Swanwick: 25-27 July 2014
In the tranquil surrounds of ‘The Hayes’ Conference Centre at Swanwick in Derbyshire eighty two delegates assembled for a Pan-Orthodox Conference organized by Orthodox Christianity UK. Deacon Christopher Barnes and I arrived in the early afternoon to be greeted by Mourad Habid, his wife, and Reader Keith Bailey (another member of the British Orthodox Church, but worshipping with the Copts in Birmingham), organizers of the event. We were given a folio of facts sheets and shown to our rooms. After we were settled into our comfortable accommodation we met the rest of the delegates over a cup of tea. We then made our way to the conference hall for the introduction by Mourad Habid who told the story of how a meeting at St.Bega in Cumbria the previous year discussed how the full communion of all the Orthodox families within one Church could be brought about. To be an Icon of the Holy Trinity and the true Body of Christ was reflected in the video sermon on ‘The Church’ given by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), who was unable to attend himself.
Following an enjoyable dinner, Father Mark Aziz, Hegumenos of St.Mark’s Church, Kirkcaldy in Scotland, spoke about ‘The Grace of the Only Begotten Son’. His theme was that being drawn by Christ, we set out on an inward journey, Who draws all things to Himself at the appointed time. Our lives are transformed into a new life with Him and all humanity is reconnected with the Holy Trinity in the Eucharist through His Grace. The power of salvation grants co-operation of God’s power and our acceptance, especially at every liturgy. The evening finished with hymns followed by a workshop consisting of five groups of delegates discussing Father Mark’s talk.
After breakfast the following morning, an hour was spent in the chapel reciting the ‘Jesus Prayer’. In the Conference Room, after the coffee break, Professor Dr.Joseph Fallas’ (University of Athens) talk was entitled ‘Love of God the Father’ He reminded us that God is our true father for those who accept Jesus Christ as His son and we can pray to Him as His child. One of God’s names in Greek means’ stick’ – as in straight the way of Orthodoxy, the essence of God is leading us to the Trinity by Grace. The soul is created in the image of God which is in the bosom of the Father through His Son. Following this talk a presentation was made by the charity ‘Coptic Orphans’ and then we the broke for lunch. In the afternoon everybody divided into their group for a workshop on Dr.Fallas’s talk followed by the tea break. Our next speaker was Father Maximus who after studying in Athens, Cambridge and London, spent fourteen years as a monk on Mount Athos and finally became an Orthodox chaplain in Cambridge for seven years before retiring. His theme ‘The Revelation of God’ was an in-depth theological explanation of how every human being is good, even someone who has committed the most heinous of crimes. He went to on to talk about ‘Raptures or Visions’ such as are received by the Saints. which are out of time and space, passing through three stages. The final stage being the union with God, which St.John of the Cross tells us is ‘nothing, nothing, nothing’, when the light of God so blinds us that there is utter darkness.
After the usual break for tea the workshop for this talk was enjoyed outside in the pleasant surroundings of ‘The Hayes’. Later in the chapel, before the hour of the ‘Jesus Prayer’, Julia Pasco, a ‘Jews for Jesus’ supporter, gave a fascinating presentation on the ‘Passover Meal’ and the significance of the various rituals that are enacted and their meaning. There is more to the meal than bread and wine, many of these signs and symbols are understood by Christians, but hidden from the Jews. Following dinner, we returned to the Conference Hall for Father Stephen Freeman, M.A of Duke University, a priest of St Ann’s church at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, U.S.A., who gave the evening talk on ‘The Communion of the Holy Spirit’. The Spirit changes us inside and enables us to understand the hidden meanings in the Gospels and the Old Testament, as happened to the disciples who had not fully understood the sayings of Jesus Christ until the Spirit came at Pentecost. He calls us into a timeless remembrance of the encountering of Christ, His self sacrifice and self-emptying, Who being made sin, takes evil upon Himself. The crucifixion is a single event before the creation, it reveals who He is and always has been. This God means us no harm and true life is found in giving-up of self. Dying for a cause is not martyrdom, only dying for love. The Spirit is not of this world and not of this time, Who reveals who was, Who is and is to come. Reality transcends, time the outcome of history has already come. The work of God is to redeem us with the love of the crucified Christ. After hymns, the question and answer session went on late into the night.
On the final morning, breakfast and checking-out, the ‘Jesus Prayer’ was said for an hour for the last time in the chapel. We returned to the Conference Hall being refreshed with coffee to hear Father John Musther of St.Bega church in Keswick, Cumbria, talk on the theme ‘Love of God in the Fathers’ Tradition’. The mystery of God is the gift of Christ to God of the life of the Church, Scripture, Church Fathers and the Saints. The Saints are our living friends and fathers who help us in our journey. We should ask our Lord Jesus Christ to cleanse us and make us like Him. The ‘Jesus Prayer’ has the capacity to change our lives and become ‘the undistorted image’. The living tradition of the Saints is continuous and the Desert Fathers the lynch-pin of a holy life. God’s work is that we all are one-in-Christ and the world is scandalized by our disunity and the two traditions of Byzantine and Coptic who are the earliest of the living traditions. Pope Shenouda III in 1989 at St Bishoy’s monastery during a meeting of the World Council of Church, signed a document which started the process of unity. His successor, Pope Tawadros II, is continuing this work by sending a deputation of Coptic monks to visit their brothers in Christ at the Greek monastery on Mount Athos. After a presentation by ‘Coptic in Need’ a charity helping the poorest of the poor, lunch was served and final ‘Goodbyes’ said. All delegates were filled with joy seeing God working for the unity of the Church and the fervent prayer of all attending this conference is that we may soon be one as God and His Son are one.
St Felix & St.Mary’s British Orthodox Church Babingley,
Nr. King’s Lynn.