The British Orthodox Church South Coast congregations, Christ the Saviour (Bournemouth), Saint Polycarp (Southampton) and Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black (Portsmouth) all observed the Feast of the Dormition of Saint Mary the Mother of God on Monday 16th January. Given Father Simon’s ongoing health issues it was not going to be possible to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on the South Coast so all three Churches and Missions agreed to keep the Feast in each location simultaneously in the context of None or Ninth Hour (Afternoon) Prayer at 3 p.m. incorporating special readings and prayers for the occasion.
The Coptic Orthodox Church (including the British Orthodox as a daughter Church thereof) together with the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches are the only remaining Christians to still observe the two feasts of the Dormition (or Falling Asleep in death) and the Assumption of (the body of) the Mother of God into heaven. The Roman Catholic Church largely celebrates the Assumption while the Byzantine Orthodox Churches emphasise the Dormition – but the Coptic (together with the British), the Ethiopian and the Eritrean Orthodox Churches still unto this day keep the ancient way of two celebrations or feasts. Even by the standards of Orthodoxy these Churches remain truly conservative or traditional, adhering tenaciously to the ancient Christian Faith
Father Peter Farrington visited the British Orthodox Church of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black on Saturday 10th December. He led the celebration of the
Divine Liturgy, assisted by Father Simon and Reader Antony-Paul Holland. Father Peter demonstrated in a sermon replete with quotations from the Fathers across several centuries that Saint Mary had always held a special place at the heart of the Church. The Church had always honoured and venerated her and sought her intercessions and it was right that this was so. The sermon was much appreciated with more than one member of the congregation asking for a copy.
Father Peter hopes to visit the Portsmouth congregation again next year and the possibility of a reciprocal visit by Father Simon to Chatham in the early months of 2012 was also discussed.
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.
A weekly series of meetings is planned this Autumn for the British Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour, Bournemouth. Starting on 15th September these meetings will be held each Thursday with Evening Prayer at 6 p.m. followed by a series of audio visual lectures and presentations. The evenings should finish by 8 p.m.
Also in Portsmouth, the Thursday evening weekly prayer meetings will re-commence on 8th September with Evening Prayer at 7 p.m. and these too will be followed by audio visual lectures and presentations, the evening finishing around 9 p.m. The venue for the Portsmouthmeetings is Flat 11, 286 Twyford Avenue, Portsmouth, PO2 8ND. For further information please contact Antony-Paul Holland on 078 7049 0085 or email firstname.lastname@example.org