On New Year’s Day 2017, at the Church of St. Mary and St. Felix at Babingley, Norfolk, during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, Abba Seraphim ordained Monk Alexis Raphael to the Order of Subdeacon. Father Alexis assists at the Cusworth Church under Father David Seeds but will now also establish a British Orthodox Mission in Lincoln, under the patronage of Saint Guthlac (674-714), a Mercian nobleman’s son, who was professed as a monk at Repton but later settled at Croyland (now Crowland in Lincolnshire).
St. Felix, writing of Guthlac shortly after his death, described his ascetic life style and ministry of prayer; “Now there was in the said island a mound built of clods of earth which greedy comers to the waste had dug open, in the hope of finding treasure there; in the side of this there seemed to be a sort of cistern, and in this Guthlac the man of blessed memory began to dwell, after building a hut over it. From the time when he first inhabited this hermitage this was his unalterable rule of life: namely to wear neither wool nor linen garments nor any other sort of soft material, but he spent the whole of his solitary life wearing garments made of skins. So great indeed was the abstinence of his daily life that from the time when he began to inhabit the desert he ate no food of any kind except that after sunset he took a scrap of barley bread and a small cup of muddy water. For when the sun reached its western limits, then he thankfully tasted some little provision for the needs of this mortal life.”
Father Alexis will inaugurate St. Guthlac’s British Orthodox Mission in Lincoln with a series of weekly services of prayer and intercession during Great Lent.
On Saturday, 28 January, Abba Seraphim led a group of pilgrims from London and Lincolnshire, on a visit to Croyland Abbey at Crowland in Lincolnshire.
In the 8th century the area was wild fenland in one of the remotest and mostly desolate parts of the Saxon Kingdom of Mercia. It was here, that Guthlac, a young nobleman and monk at the monastery of Repton in Derbyshire, decided to establish an island hermitage. Although he died quite young in 714, his sanctity and ascetic life had a considerable impact on his contemporaries and, within two years of his death, a monastery was built on the island and survived for more than eight centuries until its suppression by King Henry VIII. After that the magnificent Abbey fell into ruins, with only the 15th century tower and the north aisle surviving as the present-day parish church.
Having viewed the many fine surviving architectural features of the church and the ruined remains of the old monastery, including the Parvise Chapel above the porch, where is kept a skull, believed to be that of Abbot Theodore, martyred by the Danes whilst at prayer in 870; Abba Seraphim led the pilgrims in prayer honouring St. Guthlac and invoking his patronage. The courtesy and assistance of the small team of volunteer guides, who are available every day to assist pilgrims and other visitors, was greatly appreciated. After leaving the Abbey, Abba Seraphim led the pilgrims into the town, where they also viewed the “Trinity Bridge”, built between 1360-90, to replace one built by King Æthelbald of Mercia at the same time as the original monastery. It is an unique three-way stone bridge, which once spanned the confluence of the River Welland and one of its tributaries. Now marooned in the centre of town some way from the river-front, it is a reminder of how the drainage of the fens transformed the wilderness to which St. Guthlac retreated and made the area habitable.
On Sunday, 29 January 2017, at St. Mark & St. Hubert’s British Orthodox Church in Cusworth Village, near Doncaster, Abba Seraphim performed two ordinations to strengthen the diaconal ministry. Reader Athanasius Hall was ordained a subdeacon attached to the Church Secretariat in Charlton, but also to generally assist Abba Seraphim in his wider ministry to other parishes outside London. At the same service Subdeacon Antony Westwood was ordained a full Deacon with pastoral responsibility for the West of England, centred on the shortly-to-be-established British Orthodox Mission of Torbay, under the patronage of St. Petroc. Among the clergy assisting at the ordination were Father David Seeds, parish priest at Cusworth; Archdeacon James Maskery and Monk Alexis Raphael from Lincoln. After the Liturgy the Cusworth congregation provided a light buffet lunch, during which there was warm fellowship. It was also with much pleasure that Hazel Rockliff, a long-standing member of the Cusworth congregation, now confined to a wheelchair, was welcomed back to church after several weeks’ absence through ill health.
In March 2017, following the terrorist attacks on Westminster Bridge, Abba Seraphim wrote: “I have been very touched by the many messages of condolence and sympathy sent to me from abroad, following yesterday’s terrorist attack on Parliament. Although, by comparison with other countries, we have been spared such serious attacks recently, we knew that it was only a matter of time before something of this nature occurred again. Sadly these incidents are all too frequent and come close to each of us. Even in Charlton, a generally quiet London suburb, I vividly recall the explosion of the IRA bomb at the nearby King’s Arms pub in 1974 and, more recently (May 2013), the vicious murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, only a few hundred yards from the Church Secretariat. Indeed, it is only a few months since I wrote in a similar vein to H.H. Pope Tawadros about the bombing in al-Boutroseya Church. The international dimension of terrorism overflows the boundaries of nation states, so that in yesterday’s atrocities the injured included tourists from South Korea and French schoolchildren.
For me, the symbol of humanity and compassion was the picture of paramedics in the grounds of parliament trying to save the life of the perpetrator of those atrocities, alongside one of our government ministers covered in the blood of the murdered policeman, who had been trying mouth to mouth resuscitation on the victim. Both scenes emphasised the sanctity of life and a common humanity which transcends all other thoughts. In our prayers last night for the dead and injured we also prayed for the soul of the murderer, who will have to stand before a just and righteous God alongside his victims.
It is my hope that those high ideals, which are derived from and are embedded in our Christian faith, will continue to inspire all decent people, whilst those who believe that violence is the only way to achieve their aspirations will be repelled by the indiscriminate cruelty and pointlessness of such heartless barbarity.”