The British Orthodox Church

within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate

Inspirational talk by HRH Prince Hassan of Jordan

With Prince Hassan

Abba Seraphim was among the civic, ecclesiastical and inter-faith leaders invited to the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre at Stevenage on  13 November to meet with HRH Prince Hassan of Jordan. The Prince is noted for his humanitarian and inter-faith initiatives and has worked tirelessly for peace and justice for many decades. Welcomed by Bishop Angaelos, who hosted the meeting of a relatively small group of those sharing the same aspirations, the Prince spoke frankly and engagingly on a number of issues related to the unrest in the Middle East following the so-called “Arab Spring”.  Having spoken from his wide and rich experience of engagement with statesmen, politicians and all key figures in the Middle East over half a century, as well as his family’s central role in affairs of state, he demonstrated profound understanding of the current situation, a deep commitment to justice and peace, underpinned by integrity and vision. Abba Seraphim commented, “Too often such discussions leave one with a sense of hopelessness in the face of so many intractable problems, but I returned home feeling encouraged that a resolution is not entirely beyond our reach, even though it may take many years go achieve.”

With Prince Hassan 2

Thanksgiving Service for Bishop Geoffrey Rowell’s retirement

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On 23 October the Anglican Diocese of Europe held a Thanksgiving Eucharist at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, to mark the retirement of The Right Rev’d Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe. Bishop Geoffrey’s affection for and close involvement with the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches (which goes back to his days as a student at the Greek Orthodox Seminary at Halki) was symbolised by the presence in the sanctuary of His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira (Ecumenical Patriarchate), His Eminence Abba Seraphim and His Grace Bishop Angaelos (Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate) as well as Father Shnork Bagdassarion and Father Thomas John representing the Armenian and Indian Orthodox Churches respectively. At the end of the service Archbishop Gregorios was invited to consecrate a newly commissioned ikon of the Saints of Europe, which was presented to Bishop Geoffrey.

Bishop Geoffrey will continue his work as co-chairman of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission as well as the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum.

Abba Seraphim attends episcopal consecration in Westminster Abbey

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Abba Seraphim with the new Bishop of Ebbsfleet and Fathers Shnork and Garegin

On 25 September, the Archbishop of Canterbury (the Most Reverend & Right Hon. Justrin Welby), assisted by the Bishops of London and Rochester, with the College of Bishops, consecrated two new bishops at Westminster Abbey. These were the Venerable Martyn Snow, Archdeacon of Sheffield & Rotherham, to be Suffragen Bishop of Tewkesbury in the Diocese of Canterbury, and the Reverend Canon Jonathan Goodall, the Archbishop’s Ecumenical Secretary, to be Bishop of Ebbsfleet in the Diocese of Canterbury.

Abba Seraphim was among the many ecumenical guests invited to the service and to the reception at Lambeth Palace following the consecration service. Canon Jonathan Goodall’s work with both the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches meant that they were well represented at the service. Among those attending were Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira (Ecumenical Patriarchate); Metropolitan Hilarion  of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations & Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh (Moscow Patriarchate); Bishop Dositej of Great Britain & Scandinavia (Patriarchate of Serbia); Archbishop Iossif of Western & Southern Europe (Patriarchate of Roumania); Bishop Youhanna of Laodikea (Patriarchate of Antioch) and Archbishop Nikiphoros of Askalon (Patriarchate of Jerusalem). Others representing the Oriental Orthodox Churches were Bishop Angaelos and Fathers Shnork Bagdassarian and Garegin Hambardzumyan.

It was a particular pleasure that the Sermon on this auspicious day was preached by The Right Rev’d & Right Hon. the Lord Williams of Oystermouth, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury.

