During the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at Morden College, Blackheath, on 1 October, Abba Seraphim offered thanksgiving for the safe deliverance of His Grace Anba Makarios, General Bishop of Minya, following an assassination attempt the previous day.
The Bishop was visiting the town of el-Sario in Abou Qorqas, Minya province, on a pastoral visit to comfort a Coptic family, which had lost its son in the recent sectarian violence, when his car received a hail of bullets from several unidentified attackers. His driver was able to drive to the home of a local church member, where they took refuge. However, the attackers pursued them, surrounded the house and continued shooting for over 90 minutes, causing extensive damage to its windows, doors and walls. The local security service only arrived a further 90 minutes after the shooting had stopped. The head of Minya security told the media that the local Muslim villagers were angry because they thought the Bishop had come to reopen St. Michael’s church, the only church in the village, which has been closed for the past 10 years ago for security reasons.
Minya is one of the most highly populated governorates in Upper Egypt, and the region of Abou Qorqas is situated on the left bank of the Nile. This summer saw considerable sectarian violence and incitement against Copts, in which some 43 citizens had their homes, shops and vehicles looted or destroyed whilst in Minya City the Amir Tadros Church, St. Joseph’s Convent, Abba Moussa Church an d the Assembly of Coptic Schools was burned to the ground,; Mar Mina Church was looted and the Evangelical and Baptist Churches were burned as well as the library of the Jesuit Association, the YMCA, the Soldiers of Christ Coptic Orphanage, St. Joseph’s Convent School and the Holy Bible Press. Two Copts were also burned to death when their tourist boat was set on fire.
Commenting on the attempted assassination, Abba Seraphim expressed concern about the extent of violent threats directed against Copts and supporters of the interim government. He noted that one website, calling itself ‘The Al Magreze Center for Historical Studies” publishes a “Wanted List of the Sharia Court” giving photographs and details of 37 targetted notables, including His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, with a grisly cartoon of General Al-Sisli hanging from a gallows.
Abba Seraphim has signed an E-petition recently placed on H.M. Goverment website, which is especially aimed at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The petition, which was drafted by Nicholas Crampton, founder of Eastern Christian Links, states:
“Noting with dismay the attacks on Coptic Churches in Egypt, and in Syria the kidnapping of the Syrian and Greek Orthodox Archbishops in Aleppo while working on humanitarian relief and of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio in Raqqa while working for Islamic/Christian dialogue and understanding,
We call on the UK Government
(i) To commit publicly to the promotion of toleration of and protection for religious minorities in the Middle East as an important part of UK foreign policy,
(ii) To demand of, and make a condition of diplomatic or any material assistance for, (a) the authorities in and any new Government of Egypt and (b) the members of the Syrian National Coalition, especially the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, that they publicly promise, enact and energetically enforce the protection of the practice of peaceful religious activities by all their citizens whether Muslim or non-Muslim.”
Abba Seraphim noted that H.H. Pope Tawadros II had recently called upon the Committee responsible for drafting the new Egyptian Constitution to extend its toleration to all non-Muslim religions and not merely to the “three heavenly religions” (Christianity, Islam & Judaism) and believed that religious toleration cannot be limited but should be open to all faiths. He commended the petition to all who respect freedom, justice and toleration: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/54532
Abba Seraphim flew into Cairo at 1.00 a.m. on Saturday morning, 15 June, to attend the pre-Pentecost celebrations in Cairo as well as various meetings of the Holy Synod. He was met at the airport by Shenouda Mamdouh and driven to St. Mark’s Centre in Nasr City. After a brief sleep he breakfasted with His Grace Abba Athanasius of the French Coptic Orthodox Church. He was later joined by Father Arsanios Anba Boula and Mrs. Mary Ezzat, who accompanied him throughout his stay. Later that morning they travelled to the Patriarchate in Abbesseya, where they transacted various business before returning back to Nasr City. In the evening Abba Seraphim attended the Raising of Incense at St. Mark’s Cathedral during which His Holiness Pope Tawadros II named three General bishops as diocesans and blessed eight monks who were to be consecrated to the episcopate:
- Abba Athanasius, who has previously served as General Bishop and, since the death of Metropolitan Marcos of Toulon & All France, as locum tenens of the Metropolis of Toulon, was named as Bishop of Marseilles and Primate of the French Coptic Orthodox Church
- Abba Damian, who has previously served as General Bishop, was named as Bishop of Höxter, Brenkhausen and affiliate jurisdiction, as well as continuing as Abbot of the Monastery of St. Mary & St. Maurice in Höxter, Germany.
- Abba Salib (Pistavros), who has previously served as General Bishop for Meit Ghamir in Cairo, was named as Diocesan Bishop of the Diocese of Meit Ghamir & affiliate jurisdictions.
- Father Arsanios El Baramoussy, who has served for the Coptic community in Amsterdam for many years, was named as Arsany, Bishop of the Holy Diocese of the Netherlands & affiliate jurisdictions.
- Father Pavlos Anba Bishoy, who has served the Coptic community in Athens for many years, was named as General Bishop of the Holy Suffragan See of Greece and Cyprus.
- Father Louka El Baramoussy, who has been serving the Coptic community in Geneva, was named as General Bishop of the Holy Suffragan See of Southern France & Geneva.
- Father Oulogious El-Shenoudy was named as Bishop & Abbot of the Monastery of St. Shenouda the Archmandrite in Sohag, Upper Egypt.
- Father Michael El-Antony was named, Bishop & Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Anthony the Great in Kroeffelbach, Germany.
