The British Orthodox Church was among a number of groups which stood in solidarity with imprisoned Eritreans at a Prayer Vigil outside the Eritrean Embassy in London on 26 May. Abba Seraphim, supported by Father Simon Smyth and Deacon Theodore de Quincey, joined representatives from Human Rights Concern – Eritrea, Church in Chains, Release Eritrea, the Evangelical Alliance, Release, Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide for prayer, scripture readings and spiritual songs. Abba Seraphim opened the proceedings with the Prayer of Thanksgiving and later spoke about the unjust imprisonment of Abune Antonios, the canonical Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Despite the torrential showers (the first for many weeks) all those present stood their ground and remained constant in their vigil. At the end of the proceedings, Abba Seraphim crossed the road to the Embassy and handed in a letter on behalf of all those present.
H.E. Mr. Tesfamicael Gerahtu
Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland
Embassy of the State of Eritrea
96 White Lion Street
London N1 9PF
26 May 2011 Your Excellency, We have gathered today, representing thousands of Christians in Britain and Ireland, to mark the ninth anniversary of the forced closure of all churches in Eritrea, apart from those belonging to the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions. Standing in solidarity with fellow Christians in Eritrea, we once again call for the granting of full religious freedom, and for the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in Eritrea. We are dismayed at the continuing imprisonment without charge or trial of tens of thousands of Eritrean citizens, including several thousand Christians, detained solely on account of their faith. We are also deeply troubled at the increasing harassment of authorised churches, as illustrated by the illegal dismissal and indefinite detention of Abune Antonios, the canonically-ordained Orthodox patriarch, and the imprisonment, dismissal and forcible conscription of scores of Orthodox clergyman. Credible reports continue to emerge from Eritrea of Christians being incarcerated in inhumane conditions, physically and mentally abused, and deprived of access to adequate food, potable water and medication. We are aware that over a dozen have died following mistreatment and/or denial of medical attention, and are particularly concerned at the continuing practice of requiring prisoners to sign statements renouncing their faith as a prerequisite to obtaining their freedom. We assure you, once again, that these Christians pose no threat to the government in the peaceful practice of their faith, and can affirm that the teachings and principles of their faith encourage good citizenship and loyalty to one’s country. We are confident that Christians in Eritrea are committed to strengthening the nation, and to contributing positively towards its development. We urge you to convey to your government our appeal for swift and positive action to ensure the release of all prisoners of conscience, regardless of their creed, and to facilitate every human right outlined in Eritrea’s commendable national constitution, including the right to religious freedom. Please be assured of our continued prayers for the well-being and prosperity of your people and nation. We remain committed to the people of Eritrea, and seek to support the nation’s progresses towards a just and equitable future.
26 May 2011
We have gathered today, representing thousands of Christians in Britain and Ireland, to mark the ninth anniversary of the forced closure of all churches in Eritrea, apart from those belonging to the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions.
Standing in solidarity with fellow Christians in Eritrea, we once again call for the granting of full religious freedom, and for the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in Eritrea.
We are dismayed at the continuing imprisonment without charge or trial of tens of thousands of Eritrean citizens, including several thousand Christians, detained solely on account of their faith. We are also deeply troubled at the increasing harassment of authorised churches, as illustrated by the illegal dismissal and indefinite detention of Abune Antonios, the canonically-ordained Orthodox patriarch, and the imprisonment, dismissal and forcible conscription of scores of Orthodox clergyman.
Credible reports continue to emerge from Eritrea of Christians being incarcerated in inhumane conditions, physically and mentally abused, and deprived of access to adequate food, potable water and medication. We are aware that over a dozen have died following mistreatment and/or denial of medical attention, and are particularly concerned at the continuing practice of requiring prisoners to sign statements renouncing their faith as a prerequisite to obtaining their freedom.
We assure you, once again, that these Christians pose no threat to the government in the peaceful practice of their faith, and can affirm that the teachings and principles of their faith encourage good citizenship and loyalty to one’s country. We are confident that Christians in Eritrea are committed to strengthening the nation, and to contributing positively towards its development.
