Coptic Orthodox Church UK
Media and Communications Office
Coptic Orthodox Church (Europe)
Media and Communications Office
Messages from HRH The Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury received as religious freedom is highlighted in annual Coptic New Year (Nayrouz) Service at Westminster Abbey.
24 October 2016
Messages were received from HRH The Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury as religious freedom was highlighted at the annual Coptic New Year (Nayrouz) Service at St Margaret’s, Westminster Abbey. Addresses were also delivered by HE Ambassador David Saperstein, The Lord Alton of Liverpool, HE Ambassador Nasser Kamel and The Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth.
Joining members of the Coptic community at the service were members of the House of Lords, House of Commons, the Diplomatic Corps, the Foreign Commonwealth Office, the Home Office, humanitarian and advocacy organisations, and various ecumenical, inter-religious guests. The service commenced with a welcome by the Reverend Canon Jane Sinclair, Canon of Westminster & Rector of St Margaret’s.
In his sermon, His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom said:
“The Gospel reading today reminds us that we have a responsibility to proclaim the good news, to set captives free and to be light and sight to those who may live in darkness and blindness, whether because of their own doing, or because of the imposition of others. That is our calling and how we are meant to live as Christians.”
“…we must reclaim the narrative itself, for the narrative is good and gracious. It is actually the counter-narrative that works against our humanity. Once we declare our efforts as the counter-narrative then the norm is defined as evil, conflict, destruction, death and oppression.”
“It has undoubtedly been a challenging year with the referendum, news of wars, oppression, homelessness, displacement, and presidential elections; there is so much to destabilise us, but what is our core? Our core is our Faith; the Good News.”
“We are graced and blessed by many non-Christians at this service, and it does not shame or embarrass me to tell you that my Faith gives me joy, because this joy that I have is meant to be shared with you…just as your joy becomes mine.”
“I am a Christian, and by the grace of God I will remain a Christian and I rejoice in my message and in my Faith, and that surely is a right that I must be able to enjoy regardless of the fact that there are many who are not Christians, and they too rejoice in their faith. That is the spirit and humanity we are aiming for, a humanity that rejoices in, celebrates, edifies and protects all.”
“How can I stay silent in seeing the oppression of others when I have tasted that bitterness and seen that affliction and persecution. We have all suffered in our own ways and so therefore we are all mandated to speak out for others in our own ways.”
“Today as we start this year, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon us’; we are anointed, mandated and sent into this world as hope, light and promise. It is God in us Who enables us to do this, and so today we really do stand together in this sacred place, with the saints, in unity of heart. Let nothing take that away from us, and let nothing defeat that spirit that allows us to defeat all that seeks to silence us.”
Following prayers for the persecuted and martyrs of the Christian Faith, a message from His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales was read by The Right Reverend Geoffrey Rowell and Mr Jonathan Hellewell LVO, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister read a message from The Right Honourable Theresa May, Prime Minister.
In a message addressed to Bishop Angaelos from The Most Rev. and the Rt Hon. the Archbishop of Canterbury, read by The Right Reverend Nigel Stock, Bishop at Lambeth, he said:
“Your community is a suffering community. Who can forget those young men so brutally murdered in Libya, or what your Church must endure from time to time in your homeland. Yet you speak of the forgiveness of Christ and look always for that which helps the peace of God be known.”
“Thank you for your friendship in the gatherings of Church leaders of this country and your willingness to be so constructive in relationships between Churches.”
“I hope and pray that we can increase the love and understanding between our churches that we may draw nearer to our Lord’s desire that ‘all may be one’.”
Following the messages, an address was given by HE Ambassador David Saperstein, USA Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, who said:
“Amongst many of the worshippers who are here this evening are a number of experts in and advocates of religious freedom who gathered at a conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief, sponsored by the Foreign Office and it is fitting that at the conclusion many chose to be part of this congregation. That the Coptic calendar is dated from Diocletian’s reign, when precisely it was because under his rule that Egypt’s Christians suffered the most severe persecution speaks directly to the cause of all of us who care about religious freedom.”
