The first Oriental Orthodox Education Day took place on Saturday, October 9th at St Sarkis Church, Kensington, London. It took place under the sponsorship of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK, and had been organised by Father Vahan Hovhanessian, the primate of the Armenian Orthodox Church in the UK, and Father Peter Farrington, the Secretary of the Council, and a priest of the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.
The day began with Armenian morning prayers led by Father Vahan, and Father Shnork Bagdassarian, and then those attending the day were invited to the Nevart Gulbenkian Hall where a light breakfast had been prepared. After breakfast a message of introduction and welcome by His Grace Bishop Angaelos was read and then two presentation were given during the morning in the St Sarkis Church.
The first was concerned with the Septuagint in the Orthodox Tradition and was presented by His Eminence Abba Seraphim of the British Orthodox Church. This interesting lecture began with a consideration of the origin of the Septuagint, and then explored its use as the version of the Old Testament used by the early Church. Abba Seraphim produced and spoke about several editions of the Septuagint in English.
The second presentation was given by Father Vahan and considered the role of the Bible in the Armenian Church. It was very illuminating to hear so many passages from the Armenian spiritual tradition read in English. Father Vahan explained how the Armenian people had taken the Bible to themselves when it was translated into their own language, and he provided many moving examples of Armenian prayers in which the author placed himself into the narrative of many Biblical passages as though he were participating in them himself.
There were only a few minutes for questions before lunch in the Nevart Gulbenkian Hall. The participants were very pleased to be able to sample authentic Armenian food and it was difficult to call everyone away from the warm fellowship which was enjoyed.
The final presentation of the day was given by Father Peter, and he spoke on the Bible as the source of Christology in the Orthodox Church. He described how the Bible was essentially a Christological document itself, and needed to be received as authoritative before it could be explained. Then he used several examples from the Fathers to show how they relied entirely on the Bible for their Christological insights. Father Peter stressed the need for such study to be conducted in the context of prayer, rather than as an intellectual exercise.
Father Vahan closed the day asking those who had attended if they had enjoyed the day, and would come to another, and then called on Abba Seraphim to dismiss everyone with prayer and a blessing. Afterwards many retired to the Nevart Gulbenkian Hall again for tea and coffee and to continue conversations.
There was a wide variety of attendance from many different Church backgrounds. Over 30 people had gathered together for the event. During the various breaks for refreshment many new friendships and contacts were made. It is planned to hold the next Orthodox Education Day in January, and then on a regular basis afterwards.
On Sunday, 18th July, Abba Seraphim ordained Seraphim Mark Boorman as a Reader for St Alban’s Orthodox Church in Chatham. Members of the congregation of St Alban’s had travelled to join the congregation of the Orthodox parish of St Thomas’ for the Liturgy, including Father Peter Farrington, Seraphim Mark and Susanna Boorman and Tina Hammond.
During the Liturgy Abba Seraphim received Tina Hammond as a catechumen, and then ordained Seraphim as a Reader. The members of the St Alban’s congregation who had been able to be at the Liturgy at Charlton were pleased to be able to spend time with Abba Seraphim, and the clergy and congregation of St Thomas’.
Saturday, 3 July was a memorable day for the Syriac Orthodox community in the United Kingdom as His Holiness Mohoran Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwass, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, had come to L0ndon to consecrate their new Cathedral of St. Thomas in Acton. The Cathedral, situated at 7-11 Armstrong Road, Acton, London, W3 7JL, had been built in a mere six months at the cost of around 1.8 million pounds. It was an amazing story of a community pulling together under the dynamic leadership of His Eminence Archbishop Mor Athanasios Thoma Dawood. The Church is situated on the first floor with a spacious community hall below it and offices and clergy lving accommodation upstairs.
To the ringing of bells, His Holiness Patriarch Zakka was borne into the Cathedreal on his throne, carried on the shoulders of several burly deacons, whilst the congregation clapped, the women ululated and the children threw flower petals. The proceedings opened with words of welcome and the gratitude of the community (largely Syriac Orthodox from Iraq) expressed in their warm statements about British hospitality and the singing of the British National Anthem. Among messages received were one from H.M. The Queen, The Right Hon. Gordon Brown and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Patriarch was accompanied by a large retinue of Syriac Orthodox metropolitans and clergy and relics of St. Thomas had been brought from Mosul for the new Cathedral. Among the ecumenical guests were HE Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira (Oecumenical Patriarchate), HE Metropolitan John of Western & Central Europe (Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch), the Archbishop of Westminster (Mgr. Vincent Nichols) and the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe (Right Rev’d Geoffrey Rowell). The Oriental Orthodox clergy, who joined the Syriac Metropolitans in the sanctuary, included HE Archbishop Antonios of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) and from the Coptic Orthodox Church HE Metropolitan Seraphim (who read the Epistle in English),HG Bishop Missael of Birmingham, HG Bishop Antony of Scotland, Ireland & NE England, HG Bishop Elia of Khartoum and HG Bishop Angaelos (General Bishop for UK). A number of priests from the Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Armenian and Malankara churches were also present. British Orthodox clergy attending were Father Sergius Scott, Fr. Simon Smyth, Fr. Seraphim Mina and Fr. Peter Farrington.The Church was packed to overflowing and the service was relayed on a closed circuit tv in the downstairs hall. Following the anointing of the walls and altar with the Holy Myron, Mor Athanasios expressed his gratitude to those who had supported the venture and special reference was made to Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo and the Barnabas Fund on whom the Patriarch bestowed a pectoral cross and a high church decoration. In his address, Patriarch Zakka highlighted the spiritual significance of the new church.
