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.
On 23 January, as part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum launched its first publication, Joint Statements between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches. The event was marked by a press conference and reception at the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales at Eccleston Square, Westminster. It was introduced by the two co-chairs, His Grace Bishop Angaelos, President of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK and His Excellency Mgr. Kevin McDonald, Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark. Other members of the Forum attending were Abba Seraphim; His Grace Bishop Vahan Hovhannesian; Mgr. Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham; Mgr. Paul Hendriks, Auxilary Bishop of Southwark, and Father Peter Farrington (co-Secretary).
Archbishop Kevin described the various statements as “rather a well-kept secret” especially as some of the most remarkable achievements of the ecumenical movement have been precisely with the Oriental Orthodox Churches. The Joint Declarations made by both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II with the heads of the Coptic and Syriac Orthodox Churches were “real milestones.” Bishop Angaelos spoke of the real bonds of friendship which had been established within the Forum since its establishment in 2007 and of the very clear aims and objectives which continue to animate it.
Abba Seraphim is one of a great number of people to mourn the passing of Mgr. Michael Evans, Catholic Bishop of East Anglia, who died on 11 July after a long battle with prostate cancer. Bishop Michael was widely respected and loved in East Anglia and as chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Committee for Christian Unity had forged deep links with Christians from many traditions. Consecrated to the episcopate in 2003, he preached at St. Felix Orthodox Church at Babingley during the 2005 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He and Abba Seraphim both served on the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum, where he was active until his health seriously deteriorated towards the end.
“We have been praying for Bishop Michael throughout his illness and found inspiration in the way he calmly faced death, insisting on fulfilling his ministry to the very last. He was an able theologian with a sharp intellect and a loving, pastoral heart. We will miss him and our prayers and sympathy goes out to his flock, who have lost an outstanding bishop and pastor. Memory Eternal !”