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 and His Grace Bishop Angaelos arrived on the same flight at Cairo airport at 5.15 a.m. local time.
Abba Seraphim was met at the airport by Shenouda Mamdouh, his secretary in Egypt. The Holy Synod will meet at noon at the Patriarchate. after which details of the arrangements for the Pope’s funeral will be announced. Metropolitan Mikhael of Assuit, the senior Metropolitan (consecrated by Pope Yousab II in 1946) will preside.
The Supreme Military Council has granted Coptic Christians a three day holiday to enable them to pay their respects to His Holiness.
The embalmed body of His Holiness, fully vested in pontifical vestments, had been transferred to St. Mark’s Cathedral and is seated on his throne. The staff of the Papal Residence have been admitted before the general public come to bid farewell to the Pope.
The Sunday morning Liturgy is being celebrated in St. Mark’s Cathedral with the body of His Holiness presiding from the throne. Metropolitan Bakhomious of Beheira is the principal celebrant.
Update 11.37am: Bishop Moussa told mourners at the cathedral that Pope Shenouda would be buried at the Bishoy Monastery after the funeral in Cairo on Tuesday at 11am.
Update: 12pm: Abba Seraphim will be attending a Monday Liturgy. Tuesday is the Pope’s funeral, followed by reception of condolences from the government and religious visitors. The Synod will meet again on Thursday.
During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Father Simon made two ecumenical visits, one to his local Roman Catholic Church, Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Peter the Apostle, Waterlooville, and one to Immanuel Baptist Church, Southsea.
As the British Orthodox Portsmouth Church of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black does not yet have its own Church building and the font in the current venue, Saint Faith’s Anglican Church, is only of sufficient size for infant immersion, Immanuel Baptist Church has kindly hosted the British Orthodox congregation for three adult baptisms so far with more, it is hoped, in the months ahead. The Baptist pastor, the Reverend Elgan Evans invited Father Simon to say a little about the British Orthodox Church and the wider Oriental Orthodox family, especially the current situation in Egypt with Immanuel Baptist Church being a supporter of the Barnabus Fund. Father Simon drew a parallel between both local Church names, the British Orthodox proclaiming the central truth of Christianity, that Christ is God, through the ancient title of Saint Mary as Mother of God, that the Baby she carried within her, to Whom she gave birth, Who she fed at her breast was and is God – and the Baptists likewise proclaiming this through their name Immanuel, meaning God with us.
At Waterlooville Roman Catholic Church Father Kevin Bidgood kindly asked Father Simon to speak with people after the mass and he was engaged in conversation about the current situation of the Church both in Egypt and also Syria. One member of the congregation generously gave a donation which Father Simon explained he would pass onto the Barnabus Fund for its work in that region where it was active on behalf of both Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Christians.
Although this was the first British Orthodox clergy visit to the new Roman Catholic Church in Waterlooville there is already an existing link between us through the work of David Pratt (who has family connections to the Church and lives nearby) who advised on the arts committee during the design and construction of the new building. His influence can be seen in particular in the mosaic up above the entrance to the Church showing Christ in glory with the four incorporeal creatures. The inspiration for this work was provided from an icon in the complex of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Mark in Abbaseya, Cairo, and photographed by one of our Church members back in 2005.
In response to the deaths of two dozen and the wounding of very, very many of our beloved Coptic Orthodox brethren in Cairo on Sunday and the Holy Synod call for three days of fasting and prayer “so that the Lord dwells with His peace in our beloved country Egypt” the British Orthodox Church stood in firm solidarity with the Mother Church.
Members of the Portsmouth congregation kept the three days of fasting and prayer concluding with a special prayer service on Thursday evening during which these latest martyrs were remembered.
Similarly the Bournemouth and Southampton congregations observed the three days fasting and prayer.
The prayers in the Bournemouth Church each day centred around Sixth Hour (Noon) Prayers with the Gospel lesson from Matthew chapter 5 so appropriate: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:10-12) Particular verses from the Psalms also resonated powerfully: “O God, in Thy Name save me… hearken unto my prayer… strangers are risen up against me, and mighty men have sought after my soul…” (Psalm 53) The words of Psalm 92 also remind us that though “the rivers have lifted up their voices” that though they “lift up their waves as the voices of many waters”, that whatever “the surgings of the sea”, above them all “wonderful on high is the Lord”. “The Lord is King, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength…”
The Southampton Mission under the patronage of Saint Polycarp similarly centred their prayers around the Sixth Hour Prayers.
