An Exclusive Interview with His Eminence Metropolitan Abba Seraphim of Glastonbury

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By George Alexander

The Voice of Orthodoxy New Editor & Chief Coordinator of OBL Public Relations

(His Eminence Metropolitan Abba Seraphim of Glastonbury is the Head of the British Coptic Orthodox Church (under the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate). He was interviewed by our News Editor on January 18, 2010 at Cochin, Keralam, India, when he visited the Metropolitan as a Delegate of Orthodoxy Beyond Limits when its OBL Forum Delegation Meeting with the Metropolitan took place at Cochin, the most important centre of Christian concentration in the State of Keralam)

British Orthodox Church

The British Orthodox Church is a local church, anxious to bring the Orthodox faith to the people of our country. We work closely with the other Orthodox churches but our ministry is for British people who desire to become Orthodox. Our particular mission is to bring Orthodoxy to our people.

His Eminence Abba Seraphim

I am entirely of English descent. I was bought up as a nominal Anglican but I converted to Orthodoxy when I was about 16. My mother’s cousin was the previous Metropolitan of the British Orthodox Church who introduced me to Orthodoxy when I first met him in my teens. Eventually I was ordained by him and eventually succeeded him. Between us we have looked after the Church for the past sixty-six years. I was trained as a school master, in my early days teaching English in secondary schools.

What Attracted Your Eminence to Orthodoxy?

I wasn’t happy with the Anglican Church; its reformed nature is not consistent with the Apostolic Tradition. I was looking for a church with an authentic apostolic witness. I was initially attracted to the Roman Catholic faith and sometimes attended mass with my friends, but I never wanted to join them, since to me they appeared ‘foreign.’ There was something alien in the Roman Catholic spirituality to me. When I came to Orthodoxy I discovered the richness of the Apostolic tradition in its fullness and it didn’t bother me that there would be services in different languages. Its catholicity seems to be expressed in the fact that it encompasses people form the ice-bound northern Russian Steppes to the warm shores of Kerala. Orthodoxy certainly possesses true catholicity, although sometimes our mentality may appear to be narrow.

BOC relationship with Sister Orthodox churches and other Non-orthodox Churches.

We work actively through the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the United Kingdom. This also participates in a Forum with the Roman Catholic and also with the Anglican Church, which each meet every six months. These Forums are there to reflect at local level the main international dialogue. They are not the big theological debates at international level but work at the local level to find ways of cooperating and witnessing together.

On Eastern – Oriental Orthodox Dialogue

This is the most promising of all dialogues because already we have reached agreement that we share a common faith and tradition. Diversity is desirable. The Oriental Orthodox Churches each have wonderful local traditions and diversity. We also enjoy very good relations with our sister Eastern Orthodox Churches. In our ECL delegation we have our dear friend, Archimandrite Deiniol here, who is the director of the Wales Orthodox Mission of the Ukrainian Archdiocese within the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Even though we are not in formal communion we work as if we are one. We cooperate in many areas.

Relationship Between the British Orthodox Church and the Indian Orthodox Church

I am impressed by the high educational standards of the Indian Orthodox Church. Your seminaries promote Orthodox scholarship and education and this is reflected by the clergy I meet. In the United Kingdom we actively co-operate: our priests and people attend Indian Orthodox Church services in Britain and we have made available some of our church building for Indian Orthodox use. We are delighted to have among us Dr. Mathews Mor Timotheos as the Metropolitan of the UK Diocese of the Indian Church, who is also the Chairman of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK. I would like to have closer relation with the Orthodox Theological Seminary at Kottayam. A number of our clergy are good academics and it would be interesting to have some formal interchange. We would love to work with any one who has a wide Orthodox vision. In some ways there is a common history between BOC and IOC since we both originate from the Syriac Orthodox tradition. Both churches are looking to present Orthodoxy to our people in our own culture and there is an inherent mission in that.

BOC Clergy Training

Unfortunately we don’t yet have our own seminary. Several of our clergy have studied at secular universities or part-time at Anglican Theological seminaries. We have priests with good educational standards, but we find it difficult in finding new priests. There are a number of good converts in BOC, but if their wives are not Orthodox they are not eligible. We can ordain them only if their wives are also Orthodox. We have the old-fashioned monitorial system where potential ordinands are attached to one of the senior priests or to me, as the bishop. In that way and through guided study, they are prepared for their roles as deacons and priests. I am the only bishop and was consecrated in 1977, succeeding my elderly cousin when he died in 1979.


All our members are converts, but it is not that easy to be an Orthodox Christian. People must have a full commitment to the Orthodox life in all its aspects. You can’t become Orthodox just because you have a problem with the Anglican Church or you want to change your denominational affiliation. There must be a total commitment to the Orthodox faith and tradition, a commitment to serve and worship the Lord in the Orthodox way.

BOC Relations with Coptic Orthodox Church

We are the same church and I am a member of the Coptic Holy Synod under His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. We have three Egyptian Coptic Bishops in the United Kingdom (Bishop Antony for the Coptic Orthodox diocese of Scotland, Ireland & North-East England; Bishop Missael of the diocese of Birmingham, in the Midlands and General Bishop Angelos at the Coptic Centre in Stevenage, just outside London). We are very close. After their ordination several of our BOC clergy spend their “forty days” training with Coptic clergy. We also give our support for Coptic Christians suffering problems for their faith and visit the mother church frequently

On Eastern Christian Links

Eastern Christian Links (ECL) – “Reconnecting East and West” is an ecumenical Christian initiative founded in 2004 by Nicholas Crampton, a Norfolk lawyer to encourage local Churches to explore the history, liturgy and traditions of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches. He felt that may Christians in the west have limited knowledge of the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Churches. I am a Patron of Eastern Christian links. He wanted to make people more aware, so he approached his local Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops and he approached me. We all gave our blessing to this ecumenical project and I helped lead our first trip abroad was to South-Eastern Turkey, where we encountered Greek, Armenian and Syrian Orthodox Christians. We found that we could share these spiritual experiences, even though we are from diverse backgrounds. That is valuable.

The Kerala Experience

It has been wonderful. I had read a lot about Kerala and the Indian Church in books and met clergy and faithful in England, so in that way am familiar with the history of the Indian church, but it is not the same as experiencing the life of the church on its own soil. I am indeed fascinated to see and meet the Indian Church in all its richness and vitality. It had always been my desire to pray at the shrine of Saint Gregorios at Parumala and that was something precious and memorable. This has been a true pilgrimage.

On Orthodoxy Beyond Limits Forum

I am always excited by anything that promotes Orthodoxy. The work of OBL crossing the boundaries and promoting unity between the two families is something very close to my heart. We had talks in Stockholm on how we could push forward the dialogue between our two Orthodox families. It is sometimes frustrating that we are not moving as quickly as we might wish, but these things are in God’s hand. It is good that the OBL work is coming from the ground level, from the bottom up. I think it is very important because the dialogue papers all talk about going back and telling our people. I see that is beginning to happen especially among the educated youth in the Church. I hope it will be one of several vehicles to that promotes Orthodox Unity.