Mar Dioscorus and the Indian Orthodox clergy. Also assisting was Father Haile Maskel Samuels of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. At the conclusion of the Liturgy Abba Seraphim gave a short address about the contemporary significance of Saint Gregorios, and spoke of his own delight in having been a pilgrim to the saint’s shrine when he visited Paramula in 2010. This was followed by the “Raza”, the procession with crosses and umbrellas around the streets surrounding the church.
Father Simon ministers in Manchester & Portsmouth
On Friday 4 November Father Simon travelled to Manchester in order to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Saturday 5November with the Eritrean Tewahedo Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour who currently have no priest and are dependent on visiting clergy so they can enjoy the occasional Liturgy from time to time. And enjoy is very much the right word for this Eritrean congregation who approached the holy communion in such devoutness and celebrated with such joy and enthusiasm. He was supported by Archdeacon Alexander who travelled from Sheffield on the day, assisted also by the Eritrean deacons present. The congregation was almost overwhelming in their expressions of appreciation for the visiting British Orthodox clergy.
Sunday afternoon 6 November saw Father Simon back in Portsmouth for the baptism of Paul Theodore Maties where he was assisted by Subdeacons Edward Smyth and Nicolae Popu and Reader Daniel Malyon. The British Orthodox congregation of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black was swelled by the many family and friends who came to support young Paul and his parents, Oana and Ovidiu, travelling from Scotland, France, Germany, their native Romania and even from as far as the United States. It was good to see such wonderful support for a baptism.
In a brief sermon Father Simon made reference to his Manchester visit the day before explaining how the congregation could not have celebrated the Liturgy without an ordained priest, then recalled the time several years before in Trotton Church one cold January when all the members were sick with flu and he as an ordained priest without a congregation could not celebrate. There must always be a congregation, however small (“where to or three are gathered together”) and the ordained priest has no more authority to celebrate without a congregation than the congregation without an ordained priest. Young Paul Theodore might not yet understand the theology of priesthood but by his baptism and chrismation he had just been incorporated into the priesthood of all believers and when Father Simon next celebrated the Liturgy he would not be celebrating it for Paul but with him, even as with every other Church member present.
Abba Seraphim lectures on British Orthodox History
At the invitation of the Oxford University Orthodox Christian Student Society, Abba Seraphim gave a talk on “The Orthodox Heritage of Pre-Schism Britain” at Trinity College, Oxford, on 17 November. He began by pointing out that as a Metropolitan of the Alexandrian Patriarchate, within the Coptic and Oriental Orthodox traditions, the Great Schism of 1054 might seem to be somewhat beyond his remit, as it was a schism between two Chalcedonian churches which had been separated from that portion of the Orthodox Church for centuries. However, as an Englishman with canonical responsibility for a community of British Orthodox congregations he had a keen interest in Britain’s Orthodox heritage and what we may be learnt from it.
The Insular Church from its foundation was an integral part of the universal church, holding to a common faith and order. It withstood successive waves of persecution and when the Constantinian Peace of the Church was established, its hierarchs took their place in the counsels of the church. St. Athanasius the Great commended the British Church for upholding the Nicene Faith and very early we find it drawing on the support of sister churches to root out heresy.
Abba Seraphim examined the eastern origins of early British monasticism, especially links with Coptic Egypt; the role of saints and martyrs; the British enthusiasm for pilgrimages; the evangelism of the Irish saints and later Anglo-Saxon missions (Boniface & Willibrord); the evidence of liturgical and cultural links with other Christian cultures in Europe and the significant cross fertilisation of art and learning. He also highlighted the development of the Roman Primacy from one of honour to one of jurisdiction, examining the traditions of Pope Eleutherius, Augustine of Canterbury and Theodore of Tarsus and the gradual introduction of the filioque.
In concluding Abba Seraphim observed that the title of his talk was capable of two interpretations. The first might be simply to demonstrate that the Orthodox faith was manifested fully in the British Church prior to 1054, whereafter it gradually became more Romanised and fell into schism or worse; the second might be that the British Church in its first thousand years was not only fully Orthodox in its faith and order, as manifested by its full participation in the life and witness of the universal church, but that it made its own significant contribution to the faith, which carried the Gospel to huge populations but enriched and renewed Christendom with its own unique character and perception.
Following questions and a vote of thanks, Abba Seraphim was invited to join representatives of the society for dinner at a local restaurant.
