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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Winchester (Hampshire, South Berkshire, East Wiltshire). The Resurrection. A centrally-located historic royal centre and the pre-Norman capital of England. Hence the dedication.
- 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).
- Grimsby (North Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire). St Nicholas. A fishing port and hence the dedication.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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