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Abba Seraphim ordains priest for Eritrean Orthodox

At the request of His Grace Bishop Makarios, Overseer of the North American Archdiocese of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and Bishop of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in diaspora, Abba Seraphim ordained Deacon Habtom Ftuwi, to serve the Medhane Alem Eritrean Orthodox community in Manchester.

Abba Seraphim’s contact with the Manchester community goes back to 10 April 2006 when he chaired a meeting at Cheetham Hill to find ways of establishing the incipient community in a regular place of worship. Since then the congregation has grown and maintained regular worship but they have depended on occasional visits (sometimes six monthly) from Eritrean clergy in London for the sacraments.

Following Bishop Makarios’ request, Abba Seraphim invited Deacon Habtom and representatives of the Manchester community to meet with him at the British Orthodox Church Secretariat in London and required supporting documentation to ensure the the proposed ordination conformed to canon law.

On 19 November the ordination took place at St. Mark & St. Hubert’s Orthodox Church in Cusworth Village, South Yorkshire. During  the Liturgy Abba Seraphim was assisted by Fathers Simon Smyth and David Seeds, Archdeacon Alexander Astill, Deacons Christopher Barnes and Johannes Gebrhiwet. A large contingent of the congregation attended from Manchester, so that the church was full. After the kiss of peace, Archdeacon Alexander read out the letters from Bishop Makarios delegating Deacon Habtom’s ordination to Abba Seraphim, before Abba Seraphim asked those present if they wanted Deacon Habtom to be their priest, to which the response was a resounding assent. Finally Deacon Habtom was asked if he accepted this call and his wife, Arsema, whether she agreed to his ordination and would support him in his ministry, to which both assented. Immediately prior to the ordination Deacon Habtom swore the pledge taken by all ordinands to maintain the Orthodox Faith and to serve the people, after which he knelt and bowed to all present.

In his homily Abba Seraphim spoke of the Providence of God and our need to bring our wills into conformity with His in the same way that the Mother of God did when confronted by the Archangel. He also spoke of the continuity of priestly ministry throughout the generations and in different places. This very day the funeral was taking place in Dublin of a dear friend, Archimandrite Serge Keleher of the Greek Catholic Church, who died after a long and fruitful priestly ministry. This year also marked the 40th anniversary of Abba Seraphim’s own priestly ordination. On the day of his ordination he had come straight from the funeral of another priest, whose ministry had been over 70 years. Such was the Providence of God that as some priests departed to their reward, others answered the call and served in their place. Abba Seraphim highlighted two scriptural texts, our Lord telling the Apostles,   “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit”  (John X:16) and St. Paul writing about ministers as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” He spoke of the prime importance of fidelity to the Faith and to the ministry of service.

At the conclusion of his ordination, Father Habtom was invested with his priestly robes and the congregation enthusiastically acclaimed Axios as well as joyful ululations ! At the end of the Liturgy Abba Seraphim gave the new priest the Holy Breath and the traditional charges to a newly ordained priest were read. Afterwards both British and Eritrean joined together in a traditional Eritrean meal in the Battie-Wrighton Memorial Hall, followed by traditional church dances by the choir. As the weather was unseasonably mild this took place in the courtyard in front of the church. The debteras in their white robes and holding their sistra and prayer sticks swayed rhythmically to these ancient traditional  Christian chants from the Horn of Africa while the haunting sounds and the solemn beating of a drum wafted across the sleepy Yorkshire village.

Father Simon ministers in Manchester & Portsmouth

On Friday 4th November Father Simon travelled to Manchester in order to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Saturday 5th November with the Eritrean Tewahedo Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour who currently have no priest and are dependent on visiting clergy so they can enjoy the occasional Liturgy from time to time.  And enjoy is very much the right word for this Eritrean congregation who approached the holy communion in such devoutness and celebrated with such joy and enthusiasm.  He was supported by Archdeacon Alexander who travelled from Sheffield on the day, assisted also by the Eritrean deacons present.   The congregation was almost overwhelming in their expressions of appreciation for the visiting British Orthodox clergy.

