1% of the 65 million population of the British Isles (1) are members of the Orthodox Church. In other words, about 650,000 Orthodox Christians live here. However, as we always consider realistically that only 10% actually practise, that gives us 65,000 practising Orthodox Christians in these isles.
Orthodox Christians here belong to seven different dioceses, of which only four are significant. These are the Romanians, the Greeks, the Russians and the Serbs, as the other three groups, the Antiochians, Bulgarians and Georgians, are very small.
Firstly, there are Romanian Orthodox, 390,000 according to national statistics, who have nearly all settled here over the last twenty years. Although they number over 60% of the total number of Orthodox, they have no local bishop and suffer from a chronic lack of churches and infrastructure. Therefore, they are obliged to attend other churches, Greek and Russian in particular. Hopefully, their Church authorities will one day catch up with this recent immigration and organise adequate Church life for their people.
Secondly, there are Greek-speaking Orthodox (mainly Cypriots), over 30% of the total (195,000). They are by far the richest and best-organised, with the best infrastructure and the most bishops (five at present), but they are dying out. This is because most of them immigrated here between the 1950s and the 1970s. Thanks to the foresight and organisational abilities of earlier Greek archbishops, they have excellent infrastructure, with over 100 parish churches (which are mainly their own property) and over 100 priests, even if many of them are now ageing.
Thirdly, numbering fewer than 8% of the total, in other words, about 52,000, there are Russian-speaking Orthodox (usually not Russians from the Russian Federation, but Baltic Russians, Moldovans and Ukrainians) and also Serbian Orthodox (about 20,000) (2). However, the Serbs from earlier immigrations are ageing and have no bishop here, and the Russians are quite needlessly divided into three groups. The first group with 1 bishop and 20 priests (26,000 faithful) belongs to the Sourozh Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate, the second belongs to the Western European Archdiocese within the Moscow Patriarchate, no local bishop but 14 priests (5,000 faithful) and the third group belongs to the American Synod, also known as ROCOR (1 bishop and about 1,000 faithful), which is not part of the Moscow Patriarchate but is on paper in communion with it (3). These Russian groups have been divided through a catastrophic lack of leadership and lack of planning over the last six decades, which have led to very poor infrastructure.
Finally, there are Bulgarians and Georgians, who basically have only one parish each, and the Patriarchate of Antioch. They are about 2% of the total, or 13,000. Antioch also has one parish with a bishop, plus some twenty communities, led mainly by ageing ex-Anglican clergy, who often help look after Romanian Orthodox.
- Obviously, the British Isles as a geographical area does not include the island of Ireland, where, incidentally, most Orthodox clergy and parishes belong to the Patriarchate of Moscow.
- We put Russians and Serbs together because we both use the Orthodox (so-called ‘old’) calendar.
- Under its recent leadership, ROCOR has become an isolated right-wing group, which refuses to concelebrate with other Orthodox. As a result of this, in 2021 it halved in size, losing eight parishes and six priests to the Moscow Patriarchate and one priest to Antioch, as he wanted for some reason to be a bishop.