A convivial evening reception was held at the Kensington Hilton in the presence of His Holiness the Patriarh who benignly presided over the rejoicing of his faithful UK flock.
On 22 June 2010 Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Trevor Maskery, joined a packed audience at London University’s Senate House to hear Michelle Brown, Professor of Medieval Manuscript Studies, deliver her inaugural lecture on “Manuscripts from Anglo-Saxon Mercia: the Staffordshire hoard, other recent finds and the ‘new materiality’ in book history”. The lecture’s unwieldy title represented the range of resources (archaeology, stone carving, ancient metalwork as well as manuscripts) which historians now have at their disposal, but with Professor Brown as a dextereous and entertaining guide, the lecture was engaging and instructive. The previously “lost” kingdom of Mercia, whose pagan kings slaughtered their Christian neighbours, now appears to have been the source of many fine manuscripts and to have been been subject to cultural influences from both Europe and the East.
Professor Brown is a respected authority on the early Christian history of Britain and shares her specialist knowledge and enthusiasm generously. Her book, “How Christianity came to Britain and Ireland” (2006) is one of the best introductions to the subject. As a close neighbour to Abba Seraphim, ongoing discussion and debate on these topics have been both edifying and congenial. Pictured with Abba Seraphim and Professor Brown at the lecture is Canon David Abraham from the Fursey Pilgrims, an ecumenical group dedicated to the study of the life and times of St. Fursey.
A Prayer Vigil was held outside the Eritrean Embassy in Islington, London, on 3 June 2010 to protest at the treatment of Christians in Eritrea. It was called to mark the eighth anniversary of the closure of minority churches in Eritrea, after which even main-stream churches, like the majority Eritrean Orthodox Church have suffered systematic persecution.
The vigil was organised through the collaboration of a number of groups, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Release Eritrea, Church in Chains, Release (voice of persecuted Christians), Open Doors (serving persecuted Christians Worldwide) and the British Orthodox Church. For an hour on a sunny afternoon in London, a committed group of concerned Christians stood on the pavement opposite the Eritrean Embassy – as cars and buses with intrigued spectators passed by – and prayed, read from the scriptures, sang spiritual songs and heard meditative addresses from those working with and for the suffering Christians in Eritrea, regardless of their religious affiliation. Unlike political demonstrations the tone was calm, reflective and prayerful and there was no hint of invective against the oppressors. Both the Eritrean President and the Ambassador in London were spoken of courteously and prayed for fervently. His Eminence Abba Seraphim spoke of his concerns about His Holiness Abune Antonios, the elderly Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch, who had refused to bow to pressure from the government when the persecuition began and because of his stand for truth and justice found himself deposed from office and placed under house arrest. His position of national importance and his unswerving integity made him a symbol of all who were suffering for their Christian faith. At the conclusion of the vigil Abba Seraphim, supported by The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessun, (Anglican) Bishop of Woolwich and Dr. Berhane Asmelash of Release Eritrea, called at the Embassy to deliver a letter addressed to the Ambassador expressing their concerns and asking for the release of prisoners of conscience.
Daniel Malyon (BOC Portsmouth), who was present at the vigil, writes:
Yesterday, in protest of the continuing persecution of our Christian brethren in Eritrea, a number of Human Rights groups and Church representatives attended a vigil outside the Eritrean embassy in London. It was great to see an event attended by such a variety of people from different cultures and Christian groups. We had people from the Eritrean Orthodox, the British Orthodox, the Anglican Church and independent Churches, all united in prayer and concern for the Christian community in Eritrea.
To have all these groups together representing a single cause is a rarity these days, but was certainly significant. Everyone was involved in the prayer and the speeches, rejoicing in the gifts we recieve through faith, and in the knowledge of our protection, and to show concern for those that are not given the opportunity to rejoice in their faith, for fear that it will cost them their lives.
The readings from Romans certainly set the tone for the vigil, reminding us that whatever we suffer for Christ in life will be repaid in joy after we die. We are reminded that though the Eritrean Christians suffer needlessly and for no real legal reason, they are the martyrs of the modern day, just as Justin Martyr, St Paul and other early Christians suffered for their faith. As Romans 8:18 says “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
There was much media coverage on the day from the respresented charity groups, and a lot of focus on Church representation, such as the support of an Anglican Bishop and HE Metropolitan Seraphim, as to know that the church establishments are supporting them is vital for the people of Eritrea of whom 90% belong to the Eritrean Orthodox Church, a sister Church of the British Orthodox. The Evangelical representatives also spoke of the need for more to be done by the world to prevent single party governments such as Eritrea from arresting political opponents or those that speak for the rights of the persecuted, as freedom of worship and conscience are vital in society.
The vigil continued with “praise songs” from the Evangelical Church representatives, as well as prayers for both those suffering in Eritrea, and for her government. Some may not understand why we would pray for the opressors of our Eritrean brothers and sisters, but if we do not pray for those who cause suffering, we are no better than they are, as we would be as uncaring as their actions. At 4pm, after the Charities had finished speaking of the Eritrean situation Abba Seraphim led a deputation to deliver a letter to the Embassy across the road. This was given to one of the staff of the Ambassador, informing him of the reaction of the British public, church organisations and Human Rights groups to the continued opression and imprisonment of Christians in Eritrea.
This event happens yearly in London, and though it has not ended the persecutions in Eritrea, I feel that it is a moral duty to continue to stand beside the people of Eritrea, and let them know that they are still in our prayers and thoughts, for if we lose hope, so wil they.