Following Holy Pascha, at the invitation of His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, Bishop of Milan and Papal Deputy for All Europe, Abba Seraphim and the priestly members of the Synod of the British Orthodox Church, travelled to Northern Italy for a retreat in the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Milan.
Arriving in Milan on 22 April, Abba Seraphim and Fathers Simon Smyth, David Seeds and Peter Farrington, were received at Linate airport by Bishop Kyrillos and clergy, who accompanied them to St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Monastery at Lacchiarella. The next morning, being the traditional British date for the celebration of St. George’s Day, Abba Seraphim and his clergy celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St. James in the presence of Bishop Kyrillos, some of his priests and the monks of the monastery. Later, accompanied by Father Raffaele Gebrail, they were entertained to lunch in Milan with Engineer Salama Salama before being accompanied by Father Antonios Ava Shenouti on the train to Venice, where they dined with Bishop Kyrillos.
The next day, accompanied by Father Antonios, they visited the Basilica of St. Marco and prayed at the tomb of the saint at the high altar. They then visited the Church of St. Zaccaria to pray at the shrines of St. John the Forerunner’s father, the priest Zechariah, as well as those of St. Athanasius the Apostolic. Venice is rich in relics of the saints, those of St. Mark having been stolen from Alexandria by Venetian merchants in 828, although a portion of the relics were returned to Pope Kyrillos VI by Pope Paul VI of Rome. Similarly in 1973 Pope Paul sent a portion of the relics of St. Athanasius to the late Pope Shenouda III in a fraternal gesture. The party ended their tour on foot at the Cathedral of St. Pietro in Castello, where they viewed the ancient throne of St. Peter, which had originally stood in Antioch. In the late afternoon they visited the site of the new Cathedral in Campalto, just outside the ancient city of Venice, where they joined Bishop Kyrillos and prayed for the successful completion of the work.
Returning to Milan on 25 April they lunched with Salama Salama’s son, Tariq, and his wife Christina, who then accompanied them (with Father Raffaele) to some of the significant sites in the city. As it was Independence Day in Italy, the streets were very busy with holiday makers and marchers. They prayed at the shrine of St. Ambrose, before visiting St. Maria dei Miracoli, the Duomo and the Basilica of St. Babila, named after St. Babylas, Patriarch of Antioch, who was martyred in the Decian persecution of 254.
The following morning Abba Seraphim and his priests assisted Bishop Kyrillos perform the marriage of Shady and Guiliana, followed by St. Basil’s Liturgy. This was a fitting climax to a blessed retreat during which the bishops and clergy of the two dioceses shared many insights of their respective ministries and a profound sense of fraternal love which binds them together.
On 17 December HRH The Prince of Wales demonstrated his concern for the Christian communities of the Middle East through a series of engagements and impressive, heart-felt speeches. Having just returned from the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the Prince began his day with a morning visit to the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre at Stevenage, where he was greeted by HG Bishop Angaelos and civic dignitaries. He was accompanied by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed of Jordan, who is religious affairs adviser to HM King Abdullah II of Jordan and a notable advocate of interfaith harmony. This visit began with a short service of prayer, presided over by Bishop Angaelos and Metropolitan Seraphim, after which the Princes were conducted around a display showing the many activities of the Church Centre and met with members of the local congregation and other ecumenical visitors, who had attended the service. Prince Charles was presented with a fine ikon of St. George, with another identical pone for TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the infant Prince George of Cambridge. Prince Ghazi was also presented with an ikon of St. Mary the Virgin. The Princes then adjourned for a brief round table meeting to discuss some of the general concerns about the current situation in the Middle East. Following this the Princes took tea at the Manor House before flying by helicopter to West London.
Here they were received by HE Archbishop Athanasios and HG Bishop Vahan, both natives of Iraq, at the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Acton, where a short service was held and hymns sung in Aramaic. They were able to talk to many of the congregation and hear informed accounts of their suffering.
In the late afternoon Prince Charles held an Advent Reception at Clarence House, with particular emphasis on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Among those attending were Archbishop Gregorios and Metropolitan Kallistos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the Bishops of London, Southwark, St. Albans, Liverpool Reading and Bishop Geoffrey Rowell; the Apostolic Delegate and the Archbishop of Westminster; Bishop Vahan Hovhannesian (Armenian Orthodox), Archbishop Athanasius (Syriac Orthodox), Bishop Angaelos (Coptic Orthodox), Abba Seraphim (British Orthodox), the Archdeacon of the Church of the East, as well as many clergy of other churches.
At the conclusion of the reception HRH Prince Ghali made and eloquent and eirenic speech followed by HRH Prince Charles, who remarked, that he had, “for some time now been deeply troubled by the growing difficulties faced by Christian communities in various parts of the Middle East. It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants. Christianity was, literally, born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ. Their church communities link us straight back to the early Church, as I was reminded by hearing Aramaic, Our Lord’s own language, spoken and sung a few hours ago.”
