The Church Which Might Have Been

It is a matter of speculation as to what today’s Orthodox Church would have looked like, had secularism not been spread from the West by the uprooted aristocracy and intelligentsia. Having abandoned Orthodox civilizational values, that is, lost the Christian Faith, they used this alien secularism to justify their overthrow of the Russian Empire in 1917. This disaster left the smaller and weaker Local Churches Emperorless and in disarray, victims of a foreign calendar and political interference, and unable to conduct missionary work.

The division of the Church into today’s fourteen mainly national Local Churches, many very small, seems unlikely. Surely Church structures would have become denationalized and so far bigger, possibly with one billion Orthodox, perhaps in Five Patriarchates. These would have taken turns to govern Mt Athos, which would have become far bigger and the true international monastic centre of the Church, where ten-yearly administrative Patriarchal Councils could have been held. The Five Patriarchates might have been:

Patriarchate of Rus (in Moscow, 750 million?), covering the Russian Empire, with the Autocephalous Catholicosate of Georgia,  plus Ten Autonomous Churches, some of which, with several million members, would by now be close to Autocephaly and Patriarchal status. With five in Asia and five in Europe and its Diasporas, these would cover: China and Tibet; Korea; Japan; the Isles of Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines); South East Asia (Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam); Europe (covering independent Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, as well as the Czech Lands, Slovakia, Hungary and the sixteen ex-Catholic and ex-Protestant countries in Western Europe); the 13 countries of South America; Mexico, the seven countries of Central America and the Caribbean; Anglo-America with Alaska and Greenland; Australasia.

Patriarchate of Alexandria (in Nairobi, 120 million?): All Africa.

Patriarchate of Antioch (in New Delhi, 60 million?): Covering the Asian Arab World, Iran, Afghanistan and the Indian Subcontinent.

 Patriarchate of Constantinople (in Bucharest, Athens, Belgrade, Sofia and Nicosia, 50 million?), made up of the Five Autocephalous Balkan Union Churches, the nationality of the Patriarch alternating, covering: Greece, with two Autonomous Metropolias for Albania and Turkey; Romania; Serbia, with four Autonomous Metropolias for Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia/Slovenia; Bulgaria; Cyprus.

 Patriarchate of Jerusalem (5 million?): Covering Palestine on both sides of the Jordan and the Holy Places.

 

 

Questions From Correspondence and Conversations – August 2018

Love and Forgiveness

Q: The Church says that Love can change the world, so why do things seem to be getting worse?

A: Love can change the world but on condition that the world accepts to be changed. This is the whole point: Love is conditional on freedom – you cannot force people to love, you cannot force people to change. All depends on whether we can influence their will to change.

Things seem to be getting worse, but nobody would say that this process of loss of faith is inevitable. At any moment the present process can be halted and even turn back towards Christ. This has happened in history several times. It is called repentance.

Q: In the Gospels it says that we should love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. What is the difference between this sort of love for ourselves and mere selfishness and vanity? How can they be opposites?

A: They can be opposite very simply: Selfishness and vanity come from love for our fallen selves, for our false selves, for our sins, but God’s command to us to love ourselves means to love ourselves as God intended us to be, to become as we were before we fell into sin, to love our true selves. For this we have to know our true selves and to understand what God’s will is for us.

In today’s world, people are taught to hate their true selves. As a result we see suicide, self-mutilation, self-harming, plastic surgery, people who put pieces of metal into their bodies, cover themselves with tattoos or wear heavy make-up, like primitive peoples who deform parts of their bodies (especially necks, lips, ears in Africa and Asia), tattoo themselves (Celts, Polynesians) or wear war-paint, masking their true selves. The cultivation of selfishness and vanity has hit new depths of narcissism, with the abuse of Facebook, the ‘Me World’, ‘Me Time’ ‘likes’ and ‘I love me’.

Q: Aren’t Christians weak because all they do is forgive?

A: No. Forgiveness is dependent on repentance, which does not mean simply saying sorry, like politicians do, but actually means making amends, actually doing something about what you have done wrong. If there is no repentance, there is no forgiveness. Thus, the Christian path begins with repentance (St John the Baptist’s call to actions, not words), passes to forgiveness (like the Prodigal Son who received forgiveness after he had first repented) and only then does salvation begin. Salvation itself is not simply the acceptance in words that we believe in Christ (as in the lazy Protestant myth of salvation), but the confession of the faith in a Christian way of life until our dying day.

Angels, Demons and God’s Will

Q: Do you believe in extraterrestrials?

A: If by that you mean life on other planets similar to the earth, all that I, or anyone else, can answer is no. This is because nobody has discovered such life so far, its existence is mere speculation. On the other hand, we cannot answer an absolute no, because we know so little about our universe. Here we can speculate without proof that somewhere in some of the billions of galaxies there could be a planet capable of supporting life similar to that on ours. On the other hand, there is no reason to think that such life may have developed further than oxygen or water, plant life or insects. All depends on what God’s Will is for the universe that He created.

On the other hand, that there are places inhabited by extraterrestrial life – the angelic realm of heaven and the demonic realm of hell. That there is angelic life, fallen and not fallen, is the experience of the Church, expressed in the Scriptures and Tradition. We know that there is life outside our planet Earth because we confess it every time we say that we believe in God, Who made heaven and earth, that is Who made angelkind and mankind.

The sightings of extraterrestrials and flying saucers seem to have started just after the Second World War, when, in the absence of repentance for the crimes of two World Wars, the earth became receptive to the permanent presence of demons, who had come up from hell to inhabit places and people, impervious to repentance, where they were welcome.

Q: Why can demons not repent?

A: Demons are bodiless, spiritual beings. They were given a choice of good or evil only once, at their creation. Thus, either these spiritual beings remained angels or else they became demons. This is unlike human-beings, who have bodies. Being incarnate, with bodies, gives us the chance to choose good or evil constantly, until our death-beds. However, after our deaths, once we have separated from our bodies, we cannot make such choices, which is why we are dependent on the prayers of others to rise towards God after death.

Q: Three questions: Are there people who have a destiny? And if so, doesn’t that mean that we believe in fatalism? And if everything is according to God’s Will, why does evil exist?

A:  Everybody has a destiny, as understood in the Christian sense of God’s Will. But that is not the same as fatalism, because we have the freedom to choose to follow God’s Will or not, whereas fatalism implies that we do not have such freedom. Everything is according to God’s Will, only if we pray for God’s Will to be done (for example, in the prayer ‘Our Father’). If we do not pray for this, then everything will be according to the will of the demons. This is because nature abhors a vacuum and if God is absent because of our rejection of Him, the demons rush in, in order to take His place. Demons are parasites and in order to live on earth, they must have willing bodies to live in. From the Scriptures we recall that even pigs could not bear their presence and preferred suicide. Only the wills of those who resist demons ally themselves with God.