We urge you to convey to your government our appeal for swift and positive action to ensure the release of all prisoners of conscience, regardless of their creed, and to facilitate every human right outlined in Eritrea’s commendable national constitution, including the right to religious freedom.
Please be assured of our continued prayers for the well-being and prosperity of your people and nation. We remain committed to the people of Eritrea, and seek to support the nation’s progresses towards a just and equitable future.
Among the speakers at the Vigil was Elsa Chyrum, who spoke movingly of the plight of Eritrean refugees:
“Eritrea has just celebrated its 20th independence anniversary.
Let me start with the latest events regarding Eritrea and Eritreans that may highlight the irony of the independence of Eritrea. The regime, in its usual fanfare, has prepared Grand Festivals to celebrate the 20th year of the nation’s independence. This totalitarian regime dares to call these 20 years “20 Years of Dignity”. But the indignity of it all is to be seen in the latest tragic events that have affected Eritreans everywhere.
First, you must have heard of the tragedy that occurred lately in the Mediterranean Sea, as thousands of African refugees tried to escape the turmoil of the Libyan uprising. The plight of black Africans was compounded by the unfounded rumour that they are serving as mercenaries in Gadaffi’s army. Many Eritrean refuge es had no other option but to escape this double jeopardy. As a result, sadly, the greatest number of those who perished in the Mediterranean Sea happen to be Eritreans – so far, hundreds of them.
The other tragedy is the ongoing problem in the Sinai desert: human trafficking. In this peninsula, Bedouin human traffickers, in close collaboration with Eritrean criminal elements, are openly conducting a ransom-for-hostage enterprise. Here, there are about 400 Eritrean refugees still held in captivity, waiting for ransom money to arrive from family members and close relatives in the West. For each captive, the traffickers ask more than US $10,000. If ransom money is not paid, the hostages are subjected to constant rape, torture, involuntary removal of organs, and murder. This living hell has become a business. The ransom amounts that are paid encourage the smugglers to raise their demands. The higher the sum, the harder it is for the family abroad to raise the money. This results in an even longer period of imprisonment and torture for the refugees many of whom die before or even after the ransom has been paid. So far, the Egyptian government is unwilling to do anything about it – even a personal plea from the Pope had no effect at all.
Eritrean asylum seekers have been criminalized for trying to escape from a living hell in their own country and enter Egypt illegally. They are imprisoned incommunicado, physically tortured and psychologically abused. They have been herded like animals into what are little more than cages. Small rooms house forty or fifty asylum seekers night and day at high, unbearable temperatures with no ventilation or any other basic hygiene, leading to skin rashes and more serious ailments none of which are treated, for adults and children alike.
Some of the Eritreans who have tried to cross to Israel have been shot dead, or wounded and consequently imprisoned in Egypt.
Little enough to celebrate so far, but the tragedy doesn’t end there:
On 22nd May 2011, at around 3:30 a.m, four Eritrean refugees were burnt to death and one was critically scorched at the Tunisian refugee camp near the Libyan border. The victims had recently fled from Libya and were waiting to be resettled to a safe country via UNHCR. Their tents were deliberately set on fire. Two Sudanese refugees have been arrested in connection with the crime, and they are remanded in custody. There has been a clash between the local Tunisian community and certain groups of the refugee communities in the Sousha camp which has led to more violence and destruction. The refugees in the camp are very anxious and tension is very high. Unless urgent action is taken by The Tunisian government and the UNHCR, the situation could escalate into furt her tragedy resulting in further loss of life.
Due to forced conscription and endless military service in Eritrea, tens of thousands are fleeing to Ethiopia and Sudan and much farther to Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Australia, Europe, the US and other countries. Yet the plight of these Eritreans is largely misunderstood. They go through a lot of hardship and pain in search of a safe haven and freedom by escaping from one country only to find themselves virtual or actual prisoners in another.
Thousands of Eritreans whose asylum claims have been refused become illegally resident in Europe, USA, Australia, etc., spend long periods in detention awaiting deportation or are left to live on the streets in destitution. Legislation bars these individuals from access to basic public services – shelter, food, etc and they are prevented from working. Most of these destitute asylum seekers rely on support from families, religious organisations or well-wishers.
