On 17 December HRH The Prince of Wales demonstrated his concern for the Christian communities of the Middle East through a series of engagements and impressive, heart-felt speeches. Having just returned from the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the Prince began his day with a morning visit to the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre at Stevenage, where he was greeted by HG Bishop Angaelos and civic dignitaries. He was accompanied by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed of Jordan, who is religious affairs adviser to HM King Abdullah II of Jordan and a notable advocate of interfaith harmony. This visit began with a short service of prayer, presided over by Bishop Angaelos and Metropolitan Seraphim, after which the Princes were conducted around a display showing the many activities of the Church Centre and met with members of the local congregation and other ecumenical visitors, who had attended the service. Prince Charles was presented with a fine ikon of St. George, with another identical pone for TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the infant Prince George of Cambridge. Prince Ghazi was also presented with an ikon of St. Mary the Virgin. The Princes then adjourned for a brief round table meeting to discuss some of the general concerns about the current situation in the Middle East. Following this the Princes took tea at the Manor House before flying by helicopter to West London.
Here they were received by HE Archbishop Athanasios and HG Bishop Vahan, both natives of Iraq, at the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Acton, where a short service was held and hymns sung in Aramaic. They were able to talk to many of the congregation and hear informed accounts of their suffering.
In the late afternoon Prince Charles held an Advent Reception at Clarence House, with particular emphasis on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Among those attending were Archbishop Gregorios and Metropolitan Kallistos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the Bishops of London, Southwark, St. Albans, Liverpool Reading and Bishop Geoffrey Rowell; the Apostolic Delegate and the Archbishop of Westminster; Bishop Vahan Hovhannesian (Armenian Orthodox), Archbishop Athanasius (Syriac Orthodox), Bishop Angaelos (Coptic Orthodox), Abba Seraphim (British Orthodox), the Archdeacon of the Church of the East, as well as many clergy of other churches.
At the conclusion of the reception HRH Prince Ghali made and eloquent and eirenic speech followed by HRH Prince Charles, who remarked, that he had, “for some time now been deeply troubled by the growing difficulties faced by Christian communities in various parts of the Middle East. It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants. Christianity was, literally, born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ. Their church communities link us straight back to the early Church, as I was reminded by hearing Aramaic, Our Lord’s own language, spoken and sung a few hours ago.”
He highlighted his work over the past two decades for better understanding between Muslims and Christians and spoke of his fear that the dwindling Christian population might be lost altogether, and the serious grounds for us all to be concerned, “My prayer this afternoon is for all beleaguered communities and I believe that Western Christians ought to pray earnestly for fellow-believers in the Middle East. I am reminded that to-day in the Eastern Christian calendar it is the festival of Daniel and the three boys in the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They symbolize all those who are persecuted for their faith. But the important point is: they survived!”
Abba Seraphim was among the civic, ecclesiastical and inter-faith leaders invited to the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre at Stevenage on 13 November to meet with HRH Prince Hassan of Jordan. The Prince is noted for his humanitarian and inter-faith initiatives and has worked tirelessly for peace and justice for many decades. Welcomed by Bishop Angaelos, who hosted the meeting of a relatively small group of those sharing the same aspirations, the Prince spoke frankly and engagingly on a number of issues related to the unrest in the Middle East following the so-called “Arab Spring”. Having spoken from his wide and rich experience of engagement with statesmen, politicians and all key figures in the Middle East over half a century, as well as his family’s central role in affairs of state, he demonstrated profound understanding of the current situation, a deep commitment to justice and peace, underpinned by integrity and vision. Abba Seraphim commented, “Too often such discussions leave one with a sense of hopelessness in the face of so many intractable problems, but I returned home feeling encouraged that a resolution is not entirely beyond our reach, even though it may take many years go achieve.”
On 8 January Abba Seraphim ordained Roman Ivanovich Benchak to serve as a Reader at St. Athanasios & St. Alban Parish at Chatham. Roman is a Russian who has been worshipping for some time with the British Orthodox and during his homily Abba Seraphim commented that although the Russian Orthodox Church was a relative ‘newcomer’ to Orthodoxy it had made an amazing contribution to the world, with its profound spirituality and great catalogue of saints and martyrs, especially those who had struggled to keep the Orthodox faith alive during a difficult history, from the Tartar Yoke to more recently, the darkness of atheistic communism. What a rich schoolmaster it had proved to bring Roman to Christ. In entering into service in the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Patriarchate, Roman becomes the ‘firstfruits’ of the full reunion we all long to see between the two families of Orthodoxy and a witness to our common faith and adherence to the same Apostolic Tradition.
Abba Seraphim noted that today in Stevenage His Grace Bishop Angaelos was holding a special Memorial Service for all the Coptic Christians who have lost their lives – indeed become martyrs – in the recent troubles which preceded and took place during the Revolution: from, El Kosheh, Nag Hammadi, Al-Qidiseen in Alexandria to Maspero. Although unable to be there personally, he had directed all British Orthodox congregations to make similar commemorations and to join in prayer and in spirit with that service. Thankfully this Nativity Feast has passed off in Egypt peacefully but these are still uncertain times. He noted that His Holiness Pope Shenouda had invited representatives of all political parties to join the Christmas celebration; which was right as Christians can show no hate, even for those who have treated them cruelly, especially as the Eucharist is about union with God and the spirit of forgiveness and new life in Christ; so all must be welcome. Yet we do not forget those whose lives have been sacrificed and whose blood is a witness of injustice. At this time we also called for prayer for the Christians of Syria, who are suffering because of the unrest there.
The 2010 Oriental Orthodox festival was held at St. George’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral at Stevenage on 8 May with the Divine Liturgy celebrated by His Grace Bishop Angaelos and His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim with priests of the British, Coptic, Eritrean and Ethiopian Orthodox Church, supported by many deacons of these churches. The British Orthodox clergy who attended were Fathers Simon Smyth, Seraphim Mina and Peter Farrington with Archdeacon Alexander Astill, Deacon Mark Saunders and Deacon Theodore de Quincey. They were supported by faithful from the British Orthodox parishes and communities at Babingley, Bournemouth, Charlton, Chatham, Cusworth and Portsmouth.
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