On Wednesday, 21st January, the first liturgy of the British Orthodox Community of St Martin in Swindon was celebrated in the Church of St Mary, Commonweal Road, Swindon. The Church had been made available thanks to the kind hospitality of the Dean of Swindon, the Revd. Simon Stevenette, who has been entirely and generously supportive of our British Orthodox missionary activity in the town.
The small, 1960s building is just the right size for our Community and has an attached hall and kitchen, providing all the necessary facilities for worship, fellowship and teaching.
On this occasion of the first liturgy there were 14 people present, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox. Some were people that have been associated with the British Orthodox Church for some time, as members or catechumens. Others were young families of Orthodox. While one couple Pentecostal couple found our liturgy entirely providentially and joined in with great enthusiasm.
An opportunity for fellowship and refreshment followed the liturgy. On the next celebration we hope that some of those known to us who were unable to attend will be present with us.
The next two liturgies are:
Wednesday, 18th February, 6:30 pm
Wednesday, 25th March, 6:30 pm
The Church of St Mary is at Commonweal Road, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN1 4LB
I left home on New Year’s Day and caught the 9:18 am train to London Victoria. I’d worked out that Train and Tube to Heathrow was easiest. My father might have perhaps driven me to the airport but he has been very much debilitated with the flu this year, and was still unwell. In fact the journey to the airport could not have been easier. I arrived in London on time, bought a ticket to Heathrow and headed West on the District and then Piccadilly line. I had already checked in and had only one piece of hand luggage.
Security clearance could not have been more straightforward. There were no queues. Once in the departure lounge I found a sandwich to eat, sent some emails, and waited for the gate to appear. I still had a lot of work to do in preparation for the conference. Boarding was fine and I had a seat on the aisle. No one was next to me for the flight. I spent most of it working on lecture notes and materials. The turbulence over the Adriatic was extreme. We were falling about 100 metres and rolling from side to side. There was a lot of screaming. I was concerned about transit through Cairo Airport. I have only ever done it with other people! But I disembarked, then realised I had left all my notes on board and had to go and find them. Purchasing the Visa was straightforward and then I was out of passport control and customs and into the arrival hall. My lift was outside. Someone I had met in Venice at the previous Missionary Conference. It was quite late by now. We drove into Heliopolis and I was checked in to the Hotel Beirut, just around the corner from Father Daoud’s Church of St Mark.
The next morning, early the next morning by my body clock, I was up and ready to head to the missionary conference. I was collected by a member of the missionary service and we walked the two minutes to the Church. There were already some coaches outside and I climbed into one and sat at the front. I had thought the conference was being held in a place other than that where it was. In fact St Mark’s, Heliopolis, with a congregation of 15,000 and 17 priests, has a number of retreat and conference facilities which it has built in the new developments around Cairo. I was asked to pray and gave a blessing, but then the Agpeya was placed in front of me and it seemed I was to pray all of the Third Hour, which I did.
There was some loss of the route at one point but eventually we arrived in a very large compound with several attractive buildings in the Egyptian style and lots of grounds, some of which were irrigated. I was shown to the guest room and found a cup of tea from somewhere. Father Daoud was there and we greeted each other. It became clear that there would be several talks, and that I was engaged to do two. I was prepared for these. I would also take part in a question and answer session, and I would spend much of the time recording programmes with CYC. I had been preparing the CYC material on the plane. Over the two days of the conference I was either speaking to the 200+ participants in the event, or was answering questions from the Copts who had a great interest in our experience in the UK, or was trying to grab something to eat or drink.
The CYC filming took place at a little villa also owned by St Mark’s Church, and within the grounds of the Orani Retreat and Conference Centre. I think Orani means the Mount of Olives. I had some notes on my lap, but otherwise I had to speak for 10 minutes at a time, introducing myself, on a variety of topics.
At the conference I spoke about the verse which had been selected as the theme, “Go and bear fruit”. I reflected on the character and quality of our lives as Christians which would allow us to be used of God and bear fruit. This was well received, and providentially fitted exactly into the approach that Father Daoud had adopted, which was to consider the Fruits of the Spirit and the missionary service.
My other talk was on the different methods we are using and have used in the UK to reach British people and establish small communities. This was also useful it seemed to the audience. I spoke in English and most who were there could understand. On a third occasion Father Daoud chaired a session where I was asked questions both by him and others.
