Following the ordination of Archdeacon James Maskery to the Priesthood, the office of Archdeacon of the British Orthodox Church became vacant, so on Sunday, 6 August Abba Seraphim blessed Deacon Mark Saunders as the new Archdeacon. Abba Seraphim observed, “The choice of Deacon Mark will be very popular because of the high level of affection and respect in which he is held throughout the church and also because of his long service, having been ordained a deacon in February 2000. His commitment and loyalty to the Church has been outstanding and he serves as a role model for future generations.”
Although he recently returned to his home after a long spell in hospital, a small infection resulted in his being re-admitted as a precaution and the simple service of ordination actually took place in the hospital when Abba Seraphim and the clergy went straight from the morning Liturgy at St. Felix Church at Babingley, bearing the Reserved Sacrament.
The office of Archdeacon in the British Orthodox Church is unusual in that it has passed to successive holders without interruption for the past forty years, since the appointment by the late Metropolitan Georgius of Father Paulos Lawson-Wood (1906-1990) as the last priest to hold that office. On the occasion of his 80th birthday in 1986 Fr. Paulos named Deacon James Goddard as his coadjutor with right of succession. Archdeacon James Goddard served from 1990 until his death in 1993, in turn naming Deacon Alexander Astill as his coadjutor. He served from 1993-2015 and was succeeded by Archdeacon James Maskery 2015-2017, who in term named Deacon Mark as his coadjutor with right of succession. We wish Archdeacon Mark: Many Years !
During August, Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Father James, made a number of pastoral visits to church members and friends in different parts of the country. On 17 August they paid a pastoral visit to Bristol, from where they travelled to Torquay to confer with Father Antony Westwood of St. Petroc’s British Orthodox Mission in Torbay, and Fr. Antony accompanied them to the Bournemouth Church for the Divine Liturgy on 20 August. Afterwards, the clergy visited the Wimborne Road Cemetery to offer Memorial prayers at the grave of the late Archdeacon James Goddard (1957-1993).
On 22 August, they visited homes in Suffolk, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire, conferring with Father David Seeds at Alfreton on 23 August. From there they travelled to the Southern Cemetery at Manchester to lead Memorial prayers at the grave of the late Bishop Ignatius Peter Smethurst (1921-1993) on 24 August.
On 5 October at St. Luke’s Church, Chelsea, Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Father James and Deacon Athanasius, attended a launch of Serena Fass’ latest book, “In the footsteps of St Thomas: the Apostle of the East”, where all those present were warmly welcomed to St. Luke’s by the Rector, Prebendary Brian Leathard. Abba Seraphim gave a short introductory speech, noting that in the Book of Ecclesiastes we are warned that “of the making of many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh”. This was Serena’s third book in the current series, with a fourth already well on its way, but the preacher’s admonition in this case was not appropriate, principally because, far from being wearisome, Serena’s books are a delight both to the eye and to the intellect.
He suggested that although they are paper-backs, they don’t quite qualify as coffee-table books, but left out on display they will certainly entertain guests and inspire conversation. The high quality of illustrations, which have been most carefully chosen, owe much to Serena’s discerning eye and, indeed, a large proportion were taken by Serena herself. Although the text is divided into blocks, rather than long prose, it is both informative and scholarly, as he knew that Serena’s preparatory reading and research had been thorough and extensive. Her previous books on “The Cross” and “The Three Magi” set a splendidly high standard, which “St. Thomas” matches. Abba Seraphim confessed that in our British Orthodox Church library these are not stored on the bookshelves with other tomes, but sit on the tables by the side, so that they can be easily browsed and enjoyed by those not engaged on detailed research; but who are delighted and edified nonetheless.
He often wonders why the apostle Thomas is recalled to history as “Doubting Thomas”, because his doubts were confronted and removed by his encounter with our Lord and he became one of the first to proclaim belief in the resurrection. For us, he is surely “Believing Thomas” ! Of the twelve apostles of the Lord, only a few stand out as a continuing inspiration to the modern Christian community. It is surely significant that Thomas’s mission to the East is still so vividly recalled that the ancient Christian communities of the entire subcontinent designate themselves as “Thomas Christians”.
Abba Seraphim went on to say that Serena’s books, and this one in particular, remind us of the universality of Christendom and her travels along the mission route of Saint Thomas are not only a mini-Baedeker guide, but also a spiritual pilgrimage in the apostle’s footsteps which we can trace even from the comfort of our homes. Following his own visit to Kerala in 2010, Abba Seraphim wrote a brief memoir, but he felt that it pales into insignificant when compared with Serena’s splendid book, which encapsulates all the local colour and delight of following in St. Thomas’s path. The connection between people and places is one which we readily make, especially nowadays when there are few parts of the globe that can be described as unexplored. Sometimes buildings, shrines and other structures associated with those who lived long ago, act as historical markers on our pilgrimage, but the continuity of a two-thousand year old living community, who owe their present faith to the outreach of Saint Thomas, is undoubtedly the most remarkable and enduring legacy.
The fact that Serena also publishes her books with the clear intention of benefitting Christian communities under threat, through donating a generous share of the receipts from their sales to “Aid to the Church in Need” should not be overlooked. Although the plight of Christians in Syria and Iraq – areas which closely benefitted from the Apostle’s ministry – are currently a priority, the outreach of this admirable charity is both geographically universal (supporting Christians in 148 countries worldwide) and eirenic. The Christian Lenten observance – and likewise the Muslim Ramadam – encourage not merely personal spiritual discipline, but also a commitment to offer pragmatic support to our brethren in need. The delight in distributing presents to friends and family at Christmas not only makes “In the Footsteps of St. Thomas” an ideal seasonal gift, but also offers practical help to those who are suffering because of their Christian faith. Even in this indirect way the Apostle continues to shower us with his blessings. May his prayers be with us all. Amen.
There followed a further appreciative address about Serena’s books from Neville Kyrke-Smith, the UK National Director of Aid to the Church in Need before Serena thanked all those attending and offered two interesting anecdotes about how she had done some of her first-hand research.
The book also contains a foreword by His Holiness Moran Baselios Mar Thoma Paulos II, the Catholicos of the East, and an excellent introduction by Michael Wood. It comprises 332 pages, with over 250 illustration and sells for £25, of which £5 goes to ACN. Its ISBN: is: 978-1-78545-1850 and books are available from the Brompton Oratory shop and from Joss Graham’s shop: 10 Eccleston St. London SW1W 9LT
On 19 October, Abba Seraphim, accompanied by his brother and Deacon Athanasius, attended the funeral of his paternal cousin, the late Mrs. Doreen Mary de Wandel of Nailsea, near Bristol, who died on 3 October aged 88 years. Although Mrs. De Wandel was not a member of the British Orthodox Church, some fifty years ago she arranged a tour of the BBC Studies in Bristol – where she worked at the time – for the late Metropolitan Georgius and other local Orthodox clergy. At the invitation of her executors, Abba Seraphim attended the service at Weston-super-Mare Crematorium and gave a short address, as well as offering prayers for her repose with the Committal. Mrs de Wandel was a great animal lover and has left the bulk of her estate to charity.