On 11 February Abba Seraphim visited the Portsmouth Parish of St. Mary & St. Moses the Black, which worships in St. Faith’s Church, Cresswell Street. There was a good attendance with representatives of the Bournemouth Parish and Southampton community and it proved a busy day, as prior to the Divine Liturgy Father Simon Smyth had baptised three children, whom Abba Seraphim welcomed into fellowship. On presenting them with neck crosses he reminded them of the importance of the cross as a witness to our faith and spoke of the ancient tradition among Copts and others of having their children tatooed with a cross on their wrists.
The congregation was also delighted to welcome Abba Seraphim’s mother, Joyce Edwards, who had accompanied him and is now fully recovered from her mini-stroke. At the conclusion of the service they enjoyed a fellowship meal together provided by the family of the newly baptised children. After leaving the church Abba Seraphim went to inspect a local property which the parish is considering purchasing for their own use as they have been actively searching for suitable premises for some months.
During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Father Simon made two ecumenical visits, one to his local Roman Catholic Church, Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Peter the Apostle, Waterlooville, and one to Immanuel Baptist Church, Southsea.
As the British Orthodox Portsmouth Church of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black does not yet have its own Church building and the font in the current venue, Saint Faith’s Anglican Church, is only of sufficient size for infant immersion, Immanuel Baptist Church has kindly hosted the British Orthodox congregation for three adult baptisms so far with more, it is hoped, in the months ahead. The Baptist pastor, the Reverend Elgan Evans invited Father Simon to say a little about the British Orthodox Church and the wider Oriental Orthodox family, especially the current situation in Egypt with Immanuel Baptist Church being a supporter of the Barnabus Fund. Father Simon drew a parallel between both local Church names, the British Orthodox proclaiming the central truth of Christianity, that Christ is God, through the ancient title of Saint Mary as Mother of God, that the Baby she carried within her, to Whom she gave birth, Who she fed at her breast was and is God – and the Baptists likewise proclaiming this through their name Immanuel, meaning God with us.
At Waterlooville Roman Catholic Church Father Kevin Bidgood kindly asked Father Simon to speak with people after the mass and he was engaged in conversation about the current situation of the Church both in Egypt and also Syria. One member of the congregation generously gave a donation which Father Simon explained he would pass onto the Barnabus Fund for its work in that region where it was active on behalf of both Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Christians.
Although this was the first British Orthodox clergy visit to the new Roman Catholic Church in Waterlooville there is already an existing link between us through the work of David Pratt (who has family connections to the Church and lives nearby) who advised on the arts committee during the design and construction of the new building. His influence can be seen in particular in the mosaic up above the entrance to the Church showing Christ in glory with the four incorporeal creatures. The inspiration for this work was provided from an icon in the complex of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Mark in Abbaseya, Cairo, and photographed by one of our Church members back in 2005.
The British Orthodox Church South Coast congregations, Christ the Saviour (Bournemouth), Saint Polycarp (Southampton) and Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black (Portsmouth) all observed the Feast of the Dormition of Saint Mary the Mother of God on Monday 16th January. Given Father Simon’s ongoing health issues it was not going to be possible to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on the South Coast so all three Churches and Missions agreed to keep the Feast in each location simultaneously in the context of None or Ninth Hour (Afternoon) Prayer at 3 p.m. incorporating special readings and prayers for the occasion.
The Coptic Orthodox Church (including the British Orthodox as a daughter Church thereof) together with the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches are the only remaining Christians to still observe the two feasts of the Dormition (or Falling Asleep in death) and the Assumption of (the body of) the Mother of God into heaven. The Roman Catholic Church largely celebrates the Assumption while the Byzantine Orthodox Churches emphasise the Dormition – but the Coptic (together with the British), the Ethiopian and the Eritrean Orthodox Churches still unto this day keep the ancient way of two celebrations or feasts. Even by the standards of Orthodoxy these Churches remain truly conservative or traditional, adhering tenaciously to the ancient Christian Faith
The British Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour, Bournemouth, held their long-standing annual Advent Carol Service on Sunday 4th December. Following the Divine Liturgy a wonderful lunch of varying Lenten fare (soup, baked potatoes and salad, Romanian delicacies) prepared and brought along by several members was thoroughly enjoyed by the congregation. A small Christmas tree was decorated and other decorations soon adorned the back of the Church in preparation for the forthcoming celebrations of the Incarnation.
The Advent Carol Service was well attended with the carols enthusiastically sung by all. In the sermon Father Simon emphasised both First and Second Advents and suggested that a strong and healthy emphasis on the Second Coming helped us avoid an over-sentimental celebration of Christmas such as an excess of snowy manger scenes set amidst northern European landscapes. The sermon did, however, reply to those who totally reject carols such as ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’ with carping criticisms and explained that this hymn could be understood allegorically as referring to the bleak mid-winter of sin that had covered this world and from which the Saviour had come to deliver us.
In response to the deaths of two dozen and the wounding of very, very many of our beloved Coptic Orthodox brethren in Cairo on Sunday and the Holy Synod call for three days of fasting and prayer “so that the Lord dwells with His peace in our beloved country Egypt” the British Orthodox Church stood in firm solidarity with the Mother Church.
Members of the Portsmouth congregation kept the three days of fasting and prayer concluding with a special prayer service on Thursday evening during which these latest martyrs were remembered.
Similarly the Bournemouth and Southampton congregations observed the three days fasting and prayer.
The prayers in the Bournemouth Church each day centred around Sixth Hour (Noon) Prayers with the Gospel lesson from Matthew chapter 5 so appropriate: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:10-12) Particular verses from the Psalms also resonated powerfully: “O God, in Thy Name save me… hearken unto my prayer… strangers are risen up against me, and mighty men have sought after my soul…” (Psalm 53) The words of Psalm 92 also remind us that though “the rivers have lifted up their voices” that though they “lift up their waves as the voices of many waters”, that whatever “the surgings of the sea”, above them all “wonderful on high is the Lord”. “The Lord is King, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength…”
The Southampton Mission under the patronage of Saint Polycarp similarly centred their prayers around the Sixth Hour Prayers.
The three days culminated in the Bournemouth Church (also joined and supported by members of the Southampton Mission) with Twelfth Hour (Evening) Prayer and special prayers for the Mother Church in Egypt as well as remembering the new martyrs. Father Simon led the congregation as they stood before icons of Saint Antony and Saint Paul, Saint Bishoy, Saint Moses the Black, asking their intercessions for the monasteries that bear their names and for all the monasteries and holy places. Standing in prayer before their icons the intercessions of Saint Mary the Mother of God and of Saint Mark were invoked for the whole Church in Egypt. These prayers concluded before the icon of Saint Simon the Tanner whose intercessions were also sought, this great saint whose prayers God had answered a thousand years ago after the three days of fasting and prayers in similar times of danger and trouble for the Coptic Orthodox Church.