On Saturday, 17 August, Abba Seraphim and Abba James, accompanied by Archdeacon Antony Holland, attended the annual Llanthony Pilgrimage organised by the Father Ignatius Memorial Trust. The last time that Abba Seraphim attended the Pilgrimage was forty-four years ago, when – as a priest – he accompanied his predecessor, Mar Georgius (1905-1979), Metropolitan of Glastonbury. On that occasion, 30 August 1975, the preacher then was the late Father Brocard Sewell (1912-2000), a Carmelite friar.
Upon arrival, Abba Seraphim and his companions, were greeted by Mr. Hugh Allen, a long-standing trustee and the author of the scholarly history of “New Llanthony Abbey” (2016). The 2019 Pilgrimage began with a Sung Eucharist at St. David’s Church. Llanthony, which stands on the site of a sixth-century cell belonging to St. David, on which the infirmary of the twelfth century Augustinian Llanthony Priory was later constructed. The celebrant was Father Philip Wyn Davies of Tregaron. Among the pilgrims were Canon Mark Soady and three brothers of the Holywell Community, a newly established male monastic community following the Rule of St. Benedict, based in Abergavenny.
Following this, the pilgrims gathered for lunch in and around the ruins of Llanthony Priory, set in the outstandingly beautiful Black Mountains. After lunch some of the pilgrims travelled on foot to Capel-y-Ffin, some five miles away. At 3.30 pm Evensong was held in the tiny late-eighteenth century church of St. Mary, Capel-y-Fin, where Canon Simon Griffiths, Precentor at Truro Cathedral, preached an impressive sermon on the mission and witness of Father Ignatius. After this, the pilgrims processed up the hill to the site of Father Ignatius’s monastery and the ruins of the church, where he was buried in 1908. During the procession the Litany of Our Lady was sung in Latin and prayers were also said at the Wayside Calvary and at a Statue of the Mother of God situated on the terrace in front of the former monastery.
Father Ignatius was a committed traditionist who actively condemned heresies publicly sanctioned among his contemporary clergy: notably Canon Wilberforce denying our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Day, which had been approved by Archbishop Frederick Temple; the denial of our Lord’s Virgin Birth by the Vicar of Yardley (C.E. Beeby); and Dean Fremantle of Ripon – whom Father Ignatius called “the Prince of Infidels” – who denied our Lord’s Ascension and stated that “we are not to pretend that the Scriptures are absolutely perfect in any part” and that our Lord Himself did not “pretend to an absolute knowledge of God.” Although we live in very different times, the drift away from traditional Christian belief is tragically still prevalent. Commenting on the Pilgrimage, Abba Seraphim said he was deeply touched by the warmth and spirit of fellowship which he encountered throughout the day, and that among the pilgrims – who largely comprised Anglo-Catholics, Roman Catholics and Orthodox – there was a shared commitment to traditional Christianity, which was demonstrated by a genuine œcumenical spirit underlying their veneration for the Mother of God and commemoration of Father Ignatius and his testimony.
On 16 August, accompanied by Metropolitan Seraphim and Archdeacon Antony Holland, Abba James made his first visit to Caerleon-upon-Usk, of which he is titular Archbishop. Modern Caerleon is a small village on the north side of the city of Newport in Monmouthshire. It is an important archaeological site having been established in A.D. 74 to serve as the headquarters of the ancient Roman Legion “II Augusta” – following the invasion of Britain under Emperor Claudius in A.D. 43, hence its original name of ‘Isca Augusta’ as well as being referred to as a ‘City of the Legions’. Among the historic sites remaining is the Amphitheatre, which was erected just outside the city walls in 90 A.D. with seating for 6,000. It is here that tradition records that two early Christians, SS. Julius & Aaron were martyred in the third century. The clergy were joined at the Amphitheatre by a number of Abba Seraphim’s cousins, of whom Andrew Norton is the Regional Director (North) of Wessex Archaeology and afterwards lunched together at “The Priory”, the ancient home from the sixteenth century of the Morgans of Pencreek, which was rebuilt with the Roman facings, and in the eighteenth century part still remained in its original state.
The titular See of Caerleon-upon-Usk was revived by Mar Pelagius (Richard Williams Morgan 1815-1889), the first British Patriarch, and held by the first four British Patriarchs (1874-1922) before being revived when Abba Seraphim was consecrated as Mafrian, coadjutor to the late Mar Georgius, on 9 July 1977, following which he first visited Caerleon on 28 October 1977. During their visit on this occasion, Abba Seraphim led them in prayer and invoked the blessings of SS. Julius & Aaron.
In 2006 the canonical Patriarch of Eritrea, Abune Antonios, was forcibly removed from office for repeatedly objecting to government interference in ecclesiastical affairs and refusing to expel 3,000 members of the Church’s renewal movement, Medhane Alem, which was accused of being heretical. He was subsequently placed under house arrest.
