Yesterday President Joe Biden became the first American President to officially recognise that the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of Armenians in 1915 was a genocide, by declaring that “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” although the current Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu stated, “We reject and denounce in the strongest terms the statement of the President of the US regarding the events of 1915 … It is clear that the said statement does not have a scholarly and legal basis, nor is it supported by any evidence.”
During the period 1894-1924 the Ottoman Turks specifically slaughtered vast numbers of Christians, among whom several million Greek, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox were also martyred. Abba Seraphim commended President Biden for his statement, which he believes is absolutely accurate and also raises current concerns about the treatment of Armenians in the recent Nagorno-Karabagh War.
In 1915, the year of the Genocide, the Armenian clergy suffered. There is an eyewitness account of part of this pitiless slaughter given by a Venezuelan mercenary serving in the Ottoman army:
“As night was falling we passed the little island of Aghtamar, which seemed to possess no other edifice than an ancient and beautiful convent, where the Catholic Bishop of Van had lived. Its outer facades are adorned with allegorical pictures, which were barely visible from the launch through the gathering dusk. Apart from the corpses of the Bishop and the monks, huddled on the threshold and atrium of the sanctuary, there seemed to be no human beings on the islet except the detachment of gendarmes which had slain the Christians. As they asked us urgently for some munitions, with which to seek out and kill God knows whom, we left them five thousands cartridges and continued the journey to the shore – which was outlined by the glare of burning villages that bathed the sky in scarlet.”
Two names, Bishop Hovsep Khosdeghyan and Vartabed Boghos Garabedian are given as having been martyred on Aghtamar although there were several other clergy killed in Van, which included monks from the Aghtamar brotherhood seeking refuge in the Armenian Quarter of Van which staged a very successful resistance for about a month against the attacks of the Turkish army and civilians, and was finally rescued by Armenian volunteers serving as the vanguard of the Russian army.
Abba Seraphim was a close friend of the late Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II (Mutafyan) of Istanbul (1956-2019) who had inherited the pastoral oversight of the historic island of Aghtamar in Lake Van. In October 2013 Abba Seraphim joined members of the ‘Tur Abdin Focus Group’ and a number of other pilgrims on a pilgrimage to Eastern Turkey, led by the Anglican Bishop of Southwark (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessun), when they visited Aghtamar and other historic sites of the Armenian Church, once part of their heartland but abandoned since the Genocide.
Since 1989 Abba Seraphim, who is a great cat-lover, has possessed six ‘Van Cats’ who have lived at the British Orthodox Church Secretariat at Charlton. They are generally referred to as ‘Turkish Vans’ but he prefers to call them ‘Aquatic Armenians’ because they derived from a territory which was an ancient Armenian homeland before it was conquered and annexed by the Ottoman Empire. For this reason all his cats were given Armenian rather than Turkish names: Gregory I & II, Sarkis, Hripsime, Senekerim and Shoushan.
The announcement today of the death of H.R.H. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and consort to Her Majesty the Queen has been one of great sadness, not only for his lengthy and extensive commitment to public service but also because of the loss to our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth and all the beloved royal family.
The British Orthodox Church has a profound allegiance to the British monarchy and has had great respect for the depth of Christian spirituality manifested by Prince Philip, who was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church and brought up in a devoutly religious family.
His great-aunt Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, was martyred for her faith as a victim of the godless Bolsheviks, while his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, became a nun as a widow after her husband died. Although he became an Anglican upon his marriage to Princess Elizabeth, he was able to enrich his religiosity with his endowment of inherited Orthodox spirituality.
Upon hearing of his passing on the news, Abba Seraphim shed heartfelt tears of regret and has now directed the clergy and faithful of the British Orthodox Church to commemorate Prince Philip in prayer for the traditional forty days of mourning; and as we draw closer to the Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection to trust that his soul will be received into heaven to eventually await the promise of the Resurrection of the Departed at the Glorious Second Coming of our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ. Memory Eternal!
Issue No. 133 (March 2021) of the Glastonbury Review has just been published. Because of the three recent national lockdowns this issue comprises only 82 pages. The front cover reproduces an ikon of the Resurrection to remind the faithful that the Orthodox Holy Pascha will be on 2nd May, a full month after the Western Easter.
The editorial deals with the issue of the Detrimental Impact of the Current Pandemic on the Mission & Ministry of the Church and records how the British Orthodox Church has dealt with the latest lockdowns, and among other reports includes commentaries on the current Religious Persecution in Ethiopia and the Nagorno-Karabagh War.
This issue contains another article by Hieromonk John Ives on “The Enlighteners of Britain” dealing with Saint Joseph of Arimathea & The Holy Grail as well as two more previously unpublished articles by the late Mar Georgius, entitled “Ye Boke of Glastonbury” dealing with the Expansion of Celtic Christianity and the Conversion of the Heptarchy.
Abba Seraphim has also written an article dealing with the theology of Mar Pelagius (Richard Williams Morgan), 1815-1889, the first British Patriarch, who although he was regarded as a Welsh Tractarian was displeased with English Anglicans clergy who took office in Wales as he expressed a similar theological integrity to that which had been represented by the Nonjuror Anglicans at the end of the seventeenth century who looked to Orthodoxy rather than the Papacy as representing authentic Apostolic Catholicism. His hostility centred upon a satirical cartoon drawn by Ellis Owen Ellis (1813-1861), a portrait painter who was also known as Ellis Bryn-coch, which was published in Y Punch Cymraeg in 1858.
