Category Archives: East of England

The First 250 Years of Orthodox Suffolk (619-869)

Introduction: After the Romans

Already in Roman times south-eastern Britain was the first area to be settled by mercenaries and then traders (and pirates) of Germanic origin. This was natural as this region neighbours North-Western Europe. Already in the late third century the coastal areas of the south-east were called the ‘Saxon Shore’. For ‘Saxon’ (Scottish ‘Sassenach’) was then a generic term for all Germanic peoples, Saxons, Angles, Frisians, Swabians, Franks, Jutes or Danes, simply because the Saxons were the first to be encountered by others. These peoples had all moved down to the shores of what is now northern France, Belgium and Holland, seeking to cross the narrow sea and settle new land, mainly as a result of the rising sea levels where they had previously lived.

After the Romans had been forced to withdraw completely from Britain by 410, many more from these Germanic peoples sailed across the southern stretches of the North Sea and the Channel in the day or two it took. They had been invited to settle the newly vacated lands, some intermarrying with the descendants of the Ancient Britons, as well as of the various Celtic tribes, who had invaded Britain some 500 years before the Romans. Thus, the Jutes settled in Kent and southern parts of Hampshire, the minority Saxons settled in the south in what became Essex (the Saxons of the East), Sussex (the Saxons of the South) and Wessex (the Saxons of the West) and the majority Angles, who gave their name to the new land, settled most of the country in what became Mercia (the Midlands), Northumbria and East Anglia (Suffolk, Norfolk and eastern Cambridgeshire up to the Rivers Ouse and Cam, though these county names only came into being in the tenth century).

By the sixth century seven English kingdoms, four small (Kent, Essex, Sussex, East Anglia) and three large (Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex), had been formed. In time these would be united and create the united Kingdom of England, though this only really took shape in the tenth century thanks to the foundations laid by the heroic defender of Christian Civilisation, King Alfred the Great (+ 899). Thus, in the mid-sixth century the Kingdom of East Anglia was formed, under a royal dynasty named the Wuffings, named after King Wuffa (+ 578). It had royal centres along the Suffolk coast and the rivers of the ‘Wicklaw’, the territory  subject to the law of the ‘wick’ or trading centre, called Gippeswic (Ipswich), known as ‘the first English town’. The Wicklaw is represented today by south-east Suffolk and includes the Wuffings’ famous burial ground at Sutton Hoo and their ‘hall’ or palace at Rendlesham.

The Baptism of Suffolk

Faith in Christ came northwards to Suffolk from Kent through Essex. Sutton Hoo and the archaeological finds made there bear witness to this. For this location is most probably the site of the burial of King Raedwald, who ruled from 599 to 625 and was the first King of East Anglia to be baptised, though he was hardly practising, as his pagan wife persuaded him otherwise. His baptism took place in the early seventh century in Canterbury, as is recorded by St Bede. His burial site was famously uncovered in 1939.

King Raedwald was succeeded by his surviving son Eorpwald (+ 627), then by an interloper called Ricbert (+ 629) who had murdered Eorpwald directly after his baptism. Ricbert was succeeded by King Raedwald’s stepson, Sigebert, the future saint (+ 635), who had become a Christian in Gaul, where he had been driven into exile by Raedwald. Next came the short-lived King Aethilric (+ 636), a nephew of Raedwald, for both Sigebert and Aethilric were murdered by the pagan Mercian ruler and invader, Penda. St Sigebert was the first practising Christian King of East Anglia and in 631 he welcomed to his Kingdom from Gaul the Burgundian Bishop Felix (+ 647), whom he had met there. Felix was a disciple of the Irish missionary St Columban and would become the Apostle of East Anglia.

It has now been established that Bishop Felix most likely began his mission in south-east Suffolk at the old Roman fortress (called ‘Burgh’ in Old English and ‘Dommoc’ in Celtic). This is now Felixstowe, the town much later named after the saint. This is not far from the royal centre in Rendlesham, where the Kings of East Anglia lived and where a church, probably founded by Bishop Felix, was dedicated to St Gregory the Great, the Apostle of the English. From here Bishop Felix worked along the rivers. First, he sailed north-westwards along the valley of the River Orwell/Gipping in Ipswich (with a church dedicated to St Peter), and westwards along the River Stour in Sudbury (a church dedicated to St Gregory) in south Suffolk.

A second area of coastal mission was at the north-east Suffolk royal centre in Blythburgh, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and then further north by the  Suffolk border near Flixton. He also established a church dedicated to the Mother of God in nearby South Elmham, others dedicated to St Michael at Oulton and to St Andrew at a second place called Flixton, this one near Lowestoft. Next he founded another church at Reedham across today’s border in Norfolk. (Both Flixtons were probably named after St Felix). Thirdly, he founded a monastery in the fens at Soham, now in Cambridgeshire, near the royal centre in Exning in Suffolk and perhaps also found a church in what is now Cambridge (also dedicated to St Peter?). Finally, he established churches along the rivers in north-west Norfolk at Babingley (now dedicated to St Felix) and Shernborne (Sts Peter and Paul).

King Anna and Family

From 636 to 654 there came the rule of King Anna, King Aethelric’s brother, whose wife was probably a relative (a grand-daughter?) of the earlier King of Essex, Saebert (+ c. 615). Anna lived mostly at the royal centre at Exning, guarding the Suffolk border of East Anglia against the Mercians. Anna was the father of a dynasty of saints who, following on from Bishop Felix, Christianised East Anglia. The most famous of these is St Audrey (Aethelthryth) (+ 679), baptised by Bishop Felix in Exning. She became famous as the Abbess of Ely just across the Suffolk border in what is now Cambridgeshire, and had fenland disciples there like the priest St Huna of Chatteris and St Owin of Haddenham.

St Audrey had other saintly sisters. These were: Seaxburgh, Abbess of Minster in Sheppey in Kent, Withburgh, the hermitess of Dereham in Norfolk (+ 743, aged about 90), and Ethelburgh and a stepsister, St Saethrith, who both lived in the convent of St Fara in what is now France. She also had a brother, St Jurmin (Eormen). He was murdered in Blythburgh in Suffolk and his relics were enshrined in Bedricsworth, later called Bury St Edmunds. Another saint, Wendreda (Cwendrith), to whom is dedicated the church in fenland March, may have been connected to the family.

St Felix was succeeded by Bishop Thomas and then Bishop Boniface. After King Anna, killed in battle by Penda of Mercia, together with his son Jurmin in 654, came briefly Anna’s brother King Aethelhere (654). He was also killed in battle by Penda, though Penda died in the same battle. Next came King Aethelwald (654-664), the fourth and last nephew of Raedwald. He assured the Church bonds with the kingdoms of Essex and Kent. Indeed, in about 660 St Cedd of Essex baptised the King of Essex at Rendlesham, King Aethelwald perhaps standing as godfather.

It was in this year of 654 that St Botolph (Botwulf) (+ 674) founded a monastery on a promontory or ‘hoo’ (as in Sutton Hoo) at Iken by the River Alde near the Suffolk coast. From here he went out and founded other churches both dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul, possibly these are the churches at Eye and Hoxne, which also later became church centres in their own right. The village of Botesdale in Suffolk is also named after the saint. This is not far from where the Irish ascetic St Fursa (Fursey) and his disciples, like St Foillan, St Utan and St Dicul (of Dickleburgh in Norfolk), had earlier laboured in a monastery, probably at Burgh Castle by the south-eastern coast of Norfolk. Fursa had made his way to France before 651 when all the remaining monks with Foillan were driven out by the long-lived pagan Mercian invader, Penda.

Consolidation and Missionary Work (664-749)

With the death of King Aethelwald in 664, there came to an end the 35-year long reigns of the four nephews of King Raedwald. There now came a long period of peace and consolidation under two East Anglian rulers, father and son, the two reigns totalling 85 years, so giving continuity. The first was King Aldwulf (664-713), son of King Aethilric (+ 636), with a reign of 49 years. During the reign of King Aldwulf, East Anglia was divided into two dioceses, with a see in south-east Suffolk at what is now Felixstowe, and in north-east Suffolk, probably at what is now South Elmham (then called Helmham). Probably in the ninth century this centre was transferred to what is now called North Elmham, not so far away in south Norfolk.

