On 7 October Abba Seraphim and his fellow pilgrims visited Lake Van in south-eastern Turkey from where they took a boat to the island of Aghtamar, once the capital of the Armenian kingdom of Vaspurakan under the Artsruni dynasty, as well as the seat of an independent Armenian Catholicosate, which existed for over a thousand years until 1915. This part of the lake is also the ancestral home to Abba Seraphim’s three Van cats. The beautiful palatine built by King Gagik Artruni has recently been restored, as well as the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople being permitted to celebrate the Divine Liturgy each tear on the Feast of the Holy Cross.
On 6 October Abba Seraphim, in company with his fellow pilgrims, visited the ancient Armenian royal capital of Ani on the Armenian-Turkish border. The magnificent ruins, stretching over more than a square mile on the edge of a deep ravine of great natural beauty, witness to this beautiful city and include the great cathedral of Ani with several churches in various stages of decay. They are a poignant reminder of the great Christian civilisation that once flourished in this area. Sadly, although a world-class monument it is neglected by the Turkish and restoration has not always been sensitive.
Abba Seraphim is currently in south-eastern Turkey on pilgrimage to various historic centres of Christianity, along with Bishop Christopher of Southwark and other pilgrims. On 5 October they travelled from Erzerum to Kars, where they visited the former Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Apostles, which had been built in the tenth century by the Armenian Bagratid King Abas. During the frequent changes of political rule, as Kars fell to different invaders, the church was used as a mosque and later restored to Christian use. In the nineteenth century when Kars came under Russia, it was even converted into. Russian Orthodox Church and a stone ikonostasis erected. It is now, once again, a mosque but the external carvings of images of the apostles and finely incised crosses are still very evident. Sadly the crosses on the ikonostasis inside have all been vandalised. They also visited another, purpose-built Russian church in the city, which is also a mosque. It’s once impressive tower and dome have been removed but it’s distinctive architecture, along with many of the Russian style houses and street plan in this part of Kars are poignant reminders of another age.
The first Oriental Orthodox Education Day took place on Saturday, October 9th at St Sarkis Church, Kensington, London. It took place under the sponsorship of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK, and had been organised by Father Vahan Hovhanessian, the primate of the Armenian Orthodox Church in the UK, and Father Peter Farrington, the Secretary of the Council, and a priest of the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.
The day began with Armenian morning prayers led by Father Vahan, and Father Shnork Bagdassarian, and then those attending the day were invited to the Nevart Gulbenkian Hall where a light breakfast had been prepared. After breakfast a message of introduction and welcome by His Grace Bishop Angaelos was read and then two presentation were given during the morning in the St Sarkis Church.
The first was concerned with the Septuagint in the Orthodox Tradition and was presented by His Eminence Abba Seraphim of the British Orthodox Church. This interesting lecture began with a consideration of the origin of the Septuagint, and then explored its use as the version of the Old Testament used by the early Church. Abba Seraphim produced and spoke about several editions of the Septuagint in English.
The second presentation was given by Father Vahan and considered the role of the Bible in the Armenian Church. It was very illuminating to hear so many passages from the Armenian spiritual tradition read in English. Father Vahan explained how the Armenian people had taken the Bible to themselves when it was translated into their own language, and he provided many moving examples of Armenian prayers in which the author placed himself into the narrative of many Biblical passages as though he were participating in them himself.
There were only a few minutes for questions before lunch in the Nevart Gulbenkian Hall. The participants were very pleased to be able to sample authentic Armenian food and it was difficult to call everyone away from the warm fellowship which was enjoyed.
The final presentation of the day was given by Father Peter, and he spoke on the Bible as the source of Christology in the Orthodox Church. He described how the Bible was essentially a Christological document itself, and needed to be received as authoritative before it could be explained. Then he used several examples from the Fathers to show how they relied entirely on the Bible for their Christological insights. Father Peter stressed the need for such study to be conducted in the context of prayer, rather than as an intellectual exercise.
Father Vahan closed the day asking those who had attended if they had enjoyed the day, and would come to another, and then called on Abba Seraphim to dismiss everyone with prayer and a blessing. Afterwards many retired to the Nevart Gulbenkian Hall again for tea and coffee and to continue conversations.
There was a wide variety of attendance from many different Church backgrounds. Over 30 people had gathered together for the event. During the various breaks for refreshment many new friendships and contacts were made. It is planned to hold the next Orthodox Education Day in January, and then on a regular basis afterwards.
In consequence of the tragic illness of Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafyan, who has been incapacitated as a result of fronto-temporal lobe dementia, the Armenian community in Istanbul hoped to elect Archbishop Aram Ateshian as co-patriarch of Constantinople. However on 2 July 2010, the Governor of Istanbul insisted that under the terms of the patriarchate’s own statutes there could be no co-patriarch during the lifetime of an existing patriarch (who is elected for life) and therefore named Archbishop Aram as General Vicar of the Patriarch for the term of Patriarch Mesrob’s life, with full patriarchal rights. Archbishop Aram, who was consecrated to the episcopate in 1999 has effectively administered the see for the past two years.
Abba Seraphim and Patriarch Mesrob became personal friends when the latter was Archbishop of the Princes’ Islands and Abba Seraphim became a frequent visitor to Istanbul during the patriarchate of Karekin I. Abba Seraphim, accompanied by the future Father Peter Farrington attended Patriarch Mesob’s enthronement on 21 November 1998.
In his letter of congratulation to Archbishop Aram, Abba Seraphim noted that “the dignified and sensitive way in which your community has responded to [the crisis over Patriarch Mesrob’s health] speaks loudly for the wisdom and maturity shown and is a worthy example of Christian conduct in the face of an intractable problem.” In his reply Archbishop Aram spoke of the “strong relatiobns between two sistwer churches” and said he looked forward to a future visit to the patriarchate by Abba Seraphim with pleasure