Orthodox Christianity and Deviations from it

Q: Why are Christians of all denominations not united in One Church?

A: Firstly, there are those intellectuals who place their proud minds, sullied by their impure hearts, above the all-pure mind of Christ. Such, like Arius, Nestorius, Pope Hildebrand, Luther etc, can never accept the Church of Christ because through pride they think that they are above Her. They say, I am of Apollos, Cephas etc, and not of Christ. They will never unite with the Church because they lack the humility to do so.

Secondly, there are those who sully themselves with nationalist politics and put their nationality, Coptic, Armenian, Western European, Greek or whatever, above Christ. They will actually tell you that you cannot join the Church because you are not the right nationality or ‘blood’ and so not the right mentality.

As a result, there are always those who put themselves outside the Church, even though they still maintain that they are Christians. Thus, they create disunity.

Q: Why is the existence of religious values even in personal life under threat today?

A: This is the last stage of the series of attacks on faith which began 1,000 years ago, with the attempt to remove religion from political life (called papism), and so desacralize it. Some 500 years ago, with the Protestant Reformation, there began the attempt to desacralize economic life, enslaving it to bankers, then some 250 years ago the attempt to desacralize social life (the American and then French Revolutions), making religion a purely private affair. Now has come the attempt to desacralize even personal life, from the 1960s on, for example, making abortion legal, confusing sexual identity and sexualizing children, ultimately enslaving each person digitally. How long before each one of us is given a 12-digit personal number, which will identify each individual, subjugating everyone to the World State?

Q: Why don’t Orthodox ally themselves with Traditionalist Catholics?

A: Perhaps you mean: Why don’t Traditionalist Catholics ally themselves with the Church of God?

I understand that there are some things in common but there are reasons why such an alliance has never happened. Firstly, because Traditionalists tend to believe that Orthodox are schismatics, so, with this illusion, they remain outside the Church. Secondly, because many of them seem to believe that liturgical life can be expressed only through Latin, a view which is not ours. Thirdly, because Traditionalists sometimes have very right-wing, almost racist, White Supremacist inclinations which look down on, among others, Eastern Slavs, Greeks, Arabs and Georgians, as inferior races. Fourthly, because they are generally subject to their love of suffering in their mournful and constipated, ‘crucifixionist’ pietism, which is a result of their filioquism, that is, of their secularism, and so lack of faith in the Resurrection. Finally, because they are papists without a Pope and Orthodox do not have Popes.

Tsar Nicholas II

Q: On pilgrimage in Russia we saw a very large icon of the Tsar-Redeemer. Surely this is a heresy? Only Christ is the Redeemer?

A: You are quite right, though I think the word ‘heresy’ is too strong, I think it is just theological illiteracy, the ignorance of the simple. The error comes from the fact that all suffering is redemptive and also from the Tsar’s own words who, seeing the apostasy of Russia’s intellectually educated, but spiritually uneducated (‘the intelligentsia’), said that ‘perhaps a redemptive sacrifice is necessary and perhaps that is me’. Both Metr Anastasy (Gribanovsky) and St John of Shanghai referred to his redemptive qualities. So an icon with the inscription saying, ‘Tsar Nicholas, the Redemptive Sacrifice’, would be quite correct. However, as you say, there is only one Redeemer, far above all saints, but all saints live in Christ, in an inward way imitating His Redemption on their modest level.

Q: Why was Tsar Nicholas II not canonized as a Great-martyr?

A: I had this conversation with the late Archbishop Antony of Los Angeles in 1992. In answer to this question, he told me that he had been in favour at the Synod meeting leading up to 1981, as had Metr Anastasy before him, but he had been a minority voice in the Synod.

I think in general that ‘Great-martyrs’ only earn that title through the veneration of the people. This is what is happening among sections of the Orthodox people in Russia today, who sing of the Tsar as a Great-martyr. His title will officially change only once popular veneration demands it.

Modern Music

Q: What is spiritually wrong with modern music?

A: There are many sorts of modern music, but I suppose you mean the worst sort? In that case you probably find that it has no soul, it is like a TV soap, in that it is artificially manufactured for the tastes of the lowest, it is ‘fake music’, just noise to fill the vacuum in people’s lives. In this way it is quite unlike classical music, which is a poem about the composer’s soul, whereas, at worst, such modern music is a yell about debauchery.

Our Church

Q: Can you tell us something edifying about your Church in England?

A: I can only tell you one thing, that we have survived, we are still here. Despite what everything that Satan has thrown against us over fifty years, we are still here. Despite the pharisees, who like parasites have tried to use the Church to spread their political or pathological illnesses and persecuted us, despite the modernists who have tried to use the Church as a vehicle for their rationalistic reformist fantasies and persecuted us, despite the loveless bureaucrats who practised their hard-hearted ritualism and persecuted us, and above all, despite our own sins, we are still here, hell has not destroyed us. And that is not just edifying, but a miracle because, humanly speaking, there is absolutely no reason why we should still be here and still waging our war for survival, we should have been destroyed years ago.

The Turning Point for the Phanar?

The Patriarchate of Constantinople has called a meeting of all 120 of its bishops for the beginning of September, after its Patriarch Bartholomew has consulted with Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow at the end of August. All of its bishops, including those elderly, ill, retired and titular (about half of them), are being summoned. It is clear that this is an important meeting, being called with the full backing of the US Secretary of State and his ambassador in Turkey.

After the disaster of the inter-Orthodox meeting which it organized in Crete two years ago, boycotted by representatives of 80% of the Orthodox world and rejected by many who did attend it, it is time for the Phanar to reconsider its policy of ecclesiastical imperialism and to start to listen. It is, however, doubtful that it will have the humility to accept its position in the real world as a tiny ethnic grouping, which has discredited itself with the USA that finances it, the Vatican that supports it and, above all, with Orthodox who are faithful to the Tradition. It would be better if the Archbishop of Athens simply assumed the title of Patriarch of Constantinople, so that the reality that this Patriarchate is in fact just an anachronistic, small Local Church takes hold. Then it will stop meddling in the affairs of other Local Churches.

