Pharaisaical Legalism alive and well in contemporary Orthodoxy

The tragic break in communion between the Œcumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Russian Orthodox Church over the granting of autokephaly to the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine has not only caused division on a wider scale among Orthodox churches, but has also revealed fundamental and irreconcilable differences in spirit between churches of the Orthodox tradition.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, where the office of the Bishop of Rome is invested with universal jurisdiction and primacy, and his declarations and teachings on doctrines defining faith and morals are regarded as infallible and irreformable of themselves and not by the consent of the church; the Orthodox Church adheres to the spirit of consensus, drawing on the sacred scriptures, the writings of the fathers, the definitions of church councils and the spiritual welfare of local Christian communities.

The expression ‘canonical’ refers to this consensual spirit of the apostolic churches: from acceptance of the texts which constitute the Holy Bible, to the church councils which defined the Creed, rejected false teachings and defined the rules for church government. Out of this conciliar ethos, compendia of canons were compiled for guidance, of which Bishop Julius of Iona, the first bishop of the British Orthodox Church, wrote: “As a hedge is planted not for its own sake, but for the protection of the flowers and fruits of the garden which it surrounds, so have the Holy Canons no other object than to preserve for our use the precious blessings of the Gospel of Life.” Other writers described them as “little buoys” to guide us as we navigate the Sea of Life; but sadly there are others who prefer to interpret them by the letter rather than the spirit.  “For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (2 Corinthians III: 6).

Constantinople’s right to grant autokephaly to churches under its oversight was in fact ignored by Russia in 1448 when the Metropolitan Jonas of Kiev was appointed Primate without recourse to the Œcumenical Patriarch. During the next 145 years, sixteen successive Metropolitans ruled the Russian Church until 1589, when Constantinople finally granted Russia autokephaly. In 1686 the Œcumenical Patriarch delegated to the Russian Church the right of consecration of the Metropolitan of Kiev, Ukraine’s prime see, but never transferred the territory of Ukraine to anyone with any Act so did not surrender its oversight of the Ukraine, which remained under the Œcumenical Patriarchate, including the specific provision of commemorating the Œcumenical Patriarch in all services.

Patriarch Bartholomeus of Constantinople is a profoundly conscientious spiritual father, who has always shown deep respect for the traditions of the church and the conciliar spirit; but equally a thoroughly pastoral oversight for the churches under his protection.  A recent article by a Greek doctor, Lykourgas Nanis, published in Orthodox Witness ( in its blog “Over the Rooftops”, under the heading ‘Pope of the East’ throws napalm bomb on world Orthodoxy , which was headed by an insulting montage depicting “Mr. Bartholomew” “holding his pride” (a napalm bomb) because “the decision of the Fanariot synod is incendiary, a napalm bomb dropped on Ukraine as well as on ecumenical Orthodoxy”.

Dr. Nanis accuses the Œcumenical Patriarchate of behaving in a papal spirit, suggesting that Patriarch Bartholomeus is “aptly dubbed ‘Pope of the East’ with the Synod showing a “papal-governing mentality” to implement their distorted plans to fulfil their hegemonic ambitions and “revelling in contempt for the sacred canons that regulate the relations of the Orthodox Church with heretics and heathens, violating and trampling on a host of them, the important men in charge of ecclesiastical affairs in Bosporus have, with one stroke, without any substantive ecclesiastical reason and cause, made a foolish and unwise action that will lead to an intra-Orthodox schism, and ‘legitimizes’ their papally inspired and implemented hegemony.”       Although invested with an historic ‘primacy of honour’ among the churches, the ludicrous accusations of seeking dominance over world Orthodoxy is exactly what Patriarch Bartholomeus is seeking to avoid; whereas the Russian Orthodox Church’s reaction is motivated by fear of a weakening of its own regional ascendency. Underscoring all canonical and pastoral arguments is the political hegemony which Putin’s Russia is seeking to revive.  The independence achieved by Belarus and the Ukraine by the 1991 Belevezhe Accords which dissolved the former Soviet Union, has been something which Putin has been steadily attempting to undermine, notably through the annexation of the Crimea in March 2014 and repeated military incursions into Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in which some 2,500 people have died and more than a million have been displaced.  Hardly surprisingly, Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko) of Kiev – an excommunicated  former Russian Orthodox Metropolitan – and now the de facto head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate,  who has recently been restored to communion by the Œcumenical Patriarchate,  issued a statement accusing the Russian leader of trying to “incite bloodshed and killings” in eastern Ukraine. “With great regret I must now say publicly that among the rulers of this world … there has appeared a new Cain, not by his name but by his deeds,” he said. “Like the first fratricide of history Cain, these deeds show that the aforementioned ruler has fallen under the action of Satan.”

