GUIDANCE NOTES FOR BRITISH ORTHODOX CHURCHES ON UPHOLDING HEALTH ISSUES DURING THE CURRENT COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Touching & Kissing

          As a temporary measure and duty of care to the vulnerable during the current Covid-19 epidemic, touching and kissing the Holy ikons, the Book of the Gospels and other sacred objects in the church should be avoided, but devotion and respect may best be demonstrated by reverentially bowing towards them and making the sign of the cross. Equally, the fraternal respect and greetings shown to the clergy and especially the greeting known as the ‘Kiss of Peace’ between the clergy and laity should also take the form of a deferential gesture rather than physical contact.

Before & after the Divine Liturgy

          The Sacred Vessels used during the Divine Liturgy, which are traditionally wrapped in the liturgical Bundle, should be removed and individually washed with soap and water before being dried with a clean towel. This should be done before the commencement of the Liturgy and again afterwards, before wrapping them in the Bundle.

Hand washing

          During the Divine Liturgy there are two Lavabos, the First at the beginning of the Liturgy immediately before the ‘Preparation of the Bread & Wine’, and the Second just before the ‘Great Entrance’.  Instead of a merely symbolic pouring of water on the celebrant’s fingertips, a large bowl with soap should be used for hand-washing. In addition to the celebrant, any other clerical assistants who will administer the consecrated elements, should also take part in a full hand-washing. The hand towels in use during each Liturgy should be removed and laundered, so that they are clean for every celebration.

Holy Communion

          During the ‘Fraction, Consignation and Comixture’ of the consecrated elements, the celebrant intincts the Spadikon with the Holy Blood in the Holy Chalice before signing the Holy Body with the Precious Blood. As an additional health precaution the Holy Chalice & Spoon will not be used to administer the Precious Blood to the Clergy and Laity, but they will receive only the Holy Body in their hands. As this has earlier been intincted, they will in fact still be receiving Holy Communion in both kinds. Only the celebrant will consume the remaining Precious Blood from the Holy Chalice and will be responsible for the Holy Ablutions, whilst the other clergy in the sanctuary will drink the Post-Communion water each from individual glasses, which will also be thoroughly washed with the Sacred Vessels at the Liturgy’s conclusion.    


RELICS OF SAINT EANSWYTHE CONFIRMED, NOT REDISCOVERED

Several reports recently appeared on television and in the national press concerning what was described as the “rediscovery” of the relics, which comprise the human remains of the Anglo-Saxon Princess, Saint Eanswythe (c. 615-640). However, this actually took place in 1885 and what has really happened is that the relics, having been subjected to new scientific tests which were not available in the nineteenth century, have now been confirmed as dating from the mid-7th century.

The project, which was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, was a joint collaboration from Kent historians and archaeologists and a team from Queen’s University in Belfast. Stephen Hoper, laboratory manager of Queen’s Radiocarbon Dating Facility who undertook the radiocarbon dating, was quoted in The Guardian as having said: “Our analyses of a tooth sample and a bone sample both believed to be from the St. Eanswythe have produced calibrated age ranges that are in good agreement …. The results would indicate there is a high probability of a mid-seventh century date for the death of this individual.”

Saint Eanswythe was the only daughter of Eadbald, King  of Kent (616-640) and his second wife, the Frankish Queen Emma. Although Queen Emma was a Christian and ensured that her children were baptised, her husband – although the son of King Æthelberht, King of Kent (589-616), who had converted to Christianity soon after the mission of Saint Augustine in 597, retained his ancestral paganism and was only later converted to Christianity by either of the later Archbishops of Canterbury Laurentius (died 619) or Justus (died 627).

Although Æthelberht became the first Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity from Anglo-Saxon paganism, his son’s delay in converting was initially a hindrance to the re-establishment of Christianity in England.

Tradition has it that Eanswith influenced by some of the Roman monks who had accompanied St. Augustine to England, wanted to become a religious and asked her father to build a cell for her in which to pray. A pagan prince arrived in Kent seeking to marry Eanswythe. but  King Eadbald, whose sister St. Ethelburga had married the pagan  Edwin, King of Northumbria (586-633) two or three years before, recalled that this wedding resulted in Edwin’s conversion, so when Eanswythe refused to marry, he supported her and agreed to the construction of a Benedictine Priory at Folkestone, which became the first nunnery in England. From the age of sixteen, St. Eanswythe lived there with her companions in the monastic life, until her early death in her mid-twenties in 640.

The monastery was later sacked by the Vikings in 867, although her relics were saved and removed to the local church of SS. Peter & Paul. To avoid erosion by the sea, the monastery was subsequently removed to several other locations and also survived the destruction of the town by Earl Godwin in 1050, so that when a new monastery and church known as Folkestone Priory, was built by William de Abrincis in 1138 and was dedicated to SS. Mary and Eanswythe, the chronicler Goscelinus of Canterbury, records that her relics were removed there. They were also to survive the destruction of the church by fire in 1217.

