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.
News that His Holiness Marthoma Paulose II (Catholicos-Mooppan, and Malankara Metropolitan), the Primate of the Indian Orthodox Church in Kerala, has tested positive for the Covid-19 virus and has been admitted to the St. Gregorious Hospital at Parumala to undergo treatment, is the first case of an Orthodox Patriarch or Primate having succumbed to the current pandemic.
On hearing this news Abba Seraphim has urgently directed all the clergy and faithful of the British Orthodox Church to sustain His Holiness in prayer and to hope that he will respond very effectively to the treatment he will receive, so that he will soon be able to resume his full duties. He is highly respected by the British Orthodox Church and expressed a most warm and generous hospitality when Abba Seraphim led a pilgrimage to Malabar in 2010.
The new national lockdown which is to be introduced by the UK government on 5th November in response to the second wave of the current pandemic, requires all churches and places of worship to cease from holding public services until the infection and death rate declines and the new lockdown eventually ceases. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/new-national-restrictions-from-5-november. Sadly, therefore all public services at our British Orthodox Churches will now be suspended although our clergy will continue to uphold their faithful in prayer.
The current war being fought between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the ancient territory of Nagorno-Karabagh is a source of much grief. Originally named Artsakh, it was an ancient Armenian territory but was later absorbed into the Ottoman Empire and like all native Armenians living in Turkey suffered Genocide at the hands of the Turks during 1915-1923. Following the eventual fall of both the Ottoman and Imperial Russian Empires these ancient Armenian territories became part of the Soviet Union, although fighting occurred in 1920 between the Christian Armenians and Islamacists and broke out again during 1988-1994 when the republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia regained their independence although Christian Artsakh sought independence from Islamic Azerbaijan.
During August 2003 Abba Seraphim visited the numerous ancient churches and monasteries in ancient Artsakh and was the guest of Archbishop Pargev Martirossyan, the prelate of the Armenian Diocese of Artsakh (which covers Nagorno-Karabagh and adjacent liberated territories of historic Artsakh) belonging to the Armenian Apostolic Church.
During his visit Abba Seraphim encountered with increasing frequency burnt-out villages as well as the khaki shells of burnt-out tanks at the side of major roads. At one junction he even counted nine piled together, a potent reminder of the fierceness of the fighting in this area and of the human sacrifice to liberate it.
Whilst obviously sympathising with the desire of the Armenians to regain their historic independence, Abba Seraphim deplores the fact that this has not been achieved by diplomatic negotiations but rather that war has again resumed and he hopes and prays that peace and harmony between Armenia and Azerbaijan may soon be achieved and that the powerful neighbouring states may be able to support a non-violent and harmonious settlement which will bring an end to hostilities and restore Armenian hegemony over part of its original homeland.
In 1971, almost half a century ago, whilst still a priest, Abba Seraphim published his first major book on Julius, Bishop of Iona, which was “An investigation of the claims of Jules Ferrette (1828-1904)”. His cousin and predecessor, Metropolitan Georgius referred to the book as having been written with a “thoroughness and industry which does him credit” and stated, “Father Seraphim’s book is a ‘must’ for all interested in the establishment of Western Orthodoxy, and his painstaking scholarship cannot be too highly commended. “
Although his original research led to the discovery of a large collection of letters written by Bishop Julius to Père Hyacinthe Loyson during 1896-1902, from which he made copious references, in this second revised edition these having been translated into English, are now published in full. In the years following its publication, Abba Seraphim continued his research and in 1980 he published in the Glastonbury Bulletin, after a lapse of 114 years, his discovery of Foreign Office correspondence with the Archbishop of York which threw new light on Ferrette’s consecration. In 2006 & 2017 he also wrote about Bishop Julius in his Flesh of our Brethren, an historical examination of Western episcopal successions originating from the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. In his preface to this new edition Abba Seraphim also recounts his personal contacts with modern Syrian Orthodoxy. The first edition – which although not now generally available – is still referred to online as a significant historical resource, comprised 64 pages, whereas this new edition is now six times longer.