There are those who fear that such realism is quite beyond the grasp of the present Phanariot episcopate, who are blinded by theory and fantasy, by what their forbears represented a millennium ago. Some repeat the dark rumour that the meeting in September will result in the Phanar setting up an uncanonical jurisdiction in the US-run Ukraine. This would lead to Constantinople’s excommunication from the Orthodox Church, which has condemned any such moves. Others believe that the meeting will simply appoint a new Archbishop for the corrupt and bankrupt Greek Archdiocese in the USA and Canada, which has become very turbulent because of its general apostasy from Orthodoxy and so protestantization by the dominant local culture in North America.

Whatever the case, Orthodox must pray that the episcopate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople will this time at last listen to the Holy Spirit. This is surely make or break time for it and its faltering octogenarian Patriarch.

A Week in the Life of a Priest

It is only thanks to an annual break in a remote place in France, without the internet, that I have time to write up a week’s diary. In this place, called ‘Daybreak’ in French, that you will not find on any map, where the old people speak ‘gallo’ and not French, there is still a sense of the old saints, one of whom lived here as a hermit over a millennium ago. Since, in modern France, Catholicism has been dead once the 1960s and the country is wholly given over to the new consumerist paganism from the USA that has replaced it, the sense of the old saints is the only alternative.

Here is one week in my life, not typical in its details, because every week is different and unexpected, but typical in terms of its fullness.

Saturday 1st

A new month begins and I reflect that today is the 25th anniversary of the death of a man who lived under the pseudonym of Mavr Stepanich. He was a Red Army soldier, who in 1944 was trapped by the Germans in the western Ukraine. Facing certain death in capture (there was no mercy on the Eastern Front), he rook the identity papers from a dead body, that of a soldier called Mavr Stepanovich, who was a Polish Ukrainian fighting on the German side, and dressed himself in his uniform. When he got captured by the Germans, they sent him to Germany as a Ukrainian slave-worker.

After the War, pretending to be a Polish citizen who had been sent to Germany, he managed to get sent to France as a Polish refugee. Here he worked as a nightwatchman until his retirement in 1980. He told me his story in 1993, more or less as a deathbed confession and told me his real name. Most of his life he had lived under a dead man’s name, frightened that he would be found out. His gravestone bore his assumed name, not his real one: even in death he bore another man’s name. So were people caught up in the cruel history of the twentieth century.

There are only two baptisms this afternoon, Moldovan and Latvian. At the Latvian baptism, the young godfather’s wife is Peruvian. Quite the most striking woman I have ever seen, like some Inca princess, certainly not of European blood. The fall of the Soviet Union meant that this Latvian Russian had met her in England and married her. What a destiny…..From Peru to Latvia…What will their children look like?

Latvia was ravaged by the EU. Their factories closed, two thirds of Lithuanians and one half of Latvians have to live abroad. They have been cut off from their parents, except by skype (symbolically for the Baltics, an Estonian invention) and their children grow up speaking German, English, Spanish, French or Italian, relatively ignorant of their parents’ culture and language. The minority cultures and languages that the Soviet Union failed to extinguish are being extinguished by the European Union’s MacDonaldization. I have one Latvian parishioner, whose six children live in six different EU countries. Her family has been broken and scattered by history, her grandchildren scarcely know one another. Little wonder that she reckons that she was better off under the Soviet Union.

Two confessions. One enquiry. Two men lighting candles – they are working tomorrow. The Vigil service.

Sunday 2nd

I arrive at church at 8.00, there are things to get ready and a proskomidia that would take all night, if I had the time. There are about forty people for confession, some come to me, some, mainly Romanians, go to the second priest, who arrives a little after me. There is a huge crisis in Romania, as in the Baltics: 3.8 million, mainly the young people, have left Romania since the country was forced to join the EU just a few years ago. They do not want to be here, but there is no alternative: starve or emigrate. Here is the wonderful European Union.

At church there used to be a prostitute. She has been radiantly happy ever since I married her to her husband and had children. She was deeply ashamed of what she fell into in the past. I am the only person in the world who knows her secret. Now she lives in X. in her new life, but has come today.

A man I have never seen before comes to confession with a secret that he has kept for ten years. He cries as he confesses. He is thankful for confession. At last he has said what he had to repent for.

There are only about 130 at church today. As usual a good twenty are people I have never seen before. As there are so many children and about half the adults take communion, we use two chalices. After the liturgy I have the usual queue of people. Two want a moleben, others want to make appointments for baptisms and house blessings, one wants me to fill in a form, one is asking about weddings. About average.

Monday 3rd

In the morning I catch up with e-mails after the weekend. I get about fifteen a day which need answering. Another fifteen are spam or can be deleted. Most are from England, but a good minority come from Russia, the USA or elsewhere. The phone does not stop ringing.

In the afternoon I have a funeral in an east Norfolk village. The countryside is lovely. What a good place to die. Aged 89, the woman I am burying was born on the other side of the world in Sakhalin, by the Sea of Japan. The village Church of England church is opened to me by the churchwarden. He is well into his sixties, but he tells me that he is the youngest member of the congregation.

Now, as we sing ‘Eternal Memory’, she who is on her last journey is being buried not far from the sound of the waves of the North Sea. She lived through Stalin, the Second World War, the trauma of Gorbachov and then emigration aged 78 to England. She made a deathbed confession to me and I gave her communion two weeks ago. It was a wonderful confession. Another destiny. From the Sea of Japan to the North Sea, half way round the world.

In a melancholy mood, on the way back I think about B., the Russian prince who lived in a council house in C..  He died twenty years ago. He was a brilliant man who came to England in 1946. He had suffered collectivization, seen the deaths of all the members of his family at the hands of Stalin’s thugs and then been kidnapped to Germany by the Nazis. He came to England, worked hard, made all the furniture in his house himself, sang in the Church choir. He was a clean soul.

Then my thoughts shift to my great-aunt Madge, who was a sales girl at Harrod’s who died in the Blitz in October 1940. I never knew her, but have a photo of her. There is no-one to pray for her, except me. What a tragedy. Recently married to my great-uncle, she had hardly lived. Why did she die under a German bomb? Her husband, my great-uncle Albert, died in 1948. They say of a broken heart. He never recovered from losing her.

Tuesday 4th

Fifty miles from home I take communion to L., who is ill and lives here in sheltered accommodation. She is aged 84 and knew Fr Ambrose (Pogodin) in London. He was a wonderful priest, who translated works of the Fathers from Latin. A very gifted man, he went to America, but nothing worked out for him, as he was a man of integrity who found any sort of compromise very difficult. How much talent has been lost to the Church as a result of the politicking and narcissism of some bishops. There is only one person in the diocese for them – themselves. May God rest his gentle soul.

