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Holy Synod meets in Cairo

Abba Seraphim writes from Cairo: “The meeting of the Holy Synod which was held on 22 March was memorable for a number of reasons. In fact it was a joint meeting of the Holy Synod, the Maglis Milli (Coptic Community Council) and the Al Awkaf (Council for Church Endowments), so there were also a number of laity present. The session was opened by H.E. Metropolitan Bishoy, General Secretary of the Holy Synod, who spoke respectfully of the church’s loss of H.H. Pope Shenouda and, havimg circulated the 1957 Statutes governing the procedure to be followed after the death of a Pope, reminded us that our first task was to formally elect a locum tenens (sometimes called an Acting Patriarch) for the Church. By seniority this would fall to Metropolitan Mikhael of Assuit, but as he is a nonogenerian, he had humbly waived all rights and proposed that Metropolitan Bakhomious should preside. Whilst seniority is respected, the Synod is free to chose whoever it wishes from among its number. However, the unanimous choice of Metropolitan Bakhomious which followed owed nothing to his seniority and everything to the respect and affection in which he is held by those present. This election was made by 86 bishops and 20 members of the laity. As locum tenens, he will enjoy all the powers of the Pope with the exception of ordaining new bishops during the interregnum.

Assuming his position, the Metropolitan thanked the Synod for its confidence in him and expressed his unworthiness. He spoke of the critical times through which the church is passing and read from Ephesians IV: 1-6. He emphasised the necessity of living according to these verses and desired that we might live in love, peace and unity as we desire to know the will of God and to discover where the Lord is leading His church. Accordingly he encouraged everyone present to speak and be heard in that same spirit. There can be no room for individual interests, Pope Shenouda has left us with a precious treasure. The Church places us in a unique position; we cannot disappoint the people and we carry the responsibility together. It is our task to steer the ship of the church safely into the harbour.

The Synod lasted for five hours, 25 minutes, the longest session in recent memory, and many bishops and laity spoke constructively of their vision for the church’s future and addressed the many issues needing to be considered. It was a long, but fruitful meeting and there was a refeshing openness of debate. The next meeting of the Synod will be held on 27 March and Metropolitan Bakhomious indicated that, if necessary, it would meet twice a week to deal with all the required business. The public will be kept informed of its decisions and progress in the preparations for electing a new Pope by official statements issued from the Patriarchate.”

Abba Seraphim returns to London late on 23 March and will be attending the Memorial Service for H.H. Pope Shenouda III to be held at St. George’s Cathedral, Stevenage, on Saturday, 24 March at 3.00 p.m. He will be celebrating the Divine Liturgy as scheduled at Charlton on Sunday, 25 March.

News from Cairo

On 21 March Abba Seraphim visited His Grace Athanasios of the French Coptic Orthodox at St. Mark’s Centre, Nasr City, to greet him and discuss matters of common interest for the church in France and the British Orthodox Church. Abba Athanasius extended a warm welcome to Abba Seraphim to visit France later this year and Abba Seraphim reciprocated with an invitation to the United Kingdom.

At the Patriarchate in Anba Rueiss Their Eminences Metropolitan Bakhomious of Beheira and Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette (General Secretary of the Holy Synod), supported by a number of bishops, spent the whole day receiving a stream of visitors who had come to offer condolences on the death of H.H. Pope Shenouda.

On 22 March the Holy Synod, the Maglis Milli (Coptic Community Council) and Council for Church Endowments (Al Awkaf) will meet together at the Patriarchate to begin the process leading to the election of a new Pope.

The Pope’s Funeral & burial at St. Bishoy’s monastery

On 20 March Abba Seraphim, along with other members of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, representatives of Christian Churches, Islamic religious leaders, diplomats, high Egyptian state and military officials, politicians and thousands of ordinary people, attended the Funeral of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III in St. Mark’s Cathedral, Abbeseya. An official day of mourning had been declared throughout Egypt. with flags flying at half-mast whilst the streets around the cathedral were lined with hundreds of soldiers. Loudspeakers broadcast the service into the surrounding streets. His Holiness’s body, which had been transferred the previous evening from the Throne of St. Mark to an impressive white casket, lay in front of the sanctuary in the midst of the khorus with the lid opened to reveal his face. This image of him, looking peaceful in death, had already become familiar as it had appeared on the front page of most national newspapers as well as having been widely viewed on television during his public lying-in-state, when thousands of mourners had passed through the cathedral to take their leave of a beloved father.