Sunday afternoon 6th November saw Father Simon back in Portsmouth for the baptism of Paul Theodore Maties where he was assisted by Subdeacons Edward Smyth and Nicolae Popu and Reader Daniel Malyon.  The British Orthodox congregation of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black was swelled by the many family and friends who came to support young Paul and his parents, Oana and Ovidiu, travelling from Scotland, France, Germany, their native Romania and even from as far as the United States.  It was good to see such wonderful support for a baptism.

In a brief sermon Father Simon made reference to his Manchester visit the day before explaining how the congregation could not have celebrated the Liturgy without an ordained priest, then recalled the time several years before in Trotton Church one cold January when all the members were sick with flu and he as an ordained priest without a congregation could not celebrate.  There must always be a congregation, however small (“where to or three are gathered together”) and the ordained priest has no more authority to celebrate without a congregation than the congregation without an ordained priest.  Young Paul Theodore might not yet understand the theology of priesthood but by his baptism and chrismation he had just been incorporated into the priesthood of all believers and when Father Simon next celebrated the Liturgy he would not be celebrating it for Paul but with him, even as with every other Church member present.

Annual Conference of the Orthodox Theological Research Forum

Three British Orthodox Readers (James Anthony Kelly, Antony Paul Holland, & Daniel Malyon) from our Southampton Congregation are currently studying for their M.Th. in Orthodox Studies at the University of Winchester. As part of their course they were invited to attend the annual conference of the OTRF at Winchester. This report has submitted by Daniel Malyon:

Monday was a sunny morning, a rarity in South England these days. It was perfect weather to start a great event such as this year’s OTRF Conference. The event was held at Winchester University and organised by Dr. Andreas Andreopoulos, course leader of the Mth Orthodox Theology course at the University. The topic for the Conference was The Divine Liturgy, a key element in Orthodox life, and a perfect subject to bring together those in attendance in an atmosphere of Theological discussion under the umbrella of Orthodox Christian Unity.

Due to the delay of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, who was to deliver the keynote address, Dr. Andreopoulos willingly stepped in and delivered a talk based on his research into the Mystagogy of St Maximos and his use of Iconographic imagery in his commentary  on the Divine Liturgy. This led to a lively discussion on St Maximos’ Commentary, covering such subjects as his omission of the Holy Anaphora in this work and whether this was due to the Mystagogy being written for the understanding of the Laity, but this was purely theoretical and still to be researched.

With this type of discussion at the outset, it was understood by all, that the level of discussion would be to a high academic standard and theological understanding and was a brilliant start to the conference.

The first day’s second speaker was Dr. Paula-Wendy Nicholson, speaking on “Economies of life and death.” This was a more philosophical discussion, describing temporality, Liturgy and the concept of ‘liturgical reform.” The main point raised was on the fact that we are living in a world based around the ‘economy of death’ in which people are in a rush and most forget to leave much time for such things as the Liturgy, regardless of the liturgy being a part of your spiritual life and not to be rushed. The discussion which this led to detailed the concept of people trying to modernise Orthodox life in order for it to fit with the fast pace of the modern world.

This discussion also showed  a number of groups, such as some younger Coptic  in the US, wishing to return to more traditional, longer liturgies. Again, this threw up diverse opinions. Some of the audience saw Liturgical Reform as being an ongoing feature of the Living Church whilst others saw modernisation as demeaning the traditions of the Orthodox Church.

After the discussion ceased, those in attendance were treated to a short trip to Winchester Cathedral and St Swithan’s burial site as they waited for Metropolitan Kallistos’ address later that evening.

As always, the Metropolitan was a fascinating speaker, covering the debates surrounding the Eucharistic Sacrifice in 12th Century Constantinople and the person of Nicholas of Methone. In a fashion which is expected from Metropolitan Kallistos we heard a detailed and well explained piece on the views that prevailed at the time. A favourite of the discussion was the view of the Liturgy being the chance to experience a small glimpse of Christ’s Liturgy in heaven, with us receiving but s small glimpse of this. Personally I expected nothing less from Metropolitan Kallistos who never fails to explain a complex concept in a way which we can all understand.

