Deacon Mark Saunders celebrated the 90th anniversary of his birth on 18 October and the following day, being a Sunday, the congregation at St. Felix, Babingley, led by Father Simon Smyth, offered him their congratulations as well as heartfelt thanksgiving for his ministry among them. As Abba Seraphim was visiting the Bournemouth congregation, he was unable to attend, but he sent his own message of appreciation, saluting him as “an indefatigable churchman and a faithful friend,” which was read out after the liturgy.
Noting that Deacon Mark and his late wife, Sybil, were founding members of the Orthodox community which worships at St. Felix, Babingley, Abba Seraphim observed that he was in fact “the constant servant upon whom the continued ministry of this community has depended.” Noting that the commemoration in the Synaxarion read that day was for James the Deacon, one of the original clergy who accompanied the Augustinian mission to England in 597. He later joined St. Paulinus in re-establish the Christian church in York and when Penda defeated King Edwin and re-established paganism, the clergy retreated south, but not James, who alone remained to exercise pastoral oversight over the remains of the mission. “So it has been with Deacon Mark, who in the absence of a resident priest in Babingley, has been the responsible person for both the church fabric and the flock. Bishops and priests may come to officiate but it is Deacon Mark who remains the respected father of this community.” Abba Seraphim also spoke of the “total support and encouragement” received from Deacon Mark, whose practical skills and general wisdom would be an invaluable asset to any community.
To mark the occasion the congregation made a presentation of an icon of St. Mark the Apostle and a celebratory tea followed the presentation and speeches.