55 years ago, in 1962, St John of Shanghai left London and our local ROCOR diocese with these prophetic words: ‘I entrust you to the care of St Alban, your Protomartyr’. This was indeed the case, for St John was succeeded by two elderly and ill bishops who spoke little English, and then for thirty years the Diocese had no resident bishop. With just occasional visits to the small London parish, the result was that the Diocese nearly died out. Everything changed in March 2016, when the parishes of the Diocese, in profound crisis, one by one asked for direct pastoral care from His Grace Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) and a young and dynamic assistant bishop in the USA, who at once saw the enormous frustrated potential and were in favour of venerating St Alban and all the local saints. This was effectively a ROCOR Brexit. (Moreover, with pressure from ROCOR in England, in March 2017 St Alban was at long last officially included in the Russian Orthodox calendar by the Synod in Moscow).
With a stream of new clergy and two more priests to come shortly, with, for the first time in its history, representatives in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Cornwall, the Anglo-Celtic Orthodox Diocese of the Isles is at last moving forward. This is to be affirmed on 13 May with the first Diocesan pilgrimage to St Alban in St Albans, just as St John wanted 55 years ago. With support from new bishops, the once exhausted clergy and people of the Diocese are now looking to the future. In the Eastern half of England, with four priests (none of them Russian), two of them looking after the new parishes in Norwich and Bury St Edmunds and two in Colchester, and perhaps another priest and deacon to come, we can now at last look to catering for the vast and still unmet pastoral challenges in the region. Massive immigration from Orthodox Eastern Europe over the last twelve years has created a huge pastoral crisis, which official Orthodox representatives have failed to deal with.
True, the untrained, former Anglican clerics of the Antiochian jurisdiction, which has no ethnic constituency or liturgical or other tradition, has picked up mainly modernistic and unChurched immigrants who do not confess, but has not for the most part been able to Church them. The Balkan jurisdictions have shown little interest in pastoral care for their own economic refugees. The Russian jurisdictions also. One, until recently obsessed with the centralizing, inward-looking cult of a dead man and false ethnic problems, which together created a very harmful schism, is almost infrastructure-less as a result of a total lack of vision. The other, also once London-centred, long paralysed by a dead and inward-looking nationalistic cult of the past and unwilling to implement the missionary activity that would have taken place if it had not become nationalistic, has also lacked any sense of reality and hope for the future. A lack of vision always means a lack of mission. ‘Let the dead bury the dead’.
Cut free of the deadwood of the past, all is now possible, at least for ROCOR. What are our next targets after the new parishes of St John of Shanghai in Colchester (Essex), St Alexander Nevsky in Norwich (Norfolk) and St Edmund in Bury St Edmunds (Suffolk)? It is to set up five more viable communities, faithful to the uncompromised Orthodox Tradition of the Russian Church, but fully open to the native languages and peoples in the eastern half of England in:
1. Cambridgeshire – Ely / March/ Wisbech, dedicated to St Audrey.
2. Kent – Canterbury, dedicated to Christ the Saviour.
3. Yorkshire – York, dedicated to Sts Constantine and Helen.
4. South London – Croydon, dedicated to St John of Kronstadt.
5. North London – St Albans, dedicated to St Alban.
Outside the East, we also see possibilities.
6. Scotland, where there is a great need to incorporate the rich and pure Gaelic Orthodox Tradition of Mary, Columba and Brigid into the Church.
7. Cornwall, the peninsula of ancient Celtic saints, born out of the Egyptian monastic tradition of Orthodoxy, dedicated to St Antony the Great.
These seven targets are very modest: ultimately, beyond them there are many, many other places that need looking after, from Sussex to the Midlands and the North-East. Our ultimate aim is to own one permanent church and one trained priest, that is, to have liturgical centres, in each county of each of the four countries in the Isles, with at least four in London. At least continuing with these seven targets after the first three would start to reverse the disastrous decades of backward-looking and inward-looking indifference, abandonment and neglect. At least this would be a beginning. The long backlog of candidates for the clergy, who have been patiently waiting for years, are now being ordained. But there is far, very far, to go, after the four wasted decades in the battle for survival against all the odds. It has been the wait and weight of a lifetime.