On 7 October Abba Seraphim and his fellow pilgrims visited Lake Van in south-eastern Turkey from where they took a boat to the island of Aghtamar, once the capital of the Armenian kingdom of Vaspurakan under the Artsruni dynasty, as well as the seat of an independent Armenian Catholicosate, which existed for over a thousand years until 1915. This part of the lake is also the ancestral home to Abba Seraphim’s three Van cats. The beautiful palatine built by King Gagik Artruni has recently been restored, as well as the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople being permitted to celebrate the Divine Liturgy each tear on the Feast of the Holy Cross.
On 6 October Abba Seraphim, in company with his fellow pilgrims, visited the ancient Armenian royal capital of Ani on the Armenian-Turkish border. The magnificent ruins, stretching over more than a square mile on the edge of a deep ravine of great natural beauty, witness to this beautiful city and include the great cathedral of Ani with several churches in various stages of decay. They are a poignant reminder of the great Christian civilisation that once flourished in this area. Sadly, although a world-class monument it is neglected by the Turkish and restoration has not always been sensitive.
Abba Seraphim is currently in south-eastern Turkey on pilgrimage to various historic centres of Christianity, along with Bishop Christopher of Southwark and other pilgrims. On 5 October they travelled from Erzerum to Kars, where they visited the former Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Apostles, which had been built in the tenth century by the Armenian Bagratid King Abas. During the frequent changes of political rule, as Kars fell to different invaders, the church was used as a mosque and later restored to Christian use. In the nineteenth century when Kars came under Russia, it was even converted into. Russian Orthodox Church and a stone ikonostasis erected. It is now, once again, a mosque but the external carvings of images of the apostles and finely incised crosses are still very evident. Sadly the crosses on the ikonostasis inside have all been vandalised. They also visited another, purpose-built Russian church in the city, which is also a mosque. It’s once impressive tower and dome have been removed but it’s distinctive architecture, along with many of the Russian style houses and street plan in this part of Kars are poignant reminders of another age.
Abba Seraphim welcomed the news that land belonging to the ancient Syriac Monastery of Mor Gabriel, Tur Abdin, near Midyat, is to be returned as part of Turkey’s “democratisation package”. The announcement by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on 30 September, came after some five stressful years of litigation following claims by the Forestry Ministry and local villages that the monastery had been occupying their fields. In solidarity with the monastery, the Tur Abdin Focus Group was formed in Britain in 2008 under the chairmanship of The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum, then Bishop of Woolwich and now Bishop of Southwark. Father Stephen Griffiths, whose contacts with Mor Gabriel goes back some sixteen years, became the Secretary. Abba Seraphim, who visited Tur Abdin in 2001 and 2005, has served on the group as the representative of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches since the beginning. The Anglican dioceses of Southwark and Chichester have both proved very staunch supporters and in 2010 the then Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Rowan Williams) opened a special exhibition of photographs of the monastery by Guilio Paletta at Southwark Cathedral, which toured a number of other churches.
The news comes at an auspicious time, as next week Bishop Christopher, Abba Seraphim and Father Stephen will be visiting Mor Gabriel monastery with a group of pilgrims, and will be able to offer thanksgiving in the monastery itself and among the community whose welfare has been their particular concern these past years.
During the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at Morden College, Blackheath, on 1 October, Abba Seraphim offered thanksgiving for the safe deliverance of His Grace Anba Makarios, General Bishop of Minya, following an assassination attempt the previous day.
The Bishop was visiting the town of el-Sario in Abou Qorqas, Minya province, on a pastoral visit to comfort a Coptic family, which had lost its son in the recent sectarian violence, when his car received a hail of bullets from several unidentified attackers. His driver was able to drive to the home of a local church member, where they took refuge. However, the attackers pursued them, surrounded the house and continued shooting for over 90 minutes, causing extensive damage to its windows, doors and walls. The local security service only arrived a further 90 minutes after the shooting had stopped. The head of Minya security told the media that the local Muslim villagers were angry because they thought the Bishop had come to reopen St. Michael’s church, the only church in the village, which has been closed for the past 10 years ago for security reasons.
Minya is one of the most highly populated governorates in Upper Egypt, and the region of Abou Qorqas is situated on the left bank of the Nile. This summer saw considerable sectarian violence and incitement against Copts, in which some 43 citizens had their homes, shops and vehicles looted or destroyed whilst in Minya City the Amir Tadros Church, St. Joseph’s Convent, Abba Moussa Church an d the Assembly of Coptic Schools was burned to the ground,; Mar Mina Church was looted and the Evangelical and Baptist Churches were burned as well as the library of the Jesuit Association, the YMCA, the Soldiers of Christ Coptic Orphanage, St. Joseph’s Convent School and the Holy Bible Press. Two Copts were also burned to death when their tourist boat was set on fire.
Commenting on the attempted assassination, Abba Seraphim expressed concern about the extent of violent threats directed against Copts and supporters of the interim government. He noted that one website, calling itself ‘The Al Magreze Center for Historical Studies” publishes a “Wanted List of the Sharia Court” giving photographs and details of 37 targetted notables, including His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, with a grisly cartoon of General Al-Sisli hanging from a gallows.
- 7 December 2013
- Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: Shadwell9.30 am Raising of Incense
10.00 am Liturgy of St. James
11.45 am Refreshments
- 8 December 2013
- Morning Incense & Divine Liturgy: BournemouthWorship commences 09.30
- Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: DoncasterRaising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
- Morning Prayers: ChathamMorning Prayer: 10:30 am
Led by the Subdeacons
- Morning Prayer: Babingley10.30am Morning Prayer