During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Father Simon made two ecumenical visits, one to his local Roman Catholic Church, Sacred Heart of Jesus and St Peter the Apostle, Waterlooville, and one to Immanuel Baptist Church, Southsea.
As the British Orthodox Portsmouth Church of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black does not yet have its own Church building and the font in the current venue, Saint Faith’s Anglican Church, is only of sufficient size for infant immersion, Immanuel Baptist Church has kindly hosted the British Orthodox congregation for three adult baptisms so far with more, it is hoped, in the months ahead. The Baptist pastor, the Reverend Elgan Evans invited Father Simon to say a little about the British Orthodox Church and the wider Oriental Orthodox family, especially the current situation in Egypt with Immanuel Baptist Church being a supporter of the Barnabus Fund. Father Simon drew a parallel between both local Church names, the British Orthodox proclaiming the central truth of Christianity, that Christ is God, through the ancient title of Saint Mary as Mother of God, that the Baby she carried within her, to Whom she gave birth, Who she fed at her breast was and is God – and the Baptists likewise proclaiming this through their name Immanuel, meaning God with us.
At Waterlooville Roman Catholic Church Father Kevin Bidgood kindly asked Father Simon to speak with people after the mass and he was engaged in conversation about the current situation of the Church both in Egypt and also Syria. One member of the congregation generously gave a donation which Father Simon explained he would pass onto the Barnabus Fund for its work in that region where it was active on behalf of both Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Christians.
Although this was the first British Orthodox clergy visit to the new Roman Catholic Church in Waterlooville there is already an existing link between us through the work of David Pratt (who has family connections to the Church and lives nearby) who advised on the arts committee during the design and construction of the new building. His influence can be seen in particular in the mosaic up above the entrance to the Church showing Christ in glory with the four incorporeal creatures. The inspiration for this work was provided from an icon in the complex of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Mark in Abbaseya, Cairo, and photographed by one of our Church members back in 2005.
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
The opening service of the British Orthodox Mission of Saint Polycarp, Southampton, was celebrated on Saturday 17th December in the Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity, Weston. Father Simon Smyth led the celebration of the Divine Liturgy supported by Subdeacon John Morgan from Bournemouth and Readers James Kelly, Daniel Malyon and Antony-Paul Holland all from Portsmouth – all four of them enthusiastic in their support for the small but committed Southampton Mission congregation.
Taking his cue from the enforced silence of Zacharias up until the naming of his son John and the Gospel reference to the future John the Baptist being “in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel” Father Simon preached on silence and withdrawing in stillness alone with God. He referred to other examples through the history of the Church: Saint Antony who had withdrawn into the deserts of Egypt before becoming a spiritual guide to so very many, Saint Seraphim of Sarov who similarly spent many years in the forests as monk and hermit before becoming a spiritual doctor to Russia and the Indian Orthodox Saint Gregorius Paramula who again underwent years of preparation and isolation alone with God before his mighty ministry. The sermon also recalled Saint John the Baptist’s great predecessor the Prophet Elijah who heard God not in the wind nor the earthquake nor the fire but in the “still small voice” that followed. Others might have greater numbers and more spectacular and popular ministries but, at least for now, the new Saint Polycarp Mission would meet quietly praying month by month the Monastic Office of Morning Prayer. They would also do well to recall God’s message to Elijah that though he thought he was the only one left there were in fact seven thousand in Israel still faithful to God. Who could say who else or how many else might be in Southampton already looking for just such a Mission?
The carols sung by the congregation and led by the Subdeacon and Readers reflected this theme: “Silent Night” and “O Liitle Town of Bethlehem” with it’s “how still we see thee lie” and “how silently the wondrous gift is given…”
Following the Divine Liturgy Father Simon joined the local Fellowship members for some excellent Lenten refreshments at the home of catechumen Bridget McConnachie.
The monthly meetings will take the form of Morning Prayer at 10.00 a.m. on the third Saturday each month at Holy Trinity, Weston, Southampton, with studies in the Epistle of Saint Polycarp. It is planned for different members of the clergy to lead the service different months. There is also to be an annual Divine Liturgy on or about the Feast of Saint Polycarp. The Southampton Fellowship Co-ordinator is Mary Goodchild 07586633275
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.
