English-Language Island Orthodoxy


Seven of the fourteen universally recognised Local Orthodox Churches are represented in the Diaspora and therefore in the British Isles. The Local Churches present are: the Russian with two dioceses – the Sourozh Diocese, directly dependent on Moscow, and the Diocese of the self-governing Church Outside Russia, known as ROCOR; the Greek Thyateira diocese, under the Church of Constantinople; the Antiochian deanery; the Serbian; the Romanian; the Bulgarian; the Georgian. However, the last four dioceses, though witnessing to a venerable Orthodox Tradition, are not relevant to our consideration here, as we are concerned with parishes which make extensive use of English. What then is the situation of the first four groups today, with regard to their use of the English language in services?

The Sourozh Diocese

The Sourozh Diocese, founded in 1962, originally consisted of only two tiny parishes, because 90% of exiled Russians saw it as a Soviet institution and deeply mistrusted it. In order to exist as a diocese, however small, it therefore had to recruit members among Anglicans – hence its need to use English. The difficulty with this was that Sourozh, based around a personality rather than the Tradition of the Church, often failed to integrate these Anglicans into the Church, receiving them very swiftly. The result was that many of the faithful Orthodox, either Russian or else English, but Non-Anglican, left Sourozh, or rather were forced to leave it. The modernistic, new calendarist ethos being promulgated by the Anglican newcomers was alien to those who knew the Tradition.

Being based around a single divisive personality, Sourozh therefore never had a real diocesan structure and premises outside London and, just, Oxford; this today is yet another bitter fruit of its past legacy, which is not yet buried. For the same reason, once the personality had died (as all personalities do), a schism took place. For decades, the followers of the personality cult had ejected actual Russian Orthodox, because the former were a majority imposing their politically-minded Orthodoxy on the minority. However, once Russian Orthodox had become the majority through immigration, the old majority of 300 decided to leave. This was in 2006. Reality had caught up with fantasy and political Anglican-Orthodox syncretism could only continue outside the reunited and restored Russian Tradition and Church discipline.

Of course, they were free to leave. No-one would have minded that. The error of its leaders was to try and take away Church property and the Russian Orthodox name with them. For, as is clear with the example of those centred in Paris who also left the Russian Church in order to create a modernist ideology, you can only be Russian Orthodox if you are faithful to the Russian Orthodox Church. After the 300 had left, diplomacy was required. Nevertheless, even a diplomat of foreign culture with some English can misunderstand English people. Misunderstandings are inevitable. Today, the future direction of Sourozh is not clear, other than that it will, in time, merge with the ROCOR Diocese as part of the future Western European Metropolia, one of probably three in the future ROCOR.

The ROCOR Diocese

In the 1950s the ROCOR Diocese, with a bishop living in Preston and a saintly archbishop on the Continent, had been second only to the Thyateira Diocese in size. However, within a generation it had gone from big to small. Even in the early 1980s its London Cathedral was still attended by some 400 every Sunday (600 in the 1960s). But they were nearly all elderly. Insisting on Russian ethnicity and language, ROCOR lost the young and parishes closed one after the other. Within a few years ROCOR was to lose its bishop, its clergy (who went to North America or Western Europe), its Cathedral and most of its diocese. Greek old calendarism appeared with an Anglo-Catholic tint. Many in the 1990s thought that the local ROCOR Diocese would die out completely; however, in recent years there has been a revival.

Nevertheless, ROCOR’s great weakness is the lack of a resident bishop. The problem here is that the Diocese is now too small and poor to have a bishop; but this is a vicious circle; it only became small and poor because there was no bishop in good health or resident. This may be called ‘the South American syndrome’, where in a similar situation, action was also taken too late. A uniting, bilingual (and bicultural) bishop would be the solution, especially as the Sourozh Diocese is to merge into the ROCOR Diocese. Such a figure is also necessary, for if the situation in Russia were to degenerate and, for example, some pro-Western regime came to power there and began to persecute the Church, as happened in Constantinople, the self-governing Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) would have nothing to fear.