In this town where I am near Cambridge, we need a church. I tried to buy one here three years ago, but could not raise the money. I discover that it is still available. I can see no other suitable premises. We are so desperately short of money to buy suitable premises and provide priests. Now there are at last three of us priests here in the east of England, but I still need another nine.

On the way back, I stop to see the M. family, who are parishioners. We talk. There is much to say.

In the evening there are many phone calls.

Wednesday 5th

Today I leave at 7.00 am to get to O.. It is fifty miles away and I need to see eleven people in all. One of these young men is there because he killed a man in a car accident. The story is sad. He had an argument with his girl-friend, drove away very angry and killed a young pedestrian through dangerous driving and negligence. He admits his guilt and says he deserved a longer sentence. I know that he is haunted by the life that he cut short. And he will be haunted by it for the rest of his life. Can he pray himself out of his fault? What a burden on his conscience.

Afterwards I stop over to talk to F., who has phoned me, saying that she has marital difficulties. Then I call in on T.. She is Russian, aged 28, and has had health problems. I confess her. She lives with a Catholic man, also from Eastern Europe. I meet him. He is a very kind man, who is deeply in love with her, just the right man for her. He is ready to join the Church for her. I encourage them to think about getting married and starting a family.

Thursday 6th

Today I head for Lincolnshire, 100 miles away. Thirty-five years ago I used to live near here. I have two baptisms in the kitchen of a family here. They have two children. They had not had them baptised yet as there was no priest. I bless her house with the baptismal water. Then I meet a woman in a small town. She is from a town on the Volga. Now she works as a cashier in a supermarket in a small town in England. She is Orthodox, but used to go to the local Church of England church, as there is no Orthodox church here, but ‘when they played drums at Easter’, she left and has not returned. She says she wants the real Church. Her 16-year old daughter has conquered cancer, and the mother wants to get married. We fix a date. I bless her house. Nearby is a town with a Methodist church for sale for £250,000. It would be ideal for us. There are a lot of Orthodox here, I could spend a week here.

Friday 7th

I open my e-mails. From my old parish in Portugal, I hear that V. has died. A former KGB operative in Prague, he repented and in 1993 I baptised him and then married him to his Czech wife. He came to church last Sunday in Lisbon and everyone noticed that he looked very pale and very tired, not well at all. He went to sit on a shady bench outside the church. Suddenly he had a heart attack and within seconds he had died. He was aged 68. I will serve a panikhida for him in Colchester today. I already have a moleben to serve today for two people, ordered last Sunday.

In the news I read that a group of Russians have been found in Siberia. Orthodox refugees, they had been living in isolation for decades and had not yet heard that the atheist Soviet Union had fallen. What must their lives have been like?

I go to church. I serve the moleben and panikhida. I help clean the church, with the help of parishioners: they do most of the work. I get ready for a liturgy in Kent tomorrow.

Many phone-calls again.

It has been a full week, with many thoughts about death, which is very unusual, as I have very few funerals. But every week is different, as any priest will tell you.

Why aren’t you a priest? It is the only satisfying job left.

 

Ekaterinburg 2018: A Pilgrim’s Notes

Having flown in from Moscow, as we leave Ekaterinburg airport for the city, we see billboards with the words: ‘The Urals greet His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill’, with a picture of the Patriarch. Many other billboards show the Imperial Family with quotations from their writings (‘It is not evil that will triumph, but love’) and invitations to discover more about them from a website.

We are in Eurasia, 12 miles from the (invented) line that divides Europe from Asia. Little wonder that the signs at the airport were all in Russian, Chinese and English. The Imperial Family, whose emblem of unity was the double-headed eagle, looking east and west, were martyred here 100 years ago on the confines of Europe and Asia.

We visit the Church on the Blood, built on the ruins of the place of the martyrdom of the Family, the Ipatiev House, demolished by Yeltsin in 1977, as it was becoming an ever more popular site of pilgrimage. It is very beautiful. A side-altar had been built to replicate the very small basement in which the Imperial Family were finished off. There are people crying, others singing an akathist. I see my friend, Fr Maxim, who serves there.

Nearby is the Tsar’s Museum, with its excellent exhibition on the Imperial Martyrs, and also the room where the Holy Synod held its meeting on 13 July. In the corners of the room stand the 15 flags of the countries represented by the participants, including the Ukraine, Japan and China.

We head for Ganina Yama (‘Gabriels pit’), the abandoned mineshaft, where they attempted to dispose of the bodies of the seven royal martyrs and their four servants. Here they have enclosed the pit, planting hundreds of lilies over it, and built seven churches. Here too people kneel in tears and others sing.

We visit other convents: in Ekaterinburg the old Novotikhvinsky, which is being restored and has 100 nuns, and, a few miles away, the new Central Urals Convent, with 170 nuns, but 450 residents in all, as it cares for single mothers and their children, orphans, and has a cancer ward for the terminally ill. There are many, mainly female, visitors. There also seem to be a number of cossacks here. The spiritual father is the controversial but clearly dynamic Fr Sergiy (Romanov). There are four churches, with a huge bell-tower to contain forty tons of bells, under construction.

It is here that on Monday 16 July I concelebrate with ten priests with the former Metropolitan of Ekaterinburg, Vikenty, now of Tashkent and Uzbekistan. One of the priests, a pilgrim originally from Novosibirsk, looks Chinese. He is in fact a Yakut, Russian is his second language. We meet, one from the East, one from the West, brought together by the Imperial Martyrs.

However, the highlight of our pilgrimage is the liturgy of 17 July, beginning at midnight, shortly after which, exactly 100 years before, the Imperial Martyrs were slaughtered by their mainly Non-Russian executioners and disposed of. The Patriarch presides, with some 15 bishops and 100 priests. Tens of thousands take communion at 2.00 am. Then at 2.30 am, we head for Ganina Yama, thirteen miles away. The pace is very, very brisk, almost at a run. 100,000 faithful, many carrying church banners, Tsar’s flags, strong men carrying huge icons, many pilgrims have paper icons hanging around their necks, cossacks, policemen, old, young, cripples on crutches, babies and small children in pushchairs, 50-100 abreast, stretching back miles, at our head the Patriarch, who covers the distance like us. We sing the Jesus Prayer for miles on end, then, as we draw nearer, the hundreds of priests, monks and nuns and the tens of thousands of laypeople, pray singing: ‘Holy Royal Martyrs, pray to God for us!’ They are called on by name, together with St Seraphim of Sarov (‘the Tsar who glorifies me, I will glorify’), St John of Kronstadt and his successor the Martyr Gregory (Rasputin). Holy Rus is on the move in an irresistible tide, the clergy carried by the piety of the people, the people carried by the piety of the clergy. The intellectuals and liberals have no answer to this piety. Love will indeed triumph over evil.