The three days culminated in the Bournemouth Church (also joined and supported by members of the Southampton Mission) with Twelfth Hour (Evening) Prayer and special prayers for the Mother Church in Egypt as well as remembering the new martyrs. Father Simon led the congregation as they stood before icons of Saint Antony and Saint Paul, Saint Bishoy, Saint Moses the Black, asking their intercessions for the monasteries that bear their names and for all the monasteries and holy places. Standing in prayer before their icons the intercessions of Saint Mary the Mother of God and of Saint Mark were invoked for the whole Church in Egypt. These prayers concluded before the icon of Saint Simon the Tanner whose intercessions were also sought, this great saint whose prayers God had answered a thousand years ago after the three days of fasting and prayers in similar times of danger and trouble for the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Many people were killed and hundreds were injured in Cairo on Sunday, 9 October when police and armed forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at a peaceful march, beginning in the suburb of Shoubra, to protest at the recent destruction of St. George’s Coptic church in El Marinab, Aswan. This had taken place after Friday prayers on Friday, when the dome, walls and columns of the church were demolished and set on fire. In addition to drawing attention to the attack on the church in Aswan, the demonstrators were also requesting an effective conclusion to investigations into several sectarian attacks, and the passing of a new law governing the building of churches,
Members of the security forces surrounded and attacked the Cairo marchers as soon as they arrived at the state television station in Cairo’s Maspero suburb. The marchers claimed that they were pelted by people within the TV station itself. Most of the casualties suffered gunshot wounds. Others victims were severely beaten. However, several died or were seriously injured when members of the security forces deliberately drove at the 150,000-strong crowd in armoured vehicles.
In a worrying development, while the attack was underway, the security forces are reported to have forcibly closed at least two independent media sources, while state television broadcast statements inciting against “Coptic protesters”. These included claims that the security forces were protecting the TV station from “angry” Copts, that the allegedly armed marchers had killed one officer and injured 20 others, that “foreign agendas” were at work, and a call for people to take to the streets in order to “protect” the army. In a possible response to the latter, men in civilian clothing were later spotted amongst security personnel as they attacked protesters, and Cairo’s Coptic Hospital, which received most of the dead and injured, came under a two-hour attack by a group of men who approached the premises chanting “Islamiya, Islamiya”.
The next day, at a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, chaired by Pope Shenouda III and attended by 70 metropolitans and bishops, the following statement was issued:
The Holy Synod was troubled by the incidents that happened yesterday, Sunday; the martyrdom of more than 24 Christians and the wounding of 200 during their peaceful march.
While stressing our Christian faith rejecting violence in all its forms, we cannot neglect that strangers might infiltrate among our sons and commit mistakes that are attributed to the latter.
Still Copts see that their problems are consistently repeated without punishment or legal action against their aggressors or implementation of radical solutions to these problems. The Holy Synod invites the Coptic people to pray and fast for three days starting tomorrow Tuesday so that the Lord dwells with His peace in our beloved country Egypt.
In solidarity with the Mother Church in Egypt, His Eminence Abba Seraphim, has commended this spiritual discipline to members of the British Orthodox Church and asked that services of commemoration for those who lost their lives in Cairo should be held in all churches and missions. “Our hearts go out to all the friends and families of the departed as well as for the many injured. As Christians we deplore all violence and under the wise guidance of H.H. Pope Shenouda we have been taught that our protests must always be peaceful. The Church respects the authorities but also asks that justice and the rule of law should be upheld. Without that it becomes increasingly difficult to rebuild a society in which all people of faith can co-exist harmoniously to ensure the stability and unity for which all decent people long.”
Photo source: http://theorthodoxchurch.info/main/
- 8 December 2013
- Morning Incense & Divine Liturgy: BournemouthWorship commences 09.30
- Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: DoncasterRaising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
- Morning Prayers: ChathamMorning Prayer: 10:30 am
Led by the Subdeacons
- Morning Prayer: Babingley10.30am Morning Prayer
- Advent Carol Service: BournemouthWorship commences 16:00