On Saturday, 14th May, clergy and laity from all of the Oriental Orthodox churches gathered together for the 4th annual Oriental Orthodox Festival. The festival provides an opportunity for the members of the various Orthodox communities to meet together and share in the celebration of the Liturgy, and then have an opportunity for fellowship over a varied buffet lunch provided by the different Orthodox traditions and ethnicities represented.
The latest festival took place at St Michael’s Eritrean Orthodox Church in Camberwell, London. Participating bishops included His Grace Bishop Angaelos and His Eminence Archbishop Athanasius in the presence of His Grace Bishop Markos. The attending priests represented the British Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Indian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Churches. There were many deacons from the various Churches and the sanctuary was filled with a wonderful fraternal spirit. As Father Youhannes began the prayers of the Liturgy a spiritual atmosphere descended upon the crowded Church.
Many British Orthodox clergy and faithful had travelled to Camberwell to participate in the Festival. They included Father Sergius, Father Simon and Father Peter, together with Deacon Theodore from the French Coptic Orthodox Church, and servants and laity from the South Coast congregations. Many other friends of the British Orthodox Church were present in the congregation, including Father Deacon Richard Downer and Dr Carol Downer.
The Liturgy was conducted with the participation of the various clergy, and the congregation was marked by enthusiastic singing of the hymns and chants of the Eritrean tradition. It always makes a great impression to see so many of the faithful dressed in their traditional white clothes. It is important that this concelebrated liturgy takes place each year so that we provide a visible manifestation of our unity as Orthodox Christians.
After the Liturgy the choir of the Eritrean Orthodox church sang many of their traditional songs with the accompaniment of drums. It was a great blessing to see such devotion and seriousness in the young Eritrean Christians who sang and performed their liturgical dance, but also to see the joy and spiritual delight in the faces of the many members of the congregation who joined in. His Grace Bishop Angaelos addressed the congregation, as did His Grace Bishop Markos, whose message of welcome was translated by Father Youhannes.
But the Festival is more than the concelebrated Liturgy, and we were invited to the basement of the Church where the various churches represented had laid out diverse foods from their own cultural traditions. After a great deal of warm conversation it seemed that most people had a plate of food in front of them. I certainly enjoyed the Eritrean food I was offered, and the opportunity to talk with some of the other clergy. Father Youhannes was tireless in his hospitality and hardly had time to sit down himself.
To conclude our Festival the choir of the Indian Orthodox church had arranged to share some of their musical repetoire with us. As they started their first song the church filled up with clergy and laity. The choir sang enthusiastically, and the choir director even managed to urge the Eritrean Orthodox choir to join in with their drums. The congregation were given an opportunity to try and sing one of the Indian Orthodox songs, but I am not sure that we all managed to pronounce the Malayalam words properly.
After a final prayer Father Youhannes dismissed the congregation. It had been a most successful event, and already I have received messages from those who had been able to attend and who had enjoyed the Festival.
[Report by Father Peter Farrington]
At the invitation of the North American Archdiocese of the Eritrean Orthodox Church Abba Seraphim attended its twelfth annual conference, held this year in Stamford, Connecticut. Accompanied by Mr. Trevor Maskery, he was received at the Hampton Inn on Friday, 23 July by His Grace Bishop Makarios and introduced to the clergy and senior lay representatives of parishes as far afield as Oakland (California), Atlanta (Georgia), Seattle (Washington) and Toronto as well as east coast communities.
From here the clergy processed the short distance to the hall of the Sacred Heart Parish in Schuyler Avenue, which was made available for conference sessions by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport. Upon arrival the clergy were greeted by a large body of laity and vested deacons who conducted them to the hall with traditional songs and the beating of drums. They were then formally welcomed by Bishop Makarios, following which Abba Seraphim spoke of his close association with the Eritrean Church since its independence and his delight at visiting the North American diocese, which had remained such a staunch supporter of His Holiness Abune Antonios. Later that evening Abba Seraphim and Bishop Makarios dined together and were able to discuss matters of common concern and interest.
On Saturday morning, 24 July, Abba Seraphim and Bishop Makarios, assisted by the priests and deacons, celebrated the Divine Liturgy (Anaphora of the Apostles) at Archangels Greek Orthodox Church in Bedford Street, Stamford, during which Professor Deacon Habtu Ghebre-Ab was ordained a priest (with the name Father Athanasios) to serve the Eritrean community in Cincinatti. The new priest had only visited Abba Seraphim at the Church Secretariat in Charlton two months previously when he had spoken of his planned ordination although at that time Abba Seraphim had not planned to be in New York this summer.