Abba Seraphim ordains priest for Eritrean Orthodox
At the request of His Grace Bishop Makarios, Overseer of the North American Archdiocese of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and Bishop of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in diaspora, Abba Seraphim ordained Deacon Habtom Ftuwi, to serve the Medhane Alem Eritrean Orthodox community in Manchester.
Abba Seraphim’s contact with the Manchester community goes back to 10 April 2006 when he chaired a meeting at Cheetham Hill to find ways of establishing the incipient community in a regular place of worship. Since then the congregation has grown and maintained regular worship but they have depended on occasional visits (sometimes six monthly) from Eritrean clergy in London for the sacraments.
Following Bishop Makarios’ request, Abba Seraphim invited Deacon Habtom and representatives of the Manchester community to meet with him at the British Orthodox Church Secretariat in London and required supporting documentation to ensure the the proposed ordination conformed to canon law.
On 19 November the ordination took place at St. Mark & St. Hubert’s Orthodox Church in Cusworth Village, South Yorkshire. During the Liturgy Abba Seraphim was assisted by Fathers Simon Smyth and David Seeds, Archdeacon Alexander Astill, Deacons Christopher Barnes and Johannes Gebrhiwet. A large contingent of the congregation attended from Manchester, so that the church was full. After the kiss of peace, Archdeacon Alexander read out the letters from Bishop Makarios delegating Deacon Habtom’s ordination to Abba Seraphim, before Abba Seraphim asked those present if they wanted Deacon Habtom to be their priest, to which the response was a resounding assent. Finally Deacon Habtom was asked if he accepted this call and his wife, Arsema, whether she agreed to his ordination and would support him in his ministry, to which both assented. Immediately prior to the ordination Deacon Habtom swore the pledge taken by all ordinands to maintain the Orthodox Faith and to serve the people, after which he knelt and bowed to all present.
In his homily Abba Seraphim spoke of the Providence of God and our need to bring our wills into conformity with His in the same way that the Mother of God did when confronted by the Archangel. He also spoke of the continuity of priestly ministry throughout the generations and in different places. This very day the funeral was taking place in Dublin of a dear friend, Archimandrite Serge Keleher of the Greek Catholic Church, who died after a long and fruitful priestly ministry. This year also marked the 40th anniversary of Abba Seraphim’s own priestly ordination. On the day of his ordination he had come straight from the funeral of another priest, whose ministry had been over 70 years. Such was the Providence of God that as some priests departed to their reward, others answered the call and served in their place. Abba Seraphim highlighted two scriptural texts, our Lord telling the Apostles, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit” (John X:16) and St. Paul writing about ministers as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” He spoke of the prime importance of fidelity to the Faith and to the ministry of service.
At the conclusion of his ordination, Father Habtom was invested with his priestly robes and the congregation enthusiastically acclaimed Axios as well as joyful ululations ! At the end of the Liturgy Abba Seraphim gave the new priest the Holy Breath and the traditional charges to a newly ordained priest were read. Afterwards both British and Eritrean joined together in a traditional Eritrean meal in the Battie-Wrighton Memorial Hall, followed by traditional church dances by the choir. As the weather was unseasonably mild this took place in the courtyard in front of the church. The debteras in their white robes and holding their sistra and prayer sticks swayed rhythmically to these ancient traditional Christian chants from the Horn of Africa while the haunting sounds and the solemn beating of a drum wafted across the sleepy Yorkshire village.
Abba Seraphim attends Ethiopian Orthodox Festival in London
For the second year running, Abba Seraphim was happy to attend the annual patronal festival of Saint Mary of Zion (Tserha Tsion) Ethiopian Orthodox Tewehedo Church in London on 3 December. The congregation is currently worshipping in St. James the Great Church in Lower Clapton but has recently purchased an adjacent site at 229 Lower Clapton Road, which includes a former cinema, which had lately been used as a night club). Imaginative plans are in hand to convert this building along traditional lines, with the historic Church of St. Mary of Zion at Axum as the inspiration. The project also includes a community hall, school rooms and an episcopal residence.
This parish has a long history of over thirty years and became established under the oversight of the late Archbishop Yohannes (died 1997), who served first as priest-in-charge and later as Bishop of Western Europe with his seat in London. Since 2006 Abuna Antonios has been the resident Ethiopian Archbishop.
In a brief address to the congregation, at the conclusion of the liturgy, Abba Seraphim spoke of his delight to share in their festival and participate in the holy joy of the congregation, and especially at their purchase of the premises after many years of searching. This was a true blessing of God and he congratulated them on their faithfulness. He not only brought them greetings from their brothers and sisters in the British Orthodox Church, but also as one of the Vice-Presidents of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK.
