On Saturday, 14th May, clergy and laity from all of the Oriental Orthodox churches gathered together for the 4th annual Oriental Orthodox Festival. The festival provides an opportunity for the members of the various Orthodox communities to meet together and share in the celebration of the Liturgy, and then have an opportunity for fellowship over a varied buffet lunch provided by the different Orthodox traditions and ethnicities represented.
The latest festival took place at St Michael’s Eritrean Orthodox Church in Camberwell, London. Participating bishops included His Grace Bishop Angaelos and His Eminence Archbishop Athanasius in the presence of His Grace Bishop Markos. The attending priests represented the British Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Indian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Churches. There were many deacons from the various Churches and the sanctuary was filled with a wonderful fraternal spirit. As Father Youhannes began the prayers of the Liturgy a spiritual atmosphere descended upon the crowded Church.
Many British Orthodox clergy and faithful had travelled to Camberwell to participate in the Festival. They included Father Sergius, Father Simon and Father Peter, together with Deacon Theodore from the French Coptic Orthodox Church, and servants and laity from the South Coast congregations. Many other friends of the British Orthodox Church were present in the congregation, including Father Deacon Richard Downer and Dr Carol Downer.
The Liturgy was conducted with the participation of the various clergy, and the congregation was marked by enthusiastic singing of the hymns and chants of the Eritrean tradition. It always makes a great impression to see so many of the faithful dressed in their traditional white clothes. It is important that this concelebrated liturgy takes place each year so that we provide a visible manifestation of our unity as Orthodox Christians.
After the Liturgy the choir of the Eritrean Orthodox church sang many of their traditional songs with the accompaniment of drums. It was a great blessing to see such devotion and seriousness in the young Eritrean Christians who sang and performed their liturgical dance, but also to see the joy and spiritual delight in the faces of the many members of the congregation who joined in. His Grace Bishop Angaelos addressed the congregation, as did His Grace Bishop Markos, whose message of welcome was translated by Father Youhannes.
But the Festival is more than the concelebrated Liturgy, and we were invited to the basement of the Church where the various churches represented had laid out diverse foods from their own cultural traditions. After a great deal of warm conversation it seemed that most people had a plate of food in front of them. I certainly enjoyed the Eritrean food I was offered, and the opportunity to talk with some of the other clergy. Father Youhannes was tireless in his hospitality and hardly had time to sit down himself.
To conclude our Festival the choir of the Indian Orthodox church had arranged to share some of their musical repetoire with us. As they started their first song the church filled up with clergy and laity. The choir sang enthusiastically, and the choir director even managed to urge the Eritrean Orthodox choir to join in with their drums. The congregation were given an opportunity to try and sing one of the Indian Orthodox songs, but I am not sure that we all managed to pronounce the Malayalam words properly.
After a final prayer Father Youhannes dismissed the congregation. It had been a most successful event, and already I have received messages from those who had been able to attend and who had enjoyed the Festival.
[Report by Father Peter Farrington]
Abba Seraphim was among the ecumenical guests who attended the enthronement of the Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum as tenth Bishop of Southwark, in Southwark Cathedral on 6 March. Bishop Christopher has served as a very popular Suffragen Bishop of Woolwich for the past eight years and his appointment as diocesan bishop has been well received. Abba Seraphim works together with Bishop Christopher on the Tur Abdin Focus Group. His love for the Orthodox Churches has also been demonstrated by his support for the campaign to free Abune Antonios of Eritrea and and he has also recently joined the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum. Bishop Christopher has supported and encouraged the long-standing warm relations between the United Benefice of St. Luke & St. Thomas at Charlton, where the British Orthodox Church has been accorded hospitality for more than two decades.
The Enthronement took place during Choral Evensong and was followed by a reception in nearby Glaziers’ Hall. A large number of Anglican bishops were in attendance, including Bishop Christopher’s three immediate predecessors in the diocese of Southwark and four bishops from the Anglican diocese of Zimbabwe, which is twinned with Southwark. Earlier in the day Bishop Christopher and the Bishop of London (The Right Rev’d Richard Chartres) had met together symbolically on London Bridge to pledge co-operation in Christian witness in London, which is divided between the two dioceses. Also present were the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark (Most Rev’d Peter Smith) and His Grace Bishop Angaelos.
