Abba Seraphim welcomes Acting Armenian Patriarch to Greenwich

On 27 March Abba Seraphim was delighted to welcome His Eminence Archbishop Aram Ateshian, General Vicar (Acting Patriarch) of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople to the British Orthodox Church Secretariat at Charlton and to take him on a tour of some of the religious and historical  sites of Greenwich. His Eminence was visiting London for a few days and was accompanied by Father John Whooley, with whom he was staying during his visit. Accompanied by Mr Trevor Maskery, Abba Seraphim met the Archbishop at Greenwich Pier and the party lunched together before touring Greenwich.
The first site was St. Alfege’s Parish Church, where they prayed at the memorial marking the place of the saint’s martyrdom a thousand years ago. After this they visited the Old Royal Naval College (now Greenwich University) beginning with the Painted Hall and concluding with the fine chapel, where they were received by the chaplain, Rev’d Jeremy Frost. They then drove into Greenwich Park to view the Royal Observatory and the fine views across London. After this they drove to Charlton where Abba Seraphim introduced Archbishop Aram to his three resident aquatic Van Cats: Hripsime, Shoushan and Senekerim. They later discussed matters of mutual interest, before dining together in the evening.

Coptic patriarch passes away

The patriarch of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, has passed away after battling liver and lung problems for several years.

Church sources said the health condition of the Coptic patriarch deteriorated on Saturday morning after he suffered a severe heart attack. 

The pope's medical team tried to revive him but did not succeed, and the spiritual leader died at the age of 89, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported. 

The Coptic Orthodox Church announced a state of mourning over the pope's death. It said the funeral prayer would be held on Tuesday at the papal headquarters in the Abbassiya district of Cairo. 

Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayib, the grand imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, said, "Egypt has lost one of its rare men at a sensitive moment when it most needs the wisest of its wise -- their expertise and their purity of minds." 

"He held the question of al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the Palestinian problem in his [conscience]," Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayib said.

Mohamed Mursi, the chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), said Pope Shenouda made a long journey of service during the nation's history. 

"The Freedom and Justice Party sends its deepest condolences to the Egyptian people and our Christian brothers over the death of Pope Shenouda III," he said in a statement. 

A Vatican spokesman said Pope Benedict was immediately informed of Shenouda's death and offered prayers for him. 

"The Catholic Church joins Christians in their pain and prayer over the death... of their spiritual leader," he said. 

Reflections on Christians in the Middle East

As one of their Lenten speakers, the chaplaincy of Morden College, Blackheath, invited Abba Seraphim to reflect on the current situation 0f Christians in the Middle East. Addressing a large audience on 8 March, Abba Seraphim outlined the problems of Christians in Iraq, Syria and Egypt since the Millennium and took the decline in the historic Christian communities in Iraq as a warning to the Christian world of how fragile they have now become. The problems faced by each country were each quite distinctive and owed much to their respective histories since the break up of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of militant fundamentalists. He emphasised the significance of Egypt, with the largest Christian community in the Middle East and the dynamic life of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the face of continuing sectarian attacks. Following a number of thoughtful questions from the audience, the Rev’d Nick Woodcock, chaplain, invited Abba Seraphim to lead the audience in prayer for the Christians of the Middle East.

