To mark forty years of Common Statements between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, Solemn Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated at St. James’s Catholic Church, Spanish Place, on 6 December, the Feast of St. Nicholas of Myra. Sponsored jointly by the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum (COORF) and the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin, it was presided over by The Most Rev’d Archbishop Kevin McDonald. The service, much of which was in Latin (and included settings by Monteverdi and Palestrina), was sung by the Choir of St. James’ Church, directed by Mr. Terry Worroll, with Mr. Simon Lloyd, Director of Music of the Carmelite Church in Kensington, as organist. It concluded with a Malankara Orthodox Syrian Hymn of the Annunciation of the Mother of God, sung by the choir of St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church at Brockley, directed by Dr. Thomas Jacob.
Abba Seraphim read the lesson and Archbishop Kevin spoke about the growing manifestation of unity among the churches and the work of the Forum, to which His Grace Bishop Angaelos responded. At the conclusion everyone present was invited to light refreshments, generously provided by St. James’s Church.
To mark the Coptic Feast of Nayrouz and the start of the new Coptic Year 1729, the service of Offering of Evening Incense was held at St. Margaret’s Westminster on 30 October. Presided over by Bishop Angaelos, assisted by Abba Seraphim, it was also attended by priests from the Coptic Orthodox, British Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Indian Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox Churches. Representing the Byzantine family of Orthodox Church were Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira, Archimandrite Deiniol (Ukrainian Orthodox – Ecumenical Patriarchate)and Father Joseph Skinner (director of Inter Orthodox Relations – Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh). The Catholic Church was represented by Bishop Alan Hopes, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, and Father Robert Byrne, National Ecumenical Officer. The Anglican Church was represented by the Bishop of Southwark (Right Rev’d Christopher Chessun), the Right Rev’d John Stroyan (Suffragan Bishop of Warwick) and Right Rev’d David Hamid (Suffragan Bishop of Europe). Before the service commenced Canon Jonathan Goodall, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Personal Chaplain & Ecumenical Secretary, read a message from the Archbishop, who is currently in New Zealand and everyone present was welcomed by Canon Andrew Tremlett, Rector of St. Margaret’s.
At the end of the service the Right Hon. Alistair Burt, M.P., Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Right Hon. John Bercow, M.P. Speaker of the House of Commons, both gave short addresses welcoming the celebration and speaking of the increasingly significant contribution made in the UK by the Coptic community. A drinks reception concluded the evening.
At its meeting on 17 July at the Armenian Church Hall in Iverna Gardens, the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK & Ireland held its trienniel elections. Having served two terms as President, His Grace Bishop Angaelos (Coptic Orthodox Church) retired from the Presidency and His Grace Bishop Vahan Hovhanessian (Armenian Orthodox Church) was unanimously elected his successor. Abba Seraphim paid tribute to Bishop Angaelos’ commitment to the Council and the spirit of fraternal co-operation which he had encouraged between the sister churches. Bishop Angaelos was then elected as Chairman of the Council in succession to His Grace Mathews Mar Thimothios, who was not standing for a second term because of his frequent absences abroad. Father Peter Farrington was re-elected for a second term as Secretary and Father George Joy (Indian Orthodox Church) was elected successor to Father Snork Bagdassarion as Treasurer.
On 16 July the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum held its half-yearly meeting at St. John’s Church, Notting Hill. Chaired jointly by The Right Rev’d Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Europe, and His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church. This meeting had a very good attendance with the Anglican Bishops of Southwark and Reading also present as well as Metropolitan Seraphim (British Orthodox Church), Archbishop Athanasios Dawood (Syriac Orthodox Church) and Bishop Mathews Mar Thimothios (Malankara Orthodox Church) as well as other Anglican and Oriental Orthodox clergy who are members of the Forum. The Revd Roger Paul, National Adviser (Unity-in-Mission), Council for Christian Unity, spoke to the Forum about the role of the CCU and its relationship with AOORF. The main body of the meeting comprised detailed reports on the current situation of all the member churches churches with particular consideration of events in Egypt and Syria, as well as a report on the recent meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England.
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.