The Truth will set you free (John 8, 32)
A year ago, in 2019, there came to us revelation upon revelation amid the visit of the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God. The rest of that year followed the same course, with great events, both in Church life and in personal life. The schism created by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the Ukraine had become worldwide and that Patriarchate, with its adoption of many secular values, fell out of communion with the Russian Church. The positive result was the miraculous and long-awaited return of the Orthodox half (58% to be precise) of the Rue Daru Archdiocese from Constantinople to the Russian Church. This followed less than a year after the establishment of the Exarchate for the new Russian-speaking emigration to Western Europe, centred in Paris.
Another miracle took place when in July 2019, after more or less fifty years without a resident bishop in good health, our Diocese of the Church Outside Russia was at last received a resident Bishop Irenei, moreover with the title ‘of London’, which I had much encouraged, and ‘of Western Europe’, for which I had also been pleading for very many years. On the 35th anniversary of my ordination to serve at the altar, I gave thanks for this to the parish in front of Bishop Irenei when he visited us.
At this point, in early 2020, I had seen my many hopes of nearly half a century realised: The Saints of the Isles and other Western European Saints had been recognised by the Church and some included in the official calendar (despite the hostility of some); the Russian Church was One, as the Moscow Patriarchate was slowly becoming deMoscowised, that is de-Sovietised, which had allowed ROCOR to be in communion with the Patriarchate and the Rue Daru Archdiocese to return from schism to the Patriarchate; the Church had effectively been cleansed by the Phanariot schism; there was a Moscow-run Exarchate for the new generation in Western Europe and for the native Orthodox in the Isles and those who wished to integrate Western Europe but remain truly Orthodox; there was our own Bishop, whom I had had petitioned to be sent to us from the USA.; in Moscow an Orthodox missionary society dedicated to our very own St Felix of Felixstowe, Apostle of East Anglia, had been founded. On top of this, on 1 February 2020 the UK had refound its freedom, by leaving the insular EU straitjacket after 47 years.
Then my eldest son found a little church in Little Abington, between Cambridge and Haverhill, for sale. That was on Thursday 13 February 2020. I managed to view it inside the following Sunday afternoon and the day after that, 17 February, I received a loan to buy it. Two days before the Triumph of Orthodoxy, on 6 March, we heard that we had obtained it after an auction process. This was a miracle. Little Abington is seven miles to the south-east of Cambridge, where we had first searched for a church forty years before, in 1980, but had been let down by the powers that then were. This place was where three counties, Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, joined. It was the third church I had founded. (As someone said Colchester, Norwich and Cambridge made a triangle). The three churches were to represent unity in diversity. It was also near Cambridge, that centre of anti-Trinitarian theology, which we thus challenged.
On a personal level, I had known Little Abington almost all my life – it was on the very edge of all those villages, where for centuries my ancestors had been born, lived, worked and died. And all those villages, the Abingtons, Ridgwell, Hadstock, Bartlow, West Wratting, Shudy Camps, Castle Camps, Great Chesterford, Steeple Bumpstead, Helions Bumsptead, Sturmer, Kedington, Withersfield, Stambourne, Baythorn End, Hundon, their names poetry and music to me, were all haunted not by the cold conceits of atheist Cambridge, but by the humble martyr St Edmund. Clearly, there would have to be an icon of him on the iconostasis as THE local saint. Moreover, the church here was a church that had belonged for 100 years, since it had been built, to the Non-Conformist ‘United Reformed Church’. This was a Protestant group to which many of my local forbears had belonged.
When, by the grace of God, we obtained the church, someone said that ‘at last Fr Andrew has been unleashed’. I had been frustrated for over thirty years before Colchester had come in 2008, Norwich in 2015 and now Little Abington in 2020. The three churches were all very different, but united in our One Faith. There is justice; we had overcome our anti-missionary enemies, and there were so many of them who had not wanted a church here, through forty years of patience.
Glory to God for all things!