At the invitation of the Oxford University Orthodox Christian Student Society, Abba Seraphim gave a talk on “The Orthodox Heritage of Pre-Schism Britain” at Trinity College, Oxford, on 17 November. He began by pointing out that as a Metropolitan of the Alexandrian Patriarchate, within the Coptic and Oriental Orthodox traditions, the Great Schism of 1054 might seem to be somewhat beyond his remit, as it was a schism between two Chalcedonian churches which had been separated from that portion of the Orthodox Church for centuries. However, as an Englishman with canonical responsibility for a community of British Orthodox congregations he had a keen interest in Britain’s Orthodox heritage and what we may be learnt from it.
The Insular Church from its foundation was an integral part of the universal church, holding to a common faith and order. It withstood successive waves of persecution and when the Constantinian Peace of the Church was established, its hierarchs took their place in the counsels of the church. St. Athanasius the Great commended the British Church for upholding the Nicene Faith and very early we find it drawing on the support of sister churches to root out heresy.
Abba Seraphim examined the eastern origins of early British monasticism, especially links with Coptic Egypt; the role of saints and martyrs; the British enthusiasm for pilgrimages; the evangelism of the Irish saints and later Anglo-Saxon missions (Boniface & Willibrord); the evidence of liturgical and cultural links with other Christian cultures in Europe and the significant cross fertilisation of art and learning. He also highlighted the development of the Roman Primacy from one of honour to one of jurisdiction, examining the traditions of Pope Eleutherius, Augustine of Canterbury and Theodore of Tarsus and the gradual introduction of the filioque.
In concluding Abba Seraphim observed that the title of his talk was capable of two interpretations. The first might be simply to demonstrate that the Orthodox faith was manifested fully in the British Church prior to 1054, whereafter it gradually became more Romanised and fell into schism or worse; the second might be that the British Church in its first thousand years was not only fully Orthodox in its faith and order, as manifested by its full participation in the life and witness of the universal church, but that it made its own significant contribution to the faith, which carried the Gospel to huge populations but enriched and renewed Christendom with its own unique character and perception.
Following questions and a vote of thanks, Abba Seraphim was invited to join representatives of the society for dinner at a local restaurant.
On Friday 4th November Father Simon travelled to Manchester in order to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Saturday 5th November with the Eritrean Tewahedo Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour who currently have no priest and are dependent on visiting clergy so they can enjoy the occasional Liturgy from time to time. And enjoy is very much the right word for this Eritrean congregation who approached the holy communion in such devoutness and celebrated with such joy and enthusiasm. He was supported by Archdeacon Alexander who travelled from Sheffield on the day, assisted also by the Eritrean deacons present. The congregation was almost overwhelming in their expressions of appreciation for the visiting British Orthodox clergy.
Sunday afternoon 6th November saw Father Simon back in Portsmouth for the baptism of Paul Theodore Maties where he was assisted by Subdeacons Edward Smyth and Nicolae Popu and Reader Daniel Malyon. The British Orthodox congregation of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black was swelled by the many family and friends who came to support young Paul and his parents, Oana and Ovidiu, travelling from Scotland, France, Germany, their native Romania and even from as far as the United States. It was good to see such wonderful support for a baptism.
In a brief sermon Father Simon made reference to his Manchester visit the day before explaining how the congregation could not have celebrated the Liturgy without an ordained priest, then recalled the time several years before in Trotton Church one cold January when all the members were sick with flu and he as an ordained priest without a congregation could not celebrate. There must always be a congregation, however small (“where to or three are gathered together”) and the ordained priest has no more authority to celebrate without a congregation than the congregation without an ordained priest. Young Paul Theodore might not yet understand the theology of priesthood but by his baptism and chrismation he had just been incorporated into the priesthood of all believers and when Father Simon next celebrated the Liturgy he would not be celebrating it for Paul but with him, even as with every other Church member present.
In response to the deaths of two dozen and the wounding of very, very many of our beloved Coptic Orthodox brethren in Cairo on Sunday and the Holy Synod call for three days of fasting and prayer “so that the Lord dwells with His peace in our beloved country Egypt” the British Orthodox Church stood in firm solidarity with the Mother Church.
Members of the Portsmouth congregation kept the three days of fasting and prayer concluding with a special prayer service on Thursday evening during which these latest martyrs were remembered.
Similarly the Bournemouth and Southampton congregations observed the three days fasting and prayer.
The prayers in the Bournemouth Church each day centred around Sixth Hour (Noon) Prayers with the Gospel lesson from Matthew chapter 5 so appropriate: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:10-12) Particular verses from the Psalms also resonated powerfully: “O God, in Thy Name save me… hearken unto my prayer… strangers are risen up against me, and mighty men have sought after my soul…” (Psalm 53) The words of Psalm 92 also remind us that though “the rivers have lifted up their voices” that though they “lift up their waves as the voices of many waters”, that whatever “the surgings of the sea”, above them all “wonderful on high is the Lord”. “The Lord is King, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength…”
The Southampton Mission under the patronage of Saint Polycarp similarly centred their prayers around the Sixth Hour Prayers.
