On Saturday, 14th May, clergy and laity from all of the Oriental Orthodox churches gathered together for the 4th annual Oriental Orthodox Festival. The festival provides an opportunity for the members of the various Orthodox communities to meet together and share in the celebration of the Liturgy, and then have an opportunity for fellowship over a varied buffet lunch provided by the different Orthodox traditions and ethnicities represented.
The latest festival took place at St Michael’s Eritrean Orthodox Church in Camberwell, London. Participating bishops included His Grace Bishop Angaelos and His Eminence Archbishop Athanasius in the presence of His Grace Bishop Markos. The attending priests represented the British Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Indian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Churches. There were many deacons from the various Churches and the sanctuary was filled with a wonderful fraternal spirit. As Father Youhannes began the prayers of the Liturgy a spiritual atmosphere descended upon the crowded Church.
Many British Orthodox clergy and faithful had travelled to Camberwell to participate in the Festival. They included Father Sergius, Father Simon and Father Peter, together with Deacon Theodore from the French Coptic Orthodox Church, and servants and laity from the South Coast congregations. Many other friends of the British Orthodox Church were present in the congregation, including Father Deacon Richard Downer and Dr Carol Downer.
The Liturgy was conducted with the participation of the various clergy, and the congregation was marked by enthusiastic singing of the hymns and chants of the Eritrean tradition. It always makes a great impression to see so many of the faithful dressed in their traditional white clothes. It is important that this concelebrated liturgy takes place each year so that we provide a visible manifestation of our unity as Orthodox Christians.
After the Liturgy the choir of the Eritrean Orthodox church sang many of their traditional songs with the accompaniment of drums. It was a great blessing to see such devotion and seriousness in the young Eritrean Christians who sang and performed their liturgical dance, but also to see the joy and spiritual delight in the faces of the many members of the congregation who joined in. His Grace Bishop Angaelos addressed the congregation, as did His Grace Bishop Markos, whose message of welcome was translated by Father Youhannes.
But the Festival is more than the concelebrated Liturgy, and we were invited to the basement of the Church where the various churches represented had laid out diverse foods from their own cultural traditions. After a great deal of warm conversation it seemed that most people had a plate of food in front of them. I certainly enjoyed the Eritrean food I was offered, and the opportunity to talk with some of the other clergy. Father Youhannes was tireless in his hospitality and hardly had time to sit down himself.
To conclude our Festival the choir of the Indian Orthodox church had arranged to share some of their musical repetoire with us. As they started their first song the church filled up with clergy and laity. The choir sang enthusiastically, and the choir director even managed to urge the Eritrean Orthodox choir to join in with their drums. The congregation were given an opportunity to try and sing one of the Indian Orthodox songs, but I am not sure that we all managed to pronounce the Malayalam words properly.
After a final prayer Father Youhannes dismissed the congregation. It had been a most successful event, and already I have received messages from those who had been able to attend and who had enjoyed the Festival.
[Report by Father Peter Farrington]