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.
At the invitation of Alistair McKitterick, Tutor and Lecturer in Biblical and Theological Studies, two British Orthodox priests delivered lectures this month to students at Moorlands Bible College, Sopley, Christchurch, Hampshire. On 5 November Father Peter Farrington lectured on prayer and one week later, 12 November, Father Simon Smyth gave a richly illustrated presentation on icons.
Introducing himself as both a former Moorlands student (from the late ‘eighties) and a former evangelical Christian enabled his evangelical audience to more easily relate to Father Peter and more easily identify with his lecture. Referring to the teaching of Evagrius that if “you are a theologian you truly pray” and if “you truly pray you are a theologian” Father Peter emphasised the importance of knowing God through the encounter in prayer rather than academically knowing things about God. The lecture ranged through Saints Cyril of Jerusalem, John Cassian, John Chrysostom, Moses the Black and others, referring also to the contemporary Orthodox writings of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. Father Peter was careful to emphasise the apophatic approach and how closer encounters with God in prayer contrast with the modern tendency to almost analyse or understand God. In a wide ranging talk Father Peter also spoke on the importance of fasting and, of course, the Jesus Prayer.
Father Simon gave his presentation on icons at Moorlands for the fifth time (first visiting the college in 2009). The classic text of Saint John of Damascus was discussed and the Incarnation emphasised again and again as the requirement for icons: the “very heart of Christianity is Christ, God incarnate, God made flesh…. To see Jesus is to see the (otherwise) invisible God.” The union of God with man in accordance with the teaching of Saint Cyril the Great of Alexandria was emphasised. “To speak His Name is to speak the Name of God. To see His Face is to see the Face of God. To depict Him is to depict God.” Several icons were analysed in more detail including a modern icon of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ:
And an icon of the Apocalypse:
Several different icons of the Good Shepherd were contrasted, then of Saint Moses the Black and also of Saint Simon the Tanner; 12 November being the first of the three days added to the Advent Fast in perpetual memory of the three days of fasting and Saint Simon’s part in God’s miraculous deliverance of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the tenth century.
Some students however acceptable they found the theology of the presentation clearly struggled with an emotional response to the idea of kissing an icon. Father Simon’s honesty in frankly acknowledging (though now the most natural thing in the world for him) how difficult he had once found it, with his then evangelical protestant background, to force himself to first kiss an icon seemed to help facilitate discussion around this. The session finished with all present each sitting in prayerful silence for a few minutes before an icon of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
On 6 November, Mrs. Joyce Edwards, the centenarian mother of Abba Seraphim, suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and was admitted to the specialist Stroke Unit of the Princess Royal University Hospital at Farnborough, Kent. Initially her entire left arm was paralysed, but over the next few days she began to move the upper arm. She has suffers no other paralysis and her speech and intellectual powers remained unimpaired. On 10 November she was transferred to the Stroke Unit at Lewisham Hospital, which is nearer to her home.
To mark the publication of Embassy, Emigrants, and Englishmen. The three Hundred Year History of a Russian Orthodox Church in London, a reception was held on the evening of Tuesday, 4 November, 2014. The publishers of the book, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, USA, and the Cathedral parish of the London Russian Orthodox Church Abroad hosted the reception.
The Book Launch was a unique occasion, being held in the former Russian Imperial Embassy Chapel, dedicated to the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God, in Welbeck Street, London. The occasion was marked by the prayerful chanting of ‘Heavenly King’ at the commencement, and by the chanting of ‘It is meet and right’ at the conclusion – almost certainly the first time Russian Orthodox chanting had been heard in the Chapel since its closure in 1923.
Speakers at the reception included His Eminence, Archbishop Mark of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain; His Eminence, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia; Reader Nicholas Chapman, Managing Director of HTM Publications; Deacon Peter Markevitch, Marketing Manager of HTM Publications; and Reader Nicolas Mabin of the London Cathedral parish. Unfortunately, the author of the book, Protodeacon Christopher Birchall, who now lives in Vancouver, Canada, was unable to attend the reception due to ill health.
Honoured guests included: Archpriest Maxim Nikolsky, representing His Eminence, Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh (Moscow Patriarchate); Deacon Meliton Oakes, representing His Eminence Archbishop Gregory of Thyateira; Archpriest Thomas Hardy, Archpriest Peter Baulk, Archpriest Andrew Philips, and Priest Vitaly Serapinas (ROCOR); Archpriest Stephen Platt for the Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius; the Most Reverend Metropolitan Seraphim (British Orthodox Church: Coptic Patriarchate); the Right Reverend Bishop Richard Chartres of London (Church of England); Archpriest John Salter (Melkite Greek Catholic Church); the Revd. Dr William Taylor (Anglican & Eastern Churches Association); the Revd. Father Mark Woodruff (Society of Saint John Chrysostom); Count Nikolai Tolstoy-Miloslavsky; Count Andrei Tolstoy-Miloslavsky; Counsellor Artem Kozhin (Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom); and Richard Bowden of the Howard de Walden Estate.
Abba Seraphim, who had last visited the former chapel some 45 years ago when it was owned by the Institute of Radiology, expressed the view that it was utterly appropriate to launch this excellent book here. “Protodeacon Christopher has written a brilliant book, the very model of how such histories should be written and we owe him a great debt for having persevered over many years to bring it to fruition.”