THE BRITISH ORTHODOX CHURCH AND THE COPTS الكنيسة الأرثوذوكسية البريطانية والأقباط
His Grace Metropolitan Abba Seraphim of Glastonbury, and Head of the British Orthodox Church, wrote a comment on my article Edward William Lane and his responsibility for demonising the Copts and misguiding the British about the Copts and rather than hiding it in the comments section, I have chosen to put it up in the main Blog.
April 16, 2011 4:00 pm
This article showing the anti-Coptic bias in Lane’s oft-published book is an invaluable contribution to the historical understanding of the Copts. It is a well written, carefully documented and fair-minded reassessment and should be widely read by scholars. A modern website advertising Lane’s ‘Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians’ enthusively describes it in glowing terms. “Few Western scholars of the Middle East have exerted such influence as Edward William Lane. His [book] remains as an authoritative study of Middle Eastern society.”
Dioscorus Boles is to be congratulated in putting the record right. I hope he will turn his attention to other 19th & 20th century misrepresentations, especially Lord Cromer’s ‘Modern Egypt.’
There is no hiding that I am proud of His Grace’s commendation, of course, and, therefore, am putting it up here. But I also would like to draw the attention of many of my readers, Copts and non-Copts, who don’t know this yet, that there is a British Orthodox Church; that it is integral part of mainstream Oriental Orthodoxy; that it, canonically, forms part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria; that Abba Seraphim, its head, is a full member of the Coptic Holy Synod.
The British Orthodox Church was originally established in 1866 when a Frenchman, Jules Ferrette, was consecrated as a bishop by the Syrian Orthodox Church with the purpose of re-establishing Orthodoxy to the West. There was considerable opposition from the Established Church to what it considered an invasion by a foreign jurisdiction. From the consecration of Ferrette a succession of bishops was maintained, though the church remained very small. Contacts with the Syrian Church were not sustained and it was regarded as uncanonical by other Orthodox churches.
From 1944-1979 it was directed by Metropolitan Georgius of Glastonbury (1905-1979), who revitalized its mission by emphasising the importance of early British Church history and looking to its saints and martyrs as indigenous Orthodox.
Further revitalisation of the Church came about when Metropolitan Seraphim (William Henry Hugo Newman-Norton), who had served since 1979 as successor to his cousin, Metropolitan Georgius. He wanted to merge his Church with mainstream Orthodoxy again, and led talks with the Coptic Orthodox Church, headed by Pope Shenouda III (1971- ), to unite with it. And, so, after 128 years of independent existence, the British Orthodox was reunited to the Oriental Orthodox Churches by its reception into the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. On 6 April 1994 a joint Protocol was signed determining the relationship. In this the British Orthodox Church was recognized as
“a local church, holding to the historic faith and order of the Apostolic Church, committed to the restoration of Orthodoxy among the indigenous population and desiring to provide a powerful witness to the Orthodox Faith and Tradition in an increasingly secular society.”[ii]
A few months later, on 19 June 1994, on Pentecost Sunday, Abba Seraphim was consecrated Metropolitan of Glastonbury by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, assisted by some sixty three Metropolitans and Bishops, in Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. And so Abba Seraphim became a full member of the Coptic Holy Synod.
The Protocol also permits the British Orthodox Church to follow the Gregorian Calendar for solar festivals and appoints the Metropolitan of Glastonbury as chairman of a permanent liturgical commission to
“consider appropriate translations of the Coptic Orthodox service books and the use of alternative forms of services drawn from ancient Western Orthodox sources which may be adapted to the local situation”
and make recommendations directly to the Pope. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has authorised the use of the Liturgy of Saint James for the British Orthodox Church, although for all other services the Coptic Rite is used.
The jurisdiction of the British Orthodox Church extends over the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. In the British Isles the British Orthodox and Coptic communities exist as two parallel Orthodox jurisdictions with close co-operation on a number of pastoral and educational issues.
The British Orthodox Church’s mission is to the people of the British Isles, and though it is completely Orthodox in its faith and practice it remains British in its ethos and in its appreciation of the Orthodox heritage of these islands. The Church comprises parishes and missions throughout the British Isles, and has many followers and believers from this land.
If the Copts are looking for real friends in Britain, they don’t need to look further. The British Orthodox Church has always defended the Copts against the attacks and marginalisation they experience in Egypt. It publishes a reputable bulletin, The Glastonbury Review, which you can access here http://britishorthodox.org/glastonbury-review/, and, in addition to the invaluable articles about Orthodoxy in general (spirituality, theology, liturgy and history) , it regulary monitors the Coptic situation under the heading: Violence against Copts.
As an example of the good articles and news coverage of Coptic nature, see The Glastonbury Bulletin; Issue 118; March 2010: http://britishorthodox.org/glastonbury-review-archive/glastonbury-review-archive-issue-118/ :
The Shame of Nag Hammadi: Murder and mayhem on Christmas Eve
Violence against Copts
- Coptic Priest banned from village (Father Estefanos Shehata in the village of Upper Ezbet Dawoud Yousef, in the Minya Governorate)
- The Problem of Abu Fana (monastery of Abu Fana near Malawi in Minya province)
- Coptic Church burnt down (Archangel Michael and St. Antony in the village of Ezbet Bassilios, Bani Mazar)
- Intrepid El-Gohary fights on (the fight by Peter Athanasios, known by his Muslim name of Maher El-Gohary to have his Egyptian Identity Card changed from Muslim to Christian)
- Christian Conscripts in the Egyptian Army
- Villagers Attack Mourners at Funeral (in the village of Delga, Deir Mawas, Al Minya Governorate).
[i] I have taken most of the background and history of the British Orthodox Church from its official website.
[ii] See Press Release on the union of Coptic and British Orthodox Churches: http://britishorthodox.org/glastonbury-review-archive/misc/press-release-on-the-union-of-coptic-and-british-orthodox-churches/