At the invitation of Alistair McKitterick, Tutor and Lecturer in Biblical and Theological Studies, two British Orthodox priests delivered lectures this month to students at Moorlands Bible College, Sopley, Christchurch, Hampshire. On 5 November Father Peter Farrington lectured on prayer and one week later, 12 November, Father Simon Smyth gave a richly illustrated presentation on icons.
Introducing himself as both a former Moorlands student (from the late ‘eighties) and a former evangelical Christian enabled his evangelical audience to more easily relate to Father Peter and more easily identify with his lecture. Referring to the teaching of Evagrius that if “you are a theologian you truly pray” and if “you truly pray you are a theologian” Father Peter emphasised the importance of knowing God through the encounter in prayer rather than academically knowing things about God. The lecture ranged through Saints Cyril of Jerusalem, John Cassian, John Chrysostom, Moses the Black and others, referring also to the contemporary Orthodox writings of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. Father Peter was careful to emphasise the apophatic approach and how closer encounters with God in prayer contrast with the modern tendency to almost analyse or understand God. In a wide ranging talk Father Peter also spoke on the importance of fasting and, of course, the Jesus Prayer.
Father Simon gave his presentation on icons at Moorlands for the fifth time (first visiting the college in 2009). The classic text of Saint John of Damascus was discussed and the Incarnation emphasised again and again as the requirement for icons: the “very heart of Christianity is Christ, God incarnate, God made flesh…. To see Jesus is to see the (otherwise) invisible God.” The union of God with man in accordance with the teaching of Saint Cyril the Great of Alexandria was emphasised. “To speak His Name is to speak the Name of God. To see His Face is to see the Face of God. To depict Him is to depict God.” Several icons were analysed in more detail including a modern icon of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ:
And an icon of the Apocalypse:
Several different icons of the Good Shepherd were contrasted, then of Saint Moses the Black and also of Saint Simon the Tanner; 12 November being the first of the three days added to the Advent Fast in perpetual memory of the three days of fasting and Saint Simon’s part in God’s miraculous deliverance of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the tenth century.
Some students however acceptable they found the theology of the presentation clearly struggled with an emotional response to the idea of kissing an icon. Father Simon’s honesty in frankly acknowledging (though now the most natural thing in the world for him) how difficult he had once found it, with his then evangelical protestant background, to force himself to first kiss an icon seemed to help facilitate discussion around this. The session finished with all present each sitting in prayerful silence for a few minutes before an icon of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Father Michael Ainsworth, Rector of St. George-in-the-East Church at Shadwell for the past seven years, decided to mark his retirement on 28 September with a traditional Anglican Evensong for Michaelmas, the feast of his patron, to which members of his congregation were invited as well as clergy and friends from neighbouring parishes and across the ecumenical spectrum. As ‘tenants’ of the Church, the British Orthodox London Mission was also anxious to share in the fond farewell of a priest they have come to respect and love and Abba Seraphim attended with some of his Orthodox parishioners. During the three years during which there has been Orthodox worship in his church, Father Michael has attended many liturgies and, afterwards, shared the antidoran he has received with his own congregation the next morning. In recognition of this symbolic fellowship, Abba Seraphim baked a traditional Coptic Archangel Michael bread and presented it to Father Michael, who immediately placed it with the celebratory food marking his retirement. Father Michael and his wife, Janina, will be returning to their northern roots when Janina becomes Rector of St. Maxentius, Bradshaw, in Bolton.
As in previous years, clergy and laity of the British Orthodox Church joined the annual Anglican Pilgrimage to Glastonbury, on 21 June. By tradition an Orthodox liturgy is generally celebrated in St. Mary’s Chapel (the Undercroft) on the morning of the pilgrimage, by Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox in alternate years.
Abba Seraphim was this year’s celebrant, but as an archaeological dig in the Undercroft was over-running schedule, the Liturgy of Saint James was celebrated in the adjacent St. Patrick’s Chapel. Assisting Abba Seraphim were Father Simon Smyth, Deacon Daniel Malyon and Subdeacons Paul Ashdown, Anthony-Paul Holland and Trevor Maskery. Abba Seraphim and his clergy later attended the Anglican Eucharist and afterwards joined the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Abbey. The principal celebrant was The Right Rev’d Bishop Roger Jupp, Chairman of the Glastonbury Pilgrimage Association, who warmly welcomed Abba Seraphim and his people, and the sermon was preached by The Right Rev’d Jonathan Goodall, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, who also attended the Liturgy of Saint James. The day was further blessed by especially clement weather.
On 14 June at St. George-in-the-East, Shadwell, Abba Seraphim tonsured Christopher Shaw of Sunbury-on-Thames and ordained him as a Reader to serve the BOC Windsor Mission. In his homily Abba Seraphim spoke of the Ascension Gifts of Christ and singled out the diaconate and the lesser orders which derive from it, as representing the diakonia of the Church in which all Christians are, to some measure, called to participate. “The apostle Paul makes it clear that these Ascension gifts of Christ are not given to individuals for their personal use but for the “building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” In other words, they are for the collective benefit of the people of God. He expressed the hope that Christopher, soon to be a Reader in the House of God, would be faithful to his name, bearing Christ to all whom he meets, so that he may receive God’s mercy along with all those who have pleased God from the beginning. Assisting Abba Seraphim in the ordination were Father Peter Farrington, who presented Christopher and Deacon Daniel Malyon, who read the Charge after the ordination.
On behalf of the clergy and faithful of the British Orthodox Church, Abba Seraphim sent a message of condolence to His Holiness Mar Basilius Mar Thoma Paulose II, Catholicos of the East, on hearing a report of the death of his predecessor, Mar Basilius Mar Thoma Didymos I, who has been living in retirement at Parumala since his abdication in 2010.
Born in 1921, the late Catholicos was ordained priest in 1950 and consecrated to the episcopate as Metropolitan of the Malabar Diocese in 1966. Called to the monastic life, at the age of 18 he joined the Mount Tabor Dayara in Parthanapuram, which had been founded only ten years previously by Thoma Mar Dionysius of Niranam. He later served as a teacher and headmaster of the various schools and colleges associated with this monastic foundation and, after he became a bishop, he served as General Superior of the Dayara. In 1992 he became Catholicos-elect and in 2005 succeeded Mar Basilius Mar Thoma Mathews II as Catholicos.
In his message of condolence Abba Seraphim recalled that it was his privilege to be received by His Holiness during his memorable visit to India in 2010, shortly before his retirement. “We pray that Almighty God will grant him repose after his many faithful years of service to the Church and that his memory will be eternal!”