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 added his voice to the many people concerned for the safety of two Syrian bishops who were kidnapped yesterday and asked for prayers for their early and safe release.
On 22 April, the village of Kfar Dael, a terrorist group ambushed the car containing the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of Aleppo & Alexandretta, who were returning to Aleppo from a humanitarian visit. Some reports say that they had been negotiating the release of priests who had been kidnapped earlier. Their driver, a deacon of the church, was killed. It is understood that they were returning from the rebel-held Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey and that Mar Gregorios had gone to collect Metropolitan Paul because he had crossed there several times before and was familiar with the route. Metropolitan Paul is the brother of the recently elected Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, John X.
Abba Seraphim has repeatedly expressed the view that the deteriorating situation in Syria and the uprising leading to a vicious and brutal war, which is now entering its third year, has been mishandled by the Western powers and media and Her Majesty’s government bears a heavy responsibility for this. Only by bringing all sides together can a solution be found, but by excluding representatives of the Syrian government, whose prolonged survival clearly shows that it still has significant support in the country, we have helped to prolong the conflict.
The recognition of the so-called National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people” is irresponsible and short-sighted whilst the appointment of Walid Safur as their ‘ambassador’ to the United Kingdom is a political gesture rather than an effective way of promoting dialogue with both sides.
The loose federation of opponents of the Syrian government is not representative of all the Syrian people. Indeed the Foreign Secretary has stated that part of the resolution of this conflict requires Syria’s opposition groups to win the trust of the Syrian people and provide a united and viable political alternative. The rebels do not represent all sunni Syrians, let alone the significant minorities of the Alawites, Kurds and Christians as well as Druze and others. These minorities alone make up more than one third of the Syrian population.
There are serious concerns that the armed rebel groups contain many foreign mercenaries acting for foreign interests and have a high number of active Jihadists in their ranks. Their Islamicist agenda is clearly visible, and they have already targeted Christian, Kurdish as well as Alawite communities for purely sectarian reasons.
The Free Syrian Army looks to the spiritual leadership of Sheikh Adnan Al-Arour, a Syrian exile in Saudi Arabia, who divides Syrians into three categories; those who support the revolution, those who ignore it, and those who oppose it. He insists the judgement against those who are against the revolution will be great. He speaks of the Alawites in particular, saying that any Alawites who stand with “us” will be protected, but “those that stand against us will have their flesh ground in meat grinders and fed to the dogs.”
There is no question of the scale and extent of the atrocities being committed on a daily basis but too often the international media and the British government draw on reports issued by the so-called “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, a UK based mouthpiece of anti-Assad activists demonstrating a partisan view of events, aimed at blaming the Syrian government for every atrocity committed.
The two bishops have both been active in calling for a peaceful solution and have vigorously eschewed any recourse to violence. Despite the obvious dangers they have preferred to remain with their flocks through some of the worse times and have both been at the forefront of organising humanitarian support and maintaining the constructive inter-faith dialogue and co-operation which they have promoted throughout their ministries. Even the circumstances of their kidnapping, both selflessly engaged in helping others and working together as true brothers in Christ, commends them to all those who seek peace and harmony in a troubled world.
This year Abba Seraphim celebrated the Nativity Feast on Christmas Eve (24 December) at the Chatham Church. In his address Abba Seraphim spoke of the angelic proclamation of Peace on Earth, which he noted has always been elusive, “It seems almost alien to the natural condition of man and since the beginning of time, enmity and strife, whether domestic or between nations, has brought death, division and desolation in its wake.”
He especially addressed the current problems in the Middle East, “This year of grace we celebrate the Lord’s Nativity when the ancient biblical lands are more than unusually unsettled. That little town of Bethlehem and the Palestinian territories cry out for justice. We deplore the aggressive establishment of settlements by an intransigent Israeli state, but who can condone the charter of a corrupt and bloodthirsty Hamas which calls for the killing of Jews ? In Egypt we have seen the disappointment of a peaceful Revolution, which overthrew a corrupt regime, only to fall captive to narrow religious zealots who seek to promote their own interests rather than the common good. Blood has been shed and we may expect that more will follow, because in that divided society there can be no peace. Most of all we grieve for our brethren in Syria, torn apart by unspeakable savagery.”
With regard to the Syrian crisis, he felt that the current Coalition government, which prides itself on its promotion of civil liberties, equality and justice, both at home and abroad, has shown incredible short-sightedness in its response to the threat to Christian communities in the Middle-East. By supporting the so-called National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which has been proved to be dominated by Islamist elements and financed by external regimes, our government has “effectively abandoned all possibilities to promote dialogue with both sides and has allied us to those who are destroying the significant Christian minority which has been there since apostolic times. Unlike Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, I cannot consider what he regards as Mr. Cameron’s “overtly Christian tone” in his Christmas address as being anything more than hollow words, when government policy doesn’t merely show casual indifference to the fate of our Christian brethren in Syria, but actively undermines them.”