We are here this afternoon to demonstrate our awareness of their troubles, to show our solidarity with those of our people who have suffered, and are suffering, at the hands of the Eritrean government and its supporters, and to signal to the Eritrean government and those Eritreans in diaspora who continue to finance its evildoing, that the truth cannot be hidden by phoney celebrations praising a country which remains a prison for so many of its citizens. We are here now, and we will be here again, and we will not go away even if it takes another twenty years to bring true freedom to our people, to stop the suffering of Eritrean refugees.”
At the invitation of the North American Archdiocese of the Eritrean Orthodox Church Abba Seraphim attended its twelfth annual conference, held this year in Stamford, Connecticut. Accompanied by Mr. Trevor Maskery, he was received at the Hampton Inn on Friday, 23 July by His Grace Bishop Makarios and introduced to the clergy and senior lay representatives of parishes as far afield as Oakland (California), Atlanta (Georgia), Seattle (Washington) and Toronto as well as east coast communities.
From here the clergy processed the short distance to the hall of the Sacred Heart Parish in Schuyler Avenue, which was made available for conference sessions by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport. Upon arrival the clergy were greeted by a large body of laity and vested deacons who conducted them to the hall with traditional songs and the beating of drums. They were then formally welcomed by Bishop Makarios, following which Abba Seraphim spoke of his close association with the Eritrean Church since its independence and his delight at visiting the North American diocese, which had remained such a staunch supporter of His Holiness Abune Antonios. Later that evening Abba Seraphim and Bishop Makarios dined together and were able to discuss matters of common concern and interest.
On Saturday morning, 24 July, Abba Seraphim and Bishop Makarios, assisted by the priests and deacons, celebrated the Divine Liturgy (Anaphora of the Apostles) at Archangels Greek Orthodox Church in Bedford Street, Stamford, during which Professor Deacon Habtu Ghebre-Ab was ordained a priest (with the name Father Athanasios) to serve the Eritrean community in Cincinatti. The new priest had only visited Abba Seraphim at the Church Secretariat in Charlton two months previously when he had spoken of his planned ordination although at that time Abba Seraphim had not planned to be in New York this summer.
During the Liturgy Abba Seraphim preached on the Gospel (John X: 11-21) and illustrated the importance to the apostolic faith and traditions, which recognised Abune Antonios as the canonical Eritrean Patriarch or the one who “entereth in by the door” as “the shepherd of the sheep” in contrast to the government appointee who “enterest not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” Abba Seraphim declared that the clergy and faithful who upheld the canonical church order were faithful to the apostolic tradition and were right not to follow a stranger but rather to “flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” During the service special prayers were said for Abune Antonios and those imprisoned in Eritrea for their faith and the Patriarch’s picture was prominantly displayed in the church.
After lunch Mr. Trevor Maskery, who has designed the websites for Patriarch Antonios and the British Orthodox Church, spoke about the importance of harnessing the power of the internet and directed attention to some of the opportunities which still needed to be grasped.
Abba Seraphim also gave a keynote address, “How shall we sing the Lord’s Song in a strange Land?” addressing some of the issues which face an expatriate community which has largely fled from persecution at home. The text of this talk is now available in booklet form from www.lulu.org In the evening Abba Seraphim and Mr. Maskery dined with a group of lay leaders and explored further some of the issues raised during the day’s meeting.
On Sunday. 25 July Abba Seraphim and Bishop Makarios, assisted by the priests and deacons, celebrated the Divine Liturgy (Anaphora of St. Jacob of Serough) with St. Gabriel Eritrean Orthodox Parish of New York which worships in the basement chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church at 469 W. 142nd Street, New York, which was also the commemoration of the Archangel Gabriel. After the liturgy the clergy and people went in solemn procession around the entire block as an important witness in the community where they worship. Many people came out to watch with deep respect and to share in the joy which the procession presented to all around. After a festive agape Abba Seraphim again preached on St. Gabriel and the angelic ministries and Bishop Makarios made commemorative presentations to Fr. Athanasios and those also ordained hegoumenos and reader over this blessed weekend. Abba Seraphim returned to London on 26 July.
