At the invitation of The Waterloo Place Group, a private luncheon club composed of School Chaplains, Abba Seraphim spoke on 10 November at The Athenaeum Club in London. His subject was the background to the current situation of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt. Briefly tracing the political history of Egypt since the 1952 Revolution, Abba Seraphim spoke about the outrages of El Kosheh (New Year’s Eve, 1999) and Nag Hammadi (Christmas Eve 2010) leading to the acceleration of events over the past twelve months. Throughout all the terrible events of this period and the uncertainty of the future, the message of His Holiness Pope Shenouda has been clear, “We do not know anything concerning the future. The Lord said: Do not care for tomorrow, tomorrow cares for itself. The future is in the hands of God not ours.”
Your Holiness, dear Father in God,
For the second time this year it is my melancholy duty to send to you the profound condolences of your British Orthodox clergy and faithful at the deaths of so many faithful Christians who were peacefully protesting against recent attacks on Coptic churches. We join wholeheartedly in the three days of prayer and fasting and share the grief and shock which the loss of so many innocent lives deserves.
We also extend our deep sympathy to the families and friends of all the departed as well as well as those who were injured in the vicious and unwarranted attacks which took place.
We earnestly pray for peace and justice in Egypt so that all sections of society may be united in rebuilding a free and fair society so that the people of Egypt may be united together in common cause for the benefit of all.
We thank God for preserving Your Holiness in health and safety to lead the church and ask Him to uphold you in your sacred ministry.
Commending myself to Your Holiness’s prayers.
Your loving and faithful son-in-Christ,
Traditionally the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church meets in Cairo on the Eve of the Feast of Pentecost in plenary session. However, this year it has been cancelled at short notice and Pope Shenouda will remain in Cleveland, Ohio, where he has gone for routine medical treatment.
More Disturbing Events from Cairo
As Abba Seraphim had booked his flights some time ago he planned to go ahead with his visit. However, after a few weeks of relative calm following the Revolution, there were two recent incidents in central Cairo which give cause for concern. In one a female reporter from Coptic TV went down to Tahrir Square, where a group of young men surrounded her and attempted to rape her. When she desperately called for help a police officer arrived and shot into the air to disperse the crowd. The criminals took both his gun and his phone away and beat him almost to death. On the same day, the Ezbekia Police Station (near the main railway station) was burnt down following rumours that a police officer had killed a microbus driver. As a result of these incidents, which indicate a potential resurgence in violence, Abba Seraphim was advised against travelling to Cairo at the present and, acting on this advice, reluctantly cancelled his planned trip to Egypt. These incidents will probably not be reported by the European media.
Abba Seraphim asks everyone to continue in prayer for Egypt and especially for the Christians there.
Abba Seraphim visited Egypt from 13-20 October with a small group of ecumenical pilgrims as well as members of the British Orthodox Church. Accompanying Abba Seraphim were Father Simon Smyth and Reader James-Antony Kelly from the Portsmouth parish, Dr. Katherine Mori from the Charlton parish, Dr. Gordon Beamish, James Carr, Daniel Heale, Terence Pearson and Sister Luisa Duffy of Madonna House. Arriving in Cairo on a Wednesday they were able to attend the weekly papal lecture at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbesseya and afterwards to greet His Holiness on his return to the papal residence. They were accompanied throughout by Shenouda Mamdouh and his wife, Mary Ezzat.
On 14 October the group travelled to St. Mina’s monastery at Maryut, where there were warmly welcomed by His Grace Bishop Kyrillos and lunched at the monastery. Following this they visited the ancient pilgrimage city of St. Menas, which is one of the seven Unesco World Heritage sites in Egypt. Daniel Heale is preparing a doctoral thesis for the University of Winchester on the conservation of historic Coptic sites, so had a particular interest in its present condition, which the Glastonbury Review previously highlighted (No. 108: July 2003) when the damage caused by rising water levels was causing serious concern. The site of the main altar is now covered by a temporary wooden church and the monks are working closely with the archaeologists and conservationists. Father Thaddeus acted as the party’s guide and invited Abba Seraphim to celebrate the Raising of Evening Incense on this historic spot. After leaving Maryut Abba Seraphim’s party stayed overnight at the Papal Residence at St. Bishoy’s monastery in the Wadi El N’atrun.
On 15 October, after visiting the church and venerating the relics at St. Bishoy’s monastery, the party visited Abba Seraphim’s own monastery, Deir El Surian to take the blessing of the churches and relics. They were received buy His Grace Bishop Mattheos, the Abbot, who sat with the group answering questions about Coptic liturgy and the monastic life. That evening the party returned to Cairo, where they used St. Mark’s Centre at Nasr City as their base.
On 16 October they were joined by Abuna Arsanios Boula and the visited the churches and monasteries of Old Cairo: Deir Abu Saifain and the tomb of the late Abbess Irene; the Hanging Church (Al-Mu‘allaqah), Ben Ezra synagogue, St. Barbara, the Church of SS. Sergius & Bacchus (Abu Sargah), the Church of SS. Cyrus & John, the Church of the Holy Virgin, the Pot of Basil (Al-‘Adhra Qariyat ar-Rihan) and the Convent of St. George (Deir Mari Girgis), where they were received and entertained to lunch by Mother Kyria.
On 17 October they drove to the Red Sea monasteries and were received at St. Antony’s monastery by Abuna Ruwais Antony, who acted as their host during an extensive visit. Following this they travelled on to St. Paul’s monastery, where they stayed the night. The next morning Abba Seraphim, assisted by Abuna Arsanios, celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the underground chapel beside the site of St. Paul’s tomb before the party breakfasted and visit the churches and shrines in the monastery.
On 19 October Abba Seraphim, assisted by Abuna Paul Girguis of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Washington DC, celebrated the Divine Liturgy at St Theodore’s convent (Amir Tadros) in Harat ar-Rum and afterwards were entertained to breakfast by Mother Adrosis, the Abbess. The party then travelled to the Papal Residence at Abbesseya for an audience with His Holiness Pope Shenouda. Following a private meeting with Abba Seraphim, at which he was able to report to the Pope on aspects of the ministry of the British Orthodox Church as well as his visit to the North American Eritrean diocese and to discuss current issues relating to the Coptic Church, they were joined by Bishops Joannes and Ermia, the papal secretaries, and His Holiness warmly received the whole group and discussed aspects of their visit with them. The meeting concluded with His Holiness praying for the whole group and distributing gifts of books and holy ikons.
Before flying back to London on 20 October Abba Seraphim and his party visited Miss Iffa, one of the first deaconesses blessed by Pope Shenouda, at her home in Heliopolis. Although she is now 90, she remains in good spirits and warmly welcomed all her visitors.