It was in this period that the port of Gipeswic (Ipswich) developed as a great trading centre, facing the northern Continent, the Rhine and Scandinavia across the North Sea. In fact, this Sea could perhaps better be viewed as a lake, on whose western shore lies Ipswich. Two more churches, dedicated to the Mother of God and St Augustine, were built here. Pottery, now known as ‘Ipswich Ware’, was made, ships were built and textiles, jewellery, leatherware, antlerware and baskets were manufactured. Frisian merchants were very active, as Ipswich was the commercial centre of East Anglia. ‘Gipeswic’, the third biggest English port and trading centre (‘wic’) after London (‘Lundenwic’) and York (‘Eoforwic’) and situated between them.

In this way East Anglia also became one of the most important centres for missionary work for north-western Europe. Thus, the local veneration for St Botolph was taken there and later reached Scandinavia and from there Kiev, making him a patron saint of travellers. Later an English missionary to Utrecht called St Eadwulf (later deformed into Adulf), possibly related to St Botolph (Botwulf), also reposed at Iken.

During the reign of King Aldwulf’s son, King Aelfwald (713-749), developments went further. East Anglia controlled its economy, developed international trade and towns, promoting churches, monasteries and literacy, sending forth its light into the world, breathing the Gospel both into Mercia to the west and to north-western Europe, to the east. Thus, in 714 Aelfwald’s sister, Edburgh, who may have been identical with St Edburgh, Abbess of Minster in Thanet in Kent, provided a coffin for the great fen ascetic, the Mercian Guthlac of Crowland. Aelfwald himself commissioned the Life of the saint, written by a certain monk Felix, the name suggesting his East Anglian origins. At the same time King Aelfwald of East Anglia, with its two bishops in Felixstowe and South Elmham, helped the Mercian King Aethelbald to power after the death of the evil King of Mercia, Ceolred, in 716.

His sister Edburgh continued to play an important role and is believed to have become Abbess of Ely and then went to Minster in Kent, if she is indeed identical to the Abbess of Minster. In any case in the thirteenth century a chapel dedicated to her, St Edburgh, is recorded at Thornham in north mid-Suffolk. Abbess Edburgh came under the influence of the great English missionary Boniface of Crediton and became one of his most devoted disciples. Boniface, born in c. 675, had first gone to Friesland as a missionary in 716 and was to spend most of the next almost forty years in what is now western Germany, Luxembourg and Holland, totally reorganising the Church of the Franks and becoming the ‘Apostle of the Germans’.

King Aelfwald’s Achievements And After

Under King Aelfwald, East Anglian mints began to issue more and more coins. Ipswich, facing north-western Europe, became even more important, as Aelfwald laid out a new town on a rectangular grid pattern, the plan of which is visible today. Potteries were in full production and long continued this production, being the most important pottery centre in south-east England. There was a busy market, butchers and bakers’ shops and workshops for making clothing, saddlery, bagpipes, shoes and combs, as well as for metalwork and timber construction, of carts for example. In the centre of the town (where now stands the Town Hall) a church dedicated to St Mildred of Minster in Thanet in Kent was built. The link to her would be through King Aelfwald’s sister, Abbess Edburgh, who we believe succeeded St Mildred as Abbess of MInster in Kent. About this time a church in Utrecht was also dedicated to St Mildred, and this must also have been the result of the direct connection with the port of Ipswich.

Ipswich, between the ports of London and York, presented East Anglian commerce and culture directly to the Rhine mouth ports, among them Utrecht. Abbess Edburgh of Minster maintained her close friendship with St Boniface throughout his correspondence. As Abbess of Minster in Thanet, as we believe, she was the teacher of his closest companion, Leoba, who was buried with St Boniface in Fulda in what is now Germany. If Abbess Edburgh (+ 751) is synonomous with the East Anglian King’s sister, she represents the high point of East Anglian royal culture in Kent, through her knowledge of the Scriptures, poetry, calligraphy and her connections with Ely. She had a command of Latin and a good understanding of theology, like her brother, as is witnessed to by a surviving letter from him, probably taken to St Boniface by ship from Ipswich. Thus, Aelfwald’s kingdom had one of the major ports of the North Sea coastal rim, a new urban centre with a pottery quarter and industry, a minting organisation, several monasteries and two dioceses, all under royal patronage.

However, King Aelfwald had no successor and little East Anglia began to slip under the dominance of a much larger Anglian Kingdom, that of Mercia, the Midlands. Thus, Aelfwald was succeeded by a certain Beonna and Aethelberht who divided the Kingdom between them, perhaps one in what we now call Suffolk and the other in what became Norfolk. Then came a King Aethelred who was based in what later became Bury St Edmunds. However, all this time real power lay in the hands of King Offa of Mercia (c.765-796). Nevertheless, at this time the monastic centre in Brandon assumed importance, perhaps with Offa’s patronage.

Next there appeared the figure of the son of King Aethelred, King Aethelbert (Albright). He seems to have come to power after his father in the 780s and pursued a line, independent of Mercia. However, in 794 this King Aethelbert was beheaded outside Hereford in western Mercia, presumably by King Offa, and ever after venerated as a martyr with many dedications of churches in Suffolk, especially at Hoxne and near Ipswich at Albrighteston (named after him) and near Felixstowe, but also across the Suffolk borders, to the north in Norfolk and to the south in Essex. After this royal murder, Offa invaded East Anglia and subdued it after a battle at Blood Hill, near Claydon outside Ipswich.

St Aethelbert was succeeded by a new puppet of Mercia, King Edwald, who reigned at least into the 810s. The next shadowy figures who emerge are a King Athelstan (c. 821-845), still it seems under Mercian patronage, who had faced an attack from the Danish Vikings in 841, and then a King Athelwerd (c. 845-855). Viking attacks were to be faced again, this time by the greatest East Anglian of them all, King Edmund (841-869).

King Edmund

Of royal origin, Edmund was born on Christmas Day 841 and was brought up in piety. ‘From his earliest youth, he followed Christ wholeheartedly’. In particular the young Edmund learned to love the name of Christ, which was to go with him all his life. He learned to read and began to learn the Psalter by heart. Edmund was called to become King in 855, aged only fourteen. Chosen King at what is now Caistor St Edmund, just to the south of Norwich, in 856 Edmund was probably anointed and crowned King of East Anglia at Bures on the border of Suffolk and Essex. This town commanded the strategic crossing-place over the river between East Anglia and Essex.

‘Edmund the blessed, King of the East Angles, was wise and honourable, and always glorified by his noble conduct before Almighty God. He was humble and devout, and continued so steadfast that he would not yield to shameful sins, nor in any way did he bend aside his conduct, but was always mindful of the true teaching…. He was bountiful to the poor and to widows even like a father and always benignly led his people to righteousness, and controlled the violent and lived happily in the true faith’. So reads the Life of St Edmund written in the tenth century, which concludes: ‘He was raised up by God to be the defender of His Church’.

It was into this world that in 865 the storm broke. The storm consisted of a full-scale Viking invasion, some twenty-thousand strong, which landed on the Suffolk coast, but then went north towards York. It may be that at this time Edmund rebuilt the great earthworks to the south-west of his Kingdom near Little Abington, now in Cambridgeshire, a stretch of which is known as ‘St. Edmund’s Ditch’ and at its northern end there is an area called ‘St. Edmund’s Fen’. In any case, he fought alongside his friend, the future King Alfred the Great, in Nottingham. In 869 the Vikings reappeared and in the late autumn a pitched battle took place between them and Edmund’s forces at Thetford in southern Norfolk.

Edmund was victorious, but at great cost. Now outmatched, Edmund retreated almost certainly towards the centre at Hoxne in north Suffolk. The Vikings offered peace – at a price. A messenger came with the offer, an offer which meant the Christian Edmund becoming an under-king to the pagans. It is clear that he would neither see himself become the puppet ruler of pagans, nor would he flee from possible martyrdom. His reply to the messenger was: ‘I shall not submit to a pagan master for the love of earthly life; first you must accept our holy faith’. ‘I have vowed to live under Christ, to live under Christ alone, to reign under Christ alone’.

It would also seem that Edmund saw the possibility that in his own death his Kingdom might find peace: ‘I alone should die for my people, that the whole nation should not perish’. The Vikings now advanced on Hoxne. They surrounded Edmund who wished to imitate Christ, Who forbade Peter to use arms. The Vikings ‘bound Edmund and shamefully insulted him, beating him with clubs’. They tried to make Edmund renounce his Faith: ‘Living or dead, nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ. Christ’s Faith was his mighty shield’. ‘Then they led the faithful King to a tree and bound him to it tightly. Afterwards they whipped him for a long time and he always called with true faith on Christ the Saviour.

