The Mission of the Church Outside Russia to the Three Eastern Counties of England
500 Million People and 100 Regions
The 500 million people and 28 nations of the European Union are divided into almost 100 regions, each representing on average a population of almost exactly five million. England is divided into nine such regions, the easternmost one of which is called the East of England. This is composed of six historic counties, three in the east and three in the west (Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire); although the Russian Orthodox Church does operate in the three western counties, it does not possess any church buildings there.
1 in 200: Half of the East of England Region
This eastern half of the East of England region is called the Eastern Counties. It consists of Essex and the two counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, the kernel of historic East Anglia, though its influence and dialect has always clearly crossed over into Northern Essex and Eastern Cambridgeshire. The East Anglian flag is composed of the cross of St George (the Jerusalem flag) and the three crowns of the patron saint of East Anglia, St Edmund, the co-patron saint of England and King of East Anglia (+ 869). http://www.flyingcolours.org/product/county-flags/east-anglia-flag.html.
Area and Orthodox Population
The Eastern Counties cover approximately 5,000 square miles (13,000 square kilometres) and have a population of 3 million. We estimate the nominal Orthodox population at only about 12,000 (one in 250), though the number of Orthodox is increasing rapidly by immigration and, as it is young, it has a high birth-rate. The vast majority of Orthodox are composed of Russian-speaking nationalities, Romanians, Moldovans, Bulgarians and Greek Cypriots, with very small numbers of English people at the present time.
Historic Local Saints
The Apostle and Patron Saint of Essex is St Cedd (+ 664) and the other main local saint is St Osyth (+ c. 700). As we have said, the Patron-Saint of Suffolk and Norfolk is St Edmund, King and Martyr (+ 869), commemorated especially in Hoxne and above all in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. However Suffolk also commemorates three other main local saints, the Apostle of East Anglia, St Felix (647), the Suffolk-born St Audrey (+ 679) and St Botolph (+ 680). Norfolk also commemorates three other main local saints, St Fursey (+ 650), St Withburgh (+ c. 743) and St Walstan (+ 1016).
The Mission of the Church Outside Russia to the Eastern Counties (1966-2008)
The first contemporary Orthodox missionary to the three counties was Fr Mark (Meyrick, later Fr David) (+ 1993), who in 1966 opened a small rented chapel in a village in rural Norfolk. After his repose and the virtual closure of the chapel, the mission was resumed four years later by Fr Andrew Phillips in Felixstowe in Suffolk in 1997. After renting premises here for eleven years and also trying to set up another mission in Bury St Edmunds, the mission dedicated to St John of Shanghai (+ 1966) moved to Fr Andrew’s native Colchester in Essex.
The Mission of the Church Outside Russia to the Eastern Counties (2008-2016)
In Colchester in 2008 it managed to buy and open the largest Russian Orthodox church in the country, in order to serve the growing Russian Orthodox population. In 2016 the mission managed to buy and open a church in Norwich, dedicated to St Alexander Nevsky. The current hope of this East of England Orthodox Church Trust is to buy premises in Suffolk for a third public mission to serve the faithful. Two small domestic chapels have also opened as a spin-off from this initial mission, one in Suffolk, one in Essex. Fifty years of Orthodox mission have thus borne fruit.
Area: 1,338 square miles / 3,465 square kilometres
Area: square miles: 1,466 square miles / 3,798 square kilometres
Area: square miles: 2,074 square miles / 5,372 square kilometres
Area: 4,878 square miles / 12,635 square kilometres