The three days culminated in the Bournemouth Church (also joined and supported by members of the Southampton Mission) with Twelfth Hour (Evening) Prayer and special prayers for the Mother Church in Egypt as well as remembering the new martyrs. Father Simon led the congregation as they stood before icons of Saint Antony and Saint Paul, Saint Bishoy, Saint Moses the Black, asking their intercessions for the monasteries that bear their names and for all the monasteries and holy places. Standing in prayer before their icons the intercessions of Saint Mary the Mother of God and of Saint Mark were invoked for the whole Church in Egypt. These prayers concluded before the icon of Saint Simon the Tanner whose intercessions were also sought, this great saint whose prayers God had answered a thousand years ago after the three days of fasting and prayers in similar times of danger and trouble for the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Three British Orthodox Readers (James Anthony Kelly, Antony Paul Holland, & Daniel Malyon) from our Southampton Congregation are currently studying for their M.Th. in Orthodox Studies at the University of Winchester. As part of their course they were invited to attend the annual conference of the OTRF at Winchester. This report has submitted by Daniel Malyon:
Monday was a sunny morning, a rarity in South England these days. It was perfect weather to start a great event such as this year’s OTRF Conference. The event was held at Winchester University and organised by Dr. Andreas Andreopoulos, course leader of the Mth Orthodox Theology course at the University. The topic for the Conference was The Divine Liturgy, a key element in Orthodox life, and a perfect subject to bring together those in attendance in an atmosphere of Theological discussion under the umbrella of Orthodox Christian Unity.
Due to the delay of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, who was to deliver the keynote address, Dr. Andreopoulos willingly stepped in and delivered a talk based on his research into the Mystagogy of St Maximos and his use of Iconographic imagery in his commentary on the Divine Liturgy. This led to a lively discussion on St Maximos’ Commentary, covering such subjects as his omission of the Holy Anaphora in this work and whether this was due to the Mystagogy being written for the understanding of the Laity, but this was purely theoretical and still to be researched.
With this type of discussion at the outset, it was understood by all, that the level of discussion would be to a high academic standard and theological understanding and was a brilliant start to the conference.
The first day’s second speaker was Dr. Paula-Wendy Nicholson, speaking on “Economies of life and death.” This was a more philosophical discussion, describing temporality, Liturgy and the concept of ‘liturgical reform.” The main point raised was on the fact that we are living in a world based around the ‘economy of death’ in which people are in a rush and most forget to leave much time for such things as the Liturgy, regardless of the liturgy being a part of your spiritual life and not to be rushed. The discussion which this led to detailed the concept of people trying to modernise Orthodox life in order for it to fit with the fast pace of the modern world.
This discussion also showed a number of groups, such as some younger Coptic in the US, wishing to return to more traditional, longer liturgies. Again, this threw up diverse opinions. Some of the audience saw Liturgical Reform as being an ongoing feature of the Living Church whilst others saw modernisation as demeaning the traditions of the Orthodox Church.
After the discussion ceased, those in attendance were treated to a short trip to Winchester Cathedral and St Swithan’s burial site as they waited for Metropolitan Kallistos’ address later that evening.
As always, the Metropolitan was a fascinating speaker, covering the debates surrounding the Eucharistic Sacrifice in 12th Century Constantinople and the person of Nicholas of Methone. In a fashion which is expected from Metropolitan Kallistos we heard a detailed and well explained piece on the views that prevailed at the time. A favourite of the discussion was the view of the Liturgy being the chance to experience a small glimpse of Christ’s Liturgy in heaven, with us receiving but s small glimpse of this. Personally I expected nothing less from Metropolitan Kallistos who never fails to explain a complex concept in a way which we can all understand.
The Weather on the second day started with the return of British Weather, but this failed to dampen the spirits of those in attendance. The conference began with the distinguished Fr Ephraim Lash explaining the new translation of the Byzantine Liturgy made for the Archdiocese of Thyateira and the reasons for the changes made. Fr Ephraim, being the famed linguist he is, went through these in great detail and covered many of the previous inconsistencies between the English and original Greek. As with the day before, those in attendance were more than happy to share their views on such details as the removal of the word “Hallowed” in the Lord’s Prayer since it is inconsistent with other translations of the word in Greek.
This was followed by a less detailed yet equally interesting piece by Phillip Gorski of the University of Nottingham. He detailed his doctoral thesis on reverence of the Liturgy in Russian Literature. Though this was not a theological piece it was interesting to know how such writers as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (Amusingly labelled ‘the dreaded Tolstoyevski’ due to their dominance of any discussion of Russian Literature. He also went into detail on characters in Solzhenitsyn and the use of liturgical imagery in such grim settings as soviet gulags to emphasis the devotion of characters to their faith.