Mor Michael Rabo: Biography

Mor Mikhayel Rabo (St. Michael the Great) was born, in 1126 AD, in Melitine (Malatya, Turkey) which was one of the famous Archdioceses of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch at that time. His birth took place during the reign of Patriarch Mor Athanasius VII Abu Al-Faraj, son of Kamoor (1091-1129 AD). Patriarch Athanasius was said to be perfect in all virtues and a great scholar. Because of his passion for knowledge and virtue, the Patriarch ordained the great scholar Malphono Sayd Ibn Al-Sabouni as Metropolitan of Melitine, who, in less than forty days after his ordination, was martyred at the hands of Gabriel, the unjust and brutal Byzantine ruler of Melitine. The latter accused him of some political matter of which the Metropolitan was as innocent as the wolf was of the blood of the son of Jacob. Further, Patriarch Athanasius himself suffered severe hardships in administering the Church internally as well as externally.
During his youth, Michael was raised in a Syrian home from which the sweet fragrance of Christ emanated. His father, Elia of Melitine, was a virtuous and pious priest and a descendent of the Qandasi family which produced many servants for the Church. Among them were Athanasius Zakka, Metropolitan of Ayn Zarba (+1166); Patriarch Michael the Great's uncle, Maphryono(Catholicos) Gregorios Yacoub; and Patriarch Michael II Junior, the nephew of Mor Michael the Great, also known as Yeshou Sephtono.
Young Michael became a monk at Mor Barsawmo's Monastery near Melitine, after which he was ordained a priest and appointed Abbot of the monastery. During his term as Abbot, he made arrangements to bring running water to the monastery. When the Patriarchal See became vacant following the death of Patriarch Athanasius VIII, the Holy Synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, consisting of eighteen Metropolitans, convened in the Monastery of Fesqeen near Gargar on Pentecost Day. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Synod elected unanimously Raban Michael to the Patriarchate of the Apostolic See of Antioch. When Raban Michael learned of this, he ran away and disappeared as he thought he was unworthy of this most exalted position. However, Mor Dionysius Ya`qub Bar Salibi, Metropolitan of Amid (+1171) and one of the Holy Synod's members persuaded him to perform his duty. On Tuesday, October 18, 1166, Michael was consecrated Patriarch at Mor Barsawmo's Monastery with the laying on of the hands of the Maphryono along with twelve other bishops. The new Patriarch passed thirty-one laws in the Monastery of Hananya.
Among the most glorious pastoral works of Patriarch Mor Michael the Great was the moving of the headquarters of the Patriarchal See of Antioch from Amid to Mor Hananya Monastery, known as "Zafaran". On the day of his arrival at this Monastery and the celebration of his enthronement on the Patriarchal Seat in the new headquarters, Metropolitan Mor Dionysius Ya`qub Bar Salibi delivered a fascinating speech that began with "My beloved, today is the day of joy; today is the day of delight". In his invaluable speech he enumerated the praiseworthy virtues of Patriarch Michael.
Patriarch Michael paid Apostolic visits to his Archdioceses that were widespread at that period of time. In 1168, he headed for Jerusalem and stayed at the Monastery of Mary Magdalene near Damascus Gate (Bab al-caamuud). There he consecrated the Holy Murun (Chrism) and ordained John (Yohanna) as Metropolitan for Damascus on Easter day. He then returned to the headquarters of his Apostolic See at the Monastery of Hananya. There he passed a number of ecclesiastical canons, as reported by the great scholar Maphryono Mor Gregorios Bar Ebroyo. He also held a Synod meeting in 1169 at Mor Barsawmo's Monastery. In the following year, Emperor Manuel dispatched a messenger named Theoryanos to the Syrians and Armenians. Patriarch Mor Michael answered him through John, bishop of Khayshum, and the monk Theodoros Bar Wahbun.