At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541) this Monastery, with a church dedicated to St Mary and St Eanswythe was plundered and her shrine destroyed, although her relics had been removed and hidden away beforehand. The priory was closed at the Reformation, and the Church became Folkestone Parish Church. Several contemporary newspaper accounts record their rediscovery:

“One fine June morning in 1885, Mr. Harry Hem’s workmen were preparing the walls of the chancel in Folkestone Parish Church to receive alabaster arcading. Some workmen in removing the plaster from a niche in the north wall noticed that the masonry showed signs of having been disturbed at some period, and a further search was made. Taking away a layer of rubble and broken tiles a cavity was discovered, and in this a battered and corroded leaden casket, oval-shaped, about 18in. long and 12in. broad, the sides being about 10in. high. Within it were human remains, but in such a crumbling condition that the vicar declined to allow them to be touched except by experts.”[1]

Canon Matthew Woodward then carefully replaced them in their recess, after lining it with alabaster and duly protected them by a brass grille and a solid brass door.  

On 8 July 2000, Abba Seraphim led a party of Orthodox pilgrims to Saint Eanswythe’s shrine when the British Orthodox Parishes at Maidstone and Portsmouth (Wymering) combined with Saint Michael’s Eritrean Orthodox Church in Camberwell to honour the saint. Through the kind hospitality of the Vicar, Abba Seraphim, celebrated the Divine Liturgy assisted by Father Yohannes Sibhatu and the deacons from Portsmouth and Maidstone. At the end of the Liturgy the congregation venerated St. Eanswythe’s shrine and the Eritrean choir sang a number of traditional hymns in honour of St. Mary and Archangel Michael and performed the sacred dance before the sanctuary. A picnic lunch followed on the Lees in spite of the inclement weather.


[1] Bury Free Press, 27 June 1885; Wigton Advertiser, 27 June 1885; Lancaster Gazette, 24 June 1885; West Sussex County Times, 27 June 1885; Buckingham Advertiser, 27 June 1885; Leigh Chronicle, 26 June 1885 and Tavistock Gazette, 26 June 1885.


Gravesend Family become Orthodox Communicants

Following today’s regular monthly celebration of the Divine Liturgy at Saint Alban and Saint Athanasius British Orthodox Church in Chatham, His Eminence Abba James, the Mafrian, baptised the 3½ year old Laura, along with her sixteen month old brother Adam, following which His Beatitude Abba Seraphim chrismated them both, whilst conferring on them the additional religious names of Mary and Luke. At the same time their mother, Mrs Emma of Gravesend was chrismated, following which she and her children received Holy Communion on having become full members of the Orthodox Church.


Orthodox outreach

During the Divine Liturgy in Norfolk yesterday, Metropolitan Seraphim welcomed two Orthodox brethren who travelled all the way from Peterborough to attend the service. He also noted how lately an increasing number of people have joined the British Orthodox Fellowship because of a growing interest and respect for the Orthodox Faith. Sadly, however, whilst we have regular services in our existing churches there are still large parts of the United Kingdom where we are not able to actively minister to either Orthodox faithful or those seeking to learn more about the Orthodox faith.

As a result, Metropolitan Seraphim feels that the Church should resume its earlier practice of encouraging the establishment of Prayer & Study groups throughout the country under the patronage of the British Orthodox Fellowship. Our Lord Himself has told us that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20), so if a family or two or three friends should wish to meet to study Orthodoxy and to share in prayer together, the British Orthodox Fellowship will offer them guidance to support them in their study. Indeed, the Glastonbury Confession, being the dogmatic Constitution of the Church, serves as a useful and instructive means of learning more about the Orthodox Faith. In the past such groups have proved a valuable means of fellowship and if the convener of the group eventually makes the commitment of becoming Orthodox, the British Orthodox Church can then elevate the group to Mission status and through establishing closer links with the church hierarchy; visiting existing British Orthodox communities and receiving occasional visits from the clergy, such missions are strengthened and may eventually become the source of new British Orthodox parishes.

The British Orthodox Church is committed to developing the Fellowship as a means of supporting enquirers and building up those who want to discover more about Orthodoxy. The Fellowship has been created as an open community for those people who want to experience something of Orthodox spiritual life even if they are not yet Orthodox.


Abba Seraphim talks about Britain’s only assassinated Prime Minister

On Saturday, 26 October Abba Seraphim gave a lecture at Charlton House, Greenwich at the Annual General Meeting of the Charlton Society on the life of Spencer Perceval (1762-1812), Britain’s First Lord of the Treasury (Prime Minister) & Chancellor of the Exchequer (1809-1812), who was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons by a former bankrupt trader who had a grievance against the government.

Spencer Perceval’s father and grandfather, the Earls of Egmont, had leased Charlton House during the eighteenth century and Spencer was brought up there, before living nearby with his brother when he courted and eventually married Jane Wilson, daughter of Charlton’s Lord of the Manor. Following his murder he was buried in the Egmont family vault at Saint Luke’s Church, where his son Henry Perceval served as Rector in 1826, and an impressive bust by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841) is a notable monument in Charlton Church. In talking about his historical links with Charlton and his religious and political convictions, Abba Seraphim also mentioned that his son, Spencer Perceval, junior (1795-1859) was one of the Restored XII Apostles of the nineteenth century Catholic Apostolic Church.

At the end of the meeting, the Rector of Charlton, opened St. Luke’s Church to enable those present at the lecture to visit Spencer Perceval’s monument.