- Father Abanoub, was consecrated as a General Bishop and named as Assistant Bishop for the Patriarchal Suffragan See of El-Mokattam in the Holy Archdiocese of Cairo, assistant to the Pope.
- Father Makary, was consecrated as a General Bishop and named as Assistant Bishop for the Patriarchal Suffragan See of Shoubra in the Holy Archdiocese of Cairo, assistant to the Pope.
- Father Youssab, was consecrated as a General Bishop and named as Assistant Bishop in the Holy Archdiocese of Cairo, assistant to the Pope.
The next morning, 16 June His Holiness Pope Tawadros, assisted by the Metropolitans and bishops of the Holy Synod, consecrated the eight monks to the sacred order of the episcopate, during a Liturgy which lasted some five hours. That evening Abba Seraphim attended the first of the Synodal sub-committees, the Faith & Education Committee, which met at the Patriarchate.
On 17 June Abba Seraphim and his party visited St. George’s Convent in Old Cairo, where they were received by Mother Kyria and later visited the stained-glass workshop under Mother Parthenia. In the evening they called to visit their old friend, the deaconess, Miss Effa, who is now 93 but was very lively and pleased to see them.
On 18 June they drove some two hours from Cairo on the Alexandsria road to receive the blessing of the Monastery of Saint Thomas the Hermit of Shenshif, originally established as a 350 acre monastic farm in 1996, from 2001 it was settled by monks from St. Thomas Monastery in Sohag. Under the guidance of Fr. Abraam El Samuelly and Bishop Abraam of Fayoum it became a walled enclosure and in 2006 the church and cells were built. It was opened and blessed by Pope Shenouda III on 9 January 2010 and now has 22 monks and 17 novices, with 100 cells. Following this they travelled on to the Anafora Retreat Centre, where they had lunch and chatted with the fathers. Returning to Cairo, they visited friends in the evening.
On 19 June Abba Seraphim attended the Ecumenical Relations Synodal sub-committee at the Patriarchate before attending the Raising of Evening Incense and the Pope’s Wednesday evening lecture at St. Mark’s Cathedral.
On 20 June the Holy Synod met in plenary session at the Coptic Cultural Centre attached to the Patriarchate. Previously meetings had been held in the Chapel of the Papal Residence, but not only had Pope Tawadros found a new venue, but the excellent facilities provided, including electron voting, shows the significance he attributes to the role of the Holy Synod. Abba Seraphim returned to London that evening.
Accompanied by Fathers Simon Smyth and Peter Farrington, Abba Seraphim flew out of London on 25 March and arrived in Cairo in the early hours of 26 March, where he was greeted by Shenouda Mamdouh, Egyptian Secretary to the British Orthodox Church, and taken to St. Mark’s Centre in Nasr City, where they were to stay during this visit. On their flight they had the pleasure of travelling with Father John Sarkis, priest of St. Mary & St. Samuel the Confessor Church in Toronto.
The next morning they were joined by Tina Hammond, a member of the BOC Chatham congregation, her husband Youhanna Said Hakim, and Father Arsanios Amba Boula, who joined Abba Seraphim’s party. Together they drove to Old Cairo where they visit St. George’s Convent and were received by Mother Kyria and visited the shrines and churches of the monastery, before travelling on to St. Theodore’s (Amir Tadros) Convent in Hârat ar-Rûm, where they were warmly received by the Abbess, Mother Adrosios, and the nuns. After leaving the Convent they visited some craftmen in Khan El Khalili. From here they drove to the Old Patriarchate in Ezbekia, where His Grace Bishop Raphael, the newly appointed General Secretary of the Holy Synod, has established his office. Since Pope Shenouda removed the Patriarchate to Abbesseya, the Old Patriarchate has rather fallen into neglect, so it was good to see this historic building restored. Bishop Raphael received all of Abba Seraphim’s party and they discussed a number of common issues and concerns. At the conclusion of the meeting, Bishop Raphael conducted them on a visit to the private rooms and cell of the late Pope Kyrillos VI, which are shortly to be renovated.
On 27 March, Abba Seraphim met with Fr. Seraphim El Souriani, one of the papal secretaries, at the Patriarchate at Abbesseya and, afterwards, His Holiness Pope Tawadros received Abba Seraphim, Fathers Simon and Peter and Shenouda Mamdouh at the Patriarchate, where they reported on the work and ministry of the British Orthodox Church. Following their audience with the Pope, they visited the Coptic Cultural Centre and were received by His Grace Bishop Ermia, who conducted them round the new exhibition of ancient Coptic manuscripts, and afterwards they visited the Library and viewed the collections of the late Bishop Gregorios and Pope Shenouda.
On 28 March Abba Seraphim and his party drove to the Wadi El-Natrun. They first visited St. Bishoy’s Monastery, where they were received by their old friend, Father Arsanios El Anba Bishoy. After praying at the main shrines, they went to pray at the tomb of the late Pope Shenouda. From here they drove the short distance to the Syrian monastery to pray at the church and where they had lunch, before driving out on the Alexandria Road to visit the Anafora Retreat Centre, which has been established by His Grace Bishop Thomas of El Kousseya. Abba Seraphim had visited here in 2002 and 2005 and the progress in the facilities available was impressive. From the moment they arrived everyone experienced the tranquility of this spiritual haven. Bishop Thomas kindly conducted the party around the many facilities and they met and spoke with both staff and visitors present.
On 29 March Abba Seraphim and his companions visited a number of vestment makers, bookshops and craftsmen, before returning to St. Mark’s Centre, where they received a number of friends and visitors. They left a warm, sunny Cairo on the morning of 30 March and returned to a cold London with flurries of snow.