The Weather on the second day started with the return of British Weather, but this failed to dampen the spirits of those in attendance. The conference began with the distinguished Fr Ephraim Lash explaining the new translation of the Byzantine Liturgy made for the Archdiocese of Thyateira and the reasons for the changes made. Fr Ephraim, being the famed linguist he is, went through these in great detail and covered many of the previous inconsistencies between the English and original Greek. As with the day before, those in attendance were more than happy to share their views on such details as the removal of the word “Hallowed” in the Lord’s Prayer since it is inconsistent with other translations of the word in Greek.

This was followed by a less detailed yet equally interesting piece by Phillip Gorski of the University of Nottingham. He detailed his doctoral thesis on reverence of the Liturgy in Russian Literature. Though this was not a theological piece it was interesting to know how such writers as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (Amusingly labelled ‘the dreaded Tolstoyevski’ due to their dominance of any discussion of Russian Literature. He also went into detail on characters in Solzhenitsyn and the use of liturgical imagery in such grim settings as soviet gulags to emphasis the devotion of characters to their faith.

This provoked some emotion amongst the audience; since Soviet persecution is still in the mind of many from the Russian Church and martyrs are always close the heart of Orthodox Christians.

The midday discussion was by Adrian Agachi. He was researching the use of community singing in the Romanian Orthodox Church. Using both scriptural and patristic evidence, Adrian highlighted the historical use of congregational response and singing, something which has died out in the Byzantine Tradition with the use of choirs and prevalence of performance over community faith. Adrian’s address was one which hit home a lot with some from the Coptic Tradition, since this tradition of community singing has never died out in the Coptic Church. This was also discussed by Dr Elena Narinskaya, who spoke out about the use of paid operatic choirs in some Russian Churches.

After a lunch which was filled with interesting discussion, we were treated to a lecture on typology. This was delivered by Fr Columba Flegg and covered the much discussed area of symbolism in the Divine Liturgy and the general Church building. This was a topic which many have tackled through the centuries and it was good to hear it brought up in this conference on the subject of the Divine Liturgy.

The day ended with a piece by Dr Mary Cunningham, famed for her work Christian Spirituality and the role of Mary in the Orthodox Tradition. She tackled the subject of Homilies and their place in the Liturgy. She cited such figures as Saint John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzus, both famed for their homilies, to show what was described as ‘the almost sacramental role’ of homilies in the Early Church. She then explained the use of feast-like imagery which was used to describe sermons in the Early Church and the importance of the placement of the sermon during the Liturgy of the Catechumens.

This ended the day on a vibrant discussion of the subject as people headed for a group meal in a local restaurant. The discussions and debates on the role of the Sermon and correct delivery of it were to continue into the evening and on to the next day.

The morning of the final day began, as with the others, on a high. Fr Andrew Louth discussed the concept of space and time in the Divine Liturgy, tackling a subject much like the debates covered by Metropolitan Kallistos on the Monday. He started with an outline of the Medieval Byzantine view of space and time in order to give a basic understanding of the context covered. This led on to a comparison with modern quantum physics. After the audience has their head around this, Fr Andrew  put the explanation in the context of the Liturgy, linking the philosophical and Liturgical concepts covered perfectly with the concept of the Sacramental life being a type of ‘cosmic movement through the realm of time and space.’ This covered the Theological concept of Baptism being an event which is a death and rebirth in Christ. The talk was one of the more confusing at times but showed a realm of Theology which is not covered as often as it deserves.

This was followed by brilliant talk on Iconography in the Orthodox Tradition. As with typology this is covered often, yet the subject is not often explained in a way which gives it the justice it deserves. Dr Narinskaya, a Russian Iconographer and lecturer on the topic of Iconology, spoke on the importance and role of the Icon in the Liturgical life of the Orthodox Church. She stressed the great prominence of the ‘Victory of Orthodoxy’ in the Byzantine tradition after the Iconoclastic period. She also spoke of the difference between the Worship of God and veneration of Icons, since it is a commonly misunderstood relationship outside of Orthodoxy.