The historic arguments about whether the conversion of Prince Vladimir (Volodymyr) the Great in 988 marked the baptism of Russia or Ukraine are senseless, as the intervening millenia since Kieven Rus have been marked by huge cultural, religious and political changes, yet through the mercy of God and in spite of the atheism of the Soviet era, the Orthodox Christian faith has been preserved in its fullness in both countries. Just as when the Christians of the former Ottoman Empire regained their religious and political freedom with its collapse after more than three and a half centuries, so also did the states which came under Soviet dominance for just over seven decades.  Far from Constantinople’s decision “legitimising canon violations and lawlessness” Patriarch Bartholomeus, fearing that Russian hegemony has contributed to “illegal elections of bishops and schisms, from which the pious Ukrainian people still suffer”, realised that it was Russia which was largely responsible for the painful ecclesiastical situation in the Ukraine.

Abba Seraphim

Deacon Antony Holland returns to Ministry

On Sunday, 4 November, Deacon Antony Holland of Portsmouth was formally reincardinated into the British Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Seraphim during the Divine Liturgy celebrated at St. Felix Church at Babingley, at which he diaconised alongside Archdeacon Mark Saunders and Father James.

Deacon Antony was originally ordained a deacon by Abba Seraphim at the Bournemouth Church on 8 February 2015. Following the agreement of 5 October 2015, whereby the British Orthodox Church returned to its pre-1994 independent status, he chose to remain within the Coptic Patriarchate, but subsequently resolved that this had been an error and requested to return to British Orthodoxy, where he was welcomed home. He will now be attached to the ministry of the Bournemouth Church to serve alongside Hieromonk John.

New Study of Bishop Vernon Herford (1866-1938) just published

This summer Dr. Ajesh T. Philip and George Alexander’s published an important study, Western Rites of Syriac-Malankara Orthodox Churches. The Mission Untold (OCP Publications: 2018) which was written under the auspices of OCP-MARP (Metropolitan Alvares Julius Research Project) as part of their research and study of the work, mission and life of the legendary Metropolitan-Archbishop Mar Julius I (1836-1923) of the Syriac-Malankara Orthodox Churches. It extended its remit to cover the Chaldean Syrian-Malankara Churches, which historically and theologically originate from their connection with the ancient Church of the East, whose theology derives from the Nestorian rather than the Orthodox faith.

To complement their important study and research Abba Seraphim, using extensive material from the library and archives of the British Orthodox Church has written:

Abba Seraphim, As Far as the East is From the West. Sidelights on Assyrian Church History, No. 5 in the Seraphic Press’ series “Byways of Church History” (ISBN 978-0-244-42261-5), Hardback, v + 279 pp. + illustrations. £23.00

As far back as 1981 Abba Seraphim wrote a series of three articles entitled “Sidelights on Assyrian Church History”, in the Glastonbury Bulletin (now the Glastonbury Review), which form the basis for this book. Having examined the origins of the Syro-Chaldean Catholic Church and its ministry in south India, he traces through the circumstances in which the “Mellusians” left the Catholic Church and reunited with the Assyrian Church of the East. In 1902 an Englishman, Ulric Vernon Herford (1866-1938) was consecrated as Mar Jacobus, Bishop of Mercia, and founded the Evangelical Catholic Church, which was notable for introducing Catholic theology and sacramental worship to the Free Churches. After the death of Mar Jacobus, some of his principal followers became Orthodox and united with Abba Seraphim’s predecessor, the late Metropolitan Georgius of Glastonbury.  Drawing on much original archival material, including Mar Jacobus’ own contemporary account of his visit to India in 1902 to receive episcopal consecration – which had been published in 1954, but has long since been unavailable – as well as tracing the complex history of the Assyrian Church through the extraordinary life and ministry of the late Catholicos of the East, Mar Eshai Shim’un XXIII (1908-1975), the last of the hereditary patriarchs.

Copies can be obtained online from

New Issue of the Glastonbury Review (No. 128) published

Issue No. 128 (October 2018) of the Glastonbury Review has just been published. This issue is 118 pages. The front cover carries a picture of Abba Seraphim with the late Metropolitan Bishoy, whose recent death is the front page news, whilst it also includes his obituary. The back cover has two coloured photographs of the Library of the British Orthodox Church as this issue also contains an article on the Church Library.