 

 

Questions and Answers – July 2018

Q: What in your view is the greatest problem for the Orthodox Church in the UK today?

A: Without doubt it is the pastoral crisis, the chronic shortage of priests and lack of our own churches. Why? Well, who wants to be a priest when you are not paid and you have to find your own churches? Among Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants all the infrastructure, churches, houses and salaries, is already provided. What an easy life they have!

My ‘parish’ covers five counties and 7,500 square miles (20,000 square kilometres). I only have two permanent churches here, which I have had to obtain and fit out, and two assistant priests, neither of whom is available on weekdays. Here there is the failure of bishops to provide priests (lack of a seminary, as opposed to a centre for ivory tower intellectuals who do not understand real Church life) and to provide for their priests. And, frankly, this is the case over most of the world. How can we have a Church that gives no pastoral care? This is why children are not being baptized, couples are not being married and people are not being buried by priests. There are no local priests. This is indeed a DIY church. We shall perhaps look back on this period as the most decadent in Church history.

Q: When did the contemporary Church begin to venerate the local saints of the West?

A: The turning-point came in 1952 when St John of Shanghai submitted a list of local saints for veneration to the Synod of Russian Bishops Outside Russia. All his ROCOR disciples followed him, from Archbishop Nathanael of Vienna to Archbishop Antony of Geneva, from Fr Seraphim Rose to my sinful self. This movement was followed and imitated by other jurisdictions a generation or two later, without repentance for their earlier rejections. I can remember in 1975 when I submitted a list of these saints, how mocked I was at the time by the Sourozh Jurisdiction, the Thyateira Jurisdiction and the Paris Jurisdiction. The attitude was racist. How times change!

Q: Why does the West reject ascetic life? The Catholics made their Church into a State and none of them has any concept of fasting or even standing for services.

A: The great problem for the Church has always been how to deal with the world. The Orthodox view is to do our best to sanctify the world, suffering persecution and even martyrdom if necessary, submitting to martyrdom. The Western view has been to conquer and control the world: the result of this is the secularization of the Western ‘Church’ – their ‘Church’ has become the world.

This rejection of ascetic effort goes back to the filioque. This says that the Holy Spirit (all truth and authority in Church life) proceeds from the Son and therefore from all those who represent the Son on earth. In 800 this was interpreted to mean Charlemagne, who called himself the Vicar of Christ and began massacring the Saxons in the Name of God (= Caesaropapism). In the later 11th century, however, it was the Bishop of Rome who changed his official title from Vicar of St Peter (in reality the title of the Patriarchs of Antioch) to Vicar of Christ and his ‘Church’ became more powerful than any State (Papocaearism). So began Papal-sponsored massacres in 1066 in England and then in ‘crusades’. So began clericalism. In the 16th century everyone became vicars of Christ, and so was born Protestantism. Anyone had the right to go off and start their own ‘church’, regardless of repentance and ascetic practice. So was born anti-ascetic humanism. So was born sitting down, sing-song hymns and clapping your hands – in effect an early form of karaoke, ‘fun-religion’.

Q: Why are liberals so hostile and aggressive to the Russian Church when only about 5% of the Russian population actually practises the Orthodox Faith?

A: The trouble for the liberals, who also represent only about 5% of the Russian population, is that the culture of the Russian Federation and of countries like the Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova is still largely Orthodox in practical domains, that is outside attendance at Church services, regardless of the narrow Protestant understanding of ‘practice’ as ‘going to church’. (The Orthodox understanding of ‘practice’ is how we live our life, which is totally different from ‘God-slot’ Protestantism, based on guilt, or obligatory attendance Catholicism). Liberals are angry at their failure to root out Christian cultural values from everyday life of the 90% in these Orthodox countries, which is what they have achieved in the West over the last fifty years. Our way of life which persists disturbs them, delaying and thwarting their plans for totalitarian domination of every aspect of life.

Q: According to the West, Russia is Asiatic. Is this so in your view?

A: First of all, this is racist and ethnocentric: the word ‘Asiatic’ is used to mean ‘barbaric’, ‘savage’ and cruel’. So everyone in Asia, with its fine and delicate culture, is so? Secondly, it is incredibly hypocritical: it was the West that invented the Crusades and the Inquisition, the Maxim gun and modern artillery, chemical weapons and the bomber, Communism and Fascism, the concentration camp and the Atomic bomb, the cluster bomb and the drone. Are these not cruel and barbaric? Thirdly, it is geographically incorrect, since 90% of Russians live in Europe and all the Slav peoples originate north of the Carpathians – in Europe. Fourthly, it can be argued that in any case there is no such thing as ‘Europe’. There is only one Continent – Eurasia, Europe is an artificial invention at the western tip of a single Continent. All the other continents, Africa, Australia and the Americas are clearly different continents because they are separated from one another by the sea. Not so little Europe, which has been artificially separated from the mass of Asia by the relatively low hills called the Urals. In the south of Asia, India and China are both considered Asian, and yet they are separated by the giant mountains of the Himalayas, not the hills of the Urals!

The charge of ‘Asiatic’ is always made to justify Western barbarianism. The next time that the West commits some war-crime, we should say: ‘What do you expect of Europe? It is so European’.

Q: What makes a good candidate for the priesthood?

A: A kind-hearted man, who knows the services and is understanding with others, patient and a good listener, who is not stupid and not intolerant, not money-minded and not a careerist.

Q: Why is the West so fond of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, yet ignores or even condemns her sister, the Tsarina Alexandra?

A: Both were ex-Protestants who joined the Orthodox Church and both were martyrs, and so whatever their sins and mistakes, they were washed away by their blood. However I think the West is fond of the errors of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, for example her naïve dabbling in politics, condemnation of Gregory Rasputin, whom she had never even seen, let alone met,  and her purely Protestant desire for deaconesses, which was naturally rejected by the Church. In some respects she did not fully become Orthodox until the last year of her life, unlike her younger sister Alexandra who joined the Orthodox Church out of love and never tried to change anything, integrating the Faith very quickly, as it says in the Akathist to the Royal Martyrs, she was ‘an example’ of one who turned from Protestantism to Orthodoxy. That irritates the demon of the West, which can only understand Orthodoxy through the deforming prism of its errors. This is why it absurdly accuses St Alexandra of being fanatical, neurotic and hysterical. St Alexandra is a convert who became fully Orthodox and she should be the patron-saint of all who convert to the Orthodox Faith.