“Given many of the violations of religious freedom that we see in the world today, they are structural, systemic, long-standing, and we must acknowledge that there are few quick-fix solutions to these entrenched challenges. This struggle is about changing people’s minds, changing people’s hearts, working to convince governments, leaders, citizens, that their societies will become more stable, prosperous and successful by ensuring equality and full inclusion for members of all religious communities including minority religious communities.”
“As we commemorate this New Year…let us all make the pledge to make real the dream and hope of freedom not only for the Coptic community, for all, to all the religiously oppressed in every land who live in fear, afraid to speak of what they believe in…this call for the New Year calls us to be a beacon of hope and light, of equality and justice of a future filled with true freedom.”
The Lord Alton of Liverpool commented on the historic role that Egypt played in providing refuge to those fleeing religious persecution, saying:
“Egypt had been home to Jesus Himself, after his refugee family fled the slaughter of the holy innocents and found a safe and secure home in a welcoming Egypt: surely a story with significance for these troubled times.”
“If such deaths are to mean anything, we who are drawn from our different faiths and traditions must faithfully rededicate ourselves to work for the universal freedom of religion or belief that is set out in article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is surely the inspiration that we should take away from this beautiful Nayrouz service and from a two-day [FCO] conference that we have just been reminded about.”
HE Ambassador Nasser Kamel, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the United Kingdom, said in his address:
“It is indeed an honour for me to participate today as the Ambassador of Egypt in our commemoration and celebration of the Coptic Feast of Nayrouz, to honour all those who have sacrificed so much, including their lives, for their Faith. Their courage and unwavering dedication to their Faith in the face of oppression and tyranny continue to serve as an example to humanity.”
“We are indeed indebted to the martyrs of Egypt, they shone as beacons of light and gave the people strength in their Faith.”
“From this great church, this place of worship, I want to stress that peace and harmony, and most importantly co-existence, should be the guiding value of any civilised society.”
“We are also proud as Egyptians that Egypt has the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and we intend to keep on working to create and enhance a conducive environment for all Egyptians to prosper and reach their full potential regardless of their faith, and we hope that those who insist on building walls or spreading a culture of fear in the Middle East, or beyond, will come to understand that our only hope as humans is to live together in peace and harmony.”
The Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Wales and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities, said:
“We are also here to reflect on those who do not share the same freedom of religion and belief as we do here. The Coptic Christian Faith has, as His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has said, much to teach us about the power of turning the other cheek even during immense suffering.”
“His Grace [Bishop Angaelos] through his tireless work has also reminded us that we, who do have a voice, must use it for those who cannot use theirs. These are troubling times, with so much suffering and it’s easy to feel helpless but each of us can make a difference, can change lives. Little deeds can lead to great moments.”
“Tonight we have been reminded that many around the world face persecution and death simply for having a different faith. It would be easy for us to see this simply as an international problem, a problem for others, but it would be naïve and a great mistake for us to assume that the international stays international. Our communities here do not live in isolation from events abroad and sadly prejudices and fears do not stop at borders.”
“As the Integration and Faith Minister, I am committed to improving our communities, to ensuring that bridges are built between communities and that this is a country for everyone. I make that oath to you tonight and ask you to join me in committing to fight to ensure that marginalised voices are heard and that people can follow their faith or belief free from fear, no matter where they live.”
Prior to the service, the Foreign Commonwealth Office hosted a ground-breaking 2-day summit from 19-20 October which brought together more than 50 expert speakers, including His Grace Bishop Angaelos, and over 170 participants from 38 countries, to explore how Freedom of Religion or Belief can help prevent violent extremism and identify opportunities to work together. Over 100 of those participants joined the Coptic community at the annual Nayrouz service in St Margaret’s, Westminster Abbey on 20 October 2016.