After several days of torrential rain, the morning of 12 July proved to be a perfect day for the British Orthodox Church to hold its special Thanksgiving Service for the twentieth Anniversary of the union of with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. The Thanksgiving Service was held in the bright and airy church of Saint George-in-the-East at Shadwell, on the eastern borders of the City of London. His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, Bishop of Milan and Patriarchal Exarch of all Europe, accompanied by Their Graces Bishops Louka of Geneva and Pavlos of Greece had been delegated by His Holiness Pope Tawadros II to convey his hearty congratulations for this celebration. In his message His Holiness spoke of his knowledge of Abba Seraphim’s ministry and pastoral work, preaching and praying and also his admirable lectures about Orthodoxy and the deep faith of the Coptic Orthodox Church, in which he explained the history and dogma and how the Copts had kept the faith pure and clear. He also spoke of the strong links made by Abba Seraphim with the mother church in Egypt.
In welcoming the bishops and the message from the Pope, Abba Seraphim noted that the psalmist tells us how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity and it was right that they should mark with thanksgiving two decades of unity with the mother church. “The British Orthodox Church came into being almost a century and a half ago, but in the intervening years we lost contact with our Oriental Orthodox roots until, through the vision and generosity of Pope Shenouda we were brought back into the fullness of church unity. We owe him so much and for us British Orthodox he will always be a profoundly loved and venerated figure.”
He went on to say, “The British Orthodox Church, in fulfilment of the church’s catholicity, exists to preach that apostolic tradition of the gospel to the British people. It is not part of a diaspora ministry from a mother church elsewhere, but the implanted seed from those ancient Christian churches which have faithfully preserved their heritage through centuries of persecution and hardship. In seeking the continuity of faith from the apostolic age, many people find the faith and spirituality of the Orthodox Church fills their emptiness and satisfies their yearning. Someone once observed that if the British Orthodox Church did not exist it would be necessary to invent her. Of course, there are British clergy and faithful in other parts of the Orthodox Church so we do not assert that we alone have this vocation to mission, but for us it is our primary purpose.”
In outlining some of the work done over the past twenty years, he said, “Our relations with other churches inspired by the same apostolic spirit, means that we can share partnership in our witness to our increasingly secular society, as well as profound love and respect between brethren. Over the past few years – when the situation of Christians in the Middle East has become so dire – both the spiritual and practical support of others has been quite humbling. To know that fellow Christians really do care and desire to stand alongside their beleaguered brethren in solidarity shows a powerful unity of love. For me it is best characterised by the abduction in May 2013 of the two Orthodox Metropolitans of Aleppo: Mar Yohanna Ibraham of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. No news of their fate has been forthcoming but we continue to pray for them every day. They had always worked closely together in trying to help all communities suffering in the breakdown of society in Syria. Significantly it was whilst on a mission to negotiate the release of two priests held as hostages, one an Armenian Catholic and the other a Greek Orthodox, that they were taken.”
“In fulfilment of our responsibilities, the British Orthodox Church has played an active role in the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK and endeavoured to work alongside them in a shared witness to our faith. Over the past two decades we have also assumed a particularly active ministry with regard to those outside this country who have come, through conversion or persecution, as asylum seekers and it rejoices my heart to know that there are some here today whom we have been privileged to serve in this manner. The British Orthodox were not the only beneficiaries of Pope Shenouda’s benevolent outreach and in 1994 the ancient Christian community in the newly independent Eritrea was granted the status of an autokephalous patriarchate. From that time the British Orthodox always felt a particular affinity to their Eritrean brethren and when the shadow of authoritarian and oppressive government was cast over the church in Eritrea we have been a consistent voice for justice. Nor have we forgotten the imprisoned Patriarch of Eritrea, Abune Antonios, who was ordained to the episcopate in 1994 at the same liturgy when I was made a Metropolitan by Pope Shenouda. Last month I was privileged to attend the meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to remind the world of the suffering Christians of Eritrea.”
