The British Orthodox Unite with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate
After 128 years of independent existence the Orthodox Church of the British Isles has been reunited to the family of Oriental Orthodox Churches from which it originated with the consecration of Jules Ferrette in 1866 as Bishop of Iona.
Renamed the British Orthodox Church it now constitutes a diocese of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria with jurisdiction over the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
On 6th April, 1994 a joint protocol determining the relationship of the British Orthodox Church and the Coptic Patriarchate was jointly signed in Cairo by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury. After consideration of their historical origins His Holiness Pope Shenouda decided that no reordination was required and Metropolitan Seraphim was received into the Coptic Church by His Holiness Pope Shenouda by anointment with the Holy Myron at the Monastery of St Bishoy in the Wadi El-Natrun on 4th June. Later that day – in consideration of his own ecclesiastical background – he was admitted as a monk of the Monastery of the Syrians and will now be known a His Grace Abba Seraphim el Souriani.
On Sunday 19th June (Pentecost Sunday), Abba Seraphim was consecrated as a Metropolitan in the Coptic Patriarchate by His Holiness Pope Shenouda assisted by some seventy Metropolitans and Bishops. Abba Seraphim now ranks as a full member of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.
Under the terms of the Protocol the British Orthodox Church is recognised as ‘a local church, holding to the historic faith and order of the Apostolic Church, committed to the restoration of Orthodoxy among the indigenous population and desiring to provide a powerful witness to the Orthodox Faith and Tradition in an increasingly secular society.’
Although the British Orthodox Church will continue to observe the Orthodox Pascha it has been permitted to follow the Gregorian Calendar for solar festivals. His Holiness has agreed in principle to the use of the Liturgy of St James and a provisional text awaiting final approval has been in use for some months. Abba Seraphim is also appointed chairman of a permanent liturgical commission to ‘consider .. the use of alternative forms of services drawn from ancient Western Orthodox sources which may be adapted to the local situation,’ which may make recommendations to His Holiness the Pope. Abba Seraphim is also authorised to preside over a local Synod for the conduct of the day to day affairs of the Church.
The Protocol makes a very clear distinction between the Coptic Orthodox communities in the British Isles and the British Orthodox Church. The latter remains quite distinct and is directly subject to His Holiness the Pope and the Holy Synod. There is provision, however, for a Standing Committee under the co-chairmanship of the Metropolitan of Glastonbury and a Coptic bishop ‘for the exploration of ways of mutual co-operation and discussion of issues of common concern.’
The Coptic community in the British Isles has churches in Lapworth (Birmingham) & Solihull in the Midlands, Kensington and Croydon in Greater London, Manchester, Brighton, Kirkcaldy (Scotland), Newport (Wales), and Dublin (Ireland). The British Orthodox have communities in South-East London, Doncaster, Huddersfield, York, Bournemouth, Trotton (Sussex), Glastonbury, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Commenting on this development Abba Seraphim has stated, ‘Having maintained our independence and the integrity of our mission since 1866, we have come to understand that it is God’s will for us to be used in His service by something much larger and more universal at this critical moment in the destiny of British Christianity. We therefore willingly surrender our long cherished independence in order to be at the service of others. The Coptic Patriarchate is an ancient church which has preserved the apostolic faith in the face of centuries of oppression, but it is also a very lively church facing the challenges of the late twentieth century. The evangelical fervour which has made this relationship possible comes from a common faith, vision and purpose. We believe that the entire Christian Church in the British Isles can only be strengthened by an effective Orthodox witness and we shall continue to work closely with our brethren in other Christian traditions to build up and strengthen the Christian Church against the increasing secularism of our age.’
Abba Seraphim (whose secular name is William Henry Hugo Newman-Norton) is 46,and is a kinsman of his predecessor, Mar Georgius (Hugh George de Wilmott Newman), who was consecrated almost exactly fifty years ago. He became Orthodox when he was 17, served as a deacon for three and a half years, as a priest for almost seven years and was consecrated as coadjutor to Mar Georgius in 1977 when he was in his thirtieth year. He succeeded as Metropolitan on his predecessor’s death in February 1979.