Coptic Orthodox Church UK – 6/12/18
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On 4 December 2018, a historic service in Westminster Abbey, attended by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, was held to celebrate the contribution of Christians in the Middle East. The choir of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of London commenced the service with an introit, singing the Coptic processional hymn ‘O King of Peace’; the choir of the Syriac Orthodox Church also contributed to the service. Overall the event aimed to offer both celebration of, and encouragement to, the Christian communities of the Middle East in light of ongoing challenges and persecution faced by Christians in the region.
In the various addresses, prayers and reflections, the experience and challenges of suffering, and the expression of endurance and hope were highlighted, as well as the acknowledgement of the positivecontributions that Christians, as indigenous peoples, offer their communities throughout the region.
At the beginning of the service, in his reflection, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales said:
“In recent years, I have had the great privilege of meeting so many Christians who, with such inspiring faith and courage, are battling oppression and persecution, or who have fled to escape it.”
Addressing representatives of Middle East Churches, His Royal Highness went on to say:
“Forgiveness, as many of you know far better than I, is not a passive act, or submission. Rather, it is an act of supreme courage; of a refusal to be defined by the sin against you; of determination that love will triumph over hate.”
The Prince of Wales went on to say:
“So, in coming together today, we can only give thanks for the truly remarkable strength of the Faith with which so many Christians face persecution, and which gives them the courage and the determination to endure, and to overcome.”
In conclusion, His Royal Highness said:
“So in this season of Advent, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself knew exile, injustice and suffering, I can only assure you of our steadfast support and most heartfelt prayers as you take forward your works of restoration, justice and healing, so that God’s will might be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
In his address, and in speaking of the witness of Christians in the Middle East, the Most Reverend Archbishop Justin Welby, The Archbishop of Canterbury said:
“When the church of Jesus Christ is attacked, it is an attack on Christ Himself. When any part of the church suffers, we also suffer, and yet distance and ignorance take away the pain we should feel.”
“For suffering, and especially persecution, is something that isolates. Those outside its experience cannot say “I know how you feel” because they don’t.”
The Archbishop went on to say:
“One thinks of the martyrs on the beach in Libya, of those countless killed in Iraq and Syria, of the faithfulness of Christians in parts of the region that are secure and stable, who have maintained their worship, welcomed their refugee brothers and sisters in Christ, for example in Jordan and Lebanon, and thus shone a light around the world.”
The Archbishop concluded by saying:
“And if our relationship to those brothers and sisters is genuine, then we must in this service commit ourselves not to rest until in obedience we build bridges to those who are isolated by suffering.”
Following the event, His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, who contributed to the prayers during the service, said:
“Seeing Westminster Abbey filled with so many who came to recognise and pray for Christians in the Middle East was truly inspiring. The event was prayerful while also very honest in its description of both the plight and gracious contribution of Christians in the region.
I am so thankful that His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, has taken the interest and time to give this matter the priority it so crucially deserves at a time when many thousands are suffering displacement, persecution, and some even the tragic loss of loved ones. I am also thankful to Westminster Abbey and its Dean and Chapter for so generously hosting this event and for giving our Coptic Orthodox Choir and Clergy the honour of taking part in such a historic moment in time.”
His Eminence concluded by saying:
“It is only when we all come together as Churches, organisations, governments, and so many other interested parties, that we can provide tangible and holistic solutions to the immense challenges encountered by many of our Christian sisters and brothers on a daily basis. Core to this, is also keeping this matter alive and relevant in the eyes, hearts and minds of our global community. We pray, as we continue to come together for those who struggle and suffer, that they are comforted and supported by the grace of God and by our collective interest and action in and for them as individuals and communities.”
The service was officiated by The Dean of Westminster, and attended by representatives of a number of Middle East Churches, as well as Church leaders from the United Kingdom. Over 1000 people were in attendance, and along with members of the public were congregation members from churches of the Middle East across the United Kingdom whose communities His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales has visited in recent years. In December 2013, HRH The Prince of Wales commenced his visits to Middle East Churches based in the United Kingdom, with a visit to The Coptic Orthodox Church Centre in Hertfordshire.