“Over the past couple of years, despite our limited resources, we have been able to establish new missions of the British Orthodox Church in places where local people have asked for our ministry and we have discovered openings up and down the country which challenge us for a response. Some of those who have answered the call and committed themselves to the Orthodox faith are with us here today as the fruits of that seed which was planted by Pope Shenouda two decades ago. In fulfilment of that commission we are planning a more active outreach in response to such requests, whilst placing our trust in God to continue His blessing on all that we do in His name. At the conclusion of this service the bells of St. George-in-the-East will ring out in celebration, proclaiming our joy and thanksgiving. The poet Longfellow said that “Bells are the voice of the church; they have tones that touch and search the hearts of young and old.” On this day they also proclaim our commitment to share our precious Orthodox faith with those who have none, so that through our ministry God may touch and search their hearts also.”
“Anniversaries look back to events which we commemorate but they also should enable us to reflect on the path before us or they are merely opportunities for nostalgia. Today’s gospel records the mission of the 70 and we should take our inspiration for the future from the Lord’s words to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.’ “
In an address to the congregation, Bishop Kyrillos said that he was delighted by the generous invitation to share this joyful occasion of the twentieth Anniversary of the unity of the British in Coptic Orthodox Church into one church, a church that we love dearly, and that lives in us every day. He went on to speak of the spiritual; foundation of the Church, “The church, which our beloved Lord Jesus Christ has bought with his precious blood, is our dearest mother, and when we were baptised we came forth from her womb as heavenly children and as earthly angels. Our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, bought the church with His precious blood, so that all the children of His church are very precious to him. And her beloved bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ, wipes away the tears of sadness from her children’s eyes. It is not enough just to enter the church, we must let the church penetrated into us. We remember the Virgin St Mary when she was young, she entered the temple and in the end, she was transformed into the Temple of God. The children of the church are always joyful because they feel the church is their mother, and that our beloved Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church is their father. Any person who keeps God in his heart but has no parents cannot be considered as an orphan, but the ones who have parents and live far away from God indeed orphans. Our loving Heavenly Father said, ‘Even if your mother and forsake you, I will take care of you … I have carved you on the palms of my hand.’ (Psalm XXVII:10 & Isaiah XL: 16). The Church is our mother and has many names. She is called: the Bride of Christ, the House of God, the House of Angels, the Mother of Martyrs, the Bride of the Rock. She Is the Ship of Salvation and the Dwelling Place of God amongst His people.
We are filled by her teaching, and comforted within her loving and tender embrace. For this reason, every day new children are welcomed into her embrace and into her heart. The Church is our mother, educates, teaches and guides us in the way of salvation, and with open arms she accepts all people who come to her as Jesus said, “And the one who comes to me, I will by no means cast out.” (John VI: 37). We must always remember and keep in our heart what our mother the Church gives us through her teachings and love. Through the water and spirit of baptism we are born into the church, and through her teachings, we are filled and grow. Our mother the Church carries the holy sacraments, in which the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit are hidden and made visible in her good children. When we marry, the sacrament of marriage is officiated by the hand of the priest in the Church. And then when we finish our days on earth, the church becomes our path to obtain victory in heaven. And through repentance, we received the forgiveness of our sins and absolution from the priests whop are appointed as stewards of Christ’s holy mysteries. With his blessed hand, Our Lord Jesus Christ founded His church forever, therefore no one can attack her. He promised us saying, “No weapon formed against Him shall prosper: and every tongue which rises against Him in judgement, He shall condemn’ ( Isaiah LIV:17). And in these blessed days, following the feast of the holy apostles, we may remember the strength and unity of the early church ‘who were of one heart and one soul and had all things in common’ (Acts IV: 32). We pray that our beloved church continues to be a living witness of the goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to keep us united in Christian love.”
Bishop Kyrillos then presented Abba Seraphim with an ikon of the Holy Theotokos, sent by His Holiness Pope Tawadros and Bishops Louka and Pavlos also made presentations. Later, to mark the occasion, the three bishops were presented with commemorative glass paper weights inscribed with the Anniversary logo.
