On the evening of January 6th a festal Liturgy in honour of the Feast of Theophany was celebrated by His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim, supported by Father Simon Smyth and Father Peter Farrington, the priest responsible for the Orthodox Mission of St Andrew at Clewer, Windsor, together with Subdeacon Daniel Malyon and Reader Trevor Maskery. The service took place in the beautiful and ancient Church of St Andrew, parts of which date back to the Norman Conquest and which is always filled with an atmosphere of prayer accumulated over the last one thousand years.
The Orthodox Mission of St Andrew has been growing for the last 12 months, and the congregation at this Liturgy was the most numerous so far. It was an especial pleasure to welcome the Bishop of Reading, Andrew Proud, in whose jurisdiction the Church of St Andrew is found, as well as both the Revd. Louise Brown, former priest in charge of St Andrew’s and whose hospitality allowed the mission community to begin worshipping at St Andrew’s, and the Revd. Rosie Webb, recently taking up her ministry at St Andrew’s as priest in charge. Other visitors also joined us, together with the regular members of the mission community of St Andrew.
The congregation gathers in the choir of medieval St Andrew’s, surrounded by graceful architecture in wood and stone, and the presence of many icons of the highest quality, created by Annie Shaw, a member of the mission community and a professional iconographer, only add to the creation of an atmosphere proper for our Orthodox liturgical worship. Indeed many of the prayers which were offered by the celebrant and congregation must have echoed within these walls for a millenia. On this occasion the congregation had so increased that it was necessary to spill out into the body of the church itself through the gates of the rood screen.
During the Liturgy His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim blessed water for the Theophany and anointed the congregation. That which remained was eagerly collected in bottles and received by the congregation. Father Peter Farrington addressed the gathered worshippers in a homily which called on those present to commit themselves to prayer, study of the Scriptures and fasting in 2014.
After the completion of the Liturgy the congregation gathered in the Lodge at the edge of the churchyard and shared in a light buffet which included biscuits made according to the Ukrainian tradition by one of the worshippers.
The Orthodox Mission of St Andrew is presently celebrating the Liturgy one Saturday each month, and Evening Prayer one Monday evening each month. The mission website is at http://www.orthodoxwindsor.co.uk
The recent visit of His Holiness Mar Basilius Mar Thoma Paulose II, Catholicos of the East, to England, was not only a great blessing for the Indian (Malankara) Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom but also a significant ecumenical event. His visit marked a number of historic anniversaries: 80 years since the first celebration of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Qurbana in the Chapel of King’s College, London; 75 years since H.H.The Catholicos, Mar Baselios Geeverghese II visited the UK in 1937; 60 years since the Malayalee migration to the UK and 40 years since the formation of the St. Gregorios Congregation in London.
Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Subdeacon Daniel Malyon and Reader Trevor Maskery, attended the Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Catholicos at St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church in Brockley on Sunday, 8 September, and assisted in the liturgical celebration and the parochial speeches and festivities which followed.
On Monday, 9 September a Banquet of some 90 guests was held to honour the Catholicos at Lambeth Palace. In the absence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops of Gibraltar in Europe (The Right Rev. Geoffrey Rowell) and Southwark (The Right Rev. Christopher Chessum) acted as hosts. Representatives of all the major churches were present as well as many leading members of the Malayalee community in the UK and friends of the Indian Orthodox Church. The British Orthodox Church was represented by Abba Seraphim, Father Peter Farrington and Father & Mrs. Simon Smyth.
On 19 August Subdeacon Daniel Malyon and Janice Oommen were joined together in Holy Matrimony in Kerala. The service was performed by His Grace Gabriel Mar Gregorios, Bishop of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) in his Domestic Chapel at Aramana, assisted by three of his priests and was conducted in both Malayalam and English in the presence of some 240 guests. On 16 August Daniel had an audience with His Holiness Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, Catholicos of the East, who gave them his blessing.
The Betrothal of Daniel and Janice had been performed on 16 December 2012 by Father Simon Smyth at Christ the Saviour Church in Bournemouth, where Daniel and Janice had first met.
In his letter of greeting to Mar Gregorios, Abba Seraphim had written, “The forthcoming wedding is a source of much pleasure to the clergy and faithful of the British Orthodox Church, not only because we have come to know and love Janice during her stay in the UK; but also because it symbolises the deep affection band respect with which the British Orthodox regard the venerable Orthodox Church of India, which has proved such a vibrant witness to our common faith, both here and in its homeland in Kerala.”
Although the Oriental Orthodox churches in the United Kingdom share a common faith, they do not share a common calendar, so the Nativity Feast was celebrated on 25 December for the British, Indian and Syrian Orthodox, on 6 January for the Armenian Orthodox and 0n 7 January for the Coptic, Eritrean and Ethiopian Orthodox.
On 6 January Abba Seraphim presided at the Blessing of the Waters and Divine Liturgy at St. Mary & St. Felix Church at Babingley, Norfolk, where he preached on the meaning of the Holy Theophany, one of the seven great feasts of the Church. Having blessed all those present with the newly sanctified water, they afterwards took away bottles of the holy water for use in their homes. That same evening, Abba Seraphim presided at the Nativity Vigil of the canonical Eritrean Orthodox Church (recognising Patriarch Antonios) in London meeting in Archway, Highgate, where he was warmly welcomed by Father Shenouda Haile and his congregation. Also assisting in the sanctuary was Subdeacon Daniel Malyon from the British Orthodox Church. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy clergy and people sat together to enjoy a festive meal and Abba Seraphim blessed two birthday cakes as well as the traditional enjera, hambasha and wat.
On 5 December, Abba Seraphim and Subdeacon Daniel Malyon attended a performance of scenes from the York cycle of the mediaeval mystery plays, which was being performed at St. George-in-the-East Church at Shadwell. This was the first year that the Players of St. Peter, a long established group of amateur and professional actors, had performed at Shadwell. The extracts ranged from the Fall of the Angels and Moses and Pharoah through the Annunciation, Nativity and Baptism and concluding with the Last Judgement.
Mystery plays, depicting biblical stories from Creation to Doomsday were a common way of marking religious festivals in towns and cities and traditionally performed by different trade guilds were widespread throughout England, but fell into disuse at the Reformation when puritans disapproved of religious drama as much as they did of liturgical worship.
Commenting on the genre, Abba Seraphim observed that they had served as a catechetical device for rustic people of simple but strong faith at a time when the scriptures were not readily accessible. They were sound in doctrine and encouraged a good knowledge of both old and new testaments as well as a lively sense of good and evil. Despite our sophistication and ready access to the scriptures, we live in a society where the Bible is a little-read best seller and, apart from regular church goers, knowledge of God’s purpose in creation and redemption, is abysmal today. He commended such plays and agreed with the Players’ desire to feel in touch with a very ancient English tradition of celebrating religious festivals.