Saint Edmund

As a result of his faith and his calling on Christ to help him, the pagans became furious. They shot at him with arrows as if for their pleasure until he bristled with them, like St Sebastian. When the seamen saw that the noble king would not deny Christ but called on Him with steadfast faith, they beheaded him’. ‘His soul departed joyfully to Christ’. His last words were ‘Jesus! Jesus!’. It was Monday 20 November 869. Edmund was not yet twenty-eight years old; he had reigned for less than thirteen years. Thus he exchanged an earthly crown for a heavenly one, exchanging Kingdom for Martyrdom. After killing the King at Hoxne, the Vikings returned to their ships, throwing into thick brambles the head, which they had taken ‘that it might not be buried’. The story continues: ‘Then some time after they had gone, country folk came and were very sad, especially because they had not the head with the body’.

According to tradition, forty days later, on 30 December 869, their search was rewarded. In their desperation the searchers cried out, ‘Where are you?’ Incredibly they received an answer, which to them sounded like, ‘Here, here, here’. Following the sounds they found a grey wolf (Edmund’s own wolfhound?) guarding the head between its paws: ‘They were astonished…and carried the head home with them….; but the wolf followed on with the head, as if he were tame, and then turned back again into the wood’. Symbolically the wolf had been converted by St Edmund’s sacrifice, just as the sea-wolves, the Vikings, would also be converted by their victim. ‘Then the country folk laid the head by the holy body, and buried him with haste as best they could, and full soon built a church over him’.

The miracle of Edmund’s sacrifice was that within nine years the ‘sea-wolves’ who had martyred him were accepting the Christian Faith. Miraculously, the first Christian King of East Anglia after St Edmund was a former Viking, baptised Athelstan – the blood of martyrs had triumphed over enmity. Meanwhile, the lowly wooden chapel in Hoxne, where Edmund’s remains had been buried, witnessed miracles. ‘Wonders were often worked at the chapel where he was buried. At night some of the faithful would notice a column of light hovering over the shrine from evening until dawn. Then, one night a blind man and a boy who led him came through the woods. Lost, they saw a building, which they were glad to enter for the night. But once inside, they stumbled onto the grave and realised that this building contained a tomb. Nevertheless, they decided to stay. Hardly had they fallen asleep when they awoke, a column of light shining before them. At dawn the blind man awoke and for the first time in his life he saw day break. The miracle was told to others – a man blind from birth had regained his sight.

Already by 895 King Alfred had minted coins bearing the image of ‘St Edmund the King’. Other coins had also been struck, through the ironies of Providence, by Vikings, styling Edmund ‘Saint’. But it was not until 902, according to some traditions, that the Bishop who was responsible for war-torn East Anglia resolved to move the body of St Edmund to a more worthy place, to Bedricsworth, now called Bury St Edmunds. It lay and lies exactly at the centre of a cross drawn over the four counties of Eastern England, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex.

The Bishop with his clergy proceeded the twenty-five miles to Hoxne to fetch the relics. On opening the coffin, they were amazed for they saw not bones and dust, but their martyred King Edmund, his body incorrupt as if asleep and his head united with his body – only a threadlike seam around the neck bore witness to his beheading. The arrow wounds had also healed. ‘The devout multitude carried the body to the shrine in the new church, there to await in the same peaceful sleep the joys of the resurrection. In this manner took place the first translation of St Edmund, thirty-three years after his burial.

Conclusion: King and Martyr

As regards the church at Bedricsworth we are told that it was enriched with gold and silver in the saint’s honour. Indeed such was the veneration of the Royal Martyr Edmund at Bedricsworth, that the town was variously called ‘St Edmundstowe’, ‘Edmundston’ and ‘Kingston’ before becoming Bury St Edmunds. From this time on the monastery of St Edmund became richer. By 1044 its ‘liberty’ or patrimony came to include a third of Suffolk, including all of West Suffolk. Pilgrims began to come in great numbers and pilgrim ways developed, especially the road to Newmarket and the London road. Later, pilgrims brought in a pious custom of kneeling as soon as they caught sight of the monastery and then walking the last mile barefoot.

St Edmund became a national hero and his name, meaning ‘blessed protection’, became a reality as he was adopted as England’s Patron Saint, ‘a terrible defender of his own’, as we have seen again and again in recent times also, including in Little Abington, where now stands an Orthodox church in his honour. He was a very popular saint, with over sixty churches dedicated to him. Both after the First Reformation of the Roman Catholic Norman Conquest in 1066, when men became less sincere and righteous in their faith and miracles fewer, and also after the Protestant Second Reformation in the sixteenth century, when they tried to erase Edmund’s name from the land, there have still been those who keep St Edmund in their hearts and minds.

St Edmund’s martyrdom ended the periods of foundation and then of the consolidation of the Faith which had been brought to Suffolk two and a half centuries before, with the baptism of King Raedwald. After the Martyr-King of East Anglia, Christianity developed anew as the Faith of England and the English, unchallenged for 200 years until the fateful year of 1066, after which all changed. Edmund King and Martyr is the culminating example of the greatest era of English Orthodox Christianity and his martyrdom is the consecrated symbol of its passing. For the Church is confirmed by the blood of the martyrs.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

St Felix Orthodox Church,

Felixstowe,

Suffolk

4 November 2021

 

Towards a Network of Twelve Multinational Russian Orthodox Churches in the East of England

The Past

Non-Orthodox Western Europe is divided into 79 (NUTS-1) regions. Each has a population of between 3 and 7 million. Of these, nine are in England and our own region is the East of England, with a population of 6.2 million and consisting of six counties. In the east there are the large counties of Essex (1,417 square miles and 1.83 million people), Suffolk (1,466 square miles, but only 758,000 people) and Norfolk (2,074 square miles, but only 904,000 people), and in the west; the small counties of Hertfordshire (only 634 square miles, but 1.18 million people) and Bedfordshire (only 477 square miles and 670,000 people), followed by the large county of Cambridgeshire (1,309 square miles, but only 852,000 people).

A number of basically mononational, new calendar Orthodox missions exist in the East of England, some have existed for over five decades. These have largely catered for now mainly older Greeks or else, in much smaller numbers, for mainly older ex-Anglicans. Among them are for example Greek parishes in Great Yarmouth, Cambridge, Norwich and Southend and missions for ex-Anglicans in Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. There are also two new calendar Romanian missions in the region now and two old calendar Serbian missions have existed for several decades in Bedford and Letchworth.

A number of small and sometimes temporary Russian Orthodox missions have also existed. Notably, there was one which opened in the village of Walsingham in Norfolk in the 1960s and lasted for over 30 years (thanks to the pioneering work of a former Anglican, Fr David (Meyrick)). Much more recently, in order of date, there have been, or still are, small missions in Bury St Edmunds (2000-02 and 2017- ), in the village of Mettingham (founded in 2009 and with very regular services), a chapel outside Clacton (occasional services since 2010), and services in Ipswich (occasional services since 2015) and Wisbech (occasional services since 2016).

The Present

Apart from the above, from 1997 on permanent, multinational, Orthodox calendar and public-access Russian Orthodox churches have also opened. These are, together with their dedications:

1997 – Felixstowe, Suffolk – St Felix

2002 – Kings Lynn, Norfolk – The Nativity of the Mother of God (and holding in special memory the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas who visited the town in 1894).

2008 – Colchester, Essex – St John of Shanghai (also with a winter church dedicated to All the Saints of the Isles).

2015 – Norwich, Norfolk – St Alexander Nevsky.

2015 – Peterborough, Cambridgeshire – St Olga.

2021- Cambridge-Little Abington, Cambridgeshire – St Edmund (and holding in special memory the other local saint, St Audrey of Ely).

All the above are in Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire and three of these churches, Colchester, Norwich and Cambridge-Little Abington, have their own churches. Although the three other churches are yet to obtain their own premises for the moment, it is still time to think of working elsewhere also.

The Future

We can think of founding and dedicating churches as a priority, in:

Bedford. This could be dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul, following the dedication of its first ever church to St Paul, founded in the eighth century, situated centrally on the banks of the River Ouse. This church would look after all Orthodox in the small county of Bedfordshire.

