Archdeacon Mark Saunders – Memory Eternal!

Having contracted pneumonia last week, Archdeacon Mark was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King’s Lynn, where he reposed in the Lord on 27 November, just over a month after marking his 93rd birthday.

Robert William John Saunders was born at Cirencester, Gloucestershire, on 18 October 1925, where his father was a market gardener with a local smallholding. The family later moved to Folkestone in Kent. During the Second World War, as a soldier, he served in both India and Egypt, where he recalled giving support to many refugees. At the end of the war he met Sybil, who was serving in the Land Army and they married at Cheshunt in Hertfordshire in 1945. Having trained as an engineer, he became a General Store keeper and also ran the “Clockhouse Store” at Terrington, as well as a couple of fish & chip shops. From an early age he was a committed and active churchgoer and was an altar server and sacristan at St. Peter’s Church,  West Lynn. When their parish priest left the Church of England as part of the “Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy” movement he was among several members of the congregation who followed him in 1993. He and Sybil were baptised and chrismated by the late Father Andrew Winlo at Cusworth on 8 October 1995 and became communicant members of the British Orthodox Church. He was ordained as a Reader (12 November 1995) and Subdeacon (28 January 1996) at the hands of Abba Seraphim and served at the Orthodox Chapel of St. Felix in the African Violet Centre at Terrington St. Clement. In October 1999 he and Sybil were among members of the St. Felix Parish who accompanied Abba Seraphim on his XIXth Visit to Egypt, where they were received by the late Pope Shenouda III.

He was always a very efficient handyman and when the British Orthodox Church was offered the use of the former Anglican chapel at Babingley in 2000 he used his practical skills to adapt the church for Orthodox worship.  His commitment to the church was always impressive and both he and Sybil twice moved home in order to be closer to the church. Recognising his gifts and qualities, Abba Seraphim proposed his ordination to the diaconate, which took place at the Eritrean Church in Camberwell on 5 February 2000, when he assumed the religious name of Mark in honour of St. Mark the Evangelist.  When their parish priest moved to Scotland in 2007, Deacon Mark became the resident minister in charge of the Parish, whilst Abba Seraphim assumed the direct pastoral oversight by visiting Babingley twice a month between 2007-2015 with Deacon Mark presiding at the regular offices which were held on the other Sundays.

On 28 May 2015 Sybil Saunders reposed in her 90th year after long months of declining health, bravely borne, during which she was cared for with great tenderness by Deacon Mark. They were a devoted and loving couple and Sybil’s commitment to the church was as deep as her husband’s. After Sybil’s death Deacon Mark’s own health now began to decline and walking also became an issue, which was very frustrating for someone who had always been extremely active. After the British Orthodox Church resumed its independence in October 2015, Deacon Mark demonstrated his continued loyalty and despite failing health and numbers, he continued to show the same devotion and commitment. When the office of Archdeacon became vacant, Abba Seraphim had no hesitation in raising Deacon Mark to this new dignity, although the blessing was actually conferred in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King’s Lynn, where he was for several weeks because of health issues. For many months Archdeacon Mark was in and out of hospitals and care homes, although holy communion was always taken to him after the Liturgy at Babingley. Although physically frail he retained a sharp intellect and sustained his life of prayer. During the past three months, his general condition underwent a marked improvement enabling him to attend all the monthly services, where although he was not able to officiate, he nevertheless joined in with great fervour and devotion and was clearly delighted to be back worshipping at the Babingley Church.  A Requiem Liturgy was held at Babingley on Sunday, 2 December.

Archdeacon Mark’s funeral service will take place at St. Felix British Orthodox Church at Babingley at noon on Monday, 10 December, following which he will be buried in the churchyard, next to his late wife, Sybil Saunders.

Archdeacon Mark Saunders: Memory Eternal !


Tragic death of Vanessa Tinker, church ikonographer

We are sad to announce that Miss Vanessa Tinker, A.R.C.A., the ikonographer of the British Orthodox Church, has recently died at the age of 76 years.

Upon returning to London from Bournemouth last Sunday evening, Abba Seraphim received a message from a friend of Vanessa Tinker, expressing concern that she was not answering her telephone or personal calls to her house. She had been unwell and confined to bed for three days the previous week, so there was concern about her health. Accompanied by Father James, Abba Seraphim visited her home and, not receiving any answer, although the house lights were on, summoned the police, who made an enforced entry only to discover that she had died alone in her home. Abba Seraphim was called upon to identify her body, after which he and Fr. James called on her 98 year old mother, who lives nearby, to break the sad news and express their condolence.