BOC Southampton Mission inaugurated
The opening service of the British Orthodox Mission of Saint Polycarp, Southampton, was celebrated on Saturday 17th December in the Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity, Weston. Father Simon Smyth led the celebration of the Divine Liturgy supported by Subdeacon John Morgan from Bournemouth and Readers James Kelly, Daniel Malyon and Antony-Paul Holland all from Portsmouth – all four of them enthusiastic in their support for the small but committed Southampton Mission congregation.
Taking his cue from the enforced silence of Zacharias up until the naming of his son John and the Gospel reference to the future John the Baptist being “in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel” Father Simon preached on silence and withdrawing in stillness alone with God. He referred to other examples through the history of the Church: Saint Antony who had withdrawn into the deserts of Egypt before becoming a spiritual guide to so very many, Saint Seraphim of Sarov who similarly spent many years in the forests as monk and hermit before becoming a spiritual doctor to Russia and the Indian Orthodox Saint Gregorius Paramula who again underwent years of preparation and isolation alone with God before his mighty ministry. The sermon also recalled Saint John the Baptist’s great predecessor the Prophet Elijah who heard God not in the wind nor the earthquake nor the fire but in the “still small voice” that followed. Others might have greater numbers and more spectacular and popular ministries but, at least for now, the new Saint Polycarp Mission would meet quietly praying month by month the Monastic Office of Morning Prayer. They would also do well to recall God’s message to Elijah that though he thought he was the only one left there were in fact seven thousand in Israel still faithful to God. Who could say who else or how many else might be in Southampton already looking for just such a Mission?
The carols sung by the congregation and led by the Subdeacon and Readers reflected this theme: “Silent Night” and “O Liitle Town of Bethlehem” with it’s “how still we see thee lie” and “how silently the wondrous gift is given…”
Following the Divine Liturgy Father Simon joined the local Fellowship members for some excellent Lenten refreshments at the home of catechumen Bridget McConnachie.
The monthly meetings will take the form of Morning Prayer at 10.00 a.m. on the third Saturday each month at Holy Trinity, Weston, Southampton, with studies in the Epistle of Saint Polycarp. It is planned for different members of the clergy to lead the service different months. There is also to be an annual Divine Liturgy on or about the Feast of Saint Polycarp. The Southampton Fellowship Co-ordinator is Mary Goodchild 07586633275.
Eritrean celebration of Christmas in Manchester
Abba Seraphim joined the clergy and faithful of the Manchester Medhane Alem congregation for the vigil celebration of the Nativity Feast according to the Julian Calendar on Friday, 6 January at St. John the Evangelist Church in Waterloo Road, Cheetham Hill. Concelebrating with him were Father Habtom Ftuwi and Father Yonas Teshema of Sheffield. The latter had been ordained priest on 4 December in Switzerland by His Grace Bishop Makarios. Assisting them were Deacons Tekle-Haile and Johannes Gebrehiwet. Both priests belong to the newly established European diocese of the Eritrean Orthodox Church faithful to Abune Antonios, the canonical Patriarch of the Eritrean Church.
In a brief homily Abba Seraphim said it was a great joy to return to Cheetham Hill after six years and to see how the small group he had first met then had grown into a significant congregation and also to celebrate the Nativity Feast with them now that they finally had their own priest. At the conclusion of the Liturgy, the choir led traditional Ethiopian dancing and the congregation sat down to a festive meal together.
New Reader ordained for Chatham Church
On 8 January Abba Seraphim ordained Roman Ivanovich Benchak to serve as a Reader at St. Athanasios & St. Alban Parish at Chatham. Roman is a Russian who has been worshipping for some time with the British Orthodox and during his homily Abba Seraphim commented that although the Russian Orthodox Church was a relative ‘newcomer’ to Orthodoxy it had made an amazing contribution to the world, with its profound spirituality and great catalogue of saints and martyrs, especially those who had struggled to keep the Orthodox faith alive during a difficult history, from the Tartar Yoke to more recently, the darkness of atheistic communism. What a rich schoolmaster it had proved to bring Roman to Christ. In entering into service in the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Patriarchate, Roman becomes the ‘firstfruits’ of the full reunion we all long to see between the two families of Orthodoxy and a witness to our common faith and adherence to the same Apostolic Tradition.
