Paschal Eve Liturgy was celebrated in the British Orthodox churches in Babingley, Bournemouth, Chatham and Cusworth; but the Palm Sunday Liturgy was celebrated at Charlton and additional Holy Week services were also held in Portsmouth. Services in all churches and missions were well supported and numbers were augmented on Pascha Eve by the attendance throughout of Orthodox from Eritrea, Moldova, Roumania and Russia, so that ‘Christ is Risen’ was proclaimed in several languages. Abba Seraphim officiated at St. Felix at Babingley and returned to Charlton in time to host a Paschal barbecue at the Church Secretariat for the London Mission. The marked improvement of the weather over the weekend was much appreciated. The London Mission Liturgy at Shadwell on Saturday, 11 May, will serve as the paschal celebration for London.
This year Abba Seraphim celebrated the Nativity Feast on Christmas Eve (24 December) at the Chatham Church. In his address Abba Seraphim spoke of the angelic proclamation of Peace on Earth, which he noted has always been elusive, “It seems almost alien to the natural condition of man and since the beginning of time, enmity and strife, whether domestic or between nations, has brought death, division and desolation in its wake.”
He especially addressed the current problems in the Middle East, “This year of grace we celebrate the Lord’s Nativity when the ancient biblical lands are more than unusually unsettled. That little town of Bethlehem and the Palestinian territories cry out for justice. We deplore the aggressive establishment of settlements by an intransigent Israeli state, but who can condone the charter of a corrupt and bloodthirsty Hamas which calls for the killing of Jews ? In Egypt we have seen the disappointment of a peaceful Revolution, which overthrew a corrupt regime, only to fall captive to narrow religious zealots who seek to promote their own interests rather than the common good. Blood has been shed and we may expect that more will follow, because in that divided society there can be no peace. Most of all we grieve for our brethren in Syria, torn apart by unspeakable savagery.”
With regard to the Syrian crisis, he felt that the current Coalition government, which prides itself on its promotion of civil liberties, equality and justice, both at home and abroad, has shown incredible short-sightedness in its response to the threat to Christian communities in the Middle-East. By supporting the so-called National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which has been proved to be dominated by Islamist elements and financed by external regimes, our government has “effectively abandoned all possibilities to promote dialogue with both sides and has allied us to those who are destroying the significant Christian minority which has been there since apostolic times. Unlike Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, I cannot consider what he regards as Mr. Cameron’s “overtly Christian tone” in his Christmas address as being anything more than hollow words, when government policy doesn’t merely show casual indifference to the fate of our Christian brethren in Syria, but actively undermines them.”
We were very happy to hear the news of the marriage of Tina Hammond of the British Orthodox Chatham parish with Youhanna Said Hakim Georgious of Luxor. This took place on 31 July at St. Antony & St. Paul Coptic Orthodox Church in Luxor and was performed by Abouna Gladious Gerges and Abouna Bolis in the presence of a congregation of more than a thousand people. The wedding had originally been planned for last year, but the sad death of Youhanna’s mother in August 2011 resulted in a year’s delay until the periods of mourning had been accomplished.
Tina will continue to share her time between Luxor and Kent, from where she runs her travel company. Abba Seraphim and Father Peter Farrington with her many friends in the British Orthodox congregations at Chatham, Charlton, the London Mission and the South Coast parishes all send their warmest greetings to Tina and Youhanna and look forward to welcoming him to England.
The traditional services of Holy Week and Pascha were observed by the British Orthodox churches and missions during the past week and reports indicate that they were all well supported. Father Simon Smyth reported that services were held in the three South Coast communities of Southampton, Portsmouth and Bournemouth from Palm Sunday evening to Holy Wednesday but thereafter came together at the Church in Bournemouth for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Pascha Eve. Representing the local ‘Churches Together’ Father Robin Nash, priest in charge of St. Luke Winton, joined the local congregation for the Paschal Liturgy when he read the Pauline Epistle. On Holy Pascha, Father Simon held a forenoon service and administered Holy Communion to those who had been unable to attend the late night Liturgy, before conducting the usual Memorial prayers around the Orthodox graves in Winton Cemetery.
Abba Seraphim visited the Chatham Church on Holy Thursday, where he performed the Laquan Footwashing and celebrated the Liturgy before travelling to Babingley to preside at the Good Friday prayer and the Paschal Vigil and Liturgy, which took place at sunset, earlier than at Bournemouth, Chatham and Cusworth, which all began at 10.00 p.m. Before the Paschal Vigil Abba Seraphim baptised and chrismated Richard Tawn at St. Felix Church and, dressed in his white chrisom robe and having been given the new name of George, he was joyfully able to receive his first communion and warmly welcomed to fellowship. Abba Seraphim returned to London early on Pascha morning where he took the sacrament to Father Michael Robson at Morden College and to other elderly and sick members who had been unable to attend a liturgy the previous night.