Vanessa Tinker was a former member of the Blackheath Parish, who was baptised by Father Andrew Bateson  in 1974. Having studied at Goldsmith’s College and the Royal College of Art, she became an Art teacher and also founded the Glastonbury School of Ikonography. Apart from writing individual ikons, she also painted the ikonostasis of the Bournemouth Church in 1981 and that of the Cusworth Church in 1989.  Additionally she painted portraits of the late Metropolitan Georgius and of Abba Seraphim for the Church Secretariat

She had been actively involved in the church for many years and was highly regarded by both clergy and laity. The results of the post-mortem are still awaited, after which her funeral will then be arranged. News of her sudden death met with considerable sadness and many comments posted online by former pupils and friends spoke of her as “A lovely , gentle Person” and “A quiet and dignified lady.” One pupil wrote: “Vanessa was the most gentle, peaceful, softly spoken, graceful, wonderful lady I have ever known, a true rose in an imperfect world. Vanessa listened, rather than spoke, and wisely kept her own counsel. I never once heard her say a bad word about anyone or anything, she was a truly remarkable woman and I feel honoured to have known her. Vanessa often appeared very shy and reserved, yet somehow she exuded kindness and love seemingly without even trying. Vanessa’s smile was often enough to excuse the need for words: a lady at peace with herself, the world, and all those around her.”

Vanessa Tinker’s funeral service will be held at 11.45 am on Monday, 17 December at St. Thomas’s Church, corner of Maryon Road & Woodland Terrace, Charlton, SE7 8EN.

Vanessa Tinker: Memory Eternal !


Further support for the Bournemouth Church ministry

On Sunday, 18 November Abba Seraphim blessed Yuriy Kot as an Epsaltos to assist Hieromonk John in the services of the British Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour at Bournemouth. Also present at the Liturgy was Deacon Antony Holland of Portsmouth, recently returned to ministry, who is also now attached to the Bournemouth Church. Although regular services are now held at the Bournemouth Church, Abba Seraphim and Father James continue to attend on the third Sunday in each month, when a pontifical liturgy is celebrated.


Praying for the Departed on Remembrance Sunday

The annual commemoration of Remembrance Sunday was especially significant this year because of its falling on the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War; but at St. Alban’s British Orthodox Church at Chatham, it had added significance because Sunday, 11 November also marked the Fortieth Day since the repose of Metropolitan Bishoy and also of the death of a long-standing regular member of the congregation, Mario Scuotto, who died on 5 November aged 90 years.

Prayers were said for all these departed during the morning celebration of the Liturgy in a full church, after which the congregation also attended special memorial prayers. Speaking of the late Mario Scuotto, Abba Seraphim noted that he had been a most supportive neighbour to the church at Chatham, which he looked after and cared for with unstinting devotion, but also became a devout worshipper: so had truly demonstrated our Lord’s command of loving his neighbours as himself. In return he was held in great affection and respect by other regular worshippers. Following the services Abba Seraphim, Father James and Reader Michel – being the regular clergy at Chatham – called on Mario’s widow, Mrs. Jean Scuotto, to pay their condolences.


Pharaisaical Legalism alive and well in contemporary Orthodoxy

The tragic break in communion between the Œcumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Russian Orthodox Church over the granting of autokephaly to the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine has not only caused division on a wider scale among Orthodox churches, but has also revealed fundamental and irreconcilable differences in spirit between churches of the Orthodox tradition.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, where the office of the Bishop of Rome is invested with universal jurisdiction and primacy, and his declarations and teachings on doctrines defining faith and morals are regarded as infallible and irreformable of themselves and not by the consent of the church; the Orthodox Church adheres to the spirit of consensus, drawing on the sacred scriptures, the writings of the fathers, the definitions of church councils and the spiritual welfare of local Christian communities.

The expression ‘canonical’ refers to this consensual spirit of the apostolic churches: from acceptance of the texts which constitute the Holy Bible, to the church councils which defined the Creed, rejected false teachings and defined the rules for church government. Out of this conciliar ethos, compendia of canons were compiled for guidance, of which Bishop Julius of Iona, the first bishop of the British Orthodox Church, wrote: “As a hedge is planted not for its own sake, but for the protection of the flowers and fruits of the garden which it surrounds, so have the Holy Canons no other object than to preserve for our use the precious blessings of the Gospel of Life.” Other writers described them as “little buoys” to guide us as we navigate the Sea of Life; but sadly there are others who prefer to interpret them by the letter rather than the spirit.  “For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (2 Corinthians III: 6).

