Abba Seraphim welcomed the news that land belonging to the ancient Syriac Monastery of Mor Gabriel, Tur Abdin, near Midyat, is to be returned as part of Turkey’s “democratisation package”. The announcement by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on 30 September, came after some five stressful years of litigation following claims by the Forestry Ministry and local villages that the monastery had been occupying their fields. In solidarity with the monastery, the Tur Abdin Focus Group was formed in Britain in 2008 under the chairmanship of The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum, then Bishop of Woolwich and now Bishop of Southwark. Father Stephen Griffiths, whose contacts with Mor Gabriel goes back some sixteen years, became the Secretary. Abba Seraphim, who visited Tur Abdin in 2001 and 2005, has served on the group as the representative of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches since the beginning. The Anglican dioceses of Southwark and Chichester have both proved very staunch supporters and in 2010 the then Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Rowan Williams) opened a special exhibition of photographs of the monastery by Guilio Paletta at Southwark Cathedral, which toured a number of other churches.
The news comes at an auspicious time, as next week Bishop Christopher, Abba Seraphim and Father Stephen will be visiting Mor Gabriel monastery with a group of pilgrims, and will be able to offer thanksgiving in the monastery itself and among the community whose welfare has been their particular concern these past years.
On 17 May, what has sadly become the annual Protest Vigil at the Eritrean Embassy in Islington, London , appropriately took as its motto, “Ten Years is too long.” As on previous occasions the protesters took up their position on the pavement opposite the embassy. They represented a wide rank of Christian denominations as well as of several human rights groups (Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International, Release Eritrea, Church on Chains, Human Rights Concern Eritrea) who came together to pray for the persecuted Christians of Eritrea and their government. A large number of the banners portrayed His Holiness Abune Antonios, the imprisoned Patriarch of Eritrea. Abba Seraphim was joined by the Bishop of Southwark (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum), Father Yonas Tesheme (Sheffield) and Deacon Joannes Gebrehiwet (Manchester) with a number of other deacons representing the Eritrean Orthodox Diocese of Europe. Speakers and Prayers were led by Abba Seraphim, Andy Dipper (Release International), Dr. Berhane Ashmelesh (Release Eritrea), David Turner (Church in Chains), Elsa Chyrum (Human Rights Concern Eritrea), Selam Kidane (Release Eritrea), Dr. Khataza Gondwe (CSW). At the end of the vigil a letter, signed on behalf of the whole group by Abba Seraphim and Bishop Christopher, was delivered to the Ambassador. The two bishops and Dr. Berhane were kept waiting at the door and when the Metropolitan Police tried to find an Embassy official to whom they could deliver it, they were at first ignored and then rudely shouted at and told to go away. Eventually the police delivered the letter on their behalf.