The participants at the conference were of a high spiritual quality, and very committed to this ministry. Father Daoud led reflections on the various Fruits of the Spirits and invited responses which the audience seemed very ready to offer. The conference closed on the evening of the 3rd January and I returned to Cairo and the Hotel Beirut. That evening I was taken out to a restaurant by some of the people I had met in Venice.
On the 4th and 5th I was scheduled to be recording with CTV, another Coptic television channel. I didn’t see Father Daoud over these days. I was collected and taken to the professional TV studios of CTV, they provide a 24 hour output and are producing new programmes as well as news broadcasts etc. I sat in the office of the CTV Director. He spoke as much English as I did Arabic, and no one else there seemed competent in English. I was happy to sit quietly while we waited for the presenter of the programmes I would be producing to arrive. He was late. He had been up all night doing a News programme for another channel.
He turned out to speak fluent English. He was great company over the next two days. There was a topic for each 30 minute programme, and he opened it up with a series of leading questions and contrary criticism of what I had said. I could use no notes, so I just had to trust God and speak! It was tiring. I was more or less speaking for about 4 hours straight on one day and 3 and a half on the second.
After the recording I was taken on both days to have a little food with the Director. I had not eaten until then, although they brought tea and drinks when I asked. On the first evening of recording, the 4th January, I was collected from the hotel by a lovely young couple. They asked if I wanted to visit a church, and they took me to St Mary at Zeitoun and I prayed in the little church, as well as being invited to look around the new cathedral. I found the old Church very prayerful. It was not very busy but it had a good atmosphere.
After the second day of recording I was collected again. We drove to a large new shopping centre where I was able to purchase some small gifts for my family, then we were met by a few people I knew and some others who wanted to say hello. We had a meal together and plenty of conversation.
On my final full day I was collected by one of the older mission workers, Dr Inas. She has been working with Father Daoud as long as anyone else. We went to one of the smaller churches in the St Mark’s complex where a team from Aghapy TV were setting up cameras. Dr Inas and I discussed what we would do, arranged various topics in order and waited to be filmed. After a little while the crew were prepared. We sat facing each other before the iconostasis and essentially had a lengthy conversation about spiritual and theological topics which was recorded in 20 minute segments. This was the easiest of the recordings. The topics were ones which I could easily and fluently speak about.
When we had finished I was taken to Father Daoud’s office. I sat and talked with some of those who I had come to know quite well, about our mission in the UK. Then Father Daoud came in and we talked further. He expressed very positive views towards the British Orthodox Church. We spoke about the Medical Conference to be held in the UK at the end of February. He kindly provided me with a set of many of his English language books.
I left St Mark’s and was taken by one of the most active of the missionaries in the Asia area. He took me into Heliopolis to have a pizza and then drove me to the new monastery of St Paul in New Cairo. This is a church complex built as a modern apartment block. There were floors with rooms for congregational use, a large church built out of a couple of floors, and then monastic and guest accommodation. I was taken to a clean and well-furnished room, and rested for an hour. Then I was taken to the church, where I was to participate in the Nativity Liturgy.
I greeted Father Sawiris, one of the two monks, and a Patriarchal candidate. The service was in Coptic and Arabic. I could follow the Coptic and could see where we were in the Liturgy once it properly began. The brother of the presenter I had met at CTV introduced himself to me, he is in fact a Film Director of some note. After the Liturgy I was taken upstairs to the private quarters. Some of Father Sawiris’ family were present. We watched the continuing Liturgy at the Cathedral, then I was invited to sit at the head of the dining table and bless the food. It was more or less all meat. I had a plate filled with it and had to refuse more. Then there were chocolates and cakes before I slipped off to bed.
The next day I was collected very early, about 7 am, and driven to the airport. I said my goodbyes and headed into the terminal. Standing at the passport control a couple of American Copts introduced themselves, and one of them knew me already from the internet. I was pleased to meet them, and we went and had a coffee and talked about Orthodoxy and culture. Then I realised time was passing and headed to the Gate. There was more security there than in the terminal and I was properly scanned. I had chosen the same row of seats we had when we flew to Egypt last time, so I was able to recline my seat. And I did not have to prepare any materials so I relaxed for the first time in a week!
We were an hour delayed in leaving Cairo. Landing at Heathrow after 5 hours I took the tube back to Victoria and then the train to Maidstone, walking into my house almost exactly 12 hours after I had left the monastery. This was an extremely useful and fruitful visit to Egypt, my third. It was a blessing to be able to participate in a second Coptic Orthodox Missionary Conference and discover such a widespread interest in our British Orthodox mission in the UK.
Throughout the month of October, Father Peter Farrington has been serving in the Coptic Orthodox diocese of Milan with the blessing of Metropolitan Seraphim. His Grace Bishop Kyrillos of Milan has already welcomed Metropolitan Seraphim to Italy on several occasions, and most recently earlier this year when he visited the diocese with three of the British Orthodox priests, Father Simon Smyth, Father David Seeds and Father Peter Farrington. Bishop Kyrillos had himself visited the UK to attend the 20th Anniversary Liturgy of the union of the British Orthodox Church with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, bringing with him the greetings and blessing of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II.
Anba Kyrillos invited Metropolitan Seraphim to allow Father Peter to attend and speak at a Coptic Orthodox Missions Conference in Venice at the beginning of the month, with the intention that he then remain in Italy, staying at the monastery of St Shenouda, where he would provide a course of instruction to the priests and monks of the diocese in Theology.
Father Peter flew out to Italy from Gatwick airport at the end of September, being greeted at Milan Linate airport by Father Zaccaria and Father Bishoy of the Milan diocese. He traveled with them the thirty minutes to the Monastery of St Shenouda, where he began his visit by praying in one of the four churches in the monastic complex, before greeting Anba Kyrillos and offering the best wishes of Metropolitan Seraphim. There were already a number of visitors from Egypt staying at the monastery and intending to travel to the Coptic Orthodox Missions Conference the next day. Father Peter spent some time describing the life and mission of the British Orthodox Church with them, and answering many questions.
After an evening meal with Anba Kyrillos and Father Bishoy, Father Peter was taken to a local hotel where he spent the night. The next morning he was collected by one of the local Coptic Orthodox community and driven the short distance back to the monastery. A coach soon arrived and Father Peter found himself travelling with a large group of participants, towards the Catholic retreat centre on the edge of Venice, where the Coptic Orthodox Missions Conference was to take place.
The journey to Venice was over three hours of motorway driving, and half way to Venice a second coach joined us, containing Father Daoud Lamie and many other participants from Egypt. For an hour or so Father Peter was asked questions about the British Orthodox Church and responded using the microphone and loudspeaker at the front of the coach. Then, after a brief stop for refreshments, he joined the other coach and answered many of the same questions to another audience.
The coaches finally arrived at their destination towards evening, as the light began to fade. A simple dinner was served in the refectory, and then the first session took place in the main meeting room. The Conference took place from Wednesday evening until the following Monday lunchtime. Each day there were lectures on a variety of subjects, presentations from those working in various countries and engaged in Orthodox mission, as well as daily opportunities for liturgical worship, including the Liturgy itself celebrated each morning, and the Midnight Praises offered each evening. There were also various workshops and recreational activities organized throughout the week, including a wonderful boat trip to Venice itself, and prayers offered before the shrines of St Mark and St Athanasius.
One surprise was discovered on waking on Thursday morning. Pulling back the curtains of his room Father Peter was astonished to discover an uninterrupted view of the sea, and that the retreat centre was on the edge of the beach itself. A paved path through an attractive avenue of trees led on to the beach, where a stone jetty stretched out into the sea.
During the four full days of the conference Anba Kyrillos was able to attend from time to time, and was clearly much loved and respected by all those of his children in Italy who attended the conference. He celebrated the Liturgy on several occasions, and in his absence Father Daoud Lamie was the guiding force behind all the conference activities. Father Peter was warmly welcomed and always included fully in both the liturgical and conference events.
Father Peter spoke to the conference delegates on two occasions. He described the mission and vision of the British Orthodox Church, and he also addressed the issue of conducting Orthodox mission in Europe. His contributions were received with much enthusiasm. Many others presented the Coptic Orthodox missionary activities taking place in 25 countries in Africa and Asia. It is clear that over the last five years, and as a development of the social and pastoral ministries being conducted under the leadership of Father Daoud in Egypt, a missionary ministry has also been slowly being formed. Each presentation would include information about the social and religious situation in the country being described, about the ministry being conducted and the plans for further development.
This missionary organization is still in its first stages. But already there is a structure which supports those working in these countries and encourages regular visits by groups of Orthodox Christians to work with those living in these mission centres. Father Peter was especially pleased to meet Father Solomon and Maro, his wife, who are working in Ghana. But there were also those present who were working in many other countries, or supporting those who were active there.
Each evening many of those present, from a wide age range, would gather to listen and to discuss aspects of the Christian life and of mission. It was a blessing for Father Peter to be included in all of these activities and to sit with Father Daoud Lamie, late into the night, surrounded by such dedicated Orthodox Christians.
The visit to Venice was of course a highlight of the conference. It included a boat trip from Jesolo, where the retreat centre was located, to St Marks Square itself, where the ferry docked. Father Peter prayed at the relics of St Athanasius, and joined the large group of conference participants in prayer before the shrine of St Mark.
On the last day of the conference the party from Egypt headed for the airport, or to a variety of European destinations, while Father Peter and many of the Italian participants headed back to Milan and the Monastery of St Shenouda. Father Peter recognised the importance of this conference, not only for the development of missionary ministry in the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, but also because of the contacts which have now been created and which are already bearing fruit in future possibilities of service.
As Father Peter arrived back at the monastery a second phase of his service in Italy now opened up. He was to spend several weeks with the priests and brothers of the monastery and the wider Diocese of Milan, providing a course of theological education which the fathers would attend each weekday. Father Peter had prepared many hours of material but almost immediately it became clear that the complexities of language, with fathers using Arabic and Italian, but being less fluent in English, meant that a new curriculum would have to be created as the days progressed.
Over the next weeks Father Peter developed a variety of materials which included simple lecture notes, bible study and discussion, to ensure that there was as much participation as possible. A wide variety of theological topics were considered, and most teaching was given spontaneously rather than with the detailed lecture texts that Father Peter usually prefers. In fact throughout his service in Venice and Milan, Father Peter was forced to rely on speaking without notes.
Father Peter was resident in a comfortable room in the monastery. This allowed him quiet and space to prepare PowerPoint slides for each day’s studies. But he was also able to visit several of the churches in the Diocese of Milan. He addressed two youth groups, speaking about prayer and the object of the Christan life. His words were translated by young Orthodox girls who performed excellently on each occasion. The youth were attentive and asked very good questions after each talk.
Each morning at the monastery Father Peter participated in the Liturgy, and after a few days Father Abraam, one of the monks, was assigned to pray with him and to teach Father Peter the Liturgy of St Basil in English. The opportunity to pray the Liturgy each day for such an extended period was a great blessing. Father Abraam was a patient teacher, and had just completed the liturgical training of the four newest priests in the Diocese.
The unfeigned warmth and affection which all the priests and monks showed to Father Peter was a great encouragement. Indeed the love they show each other and that which their bishop, Anba Kyrillos, shows to all, is the foundation of the life of this Diocese. The monastery was also home at present to several priests and their young families so that it had the character of a Christian community. It was a blessing for Father Peter to sit at the table and share food with monks and priests, with priest’s wives, and with young children, all gathered together in love. Indeed Father Peter learned most Italian from the six year old son of one priest, who seemed to know intuitively what Father Peter was trying to say and learn to say when he pointed at something.
As this period of extended ministry abroad came to an end it was with a strong sense of having been among those who were and remain family in Christ. There were many warm hugs and an invitation to return soon and continue the theological education programme. Father Peter returned home, tired but encouraged. There is an open invitation for many of our British Orthodox friends and family to visit the monastery next year. As God wills, many of us may discover the warmth of welcome to be found there.
On the eve of Pentecost, Saturday 7th June, five adult converts to the Orthodox Faith were received into the Church by baptism and chrismation during a moving and beautiful baptismal liturgy at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Burslem, Stoke on Trent. Father Peter Farrington has been preparing this group for baptism, and was encouraged that despite many obstacles laid in the way, they have grown even closer together as they have made their journey towards Orthodoxy.
Father Peter drove up to Stoke early on Saturday morning, and met some of the baptismal candidates at St Paul’s Anglican Church to begin preparations. An inflatable baptistery was unpacked and pumped up, and the a hose pipe began to fill it with cold water. The altar was set up for the liturgy which would immediately follow the baptism. Slowly the candidates all arrived, and then the many guests who were determined to brave the wet weather to share in this special and significant occasion. By the time that the baptismal rite was ready to begin there were over 55 people in the church hall, including Father Samuel from the nearby Antiochian Orthodox Church, and many of his own congregation.