Assisting at the celebration of the Liturgy were Fathers Simon Smyth, David Seeds and Peter Farrington; Archdeacon Alexander Astill, Deacons Christopher Barnes, Theodore de Quincey and Daniel Malyon; Subdeacons Michael Kennedy, Paul Ashdown, Nicolae Popa, Edward Smyth, Anthony-Paul Holland, Trevor Maskery and Reader Christopher Shaw. Representatives of British Orthodox communities attended from Babingley (King’s Lynn), Bournemouth, Chatham, Cusworth (Doncaster), Glastonbury, London, Portsmouth, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Windsor, as well as the Eritrean churches in London and Sheffield. Also seated in the sanctuary were Fathers Yonas Tshemi and Shenouda Haile of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Father George Joy (representing H.G. Dr. Mathews Mar Thimothios) of the Malankara Indian Orthodox Church and Father Aphram (representing H.E. Archbishop Athanasius) of the Syrian Orthodox Church. Among the distinguished visiting clergy were His Grace Bishop Hlib of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Deacon Meliton Oakes (representing H.E. Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira); Father Andreas Andreopolous of the University of Winchester; Father Mark Woodruff, Vice Chairman of the Fellowship of St. John Chrysostom; Father John Salter and Deacon Richard Downer of the Greek Melkite Church as well as clergy of the Anglican and Catholic churches. Dr. Simon Bryden-Brook played the organ.
At the conclusion of the service, for which the church was packed, a buffet lunch (with a specially baked cake bearing the Anniversary logo) was served to all present mingled in the courtyard while the bells were rung in celebration. Later Fathers Yonas and Shenouda led the Eritreans present in traditional Eritrean songs and dance on the terrace in front of the main entrance.
Among the many messages of greetings received were those from His Grace Bishop Angaelos, who wrote, “It is with great regret that I am unable to join you today on this joyous occasion as I’m currently in Australia for my annual youth ministry visit. I could not let this occasion pass, however, without extending my congratulations and fraternal wishes to your Eminence, my dear brother in Christ, as well as your clergy and congregations. Praying that God continues to bless your ministry, and looking forward to our continued witness, I ask your prayers for me and my Ministry as I assure you of mine for you and yours.” Also received was a formal message of greeting from the Executive Council of OCP (Orthodoxy Cognate Page) Society, which expressed joy and great pleasure on the glorious occasion of the twentieth anniversary, “The commendable growth of the British Orthodox Church in the past 20 years has borne a great witness of her holy mission to restore the ancient Orthodox roots of the British Isles. The relationship established between the British Church and the ancient Coptic Patriarchate stands tall as the true model of Orthodox Conciliarity Union. Words are not enough to congratulate Your Eminence for the phenomenal leadership given to the British Orthodox Community that has taken the church far beyond the borders of the nation.”
Abba Seraphim joined a Prayer vigil outside London’s Eritrean Embassy on 22 May to mark the twelfth anniversary of the Eritrean government’s persecution of Christian churches. This event is jointly sponsored by the British Orthodox Church, Church in Chains, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the Evangelical Alliance, Human Rights Concern Eritrea and Release Eritrea. As in previous years the protest is dignified and composed of scriptural readings, prayers, hymns and short talks highlighting the plight of Christians in Eritrea. Abba Seraphim spoke of the uncanonical deposition and long imprisonment of Abune Antonios, the legitimate Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Only recently OCP Media Network released a clandestinely taken snap of Abune Antonios from a cellphone, which showed His Holiness looking tranquil and at peace, although still under house arrest. Requests for him be moved to a monastery have fallen on deaf ears.
Commenting on this photograph Abba Seraphim noted that although the government had stripped away his regalia, his authority and his freedom, they had not been able to take away his inner peace and life of prayer. The photograph showed a monk at peace with himself and his God, having served faithfully and refused to compromise with truth in order to retain his status and worldly honour. By contrast, Bishop Dioskoros, who allowed the government to place him upon a stolen throne, was now suffering from the effects of recent debilitating stroke, which left him physically and mentally incapacitated. We pray that, while he still has time, he may yet repent in his heart for his faithlessness and receive forgiveness. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark VIII: 36).
At the conclusion of the vigil, Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Andy Dipper, David Turner and Dr. Berhane Ashmelash, (on behalf of the participating organisations) handed in a letter of protest to His Excellency the Eritrean Ambassador.
