British Orthodox Pilgrimage to Egypt led by Abba Seraphim

Abba Seraphim led an ecumenical group on Pilgrimage to Egypt for his thirty-first visit. These were Father Simon Smyth, Sister Deena (an Indian Orthodox nun currently living in Belfast), Father John Whooley (Catholic Priest at Shepherd’s Bush), Father Deacon Richard and Dr. Carol Downer (Greek Melkite), Robin Westwood (Cheltenham), Daniel Heale (archaeologist) and Viscountess Coke. Arriving in Cairo on Monday, 21 May they were met by Ibrahim (their regular driver) and Shenouda Mamdouh & his wife, Mary. That evening they dined together at St. Mark’s Church Centre in Nasr City.

The following day (22 May) they were joined by Father Arsanious Amba Boula and drove from Cairo to St. Anthony’s Monastery on the Red Sea in the Eastern Desert. They visited the monastery and admired the restored paintings before driving to nearby St. Paul’s monastery (Amba Boula). Here the clergy stayed at St. Paul’s monastery while the ladies and their spouses transferred to the nearby Zafarana Hotel, all as guests of the Abbot, His Grace Bishop Daniel.

Early the next morning (23 May) Mass was celebrated by Abba Seraphim in the chapel at the Shrine of St. Paul. After breakfast they left monastery and drove to Abaghia to visit Father Kyrillos, who has a fruitful ministry in a poor suburb among a Muslin majority. Later they visited the shrine of St. Mark in the undercroft of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbesseya. They attended His Holiness Pope Shenouda’s weekly lecture in the Cathedral and afterwards met him upon his return to the Patriarchate, where he blessed them all and distributed gifts. That evening they dined together at St. Mark’s Centre and met Metropolitan Marcos and Bishop Athanasios of the French Coptic Orthodox Church.

On 24 May they drove from Cairo to Alexandria, resting for coffee at the Cecil Hotel. After viewing Pompey’s Pillar and the Serapeum they visited the catacombs at Kom El Shofega and the amphitheatre at Kom El Dikka, followed by a fish lunch. Before leaving Alexandria they visited the Armenian Orthodox Church and were warmly received by the resident priest. They then drove to St. Mina’s monastery at Maryut (ancient Mareotis) where they visited the ancient ruins of old monastic shrine of St. Mina and the pilgrim city, which is now freed from the worse ravages of the rising water table. There are now monks living on this important archaeological site and the Mass and daily prayers are held regularly in a temporary wooden chapel within the site of the ancient shrine church. After dark they entered the new Cathedral to venerate the relics of St. Mina and the crypt tombs of Pope Kyrillos VI and his disciple, Bishop Mina Ava Mina. The party was entertained to dinner at St. Mina’s monastery and warmly received by Bishop Kyrillos, the Abbot of the monastery. After leaving St. Mina’s, they drove to the Vineyard (El-Karma) Retreat Centre at King Mariout, where they were received by Bishop Taodros of Damenhur.

After breakfast (25 May) at the Vineyard Centre they drove to the Syrian monastery (Abba Seraphim’s monastery) in the Wadi N’atrun and viewed the fine wall paintings uncovered in recent years as well as the tree of St. Ephraim the Syrian, before driving back to Cairo. Here Father John, Deacon Richard & Carol visited the Greek Melkite Archbishop, the Armenian Catholic Church in Cairo. Where they were received by Bishop Krikor Coussan. Later they visited the Armenian Orthodox Cathedral beforte rejoining the rest of the party at St. Athanasius Church next to St. Mark’s Centre in Nasr City to see the modern Coptic Ikons, where they were able to meet Tasoni Sawsun, the Pope’s iconographer.

On 26 May Abba Seraphim attended the annual plenary meeting of the Holy Synod whilst the rest of the party visited the Coptic Museum and Churches in Old Cairo (including the Hanging or Suspended Church). Here they were joined by Michael Jones (who had been responsible for the resatoration of the wall paintings at St. Anthony’s monastery) and his wife and, later, by Abba Seraphim. Evertyone lunched at St. George’s monastery and visited monastery church and shrine of St. George before going on to Prince Theodore’s Convent (Emir Tadros) in Harat ar-Rhun, where they were received by the Abbess (Mother Adrosis) and Mother Youhanna. The evening concluded with a short visited to the Bazaar in Khan-El-Khaleli.

On Pentecost Sunday, 27 May, Mass was celebrated by Abba Seraphim in upstairs Chapel of St. Youhanna at the ancient Church of St. Mina, Fum El Khalig, after which they took tea with Enginerr Emil Moroni. Lunch was taken in a restaurant at Maadi overlooking the Nile. In the evening they took a falucca trip at Maadi before visiting Miss Haifa, one of the first deaconesses ordained by Pope Shenouda.

The party returned to the United Kingdom on 28 May.