When our Lord stood before the High Priest at His trial He was questioned for evidence of sedition but His reply demonstrates that He never had anything to hide,
“I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I have said nothing secretly.”(John XVIII: 20)
Our father among the saints, St. Cyril of Alexandria, also suggests that our Lord wished to emphasise that the revelation given to Moses in the Old Testament in the form of types and shadows and prophecies spoke of Himself. Indeed, St Cyril reminds us that what our Lord was saying was the same as revealed by the Prophet Isaiah,
“I have not said to Jacob’s descendants ‘seek me in vain’. I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right”.(Isaiah XLV: 19)
Although He sometimes conversed privately with His disciples, yet what He taught them was always a fuller exposition of what He had said in public and was never contrary to it or something intended only for them. After His Ascension, the Lord fulfilled His promise and did not leave them comfortless as the Father sent them the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost. Part of His ministry was directed towards the continued revelation of the truth,
“The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”(John XIV: 26)
which was manifested by the common mind of the apostles in teaching the doctrines revealed to them by the Lord
“And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers”.(Acts II: 42)
Sadly, even in the early church, while the apostles were still alive, certain Christians allowed themselves to be influenced by pagan teachings and at the instigation of the devil, began to expound doctrines which were contrary to the revelation give by our Lord. The apostle Peter warns against this when he says,
“No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”(2 Peter 1:20)
This is why the traditional Christian churches study the Scriptures with respect, noting the comments of the saints and fathers of the church (patristic study) which generally demonstrates a consensus of understanding, which the Church upholds as truly representing the “mind of the church.” Just as it is believed that God revealed Himself through the written word revealed to holy men, so our Lord Jesus Christ, as God incarnate, is the Living Word.
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son”(Hebrews I: 1-2)
The idea that there is a secret teaching for only select disciples is an early heresy but is still maintained by a number of groups extant today and much of what they claim to have as a secret revelation is quite contrary to our Lord’s teaching and in open opposition to Orthodox Christianity. Dr Harvey Lewis, a leading Rosicrucian, states:
“These facts give a different colouring to the picture of Christianity as a religious, philosophical, or moral system. In fact, they help us to understand that the original and true Christian instruction, and the original Christian doctrines, were divine things not intended for all human beings. Rather, they constitute a system of transcendental truths, esoteric revelations, and divine laws of unlimited application and omnipotent power.”[Harvey Spencer Lewis, The Secret Doctrine of Jesus (AMORC, San Jose, California: 1998), p. 12.]
As early as the second century St. Irenaeus condemned a number of Christian sects which transmitted their teachings only to a limited circle of initiates, claiming that through various esoteric rites they would have access to a deeper knowledge of God. For them knowledge (gnosis) rather than Faith was at the core of their religion. It is quite clear from the Scriptures and from the words of our Lord at His trial that He repudiates the concept of esoteric teaching because the goodness and mercy of God is available to all who submit to the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The whole concept of secret teaching and an élite group of initiates who are possessed of what they falsely call ‘knowledge’ runs totally contrary to the outpouring of grace made available to simple souls who embrace their Creator with true love and devotion. The Gospel of God is intended for each and every man and woman, without restriction and without distinction of education, degree or status.
During the weekend of 22-23 December, Metropolitan Seraphim, accompanied by Father James, visited Abba David and the Church in Cusworth, Doncaster. On Saturday, 22 December Abba Seraphim presided over a clergy meeting and during the Raising of Evening Incense, Father James made his monastic profession in the presence of Abba David, who conferred the monastic tonsure and Abba Seraphim who admitted him to the ‘Monastic Brotherhood of Glastonbury of the Syrians’ and clothed him with the Little Monastic Habit.
On the Sunday morning, Abba Seraphim concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with Abba David & Fr. James, assisted by the newly ordained Subdeacon Vladimir Roze, after which a pastoral visit was paid to a local care home to take communion to Mrs. Hazel Rockliffe, a long-standing member of the Cusworth congregation.