In 1180 AD, Mor Michael held another Synod meeting where Theodoros Bar Wahbun of Melitine was excommunicated. Although Bar Wahbun was a great scholar, he was arrogant and devoid of godliness and fear of God. Bar Wahbun rebelled against his superior and was later ordained as anti-Patriarch by four castaway bishops. Although he was a disciple of Patriarch Michael the Great and was educated in the Patriarchal house, Bar Wahbun denied the favor of Michael, and in the end, was excommunicated and dislodged. Bar Wahbun died in 1193.
Mor Michael wrote a book on the ranks of priesthood, liturgical texts on preparing for receiving the Holy Qurbono (Eucharist), the duties of man, how to be a disciple of Jesus, and the need for repentance and confession.
Following his consecration and according to the ancient custom followed by the Syrian and Coptic Churches, Patriarch Michael sent a letter of fellowship to the Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Yohanna I Ibn Abi Ghalib, known as Aba Al-Majd, in which he included his confession of faith. He also authored another letter to Yuhanna's successor, the Alexandrine Pope Mark III Ibn Zar'ah, on the Sacrament of Confession. This is the Sacrament that was rejected by the heretic Mark Ibn Qanbar the blind who created confusion in the minds of the children of the sister Coptic Church for a long time by his false teaching. In doing so, Ibn Qanbar had renewed the heresy of the followers of Origen and the Messalians. Patriarch Mor Michael the Great refuted the weak reasoning of Ibn Qanbar as well as his false teachings, proving the necessity of practicing the Holy Sacrament of Confession. He also supported the excommunication of Ibn Qanbar and his abhorrent heresy.
Patriarch Michael ordained one Maphryono and fifty-four bishops. He departed to the Heavenly Chambers on Monday, the seventh day of Second Tishrin (November) in the year 1199, at the age of seventy-three, thirty-three of which he was Patriarch. He was buried in the new church at Mor Barsawmo's Monastery in the tomb that he had prepared for himself.
Indeed, the life of the commemorated Patriarch Mor Michael the Great, was one of righteousness and holiness. He led the life of the good confessors who were persecuted for the sake of righteousness following the example of most of the Patriarchs and many bishops of our Holy Church. Likewise, he was an honorable scholar and renowned researcher. Patriarch Ephrem Barsoum describes him as "one of the greatest pontiffs of the Church of God, the finest of the Patriarchs of Antioch, a scholar, and a famous chronicler; of everlasting name, of graceful pursuit, and of uncommon qualities, of widely known virtues, and of good deeds". Patriarch Barsoum converses with him saying, "Is it not right for the general history of the world to remember your honorable name since you have written those volumes that are full of the events of the ages, from their inception until your happy reign, for you have brought to life what took place, and had it not been for you, these would have been totally forgotten? Indeed, it is befitting to do so for the world in general and for your nation in particular. Your greatness is manifest not only in this, but also in the fact that you were magnificent in your virtues, endurance and self-esteem. You were great in your Patriarchal works. It is no wonder that history describes you as The Great".
The late Patriarch left behind several of his books, the most famous of those is "THE RELIGIOUS AND GENERAL CIVIL HISTORY FROM THE CREATION UP TO THE YEAR 1193". This was wrote in Syriac and comes in several volumes. A unique manuscript of this great work is kept to this day in a book-case at St. George's Church in the Syrian Quarter (hay al-suryaan) of Aleppo. Another famous writing of the late Patriarch was the book on the ranks of priesthood, liturgical texts on preparing for receiving the Holy Qurbono (Eucharist), the duties of man, how to be a disciple of Jesus, and the need for repentance and confession.  He spent his day in looking after Church matters and in transcribing significant manuscripts; he devoted the night to the writings of letters. He transcribed Gospel on vellum in the Estrangelo script, gilded its pages and bound it with a silver cover. (It was the Syriac bible written during the time of Mor Michael Rabo and which was kept in Malankara, that was presented to Dr. Buchanan during his visit to the Church in Malabar in 1807. This one is now preserved in the British library).