St Albans. The dedication must be to St Alban the Protomartyr and a large church here would look after all Orthodox in the small but densely-populated county of Hertfordshire.

Romford (formerly Essex, now Essex in east London). In a working-class area of great and multinational immigration, we suggest that a large church here be dedicated to St John of Kronstadt.

Lowestoft, Suffolk. The dedication in this former fishing port could be to St Nicholas. It would look after all Orthodox on the Suffolk and east Norfolk coast.

Southend. In the largest town in Essex, with a densely-populated catchment area, and as a former fishing port, we suggest a dedication to the fisherman St Andrew.

Thetford, Norfolk. Here in the centre of this whole network of churches, we suggest a dedication to the Resurrection.

Such a list of churches, open, about to open and possibly to open, does not exclude the existence of old and new chapels and churches, both present and future, in places in addition to these centres. Obvious choices would be in the large town of Harlow in Essex, a town on the north Norfolk coast such as Wells-next-the-Sea and, albeit outside the East of England, Boston in Lincolnshire. Similarly, there should be both a monastery and a convent in the East of England, perhaps one near the Suffolk coast and one in the west on the opposite side of the region.

However, this network, with three churches in the most populous county of Essex (if we include Romford as still in Essex), three in the largest county of Norfolk, two each in the very similar counties of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, and one each in the small counties of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, would meet the needs of most Orthodox. It would bring all within a maximum 25-mile or 25-minute range of a church, the expression of our pastoral responsibility. Now we await the hand of Providence, the blessing of a bishop and the work of the people.

On Edmund the Martyred King

Men become devils and all dreams overthrown,

Shadows of moonlit trees and faces unknown.

Hope itself, with Edmund’s England, here lies slain.

Be warned: He will haunt you and come back again.

 

Bury King Edmund beneath the arrow shower.

Bury King Edmund beneath the fading hour.

Bury King Edmund beneath the stubble ground.

Bury King Edmund beneath the forest mound.

 

Bury King Edmund beneath the failing light.

Bury King Edmund beneath the thick of night.

Bury King Edmund beneath the stars that stand.

Bury King Edmund beneath his gentle land.

 

Bury King Edmund beneath the autumn bough.

Bury King Edmund beneath the snow and plough.

 

Edmund’s spirit is in little market towns,

Where we’d live as simple souls and win our crowns.

As a Saint, Edmund has shone forth through our tears,

Edmund’s prayed for us through all the clouded years.

 

Bury King Edmund beneath the spring green born.

Bury King Edmund beneath the standing corn.

 

Bury King Edmund beneath the hearts that cower.

Bury King Edmund beneath the lust for power.

Bury King Edmund beneath the greed for gold.

Bury King Edmund beneath the mind grown cold.

 

Bury King Edmund beneath the old faith lost.

Bury King Edmund beneath the darkness crossed.

Bury King Edmund beneath Empire that lied.

Bury King Edmund beneath the proud mind’s pride.

 

We who are Edmund’s people know only this:

There’s no help but in Edmund and his God’s bliss

And on the last day he will rise from his grave:

Edmund the Martyred King, risen bright to save.

One Hundred and Twelve Saints of the English Thebaid

Introduction: The Fen Thebaid

The first great monastic site in history developed in the fourth century in the province of Thebes in Egypt and here thousand of monks and hermits lived the monastic life. Hence the word Thebaid can be used to describe a region inhabited by monastics not only in Egypt, for example, in Ireland (The Irish Thebaid), on Mt Athos (The Athonite Thebaid), in the wild forests of Russia (The Northern Thebaid), and in this case in the English Fens (The English Thebaid). Here there lived at least one hundred and twelve saints.

Fen is a common word of Germanic origin which means marshland. English place-names like Fenton, Fenchurch and Vange are all formed from this word. The well-known former marshland region called the Fens, or the Fenlands, is a very low-lying plain in eastern England around the coast of the Wash. It is constituted by almost all of Cambridgeshire, together with western Norfolk and southern Lincolnshire. In early English times these then wild and undrained marshlands represented a no-man’s land between East Anglia to the east and the East Midlands (East Mercia) to the west. Indeed, in the seventh century the Fens were very sparsely populated, attracting outcasts, some of British origin who gave their name to the town of Chatteris, who lived off fishing and wildfowling.

Altogether covering an area of about 1,500 sq mi (4,000 km2), the Fens were once characterized by at least six shallow but large lakes, called meres (e.g. Soham Mere, Whittlesey Mere, drained only in 1851), shores, called bech or beach (e.g. Holbeach, Landbeach, Waterbeach, Wisbech), streams (called ‘wells’), bridges and islands. Island sites are indicated by place-names ending in -y (e.g. Ely), -ey (e.g. Bodsey, Coveney, Higney, Ramsey, Thorney, Stuntney, Whittlesey) and -ea (e.g. Eastrea, Horningsea, Manea, Stonea).

Most of the Fens were drained only in the seventeenth century, though some more viable parts much earlier, even in Roman times, resulting in a flat, low-lying agricultural region. The drained Fens depend on a system of drainage channels and man-made rivers (dykes and drains) and pumping stations. With the support of this drainage system, the very fertile Fens became a major agricultural region.

The Fen Saints

In the early Christian (Orthodox) period of pre-Norman (English) England, monks and nuns sought the isolation for prayer and ascetic life that could be found in the marshy and impassable wilderness of the Fens. Their hermitages on Fen islands became centres of monastic life, disrupted by Danish pagan raids, but revived by the mid-10th-century monastic revival. After 1066 these refounded communities developed as big businesses with large estates and huge income.

Thus, the gravel islands of the undrained Fens were once awash with hermits, holy men and women, who strove to emulate Christ’s fasting in the desert. For example: St Audrey settled in ‘Cratendune’ before founding Ely; St Guthlac and his disciples occupied Crowland; Peakirk was home to his sister St Pega; Thorney was settled by the siblings, Tancred Torhtred and Tova, who were martyred by the Danes in 870.

These, and the retreats of lowlier anchorites, such as Boda of Bodsey, Godric and Throcken of Throckenholt, Edwin of Higney and the anonymous hermits of Singlehole on the former island of Eye near Peterborough, were destined to be transformed into rich farms by greedy post-Conquest abbots. They began to colonize the fenland on the edge of their domains and had no interest in the ascetic life and unceasing prayer, just the opposite.

Thus the Fens have been referred to as the ‘Holy Land of the English’ because of these monasteries, especially the so-called ‘Fen Five’: Ely, Crowland, Peterborough, Ramsey and Thorney.  Even after the final fall of Orthodox England in 1066, the Fens later remained a place of refuge and resistance and it was here that the English hero Hereward the Wake based his liberation movement against the illegitimate and greedy Norman invaders, usurpers and occupiers.

St Felix, St Audrey and Ely

The founder of Fen Orthodoxy was effectively St Felix (+ 647), the Apostle of East Anglia. Coming from the east, Suffolk and Norfolk which he evangelized, he founded a monastery on the very eastern edge of the fens. This was in Soham (now in Cambridgeshire), once famous for its mere, but which was drained some 300 years ago. He baptised and became the spiritual father of at least four and possibly six, sainted daughters of the East Anglian King Anna, among them St Audrey of Ely (c. 636-679) and St Seaxburh of Ely, who had been born in Exning in west Suffolk, not far from Soham. After his repose St Felix’ relics long remained in Soham.

As an East Anglian Princess, St Audrey (the spelling of her name Ethelthryth was more or less pronounced ‘Eltry’ (Audrey) already in the seventh century) founded the double monastery in Ely (now in Cambridgeshire and only 14 miles to the north of Cambridge) in 673. Though married twice for purely dynastic reasons she had remained a virgin. As a young woman, she had lived almost as a nun on the Isle of Ely, as this was her own land, which she had received as her dowry and added to the Kingdom of East Anglia. St Bede the Venerable who recorded her life in detail relates how after her repose her incorrupt relics worked many miracles.

St Seaxburh (c. + 699), St Audrey’s sister and successor, had been married for real and been Queen of Kent. Both her daughters became saints. Once widowed she became a nun under St Theodore of Canterbury, founded convents and became an abbess in Kent. Following her sister’s repose she returned to her native East Anglia and became Abbess of Ely, devoted to her sister’s memory. She was succeeded as abbess by her daughter St Eormenhild (early 8 c.), who was in turn succeeded by her daughter, St Werburgh (8 c.).

