On 12 April the new BOC Stoke Mission at Stoke-on-Trent hosted its first celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This memorable event took place at St Paul’s Church, Church Square, Burslem, Stoke on Trent, ST6 4BY and was celebrated by Abba Seraphim, assisted by Fathers David Seeds, Peter Farrington, Archdeacon Alexander Astill, Deacon Daniel Malyon and Reader Petrous Louis, on his first visit to the UK from Melbourne. The celebration received warm support from our ecumenical partners and especially from the Suffragan Bishop of Stafford, (The Right Rev’d Geoff Annas), who also attended.
Following the Raising of Morning Incense, Father David received four local enquirers as catechumens with prayer and anointing with oil. There are now five adult catechumens in Stoke preparing for baptism and the first of these will take place on 7 June. Father Peter plans to visit Stoke on a fortnightly basis to build up the Mission, when he will celebrate the Liturgy, share a communal meal with them and lead a study & instruction session.
During his homily, Father Peter used the Gospel account of the raising of Lazarus to illustrate our need for commitment and responsiveness to the divine call. Following the liturgy, all those present shared a buffet lunch and time of Christian fellowship.
Having received the news of the death of His Holiness Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka, Abba Seraphim wrote to Archbishop Athanasius Touma, Patriarchal Vicar fore Britain of the Syriac Orthodox Church, to offer on behalf of the clergy and people of the British Orthodox Church, sincere condolences on his passing. In the tradition of the Coptic Patriarchate, the Patriarch of Antioch is commemorated at every service when prayers are offered for the Pope & Patriarch of Alexandria, and in recent months those prayers have been offered with deep intent.
In his letter Abba Seraphim wrote, “In all my personal meetings with him – in Damascus, Cairo or in London – I found him kind and gracious. Our hearts were greatly touched by his attendance both at the funeral of the late Pope Shenouda and the Enthronement of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, even though he himself was in frail health. As his body began to fail, the strength and determination of his spirit was symbolised by the power and beauty of his voice, which remained strong.
The clergy and people of the British Orthodox Church are saddened that His Holiness ended his long and distinguished pontificate amidst such trials and tribulations for the Syriac people, especially in Iraq and Syria, as we know his heart was staunch in defending goodness and truth. We pray that he will rest in peace and awake to a joyful resurrection and trust in our Merciful Saviour to raise up a worthy successor to this great high priest”.
During the 40 days of mourning prayers for the repose of Patriarch Zakka will be offered in all British Orthodox churches and missions.
On 22 February Joyce Alice Edwards became the first recorded member of the British Orthodox Church to celebrate her hundredth birthday. (The previous longest lived member was the late Martha Coppin of Bournemouth, who died in her 99th year.) Joyce Edwards was the first cousin to the late Metropolitan Georgius of Glastonbury (1905-1979) and mother to Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury, so is well known to generations of church members. Previously a member of the Trotton Mission in Sussex she became an active member of the Charlton Parish when she moved back to London, following the death of her second husband, Peter Edwards in 1993.
Although physically frail and diagnosed three decades ago with heart failure, she lives in her own apartment in Charlton and has retained her mental acuity and independent spirit. Her good friend, Archimandrite Deiniol of the Wales Orthodox Mission summed things up when he wrote, “You know that I see you as a lady still young at heart, and I cannot imagine you as anything other than that.” As recently as 11 February she suffered a TIA (Transient Isceamic Attack) or mini-stroke but, by the Grace of God her indomitable spirit overcame that setback and she was able to attend all the events marking her birthday.
Birthday greetings were received from H.M. The Queen as well as from family and friends and from members of the Church both in Egypt and the United Kingdom. Foremost among these were personal greetings from His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, “praying to our Lord to grant you sound health and long life since this is considered a blessing from our Lord” and from His Grace Bishop Kirollos of Milan, the Papal Deputy for Europe, who sent handwritten greetings to “Dear Joyce” and a reminder that “God walks each step of your journey with you … as you walk in life.” Flowers, gifts and messages were received from all clergy of the British Orthodox Church as well as congregations and individual members. On the evening of her birthday she attended a reception and concert in her honour at St. Thomas’s Church, Charlton, and on the next day, Sunday, 23 February, she returned to attend the Divine Liturgy and to offer thanks to God for His many mercies throughout her long life. On both occasions she had to ceremonially cut birthday cakes.
Since 2002 the British Orthodox Parish of St. Mary & St. Felix at Babingley, Norfolk, has participated in the local Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by sponsoring an ecumenical lecture during The Raising of Evening Incense. This year a full church welcomed The Right Rev’d Alan Hopes, 4th Catholic Bishop of East Anglia. Introducing him to those present, Abba Seraphim spoke warmly of his predecessor, the late Bishop Michael Evans, who had been the speaker at the St. Felix ecumenical lecturer in 2005 and had also served on the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum alongside Abba Seraphim .
Bishop Alan began by reviewing the progress of the Catholic Church’s ecumenical dialogue in the fifty years since the IInd Vatican Council and its serious commitment to ecumenical dialogue with a wide range of Christian traditions, of which the dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox Churches was very active. Abba Seraphim later recalled that the meeting between the two newly elected Popes, Tawadros II of Alexandria and Francis I of Rome, last year was hugely significant, being the first meeting of heads of churches of both Popes, and came exactly forty years after the visit of Pope Shenouda III to Pope Paul VI in Rome.
Following the Evening Service, at which Abba Seraphim was assiated by Father David Seeds from Cusworth and Deacons Christopher Barnes and Daniel Malyon, all present joined together for a very British tea party and Bishop Alan was able to talk with local members of the British Orthodox Church as well as the wider ecumenical visitors.
The recent visit of His Holiness Mar Basilius Mar Thoma Paulose II, Catholicos of the East, to England, was not only a great blessing for the Indian (Malankara) Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom but also a significant ecumenical event. His visit marked a number of historic anniversaries: 80 years since the first celebration of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Qurbana in the Chapel of King’s College, London; 75 years since H.H.The Catholicos, Mar Baselios Geeverghese II visited the UK in 1937; 60 years since the Malayalee migration to the UK and 40 years since the formation of the St. Gregorios Congregation in London.
Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Subdeacon Daniel Malyon and Reader Trevor Maskery, attended the Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Catholicos at St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church in Brockley on Sunday, 8 September, and assisted in the liturgical celebration and the parochial speeches and festivities which followed.
On Monday, 9 September a Banquet of some 90 guests was held to honour the Catholicos at Lambeth Palace. In the absence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops of Gibraltar in Europe (The Right Rev. Geoffrey Rowell) and Southwark (The Right Rev. Christopher Chessum) acted as hosts. Representatives of all the major churches were present as well as many leading members of the Malayalee community in the UK and friends of the Indian Orthodox Church. The British Orthodox Church was represented by Abba Seraphim, Father Peter Farrington and Father & Mrs. Simon Smyth.
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
Divine Liturgy 2.30 p.m.