On Saturday 8 December, following the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the Portsmouth Parish of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black held its Annual General Meeting. Subdeacons Antony-Paul Holland and James-Antony Kelly were elected to the offices of Secretary and Treasurer respectively for 2013. Financial matters discussed and decided were principally the payment of the Church tithe to Central Fund for both 2012 and the previous year as something that simply must be done as a spiritual and Biblical requirement and also that the Portsmouth Church would commit to supporting (through regular monthly payments via the Barnabas Fund) a displaced Syrian Christian family throughout the forthcoming year. Father Simon reminded the assembled Church members of the Syrian origins of the British Orthodox Church back in the nineteenth century with the consecration of our first bishop and of the debt we owed Syrian Christianity. There was unanimous support for the motion and the Portsmouth congregation followed on from the recent decision of the Bournemouth congregation to likewise (via the Barnabas Fund) support a Syrian Christian family throughout the forthcoming year.
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.
Abba Seraphim was among the guests who attended the opening of the new Barnabas Fund library at Pewsey, Wiltshire, on 12 September. The library is housed in a purpose-built, state of the art building designed by the distinguished classical architect, Quinlan Terry, who was among those present. The library is a specialist collection on Islam and Christian-Islamic relations and contains some 50,000 volumes as well as periodicals and electronic resources. Housed on three floors, it includes open shelf reference books, a delightful Reading Room as well as reserve stacks, with a capacity for 10,000 volumes. The Barnabas Fund is also planning to extend its residential capacity to facilitate research conferences and extended research by scholars and specialists.
Following an introductory speech, detailing the scope of the library, by Father Patrick Sookhdeo, the Fund’s International Director, and prayers & scriptural readings marking the library’s inauguration, the guests were entertained to a delightful lunch. After this Father Patrick briefed them on current priorities of the Fund, whilst Caroline Kershaw and Mark Green spoke specifically about the projects undertaken by the Fund to support Christian communities around the world.
Abba Seraphim, a noted bibliophile, spoke enthusiastically of the great service the Fund would now be able to offer to scholars of Islamic-Christian relations. “For years the Barnabas Fund has offered support and practical comfort to beleaguered Christian communities by reminding Christians in the West of the fact that being a Christian is often a dangerous conviction, requiring profound commitment and bravery. This practical support for the neglected and persecuted, done out of deep fraternal love and a desire to follow the Lord’s command to support our weaker brethren, has now expanded to meet the intellectual and philosophical challenges of the dialogue between faiths. The Barnabas Fund has always been rooted in a profound understanding of Islam and to engage Muslims with a sound appreciation of the tenets of their faith, leading to improved relations with Christians and mutual respect.”
Through his work with the Barnabas Fund, Father Seraphim Mina works closely with a number of Egyptian dioceses and has often assisted in ministering to Arabic-speaking Copts outside the United Kingdom as well as assisting at a number of Coptic Churches in Britain. Feeling himself called to develop this ministry further, he discussed with both Abba Seraphim and Metropolitan Bakhomios, the locum tenens, the possibility of transferring from the British Orthodox Church to become a General Priest of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Abba Seraphim stated that he was very happy to bless him to do this as he believes it will provide him with a much better opportunity for service and a fuller ministry and he told Metropolitan Bakhomios that during his time with the British Orthodox Church Father Seraphim has been a very faithful and good priest and the people love him a lot. “He has a deep pastoral heart and his gentle love for the people helps to draw many to God; whilst the wide experience he has gained in many spheres has given him wisdom and good judgement.” Abba Seraphim noted that Father Seraphim came originally from the Coptic Church (having served with H.G. Bishop David in America), so the British Orthodox Church was simply returning him back with gratitude for the work he had done with us. Pope Shenouda always explained that the British and the Coptic Orthodox was one church; and the ties of respect and affection which have been forged with Father Seraphim throughout this time will endure. In reply Metropolitan Bakhomios wrote that he was very thankful to Abba Seraphim for his expression of love and co-operation in the Church and prayed that the Lord would bless his activities for His glory. On 6 June Abba Seraphim duly signed the Canonical Release and Letters Commendatory commending Father Seraphim to the pastoral oversight of Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Church.
In all British Orthodox congregations this weekend special commemoration of the new Alexandrian martyrs were held and their names read out individually. These were held at noon following the normal Sunday service in order to coincide with similar services being held in Coptic churches throughout Europe. At Portsmouth the service was held on Saturday as the Divine Liturgy was already scheduled then as Father Simon Smyth celebrated the Sunday Liturgy in Bournemouth. The specially designed logo was reproduced and displated around the Portsmouth Church as well as attached to the portable ikon stands. At Cusworth Father David Seeds announced that the church had sent a donation of £250 to the Barnabas Fund to support Coptic Christians in Alexandria.
During his address at Bournemouth, Father Simon referred to the cost of blessings, “True blessing doesn’t come cheap.” He also pointed to the example of the ascetic lives of the desert Fathers, to the inward pain of the Mother of God, Saint Mary (“my heart weeps when I gaze at Thee on the cross”) and spoke of the supreme example of the martyrs who paid the ultimate price for the great blessing of martyrdom. “We all want to enjoy God’s blessing – but are we willing to pray the price our beloved Coptic martyrs in Alexandria have just paid?” He emphasised that the Coptic Orthdox Church is par excellence the Church of martyrs. The memorial prayers for the martyred Copts throughout 2010 were prayed outside the Church building so as to give a greater public witness. The Church entrance gate and notice board were covered in symbols of the Alexandrian Martyrs with requests for people to pray for them with their names listed.