Of all the parts of this talk, Dr Narinskaya’s explanation of why Icons are not Idolatry was the most fascinating. She detailed the difference between Mankind’s knowledge of God before and after the Incarnation of Christ, comparing the faceless God of the Old Testament and the Godhead made man in the new. The explained this when she said how ‘Christ is God’s divine reality combined with the material world’ and that Icons follow the same formula of divine reality in the form of matter. This was one of the best descriptions of Icons that I have personally even heard and really put forward the significance of the sacred art of Iconography in Orthodox tradition.

As final speakers, we had Fr Dionysus and Fr Patrick Ramsey explain their PhD studies on John’s Gospel and the Eucharist as an iconic experience. Both were research outlines for their forthcoming works and were received with praise from those in attendance as well as helpful suggestions as to writings and concepts to look into. This atmosphere of shared research and the ability to bounce ideas off  each other is one rarely seen in conferences such as these and made the experience far more comfortable than some others in which people only encounter criticism and competition.

In conclusion the OTRF conference this year was a resounding success. There was much academic content covering both obscure and common factors facing Orthodox Christians in the world as well as the more specific subjects which are always interesting to learn about. The only thing which was a regret for me was the Byzantine Orthodox emphasis of the Forum, resulting from a lack of input from Oriental Orthodox speakers. As a member of this community it was a pity not to hear from any academics from this part of the Orthodox Family since there is such an array of views and history to be shared which is often overshadowed by Byzantine thinkers in the academic world.

I will certainly be attending next year in Nottingham though hope to see more from the Oriental Churches, since there were no speakers from these regardless of the willingness of Coptic audience members to share their views and community life with those at the conference.

British Orthodox Churches celebrate Holy Pascha

As once again, the date for Holy Pascha was common to both East and West, there was a great sense of oneness among Christians in celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection. British Orthodox congregations observed the Holy Week services whilst at Charlton, Father Sergius Scott joined in an Ecumenical Procession of Witness on Good Friday. In all our churches the Paschal Vigil and Liturgy was celebrated on Pascha Eve (23 April), which also coincided with the traditional observance of St. George’s Day in England. The exceptionally fine weather and the fact that so many trees, shrubs and flowers had burst into bloom, added to the sense of the glory of the new life revealed in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because of its elderly congregation and the church being isolated in the countryside, St, Mary & St. Felix at Babingley in Norfolk began the Vigil service just before sunset. Abba Seraphim presided and was the first to proclaim, “Christ is Risen”. As there were a good number of Orthodox Christians from Moldova and Russia joining the regular congregation, they were also greeted in Russian. At the conclusion of the Liturgy when Abba Seraphim blessed and distributed dyed eggs, he also blessed their traditional festive foods of pascha and kullich, which they had brought to the church. Father Simon reports that the Bournemouth and Portsmouth congregations celebrated Holy Week and the feast at the Church of Christ the Saviour at Winton (Bournemnouth) and services were well supported. Following the Vigil and Liturgy on Pascha Eve, on the forenoon of Pascha, prayers for the departed were said at church and in a long-established local tradition their graves at Wimborne Road Cemetery were visited and the Resurrection hymn sung as eggs were placed on their graves. At Cusworth the local congregation were also joined by Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe and the church was filled, whilst at Chatham a new catechumen was received during the evening and the joyous celebration concluded with an extensive buffet which continued into the early hours.

At the conclusion of the service at Babingley Abba Seraphim read the Paschal message from His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and all churches prayed with great fervour for Pope Shenouda and also Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka of Antioch, having a great burden of concern for their brothers and sisters in Egypt and Syria who are caught up in the civil disturbances in both countries.

Abba Seraphim returned to London at noon on Holy Pascha and went first to greet Father Michael Robson at Morden College, Blackheath, before visiting sick and housebound members of the church with Holy Communion.