During the Liturgy Abba Seraphim preached on the Gospel (John X: 11-21) and illustrated the importance to the apostolic faith and traditions, which recognised Abune Antonios as the canonical Eritrean Patriarch or the one who “entereth in by the door” as “the shepherd of the sheep” in contrast to the government appointee who “enterest not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” Abba Seraphim declared that the clergy and faithful who upheld the canonical church order were faithful to the apostolic tradition and were right not to follow a stranger but rather to “flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” During the service special prayers were said for Abune Antonios and those imprisoned in Eritrea for their faith and the Patriarch’s picture was prominantly displayed in the church.
After lunch Mr. Trevor Maskery, who has designed the websites for Patriarch Antonios and the British Orthodox Church, spoke about the importance of harnessing the power of the internet and directed attention to some of the opportunities which still needed to be grasped.
Abba Seraphim also gave a keynote address, “How shall we sing the Lord’s Song in a strange Land?” addressing some of the issues which face an expatriate community which has largely fled from persecution at home. The text of this talk is now available in booklet form from www.lulu.org In the evening Abba Seraphim and Mr. Maskery dined with a group of lay leaders and explored further some of the issues raised during the day’s meeting.
On Sunday. 25 July Abba Seraphim and Bishop Makarios, assisted by the priests and deacons, celebrated the Divine Liturgy (Anaphora of St. Jacob of Serough) with St. Gabriel Eritrean Orthodox Parish of New York which worships in the basement chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church at 469 W. 142nd Street, New York, which was also the commemoration of the Archangel Gabriel. After the liturgy the clergy and people went in solemn procession around the entire block as an important witness in the community where they worship. Many people came out to watch with deep respect and to share in the joy which the procession presented to all around. After a festive agape Abba Seraphim again preached on St. Gabriel and the angelic ministries and Bishop Makarios made commemorative presentations to Fr. Athanasios and those also ordained hegoumenos and reader over this blessed weekend. Abba Seraphim returned to London on 26 July.
Commenting on his visit Abba Seraphim spoke of the deep joy experienced in the opportunity to have close contact and eucharistic communion with this particular diocese of the Eritrean Orthodox Church which is notable for its integrity and fidelity to Abune Antonios and the Orthodox tradition. He was impressed by the dedication and commitment of the clergyand by their energy, which not only involved teaching the faith but also in studying for theological degrees (often in addition to degrees already earned in other disciplines) to advance their own knowledge. The continuing love and pastoral concern which His Holiness Pope Shenouda has always shown for the Eritrean Church was manifested recently by providing them with a bishop highly respected for his fidelity and integrity, which will provide the oversight long needed by the dio0cese. “Under the wise leadership of Bishop Makarios, these faithful priests and people will prove to be a powerful witness to this authentic expression of Orthodox ecclesiology, and with its eirenic and spiritually based ethos, this diocese will one day be the means of blessing the Orthodox in Eritrea who remain and quietly witness to their long and preciously held faith in Christ.”
Abba Seraphim has accepted an invitation to attend and speak at the 12th Annual Conference of the North American Diocese of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in Stamford, Connecticut. This year’s theme verse is: “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding”(Nehemiah II: 20). Under this theme the Diocese of North America will meet for four days of prayer, worship and panel discussions & workshops. On Saturday 24 July, 2010, a special Prayer Vigil for H.H Abune Antonios, Patriarch of the Eritrean Church, will be held. Among the attendees are His Grace Bishop Makarios, Bishop of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in North America and His Grace Bishop David, General Bishop of the Coptic Church in the United States, with many clergy and the faithful. Abba Seraphim will also deliver an address on “How do fathers serve people who are displaced from their country and live in foreign lands.”
A Prayer Vigil was held outside the Eritrean Embassy in Islington, London, on 3 June 2010 to protest at the treatment of Christians in Eritrea. It was called to mark the eighth anniversary of the closure of minority churches in Eritrea, after which even main-stream churches, like the majority Eritrean Orthodox Church have suffered systematic persecution.