Around Ely there formed a group of hermits and hermitesses. These included:

St Owin (+ 672), St Audrey’s monastic steward and a very practical man, lived in Ely and on an island in Haddenham near Ely, but later became a monk in Lichfield under St Chad.

St Huna (+ 690) was a priest-monk and the chaplain of St Audrey and also buried her. After her repose, he left Ely to live as a hermit on an island, later known as Honey Hill or Honey Farm, located just outside the town of Chatteris in Cambridgeshire. St Huna was considered a holy man and his grave on the small island was known for healings and miracles. Later St Huna’s relics were translated from Chatteris to Thorney, also in Cambridgeshire, at the time more a collection of hermits’ cells than a monastery, just as in Egypt.

St Wendreda (correctly Wendreth – late 7 c.) lived in March (Cambridgeshire). She may have been a sister of St Audrey and have grown up in Exning, where there seems to have been a holy well named after her. She became a nun on an island in what is now March (meaning the borderlands), where now stands a medieval church dedicated to her. She excelled in healing sick people and animals. Here she may well have become an abbess and she remains the patroness of the town to this day.

St Guthlac and Crowland

St Guthlac (673-714) was the English St Antony the Great and lived as a Desert Father in the Fens. He has a detailed life, written soon after he reposed by a monk Felix. He was the son of a noble of the English Kingdom of Mercia (The Midlands) and as a young man fought in the Mercian army. Aged 24, he then became a monk at Repton in Derbyshire in the East Midlands. Two years later he sought to live the life of a hermit, and comforted by St Bartholomew, in 699 he moved out to the island of Crowland (meaning the hump land, as it is on a dry area and earlier known as Croiland and Croyland) just over the border from Cambridgeshire in Lincolnshire. This was to become the second great centre of Fen holiness after Ely. Guthlac built a small chapel and cells on the site of a plundered barrow on the island and lived there until his repose on 11 April 714. Timbers are preserved in the present Crowland Abbey and some say that these were part of the cell in which St Guthlac lived. His relics could be buried in this area. Felix, writing within living memory of Guthlac, described his hermit’s life:

Now there was in the said island a mound built of clods of earth which greedy comers to the waste had dug open, in the hope of finding treasure there; in the side of this there seemed to be a sort of cistern, and in this Guthlac the man of blessed memory began to dwell, after building a hut over it. From the time when he first inhabited this hermitage this was his unalterable rule of life: namely to wear neither wool nor linen garments nor any other sort of soft material, but he spent the whole of his solitary life wearing garments made of skins. So great indeed was the abstinence of his daily life that from the time when he began to inhabit the desert he ate no food of any kind except that after sunset he took a scrap of barley bread and a small cup of muddy water. For when the sun reached its western limits, then he thankfully tasted some little provision for the needs of this mortal life.

His ascetic life became the talk of the land and many visited him during his life to seek spiritual guidance from him as an elder. He gave sanctuary to Ethelbald, future King of Mercia, who was fleeing from his cousin. Guthlac foretold that Ethelbald would become King and Ethelbald promised to build a monastery if his prophecy turned out to be true. Ethelbald did become King and, even though Guthlac had reposed two years previously, he kept his word and started building the monastery in Crowland on St Bartholomew’s Day 716.

His eighth-century life describes the entry of the demons into Guthlac’s cell:

They were ferocious in appearance, terrible in shape with great heads, long necks, thin faces, yellow complexions, filthy beards, shaggy ears, wild foreheads, fierce eyes, foul mouths, horses’ teeth, throats vomiting flames, twisted jaws, thick lips, strident voices, singed hair, fat cheeks, pigeons’ breasts, scabby thighs, knotty knees, crooked legs, swollen ankles, splay feet, spreading mouths, raucous cries. For they grew so terrible to hear with their mighty shriekings that they filled almost the whole intervening space between earth and heaven with their discordant bellowings.

Felix records Guthlac’s foreknowledge of his own death, conversing with angels in his last days. At the moment of death a sweet nectar-like fragrance came out of his mouth, as his soul left his body in a ray of light, while angels sang. Guthlac had asked that his sister St Pega (pronounced Pea-ga) be present at his funeral. Arriving the day after his repose, she found the island of Crowland filled with the scent of ambrosia. She buried his body on the mound after three days of prayer. A year later Pega had a divine calling to move the tomb and relics to a nearby chapel: Guthlac’s body was discovered incorrupt, his shroud shining with light. Of his disciples we can mention:

This St Pega of Peakirk (c. 673-719) was an anchoress on a barrow in what is now the tiny and tranquil village of Peakirk (‘Pega’s church’) near Peterborough (in historic Cambridgeshire) and not far from St Guthlac’s hermitage. As we have said, when Guthlac had realized that his end was near in 714, he invited her to his funeral. For this she sailed down the River Welland, healing a blind man from Wisbech on the way. Some think that her relics may be buried there to this day, beneath the chancel of a former small chapel, now known as St Pega’s hermitage and a private house, where she had lived.

Sts Bettelin (early 8th c.) was a disciple of Saint Guthlac and hermit who lived an ascetic life of unceasing prayer, received counsel from his elder on his deathbed and was present at his burial. After the death of Guthlac, St Bettelin and his companions continued to live in Crowland.

St Cissa (early 8th c.) was also a disciple of St Guthlac and became an Abbot of Crowland. His tomb was placed next to St Guthlac’s and like it this was also destroyed by the Danes. His relics were translated to the nearby monastery of Thorney in the tenth century.

The Fen Martyrs

When the Danes attacked East Anglia and the Fens in the ninth century, they martyred the East Anglian King, St Edmund (+ 869) in Hoxne in Suffolk and at least one hundred others. These included:

Abbot Theodore of Crowland Monastery in Lincolnshire and with him Ethelred, Askega, Swethin, Elfgete, Sabinus, Egdred, Ulric, Grimkeld, Agamund and other monks (+ c. 869). Some think that a skull conserved in Crowland Abbey, though sadly unavailable for veneration, may be that of St Theodore.

Abbot Hedda with eighty-four monks of Peterborough Monastery in Cambridgeshire, founded in 655, whose site is now occupied by the twelfth-century Peterborough Cathedral (+ c. 869). St Hedda’s ‘shrine-stone’ survives in Peterborough Cathedral.

The hermits Tancred, Torhtred and the anchoress Tova, three siblings, were martyred near Thorney Monastery in Cambridgeshire (+ c. 870).

Conclusion: Academia or Holiness

The Fens, the majority of which lie in Cambridgeshire, were once notable for the port of Cambridge, by the bridge over the River Cam. Situated at their southern limit, this location on the river by a bridge was the very reason for Cambridge’s existence. However, as we know, Cambridge has for centuries no longer been a port and rather became famed as a University, as a centre of rationalistic thinking and brainpower. In this way it opposed itself to the ascetic life of the Saints of the Fen Thebaid to the north. What a witness it would be if there were once more an Orthodox church in the Fens, expressing our veneration not of rationalism, but of asceticism, not of scientists, but of ascetic fendwellers, not of brainpower but of spiritpower. May God’s Will be done.