 

Coptic New Year at Westminster

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Abba Seraphim and Father Peter Farrington were among clergy assisting in the special Service commemorating the Coptic Feast of Nayrouz, hosted for the second year in succession at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. His Grace Bishop Angaelos presided and preached. Messages of welcome were made by the Rev’d Canon Andrew Tremlett,  Rector of St. Margaret’s; The Archbishop of Canterbury (read in his absence by the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe) and H.M. The Queen (read by the Countess of Verulam, Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire). At the conclusion, addresses were given by Baroness Cox of Queensbury; the Right Hon. Alistair Burt, MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Right Hon. John Bercow, MP, Speaker of the House of Commons. The Church was full and a large number of clergy from other churches joined the procession as ecumenical guests.

Nayrouz Service 10 10 13 group

Observations on the Egypt crisis by Abba Seraphim

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Events in Egypt over the past few days have both shocked and saddened, and as reports of continuing incidents and civil disturbance increase we pray fervently that peace and security may return to that land.

Revolutions are destabilising events and come in many shapes and sizes. The Egyptian revolution of 1952 was a military coup by the Free Officer Movement, which established the military regime which was to hold power for the next 59 years. It lacked democratic legitimacy and was both corrupt and venal. The 2011 Revolution, however, was a popular uprising more in keeping with the spirit of the 1919 Egyptian revolution in its embracing all sections of Egyptian society in a patriotic movement to restore freedom and justice. It is worth noting that initially the Muslim Brotherhood declined to support this uprising, but once it saw the rapid success of this momentum for change, it offered its support.

Democratic legitimacy

Much has been made of the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, but it is important to recognise that democracy is more than periodic recourse to the ballot box. Having achieved a narrow victory over his main rival on a turnout of just over half of the electorate, the new president might have endeavoured to use his position as a means of unifying and reconciling a fractured society. In his inauguration oath he swore to “respect the constitution and law, to take care of the people’s interests, a complete care.” Later, in an emotional speech in Tahrir Square he announced, “I came to you as I believe that you are the source of authority and legitimacy which is above all. There is no place for someone, an institution or for an authority to be above this. The people are the source of all authority, judge and decide, convene and insulate … There is no authority that is above this.”

Although he resigned as Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party as he had promised during his election campaign, which gave him the opportunity to serve as president of all Egyptians, his concerns and sympathies proved to be narrow and sectarian. Sadly, it soon became clear that the electorate had actually installed the Muslim Brotherhood in office and that the real power lay with its Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie, whilst Mohamed Morsi was merely the holder of the presidential portfolio.

During the first year of his presidency the democratic aspirations of the revolution were steadily undermined, culminating in his assumption of unlimited legislative powers without judicial oversight or review of his acts. After the Supreme Constitutional Court’s dismissal of the People’s Assembly for electoral irregularities, only the consultative Shura Council remained of a bi-cameral legislature, yet new legislation was still enacted, including the propagation of a new Egyptian Constitution. Having repeatedly clashed with the judiciary, attempts were made to intimidate the judges and to remove many of them through enforced retirement.

It was as a result of the steadily-growing domination of the Muslim Brotherhood in all areas of the state and society and the encouragement of their narrow vision and divisive social policies, that the popular uprising against Morsi ensued. It expressed the fears of the great majority of Egyptians that their aspirations for a free and just society, inclusive of all, was in danger of being lost for ever. It should be recalled that the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party rose to power through democratic election, after which they consolidated their grasp on the state and cynically discarded the democratic process.

The role of the church

Since the Egyptian revolution of 2011 the religious leaders in Egypt, both Christian and Muslim, have consistently called for justice and reconciliation and both the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar (Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb) and the Coptic Orthodox Church (under the late Pope Shenouda III; Metropolitan Bakhomios as locum tenens and Pope Tawadros II) have worked together to encourage national unity. Following the removal of President Morsi, Pope Tawadros appeared alongside the Sheikh of El-Azhar at the inauguration of the new interim president. Having eschewed political involvement since the beginning of his papacy, he made it clear that he was there to support “honourable people whose sole aim is the interest of Egypt and Egyptians, excluding no one, marginalising no one and excepting no one.”