He highlighted his work over the past two decades for better understanding between Muslims and Christians and spoke of his fear that the dwindling Christian population might be lost altogether, and the serious grounds for us all to be concerned, “My prayer this afternoon is for all beleaguered communities and I believe that Western Christians ought to pray earnestly for fellow-believers in the Middle East. I am reminded that to-day in the Eastern Christian calendar it is the festival of Daniel and the three boys in the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They symbolize all those who are persecuted for their faith. But the important point is: they survived!”
Events in Egypt over the past few days have both shocked and saddened, and as reports of continuing incidents and civil disturbance increase we pray fervently that peace and security may return to that land.
Revolutions are destabilising events and come in many shapes and sizes. The Egyptian revolution of 1952 was a military coup by the Free Officer Movement, which established the military regime which was to hold power for the next 59 years. It lacked democratic legitimacy and was both corrupt and venal. The 2011 Revolution, however, was a popular uprising more in keeping with the spirit of the 1919 Egyptian revolution in its embracing all sections of Egyptian society in a patriotic movement to restore freedom and justice. It is worth noting that initially the Muslim Brotherhood declined to support this uprising, but once it saw the rapid success of this momentum for change, it offered its support.
Much has been made of the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, but it is important to recognise that democracy is more than periodic recourse to the ballot box. Having achieved a narrow victory over his main rival on a turnout of just over half of the electorate, the new president might have endeavoured to use his position as a means of unifying and reconciling a fractured society. In his inauguration oath he swore to “respect the constitution and law, to take care of the people’s interests, a complete care.” Later, in an emotional speech in Tahrir Square he announced, “I came to you as I believe that you are the source of authority and legitimacy which is above all. There is no place for someone, an institution or for an authority to be above this. The people are the source of all authority, judge and decide, convene and insulate … There is no authority that is above this.”
Although he resigned as Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party as he had promised during his election campaign, which gave him the opportunity to serve as president of all Egyptians, his concerns and sympathies proved to be narrow and sectarian. Sadly, it soon became clear that the electorate had actually installed the Muslim Brotherhood in office and that the real power lay with its Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie, whilst Mohamed Morsi was merely the holder of the presidential portfolio.
During the first year of his presidency the democratic aspirations of the revolution were steadily undermined, culminating in his assumption of unlimited legislative powers without judicial oversight or review of his acts. After the Supreme Constitutional Court’s dismissal of the People’s Assembly for electoral irregularities, only the consultative Shura Council remained of a bi-cameral legislature, yet new legislation was still enacted, including the propagation of a new Egyptian Constitution. Having repeatedly clashed with the judiciary, attempts were made to intimidate the judges and to remove many of them through enforced retirement.
It was as a result of the steadily-growing domination of the Muslim Brotherhood in all areas of the state and society and the encouragement of their narrow vision and divisive social policies, that the popular uprising against Morsi ensued. It expressed the fears of the great majority of Egyptians that their aspirations for a free and just society, inclusive of all, was in danger of being lost for ever. It should be recalled that the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party rose to power through democratic election, after which they consolidated their grasp on the state and cynically discarded the democratic process.
The role of the church
Since the Egyptian revolution of 2011 the religious leaders in Egypt, both Christian and Muslim, have consistently called for justice and reconciliation and both the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar (Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb) and the Coptic Orthodox Church (under the late Pope Shenouda III; Metropolitan Bakhomios as locum tenens and Pope Tawadros II) have worked together to encourage national unity. Following the removal of President Morsi, Pope Tawadros appeared alongside the Sheikh of El-Azhar at the inauguration of the new interim president. Having eschewed political involvement since the beginning of his papacy, he made it clear that he was there to support “honourable people whose sole aim is the interest of Egypt and Egyptians, excluding no one, marginalising no one and excepting no one.”
Western governments have been quick to condemn the violence and loss of life and have called for dialogue. William Hague condemned “the use of force in clearing protests” and called on the security forces “to act with restraint.” As supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are also armed and have been responsible for murdering soldiers in Sinai and armed attacks on police stations, restraint is required from all sides. Invitations to dialogue by Al-Azhar have been completely rebuffed by the Brotherhood, as have invitations by the interim President to reconciliation meetings.