The Eritrean government encouraged rebel bishops to replace him with Bishop Dioskoros (Hagos) of Seraye (1937-2015), whom they appointed ‘Patriarch’ in April 2007, although after the anti-Patriarch’s death in December 2015 no further attempt was made to choose a successor, although Abune Antonios was not restored to effective oversight of the church.
Following international outrage at the treatment of Patriarch Antonios and of the involvement of the authoritarian government of President Isaias Afwerki, the Eritrean Orthodox Church’s official website, published a letter from the Church’s Holy Synod announcing that the rift resulting from his removal from office had been resolved. It also published photographs of the Patriarch and ‘Reconciliation Committee’ consisting of members of the “Union of the Monasteries and Church Scholars”, who had participated in a process that had allegedly ended in a “full reconciliation”. Significantly, although the signatures of the attendees appeared on this letter, the Patriarch’s did not. After almost a decade under house arrest, Abune Antonios appeared again in public at St Mary’s Cathedral, Asmara on 16 July 2016 for a service that was announced as a ‘Reconciliation’, although he was surrounded by guards during the Liturgy, which he did not celebrate himself, and plain-clothed policemen forbade those attending from taking any pictures. During the service a statement from the ‘Reconciliation Committee’ was read to the congregation by a deacon.
However, the government continued to exercise control of the church through Bishop Lukas, who although consecrated by Abune Antonios, proved strongly pro-government, and had been appointed General Secretary of the Holy Synod. Abune Antonios is currently confined to the ‘servant’s quarters’ of the villa inhabited by Bishop Lukas, and has long been abandoned by surrounding clergy who have not cared for his health or well-being. Abune Antonios, who is now aged 90, suffers from chronic diabetes and high blood pressure and there are also allegations that on or around 7 May 2017 he was injected with a substance that had caused him to become gravely ill.
In its recent statement dated 17 July, the Holy Synod on behalf of its six bishops (but which was mysteriously lacking the signature of Bishop Kirillos of Akele Guzay – Adi Keyih) Abune Antonios was accused of heresy and is once again deprived of all authority, although the Synod states that it will continue providing him with food and shelter. Bishop Lukas, for the first time making a public allegation, in which he accuses the Patriarch of Protestantising tendencies states that the Patriarch had ‘lost his faith’ in St. Mary, the Theotokos.
The Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Mervyn Thomas, writes: “The attempt to excommunicate Patriarch Antonios entirely lacks legitimacy, as those behind have neither the moral nor the positional authority to issue this pronouncement. It is a desperate move, providing a clear indication that the patriarch’s will and spirit remain unbroken, despite being subjected to circumstances, pressures and humiliations designed to elicit his resignation or even demise.”
Abba Seraphim, who in 1994 was ordained Metropolitan by the late Pope Shenouda in Cairo, at the same Liturgy as Abune Antonios was consecrated to the episcopate, has long championed the cause of Abune Antonios and urges all religious leaders and activists to uphold him and the Eritrean Orthodox Church in prayer. “There are still many young Eritrean Christian refugees from their iniquitous régime – who through the Providence of God arrive on our shores – and although the British Orthodox Church has resumed its independence, we have always welcomed them warmly and maintain regular prayer both for Abune Antonios and the plight of Eritrean Christians generally”.
In 1960 the late Metropolitan Georgius wrote “Blind Lanes & Alleys” which was a brief study in Legitimate Monarchy and Anglican Episcopacy during the 17th and 18th centuries, which also included accounts of the Nonjurors, who were those bishops and clergy who refused to betray their oaths of allegiance to King James II, who was deposed in 1688 by the so-called “Glorious Revolution”. Recording the crisis between King and Parliament during one of the most turbulent times in British secular and religious history, this study begins with the major disruptions to the Monarchy and the Anglican Church leading to the Civil War and killing of King Charles the Martyr. The Nonjurors and their Orthodox British Church, the last bishop of which died in Manchester in 1818, were inspired by a sense of continuity and faith in the Apostolic and Orthodox faith and a respect for Britain’s ancient Christian roots. Apart from being a prolific author in his own right, Abba Seraphim has edited and republished this very readable account by his predecessor.
This year’s Holy Week and Paschal services in the British Orthodox Church were well supported, not only by members of the British Orthodox Church, but by Orthodox faithful from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, so that attendance was higher than in previous years. Abba David presided at the Church at Cusworth and Hieromonk John at Bournemouth. During the Divine Liturgy at Bournemouth, Father John also baptised & chrismated Gregory Vincent Curtis, an adult Catechumen.
At the Chatham Church, where Metropolitan Seraphim, presided, assisted by Abba James, the church was full and Abba Seraphim preached powerfully on the Resurrection. Unfortunately, because of clergy shortages there was no Paschal Liturgy at the Church at Babingley, but next Sunday (7 May), being at the end of Bright Week, Abba Seraphim and Abba James will commemorate the Lord’s resurrection as they celebrate ‘Thomas Sunday’ there.