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. “
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.
On 10 November at the Copthorne Tara Hotel in Kensington, Abba Seraphim gave an address at the Annual Dinner of the Coptic Medical Society. His subject was “Campaigning for the Human Rights of the Copts” in which he spoke of his part in supporting both Copts and converts to Christianity, especially in relation to their asylum claims. He spoke warmly of the support given from organisations such as the Barnabas Fund and United Copts of Great Britain and the Asylum Advocacy Group, of which he was one among several members. He recounted how his concern for Human Rights also extended to the Eritrean Orthodox community and the campaign to support the canonical Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios.
As inspiration for this work he took the examples of Abraham offering hospitality to the three angels on the plains of Mamre (Genesis XVIII), and the reminder given by St. Paul, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews XIII: 2). Hospitality to strangers is a recurring theme in the scriptures and is given particular emphasis by our Lord when speaking about the Last Judgement, “I was a stranger and ye took me in …” Nor should we forget that our Creator, Saviour and Redeemer was born in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn.
St. Paul also encourages us “to stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.” (Galatians V: 1) The apostle, of course, was not speaking of civil liberties but of the contrast between the slavery of the Mosaic Law and the liberty of life in Christ, with free will as a gift from God to man. It is therefore the foundation of all human rights. If we rely on governments to grant us human rights then logically they can deny them to us when they chose. Created in the image of God,St. John says, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God .. and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” (1 John III: 1-2). It is precisely because of that divinely-given vocation that a human being’s freedom is so precious and must be upheld.
On 8 September Abba Seraphim celebrated the Divine Liturgy at St. George’s Church, Bridge Street, Newtown, Birmingham, at the invitation of Father Mulebrhan, the newly ordained priest for the local Eritrean Orthodox community within the Diocese of Europe, under His Grace Bishop Makarios. Assisting him were Father Mulebrhan and Father Yonas Tesheme from Sheffield as well as a number of deacons. Abba Seraphim preached on the Gospel of the day (Matthew XI: 1-20) to a large and devout congregation. Following the service and traditional religious songs and dances, Abba Seraphim spoke about his long association with the Eritrean Orthodox Church in the UK and answered questions from the congregation about the situation of the Eritrean diaspora following the uncanonical removal of His Holiness Abune Antonios, the Eritrean Patriarch, in 2006. This congregation remains loyal to the Patriarch, whom it continues to pray for in the diptychs. Thanks were also expressed to Abba Seraphim for his unwavering support for the loyalist Eritrean clergy and faithful.
George Alexander, Secretary & spokesman of Orthodox Cognate Page has announced a ‘Save Eritrea’ Fasting and Prayer Exercise to be held on July 24,25 & 26 July 2012.
“We request all of you to pray for the suffering Christians of Eritrea, especially for the detained Patriarch Abune Antonios. Hierarchy and Priests are hereby requested to remember Patriarch Abune Antonios and the Christians of Eritrea in Divine Liturgy. ”
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‘SaveEritrea’ Fasting and Prayer Exercise is joint initiative of COLT Crew and Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE.