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.
Ably supported by Subdeacon Wulfric Ashdown, Father Simon Smyth represented His Eminence Abba Seraphim, Metropolitan of Glastonbury, at this year’s Glastonbury Pilgrimage.
Prior to the Anglican Mass there is a celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Undercroft of Glastonbury Abbey. The British Orthodox and Russian Orthodox Churches celebrate the Divine Liturgy on alternate years and this year the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom was celebrated by Mitred Archpriest Father Benedict Ramsden and members of his Russian Orthodox community. The British Orthodox Church is always represented, however, as we are keen to show fraternal support for our fellow Orthodox on this occasion. This was especially pleasing this year as Father Benedict was also celebrating this weekend the fortieth anniversary of his ordination as priest. Father Benedict referred more than once to the suffering and persecuted Coptic Church and showed the British Orthodox clergy the same deep respect he always does on these occasions.
Owing to Father Benedict having to depart straight after the Divine Liturgy Father Simon and Subdeacon Wulfric were the only Orthodox clergy to attend the Solemn Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at which His Grace the Right Reverend John Ford, Bishop of Plymouth and Chairman of the Glastonbury Pilgrimage Association presided. The Bishop of Plymouth publicly expressed his appreciation for Father Benedict having celebrated the Liturgy even though he had been unable to stay for the Mass and also welcomed both British Orthodox clergy, announcing that Father Simon was representing Metropolitan Seraphim and expressing his joy that we could be together for the pilgrimage, united by our common baptism. The homily was preached by His Grace the Right Reverend Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter.
The rain which had fallen to some extent during the Divine Liturgy and to a far greater extent during the Solemn Mass held off for the procession through Glastonbury which was largely bathed in sunshine. Come rain or shine, though, it was a joyful day and seemed generally appreciated and valued by all present.
Abba Seraphim was among the ten European Bishops of the Alexandrian Patriarchate who are met with His Holiness Pope Tawadros at a conference at St. Antonios Monastery in Obersiebenbrun near Vienna. between 27-30 May. He was accompanied by Father Simon Smyth and Tasoni Sheila Smyth, representing the clergy and laity of the British Orthodox Church.
On 27 May Pope Tawadros and the Bishops in Europe attended a Reception given by Pro Oriente to mark the 10th anniversary of the legal registration of the Coptic Church in Austria, which hosted by His Eminence Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna at his residence in Vienna. During the proceedings Pope Tawadros graciously accepted the title of ‘Protector of Pro Oriente’
The British Orthodox Church was represented by Fathers Seraphim Mina and Simon Smyth (representing H.E. Abba Seraphim) at a service for the Christians martyred in Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad on Sunday 31 October. The joint remembrance service was organised by the Christian Churches for the Iraqi Communities in the UK at Holy Trinity Syrian Catholic Church, Brook Green, Hammersith, West London, on Friday 12 November.
Also representing the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches (COOC) were H. E. Archbishop Athanasius for the Syriac Orthodox Church, H. G. Bishop Angaelos (President of COOC and representing His Holiness Pope Shenouda) and Father Snork Bagdassarian (representing the Armenian Primate of Great Britain) as well many priests and faithful from the Catholic, Anglican, Byzantine & Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Messages of support and assurances of prayer were read out on behalf of H.H. Pope Shenouda, the Archbishops of Westminster the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Angaelos announced that Sunday 21 November has been designated a Sunday of prayer throughout the Coptic Orthodox Church for remembrance of the Christians of Iraq.
Fifty-two candles each in the centre of a floral cross – one for each of those martyred in Our Lady of Salvation Church – were positioned throughout the Church, along the aisles and across the front of the Church and there were photograqphs of the new martyrs at the front of the Church.
Although there was evidence of sadness and grief, Christian faith, hope, love and even joy were strongly present too. The emphasis on throughout was that though in one sense separated from the departed martyrs we are still united with these who now behold God in the promised paradise, in the bosoms of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and especially at the celebration of the Eucharist, in which heaven and earth are one. If faith, hope and love were evident, both in the messages at the beginning and throughout the Mass in the singing and prayers, they shone forth in an inspirational sermon delivered with power and passion by the celebrating priest Father Nizar Semaan. Unusually in a church, it drew forth a standing ovation which it took some minutes to quieten before the service continued. At the conclusion of the homily he declared, “The heavenly Father will welcome all those who paid so dearly with their blood. Their martyrdom will bless the Church of our Lady of Deliverance, making it a stronger bastion for future generations…”
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
Divine Liturgy 2.30 p.m.