Abba David has written an article entitled “I Believe in God – Even in the 21st Century” intended for unbelievers and the uncommitted, so therefore argues from their point of view by using ideas they already know. As a means of benefitting our usual readers who are already well versed in Orthodox Theology, it is a means of approaching those who challenge it. He adopts a similar approach to Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, author of The Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries Revealing the Mind Behind the Universe, in which he challenges the views of late 19th century intellectuals who insisted that scientific knowledge conflicts with traditional theistic belief.
The ‘Book Review’ section includes George Alexander’s Patriarch Daniel and the Resurgence of the Romanian Orthodox Church; as well as two books edited by Abba Seraphim, Variety is the Spice: The Autobiography of Hugh George de Willmott Newman and Harold Bernard Copinger’s, Annals: The Lord’s Work in the Nineteenth & Twentieth Centuries, a rare history of the ‘Irvingites’.
Copies can be obtained directly from www.Lulu.com
The government’s policy of extending vaccination to protect its citizens from the current Covid pandemic; has also received full support from our Sovereign Lady the Queen, who stated, “Once you’ve had the vaccine you have a feeling of, you know, you’re protected, which is I think very important.” This has thankfully resulted in all the bishops and clergy of the British Orthodox Church receiving their initial vaccination and like Her Majesty we should now encourage all our church-goers to “think about other people rather than themselves” and receive the Covid-19 jab.
At the start of this year there were numerous attacks on churches and mosques in the region of Tigray in northern Ethiopia, involving much loss of life and the destruction of historic and sacred religious centres.
The current Tigray War began in early November 2020. Tigray – once the ancient Kingdom of Axum – is the homeland of distinctive ethnic groups, comprising Tigrinians who trace their origin to early Semitic-speaking peoples whose presence in the region dates back to at least 2,000 BC. They speak Tigrinian and almost 90% are Orthodox Christians. The Irob people who are mostly farmers are largely Catholic Christians and speak the Saho language, whilst the Kunama people, who speak their own language are an ethnic group native to Eritrea of mixed Christian and Islamic faith. The Tigray Regional Government, led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) founded in 1975, claims to be a revolutionary democracy and is largely a Marxist-Leninist party. It is supported by its former ally, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF).
The Ethiopian civil war (1974-1991) which led to the overthrow of the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Empire under the rule the late Emperor Haile Selassie and its replacement by the Derg régime, which established Ethiopia as a Communist state, has been the source of generations of vicious political upheavals, which are contrary to the ancient Christian heritage of Ethiopia.
Tigray is the home to thousands of churches and monasteries some of the oldest of which are carved in the rock faces of the surrounding countryside. The Church of Saint Mary of Zion in Axum traditionally contained the Ark of the Covenant or Tabot, a gold-covered wooden chest containing the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, and which, according the Epistle to the Hebrews, also contained Aaron’s flowering rod and a pot of manna (Hebrews IX: 4). About a thousand people sheltered in that church complex but some 750 people were massacred. Also thousands of ancient Christian manuscripts, mostly written in Ge’ez and dating from the thirteenth century, have also been looted from churches and monasteries, and destroyed. Additionally even many historic Muslim sites have also been equally damaged and looted.
His Holiness Abune Mathias, Patriarch of Ethiopia, however, has lost confidence in the capability and willingness of the Ethiopian government to protect citizens from radical groups and has tearfully stated
“My children, I am a religious father. I am your guardian. Nevertheless I have been unable to protect you from slaughter. I have not saved you from death. I am not a military leader. I do not have the ability to bring your killers to justice. I carry a cross in my hand, not a gun. My children, I am tearfully praying to our God about your suffering. I am also continuing to plead with the government. Today I am deeply grieved. I have the urge to weep like a child. My heart is crushed by grief. My eyes have had no sleep, but many tears. In the hopes day to day for improvement, we have been asking the government to put a stop to it. However, we have seen nothing change. Instead I have caused my children to be massacred. While I was preaching to you about peace, those that do not know peace have deprived you of peace. My children do not hold a grudge on me. Do not think I am silent to your plight. I always weep for you. Lord send your judgement, or come down to us. Rather than showing me the suffering of my children, Lord, please bring my death closer. I have not been able to defend my children from what is being brought upon them. See it and render your judgement.”[Translation made by the Orthodox Cognate Page (OCP) Delegate Solomon Kibriye]
He has also called on members of the Holy Synod who started their regular session to make themselves ready in order to stop attacks on the church even if they mean death. He also advised his archbishops to console those members of the church whose hearts have been broken due to these attacks.
There can be no doubt that the loss of the ancient Ethiopian monarchy and the adoption of anti-religious Communism, is a serious cause of the current problems. Lij Teodrose Fikremariam, who is the Chairman of “Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy” has stated,
“We are not blind to the challenge before us. After 44 years, there are many who are hesitant to go back to a monarchy even if it makes perfect sense. As an organization comprised of volunteers who love our country dearly and who pray for our nation to do better, it is up to us to work assiduously in order to form a national consensus around the idea of restoring the Ethiopian crown. The road before us is long and arduous but rest assured that we are up to the task and we will remain faithfully committed to this cause.”
The British Orthodox Church, which is committed to historic Christian monarchy as the model for humane and responsible government, believes that the restoration of the Solomonic dynasty would ensure a significant amelioration of Ethiopia’s predicaments.