On the eve of Pentecost, Saturday 7th June, five adult converts to the Orthodox Faith were received into the Church by baptism and chrismation during a moving and beautiful baptismal liturgy at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Burslem, Stoke on Trent. Father Peter Farrington has been preparing this group for baptism, and was encouraged that despite many obstacles laid in the way, they have grown even closer together as they have made their journey towards Orthodoxy.
Father Peter drove up to Stoke early on Saturday morning, and met some of the baptismal candidates at St Paul’s Anglican Church to begin preparations. An inflatable baptistery was unpacked and pumped up, and the a hose pipe began to fill it with cold water. The altar was set up for the liturgy which would immediately follow the baptism. Slowly the candidates all arrived, and then the many guests who were determined to brave the wet weather to share in this special and significant occasion. By the time that the baptismal rite was ready to begin there were over 55 people in the church hall, including Father Samuel from the nearby Antiochian Orthodox Church, and many of his own congregation.
Father David Seeds, from the British Orthodox Church of St Hubert, Doncaster, had made the journey to celebrate the reception of these first five members of the Orthodox Community of St Chad in Stoke. The morning services began with the baptism of Julie, Jenny, Maria, Des and Phil who had taken the baptismal names of Photini, Genevieve, Mary, Anthony and Philip. The baptismal waters were perhaps not as warm as they could have been, but the candidates braved the cold and entered the waters one by one to be baptised into Christ by Father Peter. Standing with the waters of the baptismal font still upon them they were then chrismated, anointed with holy oil, and with the laying on of hands the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them.
The joyful congregation processed behind the newly illumined Orthodox into the church of St Paul where Father David celebrated the liturgy assisted by Father Peter. Before the liturgy itself began two more candidates were received as catechumens by the customary prayers and anointing with blessed oil.
Father Peter preached on the Spirit of Truth, and asked the congregation to consider that the newly baptised had become Orthodox in their own search for Truth, and for a Christian community rooted in the Apostolic Church of the first century.
After the liturgy had concluded, and the new members of the Orthodox Community of St Chad had received the Holy Mysteries for the first time, a warm and generous time of fellowship and conversation was shared in the church hall over an excellent buffet prepared by the Orthodox Community. Father Peter wishes to congratulate the members of the Orthodox Community of St Chad for organising such a successful event, and to thank Father David for his support and encouragement, and Father Samuel for his generous attendance.
Father Peter will be visiting Stoke very regularly to build up the community here, and there are many plans already being considered for local activities.
On behalf of the clergy and faithful of the British Orthodox Church, Abba Seraphim sent a message of condolence to His Holiness Mar Basilius Mar Thoma Paulose II, Catholicos of the East, on hearing a report of the death of his predecessor, Mar Basilius Mar Thoma Didymos I, who has been living in retirement at Parumala since his abdication in 2010.
Born in 1921, the late Catholicos was ordained priest in 1950 and consecrated to the episcopate as Metropolitan of the Malabar Diocese in 1966. Called to the monastic life, at the age of 18 he joined the Mount Tabor Dayara in Parthanapuram, which had been founded only ten years previously by Thoma Mar Dionysius of Niranam. He later served as a teacher and headmaster of the various schools and colleges associated with this monastic foundation and, after he became a bishop, he served as General Superior of the Dayara. In 1992 he became Catholicos-elect and in 2005 succeeded Mar Basilius Mar Thoma Mathews II as Catholicos.
In his message of condolence Abba Seraphim recalled that it was his privilege to be received by His Holiness during his memorable visit to India in 2010, shortly before his retirement. “We pray that Almighty God will grant him repose after his many faithful years of service to the Church and that his memory will be eternal!”
Abba Seraphim joined a Prayer vigil outside London’s Eritrean Embassy on 22 May to mark the twelfth anniversary of the Eritrean government’s persecution of Christian churches. This event is jointly sponsored by the British Orthodox Church, Church in Chains, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the Evangelical Alliance, Human Rights Concern Eritrea and Release Eritrea. As in previous years the protest is dignified and composed of scriptural readings, prayers, hymns and short talks highlighting the plight of Christians in Eritrea. Abba Seraphim spoke of the uncanonical deposition and long imprisonment of Abune Antonios, the legitimate Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Only recently OCP Media Network released a clandestinely taken snap of Abune Antonios from a cellphone, which showed His Holiness looking tranquil and at peace, although still under house arrest. Requests for him be moved to a monastery have fallen on deaf ears.
Commenting on this photograph Abba Seraphim noted that although the government had stripped away his regalia, his authority and his freedom, they had not been able to take away his inner peace and life of prayer. The photograph showed a monk at peace with himself and his God, having served faithfully and refused to compromise with truth in order to retain his status and worldly honour. By contrast, Bishop Dioskoros, who allowed the government to place him upon a stolen throne, was now suffering from the effects of recent debilitating stroke, which left him physically and mentally incapacitated. We pray that, while he still has time, he may yet repent in his heart for his faithlessness and receive forgiveness. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark VIII: 36).
At the conclusion of the vigil, Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Andy Dipper, David Turner and Dr. Berhane Ashmelash, (on behalf of the participating organisations) handed in a letter of protest to His Excellency the Eritrean Ambassador.
His Beatitude Gregorios III, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, was the guest speaker at the annual lecture sponsored by Embrace the Middle East and St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, on 20 May. The title of his address was “Syria: What Hope?” His Beatitude is an engaging and powerful speaker and highlighted the many positive activities and engagements between Christians and Muslims which are the first shoots of the reconciliation process needed to restore the spiritual life of the shattered communities during the destruction and pain of civil war. He Also emphasised that this war is not fundamentally between opposing factions but stirred up by predatory and destructive foreign forces who want nothing short of the destruction of Syria. The meeting was ably chaired by His Eminence Metropolitan Mor Eustathius Matta Roham, Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Jazirah & Euprates. Also attending from the Oriental Orthodox tradition were His Eminence Archbishop Mar Athanasius Touma, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchal Vicar for Great Britain; Metropolitan Abba Seraphim and Deacon Daniel Malyon from the British Orthodox Church
Orthodox clergy were among the large congregation assembled in Pugin’s impressive Catholic Cathedral in Birmingham, dedicated to St. Chad, on 13 May, to witness the episcopal consecration of the Oxford Oratorian, Father Robert Byrne, as Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham with the titular see of Cuncacestre (Chester-le-Street). The principal consecrator was Mgr. Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, assisted by a large number of co-consecrators. His Eminence Vincent, Cardinal Nichols, preached the homily. This was the first consecration of an Oratorian priest in England since 1874. As Father Robert had previously been serving as Secretary to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Department of Dialogue and Unity as well as co-secretary of the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum there were many friends and colleagues from other Christian traditions. Among the Orthodox present were Archpriest Stephen Platt (Moscow Patriarchate), General Secretary of the Fellowship of St. Alban & St. Sergius, His Grace Bishop Angaelos, Metropolitan Seraphim and Father Peter Farrington. Following the service luncheon was served at Oscott College.
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
11.30 a.m. Divine Liturgy