ST JOHN’S ORTHODOX CHURCH
Military Road, Colchester, Essex CO1 2AN, England
The Church of St John of Shanghai, built in 1855 for the British Army, is today the largest Russian Orthodox church building and the largest wooden church in the British Isles and possibly in Western Europe. It is situated in eastern England, in Colchester, the Roman capital of Britain before London, which is located 80 kilometres to the south-west of Colchester.
The church was bought by Orthodox through an internet appeal on the Orthodox England website in 2008. It was at once converted to Russian Orthodox use in a town where there had never been any Russian Orthodox presence before. It is therefore a completely new parish. It is attended by 4,000 Orthodox of 24 nationalities, with 200-300 parishioners who attend every Sunday and some 120 baptisms per year. The vast majority of parishioners are aged under 40 and there is a very large number of children. The church and all its buildings belong to the ROCOR East of England Orthodox Church Trust (Charity No. 1081707), which cares for grassroots Orthodox all over the East of England. The Trust has set up two other churches in East Anglia over the last six years, one in Norwich and another just outside Cambridge.
It has three priests, the rector, Archpriest Andrew Phillips, who was born in Colchester and has served as a clergyman for nearly 37 years, including in Meudon outside Paris and in Lisbon in Portugal. There are also Fr Ioan Iana, who is Romanian and married to a Russian, and Fr George Petrovsky, who is from Latvia. Sunday communions are from three chalices. We at last have two deacons to help us. The parish runs a talk and discussion circle about the Faith, and for children, a Sunday school, a Russian school, a construction club and a sewing club. It also publishes many unique booklets in English, issues a quarterly youth magazine called Searchlight and a monthly newsletter called The Eastern Orthodox.
Apart from the main church, measuring 650 square metres, and two halls, there is also a small church dedicated to All the Saints of the British Isles and Ireland.
This veneration of the local saints was in part inspired by St John of Shanghai, who promoted the veneration of Western saints. Indeed, Fr Andrew was ordained by a spiritual son of St John, the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva (1910-1993). This Archpastor’s very rare values coincide with our own and inspire us. They are:
– To unite all Orthodox, whatever their nationality, into the One Russian Orthodox Church in these islands according to the Orthodox calendar under Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow and All the Russias.
– To keep the purity of Holy Orthodoxy free from political meddling from whatever great power and from bureaucracy, from both the left (modernists) and from the right (sectarians), keeping to the royal path of the unity of Truth and Mercy.
- To be faithful to the best of Imperial Russia and the spirit of the Imperial Family, who stood above factions, confessing the Faith as protectors of the unique Christian Civilisation of the Orthodox world and confessing the Faith, ready to be persecuted and martyred when required.
– To remain multinational, inevitable in the Western European context, carrying out the missionary task of the Russian emigration assigned to us by Providence among the peoples of the world, in faithfulness to the words of Christ (Matt, 28, 19-20).
This multinational aspect is reflected by the 24 nationalities which make up the flock here and our three main liturgical languages, Slavonic, English and Romanian, although the choir director is French and the deacons are Moldovan and English. But you will find Australian, Turkish, Maltese, Greek, Estonian and Chinese among the parishioners. The parish has set up several parishes and communities elsewhere in the region, notably those mentioned above in Norwich and Cambridgeshire, but also in Suffolk and beyond. The parish is characterised by the family and community spirit of the parishioners, despite national differences and various languages, and the willingness of all to learn about the Faith with humility and to help one another, both in prayer and also materially. This deep unity comes from our common faith, prayer, fasting and frequent confession and communion.
To commemorate the centenary of ROCOR in 2020, the parish commissioned an Icon of the three ROCOR saints, the Saints of the Russian Emigration, the Three New Hierarchs, the Three New Pillars of Orthodoxy. These are: St Jonah of Hankou (+ 1925), St Seraphim of Boguchar (+ 1950) and our former Archbishop, St John of Shanghai and San Francisco (+ 1966). In this Icon of this global age, we see all six inhabited continents of the planet beneath the Protecting Veil of the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God, blessed by the Three New Hierarchs, St Jonah, St Seraphim and St John, who lived on different continents. Together they represent the essential identity, unique service, planetary mission and future of our whole Russian Orthodox Church, come forth from the past of Imperial Russia, now living in the present and worldwide.
May the Lord help us and bring us all to salvation!
Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
13 May 2021