This provoked some emotion amongst the audience; since Soviet persecution is still in the mind of many from the Russian Church and martyrs are always close the heart of Orthodox Christians.
The midday discussion was by Adrian Agachi. He was researching the use of community singing in the Romanian Orthodox Church. Using both scriptural and patristic evidence, Adrian highlighted the historical use of congregational response and singing, something which has died out in the Byzantine Tradition with the use of choirs and prevalence of performance over community faith. Adrian’s address was one which hit home a lot with some from the Coptic Tradition, since this tradition of community singing has never died out in the Coptic Church. This was also discussed by Dr Elena Narinskaya, who spoke out about the use of paid operatic choirs in some Russian Churches.
After a lunch which was filled with interesting discussion, we were treated to a lecture on typology. This was delivered by Fr Columba Flegg and covered the much discussed area of symbolism in the Divine Liturgy and the general Church building. This was a topic which many have tackled through the centuries and it was good to hear it brought up in this conference on the subject of the Divine Liturgy.
The day ended with a piece by Dr Mary Cunningham, famed for her work Christian Spirituality and the role of Mary in the Orthodox Tradition. She tackled the subject of Homilies and their place in the Liturgy. She cited such figures as Saint John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzus, both famed for their homilies, to show what was described as ‘the almost sacramental role’ of homilies in the Early Church. She then explained the use of feast-like imagery which was used to describe sermons in the Early Church and the importance of the placement of the sermon during the Liturgy of the Catechumens.
This ended the day on a vibrant discussion of the subject as people headed for a group meal in a local restaurant. The discussions and debates on the role of the Sermon and correct delivery of it were to continue into the evening and on to the next day.
The morning of the final day began, as with the others, on a high. Fr Andrew Louth discussed the concept of space and time in the Divine Liturgy, tackling a subject much like the debates covered by Metropolitan Kallistos on the Monday. He started with an outline of the Medieval Byzantine view of space and time in order to give a basic understanding of the context covered. This led on to a comparison with modern quantum physics. After the audience has their head around this, Fr Andrew put the explanation in the context of the Liturgy, linking the philosophical and Liturgical concepts covered perfectly with the concept of the Sacramental life being a type of ‘cosmic movement through the realm of time and space.’ This covered the Theological concept of Baptism being an event which is a death and rebirth in Christ. The talk was one of the more confusing at times but showed a realm of Theology which is not covered as often as it deserves.
This was followed by brilliant talk on Iconography in the Orthodox Tradition. As with typology this is covered often, yet the subject is not often explained in a way which gives it the justice it deserves. Dr Narinskaya, a Russian Iconographer and lecturer on the topic of Iconology, spoke on the importance and role of the Icon in the Liturgical life of the Orthodox Church. She stressed the great prominence of the ‘Victory of Orthodoxy’ in the Byzantine tradition after the Iconoclastic period. She also spoke of the difference between the Worship of God and veneration of Icons, since it is a commonly misunderstood relationship outside of Orthodoxy.
Of all the parts of this talk, Dr Narinskaya’s explanation of why Icons are not Idolatry was the most fascinating. She detailed the difference between Mankind’s knowledge of God before and after the Incarnation of Christ, comparing the faceless God of the Old Testament and the Godhead made man in the new. The explained this when she said how ‘Christ is God’s divine reality combined with the material world’ and that Icons follow the same formula of divine reality in the form of matter. This was one of the best descriptions of Icons that I have personally even heard and really put forward the significance of the sacred art of Iconography in Orthodox tradition.
As final speakers, we had Fr Dionysus and Fr Patrick Ramsey explain their PhD studies on John’s Gospel and the Eucharist as an iconic experience. Both were research outlines for their forthcoming works and were received with praise from those in attendance as well as helpful suggestions as to writings and concepts to look into. This atmosphere of shared research and the ability to bounce ideas off each other is one rarely seen in conferences such as these and made the experience far more comfortable than some others in which people only encounter criticism and competition.
In conclusion the OTRF conference this year was a resounding success. There was much academic content covering both obscure and common factors facing Orthodox Christians in the world as well as the more specific subjects which are always interesting to learn about. The only thing which was a regret for me was the Byzantine Orthodox emphasis of the Forum, resulting from a lack of input from Oriental Orthodox speakers. As a member of this community it was a pity not to hear from any academics from this part of the Orthodox Family since there is such an array of views and history to be shared which is often overshadowed by Byzantine thinkers in the academic world.
I will certainly be attending next year in Nottingham though hope to see more from the Oriental Churches, since there were no speakers from these regardless of the willingness of Coptic audience members to share their views and community life with those at the conference.