On 2 December, some of the congregation of St. Thomas British Orthodox Parish at Charlton joined their Anglican brethren of the Charlton United Benefice for a candlelit Advent Carol Service at St. Thomas’ Church.
Presiding at the service was the Bishop of Woolwich (The Right Rev’d Michael Ipgrave), making his first visit to the church, assisted by the Rev’d Erica Wooff, Rector of Charlton and the Rev’d Lionel Kevis, Vicar of St. Mary’s, Leigh, near Tonbridge (which has long been a partner parish to Charlton), as well as the Rev’d Bennett Spong and the Rev’d Liz Newman from the Charlton Benefice clergy team. Abba Seraphim, who joined the candlelight procession, was invited to read a lesson, offer a short meditation on “A Light of Promise” and offer a prayer.
Following the service the clergy and congregation gathered together in fellowship & refreshments in the church hall.
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.
A Prayer Vigil was held outside the Eritrean Embassy in Islington, London, on 3 June 2010 to protest at the treatment of Christians in Eritrea. It was called to mark the eighth anniversary of the closure of minority churches in Eritrea, after which even main-stream churches, like the majority Eritrean Orthodox Church have suffered systematic persecution.
The vigil was organised through the collaboration of a number of groups, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Release Eritrea, Church in Chains, Release (voice of persecuted Christians), Open Doors (serving persecuted Christians Worldwide) and the British Orthodox Church. For an hour on a sunny afternoon in London, a committed group of concerned Christians stood on the pavement opposite the Eritrean Embassy – as cars and buses with intrigued spectators passed by – and prayed, read from the scriptures, sang spiritual songs and heard meditative addresses from those working with and for the suffering Christians in Eritrea, regardless of their religious affiliation. Unlike political demonstrations the tone was calm, reflective and prayerful and there was no hint of invective against the oppressors. Both the Eritrean President and the Ambassador in London were spoken of courteously and prayed for fervently. His Eminence Abba Seraphim spoke of his concerns about His Holiness Abune Antonios, the elderly Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch, who had refused to bow to pressure from the government when the persecuition began and because of his stand for truth and justice found himself deposed from office and placed under house arrest. His position of national importance and his unswerving integity made him a symbol of all who were suffering for their Christian faith. At the conclusion of the vigil Abba Seraphim, supported by The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessun, (Anglican) Bishop of Woolwich and Dr. Berhane Asmelash of Release Eritrea, called at the Embassy to deliver a letter addressed to the Ambassador expressing their concerns and asking for the release of prisoners of conscience.
Daniel Malyon (BOC Portsmouth), who was present at the vigil, writes:
Yesterday, in protest of the continuing persecution of our Christian brethren in Eritrea, a number of Human Rights groups and Church representatives attended a vigil outside the Eritrean embassy in London. It was great to see an event attended by such a variety of people from different cultures and Christian groups. We had people from the Eritrean Orthodox, the British Orthodox, the Anglican Church and independent Churches, all united in prayer and concern for the Christian community in Eritrea.
To have all these groups together representing a single cause is a rarity these days, but was certainly significant. Everyone was involved in the prayer and the speeches, rejoicing in the gifts we recieve through faith, and in the knowledge of our protection, and to show concern for those that are not given the opportunity to rejoice in their faith, for fear that it will cost them their lives.
The readings from Romans certainly set the tone for the vigil, reminding us that whatever we suffer for Christ in life will be repaid in joy after we die. We are reminded that though the Eritrean Christians suffer needlessly and for no real legal reason, they are the martyrs of the modern day, just as Justin Martyr, St Paul and other early Christians suffered for their faith. As Romans 8:18 says “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
There was much media coverage on the day from the respresented charity groups, and a lot of focus on Church representation, such as the support of an Anglican Bishop and HE Metropolitan Seraphim, as to know that the church establishments are supporting them is vital for the people of Eritrea of whom 90% belong to the Eritrean Orthodox Church, a sister Church of the British Orthodox. The Evangelical representatives also spoke of the need for more to be done by the world to prevent single party governments such as Eritrea from arresting political opponents or those that speak for the rights of the persecuted, as freedom of worship and conscience are vital in society.
The vigil continued with “praise songs” from the Evangelical Church representatives, as well as prayers for both those suffering in Eritrea, and for her government. Some may not understand why we would pray for the opressors of our Eritrean brothers and sisters, but if we do not pray for those who cause suffering, we are no better than they are, as we would be as uncaring as their actions. At 4pm, after the Charities had finished speaking of the Eritrean situation Abba Seraphim led a deputation to deliver a letter to the Embassy across the road. This was given to one of the staff of the Ambassador, informing him of the reaction of the British public, church organisations and Human Rights groups to the continued opression and imprisonment of Christians in Eritrea.
This event happens yearly in London, and though it has not ended the persecutions in Eritrea, I feel that it is a moral duty to continue to stand beside the people of Eritrea, and let them know that they are still in our prayers and thoughts, for if we lose hope, so wil they.