On Saturday 8 December, following the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the Portsmouth Parish of Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint Moses the Black held its Annual General Meeting. Subdeacons Antony-Paul Holland and James-Antony Kelly were elected to the offices of Secretary and Treasurer respectively for 2013. Financial matters discussed and decided were principally the payment of the Church tithe to Central Fund for both 2012 and the previous year as something that simply must be done as a spiritual and Biblical requirement and also that the Portsmouth Church would commit to supporting (through regular monthly payments via the Barnabas Fund) a displaced Syrian Christian family throughout the forthcoming year. Father Simon reminded the assembled Church members of the Syrian origins of the British Orthodox Church back in the nineteenth century with the consecration of our first bishop and of the debt we owed Syrian Christianity. There was unanimous support for the motion and the Portsmouth congregation followed on from the recent decision of the Bournemouth congregation to likewise (via the Barnabas Fund) support a Syrian Christian family throughout the forthcoming year.
In two disturbing Press Communiqué issued by the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo we learn how the civil war in Syria is impinging on the daily life of the Christian community. Throughout these difficult times the clergy remain to minister to their flocks and to provide practical support to all people, regardless of their religious and ethnic affiliations. In the midst of such devastation they continue to call for restraint and peace
On Friday 19 October 2012 the Syrian Orthodox School (Bani Taghlub I), which is adjacent to the Archbishopric in the Sulimania District of Aleppo, sustained a direct hit on its third floor (where the kindergarten is located), by what appeared to be a home-made mortar. Providentially, as Friday is a holiday in Syria there were no injuries or fatalities apart from the damage to the third floor and the childrens’ play area. The source was unclear, “as missiles fall relentlessly and indiscriminately, day and night over all residential districts of Aleppo”.
Bani Taghlub has 550 pupils, but due to the current situation and migration from the city, the school administration expects to only have about 50 students attending school this year. It was also about to celebrate its centenary and discussions had already taken place about this. The governor and the administration assessed the damages and decided that business should run as usual, and that such incidents should not deprive the young children from their basic right to education. The school will be able resume its usual schedule at the beginning of November, as the necessary repair work is already under way.
Two days later, on Sunday 21 October 2012, a suicidal booby-trapped car exploded early in the morning in the main roundabout of the New Syriac district. It left huge craters and a considerable amount of damage to the Bet Hasada’ Complex, a Syrian Orthodox charitable endowment, which includes an elderly Home, al-Kalima Grammar School and a Hospital. Thanks be to God, the damages sustained were only material and no precious lives were lost. Naturally, the fear, traumatisation and horror this explosion imposed on the vulnerable elderly, recovering injured, convalescing patients, and dedicated, overstretched medical staff of these institutions are incalculable.
The Communiqué concluded, “We unreservedly condemn and deprecate the escalation of these armed manifestations, and all kinds of shelling and explosions that can only lead entrenched combatant brothers deeper into this vicious circle of violence, devastation and death.We also condemn and deplore the continuation of kidnapping, killings, demolition of infrastructure, heritages and the attrition activities aimed at the crippling of the local and national economy.
The status quo of this conflict is apparent and demoralizing as it can only spiral to propagate the culture of anarchy, resentment and disunity, in a city which has never knowingly sustained such level of violence, destruction and decimation in its history. Until recently, we only knew affection, tolerance and a healthy co-existence of the people in our blessed city. It is heartbreaking to helplessly witness our beloved Aleppo and other Syrian cities, villages and hamlets becoming battlefields and their systematic obliteration. No one can raise the flag of victory over the heaps of such ruins and sacrilege.
Therefore, we wholeheartedly call on all to join us in prayer in support of all internal and external efforts and endeavours to achieve a lasting Cease-fire. To pray for peace and re-consolidate our shaken pillars of harmony and trust, and to hold love, security and national unity as holy aims of our Syrian solidarity.”
- 12 December 2013
- Evening Prayer & Discussion: Shadwell7.30pm Evening Prayer
7.45pm Talk and discussion
- 14 December 2013
- Morning Incense & Divine Liturgy: PortsmouthMorning Incense & Divine Liturgy 10am
- 15 December 2013
- Morning Prayer: BournemouthMorning Prayer: 9.30am
- Raising of Incense & Divine Liturgy: DoncasterRaising of Incense – 9:45am
Divine Liturgy – 10:30am
- Southampton: Morning PrayerMorning Prayer (10.00) (Holy Trinity Church)