Western media bias
It is disconcerting to note the clear bias of much of the Western media in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. The use of emotive words, such as ‘coup’, ‘massacre’ and ‘legitimacy’, with the failure to report widespread violent attacks on churches, police stations, government offices and neutral cultural institutions, such as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, lacks the impartiality one might expect from independence sources, such as CNN and the BBC; as does identifying all snipers as belonging to the army, when live news broadcasts clearly showed armed rebels firing guns. Despite its denial of bias, the Qatar-backed channel Al Jazeera depicts the Muslim Brotherhood in a sympathetic light and, according to one of the 22 staff who recently resigned in protest, “the management in Doha provokes sedition among the Egyptian people and has an agenda against Egypt and other Arab countries.” The Irish media, the Irish Times and the Sun in particular, recently relayed reports from the children of Hussein Halawa, the Imam at Dublin’s largest and most controversial mosque in Clonskeagh, who just happened to be inside the Al-Fateh mosque when it was cleared by the security forces. Headlines such as “Irish family held in Egypt jail hell. Holiday nightmare as relatives fear they’re tortured” hardly suggest impartiality.
Attacks on Christians go largely unreported
During President Morsi’s term of office, attacks on Christians became more frequent. Since his removal they have increased alarmingly with over fifty churches attacked, damaged or destroyed in the three days following the Brotherhood’s call for a “Day of Rage.” Vicious denunciations of Christians – now opprobriously labelled “crusaders” – and unrestrained assaults on their property and churches show the true nature of those who support the Muslim Brotherhood. There have been instances of soldiers and Christians lynched by the mob, who then proceeded to desecrate their corpses in the most disgusting manner, in much the same way as Private Lee Rigby was treated by his murderers on the streets of Woolwich. In many instances local Muslim communities have joined Christians in protecting their places of worship, clearly demonstrating that this is not a battle between Christians and Muslims but is a struggle against terrorism and fanaticism. In a recent interview with His Grace Bishop Angaelos on Al-Jazeera, after it was noted that “some Christians have blamed Brotherhood supporter for the attacks”, he was asked if he had any evidence about “who is attacking your churches”. His observations that these attacks, which appeared to be orchestrated and synchronised, and coming on the tail of “certain events”, with the rhetoric, incitement and reported attacks on individual Christians, suggested “some sort of connection”, showed more balance and perception than his interviewer.
In an official statement, the Coptic Church said that whilst it holds in deep appreciation the honourable, friendly States who understood “the nature of the events in Egypt”; it strongly denounced the falsities and errors propagated in the western media. “We invite the media to objectively read the realities on the ground, and to refrain from offering an international or political shield to the bloodthirsty, terrorist groups and all who belong to them. These groups are attempting to spread ruin in our land. We call upon the local and international media to offer the real image of what happens in Egypt faithfully and truthfully.”
The statement went on to say that it strongly stood by the Egyptian police, armed forces, and all the institutions of the Egyptian people in the face of the armed violence and black terrorism from inside and outside Egypt. It denounced the “assaults against the State and the peaceful churches, and the terrorisation of Egyptians—Muslims and Copts—that goes against all religious, ethical and human values. We absolutely reject any attempts to drag Egypt into sectarian strife.”
“If the hands of evil come to Egypt to kill, burn, and ruin; the hand of the Lord is there to guard, strengthen, and rebuild. We put our faith in Divine support, and are confident that it will help Egypt along this critical period, and take her to a better tomorrow and to the bright future of peace, justice, and democracy which this noble Nile people deserve.”
Greetings to all.
These days in the history of Egypt are indeed difficult. The events taking place are by all measures are very sad, combining terrorism, crime, bloodshed and aggression.
Certain people are speaking in the name of religion saying things that are not acceptable mentally, logically or practically. I feel inside that this has injured the national unity that we have always declared. After this crisis ends, society should truly search for the reasons as to how these circumstances came about in the first place and how people with such an extremist mentality came into existence.
I know that Egypt is known for its moderatism in all things. Our lives as Egyptians, whether Muslim or Coptic, at the level of the individual or family, are known for their moderatism in all things. How did such extremism come into existence?
As for attacks on our churches, what did the church do to get involved in a struggle such as this? What did the church do that it was attacked with such aggression? What? If an attack on a home or public institution is a crime, what about an attack on a house of God? How should that be judged? How can we accept this? How can our brothers, the other citizens in this nation accept this? How?
In truth, there is a saying that came to my mind today from an Indian poet that says love is like incense. Its beautiful smell will not emerge unless it is thrown into the fire. In-spite of all that we are seeing and experiencing in these unacceptable events, that even if the hand of evil is torching, killing and destroying, I have full faith that the hand of God is stronger and mightier, and it is the hand that rebuilds.
I want to tell you that we are commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ in our Christianity to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us and to do good to those who hate us. This is what we have. So despite this crisis, these mindless acts, this excessive destruction, in all faith, I would like to direct my words to all Egyptians, those Copts that have suffered a lot from what is happening and our moderate brothers in this nation that do not accept such acts, that firstly I offer my condolences to all those who lost their lives in the past two days. My heart is with all those who are injured.