Abba Seraphim, Father Simon Smyth, Father David Seeds and Father Peter all preached on the Resurrection during their respective liturgies but in Bournemouth and Portsmouth the local deacons also took responsibility for preaching during Holy Week. Always popular is the Good Friday Burial Service, where rose petals, herbs and spices are reverently offered by the women, who assist the clergy in preparing the cross for ‘burial’ and its transfer into the sanctuary.
The services at Chatham and Cusworth were also well supported by their local congregations and all churches reported that they were joined by other ethnic Orthodox who were unable to attend their own churches. Although refreshments were provided in all churches following the Paschal Liturgy, many also brought baskets with traditional paschal dishes to have them blessed before returning with them to their homes. Dyed and chocolate eggs were distributed among all the worshippers and always prove very popular with the children.
The fact that Holy Pascha falls within the forty days of mourning for the death of Pope Shenouda undoubtedly contributed to a reflective spirit in all the churches, and the prayers which are normally made for his life were now changed to those for his repose, but also for many this highlighted the common hope of the Resurrection which we all share and the deep joy we feel in proclaiming that Christ is Risen.
Father Simon Smyth of the Bournemouth and South-Coast churches shared this message:
SOUTH COAST CHURCHES MOURN HIS HOLINESS
In the Church of Christ the Saviour, Bournemouth, the photographs of our beloved patriarch, His Holiness Pope Shenouda, were veiled in black with lighted candles and a cross placed in front. The tone of sadness and loss that Father Simon had heard from so many the previous evening as he had ‘phoned to tell them the news could not be hidden during the Sunday Divine Liturgy. At the conclusion of the Liturgy the hymn “For all the saints who from their labours rest” was sung with real meaning and depth of feeling by the congregation.
Father Simon then stood before the veiled photograph and read an extract from His Holiness’ book The Release of the Spirit:
“what can we say about the father bishops each of whom will be asked by God about nearly two hundred thousands or more whether priests or lay-men? …pray for them earnestly that God may help them carry out their duties… Remember how the holy monks used to escape from this position because of its fearful responsibility. And when one of them was taken by force and ordained as bishop he cried out weeping before God and saying, ‘O Lord, you know that I left the world and went to the monastery to seek my own salvation.. But now I return to the world though I have not attained salvation yet and is required to save others also… What about our fathers the Patriarchs, each one of whom God will ask about ten million in Egypt and much more in” the West and around trhe world. “My brethren, you ought to pray for every Patriarch that he may be able to perform his duties and give a good reply to God when He asks him about his own soul and the souls of the bishops, priests, deacons, monks and laymen… and about keeping the church laws and spreading the Orthodox faith all over the world… do not look to God’s ministers and to those who hold any responsibilities just like spectators praising them when they do good and condemning them when they do wrong… You rather pray for them…”
The morning worship ended with the Memorial Service and the singing of “Give rest, O Christ, Thou light of Light Eternal”:
“Though o’er the grave, for loved ones, still we sorrow,
Yet we may commune with them while we’re waiting,
And, in the joyful hope of that ‘tomorrow’:
Sing Alleluia !”
The Portsmouth Church of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black was represented by Reader James Kelly who spoke briefly and movingly of meeting Pope Shenouda in Egypt in late 2010. The Southampton Mission of Saint Polycarp was represented by Mary Goodchild. Both in Southampton and Portsmouth the congregations also veiled photos of Pope Shenouda in black and lit candles before them for their Memorial Services.
Archdeacon Alexandar writes on behalf of the Cusworth, Doncaster Congregation
“His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was remembered in prayers at the Sunday Liturgy of the Church at Cusworth, as were the people of Egypt and the authorities tasked with governing the Church until a new Pope is elected. After the Liturgy special memorial prayers were also offered for the repose of our late Pope’s soul.”
The Babingley, Norfolk congregation had to cancel their Sunday Raising of Incense and Divine Liturgy service, due to Abba Seraphim leaving for Cairo. But they instead held a prayer service for His Holiness lead by Deacon Mark and Deacon Christopher Barnes.
Father Peter Farrington of the Chatham, Maidstone congregation writes
“The congregation of St Alban and St Athanasius Orthodox Chuch in Chatham prayed for the repose of His Holiness during the Liturgy, and then offered prayers for him after the Liturgy in the form of the Panikhida (Memorial prayer service).”
Other messages of support were received from other denominations in the UK
Father Marcus Brisley, Parish of the Annunciation and St. Edmund Campion, Bournemouth writes:
On behalf of myself and my parish I would like to pass on sincere condolences to you and your community at the Church of Christ the Saviour on the death of His Holiness Pope Shenoudah III. A charismatic leader who was used by the Lord to continue the great movement of spiritual renewal within the Coptic Church, he has guided his people in a time of challenge and difficulty. I therefore sense how deeply you and all his spiritual children will feel your loss. May the Lord receive him with mercy and reward him for his labours, comforting Coptic Christians as you mourn and raising up a worthy successor to shepherd you.
With prayers and best wishes in Christ
There were other supporters and well wishers who share their prayers and kind thoughts for H.H. Pope Shenouda III and the families of Egypt.