Q: Since you like the old calendar, why don’t you join the old calendarists?

A: There is a great difference between being faithful to the old (= Church) calendar and being an old calendarist. Isms are always fatal. The question that I ask old calendarists is: Why do you claim to be Orthodox (and indeed ‘super-Orthodox’), when you are not even in communion with the 215 million members and 900 bishops of the Orthodox Church?

Q: What are the chances that Gregory Rasputin will be canonized, do you think?

A: At the present moment they are near zero. Only two or three bishops are in favour, although there are many priests and people in favour in a few dioceses, like Ekaterinburg, in which diocese Gregory was born and grew up. So a local canonization could happen there in a few years time. The situation is very similar to that of the chances of the canonization of St Seraphim of Sarov in the 1880s (when it had been considered, but was opposed by most of the Synod of bishops), the Royal Martyrs in the Church Outside Russia in the 1960s and 1970s (when, as I remember, it was opposed by many, despite the long-held view of the future St John of Shanghai) or inside Russia in the 1980s (when it was opposed by large numbers of bishops, clergy and people).

In other words, for canonization to take place you need a certain spiritual maturity, you have to be spiritually ready, spiritually awake, and that leads to unity. In a Church of converts, which is what the Russian Church today is, we do not find that. There is still not sufficient consensus on the understanding of the past, neither of the Soviet period, nor of the pre-Revolutionary period. Many supposedly Orthodox academics and also bishops are opposed to the canonization of Gregory, just as their forebears were opposed to the canonization of St Seraphim of Sarov and the Royal Martyrs in the past.

We must wait until such people come round to reality and wake up to the new research done in the Russian State archives, which has completely overturned the old prejudices and ignorance of the anti-Orthodox past, both of the Soviet and similar pre-Revolutionary periods. Similarly, such intellectuals, even ‘theologians’, detest the veneration for Gregory among the devout masses who in turn detest the Church bureaucracy. At present, this canonization is supported only by the most committed and well-educated Orthodox. We must be patient and wait for the ignorance of others to dissipate. We do not divide the Church.

Q: What forms do the ‘the right side’ and ‘the left side’ take, in the spiritual sense of these terms?

A: The enemy wields a double-edged sword. The right side is Establishment Religion: Phariseeism / Talmudism / Monophysitism / Nationalism / Ritualism / Fascism / Old Calendarism. The left side is Sectarian Religion: Saduceeism / Hellenism / Arianism / Scholasticism / Rationalism / Liberalism / New Calendarism.

Q: How can we protect the English language against its bastardization today?

A: We should use and revive the terms of disappearing English. We should use expressions like: my sainted aunt / until the cows come home / till Kingdom come / how far afield? / by George , and use such words as, mild, meek, noble, which the younger generation hardly knows. I am sure that you can expand on such a list.

Fr Nicholas Gibbes: The First English Disciple of Tsar Nicholas II and the First English Priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

A Talk given at Barton Manor near Osborne House on the Isle of Wight on 7 July 2018.

In this centenary year of the martyrdom of Tsar Nicholas II, his August Family, their servants and the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, it would be well to recall their first English disciple and the first ever English Russian Orthodox priest, Fr Nicholas Gibbes.

Charles Sydney Gibbes, for short Sydney Gibbes, was born 142 years ago, on 19 January 1876. In the 19th century this was for all Orthodox the feast day of St John the Baptist, the voice that cried in the wilderness. His parents were called John and Mary – more English than that you cannot find. His father was a bank manager in Rotherham, just outside Sheffield, in Yorkshire. Amusingly, this would later be recorded by a Russian civil servant on Sydney’s residence papers in Russia as ‘Rotterdam’.

With no fewer than ten siblings, Sydney grew into a stereotypical, Victorian, Protestant young man of the educated classes. He received his education at Cambridge, where he changed the spelling of his surname to Gibbes, from Gibbs, as the adopted form is the older, historical one. This change was typical of his love of historical detail and accuracy. Sydney is described as: severe, stiff, self-restrained, imperturbable, quiet, gentlemanly, cultured, pleasant, practical, simple, brave, loyal, lucid, witty, crisp, vigorous, honourable, reliable, impeccably clean, with high character, of good sense and with agreeable manners. He seems the perfect Victorian English Yorkshire gentleman – not a man with such an unusual destiny.

However, as we know from history, underneath Victorian gentlemen lurked other sides – repressed, but still present. For example, we know that Sydney could be stubborn, that he used corporal punishment freely, that he could be very awkward with others, and he is recorded as having quite a temper, though these traits mellowed greatly with the years. My good friend from Oxford days long ago, Dmitri Kornhardt, recalled how in later life tears would stream down Fr Nicholas’ face when celebrating services in memory of the Imperial Martyrs, but how also he would very rapidly recover himself after such unEnglish betrayals of emotion.

Underneath the Victorian reserve there was indeed a hidden man, one with spiritual sensitivity, who was interested in theatre and theatricals, spiritualism, fortune-telling and palmistry, and one who was much prone to recording his dreams. Perhaps this is why, when after University he had been thinking of the Anglican priesthood as a career, he found it ‘stuffy’ and abandoned that path. Talking to those who knew him and reading his biographies, and there are three of them, we cannot help feeling that as a young man Sydney was searching for something – but he knew not what. The real man would eventually come out from beneath his Victorian conditioning.

Perhaps this is why in 1901, aged 25, he found himself teaching English in Russia – a country with which he had no connection. Here he was to spend over 17 years. The key moment came in autumn 1908 when he went to the Imperial Palace in Tsarskoe Selo and became the English tutor of the Imperial children. In particular, he became close to the Tsarevich Alexis, with whom he identified very closely. Why? We can only speculate that there was a sympathy or else complementarity of characters; together with Sydney’s bachelordom, this may have been enough for the friendship to develop. In any case, he became almost a member of the Imperial Family and a profound and lifelong admirer of what he called, as an eyewitness, their exemplary Christian Faith, close family life and kindness. His meeting with this Family changed his life forever and he only ever spoke of them with profound admiration.