 

 

 

Martyrs Under the Danes

The ninth-century Danish invasions of England produced a host of martyrs for Christ. As a result of the Viking incursions, monastic life in England and in other parts of Britain was virtually wiped out. Moreover, the Danish pirates returned in the late tenth century after the murder of St. Edward the Martyr and continued their ravages and carnage. The following martyrs laid down their lives for Christ over that period (compiled by Dmitry Lapa):

St. Alkelda, a princess who chose to become a nun and anchoress in Yorkshire but was strangled by two Danish women during one of the first raids (+ c. 867; feast: March 28; the church in Middleham in North Yorkshire is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Alkelda, whose supposed coffin with the relics was discovered under the church floor in 1878; local healing wells and another church, in Giggleswick, bear her name too);

St. Ymar, a monk of the monastery in Reculver in Kent, who was slain by the Danes in 830 (feast: November 12);

Abbot Beocca, Hieromonk Ethor and with them ninety monks of Chertsey Monastery in Surrey, now on the outskirts of London (+ c. 869; feast: April 10; a modern Orthodox service to the Martyrs of Chertsey exists);

Abbot Theodore of Crowland Monastery in Lincolnshire and with him Ethelred, Askega, Swethin, Elfgete, Sabinus, Egdred, Ulric, Grimkeld, Agamund and other monks (+ c. 869; feast: April 9);

Abbess Ebbe (Aebbe) the Younger together with her nuns in Coldingham Convent in what is now the Scottish Borders region of southern Scotland, which then belonged to the English kingdom of Northumbria (+ c. 870; feast: August 23; a contemporary Orthodox service to St. Ebbe exists);

Abbot Hedda with eighty-four monks of Peterborough Monastery in Cambridgeshire, founded in 655 and whose site is now occupied by the twelfth-century Peterborough Cathedral of Sts. Peter, Paul and Andrew (+ c. 869; feast: April 9; St. Hedda’s “shrine-stone”, which resembles a medieval reliquary but without a cavity in it, survives in Peterborough Cathedral);

The hermits Tancred, Torthred and the anchoress Tova, three siblings, were martyred near Thorney Monastery in Cambridgeshire, in the Fens (+ c. 870; feast: September 30; Thorney Monastery was refounded by St. Ethelwold of Winchester in the tenth century);

Bishop Herefrith of the province of Lindsey in what is now Lincolnshire, was most probably slain on the site of the town of Louth (+ c. 869; feast: February 27; his relics were translated to Thorney);

St. Fremund, a Mercian English prince who chose to live as a hermit on an island in prayer but was murdered by the Danes (+ c. 866; feast: May 11; his relics were kept in Offchurch in Warwickshire, then in Prescote in Oxfordshire, and finally in the village of Cropredy in the same county, and a portion of them was later translated to Dunstable Priory in Bedfordshire, and numerous miracles occurred);

St. Edmund, King of East Anglia, was martyred by the Danes in 869 and venerated both as a martyr for Christ and as a righteous king of holy life (feast: November 20; he is the first patron-saint of England);

St. Ragener, a soldier-martyr and probably St. Edmund’s nephew, slain in Northampton in about 870 (feast: November 21; his relics were discovered in St. Peter’s Church in Northampton in the twelfth century and many miracles were recorded);

St. Suneman, a hermit of St. Benet Holme Monastery (in honor of St. Benedict) near Ludham on the River Bure in Norfolk, was slain in the ninth century (no feast is known;

Hieromartyr Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, was captured by Vikings and then martyred by them in Greenwich near London in 1012 (feast: April 19);

St. Eadnoth, a monk from Worcester who was later Abbot of Ramsey in Cambridgeshire and Bishop of Dorchester and killed by the Danes in 1016 (feast: October 19);

St. Werstan, a monk of Deerhurst who lived as a hermit in the Malvern Hills on the Worcestershire/Herefordshire border and was martyred in the 1050s (no feast-day is known, Malvern Priory stands on the site of his cell).

Eighteen Russian Orthodox Churches in the Eastern Half of England?

 Introduction: Pastoral/Missionary Experience since the 1970s

In reality, from the very beginning, Church life has always been a struggle against the world and its spirit, worldliness. This worldliness consists of politics, phyletism (a silly and complicated word for crude racism, Greek, Russian, Anglican, French and other, which has always treated us as third-class citizens), narcissism, guruism, phariseesism, sectarianism, favouritism, bureaucracy, sexual perversions, egomania, jealousy and all the other loveless and twisted pathologies.

I could not be ordained for four very good reasons: I was not ex-Anglican, not upper middle-class, I spoke Russian (so I could see through them) and, by far the worst sin of all, they knew that they could not buy me off as, Essex-born, I would always tell the Truth, the very thing they hated and hate the most, for ‘the Truth will set you free’. And the last thing they want is to be free; they prefer to be enslaved to their pathologies.

We can only hope that those who persecuted us in all these ways repented before they died or will repent before they die. The greatest sin of all of them has been their sheer absence of love. For without love, all of them, without exception, have been mere sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. We have not belonged to any ‘Church mafia’, but have been priests of God. I was not used until I was 50 and then it was all in spite of them. Persecution and internal exile were my lot, just as in the old Soviet Union, but I no longer have the energy of youth, when I could have done so much more. What a waste. But for that at least, I will not have to answer at the Last and Dread Judgement.

My direct Church experience over the last 45 years has been in England, in Oxford and Essex for 4 years, in Greece and Paris for one year each, in Cambridge and the Fens for 3 years and in France for 14 years until 1997. I have served in Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, USA and Australia and spent several months since the 1970s in Russia and the Ukraine and also in Belarus and Moldova. Since 1997 I have been back in England. Here I now cover up to 25,000 miles a year doing pastoral work all over the East, in five prisons and ten counties – Sussex, Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

Two Problems in the Diaspora and the Need for New Missions

  1. a) The first problem is the ideology of what may be called mononationalism (racism/phyletism), which forbids the liturgical use of other languages. We saw how the old ROCOR quite died out in this country in the 80s and 90s because of its suicidal mononationalism and how other Orthodox groups are now also dying out for exactly the same reason. We have also seen mononationalism (this time Anglican-style) of those who impose English only, with obligatory communion, no confession and the new calendar, in other words, the old-fashioned convert-style ’Anglican Orthodoxy’, which should have died decades ago.
  2. b) The second is the chronic lack of infrastructure, due to the lack of missionary vision of the episcopate of the past, and so today’s disastrous lack of our own premises, priests, singers and finance.

Every few months I am contacted by someone to open a Russian Orthodox mission in the Eastern half of England. This means in the six official regions of the East of England, London, the South-East, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North-East, with a total population of 37 million. (The Western half of England, meaning the three more Celtic official regions of the South-West, the West Midlands and the North-West, together with the three Celtic countries of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, totals 34 million. Thus, IONA, the Isles of the North Atlantic, has a total population of 71 million).

We recall that all missions must be in centres of population, where there is already a living and authentic Russian Orthodox presence, as in the three living parishes under Sourozh, that is, in the ex-Parisian one in London and the small ex-ROCOR parishes in Oxford and Manchester (which latter is outside our Eastern area). Also all new missions must be accessible to the general public, in places where Orthodox already live, and not be in isolated, essentially private, locations.

The Three Old Missions of the Two Russian Dioceses and Five New Missions

1-3. London and Oxford

The two churches in London, at present of two different dioceses, though not very big and not very central, have long catered for Russian Orthodox in central London, the West End and the western suburbs. However, it is clear that those who live in the east and north of the Capital are poorly looked after. The small church in Oxford, founded by Fr Nicholas Gibbes, effectively already looks after Orthodox in Oxfordshire, North Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.

  1. Colchester (Essex and South Suffolk). St John of Shanghai. This parish is our property, bought in 2008 with £180,000 raised in an internet appeal through the orthodoxengland site. It was dedicated to our Archbishop in London (1950-1962), to whom our original mission in Felixstowe was also dedicated.
  2. Norwich (Norfolk and North Suffolk). St Alexander Nevsky. This parish is our property, bought in 2016 with £65,000 raised in an internet appeal through the orthodoxengland site. Since our first parishioners here were from Tallinn in Estonia, the parish was dedicated to the patron of the Tallinn Cathedral.
  3. Bury St Edmunds = Cambridgeshire (Cambridgeshire, West Suffolk, East Bedfordshire, North Hertfordshire). Sts Vera, Nadezhda, Lyubov (Faith, Hope and Love) and their Mother Sophia. Our hope is to move our mission from Bury St Edmunds to a suitable location in Cambridgeshire. In Cambridge itself land is far too expensive and parking nearly impossible. A new mission would cater for those at the present missions in Bury St Edmunds (though many here go to Colchester at present), Wisbech (though some here would go to Boston – see below), in Peterborough, and also for Orthodox in Ely, Chatteris and March, merging them. I served in Bury from 2000 to 2002 and have now been there again for nearly two years, as also in Wisbech. The area includes St Felix’s 7th century monastery in Soham, St Audrey’s birthplace in Exning and her monastery in Ely, St Huna’s hermitage near Chatteris, St Pandwyna’s hermitage in Eltisley and St Edmund’s monastery in Bury.
  4. Wisbech = Boston (South Lincolnshire, West Norfolk, North Cambridge-shire). St Matrona and St Botolph. Our hope is to move our mission from Wisbech to Boston for those in the present missions in Wisbech and King’s Lynn, but including Orthodox in Holbeach and Spalding. All around live thousands of Eastern European fen workers. I have visited Orthodox in Spalding and the area.
  5. Ashford = ? (South-East London, Kent, East Sussex). The Royal Martyrs. We must have a mission in Kent. At present we use St Christopher’s Church near Elmswell Manor outside Ashford, but this may not be the best location.

