A weekly series of meetings is planned this Autumn for the British Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour, Bournemouth. Starting on 15th September these meetings will be held each Thursday with Evening Prayer at 6 p.m. followed by a series of audio visual lectures and presentations. The evenings should finish by 8 p.m.
Also in Portsmouth, the Thursday evening weekly prayer meetings will re-commence on 8th September with Evening Prayer at 7 p.m. and these too will be followed by audio visual lectures and presentations, the evening finishing around 9 p.m. The venue for the Portsmouthmeetings is Flat 11, 286 Twyford Avenue, Portsmouth, PO2 8ND. For further information please contact Antony-Paul Holland on 078 7049 0085 or email email@example.com
The British Orthodox Parish of Christ the Saviour at Winton, Bournemouth, celebrated the church’s Diamond Jubilee with a visit from Abba Seraphim combining services and events over the weekend of 2-3 July. Although the parish was founded 75 years ago, the church – formerly a stable and carpenter’s workshop – was not purchased and converted until 1951. The celebrations began at the Church with Midday prayer and an address by Father Gregory Tillett on “The Year of Jubilee” and Abba Seraphim spoke about some of the witness and contribution made by departed church members, especially the faithful women of the church. This was followed by a Reception and Buffet lunch in the Lounge of nearby St. Alban’s Church, Charminster. Among those attending were Fr. Robin Nash, parish priest of St. Albans and Father Marcus Brisley, parish priest of the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, Charminster. Also present were Councillor Beryl Baxter (Mayor of Bournemouth 2009-2010) and her husband, who live next to the Orthodox Church. Visiting BOC clergy included Fathers Sergius Scott and Seraphim Mina from London.
After lunch Fr. Gregory gave a talk, “The Mission to the Ninevites: Universal Orthodoxy in the West”, which was followed by a lively discussion. At 4.30 p.m. Abba Seraphim led a good number of clergy and people in prayers for past members and clergy of the church at the Wimborne Road Cemetery and flowers were placed on the graves of Archdeacon James Goddard, Flora Peckham, Father Stephen Hatherly and Martha Coppin. Evening Incense was raised at the Church and a Celebration Dinner was held at Bates Restaurant in Charminster.
On Sunday morning Abba Seraphim celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Church and Fr. Simon preached the homily, weaving together the themes of the various lessons to emphasise the importance of fidelity. During the Liturgy Abba Seraphim ordained Readers Nicolae Popa, John Morgan and Edward Smyth as subdeacons, the first two to serve at Bournemouth, the third at Portsmouth and Bournemouth. Subdeacon Christopher Barnes was ordained as a deacon to serve the Babingley Parish and Father Gregory Tillett, who is attached to the Bournemouth Church when in the United Kingdom, was elevated to the order of hegoumenos.
The British Orthodox Church was among a number of groups which stood in solidarity with imprisoned Eritreans at a Prayer Vigil outside the Eritrean Embassy in London on 26 May. Abba Seraphim, supported by Father Simon Smyth and Deacon Theodore de Quincey, joined representatives from Human Rights Concern – Eritrea, Church in Chains, Release Eritrea, the Evangelical Alliance, Release, Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide for prayer, scripture readings and spiritual songs. Abba Seraphim opened the proceedings with the Prayer of Thanksgiving and later spoke about the unjust imprisonment of Abune Antonios, the canonical Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Despite the torrential showers (the first for many weeks) all those present stood their ground and remained constant in their vigil. At the end of the proceedings, Abba Seraphim crossed the road to the Embassy and handed in a letter on behalf of all those present.
