Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Syrian Orthodox Archbishop in Oxford

The difficulties faced by Christians in the Middle East, ranging from minor irritations to active persecution and martyrdom do make the news, but little seems to be done to aid them by western governments. The recent Synod in Rome of those Eastern-Rite churches in communion with Rome again addressed these and other issues and there is the sterling work done by Aid to the Church in Need.

Last night there was an opportunity at the Oxford Union to hear H.E.Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, Archbishop of Aleppo of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch.


Image: Minster Abbey

This is a non-Chalcedonian Church, and part of the family of Oriental Orthodox Churches. There are articles about the Church here and here.The Church itself has a website here.

In recent years they have built a cathedral in Acton in London for the community in this country; it was member of that community who had helped arrange the Archbishop's visit to the Union.
The Archbishop studied theology, philiosophy and history in Lebanon and Rome and was the first Syrian Orthodox priest in the Netherlands and Belgium, then served in Sweden and Lebanon before becoming Archbishop of Aleppo in 1979. He has recently been an observer at the Rome synod.

Some of the concerns of leaders of the ancient Churches in the Middle East as articulated in advance of the synod can be found here.

In Aleppo he has established a publishing house, and has himself written in Arabic, Syriac, English and Italian.

He presented the situation in Syria as a model of relations for Christians in apredominently Muslim society. Christians from other Middle Eastern countries were amazed to see joint meetings and prayer services where the various traditions could co-exist. Evangelism is not permitted - once born into a faith tradition there you stay.

He also drew attention to the extensive Syrian Orthodox diaspora, with, for example, a sizeable commununity in Sweden.

In Ecumenical terms the Chuch had apprecaited contacts and visits by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but their main dialogue was in terms of Orthodox - Oriental Orthodox discussion and Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. With regard tp dealings with the Anglican communion and other post-reformation communities they were content to leave the initiative with the Catholic Church.

In answer to questions about direct hostility and persecution he drew attention to the increasingly difficult position of the Coptic Church in
Egypt, and the threat posed by the Islamic Brotherhood there.

This was in many ways an optimistic talk, and a reminder of the existence of these ancient Churches. if nothing else it is a subject to keep in one prayers and thoughts - something I commend to readers.

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