Messages from Prince of Wales, politicians, church leaders at Coptic New Year Service, Westminster Abbey

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, Diplomatic Corps, Foreign Commonwealth Office, 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: "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."

"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."

Prior to the service, the Foreign Commonwealth Office hosted a two-day summit from 19-20 October which brought together more than 50 expert speakers, including His Grace Bishop Angaelos, and more than 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.

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Tags: Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Angaelos, Coptic New Year, HE Ambassador David Saperstein, HE Ambassador Nasser Kamel, HRH The Prince of Wales, Lord Alton, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, Nayrouz, Prime Minister, religious freedom, St Margaret's, Westminster Abbey

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