Father Michael Ainsworth, Rector of St. George-in-the-East Church at Shadwell for the past seven years, decided to mark his retirement on 28 September with a traditional Anglican Evensong for Michaelmas, the feast of his patron, to which members of his congregation were invited as well as clergy and friends from neighbouring parishes and across the ecumenical spectrum. As ‘tenants’ of the Church, the British Orthodox London Mission was also anxious to share in the fond farewell of a priest they have come to respect and love and Abba Seraphim attended with some of his Orthodox parishioners. During the three years during which there has been Orthodox worship in his church, Father Michael has attended many liturgies and, afterwards, shared the antidoran he has received with his own congregation the next morning. In recognition of this symbolic fellowship, Abba Seraphim baked a traditional Coptic Archangel Michael bread and presented it to Father Michael, who immediately placed it with the celebratory food marking his retirement. Father Michael and his wife, Janina, will be returning to their northern roots when Janina becomes Rector of St. Maxentius, Bradshaw, in Bolton.
Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Deacon Daniel Malyon and Subdeacon Trevor Maskery, visited the Church and congregation at Cusworth for the weekend of Saturday & Sunday, 30 & 31 August. After the Raising of Evening Incense on Saturday evening he dined with Father David Seeds and the clergy at Sprotbrough. The following morning they were joined by Father Peter Farrington, Archdeacon Alexander Astill and members of the Stoke Mission for the Sunday morning Liturgy. During the service Abba Seraphim presented Father David with a relic of Saint Hubert, Bishop of Liege (c. 656-727), one of the local church’s patrons. This was a gift of an anonymous donor and was rescued from his shrine in the Benedictine Abbey of Amdagion (now St. Hubertus) in Belgium, when his relics “disappeared” at the Reformation. A parish luncheon in the Battie-Wrightson Memorial Hall followed after the service, during which Abba Seraphim spoke on “British Orthodoxy.”
Following reports of the threats against Christians in the Northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which has led to their flight from a city with a continuous Christian presence for more than 1,600 years; the Iraqui Christian community in the UK organised a demonstration outside Parliament on 26 July. Among its leaders were His Eminence Archbishop Mar Athanasius Touma, Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Vicar for the United Kingdom; Mgr. Nizar Semaan of the Chaldean Catholic Church and Archdeacon Yonan Yonan of the Assyian Church of the East. They were joined by clergy of many other churches, including Abba Seraphim and the Suffragen Bishop of Warwick and some Muslim leaders anxious to stand in solidarity with their suffering brethren. Following similar demonstrations in the Middle East this past week, several Muslim speakers declared, “I am Iraqi, I am Christian” After several speeches addressing the large crowd which filled Old Palace Yard opposite the Victoria Tower at Westminster, the clergy processed to Downing Street, where the leaders presented an appeal for support to the Prime Minister.
As in previous years, clergy and laity of the British Orthodox Church joined the annual Anglican Pilgrimage to Glastonbury, on 21 June. By tradition an Orthodox liturgy is generally celebrated in St. Mary’s Chapel (the Undercroft) on the morning of the pilgrimage, by Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox in alternate years.
Abba Seraphim was this year’s celebrant, but as an archaeological dig in the Undercroft was over-running schedule, the Liturgy of Saint James was celebrated in the adjacent St. Patrick’s Chapel. Assisting Abba Seraphim were Father Simon Smyth, Deacon Daniel Malyon and Subdeacons Paul Ashdown, Anthony-Paul Holland and Trevor Maskery. Abba Seraphim and his clergy later attended the Anglican Eucharist and afterwards joined the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Abbey. The principal celebrant was The Right Rev’d Bishop Roger Jupp, Chairman of the Glastonbury Pilgrimage Association, who warmly welcomed Abba Seraphim and his people, and the sermon was preached by The Right Rev’d Jonathan Goodall, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, who also attended the Liturgy of Saint James. The day was further blessed by especially clement weather.
On 16 & 17 June, Abba Seraphim attended the 26th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. This is organised under the auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. On 17 June he was one of a panel of witnesses who spoke at an NGO meeting on “Human Rights in Eritrea: The Impact of Gross Human Rights Violations on Vulnerable Groups within Eritrean Society.” Abba Seraphim specifically addressed the topic of Religious Persecution in Eritrea. This was sponsored jointly by Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Human Rights Watch, the East & All of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Human Rights Concern Eritrea, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) and Civicus (World Alliance for Citizen Participation) and moderated by Matthew Jones of CSW.
In addition to representatives of various governments and others involved in human rights, there was also present Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth, the first Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, who was appointed in October 2012 and is currently presenting her second damning report.
In his address Abba Seraphim recounted his close involvement with the Eritrean Church in the diaspora over two decades and the steady increase in government interference in the affairs of the Orthodox Church, culminating in the uncanonical deposition of Patriarch Antonios in 2007. He traced the efforts of the Asmara government to divide and control the church communities in the diaspora and spoke of the principled support given by the late Pope Shenouda and the courage of Bishop Makarios and the priests who remained loyal to their Patriarch. Referring to the recent pastoral letter, “Where is your Brother” issued by the four Catholic bishops of Eritrea, Abba Seraphim said, “One cannot but admire the integrity of the Catholic bishops, who at great personal risk have spoken honestly about the situation in their country. Any hope that the Orthodox Church would respond in a comparable way was lost when Patriarch Antonios was silenced and the Holy Synod became a subservient mouthpiece of government policy. As the most high-profile victim of state oppression, Patriarch Antonios’s continued imprisonment and enforced silence are in fact eloquent testimony against tyranny and injustice. Yet for all his symbolic importance this mild old-man, in indifferent health, has been held unjustly in detention now for more than seven years – as have so many others – and the responsibility for this wilful oppression and other atrocities can be clearly attributed to the Eritrean government. If civilised people fail to condemn such actions and to work for humanitarian relief of its victims, they too share in the complicity of the oppressors. “