Abba Seraphim noted that today in Stevenage His Grace Bishop Angaelos was holding a special Memorial Service for all the Coptic Christians who have lost their lives – indeed become martyrs – in the recent troubles which preceded and took place during the Revolution: from, El Kosheh, Nag Hammadi, Al-Qidiseen in Alexandria to Maspero. Although unable to be there personally, he had directed all British Orthodox congregations to make similar commemorations and to join in prayer and in spirit with that service. Thankfully this Nativity Feast has passed off in Egypt peacefully but these are still uncertain times. He noted that His Holiness Pope Shenouda had invited representatives of all political parties to join the Christmas celebration; which was right as Christians can show no hate, even for those who have treated them cruelly, especially as the Eucharist is about union with God and the spirit of forgiveness and new life in Christ; so all must be welcome. Yet we do not forget those whose lives have been sacrificed and whose blood is a witness of injustice. At this time we also called for prayer for the Christians of Syria, who are suffering because of the unrest there.
Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum meets
The half yearly meeting of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum took place at the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre at Stevenage on 10 January under the co-chairmanship of His Grace Bishop Angaelos and The Right Rev’d Dr. Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe. Among other bishops attending were Their Eminences Metropolitan Seraphim (British Orthodox Church) and Archbishop Mar Athanasios (Syrian Orthodox Church) representing the Oriental Orthodox Churches and The Right Rev’d Andrew Proud, Bishop Suffragan of Reading representing the Anglican Church.
As usual the meeting was conducted in a positive spirit of fellowship and practical ways of ensuring closer co-operation between the two traditions explored. Bishop Proud, having previously served as Area Bishop for Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, offered some insightful reflections on Orthodoxy and the Ethiopian Church, which were much appreciated by all present. In return Bishop Angaelos updated the forum on recent events in Egypt and Archbishop Athanasios did the same for Syria and Iraq.
British Orthodox Synod meets
Abba Seraphim chaired the half-yearly Synod of the British Orthodox Church, which met at the Church Secretariat in Charlton on 14 January. Reports were presented on behalf of all the parishes and missions as well as financial reports and church activities in relation to inter-church relations, religious education and publications. A principal topic discussed was the planned expansion of the work in London and the increase of the catechumenate.
Subdeacon Roger-Kenneth Player has emergency heart surgery
Subdeacon Roger-Kenneth Player, aged 58, of St. Mary & St. Felix Orthodox Parish at Babingley was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn on 14 January following chest pains. After a thorough examination and several tests, he was found to have suffered a mild heart attack and the following day was transferred to Papworth Hospital where he underwent a coronary angioplasty, from which he is now recovering. It is hoped he may be discharged from hospital on 17 January. Prayers were said for him and his family at the morning celebration of the Divine Liturgy at Babingley.
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at Babingley
During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the British Orthodox Parish of St. Mary & St. Felix at Babingley has traditionally invited a guest speaker to give an address and this year, during the service of the Raising of Evening Incense, Dr. Michael Kennedy spoke on “Change for the Better: Ecumenism and the Orthodox Concept of Salvation.” In introducing him Abba Seraphim noted that he not only served as a Subdeacon at the BOC Chatham Church and had a distinguished secular career as a university lecturer, but was still an active artist and artists were capable of viewing the world in a way which gave prominence to spirituality.
In his address Dr. Kennedy noted that when one thinks of the Orthodox Churches perhaps the last thing that comes to mind is the word ‘change’. Orthodoxy seems to be the epitome of that which is changeless and to the visitor Orthodox worship probably appears timeless. The Orthodox Liturgy may feel timeless in the sense that it generally continues far longer than most Western church services, but there is also a sense of timelessness in that the ancient liturgical forms are preserved and cherished. A visit to an Orthodox monastery, for example to one of the Coptic monasteries in the Egyptian desert, prompts feelings of going back in time, of nothing really changing, of a deeper more ancient life of prayer and worship. “For many people this perceived timelessness is no doubt attractive. There is security in the unchanging, a sense of knowing where we are, of knowing that ‘God is in his heaven and all is right with the world’. But it doesn’t take much exposure to the Christian faith to realise that this security is an illusion, a comforting one but an illusion nonetheless. Like education, Christianity is all about change.”
