During the celebration of the Paschal Eve Liturgy at the British Orthodox Church of St. Mary & Felix at Babingley, Norfolk, Abba Seraphim presented the church with a reliquary containing the bones of some of the Theban Legion; illustrating the common hope of all Christians in the Resurrection. Having reminded the congregation that it is appointed for all men once to die (Hebrews IX: 27) he reminded them that Christ is the firstfruits (1 Corinthians XV: 23) – the promise – of the great harvest of all men on the Day of Resurrection). We share that hope with Christians of all generations and with the saints of God, whom we call blessed souls. Abba Seraphim spoke of the faithful witness of the Theban Legion – Coptic Christians – serving under the Emperor Maximian in what is now Switzerland – who chose martyrdom in AD 286 rather than offer worship to the Emperor. In entrusting the relics to the Babingley Church he expressed the hope that they would be a source of blessing and powerful intercessors to all enter the church to pray. Assisting Abba Seraphim were Deacon Christopher Barnes and Subdeacons Roger-Kenneth Player and James Trevor Maskery.
Special prayers were also said for Deacon Mark Saunders and his wife Sybil, who were both admitted to hospital during Holy Week.
Since 2002 the British Orthodox Parish of St. Mary & St. Felix at Babingley, Norfolk, has participated in the local Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by sponsoring an ecumenical lecture during The Raising of Evening Incense. This year a full church welcomed The Right Rev’d Alan Hopes, 4th Catholic Bishop of East Anglia. Introducing him to those present, Abba Seraphim spoke warmly of his predecessor, the late Bishop Michael Evans, who had been the speaker at the St. Felix ecumenical lecturer in 2005 and had also served on the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum alongside Abba Seraphim .
Bishop Alan began by reviewing the progress of the Catholic Church’s ecumenical dialogue in the fifty years since the IInd Vatican Council and its serious commitment to ecumenical dialogue with a wide range of Christian traditions, of which the dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox Churches was very active. Abba Seraphim later recalled that the meeting between the two newly elected Popes, Tawadros II of Alexandria and Francis I of Rome, last year was hugely significant, being the first meeting of heads of churches of both Popes, and came exactly forty years after the visit of Pope Shenouda III to Pope Paul VI in Rome.
Following the Evening Service, at which Abba Seraphim was assiated by Father David Seeds from Cusworth and Deacons Christopher Barnes and Daniel Malyon, all present joined together for a very British tea party and Bishop Alan was able to talk with local members of the British Orthodox Church as well as the wider ecumenical visitors.
On 11 January, during the celebration of The Divine Liturgy at Saint-George-in-the-East, Shadwell, where the British Orthodox London Mission of SS.George & Paul the Hermit worships, Abba Seraphim performed two ordinations. Trevor Maskery, who serves as Abba Seraphim’s PA, who has been a Reader since 2012, was advanced to the subdiaconate; whilst Daniel Malyon, who has served as a Reader and Subdeacon since February 2011 was ordained to the order of the diaconate. Deacon Daniel, who is currently completing his master’s degree in Orthodox Theology at the University of Winchester, also serves on the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK. It was a great joy that Deacon Christopher Barnes travelled down from the Church in Babingley to serve as deacon of the liturgy and to perform the role of acting Archdeacon.
Following the ordination in London the two new ordinands and Deacon Daniel’s wife, Janice, travelled down to Bournemouth to visit the congregation there. The next morning, during his homily in the Divine Liturgy, Abba Seraphim complained that his duties had kept him away for too many months, but he was glad to return to share fellowship with the congregation there, and to welcome church members from the other South Coast Mission parishes of Portsmouth and Southampton. It was also a pleasure to return with the newly ordained Deacon Daniel, who had begun his ministry in the Portsmouth and Bournemouth congregations and had met his future wife from among the members of the Bournemouth parish. The day was characterised by warm informality as Abba Seraphim addressed the congregation on a number of issues, some of the members having been gathered almost four decades earlier, when he had immediate pastoral charge of the Bournemouth parish. Following lunch Abba Seraphim took the two new ordinands to the Wimborne Road Cemetery to pray at the grave of the late Archdeacon James Goddard (died 1993).