Three British Orthodox Readers (James Anthony Kelly, Antony Paul Holland, & Daniel Malyon) from our Southampton Congregation are currently studying for their M.Th. in Orthodox Studies at the University of Winchester. As part of their course they were invited to attend the annual conference of the OTRF at Winchester. This report has submitted by Daniel Malyon:
Monday was a sunny morning, a rarity in South England these days. It was perfect weather to start a great event such as this year’s OTRF Conference. The event was held at Winchester University and organised by Dr. Andreas Andreopoulos, course leader of the Mth Orthodox Theology course at the University. The topic for the Conference was The Divine Liturgy, a key element in Orthodox life, and a perfect subject to bring together those in attendance in an atmosphere of Theological discussion under the umbrella of Orthodox Christian Unity.
Due to the delay of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, who was to deliver the keynote address, Dr. Andreopoulos willingly stepped in and delivered a talk based on his research into the Mystagogy of St Maximos and his use of Iconographic imagery in his commentary on the Divine Liturgy. This led to a lively discussion on St Maximos’ Commentary, covering such subjects as his omission of the Holy Anaphora in this work and whether this was due to the Mystagogy being written for the understanding of the Laity, but this was purely theoretical and still to be researched.
With this type of discussion at the outset, it was understood by all, that the level of discussion would be to a high academic standard and theological understanding and was a brilliant start to the conference.
The first day’s second speaker was Dr. Paula-Wendy Nicholson, speaking on “Economies of life and death.” This was a more philosophical discussion, describing temporality, Liturgy and the concept of ‘liturgical reform.” The main point raised was on the fact that we are living in a world based around the ‘economy of death’ in which people are in a rush and most forget to leave much time for such things as the Liturgy, regardless of the liturgy being a part of your spiritual life and not to be rushed. The discussion which this led to detailed the concept of people trying to modernise Orthodox life in order for it to fit with the fast pace of the modern world.
This discussion also showed a number of groups, such as some younger Coptic in the US, wishing to return to more traditional, longer liturgies. Again, this threw up diverse opinions. Some of the audience saw Liturgical Reform as being an ongoing feature of the Living Church whilst others saw modernisation as demeaning the traditions of the Orthodox Church.
After the discussion ceased, those in attendance were treated to a short trip to Winchester Cathedral and St Swithan’s burial site as they waited for Metropolitan Kallistos’ address later that evening.
As always, the Metropolitan was a fascinating speaker, covering the debates surrounding the Eucharistic Sacrifice in 12th Century Constantinople and the person of Nicholas of Methone. In a fashion which is expected from Metropolitan Kallistos we heard a detailed and well explained piece on the views that prevailed at the time. A favourite of the discussion was the view of the Liturgy being the chance to experience a small glimpse of Christ’s Liturgy in heaven, with us receiving but s small glimpse of this. Personally I expected nothing less from Metropolitan Kallistos who never fails to explain a complex concept in a way which we can all understand.
The Weather on the second day started with the return of British Weather, but this failed to dampen the spirits of those in attendance. The conference began with the distinguished Fr Ephraim Lash explaining the new translation of the Byzantine Liturgy made for the Archdiocese of Thyateira and the reasons for the changes made. Fr Ephraim, being the famed linguist he is, went through these in great detail and covered many of the previous inconsistencies between the English and original Greek. As with the day before, those in attendance were more than happy to share their views on such details as the removal of the word “Hallowed” in the Lord’s Prayer since it is inconsistent with other translations of the word in Greek.
This was followed by a less detailed yet equally interesting piece by Phillip Gorski of the University of Nottingham. He detailed his doctoral thesis on reverence of the Liturgy in Russian Literature. Though this was not a theological piece it was interesting to know how such writers as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (Amusingly labelled ‘the dreaded Tolstoyevski’ due to their dominance of any discussion of Russian Literature. He also went into detail on characters in Solzhenitsyn and the use of liturgical imagery in such grim settings as soviet gulags to emphasis the devotion of characters to their faith.
This provoked some emotion amongst the audience; since Soviet persecution is still in the mind of many from the Russian Church and martyrs are always close the heart of Orthodox Christians.
The midday discussion was by Adrian Agachi. He was researching the use of community singing in the Romanian Orthodox Church. Using both scriptural and patristic evidence, Adrian highlighted the historical use of congregational response and singing, something which has died out in the Byzantine Tradition with the use of choirs and prevalence of performance over community faith. Adrian’s address was one which hit home a lot with some from the Coptic Tradition, since this tradition of community singing has never died out in the Coptic Church. This was also discussed by Dr Elena Narinskaya, who spoke out about the use of paid operatic choirs in some Russian Churches.