The funeral was preceded by another celebration of the Divine Liturgy, by members of the Holy Synod, presided over by His Eminence Metropolitan Bakhomious of Beheira. New carpets had been laid at the entrance to the khorus and the steps to the sanctuary were lined with an abundance of fragrant white flowers. Although the cathedral was packed, guests continued to arrive throughout the service. While the crowd waited a huge wave of clapping spontaneously burst out among the congregation as a bird, which had flown into the cathedral, soured above them. For many this symbolised the passing of the Pope’s spirit to the heavenly realm. 

The funeral service commenced with prayers and a chant in Ge’ez by His Holiness Abune Paulos, the Patriarch of Ethiopia, who also spoke movingly of Pope Shenouda’s great legacy to the church. After this His Holiness Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch, frail and confined to a wheelchair, also spoke in a powerful voice about the Pope and led the chanting of funeral hymns by accompanying Syriac bishops. Many of the officiating clergy and those in the congregation were visibly moved. When the dignified figure of Metropolitan Bakhomious addressed the congregation in a hearfelt tribute to the Pope’s work and enduring legacy, the crowd heard him in rapt attention, but his spontaneous sentiments so eloquently expressed so perfectly captured the feelings of many and roused them to deafening applause. The service concluded as the casket was carried into the sanctuary by priests and then, assisted by soldiers down the north steps from the cathedral to a waiting white ambulance. This was conducted by outriders and police cars to a military airfield in the suburbs of Cairo. As it left the Patriarchate many of the awaiting crowd surged forward to be near it and the frenzied worshippers chased out of the precincts, beating following cars in an expression of their sadness and grief. It had been intended to fly members of the Holy Synod in an additional military plane accompanying the one used for taking His Holiness to an airfield in the Wadi Natrun, but at the last minute these plans were changed, so only about a third of the members attended the burial at St. Bishoy’s monastery.  

Abba Seraphim accompanied His Grace Bishop Angaelos by car to the monastery, where they joined just over a hundred monks in the small building in the ancient precincts, which had been constructed in 2003 to serve as a monastic museum, but which had now been transformed into a tomb. Built in the shape of a cross, with four semi-domes in each apse containing traditional Coptic ikons, a white marble sarcophagus had been erected in the centre. The waiting monks had already dropped fragrant herbs and spices into the tomb and those crowded outside the tomb were passing small folded slips of papers containing prayer requests, which the monks also dropped into the sarcophagus. While everyone waited the monks lustily sang Coptic hymns, proud that their Pope, always first a simple monk, was finally coming back to be with them. Soon after dusk had fallen the casket, accompanied by Metropolitan Bakhomious and other bishops, who had travelled on the plane, was brought into the monastery. Overwhelmed by grief the crowd outside exploded into shouts and wailing and many others pushed forward behind the cortege so that the previously still tomb, where those inside had probably risen to two hundred, burst into frantic activity as the soldiers and monks attempted to lower the casket into the sarcophagus and place the great marble slab on the top. Flowers and fragrant oil was poured on the top and the sarcophagus received the first of many anointings, while mourners lovingly kissed the resting place of a most beloved Pope. This will surely be a foremost place of pilgrimage for Copts and all who respect the memory and legacy of Pope Shenouda and will also be a source of many blessings for generations to come.

Photograph Sources: Facebook and OCP

British Orthodox Churches throughout the UK commemorate His Holiness Pope Shenouda

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.

Reflections on the passing of H.H. Pope Shenouda

Although there has never been any doubt about the affection of the Copts for Pope Shenouda, the extraordinary manifestation of grief seems to have caught many by surprise. Tens of thousands of Copts have flooded to the Papal compound at Amba Rueiss in Abbeseya and are queuing for hours to catch a last glimpse of their “Baba” seated on his throne. The genuine grief, however, is widespread and not just restricted to Copts. As I was leaving the plane on Sunday morning, a Muslim stewardess beckoned me forward to meet the captain so they could both express to me their condolences. The same happened at Passport Control where the officer, although not a Christian, expressed his sorrow at the loss of “our Pope”. Yesterday at the Patriarchate, when I entered the grand salon so often used for receptions and banquets, I noticed my brother bishops sitting quietly waiting for our scheduled Synod meeting. The atmosphere was subdued and calm and there was a profound sense of bereavement. I was always struck by how the Patriarchate, which was always a bustling, expectant place when His Holiness was in residence, fell strangely silent the moment he left the building. Now it was busy, but it seemed empty, although reminders of its late occupant were everywhere to be seen. Chatting to individual bishops provided many insightful personal reflections of the Pope and caught the generally reflective mood of the gathering. Among these were the ordinary staff of the Patriarchate, many of whom had served the Pope for years. His personal servant, Wadee (who had served his predecessor, Pope Kyrillos VI), although frail and still using a crutch whilst recovering from surgery for a hip replacement, was still weaving among the bishops offering tea on a silver tray.

