On 17 May, what has sadly become the annual Protest Vigil at the Eritrean Embassy in Islington, London , appropriately took as its motto, “Ten Years is too long.” As on previous occasions the protesters took up their position on the pavement opposite the embassy. They represented a wide rank of Christian denominations as well as of several human rights groups (Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International, Release Eritrea, Church on Chains, Human Rights Concern Eritrea) who came together to pray for the persecuted Christians of Eritrea and their government. A large number of the banners portrayed His Holiness Abune Antonios, the imprisoned Patriarch of Eritrea. Abba Seraphim was joined by the Bishop of Southwark (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum), Father Yonas Tesheme (Sheffield) and Deacon Joannes Gebrehiwet (Manchester) with a number of other deacons representing the Eritrean Orthodox Diocese of Europe. Speakers and Prayers were led by Abba Seraphim, Andy Dipper (Release International), Dr. Berhane Ashmelesh (Release Eritrea), David Turner (Church in Chains), Elsa Chyrum (Human Rights Concern Eritrea), Selam Kidane (Release Eritrea), Dr. Khataza Gondwe (CSW). At the end of the vigil a letter, signed on behalf of the whole group by Abba Seraphim and Bishop Christopher, was delivered to the Ambassador. The two bishops and Dr. Berhane were kept waiting at the door and when the Metropolitan Police tried to find an Embassy official to whom they could deliver it, they were at first ignored and then rudely shouted at and told to go away. Eventually the police delivered the letter on their behalf.
As the British Orthodox Church Secretariat is in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Abba Seraphim was delighted to join in the celebrations of our local martyr, Saint Alfege. St. Alfege was Archbishop of Canterbury 1005-1012, having previously served as Abbot of Bath and Bishop of Winchester as a protégé of St. Dunstan. When the Vikings attacked and burned Canterbury, they took Alfege prisoner and attempted to ransom him for a huge sum of money. Declining to place his flock under this burden, he refused to be ransomed and was slaughtered during a drunken feast in the Viking encampment at Greenwich, where the parish church dedicated to him now stands.
Joining the pilgrims for a commissioning service at Southwark Cathedral at midday, led by the Bishop of Southwark (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum), Abba Seraphim and the other pilgrims set off for Greenwich during heavy rain. Accompanying the main party were the Bishop of Bergen (The Right Rev’d Halvor Nordhaug) and representatives of the Scandinavian Churches in London. At this point they were also joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury and boarded a specially chartered pilgrim boat to travel to Greenwich by water. By the time they reached Greenwich the heavy showers were subsiding and the pilgrims were met at Greenwich Pier by various civic dignitaries led by His Worship the Mayor of Greenwich (Councillor Jim Gilman).
The first stop was at St. Alfege Primary School where the pupils greeted them with heartily sung songs and the Archbishop spoke to the pupils about the message of St. Alfege. The procession formed-up led by the pupils in home-made Viking longships which the Archbishop helped to steer through the town centre to the Parish Church. Here there was an Anglo-Saxon encampment by the Regia Anglorum who greeted the pilgrimns.
The festivities concluded with a Solemn Eucharist in St. Alfege’s Parish Church, at which the Archbishop presided and preached. The entire day was a very worthy commemoration of St. Alfege and brought together a diverse mix of pilgrims who had all come to honour his memory and perpetuate his message of the real worth of every human soul.
As a result of Abba Seraphim’s absence in Egypt following the sudden death of H.H. Pope Shenouda, he was obliged to cancel a number of important engagements. One of these was the consecration of two new suffragen bishops for the Anglican Diocese of Southwark, which took place at Southwark Cathedral on 21 March. He was represented, however, by his Secretary, Mr. Trevor Maskery, who conveyed greetings on Abba Seraphim’s behalf to the new bishops as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Southwark.
The new bishops, The Right Rev’d Dr Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Woolwich, and The Right Rev’d Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon, were consecrated in Southwark Cathedral, in the presence of a large congregation. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was principal consecrator, movingly spoke of the death of H.H. Pope Shenouda, and offered condolences to His Grace Bishop Angaelos, who also had been unable to attend.
