On 23 October Abba Seraphim met with Father David Seeds and Archdeacon Edwin Astill at Ashover, Derbyshire, to discuss the ministry at the Cusworth Church and surrounding area as well as wider concerns of the British Orthodox Church and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate during the sede vacante. The Cusworth Church was consecrated as an Orthodox Church in April 1988, so plans are in hand to mark the 25th Anniversary in 2013.
The traditional services of Holy Week and Pascha were observed by the British Orthodox churches and missions during the past week and reports indicate that they were all well supported. Father Simon Smyth reported that services were held in the three South Coast communities of Southampton, Portsmouth and Bournemouth from Palm Sunday evening to Holy Wednesday but thereafter came together at the Church in Bournemouth for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Pascha Eve. Representing the local ‘Churches Together’ Father Robin Nash, priest in charge of St. Luke Winton, joined the local congregation for the Paschal Liturgy when he read the Pauline Epistle. On Holy Pascha, Father Simon held a forenoon service and administered Holy Communion to those who had been unable to attend the late night Liturgy, before conducting the usual Memorial prayers around the Orthodox graves in Winton Cemetery.
Abba Seraphim visited the Chatham Church on Holy Thursday, where he performed the Laquan Footwashing and celebrated the Liturgy before travelling to Babingley to preside at the Good Friday prayer and the Paschal Vigil and Liturgy, which took place at sunset, earlier than at Bournemouth, Chatham and Cusworth, which all began at 10.00 p.m. Before the Paschal Vigil Abba Seraphim baptised and chrismated Richard Tawn at St. Felix Church and, dressed in his white chrisom robe and having been given the new name of George, he was joyfully able to receive his first communion and warmly welcomed to fellowship. Abba Seraphim returned to London early on Pascha morning where he took the sacrament to Father Michael Robson at Morden College and to other elderly and sick members who had been unable to attend a liturgy the previous night.
Abba Seraphim, Father Simon Smyth, Father David Seeds and Father Peter all preached on the Resurrection during their respective liturgies but in Bournemouth and Portsmouth the local deacons also took responsibility for preaching during Holy Week. Always popular is the Good Friday Burial Service, where rose petals, herbs and spices are reverently offered by the women, who assist the clergy in preparing the cross for ‘burial’ and its transfer into the sanctuary.
The services at Chatham and Cusworth were also well supported by their local congregations and all churches reported that they were joined by other ethnic Orthodox who were unable to attend their own churches. Although refreshments were provided in all churches following the Paschal Liturgy, many also brought baskets with traditional paschal dishes to have them blessed before returning with them to their homes. Dyed and chocolate eggs were distributed among all the worshippers and always prove very popular with the children.
The fact that Holy Pascha falls within the forty days of mourning for the death of Pope Shenouda undoubtedly contributed to a reflective spirit in all the churches, and the prayers which are normally made for his life were now changed to those for his repose, but also for many this highlighted the common hope of the Resurrection which we all share and the deep joy we feel in proclaiming that Christ is Risen.
For the twenty-second year the Church of St. Mark & St. Hubert in Cusworth Village, Doncaster, celebrated its annual Advent Carol; Service. Based on the seven ancient antiphons which were sung at vespers in the Western Church since the sixth century, they hail the coming Messiah with his prophetic titles: Wisdom, Adonai (Lord), Root of Jesse, Key of David, Morning Star, King of the Gentiles and Emmanuel. Sung between 17-23 December, they provide an appropriate preparation for the Nativity Feast.
Father David Seeds and Archdeacon Alexander Astill presided and there wsas a good attendance of the regular congregation and local villagers for what has become an important local event.
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.
In all British Orthodox congregations this weekend special commemoration of the new Alexandrian martyrs were held and their names read out individually. These were held at noon following the normal Sunday service in order to coincide with similar services being held in Coptic churches throughout Europe. At Portsmouth the service was held on Saturday as the Divine Liturgy was already scheduled then as Father Simon Smyth celebrated the Sunday Liturgy in Bournemouth. The specially designed logo was reproduced and displated around the Portsmouth Church as well as attached to the portable ikon stands. At Cusworth Father David Seeds announced that the church had sent a donation of £250 to the Barnabas Fund to support Coptic Christians in Alexandria.
During his address at Bournemouth, Father Simon referred to the cost of blessings, “True blessing doesn’t come cheap.” He also pointed to the example of the ascetic lives of the desert Fathers, to the inward pain of the Mother of God, Saint Mary (“my heart weeps when I gaze at Thee on the cross”) and spoke of the supreme example of the martyrs who paid the ultimate price for the great blessing of martyrdom. “We all want to enjoy God’s blessing – but are we willing to pray the price our beloved Coptic martyrs in Alexandria have just paid?” He emphasised that the Coptic Orthdox Church is par excellence the Church of martyrs. The memorial prayers for the martyred Copts throughout 2010 were prayed outside the Church building so as to give a greater public witness. The Church entrance gate and notice board were covered in symbols of the Alexandrian Martyrs with requests for people to pray for them with their names listed.