We entered the Cathedral to pay our respects to His Holiness. Temporary barriers were erected to conduct the crowd round the Cathedral in an orderly way, but it was such a heaving mass that it was proving difficult to control. The boy scouts were acting as stewards, but they were clearly overwhelmed. As always there was a huge amount of respect at the sight of the clergy but the boisterous show of affection was sometimes at risk of knocking clergy over as worshippers tugged to kiss a hand or touch a cross. The sight of His Holiness seated on the Throne of Saint Mark, vested in his pontifical vestments, was a familiar one, and in the sleep of death he looked calm and peaceful, but it stirred deep emotions in all who approached. Standing quietly besides the throne, deep in thought, his face strained with grief, was the Pope’s faithful driver, Yehya, watching over his master wth the same care and concern he has shown for many years. Bishops and priests, dressed simply in their white tonias, took turns to stand guard beside the throne, while the sea of people, in great waves of emotion, swept up to the brass railings at the entrance to the khorus, or deacons’ choir area.

On leaving the Synod yesterday it took us over an hour to get back to where we had parked our car. The crowd was vast and filled every inch of the street, but good natured. As we struggled forward, Coptic youth encircled us in a protective ring with linked hands, the leading one pushing his way forward, though facing backwards, and in this strange manner we made our journey home. We later heard reports that three people had died in the crowd, but the cause was attributed to heat stroke rather than violence. Once returned to our car, we crawled at a snail’s pace to get away from the crowded streets. At one point we passed closely a group of nuns from St. George’s Convent and were able to greet Mother Koria on her way to the Cathedral. This morning I spoke on the phone with the Anglican Bishop Mounir, who anxious to pay his respects to Pope Shenouda, admitted that although he had set out for the Cathedral yesterday he had been obliged to turn back by the huge throng blocking his way. The bishop’s taxi driver tearfully spoke of his love for the Pope.

That same evening we went to visit Miss Effa, a frail ninety-three year old, who was one of the first deaconesses ordained by Pope Shenouda when he restored that ancient ministry. She had known him as a Sunday school teacher, before entering the monastery, and they remained firm friends all his life. She still cherishes letters he wrote her from the monastery. When she was quite ill a few years back the Pope had personally visited her at home to check on her well-being. Now cared for by deaconesses in her own ground floor apartment, with ther rest of her house given over to accommodate Coptic girls studying in Cairo, she had taken the news of the Pope’s death badly, but we were able to comfort her.

The visit yesterday to the Patriarchate of Field-Marshall Tantawi. the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the effective Head of State, was an historic moment in church-state relations. Received by Metropolitan Bakhomious and other senior bishops, he had come to offer condolences after having already spoken about Pope Shenouda with deep respect and granted a three day holiday to Christians for them to mourn him. The Field-Marshall now offered to provide a military plane to transport His Holiness’ coffin to St. Bishoy’s monastery after the funeral ceremony in Cairo. Also hugely significant was the request by the church for government support in regulating the crowds and the entry into the Papal compound of soldiers is previously unknown.  The presence of young soldiers in their red berets, lining the entry to the khorus, brought much needed calm and order to the Cathedral and possibly represents a gesture intended to redress the appalling tragedy of Maspero.

Being with Copts with Coptic TV channels broadcasting news and archives about His Holiness non-stop, it might appear that one has a very Coptocentric view. However, even the non-Coptic Egyptian Television has announced for the next three days it has replaced light entertainment with more appropriate programmes. The truth, however, is that the Pope’s passing has genuinely touched the hearts of many Egyptians, whatever their religion. He is viewed as a great Egyptian, deeply patriotic (having served himself in the military) and with a profound sense of justice and truth. His personal integrity, great charm and incorrigible sense of humour (often mischievously directed at Upper Egyptians, of whom he was one) made him a deeply attractive personality; whilst his approachability and direct contact with people through his weekly public addresses brought him into direct contact with Egypt’s teeming millions.

Abba Seraphim


Upcoming events

  • 31 August 2014
    • Morning Incense & Divine Liturgy: Bournemouth
      Morning Incense 09.30, Divine Liturgy 10.15
    • Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: Doncaster
      Raising of Incense – 9:45am
      Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
    • Morning Prayer: Babingley
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  • 6 September 2014
    • Morning Incense & Divine Liturgy: Portsmouth
      Morning Incense & Divine Liturgy 10am
  • 7 September 2014
    • Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: Doncaster
      Raising of Incense – 9:45am
      Divine Liturgy – 10:30am


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