H.E. Mr. Tesfamicael Gerahtu
Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland
Embassy of the State of Eritrea
96 White Lion Street
London N1 9PF
26 May 2011 Your Excellency, We have gathered today, representing thousands of Christians in Britain and Ireland, to mark the ninth anniversary of the forced closure of all churches in Eritrea, apart from those belonging to the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions. Standing in solidarity with fellow Christians in Eritrea, we once again call for the granting of full religious freedom, and for the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in Eritrea. We are dismayed at the continuing imprisonment without charge or trial of tens of thousands of Eritrean citizens, including several thousand Christians, detained solely on account of their faith. We are also deeply troubled at the increasing harassment of authorised churches, as illustrated by the illegal dismissal and indefinite detention of Abune Antonios, the canonically-ordained Orthodox patriarch, and the imprisonment, dismissal and forcible conscription of scores of Orthodox clergyman. Credible reports continue to emerge from Eritrea of Christians being incarcerated in inhumane conditions, physically and mentally abused, and deprived of access to adequate food, potable water and medication. We are aware that over a dozen have died following mistreatment and/or denial of medical attention, and are particularly concerned at the continuing practice of requiring prisoners to sign statements renouncing their faith as a prerequisite to obtaining their freedom. We assure you, once again, that these Christians pose no threat to the government in the peaceful practice of their faith, and can affirm that the teachings and principles of their faith encourage good citizenship and loyalty to one’s country. We are confident that Christians in Eritrea are committed to strengthening the nation, and to contributing positively towards its development. We urge you to convey to your government our appeal for swift and positive action to ensure the release of all prisoners of conscience, regardless of their creed, and to facilitate every human right outlined in Eritrea’s commendable national constitution, including the right to religious freedom. Please be assured of our continued prayers for the well-being and prosperity of your people and nation. We remain committed to the people of Eritrea, and seek to support the nation’s progresses towards a just and equitable future.
26 May 2011
We have gathered today, representing thousands of Christians in Britain and Ireland, to mark the ninth anniversary of the forced closure of all churches in Eritrea, apart from those belonging to the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions.
Standing in solidarity with fellow Christians in Eritrea, we once again call for the granting of full religious freedom, and for the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in Eritrea.
We are dismayed at the continuing imprisonment without charge or trial of tens of thousands of Eritrean citizens, including several thousand Christians, detained solely on account of their faith. We are also deeply troubled at the increasing harassment of authorised churches, as illustrated by the illegal dismissal and indefinite detention of Abune Antonios, the canonically-ordained Orthodox patriarch, and the imprisonment, dismissal and forcible conscription of scores of Orthodox clergyman.
Credible reports continue to emerge from Eritrea of Christians being incarcerated in inhumane conditions, physically and mentally abused, and deprived of access to adequate food, potable water and medication. We are aware that over a dozen have died following mistreatment and/or denial of medical attention, and are particularly concerned at the continuing practice of requiring prisoners to sign statements renouncing their faith as a prerequisite to obtaining their freedom.
We assure you, once again, that these Christians pose no threat to the government in the peaceful practice of their faith, and can affirm that the teachings and principles of their faith encourage good citizenship and loyalty to one’s country. We are confident that Christians in Eritrea are committed to strengthening the nation, and to contributing positively towards its development.
We urge you to convey to your government our appeal for swift and positive action to ensure the release of all prisoners of conscience, regardless of their creed, and to facilitate every human right outlined in Eritrea’s commendable national constitution, including the right to religious freedom.
Please be assured of our continued prayers for the well-being and prosperity of your people and nation. We remain committed to the people of Eritrea, and seek to support the nation’s progresses towards a just and equitable future.
Among the speakers at the Vigil was Elsa Chyrum, who spoke movingly of the plight of Eritrean refugees:
“Eritrea has just celebrated its 20th independence anniversary.
Let me start with the latest events regarding Eritrea and Eritreans that may highlight the irony of the independence of Eritrea. The regime, in its usual fanfare, has prepared Grand Festivals to celebrate the 20th year of the nation’s independence. This totalitarian regime dares to call these 20 years “20 Years of Dignity”. But the indignity of it all is to be seen in the latest tragic events that have affected Eritreans everywhere.
First, you must have heard of the tragedy that occurred lately in the Mediterranean Sea, as thousands of African refugees tried to escape the turmoil of the Libyan uprising. The plight of black Africans was compounded by the unfounded rumour that they are serving as mercenaries in Gadaffi’s army. Many Eritrean refuge es had no other option but to escape this double jeopardy. As a result, sadly, the greatest number of those who perished in the Mediterranean Sea happen to be Eritreans – so far, hundreds of them.
