Tuesday 7 October 2014

Orthodox Mission Conference - Venice, 2014

My plans to send a daily report were frustrated by the business of the schedule at the conference, which left me very little free time, and by the complete lack of a reliable internet connection. I ended up paying for some small amount of mobile data just to stay in touch with the world

In am now staying at the monastery in a pleasant guest room and there is internet!

I cannot easily remember the order in which things took place, though I have a schedule so can through things sequentially later. There was a morning Liturgy at 6:45 each day. I made sure that I was always present at it to receive the blessing of the gift of Christ by the Holy Spirit, however much my tired body wanted to stay in bed. How grateful I was that the dear brother priests made sure that I could participate. I always had someone stand with me, using the excellent Coptic Reader app, which has all the liturgical material of the Church in English, Arabic and Coptic, to make sure that I knew where we were, and was also able to pray at the altar when asked to do so. Bishop Kyrillos of Milan was not always with us, and in his absence and usually, Father Daoud led the Liturgy.

After the Liturgy we had breakfast in a large dining room, and people talked and relaxed among themselves until the first session took place. Then there were often discussion groups organised until lunch. More meetings and discussions in the evening. Then dinner, then more meetings and discussions until Midnight Praises, and then often discussions after than until very late, sometimes sitting in the grounds as it grew dark and when it was to cold then inside one of the buildings.

There was lots of time for fun and enjoyment. Much of the meeting time was taken up with presentations about the mission work being conducted in various countries. These presentations were inspirational and informative. In most cases I had not known that our Church had quietly started to engage in such ministry.

Outside of the meetings people always wanted to talk, and much of my time was taken up in conversations about mission and about the spiritual life. Everyone there spoke Arabic, and it was the lingua franca. But many were Italian Copts and so there was quite a lot of Italian in the Liturgy and in other situations. I would always have someone sitting next to me providing a really excellent live translation, and I would guess at least 10-15 people served me in this way all very competently. When I participated in anything, Father Daoud would usually translate what I said himself into Arabic.

I spoke especially about what a Missionary Church is, and about our experience and vision in the UK. I presented us as we are, a community committed to mission. Indeed I spoke about needing the right time, the right place and the right people for God's will to come together in fruitfulness and stressed that our own dear bishop, Metropolitan Seraphim, given to us at this time has been key to our development over the last 20 years. I also spoke about the desire of us all to see more communities established each year and that the priests were all presenting such proposals at our last Synod.

There were many participants from Egypt, all serving in mission in one way or another. Quite a few from Italy because of the location of the event. A few from France. Even Australia, Canada and the US had some representatives. We had a day with some games for a while, and another day when we visited Venice. It was busy and hot but we went inside St Marks and I went with some to pray before the relics of St Athanasius, and walked over to the Rialto.

The participants were not children or teenagers. Egyptians seem to consider youth to be up to 40 and beyond! Most were professional people in their mid to late-20s up through to my age and much beyond. What united them was a love of the Gospel and mission. I was as unaware of such a movement as most of them were unaware of us! This is an Egyptian based movement, and especially driven by Father Daoud Lamie who has a life time of developing service in his Church. It is only recently, in the last 5 years, that this movement has sprouted and begun, in a tentative manner, to bear fruit.

Those who were at the Conference, 80 or so from Egypt, and others, are especially the leaders and supervisors of a thousand others who are committed to supporting mission. They have a structure and organisation and have sent many mission teams to 25+ countries in Africa and Asia where they have a growing number of resident workers.

In the end I did  not use notes for my two main talks. I had prepared things but nothing seemed to be right. So I ended up speaking from my heart about what I love best, mission and our British Orthodox Church. It went down very well. There was a lot of applause. Even my dream of a mobile mission unit which the folk at Stoke think is one of my crazy ideas got a round of applause!

It was a great privilege and blessing for me to be invited to attend this Coptic Orthodox Mission Conference and to find friends among clergy and laity who love the mission of the Gospel as much as we do in the British Orthodox Church. I am hopeful that as God wills this new relationship will flourish to the benefit of us all and for the salvation of many.

1 comment:

  1. Great to read of this and pray for unity and need to work together for mission as One by all the communities within the Oriental orthodox commune . Fr. Daoud Lameie was mainly responsible for