Father David Seeds, from the British Orthodox Church of St Hubert, Doncaster, had made the journey to celebrate the reception of these first five members of the Orthodox Community of St Chad in Stoke. The morning services began with the baptism of Julie, Jenny, Maria, Des and Phil who had taken the baptismal names of Photini, Genevieve, Mary, Anthony and Philip. The baptismal waters were perhaps not as warm as they could have been, but the candidates braved the cold and entered the waters one by one to be baptised into Christ by Father Peter. Standing with the waters of the baptismal font still upon them they were then chrismated, anointed with holy oil, and with the laying on of hands the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them.
The joyful congregation processed behind the newly illumined Orthodox into the church of St Paul where Father David celebrated the liturgy assisted by Father Peter. Before the liturgy itself began two more candidates were received as catechumens by the customary prayers and anointing with blessed oil.
Father Peter preached on the Spirit of Truth, and asked the congregation to consider that the newly baptised had become Orthodox in their own search for Truth, and for a Christian community rooted in the Apostolic Church of the first century.
After the liturgy had concluded, and the new members of the Orthodox Community of St Chad had received the Holy Mysteries for the first time, a warm and generous time of fellowship and conversation was shared in the church hall over an excellent buffet prepared by the Orthodox Community. Father Peter wishes to congratulate the members of the Orthodox Community of St Chad for organising such a successful event, and to thank Father David for his support and encouragement, and Father Samuel for his generous attendance.
Father Peter will be visiting Stoke very regularly to build up the community here, and there are many plans already being considered for local activities.
Following Holy Pascha, at the invitation of His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, Bishop of Milan and Papal Deputy for All Europe, Abba Seraphim and the priestly members of the Synod of the British Orthodox Church, travelled to Northern Italy for a retreat in the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Milan.
Arriving in Milan on 22 April, Abba Seraphim and Fathers Simon Smyth, David Seeds and Peter Farrington, were received at Linate airport by Bishop Kyrillos and clergy, who accompanied them to St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Monastery at Lacchiarella. The next morning, being the traditional British date for the celebration of St. George’s Day, Abba Seraphim and his clergy celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St. James in the presence of Bishop Kyrillos, some of his priests and the monks of the monastery. Later, accompanied by Father Raffaele Gebrail, they were entertained to lunch in Milan with Engineer Salama Salama before being accompanied by Father Antonios Ava Shenouti on the train to Venice, where they dined with Bishop Kyrillos.
The next day, accompanied by Father Antonios, they visited the Basilica of St. Marco and prayed at the tomb of the saint at the high altar. They then visited the Church of St. Zaccaria to pray at the shrines of St. John the Forerunner’s father, the priest Zechariah, as well as those of St. Athanasius the Apostolic. Venice is rich in relics of the saints, those of St. Mark having been stolen from Alexandria by Venetian merchants in 828, although a portion of the relics were returned to Pope Kyrillos VI by Pope Paul VI of Rome. Similarly in 1973 Pope Paul sent a portion of the relics of St. Athanasius to the late Pope Shenouda III in a fraternal gesture. The party ended their tour on foot at the Cathedral of St. Pietro in Castello, where they viewed the ancient throne of St. Peter, which had originally stood in Antioch. In the late afternoon they visited the site of the new Cathedral in Campalto, just outside the ancient city of Venice, where they joined Bishop Kyrillos and prayed for the successful completion of the work.
Returning to Milan on 25 April they lunched with Salama Salama’s son, Tariq, and his wife Christina, who then accompanied them (with Father Raffaele) to some of the significant sites in the city. As it was Independence Day in Italy, the streets were very busy with holiday makers and marchers. They prayed at the shrine of St. Ambrose, before visiting St. Maria dei Miracoli, the Duomo and the Basilica of St. Babila, named after St. Babylas, Patriarch of Antioch, who was martyred in the Decian persecution of 254.
The following morning Abba Seraphim and his priests assisted Bishop Kyrillos perform the marriage of Shady and Guiliana, followed by St. Basil’s Liturgy. This was a fitting climax to a blessed retreat during which the bishops and clergy of the two dioceses shared many insights of their respective ministries and a profound sense of fraternal love which binds them together.
Raising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
10.30am Morning Prayer
9.30 am Raising of Incense
10.00 am Liturgy of St. James
11.45 am Refreshments
Raising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
10.30am Morning Prayer