Pilgrimage to Egypt

Abba Seraphim visited Egypt from 13-20 October with a small group of ecumenical pilgrims as well as members of the British Orthodox Church. Accompanying Abba Seraphim were Father Simon Smyth and Reader James-Antony Kelly from the Portsmouth parish, Dr. Katherine Mori from the Charlton parish, Dr. Gordon Beamish, James Carr, Daniel Heale, Terence Pearson and Sister Luisa Duffy of Madonna House. Arriving in Cairo on a Wednesday they were able to attend the weekly papal lecture at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbesseya and afterwards to greet His Holiness on his return to the papal residence. They were accompanied throughout by Shenouda Mamdouh and his wife, Mary Ezzat.

On 14 October the group travelled to St. Mina’s monastery at Maryut, where there were warmly welcomed by His Grace Bishop Kyrillos and lunched at the monastery. Following this they visited the ancient pilgrimage city of St. Menas, which is one of the seven Unesco World Heritage sites in Egypt. Daniel Heale is preparing a doctoral thesis for the University of Winchester on the conservation of historic Coptic sites, so had a particular interest in its present condition, which the Glastonbury Review previously highlighted (No. 108: July 2003) when the damage caused by rising water levels was causing serious concern. The site of the main altar is now covered by a temporary wooden church and the monks are working closely with the archaeologists and conservationists. Father Thaddeus acted as the party’s guide and invited Abba Seraphim to celebrate the Raising of Evening Incense on this historic spot. After leaving Maryut Abba Seraphim’s party stayed overnight at the Papal Residence at St. Bishoy’s monastery in the Wadi El N’atrun.

On 15 October, after visiting the church and venerating the relics at St. Bishoy’s monastery, the party visited Abba Seraphim’s own monastery, Deir El Surian to take the blessing of the churches and relics. They were received buy His Grace Bishop Mattheos, the Abbot, who sat with the group answering questions about Coptic liturgy and the monastic life. That evening the party returned to Cairo, where they used St. Mark’s Centre at Nasr City as their base.

On 16 October they were joined by Abuna Arsanios Boula and the visited the churches and monasteries of Old Cairo: Deir Abu Saifain and the tomb of the late Abbess Irene; the Hanging Church (Al-Mu‘allaqah), Ben Ezra synagogue, St. Barbara, the Church of SS. Sergius & Bacchus (Abu Sargah),  the Church of SS. Cyrus & John, the Church of the Holy Virgin, the Pot of Basil (Al-‘Adhra Qariyat ar-Rihan) and the Convent of St. George (Deir Mari Girgis), where they were received and entertained to lunch by Mother Kyria.

On 17 October they drove to the Red Sea monasteries and were received at St. Antony’s monastery by Abuna Ruwais Antony, who acted as their host during an extensive visit. Following this they travelled on to St. Paul’s monastery, where they stayed the night. The next morning Abba Seraphim, assisted by Abuna Arsanios, celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the underground chapel beside the site of St. Paul’s tomb before the party breakfasted and visit the churches and shrines in the monastery.

On 19 October Abba Seraphim, assisted by Abuna Paul Girguis of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Washington DC, celebrated the Divine Liturgy at St Theodore’s convent (Amir Tadros) in Harat ar-Rum and afterwards were entertained to breakfast by Mother Adrosis, the Abbess. The party then travelled to the Papal Residence at Abbesseya for an audience with His Holiness Pope Shenouda. Following a private meeting with Abba Seraphim, at which he was able to report to the Pope on aspects of the ministry of the British Orthodox Church as well as his visit to the North American Eritrean diocese and to discuss current issues relating to the Coptic Church, they were joined by Bishops Joannes and Ermia, the papal secretaries, and His Holiness warmly received the whole group and discussed aspects of their visit with them. The meeting concluded with His Holiness praying for the whole group and distributing gifts of books and holy ikons.

Before flying back to London on 20 October Abba Seraphim and his party visited Miss Iffa, one of the first deaconesses blessed by Pope Shenouda, at her home in Heliopolis. Although she is now 90, she remains in good spirits and warmly welcomed all her visitors.

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