As one of their Lenten speakers, the chaplaincy of Morden College, Blackheath, invited Abba Seraphim to reflect on the current situation 0f Christians in the Middle East. Addressing a large audience on 8 March, Abba Seraphim outlined the problems of Christians in Iraq, Syria and Egypt since the Millennium and took the decline in the historic Christian communities in Iraq as a warning to the Christian world of how fragile they have now become. The problems faced by each country were each quite distinctive and owed much to their respective histories since the break up of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of militant fundamentalists. He emphasised the significance of Egypt, with the largest Christian community in the Middle East and the dynamic life of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the face of continuing sectarian attacks. Following a number of thoughtful questions from the audience, the Rev’d Nick Woodcock, chaplain, invited Abba Seraphim to lead the audience in prayer for the Christians of the Middle East.
On 20 February, at the historic Church of St. George’s-in-the-East, Abba Seraphim announced the launch of a new London Mission by the British Orthodox Church. Although services have been held in the Charlton and Blackheath area of south-east London since December 1972, it was always hoped to organise something in a more central location. Having investigated various possible venues and prayed that something appropriate would become available, the Parish priest of St. George’s (Canon Michael Ainsworth) and the church’s PCC had generously offered their facilities for Orthodox use.
Believing this to be a providential arrangement and being anxious to respond to the increasing number of requests by enquirers and seekers, Abba Seraphim, assisted by Fathers Seraphim Mina and Peter Farrington, have committed themselves to provide monthly liturgies as well as monthly meetings for study and instruction in Orthodox faith and spirituality. The first Monthly Meeting will be held on Thursday, 15 March with Evening Prayer at 7.30 p.m. followed by an address by Father Peter “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke XI: 1-4) with a discussion and concluding with refreshments at 9.00 pm. The first celebration of the Divine Liturgy (St. James) will be on Saturday, 31 March (Raising of Incense 9.30 am, Liturgy 10.00 am; refreshments 11.45 am).
In his address Father Peter spoke of the nineteenth century mission of Father Bryan King, the Rector of St. George’s at that time, whose ministry to the poor and wretched in the notorious Ratcliffe Highway and Docklands environs provoked the 1859-60 Ritualism Riots. There are parallels with our own time and he hoped that our Orthodox ministry would build on the Catholic vision of sacrifice and service. It was our strong desire not merely to bring Orthodox worship and spirituality to the area for the edification of Orthodox Christians but to engage with and reach out to the local people and their needs. He desired that Orthodox would share in the ministry already being undertaken by other local Christian communities.
Abba Seraphim hoped that this mission would be an eirenic one of pan-Orthodox cooperation, demonstrating the universality of Orthodoxy as well as the richness of its local traditions. He welcomed the neighbouring outreach and ministry in the City of London, also beginning next month, under the oversight of His Grace Bishop Angaelos and the Coptic Youth and believed that this was no mere coincidence but an evangelistic impulse of the Holy Spirit. The two ministries would not only be united by a common faith but also in prayerful support of each other.
During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Father Simon made two ecumenical visits, one to his local Roman Catholic Church, Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Peter the Apostle, Waterlooville, and one to Immanuel Baptist Church, Southsea.
As the British Orthodox Portsmouth Church of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black does not yet have its own Church building and the font in the current venue, Saint Faith’s Anglican Church, is only of sufficient size for infant immersion, Immanuel Baptist Church has kindly hosted the British Orthodox congregation for three adult baptisms so far with more, it is hoped, in the months ahead. The Baptist pastor, the Reverend Elgan Evans invited Father Simon to say a little about the British Orthodox Church and the wider Oriental Orthodox family, especially the current situation in Egypt with Immanuel Baptist Church being a supporter of the Barnabus Fund. Father Simon drew a parallel between both local Church names, the British Orthodox proclaiming the central truth of Christianity, that Christ is God, through the ancient title of Saint Mary as Mother of God, that the Baby she carried within her, to Whom she gave birth, Who she fed at her breast was and is God – and the Baptists likewise proclaiming this through their name Immanuel, meaning God with us.
At Waterlooville Roman Catholic Church Father Kevin Bidgood kindly asked Father Simon to speak with people after the mass and he was engaged in conversation about the current situation of the Church both in Egypt and also Syria. One member of the congregation generously gave a donation which Father Simon explained he would pass onto the Barnabus Fund for its work in that region where it was active on behalf of both Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Christians.
Although this was the first British Orthodox clergy visit to the new Roman Catholic Church in Waterlooville there is already an existing link between us through the work of David Pratt (who has family connections to the Church and lives nearby) who advised on the arts committee during the design and construction of the new building. His influence can be seen in particular in the mosaic up above the entrance to the Church showing Christ in glory with the four incorporeal creatures. The inspiration for this work was provided from an icon in the complex of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Mark in Abbaseya, Cairo, and photographed by one of our Church members back in 2005.
The half yearly meeting of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum took place at the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre at Stevenage on 10 January under the co-chairmanship of His Grace Bishop Angaelos and The Right Rev’d Dr. Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe. Among other bishops attending were Their Eminences Metropolitan Seraphim (British Orthodox Church) and Archbishop Mar Athanasios (Syrian Orthodox Church) representing the Oriental Orthodox Churches and The Right Rev’d Andrew Proud, Bishop Suffragan of Reading representing the Anglican Church.
As usual the meeting was conducted in a positive spirit of fellowship and practical ways of ensuring closer co-operation between the two traditions explored. Bishop Proud, having previously served as Area Bishop for Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, offered some insightful reflections on Orthodoxy and the Ethiopian Church, which were much appreciated by all present. In return Bishop Angaelos updated the forum on recent events in Egypt and Archbishop Athanasios did the same for Syria and Iraq.