[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Patriarch of Antioch was in London yesterday (Thursday) for the consecration of Britain’s first Syriac Orthodox Cathedral. The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, was the guest of honour at the service, which was attended by a number of senior Anglicans from the Church of England, including the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres; the Bishop at Lambeth, Nigel Stock; and the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Jonathan Goodall, the former ecumenical secretary at Lambeth Palace.
The new cathedral of St Thomas is the former Saint Saviour’s Church in Acton, west London – formerly a chapel for deaf Christians operated by the Royal Association for the Deaf.
The joyous service was marked with sadness as the congregation and a succession of speakers reflected on life for Christians in the homelands of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Syria and Iraq.
In a letter read to the congregation, the British Prime Minister Theresa May said that “the appalling violence that has afflicted so many areas of the Middle East reminds us how fortunate we are to live in a country where different religious beliefs are not only tolerated, but welcomed.”
Christians and other people of faith in the Middle East “seek, pray and yearn for peace,” Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II said. “Today we are suffering in the Middle East – not only Christians but Muslims also – because of fanaticism, because of hatred, because of narrow-mindedness,” he said. “We need the good efforts of everyone to establish peace back in our countries.”
The leader of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the UK, Archbishop Mor Athanasius Toma Dawod, congratulated those involved in the liberation of towns and cities in the Nineveh plain in Iraq. “We have rung the bell [here] in harmony with the bell of Nineveh, which rung again after it was silenced for more than two years,” he said. “However, our joy has not been complete, as all our churches have been left in ruins after ISIS destroyed them.”
A coalition led by Iraqi forces are pushing back against ISIS/Daesh targets and have liberated a number of villages and suburbs in the fight to free Mosul from Daesh control.
In a brief address to the congregation, Prince Charles said that it was “surely deeply encouraging, at a time when the members of the Syriac Orthodox Church in their homelands of Syria and Iraq are undergoing such desperate trials and such appalling suffering, that in Britain the Syriac Church is able to expand and gain in strength. In this way the consecration of your Cathedral is indeed a notable sign of hope for the future.”
He continued: “In many ways, every consecration of a Christian church recalls the consecration of King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. There, in the book of Kings, it is said that, when the Arc of the Covenant was brought into the temple, ‘the Glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord’. I can only pray that the divine glory may likewise fill this newly- consecrated house of God.
“While rejoicing in the beauty of this place of worship, at the same time it is perhaps worth remembering that the highest and ultimate temple of God is the human person. As St Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple?’.
“The Church of God exists not only in visible buildings such as the present, but also more profoundly in the invisible building formed from the living stones of the faithful. So, as we consecrate this visible temple, let us also, each one of us, rededicate to our Lord the inner temple that is our own true self.”
Prince Charles prayed that the cathedral’s congregation, “and all the members of the Syriac Orthodox Church, wherever they may be, [may] be blessed with the kind of courage and faith that can ultimately transcend the unbearable misery and anguish that have been so cruelly inflicted upon you, your loved ones and your brethren.”
In an interview after the service, the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, said that extremists such as Daesh were creating god in their own image, “in the image of [their] rage and . . . lust for power.”
He said that the Syriac Orthodox community “represents an authentic profound Christian tradition where one worships a God who is not a hero for our cause, but is beyond us and is a God of peace who can build communities rather than destroy them.”
- The photo-caption was corrected on 27 November. The original inadvertently described the cathedral as Coptic.