The other tragedy is the ongoing problem in the Sinai desert: human trafficking. In this peninsula, Bedouin human traffickers, in close collaboration with Eritrean criminal elements, are openly conducting a ransom-for-hostage enterprise. Here, there are about 400 Eritrean refugees still held in captivity, waiting for ransom money to arrive from family members and close relatives in the West. For each captive, the traffickers ask more than US $10,000. If ransom money is not paid, the hostages are subjected to constant rape, torture, involuntary removal of organs, and murder. This living hell has become a business. The ransom amounts that are paid encourage the smugglers to raise their demands. The higher the sum, the harder it is for the family abroad to raise the money. This results in an even longer period of imprisonment and torture for the refugees many of whom die before or even after the ransom has been paid. So far, the Egyptian government is unwilling to do anything about it – even a personal plea from the Pope had no effect at all.
Eritrean asylum seekers have been criminalized for trying to escape from a living hell in their own country and enter Egypt illegally. They are imprisoned incommunicado, physically tortured and psychologically abused. They have been herded like animals into what are little more than cages. Small rooms house forty or fifty asylum seekers night and day at high, unbearable temperatures with no ventilation or any other basic hygiene, leading to skin rashes and more serious ailments none of which are treated, for adults and children alike.
Some of the Eritreans who have tried to cross to Israel have been shot dead, or wounded and consequently imprisoned in Egypt.
Little enough to celebrate so far, but the tragedy doesn’t end there:
On 22nd May 2011, at around 3:30 a.m, four Eritrean refugees were burnt to death and one was critically scorched at the Tunisian refugee camp near the Libyan border. The victims had recently fled from Libya and were waiting to be resettled to a safe country via UNHCR. Their tents were deliberately set on fire. Two Sudanese refugees have been arrested in connection with the crime, and they are remanded in custody. There has been a clash between the local Tunisian community and certain groups of the refugee communities in the Sousha camp which has led to more violence and destruction. The refugees in the camp are very anxious and tension is very high. Unless urgent action is taken by The Tunisian government and the UNHCR, the situation could escalate into furt her tragedy resulting in further loss of life.
Due to forced conscription and endless military service in Eritrea, tens of thousands are fleeing to Ethiopia and Sudan and much farther to Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Australia, Europe, the US and other countries. Yet the plight of these Eritreans is largely misunderstood. They go through a lot of hardship and pain in search of a safe haven and freedom by escaping from one country only to find themselves virtual or actual prisoners in another.
Thousands of Eritreans whose asylum claims have been refused become illegally resident in Europe, USA, Australia, etc., spend long periods in detention awaiting deportation or are left to live on the streets in destitution. Legislation bars these individuals from access to basic public services – shelter, food, etc and they are prevented from working. Most of these destitute asylum seekers rely on support from families, religious organisations or well-wishers.
We are here this afternoon to demonstrate our awareness of their troubles, to show our solidarity with those of our people who have suffered, and are suffering, at the hands of the Eritrean government and its supporters, and to signal to the Eritrean government and those Eritreans in diaspora who continue to finance its evildoing, that the truth cannot be hidden by phoney celebrations praising a country which remains a prison for so many of its citizens. We are here now, and we will be here again, and we will not go away even if it takes another twenty years to bring true freedom to our people, to stop the suffering of Eritrean refugees.”
On Saturday, 14th May, clergy and laity from all of the Oriental Orthodox churches gathered together for the 4th annual Oriental Orthodox Festival. The festival provides an opportunity for the members of the various Orthodox communities to meet together and share in the celebration of the Liturgy, and then have an opportunity for fellowship over a varied buffet lunch provided by the different Orthodox traditions and ethnicities represented.
The latest festival took place at St Michael’s Eritrean Orthodox Church in Camberwell, London. Participating bishops included His Grace Bishop Angaelos and His Eminence Archbishop Athanasius in the presence of His Grace Bishop Markos. The attending priests represented the British Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Indian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Churches. There were many deacons from the various Churches and the sanctuary was filled with a wonderful fraternal spirit. As Father Youhannes began the prayers of the Liturgy a spiritual atmosphere descended upon the crowded Church.
