On Saturday 8 December, following the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the Portsmouth Parish of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black held its Annual General Meeting. Subdeacons Antony-Paul Holland and James-Antony Kelly were elected to the offices of Secretary and Treasurer respectively for 2013. Financial matters discussed and decided were principally the payment of the Church tithe to Central Fund for both 2012 and the previous year as something that simply must be done as a spiritual and Biblical requirement and also that the Portsmouth Church would commit to supporting (through regular monthly payments via the Barnabas Fund) a displaced Syrian Christian family throughout the forthcoming year. Father Simon reminded the assembled Church members of the Syrian origins of the British Orthodox Church back in the nineteenth century with the consecration of our first bishop and of the debt we owed Syrian Christianity. There was unanimous support for the motion and the Portsmouth congregation followed on from the recent decision of the Bournemouth congregation to likewise (via the Barnabas Fund) support a Syrian Christian family throughout the forthcoming year.
The Church of Christ the Saviour, Bournemouth, Advent Carol Service took place this year on Sunday 9 December. Numbers were up on recent years and the enthusiastic congregation sang with joy and gusto. As the service is based on that anciently sung with the Magnificat in Vespers during Advent, the Magnificat was included, being chanted antiphonally. Further additions to the carols in the printed service were two beautiful solos by Diana Radu, Romanian Carols sung in her native language. The address was given by Subdeacon Antony-Paul Holland. He admitted that he had not always been “a great fan of carols” but had come to appreciate them for a number of reasons. There was the unity they offered “with our forbears”, those Christians of previous generations who had sung them before us and indeed who had composed them. Then there was their link with the scriptures, particularly “the prophecies of the coming of a Messiah such as those in the book of Isaiah, and the stories surrounding the Nativity in the New Testament.” Carols also helped us fulfil the numerous Biblical exhortations to sing and to join with the choirs of angels: “Our carolling is certainly an opportunity to join with this unceasing hymn of praise…”
On Saturday, 22nd December, Father Peter Farrington attended the Evening Prayers and Carol Service of the Indian Orthodox Church of St Gregorios, Brockley, London. He had been invited to give a homily to the congregation by Father Thomas John, and was very pleased indeed to be able to spend an evening in the company of fellow Orthodox Christians.
The evening began with the regular prayers of the Indian Orthodox tradition, offered in English, at which Father Peter assisted Father Thomas John. Then a programme of English carols, and songs in Malayalam had been organised, with a Nativity Play performed by the younger members of the congregation.
The range of talent in the congregation was most impressive and it seemed that there were three or four different choirs of great ability, which together with the enthusiastic performances of the children of the congregation made for a most delightful evening. At one point a choir of deacons sang some of the traditional Malayalam hymns of the Church and were joined by Father Thomas John and Father Mathew Abraham.
Father Peter spoke on the theme of Christ becoming man as the Prince of Peace, and particularly reflected on the prophecy of Isaiah and the angelic proclamation to the shepherds.
At the end of the evening Father Christmas distributed gifts to the excited children, and Father Peter was then fortunate to be able to share in some of the excellent and authentic Indian food which the hospitable community provided. This was a most enjoyable evening, and the opportunity to share in fellowship with the Indian Orthodox clergy and faithful was a most blessed beginning to the Nativity season.
This year Abba Seraphim celebrated the Nativity Feast on Christmas Eve (24 December) at the Chatham Church. In his address Abba Seraphim spoke of the angelic proclamation of Peace on Earth, which he noted has always been elusive, “It seems almost alien to the natural condition of man and since the beginning of time, enmity and strife, whether domestic or between nations, has brought death, division and desolation in its wake.”
He especially addressed the current problems in the Middle East, “This year of grace we celebrate the Lord’s Nativity when the ancient biblical lands are more than unusually unsettled. That little town of Bethlehem and the Palestinian territories cry out for justice. We deplore the aggressive establishment of settlements by an intransigent Israeli state, but who can condone the charter of a corrupt and bloodthirsty Hamas which calls for the killing of Jews ? In Egypt we have seen the disappointment of a peaceful Revolution, which overthrew a corrupt regime, only to fall captive to narrow religious zealots who seek to promote their own interests rather than the common good. Blood has been shed and we may expect that more will follow, because in that divided society there can be no peace. Most of all we grieve for our brethren in Syria, torn apart by unspeakable savagery.”
With regard to the Syrian crisis, he felt that the current Coalition government, which prides itself on its promotion of civil liberties, equality and justice, both at home and abroad, has shown incredible short-sightedness in its response to the threat to Christian communities in the Middle-East. By supporting the so-called National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which has been proved to be dominated by Islamist elements and financed by external regimes, our government has “effectively abandoned all possibilities to promote dialogue with both sides and has allied us to those who are destroying the significant Christian minority which has been there since apostolic times. Unlike Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, I cannot consider what he regards as Mr. Cameron’s “overtly Christian tone” in his Christmas address as being anything more than hollow words, when government policy doesn’t merely show casual indifference to the fate of our Christian brethren in Syria, but actively undermines them.” [Full text on page 126].