“Prophet, Priest and King: The High Calling of the Baptised” – Sermon by Father Peter Farrington in two parts.
Abba Seraphim visited Egypt from 13-20 October with a small group of ecumenical pilgrims as well as members of the British Orthodox Church. Accompanying Abba Seraphim were Father Simon Smyth and Reader James-Antony Kelly from the Portsmouth parish, Dr. Katherine Mori from the Charlton parish, Dr. Gordon Beamish, James Carr, Daniel Heale, Terence Pearson and Sister Luisa Duffy of Madonna House. Arriving in Cairo on a Wednesday they were able to attend the weekly papal lecture at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbesseya and afterwards to greet His Holiness on his return to the papal residence. They were accompanied throughout by Shenouda Mamdouh and his wife, Mary Ezzat.
On 14 October the group travelled to St. Mina’s monastery at Maryut, where there were warmly welcomed by His Grace Bishop Kyrillos and lunched at the monastery. Following this they visited the ancient pilgrimage city of St. Menas, which is one of the seven Unesco World Heritage sites in Egypt. Daniel Heale is preparing a doctoral thesis for the University of Winchester on the conservation of historic Coptic sites, so had a particular interest in its present condition, which the Glastonbury Review previously highlighted (No. 108: July 2003) when the damage caused by rising water levels was causing serious concern. The site of the main altar is now covered by a temporary wooden church and the monks are working closely with the archaeologists and conservationists. Father Thaddeus acted as the party’s guide and invited Abba Seraphim to celebrate the Raising of Evening Incense on this historic spot. After leaving Maryut Abba Seraphim’s party stayed overnight at the Papal Residence at St. Bishoy’s monastery in the Wadi El N’atrun.
On 15 October, after visiting the church and venerating the relics at St. Bishoy’s monastery, the party visited Abba Seraphim’s own monastery, Deir El Surian to take the blessing of the churches and relics. They were received buy His Grace Bishop Mattheos, the Abbot, who sat with the group answering questions about Coptic liturgy and the monastic life. That evening the party returned to Cairo, where they used St. Mark’s Centre at Nasr City as their base.
On 16 October they were joined by Abuna Arsanios Boula and the visited the churches and monasteries of Old Cairo: Deir Abu Saifain and the tomb of the late Abbess Irene; the Hanging Church (Al-Mu‘allaqah), Ben Ezra synagogue, St. Barbara, the Church of SS. Sergius & Bacchus (Abu Sargah), the Church of SS. Cyrus & John, the Church of the Holy Virgin, the Pot of Basil (Al-‘Adhra Qariyat ar-Rihan) and the Convent of St. George (Deir Mari Girgis), where they were received and entertained to lunch by Mother Kyria.
On 17 October they drove to the Red Sea monasteries and were received at St. Antony’s monastery by Abuna Ruwais Antony, who acted as their host during an extensive visit. Following this they travelled on to St. Paul’s monastery, where they stayed the night. The next morning Abba Seraphim, assisted by Abuna Arsanios, celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the underground chapel beside the site of St. Paul’s tomb before the party breakfasted and visit the churches and shrines in the monastery.
On 19 October Abba Seraphim, assisted by Abuna Paul Girguis of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Washington DC, celebrated the Divine Liturgy at St Theodore’s convent (Amir Tadros) in Harat ar-Rum and afterwards were entertained to breakfast by Mother Adrosis, the Abbess. The party then travelled to the Papal Residence at Abbesseya for an audience with His Holiness Pope Shenouda. Following a private meeting with Abba Seraphim, at which he was able to report to the Pope on aspects of the ministry of the British Orthodox Church as well as his visit to the North American Eritrean diocese and to discuss current issues relating to the Coptic Church, they were joined by Bishops Joannes and Ermia, the papal secretaries, and His Holiness warmly received the whole group and discussed aspects of their visit with them. The meeting concluded with His Holiness praying for the whole group and distributing gifts of books and holy ikons.
Before flying back to London on 20 October Abba Seraphim and his party visited Miss Iffa, one of the first deaconesses blessed by Pope Shenouda, at her home in Heliopolis. Although she is now 90, she remains in good spirits and warmly welcomed all her visitors.