St Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Theological College hosts Serbian Orthodox Patriarch
written by Mariam Rgy Special for Christian Voice Free
The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches beat with one heart this week when the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch visited St Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Theological College in Melbourne, Australia (SAC) for a special inter-Orthodox gathering.
On Tuesday the 8th of March the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Patriarch Irinej visited SAC in the Melbourne suburb of Donvale accompanied by His Eminence Metropolitan Dr Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral and His Grace Bishop Irinej of Australia and New Zealand from the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The Donvale College, which is a member of the University of Divinity, welcomed His Holiness with a guard of Coptic school students waving flags and the Deacons Choir of SAC who greeted His Holiness with the appropriate processional hymns into the Church. Among the guests were His Grace Bishop Ezekiel and His Grace Bishop Iakovos from the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, representatives from various Christian denominations, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Divinity Professor Peter Sherlock, heads of Colleges and academic staff, clergy from the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Melbourne and SAC students.
His Holiness presented a guest lecture on Theology as a Hope for the Future of the Church, with His Grace Bishop Irinej translating the lecture. In his introduction, His Holiness offered his respects to the long-suffering Coptic Orthodox Christians with particular mention of the 21 Coptic martyrs who were martyred in Libya in 2015. The lecture emphasised the importance of the patristic, liturgical and Eucharistic foundations of theology and highlighted the essential integration of the liturgical life of the church with theology.
His Holiness also instilled a profound optimism in the future of the Orthodox faith. He encouraged all to embrace a unified heart and joyful hope in the Orthodox Church to ensure the ancient faith tradition remains relevant in a dynamic modern world.
SAC Dean and Chancellor, Bishop Dr Suriel, said the joyous occasion echoed the words of the Psalmist:” Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”(Ps 133:1).
Bishop Dr Suriel acknowledged the strong relationships of love and dialogue which have been established between the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches, built up over time through formal and informal consultation and dialogue.
He also affirmed a statement issued by the primates of the Eastern Orthodox Churches in their: “desire to continue, despite any difficulties, the theological dialogues with other Christians, as well as the interreligious dialogues, especially with Judaism and Islam, given that dialogue constitutes the only way of solving differences among people, especially in a time like today, when every kind of division, including those in the name of religion, threaten people’s peace and unity.”
Significantly, this quoted statement presented by Bishop Dr Suriel was taken from the 2008 Message of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches signed in the Phanar, Istanbul. This statement was signed by His Eminence Metropolitan Dr Amfilohije on behalf of the Sebian Orthodox Church who also accompanied His Holiness on his visit to SAC. His Grace also commented on the suffering of the Serbian Orthodox Church which continues to bear witness to Christ in Kosovo and Metohija.
The visiting Serbian Orthodox Patriarch also enjoyed listening to hymns chanted by the choir of deacons, toured the Donvale campus and visited the Coptic nuns at the adjoining Archangel Michael Monastery where His Holiness and the Patriarchal Entourage chanted the Troparion of Archangel Michael. A three course lunch was also held in honour of His Holiness that was attended by more than 100 guests.
A highlight of the day was the presentation of an icon of St Irenaeus to His Holiness by the college community. The large gold gilded icon was specially written for His Holiness by the nuns of Archangel Michael Monastery.
SAC Dean and Chancellor, Bishop Dr Suriel, said the inter-Orthodox gathering had succeeded in building up good will, respectful dialogue, Christian unity and a greater commitment to peace and love in the world. Before leaving the College, His Grace Bishop Dr Suriel thanked His Holiness for his blessed visit, to which His Holiness replied by also thanking His Grace for the warm welcome and hospitality that the College community had shown to His Holiness. His Holiness also extended a kind invitation to His Grace Bishop Dr Suriel to visit him in Serbia. Many guests also commented on the beautiful hymns that the deacons chanted as well as the atmosphere of love and joy that filled the day.