The “Here, There & Everywhere” section contains key items of news since the last issue with photographs.  The “Oriental Orthodox Church News” section contains a detailed report of the recent tragic murder of Bishop Epiphanius, the Abbot of St. Makarius monastery and an article on “The Impact of Political Change on the Church” specifically examining recent events in Armenia and Egypt.  Among the articles is one on British Orthodox Saints by Father John and “Image and Likeness. Mankind’s Original Calling” by Abba Seraphim. A valuable reprint of the long out of print “The Body of Christ. A Century on the Vision and Purpose of the Church”, which was originally published in 1989, offers a spiritual vision to complement the solid theological content of “The Glastonbury Confession”. Another regular feature is “Abba Seraphim’s Question Box” based on recent correspondence. The “Book Review” section covers a well illustrated guide to the Ecumenical Patriarchate headquarters in Istanbul; a new study by the leaders of the Orthodoxy Cognate Page Society on Western Rite Syriac-Malankara Orthodox Church. The Mission Untold and Hugh Allen’s scholarly study  on New Llanthony Abbey. Father Ignatius’ Monastery at Capel-y-ffin as well as notices of several new publications issued under Abba Seraphim’s auspices. One of these is a rare, previously unpublished manuscript from the British Orthodox archives,  Archbishop Mathew and the Old Roman Catholic Rite in England compiled by his successor, Archbishop Bernard Mary Williams; another George & the Dragon. The Controversial exchanges of Mar Georgius of Glastonbury & F.H. Amphlett Micklewright with a detailed introduction by Abba Seraphim; whilst the third is Ex Oriente Lux, Abba Seraphim’s well-researched book on the two nineteenth century Orthodox pioneers, Overbeck & Hatherly.  This issue concludes with obituaries of Father Theodore de Quincey, Deacon John Stuart and Metropolitan Bishoy. Copies can be obtained directly from

Metropolitan Bishoy: Memory Eternal !

It was with much sadness that the British Orthodox Church heard of the sudden death from a heart attack on Tuesday, 2 October of His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, aged only 76 years.

He served as General Secretary of the Coptic Holy Synod from 1985-2012, until the death of the late Pope Shenouda III. When the British Orthodox Church entered into union with the Patriarchate of Alexandria in 1994, Metropolitan Bishoy played a leading rôle in drafting the Protocol of Union and proved himself, over the following years, to be very supportive of Abba Seraphim and his ministry. Like Abba Seraphim, Metropolitan Bishoy, lost his father at the age of four and was brought up by his widowed mother and also, both were consecrated to the episcopate in their thirtieth year. As scholars and theologians with teaching experience they also shared a love of writing and lecturing to promote the Orthodox Faith. Abba Seraphim recalls with delight meeting Metropolitan Bishoy’s mother and aunt and also the occasion when he and his own mother welcomed Metropolitan Bishoy to the Church Secretariat and Library at Charlton.

Although by training a Mechanical Engineer, who taught in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alexandria, he was also active in the Sunday School movement, where he also taught in the districts of Bacchus and Sporting in Alexandria. In early 1969 he entered the Syrian Monastery (Deir Al-Sourian) – the same monastery to which Abba Seraphim was later admitted – and was professed as a monk, under the name of Father Toma El-Suriani, before being ordained to the priesthood in 1970.  Two years later, on 24 September 1972, whilst he was only in his thirtieth year, Pope Shenouda consecrated him to the episcopate to serve as Bishop of Damiette, the region where his family had lived for many generations and who had produced the martyr, the deacon Saint Sidhom Bishay (died 1844), whose relics now rest in the Cathedral at Damiette. When President Sadat imprisoned leading Coptic clergy who were loyal to Pope Shenouda, Bishop Bishoy also served a prison term of several months in 1981-82 before being confined to a monastery. In 1985 he was permitted to resume his duties and returned to Damiette.

Metropolitan Bishoy was a leading Coptic scholar and theologian and in recognition of the important rôle he played in inter-church dialogue, especially that between the two families of Orthodoxy, Pope Shenouda elevated him to the rank of Metropolitan in 1990. His ministry was distinguished by his unwavering loyalty to the late Pope Shenouda and his fidelity to the Orthodox Faith as witnessed by the Coptic tradition. As a traditionalist he never ceased to expose teachings and behaviour which undermined Orthodoxy by his writings and through using his influence as Secretary of the Holy Synod.

Abba Seraphim has directed that memorial prayers should be offered in all British Orthodox churches for the next forty days and that there should be special prayers on the fortieth day, which happens also to coincide with Remembrance Sunday.