In August 1917 Sydney found himself following the Family to Tobolsk. Utterly loyal to the Family, in July 1918 he found himself in Ekaterinburg, the city in the Urals between Asia and Europe, East and West, after their unspeakable murder in the Ipatiev House. He helped identify objects, returning again and again to the House, picking up mementoes, which he was to cling on to until the end, and still reluctant to believe that the crime had taken place. Coming almost half way through his life when he was aged 42, this was without doubt the crucial event in that life, the turning point, the spark that made him seek out his destiny in all seriousness. With the murder of the Family, the bottom had fallen out of his life, his raison d’etre had gone. Where could he go from here?

He did not, like most, return to England. We know that he, like Tsar Nicholas, had been particularly shocked by what he saw as the British betrayal of the Imperial Family. Indeed, we know that it was George Buchanan, the British ambassador to St Petersburg, who had in part been behind the February 1917 deposition of the Tsar by treacherous aristocrats, politicians and generals. This coup d’etat was greeted by Lloyd George in the House of Commons as the ‘achievement of one of our war aims’. (We now also know from the book by Andrew Cook that it was British spies who had assassinated Gregory Rasputin and also that the Tsar’s own cousin, George V, had refused to help the Tsar and His Family escape).

In fact, disaffected by Britain’s politics, from Ekaterinburg Sydney went not west, but east – to Siberian Omsk and then further east, to Beijing and then Harbin in Manchuria. Off and on he would spend another 17 years here, in Russian China. In about 1922 he suffered a serious illness. His religiosity seems to have grown further and after this he would go to study for the Anglican priesthood at St Stephen’s House in Oxford. However, for someone with the world-changing experience that he had had, that was not his way; perhaps he still found Anglicanism ‘stuffy’, I think he would have found almost anything stuffy after what he had been through – seeing his adopted Family wiped out. Finally, in 1934, in Harbin, Sydney joined the Far Eastern Metropolia of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

There is no doubt that he did this as a direct result of the example of the Imperial Family, for he took the Orthodox name of Alexis – the name of the Tsarevich, whom he naturally saw as a martyr. He was to describe this act as ‘getting home after a long journey’, words which perhaps describe the reception into the Orthodox Church of any Western person. Thus, from England, to Russia and then to China, he had found his way. In December 1934, aged almost 59, he became successively monk, deacon and priest. He was now to be known as Fr Nicholas – a name deliberately taken in honour of the martyred Tsar Nicholas. In 1935 he was made Abbot by Metr Antony of Kiev, the head of our multinational Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and later received the title of Archimandrite.

Wishing to establish some ‘Anglo-Orthodox organisation’, in 1937 Fr Nicholas Gibbes came back to live in England permanently. He was aged 61. Of this move he wrote: ‘It is my earnest hope that the Anglican Church should put itself right with the Holy Orthodox Church’. He went to live in London in the hope of setting up an English-language parish within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. In this he did not succeed and in 1940 he moved to Oxford. In this last part of his life in Oxford he became the founder of the first Russian Orthodox church in Oxford at 4, Marston Street, where he lived in humble and modest circumstances. In recalling the address of that first church, dedicated to St Nicholas, we cannot help recalling that today’s Russian Orthodox St Nicholas church in Oxford is not very far away from it.

Not an organiser, sometimes rather erratic, even eccentric, Fr Nicholas was not perhaps an ideal parish priest, but he was sincere and well-respected. In Oxford he cherished his mementoes of the Imperial Family to the end. Before he departed this life, on 24 March 1963, an icon given to him by the Imperial Family, was miraculously renewed and began to shine. One who knew him at the time confirmed this and after Fr Nicholas’ death, commented that now at last Fr Nicholas was seeing the Imperial Family again – for he had been waiting for this moment for 45 years. He was going to meet once more those who had shaped his destiny in this world.

In the 1980s in an old people’s home outside Paris I met a parishioner of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, Count Nikolai Komstadius. He had met Fr Nicholas in 1954, in connection with the false Anastasia, but perhaps had seen him before, since his father had been in charge of the Tsarskoe Selo estate and he himself had been a childhood friend of the Tsarevich. I remember in the 1980s visiting him. In the corner of his room in front of an icon of the martyred Tsarevich there burned an icon-lamp. He turned to me and said: ‘That is such a good likeness, it is just like him and yet also it is an icon’. Not many of us lives to see a childhood playfriend become a saint and have his icon painted. Yet as a young man in his thirties Fr Nicholas had known a whole family, whom he considered to be saints. Indeed, he had been converted by their example.

There are those who have life-changing experiences. They are fortunate, because they stop living superficially, stop drifting through life and stop wasting God-sent opportunities and so find their destiny. Such life-changing experiences can become a blessing if we allow them to become so. Fr Nicholas was one such person, only his life-changing experience was also one that had changed the history of the whole world. For a provincial Victorian Yorkshire bank manager’s son, who had grown up with his parents John and Mary, he had come very far. And yet surely the seeds had been there from the beginning. To be converted we first of all need spiritual sensitivity, a seeking spirit, but secondly we also need an example. Fr Nicholas had had both, the example being the Imperial Martyrs. As that late and wonderful gentlewoman Princess Koutaissova, whom many of us knew, said of his priesthood: ‘He was following his faithfulness to the Imperial Family’.

In this brief talk I have not mentioned many aspects of Fr Nicholas’ life, such as his possible engagement, his adopted son, his hopes in Oxford. This is because they do not interest me much here. I have tried to focus on the essentials, on the spiritual meaning of his life, his destiny. Those essentials are, I believe, to be found in his haunted and haunting gaze. Looking at his so expressive face, we see a man staring into the distance, focusing on some vision, both of the past and of the future. This vision was surely of the past life he had shared with the martyred Imperial Family and also of the future – his long hoped-for meeting with them once more, his ‘sense of completion’.

 

1,000 Words on the Four Generations of ROCOR

Introduction: The Past 1918

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) was effectively formed after the martyrdom of the Imperial Family, even if it was only on 20 November 1920 that the besieged and persecuted Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and his Synod in Moscow issued Decree № 362. This instructed all Russian Orthodox bishops outside Soviet territory, unable to keep in contact with a free Moscow, to organize themselves as an independent Synod.

With personal experience and knowledge of both the bright moments and the dark moments in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) over the past almost fifty years, here is a brief sketch of the near-centennial history of ROCOR. This is a history which is varied, filled with diabolical temptations and insidious attacks from internal and external enemies, and yet one in which faithfulness has always in the end prevailed.