The Thyateira Diocese

Under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Thyateira Diocese has been the largest of the Local Churches present in the British Isles and Ireland ever since post-War immigration from Commonwealth Cyprus. However, its situation is now increasingly similar to that of ROCOR about forty years ago. Many of its parishes are dying, attended by the elderly. The young have been lost because of the insistence on ethnic identity and the Greek language. Thus the Anglican Diocese of London has for instance six priests of Greek background. Not speaking Greek, but only English, they felt no identity with the ‘Greek’ Church. And even educated young people, who remained faithful to Greek Orthodoxy, have left for the Greek Church in USA, where they are not reprimanded for using English.

Within this Diocese there are a small number of ex-Anglicans, who entered mainly under a previous archbishop in the 1980s. They have faced hellenisation, with their Christian names being supplanted on ordination by names such as Kallistos, Aristobulos, Athanasios, Pankratios, Palamas, Athenagoras etc. At the same time, clergy imported from Greece and Cyprus go by names such as Peter, Paul, Michael, John etc. There is also the small deanery of some 300 mainly ex-Anglicans who left the Sourozh Diocese. Supposedly following Russian Church music and its clergy in Russian dress, they are deprived of a Mother-Church, as their former head, Archbishop Gabriel, pointed out. Inevitably, they will be swallowed up into post-1948 American new calendarist Phanariotism, like the rest of what is now a de facto deanery.

The Antiochian Deanery

Of the four groups concerned here, this is the newest and also the most English-language oriented. It was founded eighteen years ago by ex-Anglican clergy and laity. Indeed, virtually all of its priests are Anglican-trained and there is some doubt as to whether Non-Anglican clergy, that is regular Orthodox, would be accepted into it. Asking to enter the Church with its own agenda, this Anglican group was rejected first by the Sourozh Diocese and then by the Thyateira Diocese – it did not ask the ROCOR Diocese. As a result, the group was received into a new and separate Deanery under the Arab-speaking Patriarchate of Antioch (Damascus). The problem here was that the group had in effect no training and no Mother-Church, being cut off by language and culture, disincarnate from the Tradition, yet actually using elements of Russian Church music and its clergy in Russian dress.

With no possibility of integrating the Mother-Church through contact with its representatives, some members of this group in fact remained Anglicans. In such cases ordinary Orthodox were alienated by it, not feeling at home in it. Charismatics continued their unOrthodox practices; those of Low Church background remained in their Puritanism; those of High Church background remained in their unCatholic Catholicism. Without integration into Orthodoxy, some continued to act and think as Anglicans, with intercommunion and new calendarism, the Divine Liturgy interrupted for ‘speaking in tongues’ and confession unknown. This was mirrored by the exclusive use of English and a phyletist insistence on a ‘British’ Orthodoxy, on Protestant-style proselytising and ‘outreach’ only to Anglicans.

This part of the Deanery was in fact in hock to the British Establishment, the inventor of Anglicanism, and so out on a limb with the rest of the Orthodox Church in this country. Hence, a refusal to concelebrate. Such an ethnic Anglican ‘Orthodoxy’ will die out, since it is of no interest to real Orthodox, even less to Non-Anglicans. However, although this above aspect exists, there are many in the Antiochian Deanery who have integrated the Orthodox Church, understanding that their survival is dependent on this. Here there is cause for optimism and good pastoral work is being done, and Romanian and other Orthodox are teaching the Deanery what Orthodoxy is and how to do the services. But in such a case will the Deanery not one day be released by Antioch and sent to join another Local Church?


It is clear that all English-language Orthodoxy has a Russian background; it refers to the Russian Tradition, Russian Church music and Russian practices, however simplified and ill-understood. Then why are not all united in the Russian Church? It is clear that the fault lies half with representatives of the Russian Church and half with those who have come to the Church. Neither side has always met its responsibilities, sidelining the Tradition, diverting from the mainstream, putting first not the Kingdom of Heaven, but an ethnic or political identity and a lack of cultural understanding, or a personality cult and a lack of competence. Unity is lacking because of the lack of any uniting personality in any of these groups. Despite this, we should never underestimate the grace of God to transfigure the present situation in these Isles.