Following reports of the threats against Christians in the Northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which has led to their flight from a city with a continuous Christian presence for more than 1,600 years; the Iraqui Christian community in the UK organised a demonstration outside Parliament on 26 July. Among its leaders were His Eminence Archbishop Mar Athanasius Touma, Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Vicar for the United Kingdom; Mgr. Nizar Semaan of the Chaldean Catholic Church and Archdeacon Yonan Yonan of the Assyian Church of the East. They were joined by clergy of many other churches, including Abba Seraphim and the Suffragen Bishop of Warwick and some Muslim leaders anxious to stand in solidarity with their suffering brethren. Following similar demonstrations in the Middle East this past week, several Muslim speakers declared, “I am Iraqi, I am Christian” After several speeches addressing the large crowd which filled Old Palace Yard opposite the Victoria Tower at Westminster, the clergy processed to Downing Street, where the leaders presented an appeal for support to the Prime Minister.
At the invitation of the Archbishop of Westmister (Mgr. Vincent Nicholls) Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Father Seraphim Mina, attended a Mass at Westminster Cathedral on 26 November to commemorate all those who have died or been injured in recent weeks in Iraq, especially in the bombing of Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad on 31 October. White floral crosses with lighted candles and photographs of those killed, displayed at the entrance to the sanctuary, were a poignant reminder of the victims. The congregation included a large number of Iraqi and Middle Eastern Christians and prominent among the clergy attending those from the Syriac Orthodox (led by H.E. Archbishop Mar Athanasius Touma), Chaldean, Assyrian and Maronite churches. The intercessions were offered by Iraqi children and before the final blessing messages were read from the Christian community in Iraq, expressing appreciation for the prayerful support being offered by churches in England and Wales, as well as an affirmatiion of support by the Iraqi Christian communities in the United Kingdom.
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…”