He then quoted from patristic and modern sources, especially H.H. Pope Shenouda, to explain the process by which salvation is achieved, “The Orthodox understanding of salvation asks us not to see it as a simple one-off event, something that has already happened in the past but rather to see it is an on-going process. Furthermore we must get involved ourselves. However contemplative we are by nature or inclination we must collaborate with God. The principal means of doing this is through the church into which we must be baptised and we must build on this sacrament, this means of grace, day by day. So we must be changed and we change ourselves, little by little, through prayer, through study, through sacraments, especially the sacrament of repentance, and through good works. All of these are important and I suggest that we miss the point if we believe that our salvation is already accomplished and we need do nothing further. Salvation understood as a union with God is the goal of Orthodox Christian faith, the end to which our life of prayer and worship aspires.”
Regrettably, attendance by the Babingley clergy was restricted by illness. Deacon Mark Saunders was unable to attend as his wife, Sybil, had only just been discharged from hospital having been suffering from pneumonia and Subdeacon Roger-Kenneth Player had only been discharged from Papworth hospital the previous day following heart surgery. Abba Seraphim had visited him at home and prayed for him earlier in the day. However, the service was well attended and Abba Seraphim was assisted by Father Peter Farrington, Deacon Christopher Barnes, Deacon Theodore de Quincey and Readers Daniel Malyon and Roman Benchak.
Launch of “Joint Statements” by Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum
On 23 January, as part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum launched its first publication, Joint Statements between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches. The event was marked by a press conference and reception at the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales at Eccleston Square, Westminster. It was introduced by the two co-chairs, His Grace Bishop Angaelos, President of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK and His Excellency Mgr. Kevin McDonald, Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark. Other members of the Forum attending were Abba Seraphim; His Grace Bishop Vahan Hovhannesian; Mgr. Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham; Mgr. Paul Hendriks, Auxilary Bishop of Southwark, and Father Peter Farrington (co-Secretary).
Archbishop Kevin described the various statements as “rather a well-kept secret” especially as some of the most remarkable achievements of the ecumenical movement have been precisely with the Oriental Orthodox Churches. The Joint Declarations made by both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II with the heads of the Coptic and Syriac Orthodox Churches were “real milestones.” Bishop Angaelos spoke of the real bonds of friendship which had been established within the Forum since its establishment in 2007 and of the very clear aims and objectives which continue to animate it.
Abba Seraphim’s mother suffers a mini-stroke
Mrs. Joyce Edwards, Abba Seraphim’s mother, suffered a slight stroke during the early hours of 23 January. She contacted Abba Seraphim complaining of a numbness in her face and hand on the left side but otherwise had no other symptoms. Abba Seraphim accompanied her to Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Woolwich by ambulance first thing in the morning, where she was admitted for tests. Immediately after the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum book launch at Westminster, Abba Seraphim returned to the hospital, where his PA, Mr. Trevor Maskery, had been staying with her. The doctor’s diagnosed that she had suffered a mini-stroke (TIA) and arranged for her transfer to the Princess Royal University Hospital at Farnborough, Kent, which has a specialist Hyper Acute Stroke Unit (HASU), which opened last year. It has a higher number of specialist stroke doctors and nurses than a normal unit and also provides the thrombolysis procedure to break down blood clots, as well as high-tech CT scanning equipment, and treats more than 1,000 patients a year.
Joyce Edwards, who is in her 98th year is an active member of the British Orthodox Church and travelled to Babingley the previous Saturday for the Christian Unity Week of Prayer service. Having been discharged from hospital she able to attend the Liturgy at Charlton the Sunday following her stroke. She still lives in her own flat near to Abba Seraphim in Charlton.
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on the South Coast
During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Father Simon made two ecumenical visits, one to his local Roman Catholic Church, Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Peter the Apostle, Waterlooville, and one to Immanuel Baptist Church, Southsea.
As the British Orthodox Portsmouth Church of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black does not yet have its own Church building and the font in the current venue, Saint Faith’s Anglican Church, is only of sufficient size for infant immersion, Immanuel Baptist Church has kindly hosted the British Orthodox congregation for three adult baptisms so far with more, it is hoped, in the months ahead. The Baptist pastor, the Reverend Elgan Evans invited Father Simon to say a little about the British Orthodox Church and the wider Oriental Orthodox family, especially the current situation in Egypt with Immanuel Baptist Church being a supporter of the Barnabus Fund. Father Simon drew a parallel between both local Church names, the British Orthodox proclaiming the central truth of Christianity, that Christ is God, through the ancient title of Saint Mary as Mother of God, that the Baby she carried within her, to Whom she gave birth, Who she fed at her breast was and is God – and the Baptists likewise proclaiming this through their name Immanuel, meaning God with us.