Constantinople’s right to grant autokephaly to churches under its oversight was in fact ignored by Russia in 1448 when the Metropolitan Jonas of Kiev was appointed Primate without recourse to the Œcumenical Patriarch. During the next 145 years, sixteen successive Metropolitans ruled the Russian Church until 1589, when Constantinople finally granted Russia autokephaly. In 1686 the Œcumenical Patriarch delegated to the Russian Church the right of consecration of the Metropolitan of Kiev, Ukraine’s prime see, but never transferred the territory of Ukraine to anyone with any Act so did not surrender its oversight of the Ukraine, which remained under the Œcumenical Patriarchate, including the specific provision of commemorating the Œcumenical Patriarch in all services.

Patriarch Bartholomeus of Constantinople is a profoundly conscientious spiritual father, who has always shown deep respect for the traditions of the church and the conciliar spirit; but equally a thoroughly pastoral oversight for the churches under his protection.  A recent article by a Greek doctor, Lykourgas Nanis, published in Orthodox Witness (www.orthodoxwitness.org) in its blog “Over the Rooftops”, under the heading ‘Pope of the East’ throws napalm bomb on world Orthodoxy , which was headed by an insulting montage depicting “Mr. Bartholomew” “holding his pride” (a napalm bomb) because “the decision of the Fanariot synod is incendiary, a napalm bomb dropped on Ukraine as well as on ecumenical Orthodoxy”.

Dr. Nanis accuses the Œcumenical Patriarchate of behaving in a papal spirit, suggesting that Patriarch Bartholomeus is “aptly dubbed ‘Pope of the East’ with the Synod showing a “papal-governing mentality” to implement their distorted plans to fulfil their hegemonic ambitions and “revelling in contempt for the sacred canons that regulate the relations of the Orthodox Church with heretics and heathens, violating and trampling on a host of them, the important men in charge of ecclesiastical affairs in Bosporus have, with one stroke, without any substantive ecclesiastical reason and cause, made a foolish and unwise action that will lead to an intra-Orthodox schism, and ‘legitimizes’ their papally inspired and implemented hegemony.”       Although invested with an historic ‘primacy of honour’ among the churches, the ludicrous accusations of seeking dominance over world Orthodoxy is exactly what Patriarch Bartholomeus is seeking to avoid; whereas the Russian Orthodox Church’s reaction is motivated by fear of a weakening of its own regional ascendency. Underscoring all canonical and pastoral arguments is the political hegemony which Putin’s Russia is seeking to revive.  The independence achieved by Belarus and the Ukraine by the 1991 Belevezhe Accords which dissolved the former Soviet Union, has been something which Putin has been steadily attempting to undermine, notably through the annexation of the Crimea in March 2014 and repeated military incursions into Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in which some 2,500 people have died and more than a million have been displaced.  Hardly surprisingly, Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko) of Kiev – an excommunicated  former Russian Orthodox Metropolitan – and now the de facto head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate,  who has recently been restored to communion by the Œcumenical Patriarchate,  issued a statement accusing the Russian leader of trying to “incite bloodshed and killings” in eastern Ukraine. “With great regret I must now say publicly that among the rulers of this world … there has appeared a new Cain, not by his name but by his deeds,” he said. “Like the first fratricide of history Cain, these deeds show that the aforementioned ruler has fallen under the action of Satan.”

The historic arguments about whether the conversion of Prince Vladimir (Volodymyr) the Great in 988 marked the baptism of Russia or Ukraine are senseless, as the intervening millenia since Kieven Rus have been marked by huge cultural, religious and political changes, yet through the mercy of God and in spite of the atheism of the Soviet era, the Orthodox Christian faith has been preserved in its fullness in both countries. Just as when the Christians of the former Ottoman Empire regained their religious and political freedom with its collapse after more than three and a half centuries, so also did the states which came under Soviet dominance for just over seven decades.  Far from Constantinople’s decision “legitimising canon violations and lawlessness” Patriarch Bartholomeus, fearing that Russian hegemony has contributed to “illegal elections of bishops and schisms, from which the pious Ukrainian people still suffer”, realised that it was Russia which was largely responsible for the painful ecclesiastical situation in the Ukraine.

Abba Seraphim