I truly feel inside that all the events that are taking place in the land of our country, Egypt, are not Egyptian in character. Yet our country is guarded by the hand of God. I am not just saying this as a matter of debate or discourse, but that is what history is witnessing. Yet our country is guarded by the hand of God. Truly our country, Egypt, is guarded by the hand of God.
I know very well that God is Almighty. What is happening in Egypt, God is allowing to happen. It is not a product of human thought or action. God allows it. However, all evil has an end and these crimes have an end.
Our history in Egypt is full of examples of such bitter tragedies. Yet, Christians have accepted them and moved on and prayed for those that perpetrated them that God may give them wisdom and better judgement.
I am following all that is happening in the land of Egypt, whether the destruction of churches, stores, schools or nunneries. These are not humane actions. There is nothing humane about these actions. These people have lost their humanity.
I want to take the chance to tell the police department, the armed forces, the media and our moderate brothers in the nation that you have withstood a lot in recent days, and now it is very important that you maintain your role of strength during this crisis in our nation.
I want to tell everyone that the eye of God is on the land of Egypt and all that happens in it. And those that have committed such acts that are not acceptable mentally, logically or morally, these shall be punished by God. God’s punishment is severe. I tell all people that you will live at maximum a hundred or so years and may God prolong your life. But you will stand before God’s judgement one day. In front of God you shall be judged according to the deeds your hands have committed. God’s judgement is swift, not just towards you as an individual, but to all those who followed in your deeds, be it a family or a generation of followers, God the Almighty will have his vengeance. Vengeance will not come via the hands of a human being. It is a Divine vengeance. Who can stand before the Lord?
Abba Seraphim flew into Cairo just after midnight on 17 November. Providentially he was on the same flight as Their Graces Bishop Missael and Angaelos, so upon arrival at Cairo airport his passage through the usual formalities was expedited. From his base at the Sonesta Hotel, Bishop Angaelos was the member of the Holy Synod charged with organising the greeting of ecumenical guests and their transport to the hotel, all undertaken with seamless efficiency. Abba Seraphim was met by his hosts Mamdouh Abdou and Soheir, known affectionately by Abba Seraphim as ‘Om Shenouda’. Their son, Shenouda Mamdouh, the Egyptian Secretary to the British Orthodox Church was actually still in London on business.
After resting overnight, later that morning, Abba Seraphim met with Father Abraham Thomas, secretary of the Department of Ecumenical Relations of the Indian Orthodox Church as well as a number of other church leaders and ecumenical guests staying in Cairo. In the late afternoon he attended the arrival of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II at the Papal Residence in Anba Rueiss, where he prayed the Thanksgiving Prayer and offered incense in the Chapel of the Residence before receiving the greetings of the bishops and staff. In the evening Abba Seraphim attended a private dinner hosted by His Holiness the Catholicos of the East, Mar Basilius MarThoma Paulose II, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Giza.
Early on Sunday morning, 18 November, the Holy Synod gathered at the Papal Residence for the formal enthronement ceremonies. To the sound of drums and trumpets, the procession, led by chanting deacons, the bishops and metropolitans – fully vested in their Eucharistic robes – led their new Pope into the Cathedral of St. Mark. Attended on one side by the magnificent figure of Metropolitan Pachomius, the locum tenens, and on the other by Bishop Sarabamoun, Abbot of the Monastery of St. Bishoy, the Pope was met at the shut west door of the Cathedral. Here the Archdeacon surrendered the great key to the Pope, who unlocked the doors so that the procession could pass into the packed cathedral. The Liturgy was already in progress, as the consecration of bishops and enthronement of Patriarchs takes place after the Pauline Epistle. Pope Tawadros, dressed only in a plain black cassock, sat alone on a dais in the midst of the khorus as the prayers were led by Metropolitan Pachomios with the participation of all the bishops. The new papal vestments were blessed by all the members of the Holy Synod as well as the Ethiopian and Armenian bishops present. As the Pope received his crown from the hands of Metropolitan Pachomius, and was installed on the Throne of St. Mark, the congregation broke into spontaneous and prolonged applause.
As each bishop greeted the new Pope on his throne during the chanting of Axios, H.H. Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch, and the accompanying Syriac Orthodox bishops, chanted hymns and prayers of blessing and the Pope descended from his throne to embrace his frail brother Patriarch, who is now confined to a wheelchair The Liturgy continued in its normal order, the whole service lasting about six hours. It was followed by a celebratory banquet in the crypt of the cathedral.
Raising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
10.30 a.m. Morning Incense
11.30 a.m. Divine Liturgy
Raising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
10.30am Morning Prayer
9.30 am Raising of Incense
10.00 am Liturgy of St. James
11.45 am Refreshments