Following the successful commemoration of the Millennium of the Martyrdom of St. Alphege at Southwark and Greenwich in April, the celebrations of “Alphest 1000″, with the motto ‘Remember & Rejoice’ concluded with a National Pilgrimage to Canterbury and Ecumenical Vespers. This was held on 9 June, the day following the feast of the translation of St Alphege’s body from St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, to Canterbury. By contrast with the celebrations in April, the day was warm and sunny.
Presiding at the service was the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Rowan Williams) and Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Church Unity since 2010. At the conclusion of the service, a tribute of red roses was placed at the altar steps and the Archbishop and Cardinal lit candles in honour of St. Alphege. Abba Seraphim, Father Peter Farrington and Subdeacon Daniel Malyon from the British Orthodox Church were seated in the Presbytery, as were representatives of the Byzantine churches, the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church as well as the many Anglican parishes dedicated to St. Alphege.
As the British Orthodox Church Secretariat is in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Abba Seraphim was delighted to join in the celebrations of our local martyr, Saint Alfege. St. Alfege was Archbishop of Canterbury 1005-1012, having previously served as Abbot of Bath and Bishop of Winchester as a protégé of St. Dunstan. When the Vikings attacked and burned Canterbury, they took Alfege prisoner and attempted to ransom him for a huge sum of money. Declining to place his flock under this burden, he refused to be ransomed and was slaughtered during a drunken feast in the Viking encampment at Greenwich, where the parish church dedicated to him now stands.
Joining the pilgrims for a commissioning service at Southwark Cathedral at midday, led by the Bishop of Southwark (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum), Abba Seraphim and the other pilgrims set off for Greenwich during heavy rain. Accompanying the main party were the Bishop of Bergen (The Right Rev’d Halvor Nordhaug) and representatives of the Scandinavian Churches in London. At this point they were also joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury and boarded a specially chartered pilgrim boat to travel to Greenwich by water. By the time they reached Greenwich the heavy showers were subsiding and the pilgrims were met at Greenwich Pier by various civic dignitaries led by His Worship the Mayor of Greenwich (Councillor Jim Gilman).
The first stop was at St. Alfege Primary School where the pupils greeted them with heartily sung songs and the Archbishop spoke to the pupils about the message of St. Alfege. The procession formed-up led by the pupils in home-made Viking longships which the Archbishop helped to steer through the town centre to the Parish Church. Here there was an Anglo-Saxon encampment by the Regia Anglorum who greeted the pilgrimns.
The festivities concluded with a Solemn Eucharist in St. Alfege’s Parish Church, at which the Archbishop presided and preached. The entire day was a very worthy commemoration of St. Alfege and brought together a diverse mix of pilgrims who had all come to honour his memory and perpetuate his message of the real worth of every human soul.
As a result of Abba Seraphim’s absence in Egypt following the sudden death of H.H. Pope Shenouda, he was obliged to cancel a number of important engagements. One of these was the consecration of two new suffragen bishops for the Anglican Diocese of Southwark, which took place at Southwark Cathedral on 21 March. He was represented, however, by his Secretary, Mr. Trevor Maskery, who conveyed greetings on Abba Seraphim’s behalf to the new bishops as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Southwark.
The new bishops, The Right Rev’d Dr Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Woolwich, and The Right Rev’d Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon, were consecrated in Southwark Cathedral, in the presence of a large congregation. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was principal consecrator, movingly spoke of the death of H.H. Pope Shenouda, and offered condolences to His Grace Bishop Angaelos, who also had been unable to attend.
In his sermon, The Very Reverend Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark gave an entertaining view on the sights of Croydon, followed by speaking about the importance of reaching out to the community and enticing the secular society back into churches and linked this with the newly unveiled “Die Harder” statue of our Lord on the cross, constructed out of wire coat hangers.
At the reception, which followed at Lambeth Palace, Mr. Maskery observed to the new bishops that as the British Orthodox Church’s secretariat is based in Charlton in south-east London, we felt it was important to welcome both Bishops to their new sees and hopefully begin a close working relationship with them, just as we have shared the same with the Bishop of Southwark during his previous ministry as Bishop of Woolwich and continue to do so.
The Archbishop of Canterbury discussed with Mr Maskery the departure of the Pope and the future of the Coptic people. He held them in his prayers. The Bishop of Southwark expressed the same views and expressed his sorrow at the death of Pope Shenouda and said that he would be representing the Archbishop of Canterbury at this Saturday’s Coptic Memorial Service to be held at St. George’s Cathedral in Stevenage.
Commenting on the news of the planned retirement of Dr. Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury, Abba Seraphim said that his scholarly and pastoral qualities would be greatly missed. During his time as Archbishop “he has gained the respect and affection of other Christian communities and has been a firm and dependable friend. Always ready to speak openly on behalf of suffering Christians in a measured and positive manner, his understanding and sympathy for the spirituality and traditions of Orthodoxy have ensured a warm relationship.” During his primacy, the Church of England and the Anglican Communion have faced many divisive issues, but Dr. Williams has approached them all with unfailing courtesy, integrity and tolerance. We wish him well in his new distinguished position as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and hope that we will continue to benefit from his scholarly and insightful writing.
On Monday, 27 September, His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Rowan Williams) opened an exhibition of photographs of Tur Abdin by the Italian photo-journalist, Giulio Paletta.
Tur Abdin in south-east Turkey has been the home of Syriac Christians since the ealy days of the church and these villages were once the flourishing centre of a great Christian culture, which suffered during the unsettled years which marked the fall of the Ottoman Empie and the persecution faced by ethnic minorities. In more recent times the Syriac Christians were caught up in the violence of Kurdish separatism and a population of some 20,00 had fallen to a mere 2,000 by 1995. Today the ancient monastery of Mor Gabriel stands as the centre of Syriac culture in this area but is under threat from predators who lay claim to ancient monastic lands.
This exhibition was organised by the Tur Abdin Focus Group to raise awareness of the Christians of Tur Abdin and to show concern and support for the problems they are facing. In welcoming the Archbishop, the Bishop of Woolwich (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessun), who is the chairman of the Group, read out letters of greeting and appreciation from Archbishop Samuel Aktas of Tur Abdin as well as H.H. Mor Ignatius Zakka I, the Patriarch of Antioch. Dr. Williams spoke movingly of the invaluable spiritual tradition embodied in the Tur Abdin community and of its spiritual and cultural value to the wider community.
The opening was well supported and attended both by His Excellency the Syrian Ambassador and representatives of the Turkish Embassy and covered by both Turkish and Syriac media including Suroyo TV, Suroyo SAT and Hurriyet. Metropolitan Mor Polycarpos Aydin, Patriarchal Vicar in the Netherlands, represented the Patriarch of Antioch. Abba Seraphim, attended as a member of the Tur Abdin Focus Group, and represents the Council of Oriental Orthodox Chuerches in the United Kingdom.
The photographs are not merely of churches and liturgical ceremonies but contain some very striking images of the simple rural life of the Suriani and personal portraiture which highlight the vitality and uniqueness of this community. The exhibition can be viewed at Southwark Cathedral until 18 October after which it will be moved to Chichester Cathedral and travel to other centres.