At Waterlooville Roman Catholic Church Father Kevin Bidgood kindly asked Father Simon to speak with people after the mass and he was engaged in conversation about the current situation of the Church both in Egypt and also Syria. One member of the congregation generously gave a donation which Father Simon explained he would pass onto the Barnabus Fund for its work in that region where it was active on behalf of both Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Christians.
Although this was the first British Orthodox clergy visit to the new Roman Catholic Church in Waterlooville there is already an existing link between us through the work of David Pratt (who has family connections to the Church and lives nearby) who advised on the arts committee during the design and construction of the new building. His influence can be seen in particular in the mosaic up above the entrance to the Church showing Christ in glory with the four incorporeal creatures. The inspiration for this work was provided from an icon in the complex of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Mark in Abbaseya, Cairo, and photographed by one of our Church members back in 2005.
At the invitation of The Waterloo Place Group, a private luncheon club composed of School Chaplains, Abba Seraphim spoke on 10 November at The Athenaeum Club in London. His subject was the background to the current situation of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt. Briefly tracing the political history of Egypt since the 1952 Revolution, Abba Seraphim spoke about the outrages of El Kosheh (New Year’s Eve, 1999) and Nag Hammadi (Christmas Eve 2010) leading to the acceleration of events over the past twelve months. Throughout all the terrible events of this period and the uncertainty of the future, the message of His Holiness Pope Shenouda has been clear, “We do not know anything concerning the future. The Lord said: Do not care for tomorrow, tomorrow cares for itself. The future is in the hands of God not ours.”
The British Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour, Bournemouth, held their long-standing annual Advent Carol Service on Sunday 4 December, which was well attended with the carols enthusiastically sung by all. Following the Divine Liturgy a wonderful lunch of varying Lenten fare (soup, baked potatoes and salad, Romanian delicacies) prepared and brought along by several members was thoroughly enjoyed by the congregation. A small Christmas tree was decorated and other decorations celebration of the Incarnation.
Father Peter Farrington visited the British Orthodox Church of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black on Saturday 10 December. He led the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, assisted by Father Simon and Reader Antony-Paul Holland. Father Peter demonstrated in a sermon replete with quotations from the Fathers across several centuries that Saint Mary had always held a special place at the heart of the Church. The Church had always honoured and venerated her and sought her intercessions and it was right that this was so.
On 11 December, Abba Seraphim and the congregation at St. Thomas’ Parish at Charlton, offered their condolences to Deacon Theodore on the death of his mother, Lydia de Quincey, who died at her home in London at the age of 105 years and 5 months. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, memorial prayers were said for her repose. Her funeral, took place at Deerton Woodland Burial Ground, Teynham, Kent, on 13 December, conducted by Father Peter Farrington and Deacon Theodore and attended by family and close friends.
For the twenty-second year the Church of St. Mark & St. Hubert in Cusworth Village, Doncaster, celebrated its annual Advent Carol; Service. Based on the seven ancient antiphons which were sung at vespers in the Western Church since the sixth century, they hail the coming Messiah with his prophetic titles: Wisdom, Adonai (Lord), Root of Jesse, Key of David, Morning Star, King of the Gentiles and Emmanuel. Sung between 17-23 December, they provide an appropriate preparation for the Nativity Feast. Father David Seeds and Archdeacon Alexander Astill presided and there was a good attendance of the regular congregation and local villagers for what has become an important local event.
Whilst attending the Eritrean Orthodox Nativity celebrations in Manchester on 6 January, Abba Seraphim also visited, Dorothy Bubbings at her home in Worsley. Mrs. Bubbings, who is 86 and has been suffering from an arthritic hip for the past year, is the widow of the late Father Charles Gardam Bubbings (1926-2001), sometime Vicar of Ringley. Father Charles was also second cousin to Abba Seraphim’s mother and he and Archdeacon Alexander were frequent visitors to Ringley Parish Church, where Abba Seraphim preached on several occasions.
On 7 January Abba Seraphim said prayers for the departed at the grave of the late Bishop Ignatius Peter Smethurst (1921-1993), in the Southern Cemetery, Manchester. The late Bishop was one of Abba Seraphim’s co-consecrators at his episcopal consecration in 1977 and served as Auxiliary to both Abba Seraphim and his predecessor. In his later years Bishop Ignatius Peter was co-pastor of the congregation at Cusworth and is still remembered with deep affection throughout the British Orthodox Church. He is buried with his parents in Grave No. AA2433, approached from Nell Lane.