On 23 October Abba Seraphim met with Father David Seeds and Archdeacon Edwin Astill at Ashover, Derbyshire, to discuss the ministry at the Cusworth Church and surrounding area as well as wider concerns of the British Orthodox Church and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate during the sede vacante. The Cusworth Church was consecrated as an Orthodox Church in April 1988, so plans are in hand to mark the 25th Anniversary in 2013.
The celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh was marked with two festive events on 21 October. His Excellency Alexander Yakovenko, Ambassador of the Russian Federation, hosted a Reception at his residence in Kensington Palace Gardens in the afternoon. As this also coincided with the 5th anniversary of the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR) and the Moscow Patriarchate, as well as hosting of the Conference of Russian Orthodox Bishops Serving in the Diaspora, a large number of Russian Hierarchs were present. Heading these were Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman for External Church Relations, and Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York, Primate of ROCOR. The gathering was honoured with the presence of Their Royal Highnesses Prince & Princess Michael of Kent as well as ecumenical visitors, including the Apostolic Nuncio (Archbishop Antonio Mennini) and the Archbishop of Westminster. Bishop Athanasius of Tropaion represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Abba Seraphim the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Later in the afternoon, Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh hosted a festive ceremony at Cadogan Hall, Chelsea, where a number of awards were given to clergy and laity in recognition of their service to the diocese followed by a programme of religious, folk and classical music and a preview of Alexey Mikhalev’s documentary film: “Sourozh. Blurring out the boundaries”.
On 8 November, Father Simon Smyth, accompanied by his wife Sheila returned once again to Moorlands Bible College to lecture on iconography. A double session had been booked by Alistair McKitterick, Tutor and Lecturer in Biblical and Theological Studies, thus allowing plenty of time following the lecture for questions and discussion. Why we kiss icons and what it means to kiss them; the distinction between worship of God and veneration of icons manifesting Christ our God; Christology; the goodness of creation and matter; prayer and spirituality were among a host of related topics considered. A number of these were helpfully and insightfully fielded by Sheila Smyth, displaying a female touch, and providing a useful contrast to Father Simon’s sometimes academic responses. Further questions and discussions continued over an excellent dinner.
On 5 November Abba Seraphim addressed the boys and staff of Westminster School assembled in Westminster Abbey on the topical matter of the 1605 Gunpowder Treason Plot. He noted that although Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators had just grievances concerning the treatment of Catholics, it was clearly an act of treason and the effect of the plot was the exact opposite to what the conspirators had intended; as it led to a hardening of attitudes against Catholics and delayed Catholic Emancipation for a further 224 years. Recent terrorist attacks remind us of the ever-present threat resulting from fanatics with a cause. Violence may appear to strike a powerful and significant blow at the time but it can, by its very nature, only be destructive.
Having spoken of our Lord Jesus Christ’s commands to follow the way of peace, Abba Seraphim instanced the present civil war in Syria, which began as a laudable desire to be free from an authoritarian government but has only brought death and destruction on a terrible scale. He concluded by referring to the Buddha and Gandhi’s rejection of violence [Full text on page 126].
To mark the Coptic Feast of Nayrouz and the start of the new Coptic Year 1729, the service of Offering of Evening Incense was held at St. Margaret’s Westminster on 30 October. Presided over by Bishop Angaelos, assisted by Abba Seraphim, it was also attended by priests from the Coptic Orthodox, British Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Indian Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox Churches. Representing the Byzantine family of Orthodox Church were Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira, Archimandrite Deiniol (Ukrainian Orthodox – Ecumenical Patriarchate) and Father Joseph Skinner (Director of Inter Orthodox Relations – Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh). The Catholic Church was represented by Bishop Alan Hopes, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, and Father Robert Byrne, National Ecumenical Officer. The Anglican Church was represented by the Bishop of Southwark (Right Rev’d Christopher Chessun), the Right Rev’d John Stroyan (Suffragan Bishop of Warwick) and Right Rev’d David Hamid (Suffragan Bishop of Europe). Before the service commenced Canon Jonathan Goodall, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Personal Chaplain & Ecumenical Secretary, read a message from the Archbishop, who is currently in New Zealand and everyone present was welcomed by Canon Andrew Tremlett, Rector of St. Margaret’s.
At the end of the service the Right Hon. Alistair Burt, M.P., Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Right Hon. John Bercow, M.P. Speaker of the House of Commons, both gave short addresses welcoming the celebration and speaking of the increasingly significant contribution made in the UK by the Coptic community. A drinks reception concluded the evening.
On 10 November at the Copthorne Tara Hotel in Kensington, Abba Seraphim gave an address at the Annual Dinner of the Coptic Medical Society. His subject was “Campaigning for the Human Rights of the Copts” in which he spoke of his part in supporting both Copts and converts to Christianity, especially in relation to their asylum claims. He spoke warmly of the support given from organisations such as the Barnabas Fund and United Copts of Great Britain and the Asylum Advocacy Group, of which he was one among several members. He recounted how his concern for Human Rights also extended to the Eritrean Orthodox community and the campaign to support the canonical Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios.
As inspiration for this work he took the examples of Abraham offering hospitality to the three angels on the plains of Mamre (Genesis XVIII), and the reminder given by St. Paul, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews XIII: 2). Hospitality to strangers is a recurring theme in the scriptures and is given particular emphasis by our Lord when speaking about the Last Judgement, “I was a stranger and ye took me in …” Nor should we forget that our Creator, Saviour and Redeemer was born in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn.
St. Paul also encourages us “to stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.” (Galatians V: 1) The apostle, of course, was not speaking of civil liberties but of the contrast between the slavery of the Mosaic Law and the liberty of life in Christ, with free will as a gift from God to man. It is therefore the foundation of all human rights. If we rely on governments to grant us human rights then logically they can deny them to us when they chose. Created in the image of God,St. John says, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God .. and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” (1 John III: 1-2). It is precisely because of that divinely-given vocation that a human being’s freedom is so precious and must be upheld. [Full text on page 120].