Western governments

Western governments have been quick to condemn the violence and loss of life and have called for dialogue. William Hague condemned “the use of force in clearing protests” and called on the security forces “to act with restraint.” As supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are also armed and have been responsible for murdering soldiers in Sinai and armed attacks on police stations, restraint is required from all sides. Invitations to dialogue by Al-Azhar have been completely rebuffed by the Brotherhood, as have invitations by the interim President to reconciliation meetings.

Western media bias

It is disconcerting to note the clear bias of much of the Western media in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. The use of emotive words, such as ‘coup’, ‘massacre’ and ‘legitimacy’, with the failure to report widespread violent attacks on churches, police stations, government offices and neutral cultural institutions, such as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, lacks the impartiality one might expect from independence sources, such as CNN and the BBC; as does identifying all snipers as belonging to the army, when live news broadcasts clearly showed armed rebels firing guns. Despite its denial of bias, the Qatar-backed channel Al Jazeera depicts the Muslim Brotherhood in a sympathetic light and, according to one of the 22 staff  who recently resigned in protest, “the management in Doha provokes sedition among the Egyptian people and has an agenda against Egypt and other Arab countries.” The Irish media, the Irish Times and the Sun in particular, recently relayed reports from the children of Hussein Halawa, the Imam at Dublin’s largest and most controversial mosque in Clonskeagh, who just happened to be inside the Al-Fateh mosque when it was cleared by the security forces. Headlines such as “Irish family held in Egypt jail hell. Holiday nightmare as relatives fear they’re tortured” hardly suggest impartiality.

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Attacks on Christians go largely unreported

During President Morsi’s term of office, attacks on Christians became more frequent. Since his removal they have increased alarmingly with over fifty churches attacked, damaged or destroyed in the three days following the Brotherhood’s call for a “Day of Rage.” Vicious denunciations of Christians – now opprobriously labelled “crusaders” – and unrestrained assaults on their property and churches show the true nature of those who support the Muslim Brotherhood. There have been instances of soldiers and Christians lynched by the mob, who then proceeded to desecrate their corpses in the most disgusting manner, in much the same way as Private Lee Rigby was treated by his murderers on the streets of Woolwich.  In many instances local Muslim communities have joined Christians in protecting their places of worship, clearly demonstrating that this is not a battle between Christians and Muslims but is a struggle against terrorism and fanaticism. In a recent interview with His Grace Bishop Angaelos on Al-Jazeera, after it was noted that “some Christians have blamed Brotherhood supporter for the attacks”, he was asked if he had any evidence about “who is attacking your churches”. His observations that these attacks, which appeared to be orchestrated and synchronised, and coming on the tail of “certain events”, with the rhetoric, incitement and reported attacks on individual Christians, suggested “some sort of connection”, showed more balance and perception than his interviewer.

In an official statement, the Coptic Church said that whilst it holds in deep appreciation the honourable, friendly States who understood “the nature of the events in Egypt”; it strongly denounced the falsities and errors propagated in the western media. “We invite the media to objectively read the realities on the ground, and to refrain from offering an international or political shield to the bloodthirsty, terrorist groups and all who belong to them. These groups are attempting to spread ruin in our land. We call upon the local and international media to offer the real image of what happens in Egypt faithfully and truthfully.”

The statement went on to say that it strongly stood by the Egyptian police, armed forces, and all the institutions of the Egyptian people in the face of the armed violence and black terrorism from inside and outside Egypt. It denounced the “assaults against the State and the peaceful churches, and the terrorisation of Egyptians—Muslims and Copts—that goes against all religious, ethical and human values. We absolutely reject any attempts to drag Egypt into sectarian strife.”

“If the hands of evil come to Egypt to kill, burn, and ruin; the hand of the Lord is there to guard, strengthen, and rebuild. We put our faith in Divine support, and are confident that it will help Egypt along this critical period, and take her to a better tomorrow and to the bright future of peace, justice, and democracy which this noble Nile people deserve.”

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