Ten Possible Future Missions, God Willing

  1. Northampton (Northamptonshire/West Bedfordshire, North Buckingham-shire, South Leicestershire, East Warwickshire). The Protecting Veil. There is a huge Eastern European population all over the East Midlands, as it is accessible from Luton Airport, where Easyjet flies to Vilnius, Riga and elsewhere. I have several contacts in Northampton and nearby Kettering and know the area from missionary visits there.
  2. York (Yorkshire). St Constantine and St Helen. In the centre of Yorkshire, St Constantine was present here when he was proclaimed Emperor in July 306. This idea follows from earlier contacts and a visit to York in March 2019.
  3. St Albans (Hertfordshire/East Buckinghamshire). St Alban. The historic centre of the First Martyr, where I have been on pilgrimage many times over the last 45 years. This location is also accessible for the many Orthodox who live in North London and those in Luton.
  4. Crawley (West Sussex/Surrey). St Michael and all the Heavenly Hosts. A centrally located position, not far from south London, next to Gatwick (hence the dedication) and not far from Brighton.
  5. Winchester (Hampshire, South Berkshire, East Wiltshire). The Resurrection. A centrally-located historic royal centre and the pre-Norman capital of England. Hence the dedication.
  6. Sheffield (Derbyshire, North Nottinghamshire, West Yorkshire). The Transfiguration. A presence in this heavily-populated industrial area, where raw materials were and are transformed (hence the dedication).
  7. Grimsby (North Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire). St Nicholas. A fishing port and hence the dedication.
  8. Derby (Derbyshire, South Nottinghamshire, North Leicestershire, East Staffordshire). (All Saints). A central, collective point and hence the same dedication as its ancient cathedral founded in c. 943.
  9. Durham (County Durham, South Northumberland, North Yorkshire). St Cuthbert. A presence in the city where the relics of St Cuthbert have lain for over some 900 years.
  10. Berwick on Tweed (Northumbria). (Sts George and Andrew). A pastoral centre between Durham and Edinburgh, near historic Holy Island, showing our spiritual unity in the saints of God. This mission takes us beyond north-east England into south-east Scotland and new territory.

Conclusion: Eighteen Missions

With the three old missions in London and the South-East and the two new missions in the East of England, three missions under way and ten potential new missions we could provide access to Orthodoxy for 95% of the 37 million population of the Eastern half of England, and even beyond its borders, who live within a 30 mile radius (as the crow flies, more) of each centre. (It is our experience that people are willing to travel up to 40 miles, or one hour, regularly, but usually not more, to get to church).

Give me the tools and I will finish the job, as I wrote over 20 years ago.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

Felixstowe, East of England,

12 May 2019

With the Mother of God in Eastern England

Between 2 and 9 April 2019, for the first time ever, all of a long-neglected region, that of Eastern England, was visited by the Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God. The faithful gathered in Kent, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, bordering on Lincolnshire to the north and Bedfordshire to the south. 1500 miles were covered in eight days, 38 molebens were served in our five churches in the region and in the homes of the scattered faithful and £2,210 was raised for the Synod of Bishops of the Church Outside Russia. If we had had longer we would have visited even more faithful in this forgotten backwater outside the Capital. (For photos see the ROCOR Diocesan website).

The Icon gave off Her very strong myrrh-like fragrance, wafting in waves, in churches, homes, hospitals and cars, even filling streets while being taken in Her carrying case just the few yards to the doors of houses and flats. This was the fragrance of the Mercy of Mother Mary, for then the long-abandoned felt valued, consoled by this scent from Paradise. The highlights were perhaps the evening moleben and akathist in St Matrona’s chapel of the Lithuanian Orthodox community in Wisbech, the Capital of the Fens, at the Sunday Liturgy of the Annunciation in Colchester, and especially in one home, where two faithful, long-suffering and isolated converted Orthodox were able to pray before Her, showing that they had embraced Orthodoxy with their hearts and not with their heads.

In the first case we felt how, although the people may have had little knowledge, their spirit was great and the Mother of God descended on account of their humility, for they are absolutely devoid of any pretensions. In the second case, we felt how the hundreds of people came from far away with many small children, with all their huge pain at all the past injustices, and cried out to the Most Holy One and She heard them and consoled them, giving them courage. We three priests could barely cope with all the confessions and over 200 communions. In the third case we saw the greatest sincerity, piety, humility, unseen anywhere else here, and intense suffering, and how the Mother of God came and comforted. We have all become Josephs, guardians of the priceless treasure of the Most Pure One.

After a hospital visit to a young married Romanian man who did electrical work in the altar of the church some years ago, but who is now dying of cancer, we saw him comforted by a wafting of fragrance, which all in the hospital ward felt. We saw an elderly Russian parishioner kissing the Icon and her two Romanian carers, who happened to be present, kneeling and joining her. After one akathist, two pious Greek priests who had attended apologized for the behaviour of their Patriarch. Will the autocephaly of Constantinople be revoked by a Council of the thirteen canonical Local Orthodox Churches? Then the Greek Diaspora can be taken under the care of the Greek Orthodox Church in Athens and return to Orthodoxy. Then all in the Church can once again be confirmed as truly One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, that is, in one word, Orthodox.

Our Mother in heaven sees everyone, righteous and sinners alike, our parishioners, Bulgarian and English, Moldovan and Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Russian, Greek and Turkish, French and Italian, Indian and Romanian, Australian and Kazakh, Polish and Latvian. She acts as a magnet to all, Her presence so strongly felt by all. For the unbeliever the Icon is haunted; we know better. Her fragrance is Her Mercy. In the absence of any others, the Mother of God is truly our champion leader. She is in this Her Icon of the Sign, Who Shows the Way. In the Eastern provinces the rejected are being accepted, the persecuted are being comforted, the despised are being recalled, the long-forgotten are being remembered and the long-neglected are being visited.

We have little money or importance in the eyes of the world, our churches have no gold or precious stones, no ancient icons or precious artefacts, we have no great theologians or brains, but we do have faith and hope. The region is waking, as the very long and very dark night ends in the glimmer and hope of the long-prayed for dawn, which we long to see before we die. We feel that in heaven our prayers have been heard and our decades of tears have been noted. Can it be much longer now? Her fragrance still fills our clothes, homes and cars even days after She left us. We live by faith in Christ and by hope for the better.

 

The Mother of God Comes to the Faithful of Eastern England

For the first time in history the Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God is being allowed to visit the homes of the faithful at all points of the compass in Eastern England. Previously, She had only been taken to London and spent only a few brief hours in some churches in the East.

God willing,

On Tuesday 2 April She will be brought from London to our parishioners to the north-east of Colchester, in Holbrook, Felixstowe, Kesgrave and Ipswich.

On Wednesday 3 April She will visit our parishioners to the west, in St Neots, Cambridge, to the community of St Edmund in Bury St Edmunds, and to the north-west, to the community of St Matrona in Wisbech.

On Thursday 4 April She will visit our parishioners to the south-west, in Chelmsford, Basildon Brentwood, Romford, Ilford, Hatfield Peverel, Witham and Silver End.

On Friday 5 April She will visit our parishioners in Colchester and to the south-east, in Wivenhoe and Great Bromley.

On Saturday 6 April She will visit our parishioners to the south, to the community of the Royal Martyrs in Ashford and then in Bellingham before returning to Colchester.

On Sunday 7 April She will be in the centre in St John’s church in Colchesterfrom 8.00 am until 2.30 pm.

On Monday 8 April She will visit our parishioners to the east, in Colchester, Clacton and Frinton.

On Tuesday 9 April She will visit our parishioners to the north, in Sudbury, Mendlesham and Thetford, before being taken to St Alexander Nevsky church in Norwich.

 

 

The Orthodox Parish in Norwich

The ‘Matchbox Church’

There are no churches with patron saints names like ‘The She-Goat’ or ‘Of One Wood’ or ‘Of One Day’ etc, yet they have taken on these nicknames, which have been suggested either by the founder, or by the material which they have been built with, or by the length of time their construction has taken etc.

