Saturday, 17 March 2007

Syrian Orthodox Vespers at the Cathedral

Last Saturday, we celebrated an ecumenical event, with the visit of the Clergy, Choir and faithful of the Syrian (or more properly 'Syriac') Orthodox Community. Photographs are (c) Marcin Mazur.

The Celebrant was His Eminence Archbishop Mor Athanasius, Patriarchal Vicar of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Great Britain. We were all taken with the two objects carried behind him - metal discs on poles. The discs were surrounded by small metal balls which were shaken during the procession, to make a splendid rattling noise.

The Syrian Orthodox Church traces its origins back to the first church established by St James in Jerusalem, and the first see established by St Peter at Antioch in 37AD, It uses Aramaic, the language of Jesus and his first followers. The Syrian Holy See is currently in Damascus, Syria, headed by His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zaka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch, 122nd successor to St Peter. He cares for 2.5 million Syrian Christians in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, South Eastern Turkey, the Holy Land and India.

The Syrian Christians were not party to the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which settled how beleif in one Christ as true God and true man should be taught and understood in the Roman Empire. This led to a complete break between the Syrian Orthodox Church and Christians in the Latin Catholic and Greek Orthodox traditions. However, following centuries of division, and thanks to the modern ecumenical movement, the latin, Greek and Oriental traditions increasingly see in each others' doctrine and worship the same faith in the divinity and humanity of the same Christ.

Vespers was attended by a large Ecumenical gathering. Bishop Bernard Longley, auxiliary in Westminster, represented the Cardinal Archbishop. Archbishop Gregorios of Great Britian and Thyateira represented the Greek Orthodox Community. Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Woolwich, represented the Archbishop of Canterbury. To the extreme left of the picutre is metropolitan seraphim, of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Great Britain.

Although provided with Orders of Service, it neverthless needed full concentration to see where we were!
Above, Bishop Longley addresses the large congregation at the end of Vespers. In Britain, the Syrian Orthodox Church numbers about 250 families, mostly living around London, the majority being refugees from Iraq. At present, it has not Church building of its own, but is hoping to buy a London property.

Bishop Longley and Archibishop Gregorios exchange greetings in the sacristy after the service.


Unknown said...

Ecumenism is always heart-warming. Thanks for sharing this; thanks also for the history!

Andrew said...

Wonderful photos, Father.

The objects carried in procession behind the Syrian Archbishop reminded me of the old Papal flabella.

Liadnan said...

Vespers and found them deeply moving and fascinating. Like Andrew above I assumed the items carried behind the Archbishop were related to the old liturgical fans (which I believe used to be used in the Roman Rite in high ceremonies as well).

Do we know anything about the symbolism of the serpents on the Archbishop's cross?

John the organist said...

Sorry I missed it but I was at work! Could the serpents be today with Moses and the symbolism of the raised serpent being the same as Christ on the cross?

Anonymous said...

Metropolitan Seraphim is suprisingly an Englishman. He is the bishop of the British Orthodox Church, which is part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. The British Orthodox Church has a ministry within the Coptic Patriarchate to live the Coptic Orthodox Faith within a British ethos and culture.