On 2 October Abba Seraphim was delighted to join the 14th annual pilgrimage in honour of St. Fursey, an Irish monk who evangelised East Anglia in the seventh century, which is held at Burgh Castle near Great Yarmouth, where it is believed the saint established his monastery. Apart from celebrating St. Fursey in services and pilgrimages, the Fursey Pilgrims have sponsored a number of lectures on the saint’s life and have published impressive and scholarly booklets on the saint and related topics.
Abba Seraphim joined a goodly gathering of the pilgrims for lunch and fellowship, where much of the conversation revealed an enthusiasm and knowledge about East Anglia’s ancient Christian heritage. Following this, a service was held at St. Peter and Paul’s Church at Burgh Castle at which Abba Seraphim was the guest preacher. He spoke of the vitality of the Irish monastic tradition and the profound influence of St. Antony and Egyptian monasticism and suggested ways we might understand the balance between monasticism and evangelism & mission. Following the service in the church, Abba Seraphim joined the pilgrims in the short walk to the area within the substantial remains of the Roman fortress walls, where St. Fursey’s community settled and the pilgrims joined in further prayers and hymns. The day concluded with tea in the parish hall and the opportunity to purchase some of the excellent publications including the latest booklet, a translation of the 8th century manuscript Life of St. Fursey,Transitus Beati Fursei, by Professor Oliver Rackham. (For details see the website: www.furseypilgrims.co.uk)
The following day, Sunday, 3 October, was the Dedication Festival of St. Felix’s Church at Babingley as an Orthodox Church, this being the ninth anniversary. Abba Seraphim spoke of his experience as a Fursey Pilgrim and said he had been struck by a prayer used which spoke of “footsteps in the sand.” This reminded him of the impact of the early British and English missionaries, including St. Felix and their contribution and lasting impact on the local Christian community. We value their legacy and hope that our ministry in Norfolk will keep faith with the past but also ensure its vitality for the future, so that our footsteps might also appear in the sand. Although we give thanks for the fine church where we worship and receive so any blessings, we need also to be conscious of the footsteps which led us there, especially the former chapel at the African Violet Centre at Terrington St. Clements. We must never lose sight of the fact that the Church is not the building but the people, and today’s lessons reminded us of this when St. Paul referred to the Christians of Corinth as an “epistle of Christ … written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God” and St. Peter spoke of us as “living stones … built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood.”
Following the cancellation of the pilgrimage planned in May as a result of industrial action on British Airways, Abba Seraphim and Father Simon Smyth will lead a small pilgrimage group to Egypt 13-20 October. The group will be based in Cairo but will visit the Red Sea monasteries as well as some of the monasteries of the Wadi N’atrun and St. Mina’s monastery in Maryut. Those interested in joining this group should contact the Church Secretariat at Charlton to see if there are still places available.
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 sudden announcement by British Airways that it has cancelled the flight on which Abba Seraphim and his party were booked, coming at this late stage, has meant that the planned pilgrimage will now have to be postponed. Attempts to make alternative bookings have not been possible as these have now become overbooked with those who would have travelled with BA. “Because our outgoing flight was before the start of the strike we were unable to obtain a full refund until BA actually cancelled one of the flights. By the time they had done so, other options were no longer available to us,” stated Abba Seraphim. “It is a great disappointment to everyone concerned.” It is hoped to rearrange the pilgrimage for October.
The announcement that Unite, the trade union for British Airways (BA) cabin crew, will be striking during May and June will cause some disruption to the Egyptian Pilgrimage led by Abba Seraphim 16-24 May. As the industrial action is scheduled to start on 18 May the party will have no difficulty in getting to Cairo, the problems will be when they are due to return home on 24 May. “We hope that the strike may yet be averted”, said Abba Seraphim, “but if it goes ahead there is still a chance that BA may be able to maintain some of its flights or arrange for us to come home with alternative carriers.” Although half of the group had visited Egypt before, all are very anxious to receive the blessing of visiting the saints and shrines of the Mother Church and to celebrate the Pentecost Feast in Cairo. “Over the past years a large number of British Orthodox and their friends have visited the Church in Egypt and to be able to maintain the contact with our spiritual roots is a very important part of our life. It is too important to be missed but we shall, of course, be praying that peace may come to the troubled relations between BA and their staff.”