In Romania, as well as in other Orthodox Christian countries in Eastern Europe, old churches have been refurbished, new ones are erected, new parishes have been formed to the despondency of Christ’s enemies and of His Church’s enemies. They cannot sleep while claiming to take care of schools, hospitals, and poor people etc. That is the Judas syndrome…

Everything is done with difficulty, with the old lady’s pennies, which are placed out of her poverty in the alms box, with money and/or materials from Christians who are in fortunate positions etc. And not infrequently, until the foundations of the church have been laid, the church life of the new parishes takes place in improvised spaces: abandoned commercial areas, offices, military tents etc.

In the West and the North of Europe, countries, which in former times were mainly Catholic and Protestant, the trend is the opposite. Society has reached the level of progress and civilization in which God is considered to be unnecessary. Houses of worship, some of them having an honourable great age, are rented for some other (secular) activities or are for sale. The buyers convert them into offices, clubs, hotels, luxury bedrooms etc. (https://homes.trovit.co.uk/converted-church-gothic )

This loss of faith is somehow compensated for by the Orthodox-Christian leaven, which has been spread by the fist of globalization, from the former Socialist Orthodox Christian countries. Scattered throughout the world, at those places where they have found propitious conditions, the dough spills have fermented a network of parishes, with houses of worship fitted up in spaces placed at their disposal by Catholic or Protestant churches, either in purchased churches and converted into Orthodox Christian churches, or in new churches, built from scratch.

But Eastern European Orthodox Christian immigrants, with the love of God, who have come either to work or to study etc, do not always have at their disposal a house of worship (a church, a chapel etc) for religious services, when they are only a few in number and are a long way from big urban centres. Then, from hand to hand, they offer love, effort, savings, perseverance, and thus arrange houses of worship where one does not even dare to imagine.

Such a house of worship is the Russian church having as its patron saint Alexander Nevsky (1221-1263) in Norwich, England, organized in a former club, on the edge of a road. On the left side of iconostasis, St Alexander Nevsky is accompanied by St Xenia of Saint Petersburg (18th century). The story of how this church was organized may be found here:

http://www.norwichorthodoxchurch.org.uk/?page_id=136

http://www.norwichorthodoxchurch.org.uk/

Out of a space not much bigger than an apartment in a block of flats, it has come out as a decent little church, as big as a dining room (plus the kitchen). A ‘Matchbox’ church!

A Bulgarian priest and a Russian helper serve with zeal for a handful of parishioners, 20-30 people (it would be impossible to find enough room for a higher number): Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, English, Africans, Asians… The atmosphere is warm, hospitable. It would be inconceivable to be otherwise inside such a space and with such a diversity of parishioners.

A distinguished lady, who conducts the choir (a group of 3-4 women) was telling me, as if she wanted to apologize for such a small church: ‘This is our church. Hopefully God will listen and answer our prayers from this house of worship’.

It seems to me as if we were in the first Christian century in Rome, when the pagans, who by then had become Christians by risking their lives, were placing their houses at the disposal of a church nucleus: ‘Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Jesus Christ, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give my thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ’ (Romans, 16: 3-5).

Everywhere, Christ gathers the rocks of faith and gives them power to speak: ‘And do not think to say to yourselves, ’We have Abraham as our father. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew, 3: 9). ‘And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, ‘Teacher, rebuke thy disciples.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out’ (Luke, 19: 39-40).

Well, these stones are those Christians who have not reached a state of petrified indifference.

Nicuşor Gliga, Bucharest, Romania 17 October 2018

 

The Possible Future of Multinational Russian Orthodoxy in ROCOR in Eastern England

Introduction: Missionary/Pastoral Experience since the 1970s

My experience has been in England (Cambridge and the Fens for 3 years), France (14 years) and Portugal (6 months). I have also served in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, USA and Australia, lived for a year in Greece, and spent several months since the 1970s in Russia and the Ukraine.  I have been in England again for 21 years since 1997. Here I now cover 25,000 miles a year doing pastoral work all over the East, in four prisons and in ten counties – Sussex, Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

Two Problems in the Diaspora Everywhere

  1. The first is the ideology of what may be called mononationalism: forbidding other languages. We saw how ROCOR nearly died out in this country in the 80s and 90s because of this and how now others are dying out because of this. We also see the same Anglican-style mononationalism/racism/phyletism among those who impose English only, obligatory communion, no confession, the new calendar, chairs etc in the ’Anglican Orthodoxy’ of the past.
  2. The second is our lack of infrastructure, lack of our own premises, priests, singers and finance.

The Need for New Missions

Every few months I am contacted by someone to open a ROCOR mission, this month in Wiltshire, three months ago it was Newcastle on Tyne. Two or three times a year we also have visits from people at church, asking for a new mission. We must also recall that we can and need start only on virgin territory, where there is no similar Russian Orthodox presence already, as there is for example in Oxford, Brighton, Portsmouth, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby. Also we recall that all missions must be in centres of population, where Orthodox already live and so provide a base and not be a project in the middle of nowhere.

Public Missions in the East to Date (apart from house chapels)

  1. Colchester (Essex). St John of Shanghai. Our property, bought with £180,000 raised in an internet appeal through the orthodoxengland site.
  2. Norwich (Norfolk). St Alexander Nevsky. Our property, bought with £65,000 raised in an internet appeal through the orthodoxengland site.
  3. Bury St Edmunds/Newmarket. (West Suffolk/South Cambridgeshire). All Saints. I already served in Bury from 2000 to 2002 and have now been there again for nearly two years. We need something here or in this area in West Suffolk, perhaps in Newmarket. The area includes St Felix’s 7th century monastery in Soham, St Audrey’s birthplace is in Exning and St Edmund’s former monastery in Bury. Hence the possible future dedication to All Saints, if we can obtain our own building in this area.
  4. Wisbech (North Cambridgeshire/West Norfolk/South Lincolnshire). St Matrona. This is a new mission, blessed by our bishop, in an ideally-located route centre – all around live thousands of Eastern European fen workers. I have already visited Orthodox in Spalding and March. We could with funds build a beautiful wooden Russian church here, as land is cheap.

Twelve Other Possible Public Missions in Eastern England, God Willing, Remembering that We Orthodox Have no Plans, only Hopes, and We Depend on the Needs of the Grassroots, not on Theories and Pins in Maps

  1. Kettering (Northamptonshire/Bedfordshire). Icon of the Mother of God. There is a huge Eastern European population all over the East Midlands, as it is near Luton Airport, where Easyjet flies to Vilnius, Riga and elsewhere. I have many local contacts and know the area well from missionary visits to Orthodox.
  2. Canterbury (Kent). Christ the Saviour. The historic centre of English Christianity.
  3. St Albans (Hertfordshire/Eastern Buckinghamshire). St Alban. A historic centre near London.
  4. Lincoln (Lincolnshire). The Dormition. A great many Russian-speakers live in this agricultural county.
  5. Crawley (Sussex/Surrey). St Michael and all the Heavenly Hosts. A centrally located position, not far from south London, next to Gatwick and close to Brighton.
  6. Winchester (Hampshire). The Resurrection. A centrally-located historic royal centre and the pre-Norman capital of England. Hence the dedication.
  7. York (Yorkshire). St Constantine and St Helen. In the centre of Yorkshire, St Constantine was present here when proclaimed Emperor in 306.
  8. Sheffield (Yorkshire). The Transfiguration. A presence in heavily-populated South Yorkshire, in a town where metal was once transformed (hence the dedication).
  9. Sunderland (Northumbria). St Nicholas. A presence in a former ship-building town (hence the dedication) in the North-East.
  10. East Cowes (Isle of Wight). (The Royal Martyrs). Commemorating the Imperial Family’s presence here.
  11. Rochester (Kent). (St Andrew the First-Called). A historic location for the large Medway population.
  12. Berwick on Tweed (Northumbria). (St Cuthbert). A pastoral centre between Sunderland and Edinburgh, near the historic Holy Island.

Conclusion: Sixteen Missions

With these sixteen missions we could cover Eastern England, providing access to Orthodoxy for 90% + of the 28 million population of the East within a 25 mile radius of each centre. If we achieved only half of this total, that would be a miracle. Give me the tools and I will finish the job, as I wrote 20 years ago.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

Felixstowe, 1 February 2018