In 2006 the canonical Patriarch of Eritrea, Abune Antonios, was forcibly removed from office for repeatedly objecting to government interference in ecclesiastical affairs and refusing to expel 3,000 members of the Church’s renewal movement, Medhane Alem, which was accused of being heretical. He was subsequently placed under house arrest.
The Eritrean government encouraged rebel bishops to replace him with Bishop Dioskoros (Hagos) of Seraye (1937-2015), whom they appointed ‘Patriarch’ in April 2007, although after the anti-Patriarch’s death in December 2015 no further attempt was made to choose a successor, although Abune Antonios was not restored to effective oversight of the church.
Following international outrage at the treatment of Patriarch Antonios and of the involvement of the authoritarian government of President Isaias Afwerki, the Eritrean Orthodox Church’s official website, published a letter from the Church’s Holy Synod announcing that the rift resulting from his removal from office had been resolved. It also published photographs of the Patriarch and ‘Reconciliation Committee’ consisting of members of the “Union of the Monasteries and Church Scholars”, who had participated in a process that had allegedly ended in a “full reconciliation”. Significantly, although the signatures of the attendees appeared on this letter, the Patriarch’s did not. After almost a decade under house arrest, Abune Antonios appeared again in public at St Mary’s Cathedral, Asmara on 16 July 2016 for a service that was announced as a ‘Reconciliation’, although he was surrounded by guards during the Liturgy, which he did not celebrate himself, and plain-clothed policemen forbade those attending from taking any pictures. During the service a statement from the ‘Reconciliation Committee’ was read to the congregation by a deacon.
However, the government continued to exercise control of the church through Bishop Lukas, who although consecrated by Abune Antonios, proved strongly pro-government, and had been appointed General Secretary of the Holy Synod. Abune Antonios is currently confined to the ‘servant’s quarters’ of the villa inhabited by Bishop Lukas, and has long been abandoned by surrounding clergy who have not cared for his health or well-being. Abune Antonios, who is now aged 90, suffers from chronic diabetes and high blood pressure and there are also allegations that on or around 7 May 2017 he was injected with a substance that had caused him to become gravely ill.
In its recent statement dated 17 July, the Holy Synod on behalf of its six bishops (but which was mysteriously lacking the signature of Bishop Kirillos of Akele Guzay – Adi Keyih) Abune Antonios was accused of heresy and is once again deprived of all authority, although the Synod states that it will continue providing him with food and shelter. Bishop Lukas, for the first time making a public allegation, in which he accuses the Patriarch of Protestantising tendencies states that the Patriarch had ‘lost his faith’ in St. Mary, the Theotokos.
The Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Mervyn Thomas, writes: “The attempt to excommunicate Patriarch Antonios entirely lacks legitimacy, as those behind have neither the moral nor the positional authority to issue this pronouncement. It is a desperate move, providing a clear indication that the patriarch’s will and spirit remain unbroken, despite being subjected to circumstances, pressures and humiliations designed to elicit his resignation or even demise.”
Abba Seraphim, who in 1994 was ordained Metropolitan by the late Pope Shenouda in Cairo, at the same Liturgy as Abune Antonios was consecrated to the episcopate, has long championed the cause of Abune Antonios and urges all religious leaders and activists to uphold him and the Eritrean Orthodox Church in prayer. “There are still many young Eritrean Christian refugees from their iniquitous régime – who through the Providence of God arrive on our shores – and although the British Orthodox Church has resumed its independence, we have always welcomed them warmly and maintain regular prayer both for Abune Antonios and the plight of Eritrean Christians generally”.
In 1960 the late Metropolitan Georgius wrote “Blind Lanes & Alleys” which was a brief study in Legitimate Monarchy and Anglican Episcopacy during the 17th and 18th centuries, which also included accounts of the Nonjurors, who were those bishops and clergy who refused to betray their oaths of allegiance to King James II, who was deposed in 1688 by the so-called “Glorious Revolution”. Recording the crisis between King and Parliament during one of the most turbulent times in British secular and religious history, this study begins with the major disruptions to the Monarchy and the Anglican Church leading to the Civil War and killing of King Charles the Martyr. The Nonjurors and their Orthodox British Church, the last bishop of which died in Manchester in 1818, were inspired by a sense of continuity and faith in the Apostolic and Orthodox faith and a respect for Britain’s ancient Christian roots. Apart from being a prolific author in his own right, Abba Seraphim has edited and republished this very readable account by his predecessor.
This year’s Holy Week and Paschal services in the British Orthodox Church were well supported, not only by members of the British Orthodox Church, but by Orthodox faithful from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, so that attendance was higher than in previous years. Abba David presided at the Church at Cusworth and Hieromonk John at Bournemouth. During the Divine Liturgy at Bournemouth, Father John also baptised & chrismated Gregory Vincent Curtis, an adult Catechumen.
At the Chatham Church, where Metropolitan Seraphim, presided, assisted by Abba James, the church was full and Abba Seraphim preached powerfully on the Resurrection. Unfortunately, because of clergy shortages there was no Paschal Liturgy at the Church at Babingley, but next Sunday (7 May), being at the end of Bright Week, Abba Seraphim and Abba James will commemorate the Lord’s resurrection as they celebrate ‘Thomas Sunday’ there.
The brutal murder of Christians celebrating the Western Easter in three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo’s Kochchikade district has shocked the world, as did the simultaneous killings of nearby tourists. The persecution of Christians across the globe is an increasingly evil occurrence and reveals the growing power of Satan in these days. During the celebration of the Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy at Christ the Saviour Church in Bournemouth, Abba Seraphim offered special prayers for the new martyrs, the wounded and their families & friends. He also recalled that Colombo was the area where the saintly Mar Julius Alvares (1836-1923) ministered and Archbishop Mar Timotheos Vilatte (1854-1929) was consecrated as a bishop in 1892.
The Sri Lankan government believes that this terror attack was internationally organised and has appealed for help from foreign governments, but last year it declared a State of Emergency following attacks by local Buddhists on mosques and Muslims. Lack of respect and intolerance towards the peaceful religious convictions of others, breeds hatred and enmity which kindle murder and cruelty. Satan harnesses human weakness in the promotion of evil, but Christian teaching on the power of prayer, forgiveness and love will overcome the assaults of the evil one, rather than returning evil for evil.
On Sunday, 7 April, following the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, a brass memorial tablet was erected on the inside wall of St. Mary & St. Felix British Orthodox Church at Babingley to the memory of the late Archdeacon Mark Saunders. Although Archdeacon Mark and his late wife are both buried in the churchyard, with an inscribed stone marking their joint grave, Abba Seraphim felt that it was both desirable and appropriate to also have a memorial inside the church. The tablet records Archdeacon Mark’s many years of ministerial service as well as the fact that he was a founder of the Orthodox community of St. Felix in Norfolk. The memorial plaque’s presence serves as a reminder to worshippers to pray for the repose of Archdeacon Mark. Also, as the clergy process around the church during the Raising of Morning & Evening Incense to gather up the prayers of the worshippers, along with invoking the prayers of the saints whose ikons are hung on the church walls, they also unite their prayers with the faithful departed who repose in the Saviour’s bosom in Paradise. The regular worshippers at St. Felix were joined by some members of Archdeacon Mark’s family, who were warmly welcomed by Abba Seraphim and Abba James.