On 8 January Abba Seraphim ordained Roman Ivanovich Benchak to serve as a Reader at St. Athanasios & St. Alban Parish at Chatham. Roman is a Russian who has been worshipping for some time with the British Orthodox and during his homily Abba Seraphim commented that although the Russian Orthodox Church was a relative ‘newcomer’ to Orthodoxy it had made an amazing contribution to the world, with its profound spirituality and great catalogue of saints and martyrs, especially those who had struggled to keep the Orthodox faith alive during a difficult history, from the Tartar Yoke to more recently, the darkness of atheistic communism. What a rich schoolmaster it had proved to bring Roman to Christ. In entering into service in the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Patriarchate, Roman becomes the ‘firstfruits’ of the full reunion we all long to see between the two families of Orthodoxy and a witness to our common faith and adherence to the same Apostolic Tradition.
Abba Seraphim noted that today in Stevenage His Grace Bishop Angaelos was holding a special Memorial Service for all the Coptic Christians who have lost their lives – indeed become martyrs – in the recent troubles which preceded and took place during the Revolution: from, El Kosheh, Nag Hammadi, Al-Qidiseen in Alexandria to Maspero. Although unable to be there personally, he had directed all British Orthodox congregations to make similar commemorations and to join in prayer and in spirit with that service. Thankfully this Nativity Feast has passed off in Egypt peacefully but these are still uncertain times. He noted that His Holiness Pope Shenouda had invited representatives of all political parties to join the Christmas celebration; which was right as Christians can show no hate, even for those who have treated them cruelly, especially as the Eucharist is about union with God and the spirit of forgiveness and new life in Christ; so all must be welcome. Yet we do not forget those whose lives have been sacrificed and whose blood is a witness of injustice. At this time we also called for prayer for the Christians of Syria, who are suffering because of the unrest there.
On 18 May, Abba Seraphim attended Evensong at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Chapel at Lambeth Palace, followed by the Annual Ecumenical Reception by the Nikaean Club in the Guard Room. As the Archbishop was absent abroad, the Bishop of Wakefield (The Right Rev’d Stephen Platten) presided. The sermon was preached by The Rev’d Dr. David Chapman, Minister of London Road Methodist Church, Horsham and a member of the Joint Commission for Dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church. The commemoration traditionally takes place on the Eve of the Feast of St. Dunstan (909-988), Archbishop of Canterbury, which is significant for the British Orthodox Church as St. Dunstan had earlier served as Abbot of Glastonbury. Other Oriental Orthodox hierarchs present were: His Eminence Archbishop Mor Athanasius Touma of the Syrian Orthodox Church and His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
On Saturday, 29 January, an ecumenical service was held at St. Mary’s, Bryanston Square, Wyndham Place, London, W1H 1PQ, as an “Egypt Day of Prayer”. The service had been organised by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in co-operation with other concerned groups before the current turmoil, to highlight the current problems of Christians in Egypt following the Alexandrian bombing. Over five hundred worshippers from all Christian traditions came together to express their commitment and solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Christ and to witness to the transforming power of prayer in the face of the abuse of power and disregard for justice in Egypt.
The proceedings opened with traditional Coptic Orthodox prayers led by His Grace Bishop Angaelos and Metropolitan Seraphim, during which Deacon Meliton Oakes of the Archdiocese of Thyateira chanted the Gospel and Archbishop Kevin McDonald, formerly of Southwark, recited prayers. There were also Evangelical prayers with rousing choruses and reflective meditations on events, notably from Dr. Raafat Girguis, an international Coptic Christian broadcaster. The Orthodox Church was well represented: from the Coptic Orthodox Church were HG Bishop Angaelos and Father Moussa Roshdy of Rotherham; from the British Orthodox were Metropolitan Seraphim with Fathers Sergius Scott, Simon Smyth and Peter Farrington; from the Syric Orthodox Church was Archbishop Athanasios and one of his priests and from the Greek Orthodox Church (representing HE Archbishop Gregorios) was Deacon Meliton Oakes.
The Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum met for its half-yearly meeting on 24 January at the Syrian Orthodox Church in Acton. It was c0-chaired by Bishop Geoffrey Rowell of Gibraltar in Europe and Bishop Angaelos. Hosting the meeting was Archbishop Athanasios Thoma Dawood and the Anglican representatives were joined for the first time by Bishop Christopher Chessum, the newly appointed Bishop of Southwark. Abba Seraphim was unable to attend as he had another pastoral commitment. The meeting made good progress in refining the Forum’s aims and objectives which include encouraging opportunities for common prayer and worship within the discipline of the respective churches; the discussion of current pastoral, social and political issues; and discovering and educating one another, the clergy and laity about the traditions of each church tradition. The Forum is the result of international dialogue between the churches but does not seek to duplicate the theological work of those diagues but rather to receive and consider the documents issued by those dialogues and to take note of, diuscuss and explore relevent developments between both communions and to explore their local relevance and implications. The Forum plans to produxce a booklet containing all the relevant common statements between the Churches.
The British Orthodox Church was represented by Fathers Seraphim Mina and Simon Smyth (representing H.E. Abba Seraphim) at a service for the Christians martyred in Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad on Sunday 31 October. The joint remembrance service was organised by the Christian Churches for the Iraqi Communities in the UK at Holy Trinity Syrian Catholic Church, Brook Green, Hammersith, West London, on Friday 12 November.
Also representing the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches (COOC) were H. E. Archbishop Athanasius for the Syriac Orthodox Church, H. G. Bishop Angaelos (President of COOC and representing His Holiness Pope Shenouda) and Father Snork Bagdassarian (representing the Armenian Primate of Great Britain) as well many priests and faithful from the Catholic, Anglican, Byzantine & Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Messages of support and assurances of prayer were read out on behalf of H.H. Pope Shenouda, the Archbishops of Westminster the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Angaelos announced that Sunday 21 November has been designated a Sunday of prayer throughout the Coptic Orthodox Church for remembrance of the Christians of Iraq.
Fifty-two candles each in the centre of a floral cross – one for each of those martyred in Our Lady of Salvation Church – were positioned throughout the Church, along the aisles and across the front of the Church and there were photograqphs of the new martyrs at the front of the Church.
Although there was evidence of sadness and grief, Christian faith, hope, love and even joy were strongly present too. The emphasis on throughout was that though in one sense separated from the departed martyrs we are still united with these who now behold God in the promised paradise, in the bosoms of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and especially at the celebration of the Eucharist, in which heaven and earth are one. If faith, hope and love were evident, both in the messages at the beginning and throughout the Mass in the singing and prayers, they shone forth in an inspirational sermon delivered with power and passion by the celebrating priest Father Nizar Semaan. Unusually in a church, it drew forth a standing ovation which it took some minutes to quieten before the service continued. At the conclusion of the homily he declared, “The heavenly Father will welcome all those who paid so dearly with their blood. Their martyrdom will bless the Church of our Lady of Deliverance, making it a stronger bastion for future generations…”