In company with his fellow pilgrims, Abba Seraphim, travelled from the cold mountainous regions of north-eastern Turkey to the warm southern lowlands leading to the plan of Mesopotamia. Stopping briefly at the Kurdish city of Hasankeyf, on the Tigris, they spoke with local people who face eviction from their ancient and historic city when the hydro-electric Ilisu Dam is constructed. This controversial project has met much opposition, both locally and internationally, but the Turkish government has pushed ahead relentlessly and is already building a new city, to rehouse the population, on the opposite shore.
From here they travelled to Midyat, arriving at Mor Gabriel Monastery in time for tea. The entire party was warmly greeted by Mor Timotheos Samuel, the Archbishop of Tur Abdin since 1985. This was a return visit for several of the pilgrims but especially for Father Stephen Griffiths, who has been visiting regularly over the past sixteen years and now regards himself more as a member of the local community than a visitor. As members of the Tur Abdin Focus Group, Bishop Christopher of Southwark, Abba Seraphim and Father Stephen were able to discuss with Mor Timotheos the resolution of most of the claims on the monastery’s lands and the general state of the churches and monasteries around Tur Abdin. Over the next two days the pilgrims visited the early fifth century Monastery of Mor Yakub at Saleh; the 6th century Yoldath Aloho (Mother of God) Church at Hah, the recently excavated sixth century Mor Sobo Basilica and the little churches of Mor Shmuel and the former monastery of SS. Sergius & Bacchus (789). They were welcomed to Hah by its mukhtar, Habib Doghan. On returning to Midyat they visited the restored Mor Abraham Monastery, where land behind it has been given by the church to serve as a camp for Syrian refugees. Whilst staying at Mor Gabriel, Abba Seraphim and the pilgrims attended the morning and evening offices in the main church as well as the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on 9 October.
Leaving the monastery on the morning of 10 October they drove to the ancient monastery of Mor Augin, high up in the steep cliffs of Mount Islo, with its wonderful views across the Plain of Nusaybin. This had previously been deserted, but was re-opened in 2011 and now has three monks living there. It was wonderful to see this revival of the monastic life after an interruption of almost forty years. Descending to the plain the pilgrims drove to the bustling town of Nusaybin (the ancient Nisibis), some 10 km from the Syrian border. Recent archaeological excavations in the city centre have revealed a number of ancient buildings, including the Mar Yakub Church, the centre of the famous Syrian Theological School, founded by St. James of Nisibis in 350, whose sarcophagus still stands today in the crypt.
The party arrived at Deyrelzafaran (the Saffron) monastery, outside Mardin, on 10 October. Bishop Philoxenus had left that morning for a meeting abroad, but they were well received by Chorepiscopus Gabriyel Akyűz, the distinguished Syriac historian, author and poet. The historic monastery had been the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch from 1293-1932 and it is no secret that the Turkish government would like the Patriarch to leave Damascus and relocate back in Turkey. Although there are one monk and a nun, living with Bishop Philoxenus at the monastery, it is a well known tourist attraction and there are always many visitors from both Turkey and abroad. Whilst morning and evening prayers are maintained, it is not a fully functioning monastery as at Mor Gabriel and Mor Augin.
The following morning, Bishop Christopher celebrated an Anglican Eucharist in the main chapel at the monastery, which Abba Seraphim and Archimandrite Deiniol both attended. After that Father Gabiyel warmly received the pilgrims in the Forty Martyrs Church in Mardin (originally dedicated to Mor Behnam and Saro) in 569 and entertained them to tea in the former Patriarchal Residence in Mardin. From there they toured the Bazaar, the Museum (formerly the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate) and the Chaldean Catholic Church of Mor Hűrműzd.
They returned to London on 12 October.
The recent visit of His Holiness Mar Basilius Mar Thoma Paulose II, Catholicos of the East, to England, was not only a great blessing for the Indian (Malankara) Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom but also a significant ecumenical event. His visit marked a number of historic anniversaries: 80 years since the first celebration of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Qurbana in the Chapel of King’s College, London; 75 years since H.H.The Catholicos, Mar Baselios Geeverghese II visited the UK in 1937; 60 years since the Malayalee migration to the UK and 40 years since the formation of the St. Gregorios Congregation in London.
Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Subdeacon Daniel Malyon and Reader Trevor Maskery, attended the Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Catholicos at St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church in Brockley on Sunday, 8 September, and assisted in the liturgical celebration and the parochial speeches and festivities which followed.
On Monday, 9 September a Banquet of some 90 guests was held to honour the Catholicos at Lambeth Palace. In the absence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops of Gibraltar in Europe (The Right Rev. Geoffrey Rowell) and Southwark (The Right Rev. Christopher Chessum) acted as hosts. Representatives of all the major churches were present as well as many leading members of the Malayalee community in the UK and friends of the Indian Orthodox Church. The British Orthodox Church was represented by Abba Seraphim, Father Peter Farrington and Father & Mrs. Simon Smyth.
On 10 June the Most Rev’d Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, invited the episcopal members of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches to join him for lunch at Lambeth Palace. The bishops were warmly welcomed and Archbishop Justin assured of his commitment to the ongoing ecumenical dialogue, especially welcoming the resumption of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Dialogue, which would be hosted in October by the Church of England. Over lunch a number of topics of common interest were discusse,d with especial concern expressed for events in the Middle East, and the Archbishop spoke of the need for continuing efforts and prayer for the release of the two kidnapped Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo. The company was joined by the Bishops of Europe (The Right Rev’d Geoffrey Rowell) and Southwark (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum).
(Left to right): Father Melake Sion Habte Mariam, Bishop Geoffrey, Mar Athanasios Touma, Bishop Vahan Hovhanessian (President – Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in UK), Archbishop Justin. Bishop Angaelos, Abba Seraphim, Archbishop Antoinios, Bishop Christopher. Photograph “© Lambeth Palace”
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.
During a visit to the clergy and faithful of the new Eritrean Orthodox Diocese of Europe in the UK, His Grace met with Abba Seraphim in London. On 12 June following pastoral visits to his communities in Manchester and Birmingham, Bishop Makarios was greeted at Euston Station by Abba Seraphim who accompanied him to Southwark Cathedral, where they were welcomed by the Bishop of Southwark (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum). Accompanying Bishop Makarios were Father Teklemariam (Frankfurt) the likekahnat (hegumen) of the European diocese, Father Habtom Ftuwi (Manchester), Deacon John Gebrehewit (Manchester), Deacon Teklit Eyob (London), Deacon Habtom Tesfahuney (Birmingham) and Deacon Robel Fessahaye (Birmingham). After showing them some of the highlights of Southwark Cathedral, Bishop Christopher entertained his visitors to tea and discussed the issues related to the current situation of Christians in Eritrea. After an exchange of gifts, prayers were said for Eritrea and especially Patriarch Antonios in his imprisonment. The two bishops and their party joined Bishop Christopher at Choral Evensong, which was led by Canon Paul Saunders, the Sub-Deacon & Canon Pastor.
In the evening Abba Seraphim entertained Bishop Makarios and his clergy to supper at the Church Secretariat at Charlton, where they were joined by Subdeacon Daniel Malyon and James Carr. Bishop Makarios stayed overnight at the Secretariat.
On 13 June Abba Seraphim and Bishop Makarios and his party visited the Old Naval College at Greenwich, where they viewed the Painted Hall and the Chapel and were received by the Rev’d Jeremy Frost, the chaplain. In the afternoon they visited St. John’s Church, Walham Green, Fulham, where they were welcomed by Father Mark Osborne, the priest-in-charge. On Saturday, 16 June Bishop Makarios will inaugurate Eritrean Orthodox worship in this church with a service commemorating Eritreans who have died in recent wars.
Bishop Makarios’s visit followed his attendance at recent meetings of the Holy Synod in Cairo where he was recognised as the sole canonical representative of the Eritrean diaspora rather than the government controlled hierarchy in Asmara.