On 8 January Abba Seraphim ordained Roman Ivanovich Benchak to serve as a Reader at St. Athanasios & St. Alban Parish at Chatham. Roman is a Russian who has been worshipping for some time with the British Orthodox and during his homily Abba Seraphim commented that although the Russian Orthodox Church was a relative ‘newcomer’ to Orthodoxy it had made an amazing contribution to the world, with its profound spirituality and great catalogue of saints and martyrs, especially those who had struggled to keep the Orthodox faith alive during a difficult history, from the Tartar Yoke to more recently, the darkness of atheistic communism. What a rich schoolmaster it had proved to bring Roman to Christ. In entering into service in the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Patriarchate, Roman becomes the ‘firstfruits’ of the full reunion we all long to see between the two families of Orthodoxy and a witness to our common faith and adherence to the same Apostolic Tradition.
Abba Seraphim noted that today in Stevenage His Grace Bishop Angaelos was holding a special Memorial Service for all the Coptic Christians who have lost their lives – indeed become martyrs – in the recent troubles which preceded and took place during the Revolution: from, El Kosheh, Nag Hammadi, Al-Qidiseen in Alexandria to Maspero. Although unable to be there personally, he had directed all British Orthodox congregations to make similar commemorations and to join in prayer and in spirit with that service. Thankfully this Nativity Feast has passed off in Egypt peacefully but these are still uncertain times. He noted that His Holiness Pope Shenouda had invited representatives of all political parties to join the Christmas celebration; which was right as Christians can show no hate, even for those who have treated them cruelly, especially as the Eucharist is about union with God and the spirit of forgiveness and new life in Christ; so all must be welcome. Yet we do not forget those whose lives have been sacrificed and whose blood is a witness of injustice. At this time we also called for prayer for the Christians of Syria, who are suffering because of the unrest there.
Father Peter Farrington visited the British Orthodox Church of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black on Saturday 10th December. He led the celebration of the
Divine Liturgy, assisted by Father Simon and Reader Antony-Paul Holland. Father Peter demonstrated in a sermon replete with quotations from the Fathers across several centuries that Saint Mary had always held a special place at the heart of the Church. The Church had always honoured and venerated her and sought her intercessions and it was right that this was so. The sermon was much appreciated with more than one member of the congregation asking for a copy.
Father Peter hopes to visit the Portsmouth congregation again next year and the possibility of a reciprocal visit by Father Simon to Chatham in the early months of 2012 was also discussed.
The Coptic Language Summer School held at King’s College, London over the 5th-8th September was a complete success and even exceeded the expectations of those who participated, and myself who organised it.
Over four very intensive days of study a group of eight students progressed with growing understanding and enthusiasm through the first third of Thomas Lambdin’s Introduction to Sahidic Coptic through the inspiring teaching of Dr. Carol Downer, one of the few experts in Coptic teaching in the UK at the present time.
The group of participants included a variety of university lecturers from different institutions, several PhD students, and a handful of independent students such as myself. The class turned out to be ideally matched and we progressed through the studies at a very fast pace while also working together so that no-one was left behind.
We were fortunate to be able to hold the Summer School at King’s College, London, at the Strand campus, and some of the faculty and students at King’s were participants on the course. The excellent cafeteria facilities on site meant that we did not have to spend time each day looking for somewhere to have lunch together. The room we used was just the right size and had a view out over the Strand.
Many of the group were already competent in a variety of other ancient languages, but thanks to the teaching ability of Dr. Carol Downer even those of us whose willingness to learn was greater than our present grasp of Sahidic Coptic were soon able to translate increasingly complex sentences. Working through the exercises, both together in the class, and on our own in the evening, meant that the lessons we were learning took root.
By the end of the intensive course we were even able to begin to read passages from the Scripture with some understanding and each participant was able to measure the real progress they had made. Having studied the first third of our text book many of the class asked if a second and even a third such intensive week of studies could be organised in January and at Easter so that a more complete grasp of Sahidic Coptic could be acquired over the course of the year.
Some of the comments I have received from participants are as follows:
I absolutely loved the course – the atmosphere was friendly and open, and I felt welcome at once even though I am no language expert. It was just the push I needed to get me interested and motivated to continue pursuing Sahidic Coptic, and the encouragement and support I received has increased my love for the language even further.
The congregation of St Alban’s Orthodox Church in Chatham are very pleased to have the beautiful veil for the iconostasis now hanging in place. This veil was a gift from Abba Seraphim and was manufactured in Egypt. It was brought back to the UK by one of our members after a recent visit. The old veil was replaced by Roman, another of our members, who has put in a great deal of effort to make sure that the veil opens smoothly, and is at just the right height. We are very grateful to him. Roman has also repaired and replaced the hanging sign outside the Church, which you will see if you are able to visit St Albans.