Joyce Alice Edwards, the oldest member of the British Orthodox Church and mother of Abba Seraphim died at 2.00 a.m. on 15 December, in her 101st year. Memory Eternal !
Since 28 November when she was released from Lewisham Hospital following a stroke, Joyce Edwards has been staying at the Bevan Rehabilitation Unit in West Thamesmead. She had entered the Unit suffering from pneumonia but responded well to the treatment given there and her health had been showing signs of improvement. During Sunday evening, however, the staff became concerned about her breathing and she was transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Woolwich, where her condition rapidly deteriorated and she lapsed into unconsciousness. She passed away as Abba Seraphim was arriving at the hospital but he was able to pray the commendatory prayers over her and took the last kiss.
On 27 November, Deacon Daniel Malyon attended the Annual Constantinople Lecture, organised jointly by the Anglican & Eastern Churches’ Association [AECA] and Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius at St. Mellitus College, London, SW5. The event was well attended by members of various Christian communities who showed their support for this ecumenical endeavour.
This year’s speaker was Father John Behr, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Christian Seminary in New York. The title of his lecture was ‘Take Back Death! Christian Witness in the 21st Century,’ and addressed matters of bioethics and epistemology in the context of the contemporary Western world. Father John drew heavily on the works of St. Irenaeus of Lyons and especially his approach to martyrdom and patristic understanding of what it truly means to be ‘a living person’ in comparison to the modern medical and social framework for the term.
The lecture proved extremely relevant and thought provoking, especially with regards to the prevalence of the theological response to death amongst scholars today. With the growing importance of this topic foreseen by eminent theologians, such as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, further examination of the anthropological aspect of theology is needed regarding the concept of personhood. Father John’s analysis of these matters and links to the patristic approach demonstrate the strong foundations that today’s Orthodox academics have at their disposal as they prepare to tackle these areas.
Following the talk, Father John offered an informal question and answer session, at which point Deacon Daniel had the opportunity to engage him on his recent publication [Irenaeus of Lyons, Identifying Christianity, Oxford University Press: 2013] and discuss approaches to teaching Irenaeus’ works to students of Philosophy. Following this, Father John also presented Deacon Daniel with a signed copy of his book ‘Becoming Human.’ [Becoming Human. Meditations on Christian Anthropology in Word & Image, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2013].
On 26 November His Grace Bishop Vahan Hovhannesian, in his capacity as President of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches (COOC) hosted a luncheon at the Randa Restaurant, Kensington, in order to introduce The Reverend Dr. Michel Jalkh, General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) to some of the senior members of the Council. Among those present were HG Bishop Angaelos, HE Archbishop Athanasios Touma, HE Metropolitan Seraphim, Father Aphrem and Dr. Harry Hagopian and Dr. David Ryall ( Secretary of the Department of International Affairs of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England & Wales [CBCEW]). Father Michel, who is a priest of the Maronite Church, was visiting London as the guest of CBCEW as well as meeting other religious leaders and politicians to discuss the current situation of the churches in the Middle East.
Writing to Father Brian Walton, the chaplain of Morden College, Blackheath, on 25 November, the eve of the fortieth day since the repose of Father Michael Robson, Abba Seraphim noted that his passing marked the end of the bi-monthly celebrations of the Divine Liturgy, which had been held in the College Chapel since 2010. He felt that this was an appropriate occasion to express his profound appreciation (and also that of Father Peter Farrington, who had shared this ministry) and thanks to the College for this privilege and for so generously making the Chapel available for the Orthodox Liturgy. He wrote of the unfailing support they had received from the chaplains and for the spiritual comfort and fraternal love shown to Father Michael throughout his time at Morden College. “The supportive attendance of other members of the College whenever we celebrated the Liturgy was a witness to their love and respect for Father Michael, but also a manifestation of a deeply prayerful ecumenism … [which] expressed the love of Christ which infuses all that we do in His name.” In conclusion he said that although the time of ministry at Morden College had now come to an end, they were left with such strong feelings of respect and affection for both the institution and those who are its living members, that they will continue to pray for the prosperity and maintenance of the remarkable way it serves those who come under its protective covering.
Subdeacon Antony-Paul Holland represented Father Simon Smyth (who had been invited but was, regrettably, unable to attend) and the British Orthodox Portsmouth congregation at a Mass held on 5 November for the installation of Mother Rita-Elizabeth as Superior to the Society of the Sisters of Bethany for a further five years. The British Orthodox Church of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black in Portsmouth and the Society of the Sisters of Bethany in neighbouring Southsea enjoy warm ecumenical relations. Mother Rita-Elizabeth and other sisters have joined the British Orthodox congregation for celebrations of the Divine Liturgy and British Orthodox members from both the Portsmouth congregation and from Southampton have attended Quiet Days at Bethany House and stayed on retreat there.
Bishop Trevor Wilmott of Dover, the Episcopal Visitor for the Society, led the celebration of the Mass. He was assisted by the House Chaplain, Father John Preston (a good friend to Orthodox locally). During the service Mother Rita-Elizabeth was brought before the congregation, then before Bishop Trevor she made her vows again as Superior to which she had recently been re-elected by her Sisters. It was with great joy that she was welcomed by all those present, who included several priests, monks and nuns from various parts of the country and ecumenical friends.
After the service a buffet lunch was enjoyed in the garden with opportunity for ecumenical friendship and conversation.