On 17 December HRH The Prince of Wales demonstrated his concern for the Christian communities of the Middle East through a series of engagements and impressive, heart-felt speeches. Having just returned from the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the Prince began his day with a morning visit to the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre at Stevenage, where he was greeted by HG Bishop Angaelos and civic dignitaries. He was accompanied by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed of Jordan, who is religious affairs adviser to HM King Abdullah II of Jordan and a notable advocate of interfaith harmony. This visit began with a short service of prayer, presided over by Bishop Angaelos and Metropolitan Seraphim, after which the Princes were conducted around a display showing the many activities of the Church Centre and met with members of the local congregation and other ecumenical visitors, who had attended the service. Prince Charles was presented with a fine ikon of St. George, with another identical pone for TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the infant Prince George of Cambridge. Prince Ghazi was also presented with an ikon of St. Mary the Virgin. The Princes then adjourned for a brief round table meeting to discuss some of the general concerns about the current situation in the Middle East. Following this the Princes took tea at the Manor House before flying by helicopter to West London.
Here they were received by HE Archbishop Athanasios and HG Bishop Vahan, both natives of Iraq, at the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Acton, where a short service was held and hymns sung in Aramaic. They were able to talk to many of the congregation and hear informed accounts of their suffering.
In the late afternoon Prince Charles held an Advent Reception at Clarence House, with particular emphasis on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Among those attending were Archbishop Gregorios and Metropolitan Kallistos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the Bishops of London, Southwark, St. Albans, Liverpool Reading and Bishop Geoffrey Rowell; the Apostolic Delegate and the Archbishop of Westminster; Bishop Vahan Hovhannesian (Armenian Orthodox), Archbishop Athanasius (Syriac Orthodox), Bishop Angaelos (Coptic Orthodox), Abba Seraphim (British Orthodox), the Archdeacon of the Church of the East, as well as many clergy of other churches.
At the conclusion of the reception HRH Prince Ghali made and eloquent and eirenic speech followed by HRH Prince Charles, who remarked, that he had, “for some time now been deeply troubled by the growing difficulties faced by Christian communities in various parts of the Middle East. It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants. Christianity was, literally, born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ. Their church communities link us straight back to the early Church, as I was reminded by hearing Aramaic, Our Lord’s own language, spoken and sung a few hours ago.”
He highlighted his work over the past two decades for better understanding between Muslims and Christians and spoke of his fear that the dwindling Christian population might be lost altogether, and the serious grounds for us all to be concerned, “My prayer this afternoon is for all beleaguered communities and I believe that Western Christians ought to pray earnestly for fellow-believers in the Middle East. I am reminded that to-day in the Eastern Christian calendar it is the festival of Daniel and the three boys in the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They symbolize all those who are persecuted for their faith. But the important point is: they survived!”
On 17 July Abba Seraphim received a message of fraternal greetings from George Alexander, the Secretary & spokesperson of ‘Orthodoxy Cognate Page’ Media Network, formerly known as ‘Orthodoxy Beyond Limits’ (http://www.theorthodoxchurch.info) which is celebrating four years of inter-Orthodox news reporting. OCP is a Society for the Promotion of Orthodox Christian Unity and Faith and its readership has already exceeded a million and is growing. Its vision is one of Pan Orthodox Unity and the conciliarity of all Orthodox Churches. In thanking Abba Seraphim for his blessings, prayers and patronage, OCP also sent greetings to all faithful members of the British Orthodox Church.
In his reply, Abba Seraphim spoke of the significant ministry offered by fair and balanced reporting of church news and its considerable value in maintaining strong links between sister Orthodox churches and promoting wider Orthodox Unity. He wished OCP continuing growth with an expanding ministry, drawing support from Orthodox Christians of all traditions and cultures, whilst invoking God’s blessing on all those who undertook this invaluable ministry.
Raising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
10.30am Morning Prayer
9.30 am Raising of Incense
10.00 am Liturgy of St. James
11.45 am Refreshments
Raising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
10.30am Morning Prayer