After a lunch which was filled with interesting discussion, we were treated to a lecture on typology. This was delivered by Fr Columba Flegg and covered the much discussed area of symbolism in the Divine Liturgy and the general Church building. This was a topic which many have tackled through the centuries and it was good to hear it brought up in this conference on the subject of the Divine Liturgy.
The day ended with a piece by Dr Mary Cunningham, famed for her work Christian Spirituality and the role of Mary in the Orthodox Tradition. She tackled the subject of Homilies and their place in the Liturgy. She cited such figures as Saint John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzus, both famed for their homilies, to show what was described as ‘the almost sacramental role’ of homilies in the Early Church. She then explained the use of feast-like imagery which was used to describe sermons in the Early Church and the importance of the placement of the sermon during the Liturgy of the Catechumens.
This ended the day on a vibrant discussion of the subject as people headed for a group meal in a local restaurant. The discussions and debates on the role of the Sermon and correct delivery of it were to continue into the evening and on to the next day.
The morning of the final day began, as with the others, on a high. Fr Andrew Louth discussed the concept of space and time in the Divine Liturgy, tackling a subject much like the debates covered by Metropolitan Kallistos on the Monday. He started with an outline of the Medieval Byzantine view of space and time in order to give a basic understanding of the context covered. This led on to a comparison with modern quantum physics. After the audience has their head around this, Fr Andrew put the explanation in the context of the Liturgy, linking the philosophical and Liturgical concepts covered perfectly with the concept of the Sacramental life being a type of ‘cosmic movement through the realm of time and space.’ This covered the Theological concept of Baptism being an event which is a death and rebirth in Christ. The talk was one of the more confusing at times but showed a realm of Theology which is not covered as often as it deserves.
This was followed by brilliant talk on Iconography in the Orthodox Tradition. As with typology this is covered often, yet the subject is not often explained in a way which gives it the justice it deserves. Dr Narinskaya, a Russian Iconographer and lecturer on the topic of Iconology, spoke on the importance and role of the Icon in the Liturgical life of the Orthodox Church. She stressed the great prominence of the ‘Victory of Orthodoxy’ in the Byzantine tradition after the Iconoclastic period. She also spoke of the difference between the Worship of God and veneration of Icons, since it is a commonly misunderstood relationship outside of Orthodoxy.
Of all the parts of this talk, Dr Narinskaya’s explanation of why Icons are not Idolatry was the most fascinating. She detailed the difference between Mankind’s knowledge of God before and after the Incarnation of Christ, comparing the faceless God of the Old Testament and the Godhead made man in the new. The explained this when she said how ‘Christ is God’s divine reality combined with the material world’ and that Icons follow the same formula of divine reality in the form of matter. This was one of the best descriptions of Icons that I have personally even heard and really put forward the significance of the sacred art of Iconography in Orthodox tradition.
As final speakers, we had Fr Dionysus and Fr Patrick Ramsey explain their PhD studies on John’s Gospel and the Eucharist as an iconic experience. Both were research outlines for their forthcoming works and were received with praise from those in attendance as well as helpful suggestions as to writings and concepts to look into. This atmosphere of shared research and the ability to bounce ideas off each other is one rarely seen in conferences such as these and made the experience far more comfortable than some others in which people only encounter criticism and competition.
In conclusion the OTRF conference this year was a resounding success. There was much academic content covering both obscure and common factors facing Orthodox Christians in the world as well as the more specific subjects which are always interesting to learn about. The only thing which was a regret for me was the Byzantine Orthodox emphasis of the Forum, resulting from a lack of input from Oriental Orthodox speakers. As a member of this community it was a pity not to hear from any academics from this part of the Orthodox Family since there is such an array of views and history to be shared which is often overshadowed by Byzantine thinkers in the academic world.
I will certainly be attending next year in Nottingham though hope to see more from the Oriental Churches, since there were no speakers from these regardless of the willingness of Coptic audience members to share their views and community life with those at the conference.
- 27 April 2014
- Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: DoncasterRaising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
- Morning Prayer: Babingley10.30am Morning Prayer
- Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: CharltonRaising of Incense 2.00 p.m.
Divine Liturgy 2.30 p.m.
- 3 May 2014
- Morning Incense & Divine Liturgy: PortsmouthMorning Incense & Divine Liturgy 10am
- 4 May 2014
- Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: DoncasterRaising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am