The Old ROCOR: 1918-1943

In exile, ROCOR, with over 30 bishops, organized its monastic and parish life worldwide. It included many of the best theologians from the Church before the 1917 Revolution and bravely stood up both to the compromises of senior Church representatives captive in the Soviet Union and to the modernist heresies of the schismatic Paris Jurisdiction. Thus, patriotically, most members of the Church rejoiced in the successful defence of the Russian Lands following the racist Nazi invasion of 1941.

However, there were also more worldly émigrés, dangerous sectarian elements, who were more politicians than Churchmen, and threatened the future of the Church. Especially after the repose of Metr Antony of Kiev in 1936, the first Primate of ROCOR, these elements slowly began to threaten the integrity of the Church leadership. Indeed, just before and during the Second World War such secular political elements even tried to compromise the ROCOR episcopate with Fascism.

The Threat: 1943-1968

After the Second World War these elements, now resettled in the USA, started to try and compromise the Church with the CIA and other dependent spy services. From the 1960s on, indeed, these elements tried to isolate the Church, putting the future St John of Shanghai on trial and linking ROCOR with fanatical old calendarists, making out that all the Local Churches had mysteriously ‘lost grace’, which they alone had conserved.

According to such phariseeism, on account of the political compromises of a few hostage-bishops in Eastern Europe, 100 million Orthodox were condemned, ‘deprived of grace’! Such was the theological nonsense of these extremists. However, these Donatists were opposed by the mass of the Church, who remained faithful to the old ROCOR, remembering the history of the Church before the Revolution and the whole bimillennial Church.

The Time of Troubles: 1968-1993

The situation worsened at the end of the 1960s, though gallant bishops, like the ever-memorable Bishop Sava of Edmonton (+ 1973), Bishop Nectary of Seattle (+ 1983), Archbishop Antony of Geneva (+ 1993) and many faithful priests and laypeople, all disciples of the spirit of St John of Shanghai, resisted. They held faith with the missionary heritage of the Church and genuine monastic life, with the Orthodox Tradition.

Meanwhile, on the political wing, one senior archimandrite debauched nuns and sold and stole property in Jerusalem for $6 million, money which he pocketed, though at last he was defrocked for this and his other crimes. However, his father tried to ally ROCOR with old calendarism and later opened communities which were not on the canonical territory of ROCOR. Some very dark events took place then.

The Rebirth of ROCOR: 1993-2018

In 1993, 75 years after the slaughter of the Royal Martyrs, came the long-awaited canonization of St John of Shanghai, who had so long awaited the canonization of the Royal Martyrs. This was a turning-point, for it meant that the Johannite wing of the Church, the spirit of St John, was winning, whereas the political wing, with its spiritual and moral hypocrisy, love of ritual, pomp and show, was being defeated. Meanwhile, in Moscow in 2000 the compromised of the Church inside Russia repented, at last canonizing the first of the New Martyrs and Confessors, nineteen years after ROCOR, and rejecting political and spiritual compromises. The final victory came in 2007 when ROCOR accepted the repentance of those in Moscow who had compromised themselves during the Soviet period.

However, some in ROCOR itself had also had to repent for the errors which had compromised it with the nonsense of politicized individuals and their naïve followers. In effect, both the old ‘Moscow Patriarchate’ (MP) and the anti-historical sectarian trend in ROCOR in the 1960s-1990s were finished. Even the term ‘MP’ is now used only by polemicists, who cling to the unpleasant past in order to justify their sectarian present. Since 2007, there has only been the Russian Orthodox Church: the 98% inside the Russian Lands and the 2% outside them. We are united by our common saints, the Royal Martyrs, all the tens of thousands of New Martyrs and Confessors who followed them, and the confessor-saints of ROCOR: St Jonah of Hankou (+ 1925), St Seraphim of Sofia (+ 1950) and St John of Shanghai (+ 1966).

Conclusion: The Future 2018

Approaching the third decade of the 21st century and its centenary, today’s ROCOR must stand steadfast in its uncompromising faith. It must stand against geriatric ecumenism, political or academic compromises, which make theology and so Church life into an ideological or intellectual game. It must oppose those who value property and money over human souls, always siding with the saints. ROCOR must be the Local Church, on whatever continent we exist.

Throughout Western Europe, the Americas and Australasia, ROCOR must stand for the local people, whatever their native language and origins. It must stand for already Orthodox people, as well as for people who seek to live according to the Orthodox Tradition. We must stand against ideology, bureaucracy, centralization, politics, what is done for mere show and prestige, for the Orthodox Tradition without either compromise or sectarian foolishness.

Lady Godiva – A Righteous Englishwoman

According to a well-known tradition, Lady Godiva was a noblewoman who rode naked through the streets of Coventry, covering her modesty with her long hair. This was in order to free the townspeople from the taxation that her husband had imposed on them. Although postmodernists have doubted this story, we see no reason to doubt the backbone of the tradition, which does date from at least the twelfth century. Of course, modern misunderstandings should be avoided – for example, Coventry was then a settlement of only a few hundred people and not a major city.

Godiva, in Old English Godgifu, was a popular name, meaning ‘gift of God’. Lady Godiva was probably a widow when she married Leofric, Earl of Mercia. They had one known son, Aelfgar. Both were generous benefactors to monasteries. In 1043 Leofric founded and endowed a monastery in Coventry on the site of a convent destroyed by the Danes in 1016, Godiva being the moving force behind this act. In the 1050s her name was coupled with that of her husband on a grant of land to the monastery of St Mary in Worcester and also on the endowment of the minster at Stow Mary in Lincolnshire.

 She and her husband are also commemorated as benefactors of other monasteries in Leominster, Chester, Much Wenlock and Evesham. Lady Godiva also gave Coventry a number of works in precious metal by the famous goldsmith Mannig and bequeathed a necklace valued at 100 marks of silver. Another necklace went to Evesham, to be hung around the figure of the Virgin accompanying the life-size gold and silver rood she and her husband gave, and St Paul’s Cathedral received a gold-fringed chasuble. She and her husband were among the most generous Old English donors in the last decades before the Norman Conquest.

The manor of Woolhope in Herefordshire, along with four others, was given to the Cathedral in Hereford before the Norman Conquest by Wulviva and Godiva – usually held to be Godiva and her sister. Her signature appears on a charter purportedly given by Thorold of Bucknall to the monastery of Spalding. It is possible that this Thorold, the sheriff of Lincolnshire, was her brother. Leofric died in 1057, but Lady Godiva lived on, dying some time between 1066 and 1086. She is mentioned in the Domesday survey as the only Englishwoman to remain a major landholder shortly after the Norman Occupation. There seems little reason to doubt that she was buried with her husband in Coventry.