Patriarch Mor Michael Rabo has compiled all the hymns of St. Ephraim and Jacob of Sarug in several copies, which he transcribed personally. Also he marked the service books of ordinations, principal festivals and prayers with diacritical points with great care and preserved them in one huge volume. Several other books are there written by this great Patriarch.


Patriarch St. Severious Biography

Patriarch St. Severious, widely known as “crown of the Syrians", is one of the greatest dignitary of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch.  He was the pride of the Patriarchs of Antioch, the luminary of scholars, an outstanding authority and the unique erudite of his generation. He was also a great theologian, a profound and prolific writer and an eloquent orator who had a great control of the pulpit. To him flocked eminent jurists and men of good conscience seeking solution to problems and interpretation of complex matters.  He was one who built up and upheld the edifice of religion, and supported and explained the authority of the Orthodox faith. He was pure in heart, soul and character, a possessor of the keys of wisdom and decisions.
Mor Severious was born at Sozopolis in the province of Psidis around the year 459 A.D. His grandfather (on his father’s side) was one of the bishops who attended the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431 A.D). At Alexandria, he studied grammar and rhetoric in both Greek and Latin, and jurisprudence and philosophy at the school of Roman jurisprudence in Beirut. He was baptized at the church of Tripoli in 488. Later he chose the way of asceticism and became monk in the monastery of St.Romanus in the city of Mayoma in Palestine and was ordained a priest by Bishop Epiphanius. Then, he built a monastery and remained there for twenty-four years, worshipping God and practicing the virtues of asceticism and studying the Holy Bible and the writings of theologians. He began to write to support Orthodox doctrine and his fame spread.
In 508, he journeyed with two hundred monks to Constantinople to defend the doctrine and remained there about three years until 511. A year and a few more months later, Flavian II, patriarch of Antioch, was deposed, and Severious was elected by the Holy Spirit to succeed him to the Apostolic See. He was consecrated a Patriarch in Antioch on the 6th of November, 512, after which he opened the treasures of his knowledge in preaching and explaining the realities of faith and morals. During his leadership as a patriarch he never deviated from the path of his asceticism and abstinence. So, he removed luxurious living from the patriarchal palace, while devoting his energy to reform and the dispensation of church affairs by visiting the neighboring dioceses and monasteries in person or by letter. When Justin I, the Chalcedonian, succeeded Anastasias in 518, he banished a group of our Orthodox bishops, antagonizing Severious who left for Egypt on the 25th of September and remained there for twenty-four years. In Egypt, Severious administered the church through his deputies or his letters. With indefatigable energy, he wrote book after book against heresies and deceivers, answered letters and gave personal opinions on legal matters. When he faced a difficult problem, he searched for light in the Holy Bible or turned to the resolutions of councils for assistance. In 535, he went to Constantinople in answer to the invitation of Justinian I, in pursuit of unity. At the capital, he won Anthimus, patriarch of Constantinople, to his side, but the gap between parties remained wide. Then he returned to Egypt where he died at the city of Sakha on the 8th of February, 538. He was crowned by the Church as the Great Doctor of the catholic Church. The Church also commemorates him on the day of his death. His life was written by four eloquent writers who are Zachariah Rhetor, John, abbot of the Monastery of Bar Aphtonya, Athanasius I, patriarch of Antioch, and an anonymous author.
The writings of Severious cover polemics, rituals, commentaries, homilies and letters. They enjoy the highest respect. The polemics numbers fourteen.  Among the ritual writings there is a magnificent book containing the maniths, splendid anthems or hymns which he composed. The maniths begin with a verse from the Holy Bible and continue with an elegant style which inspires awe and the love of God. These maniths number two hundred and ninety-five. Of the third type of his writings, namely commentaries, are a commentary on the Gospel of St.Luke, a commentary on the apocalypse of Ezekiel, as well as Biblical topics and verses which may be found in his homilies and letters referred to by Bar Salibi in his commentary on the Gospels and by Bar Hebraeus in his book “The Storehouse of Secrets.” Among his homilies, there are one hundred and twenty-five holies called “Homiliae Cathedral’s,” preserved in three large volumes at the Vatican and at the British Museum.  Three homilies are in the library of the Zafran monastery and at the library of the church at Homs. Fifty one of these homilies were translated into French and published in three volumes.  There are also innumerable letters written by him, estimated at three thousand and eight hundred, a number no other church father is known to have written. These letters were collected in older times in thirty two volumes, of which four were written before his elevation to the patriarchate, then during his patriarchate (512-518) and nine during his exile (518-538). Of these, only two large volumes survived, one of which is entitled The Sixth Book of the Selected Letters of Mor Severious of Antioch, translated by the priest Athanasius of Nisbis in 669.A D. Among this, some were translated in to English in the 20th century.  All of these letters are splendid and full of abundant theological, legal, historical and administrative information, which reflect the light of that great and noble soul.  The works of this great dignitary and his comprehension of the principles and branches of sciences testify that he was not only unique in his generation, but also unequaled among the patriarchs of Antioch who preceded or succeeded him.
The Syrian Orthodox Church in its fifth Tubden (Diptych) remembers this great Patriarch St. Severious as the crown of Syrians, the eloquent mouth, the pillar and the doctor of the Holy Church of God as a whole, the meadow abounding in blossom and who preached all the time that Mary was undoubtedly the God-bearer. 

Egyptian Parliament Commission Overturns Coptic Eviction Decree

Source: AINA - By Mary Abdelmassih
A public meeting was held on February 16 in Alexandria, after the fact-finding commission delegated by parliament went to investigate the facts surrounding the decision made on February 1 by a village tribunal, composed of villagers and parliamentary members, mostly from Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood parties, to forcibly evict eight Coptic families from Sharbat village (Ameriya), in Alexandria, and seize their property, based on allegations of a video clip of an illicit relationship between a Coptic man and a Muslim woman
The fact-finding commission, made up of two Copts, two Liberals and the Salafi members of parliament, Shaikh Sherif Hawary, who was responsible for the tribunal of February 1, met with representatives of the evicted Coptic families, the tribunal's members and two priests.