In his sermon, The Very Reverend Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark gave an entertaining view on the sights of Croydon, followed by speaking about the importance of reaching out to the community and enticing the secular society back into churches and linked this with the newly unveiled “Die Harder” statue of our Lord on the cross, constructed out of wire coat hangers.
At the reception, which followed at Lambeth Palace, Mr. Maskery observed to the new bishops that as the British Orthodox Church’s secretariat is based in Charlton in south-east London, we felt it was important to welcome both Bishops to their new sees and hopefully begin a close working relationship with them, just as we have shared the same with the Bishop of Southwark during his previous ministry as Bishop of Woolwich and continue to do so.
The Archbishop of Canterbury discussed with Mr Maskery the departure of the Pope and the future of the Coptic people. He held them in his prayers. The Bishop of Southwark expressed the same views and expressed his sorrow at the death of Pope Shenouda and said that he would be representing the Archbishop of Canterbury at this Saturday’s Coptic Memorial Service to be held at St. George’s Cathedral in Stevenage.
At a meeting of the Anglican & Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum held on 20 June, hosted by the Bishop of Southwark (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum) and co-chaired by His Grace Bishop Angaelos and the Anglican Bishop in Europe (The Right Rev’d Geoffrey Rowell) the Aims and Objectives were formally adopted. These are:
1. The Anglican Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum is the result of international dialogues but does not seek to duplicate the theological work of these dialogues.
2. The aims of the Anglican Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum are:
a. To receive and consider the documents from international dialogues between:
I. The Anglican Communion and the family of Oriental Orthodox Churches.
II. The Anglican Communion and the individual Oriental Orthodox Churches.
III. Other dialogues on both sides that impact on our relationship.
b. To take note of, discuss and explore relevant developments between both Communions, and to explore local relevance and implications.
c. To encourage opportunities for common prayer and worship within the discipline of our respective Churches.
d. To give our people and beyond, hope regarding the search for the greater unity of the Church.
e. To discuss current pastoral, social, political and other issues.
f. To explore and bear common witness, making representations (such as issuing statements) where appropriate.
g. To discover and educate one another, our clergy and laity about each of our traditions.
h. To work to achieve a greater unity expressed in common life and witness.
i. To inform our respective Church hierarchies and faithful of the work of the Anglican Oriental Orthodox regional Forum.
3. To produce a booklet containing all the relevant common statements between the Churches of the Forum.
Abba Seraphim was present to represent the British Orthodox Church and Father Peter Farrington as the Oriental Orthodox co-secretary.
Abba Seraphim was among the ecumenical guests who attended the enthronement of the Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum as tenth Bishop of Southwark, in Southwark Cathedral on 6 March. Bishop Christopher has served as a very popular Suffragen Bishop of Woolwich for the past eight years and his appointment as diocesan bishop has been well received. Abba Seraphim works together with Bishop Christopher on the Tur Abdin Focus Group. His love for the Orthodox Churches has also been demonstrated by his support for the campaign to free Abune Antonios of Eritrea and and he has also recently joined the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum. Bishop Christopher has supported and encouraged the long-standing warm relations between the United Benefice of St. Luke & St. Thomas at Charlton, where the British Orthodox Church has been accorded hospitality for more than two decades.
The Enthronement took place during Choral Evensong and was followed by a reception in nearby Glaziers’ Hall. A large number of Anglican bishops were in attendance, including Bishop Christopher’s three immediate predecessors in the diocese of Southwark and four bishops from the Anglican diocese of Zimbabwe, which is twinned with Southwark. Earlier in the day Bishop Christopher and the Bishop of London (The Right Rev’d Richard Chartres) had met together symbolically on London Bridge to pledge co-operation in Christian witness in London, which is divided between the two dioceses. Also present were the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark (Most Rev’d Peter Smith) and His Grace Bishop Angaelos.