The vigil was organised through the collaboration of a number of groups, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Release Eritrea, Church in Chains, Release (voice of persecuted Christians), Open Doors (serving persecuted Christians Worldwide) and the British Orthodox Church. For an hour on a sunny afternoon in London, a committed group of concerned Christians stood on the pavement opposite the Eritrean Embassy – as cars and buses with intrigued spectators passed by – and prayed, read from the scriptures, sang spiritual songs and heard meditative addresses from those working with and for the suffering Christians in Eritrea, regardless of their religious affiliation. Unlike political demonstrations the tone was calm, reflective and prayerful and there was no hint of invective against the oppressors. Both the Eritrean President and the Ambassador in London were spoken of courteously and prayed for fervently. His Eminence Abba Seraphim spoke of his concerns about His Holiness Abune Antonios, the elderly Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch, who had refused to bow to pressure from the government when the persecuition began and because of his stand for truth and justice found himself deposed from office and placed under house arrest. His position of national importance and his unswerving integity made him a symbol of all who were suffering for their Christian faith. At the conclusion of the vigil Abba Seraphim, supported by The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessun, (Anglican) Bishop of Woolwich and Dr. Berhane Asmelash of Release Eritrea, called at the Embassy to deliver a letter addressed to the Ambassador expressing their concerns and asking for the release of prisoners of conscience.
Daniel Malyon (BOC Portsmouth), who was present at the vigil, writes:
Yesterday, in protest of the continuing persecution of our Christian brethren in Eritrea, a number of Human Rights groups and Church representatives attended a vigil outside the Eritrean embassy in London. It was great to see an event attended by such a variety of people from different cultures and Christian groups. We had people from the Eritrean Orthodox, the British Orthodox, the Anglican Church and independent Churches, all united in prayer and concern for the Christian community in Eritrea.
To have all these groups together representing a single cause is a rarity these days, but was certainly significant. Everyone was involved in the prayer and the speeches, rejoicing in the gifts we recieve through faith, and in the knowledge of our protection, and to show concern for those that are not given the opportunity to rejoice in their faith, for fear that it will cost them their lives.
The readings from Romans certainly set the tone for the vigil, reminding us that whatever we suffer for Christ in life will be repaid in joy after we die. We are reminded that though the Eritrean Christians suffer needlessly and for no real legal reason, they are the martyrs of the modern day, just as Justin Martyr, St Paul and other early Christians suffered for their faith. As Romans 8:18 says “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
There was much media coverage on the day from the respresented charity groups, and a lot of focus on Church representation, such as the support of an Anglican Bishop and HE Metropolitan Seraphim, as to know that the church establishments are supporting them is vital for the people of Eritrea of whom 90% belong to the Eritrean Orthodox Church, a sister Church of the British Orthodox. The Evangelical representatives also spoke of the need for more to be done by the world to prevent single party governments such as Eritrea from arresting political opponents or those that speak for the rights of the persecuted, as freedom of worship and conscience are vital in society.
The vigil continued with “praise songs” from the Evangelical Church representatives, as well as prayers for both those suffering in Eritrea, and for her government. Some may not understand why we would pray for the opressors of our Eritrean brothers and sisters, but if we do not pray for those who cause suffering, we are no better than they are, as we would be as uncaring as their actions. At 4pm, after the Charities had finished speaking of the Eritrean situation Abba Seraphim led a deputation to deliver a letter to the Embassy across the road. This was given to one of the staff of the Ambassador, informing him of the reaction of the British public, church organisations and Human Rights groups to the continued opression and imprisonment of Christians in Eritrea.
This event happens yearly in London, and though it has not ended the persecutions in Eritrea, I feel that it is a moral duty to continue to stand beside the people of Eritrea, and let them know that they are still in our prayers and thoughts, for if we lose hope, so wil they.
On Sunday morning, 30 May, Abba Seraphim attended the funeral, following the Divine Liturgy, of the late Father Hailemariam F. Mariam, priest of the Debre Madhanit Kidane Mehret Tewahdo Eritrean Orthodox congregation in Shepherd’s Bush, London. The service was held at St. John the Baptist Church, Holland Road, London W14 and presided over by His Eminence Archbishop Antonios of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (shown with Abba Seraphim above).
Father Hailemariam was professed as a monk of the Waldiba monastery when he was twenty-five and came to London in January 1992 at the suggestion of H.H. Pope Shenouda III to minister to the increasing number of Eritrean refugees. He was a humble and devout priest and when the Eritrean government exiled Patriarch Antonios, Father Hailemariam was horrified by such a sacrilegious act. He visited Abba Seraphim at the Church Secretariat in Charlton in 2007 to thank him for his support for the Patriarch and to affirm his own loyalty. Father Hailemariam died on 25 May 2010 aged 75 after a long battle with cancer. He was a greatly loved pastor and the church was packed for the funeral as well as having a large number of both Eritrean and Ethiopian priests and deacons assisting in the funeral rites. Abba Seraphim paid respect to his loyalty and integrity, “He had deep affection for both Pope Shenouda and Abune Antonios because he loved truth and justice. He is a symbol of the deep spirituality of both the Ethiopian and Eritrean Churches and those who were touched by his ministry should follow his example of fidelity to their last breath.”