Although the Church in Cusworth Village, near Doncaster, Yorkshire, was opened in 1965, it wasn’t until 1988 that it became Orthodox. It was consecrated by Abba Seraphim on 30 April 1988 and celebrated its Silver Jubilee as an Orthodox Church over the weekend 18-19 May.
The celebration began on Saturday morning with the arrival of Abba Seraphim and the Raising of Morning Incense, during which he spoke about the significance of the Jubilee and the fact that it was not simply looking back, but also looking forward to the future. In addition to Father David Seeds, the parish priest, and Archdeacon Alexander Astill, they were joined by Father Simon Smyth and representatives of the BOC South Coast congregations, Deacon Christopher Barnes representing the Babingley Church, as well as Fathers Habtom Ftuwi, the Eritrean Orthodox priest in Manchester; Fr. Yonas Tesheme, the Eritrean Orthodox priest in Sheffield, along with Eritrean Orthodox faithful; as well as our good friend, Archimandrite Deiniol of the Wales Orthodox Mission and friends from other parts of the country. Among the many messages of greetings received and read out were those from His Grace Bishop Makarios, overseer of the Eritrean Church in the diaspora, the Catholic Bishop of Hallam and the Anglican Vicar of Doncaster.
After a buffet lunch, traditional Eritrean hymns were sung in Tigrinyan and English in the churchyard and Abba Seraphim gave a talk on “The State of Christians in Ancient Bible Lands”. The day concluded with the Raising of Evening Incense.
On Sunday, 19 May, Father David Seeds celebrated the special Thanksgiving Liturgy for the Jubilee and Father Simon Smyth preached the homily.
During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the British Orthodox Parish of St. Mary & St. Felix at Babingley has traditionally invited a guest speaker to give an address and this year, during the service of the Raising of Evening Incense, Dr. Michael Kennedy spoke on “Change for the Better: Ecumenism and the Orthodox Concept of Salvation.” In introducing him Abba Seraphim noted that he not only served as a Subdeacon at the BOC Chatham Church and had a distinguished secular career as a university lecturer, but was still an active artist and artists were capable of viewing the world in a way which gave prominence to spirituality.
In his address Dr. Kennedy noted that when one thinks of the Orthodox Churches perhaps the last thing that comes to mind is the word ‘change’. Orthodoxy seems to be the epitome of that which is changeless and to the visitor Orthodox worship probably appears timeless. The Orthodox Liturgy may feel timeless in the sense that it generally continues far longer than most Western church services, but there is also a sense of timelessness in that the ancient liturgical forms are preserved and cherished. A visit to an Orthodox monastery, for example to one of the Coptic monasteries in the Egyptian desert, prompts feelings of going back in time, of nothing really changing, of a deeper more ancient life of prayer and worship. “For many people this perceived timelessness is no doubt attractive. There is security in the unchanging, a sense of knowing where we are, of knowing that ‘God is in his heaven and all is right with the world’. But it doesn’t take much exposure to the Christian faith to realise that this security is an illusion, a comforting one but an illusion nonetheless. Like education, Christianity is all about change.”
He then quoted from patristic and modern sources, especially H.H. Pope Shenouda, to explain the process by which salvation is achieved, “The Orthodox understanding of salvation asks us not to see it as a simple one-off event, something that has already happened in the past but rather to see it is an on-going process. Furthermore we must get involved ourselves. However contemplative we are by nature or inclination we must collaborate with God. The principal means of doing this is through the church into which we must be baptised and we must build on this sacrament, this means of grace, day by day. So we must be changed and we change ourselves, little by little, through prayer, through study, through sacraments, especially the sacrament of repentance, and through good works. All of these are important and I suggest that we miss the point if we believe that our salvation is already accomplished and we need do nothing further. Salvation understood as a union with God is the goal of Orthodox Christian faith, the end to which our life of prayer and worship aspires.”
Regrettably, attendance by the Babingley clergy was restricted by illness. Deacon Mark Saunders was unable to attend as his wife, Sybil, had only just been discharged from hospital having been suffering from pneumonia and Subdeacon Roger-Kenneth Player had only been discharged from Papworth hospital the previous day following heart surgery. Abba Seraphim had visited him at home and prayed for him earlier in the day. However, the service was well attended and Abba Seraphim was assisted by Father Peter Farrington, Deacon Christopher Barnes, Deacon Theodore de Quincey and Readers Daniel Malyon and Roman Benchak.