On Sunday, 16 December, at St. Mark & St. Hubert’s Church at Cusworth, Doncaster, His Grace Bishop David ordained Reader Vladimir Sandis Roze to the Order of Subdeacon; and at the Church of Christ the Saviour, Winton, Bournemouth, Metropolitan Seraphim ordained Father James Maskery to the Order of Hegoumenos.
Following a Requiem Liturgy held at Charlton on 25 November, the funeral service of the late Vanessa Tinker, the ikonographer of the British Orthodox Church, took place at St. Thomas’s, Charlton, on 17 December, being the fortieth day after her repose. The service was conducted by Metropolitan Seraphim, assisted by Fr. James and Deacon Antony. The coffin was borne into a full church to the singing of ‘Dido’s Lament’ (from Henry Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas). The organ was played by Mr. John Dawson. Following the Prayer of Thanksgiving, the congregation sang the hymn, ‘Now Thank we all our God’ and the lesson from 1 Corinthians XV: 12-022 was read by Father Dominic Pyle-Bridges. At the beginning of his address, Abba Seraphim stated,
“Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. Through it we reflect the beauty of God, the Creator of all things, as the Book of Ecclesiastes says, ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time.’ Vanessa was a many-dimensional artist: as a painter she produced reflective still-life pictures of buildings, objects or scenery; impressive portraits of friends and bustling scenes of daily life; she was also a fine etcher, a potter, a keen photographer, a carpenter, an ikonographer, an interior designer, and a garden planner. Whatever she turned her hand to revealed the world around her from her own perspective, as Henry Ward Beecher claimed, ‘Every artist dips their brush into their own soul, and paints their own nature into their pictures’. The result was often to highlight the charm and uniqueness of persons and places, as George Sand wrote, ‘The artist vocation is to send light into the human heart’.”
Jim Kinsella then sang The Russian Kontakion of the Departed and the paschal theme of the funeral was emphasised by the congregation singing the hymn, ‘The Day of Resurrection’ composed by St. John of Damascus. Following the prayers, Absolution and Psali Adam, the coffin was borne out of the church to the singing of the hymn, ‘Thine be the glory’, sung to the tune from Judas Maccabeus by G.F.Handel, another of Vanessa’s favourite composers. The coffin was then accompanied to Eltham Crematorium by Deacon Antony, who presided over the Committal.
Following the repose of Archdeacon Mark Saunders on 27 November, a Requiem Liturgy was celebrated at the Church of St. Mary & St. Felix at Babingley, Norfolk by Metropolitan Seraphim on Sunday, 2 December and his funeral took place at noon on 10 December. The service was conducted by Metropolitan Seraphim, assisted by Abba David, Bishop of Priddy, and Father James and the church was filled with family, friends, neighbours and regular worshippers.
As with all services, it began with the ‘Prayer of Thanksgiving’ followed by the hymn, “Now Thank we all our God”. His grandson, Nick Chapman, read a short poem by Linda Ellis about leading a meaningful life. Following this the lesson from St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians was read by Valeria, Viscountess Coke. In his address, Abba Seraphim gave a brief outline of Archdeacon Mark’s long and full life and spiritual commitment to God and the Orthodox Church; before preaching on the Christian Hope of the Resurrection, drawing on the message enshrined in the ‘Russian Kontakion of the Departed’, which was also chanted, after which all present sang the Paschal hymn, “The Day of Resurrection.” Father James led the Litany of the Departed and Abba David offered further prayers, including the ‘Prayer for Deacons’ which included the phrase, “As he was a minister of Thine altar upon earth, let him minister at Thy heavenly altar wherein is neither spot nor blemish, taking delight in Thy holy and blessed will.” Abba Seraphim then pronounced the Absolution, and the congregation sang the hymn, “O Jesus, I have promised/To serve Thee to the end” in recognition of Archdeacon Mark’s profound commitment to God and the Church. The Psali Adam was then chanted as the congregation filed outside and followed the coffin and clergy into the churchyard, where Abba David pronounced the committal as Archdeacon Mark was laid to rest next to Sybil, his beloved wife of seventy years, and all present chanted “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 !