Commenting on his visit Abba Seraphim spoke of the deep joy experienced in the opportunity to have close contact and eucharistic communion with this particular diocese of the Eritrean Orthodox Church which is notable for its integrity and fidelity to Abune Antonios and the Orthodox tradition. He was impressed by the dedication and commitment of the clergyand by their energy, which not only involved teaching the faith but also in studying for theological degrees (often in addition to degrees already earned in other disciplines) to advance their own knowledge. The continuing love and pastoral concern which His Holiness Pope Shenouda has always shown for the Eritrean Church was manifested recently by providing them with a bishop highly respected for his fidelity and integrity, which will provide the oversight long needed by the dio0cese. “Under the wise leadership of Bishop Makarios, these faithful priests and people will prove to be a powerful witness to this authentic expression of Orthodox ecclesiology, and with its eirenic and spiritually based ethos, this diocese will one day be the means of blessing the Orthodox in Eritrea who remain and quietly witness to their long and preciously held faith in Christ.”
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’.
The annual Glastonbury Pilgrimage took place on 19 June and this year Abba Seraphim was invited to be the Orthodox celebrant in the morning. By convention this invitation rotates betweeen the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches each being the celebrant in alternate years. Abba Seraphim was assisted by Fathers Simon Smyth (Bournemouth & Portsmouth) and Peter Farrington (Chatham), Deacon John Stuart (Exeter) and Subdeacon Wulfric Ashdown (Glastonbury). The Liturgy, which was held in the Undercroft, was well attended by a number of Orthodox church members, members of the British Orthodox Fellowship as well as clergy and faithful of other churches. In his homily Abba Seraphim spoke of the important tradition of pilgrimage and gave thanks for the revival of Glastonbury as a spiritual centre after the despoliation of the Reformation, “Through God’s mercy Glastonbury was restored – not as it was – but pilgrims returned and worship was renewed. In spite of its neglect for more than three hundred years it never ceased to be a holy place and we enter with reverence and conscious that our devotions are part of the chain of prayer which links us with past ages.”
Following the Liturgy, the Orthodox clergy joined in the Procession of Witness through the town before attending the Anglican High Mass in the Abbey ruins, celebrated by The Right Rev’d John Ford, Bishop of Plymouth, the new Pilgrimage Chairman, with the Right Rev’d Peter Price, Bishop of Bath & Wells as diocesan presiding from the throne throughout and assisted by a number of Anglican bishops, including the Right Rev’d David Silk, the former Pilgrimage Chairman and the two Provincial Episcopal Visitors, the Suffagan Bishops of Ebbsfleet (The Right Rev’d Andrew Burnham) and Richborough (The Right Rev’d Keith Newton) , The Right Rev’d Edwin Barnes, Bishop Emeritus of Richborough and The Right Rev’d David Thomas, Provincial Assistant Bishop of the Church in Wales 1996-2008. The homily on Priestly Vocations by Father Darren Smith, Secretary of the Additional Curates’ Society, resonated with all Christian traditions. The weather remained dry and sunny and many pilgrims were able to picnic in the abbey grounds. Abba Seraphim and his staff, along with the Mayor of Glastonbury, were luncheon guests of the Pilgrimage Committee.
The Bournemouth Weekend of Worship and Orthodox Spirituality is scheduled for Friday evening 24th to Sunday 26th September 2010. The weekend will introduce and explore various aspects of Orthodox Christian spirituality such as the Jesus Prayer, fasting, humility, using a variety of approaches including talks, handouts and even watching a movie! (Don’t panic though – it’s a thoroughly Orthodox Christian film). We will also spend time in worship and prayer together as a congregation, praying several of the monastic hours of prayer together and also Morning and Evening Incense and the Divine Liturgy.
- 12 December 2013
- Evening Prayer & Discussion: Shadwell7.30pm Evening Prayer
7.45pm Talk and discussion
- 14 December 2013
- Morning Incense & Divine Liturgy: PortsmouthMorning Incense & Divine Liturgy 10am
- 15 December 2013
- Morning Prayer: BournemouthMorning Prayer: 9.30am
- Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: DoncasterRaising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
- Southampton: Morning PrayerMorning Prayer (10.00) (Holy Trinity Church)