The commission issued a statement at the public meeting, which was attended by village residents, that all Coptic families are to return to their homes, and nullified the rulings of the tribunal of February 1.

The commission asked for the safe return of the Abaskhayron Suleiman families to their homes, stressing their legal rights and the rule of law, which does not conflict with Sharia. The committee said the Suleimans have the right to reside in their own village. The Suleimans were not involved in any way with the alleged video clip, but were still evicted.

The commission deferred a decision on the return of the three families of the Coptic man Mourad Girguis, accused of having the video clip in question, and the Muslims who burned down the homes of Christians, leaving these matters for the judiciary to decide.

Attorney Marian Malak, a member of the commission, said the purpose of the meeting was to set a date for the return of the Christian families back to the village, through a consensus among the people of Ameriya, but the issue of compensation to affected Copts have not yet been resolved.

Sherif Hawary, member of Parliament for Ameriya, said there was a split among the members of the commission about the term "eviction," pointing out that members of the tribunal described the departure of some Christian families to be for security reasons and fear for their own lives, while a number of other members insisted on describing what happened as eviction. Hawary prevailed and the committee statement said the Christians left the village for security reasons.

After the reading of the statement, heated arguments broke out between some members of the delegation of the Maspero Coptic Youth Union and the parliamentary commission regarding the failure of the police to arrest the perpetrators and instigators of the torching and looting of Coptic homes during the violence on January 27th and 30th (AINA 1-28-2012). The commission said that prosecution had issued arrest warrants for some of the defendants. The Maspero delegation also asked about the woman accused of having a relationship with Mourad Girguis, as records of the prosecution investigations failed to identify her, as well as the absence of photos to prove the incident actually took place.

A question during the meeting was raised regarding whether the return of the families includes also the Mourad Girguis family, but Sheikh Sherif Hawari said that they will not come back, since what Mourad did was an "outrageous act."

Mourad Girguis was released on bail on February 15, after having been charged with spreading false rumors. Mohammad Toema, the barber who started the rumor, was also released on bail.

"The video about a Muslim woman was not found," said member of Parliament Dr. Emad Gad, "and there is no evidence of the woman having existed. This proves that, as suspected, the accusations were fabricated in order to forcibly evict Mourad Girguis and his family from the village."

The commission will present its findings to Parliament on Sunday.

Egyptian village expels Coptic families amid sectarian tensions

Source: Los Angeles Times 
 Eight Christian Coptic families have been evicted from their village in the coastal governorate of Alexandria after violence erupted last month amid rumors of an affair between a Coptic man and a Muslim woman.

A report issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) confirmed Sunday that the Coptic residents had been told
to leave their homes after a reconciliation session sponsored by local police, Muslim clerics and a Coptic priest was held Feb. 1.

The unrest stems from a Jan. 27 incident when homes and shops owned by Copts were looted and attacked by hundreds of Muslims angry over the alleged romance. One Coptic home was set ablaze. In its report, the EIPR condemned the "collective punishment" of Christians in the village of Ameriya based on an "individual act of social dishonor" by one Copt.

The report criticized police for not only failing to protect Copts from assault by Muslims, but also for overseeing and supporting an agreement that forced the deportation of Copts from their homes. "The EIPR harshly condemns the failure of police and army forces to protect Christian residents' homes and property," the report said.

Clashes between Copts, who make up about 10% of the population, and majority Muslims have intensified in recent years over alleged romantic affairs or the conversion of Copts to Islam or vice-versa. Such cases have sharpened sectarian tensions, especially since last year's overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak and the rise of Islamist political parties. Extremists Muslims set fire to churches in a poor Cairo neighborhood in May, and 24 Coptic protesters were killed by thugs and security forces during a demonstration calling for Christian rights in October.

The Mubarak regime had long been criticized by human rights advocates for skirting national laws and constitutional rights by sponsoring customary and local settlements of religious-related disputes.

"The EIPR utterly rejects the perpetuation of Mubarak-era policies that force victims of sectarian attacks — particularly those who have no stake in the original dispute — to accept the outcomes of illegal reconciliation processes and thus compel them to abandon their rights and accept the assaults on them," the report added.

A number of political parties and movements have also expressed exasperation over authorities' handling of the conflict. A joint statement issued by movements including the Popular Socialist Coalition Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination Movement, condemned the eviction of Coptic families.