Many British Orthodox clergy and faithful had travelled to Camberwell to participate in the Festival. They included Father Sergius, Father Simon and Father Peter, together with Deacon Theodore from the French Coptic Orthodox Church, and servants and laity from the South Coast congregations. Many other friends of the British Orthodox Church were present in the congregation, including Father Deacon Richard Downer and Dr Carol Downer.
The Liturgy was conducted with the participation of the various clergy, and the congregation was marked by enthusiastic singing of the hymns and chants of the Eritrean tradition. It always makes a great impression to see so many of the faithful dressed in their traditional white clothes. It is important that this concelebrated liturgy takes place each year so that we provide a visible manifestation of our unity as Orthodox Christians.
After the Liturgy the choir of the Eritrean Orthodox church sang many of their traditional songs with the accompaniment of drums. It was a great blessing to see such devotion and seriousness in the young Eritrean Christians who sang and performed their liturgical dance, but also to see the joy and spiritual delight in the faces of the many members of the congregation who joined in. His Grace Bishop Angaelos addressed the congregation, as did His Grace Bishop Markos, whose message of welcome was translated by Father Youhannes.
But the Festival is more than the concelebrated Liturgy, and we were invited to the basement of the Church where the various churches represented had laid out diverse foods from their own cultural traditions. After a great deal of warm conversation it seemed that most people had a plate of food in front of them. I certainly enjoyed the Eritrean food I was offered, and the opportunity to talk with some of the other clergy. Father Youhannes was tireless in his hospitality and hardly had time to sit down himself.
To conclude our Festival the choir of the Indian Orthodox church had arranged to share some of their musical repetoire with us. As they started their first song the church filled up with clergy and laity. The choir sang enthusiastically, and the choir director even managed to urge the Eritrean Orthodox choir to join in with their drums. The congregation were given an opportunity to try and sing one of the Indian Orthodox songs, but I am not sure that we all managed to pronounce the Malayalam words properly.
After a final prayer Father Youhannes dismissed the congregation. It had been a most successful event, and already I have received messages from those who had been able to attend and who had enjoyed the Festival.
[Report by Father Peter Farrington]
As once again, the date for Holy Pascha was common to both East and West, there was a great sense of oneness among Christians in celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection. British Orthodox congregations observed the Holy Week services whilst at Charlton, Father Sergius Scott joined in an Ecumenical Procession of Witness on Good Friday. In all our churches the Paschal Vigil and Liturgy was celebrated on Pascha Eve (23 April), which also coincided with the traditional observance of St. George’s Day in England. The exceptionally fine weather and the fact that so many trees, shrubs and flowers had burst into bloom, added to the sense of the glory of the new life revealed in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because of its elderly congregation and the church being isolated in the countryside, St, Mary & St. Felix at Babingley in Norfolk began the Vigil service just before sunset. Abba Seraphim presided and was the first to proclaim, “Christ is Risen”. As there were a good number of Orthodox Christians from Moldova and Russia joining the regular congregation, they were also greeted in Russian. At the conclusion of the Liturgy when Abba Seraphim blessed and distributed dyed eggs, he also blessed their traditional festive foods of pascha and kullich, which they had brought to the church. Father Simon reports that the Bournemouth and Portsmouth congregations celebrated Holy Week and the feast at the Church of Christ the Saviour at Winton (Bournemnouth) and services were well supported. Following the Vigil and Liturgy on Pascha Eve, on the forenoon of Pascha, prayers for the departed were said at church and in a long-established local tradition their graves at Wimborne Road Cemetery were visited and the Resurrection hymn sung as eggs were placed on their graves. At Cusworth the local congregation were also joined by Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe and the church was filled, whilst at Chatham a new catechumen was received during the evening and the joyous celebration concluded with an extensive buffet which continued into the early hours.
At the conclusion of the service at Babingley Abba Seraphim read the Paschal message from His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and all churches prayed with great fervour for Pope Shenouda and also Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka of Antioch, having a great burden of concern for their brothers and sisters in Egypt and Syria who are caught up in the civil disturbances in both countries.
Abba Seraphim returned to London at noon on Holy Pascha and went first to greet Father Michael Robson at Morden College, Blackheath, before visiting sick and housebound members of the church with Holy Communion.