With the two parishes in Colchester and Norwich, both with weekly services and served by three priests, communities in Bury St Edmunds and Wisbech and hopes for new communities elsewhere, the presence of the Church Outside Russia in the eastern half of England has much increased since the episcopal changes and long-awaited ordinations after January 2017. With the blessing of His Grace Bishop Irenei, now a new community has been launched for the many Orthodox in Kent, whom we have been visiting for years, giving communion and baptising in people’s houses for lack of a church.
The new community is using a former farmhouse, now St Christopher’s Church, opposite the village green in Boughton Lees on the edge of Ashford (TN25 4HP – parking is in Lees Road, opposite the church, which has all facilities). Ashford is in a central position, with excellent national and international transport links, near Canterbury, Faversham, Maidstone, Rochester, Gillingham, Dover, Folkestone and Hastings. The community is dedicated to the Royal Martyrs, significant because the church is on the edge of Eastwell Manor, with its connections with the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna Romanova and her daughter, the future Queen Maria of Romania, who was born there in 1875.
This is even more significant because the community is being founded on the 100th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Russian Orthodox Royal Family. The church was first visited on 15th March, the feast of the Sovereign Icon of the Mother of God, which miraculously appeared after Tsar Nicholas was overthrown by treasonous aristocrats and apostate generals in 1917. The first liturgy took place on Saturday 21 April, the next will be on Saturday 19 May, the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas.
On Saturday 21 April, the five visits of the martyred Tsar to England were mentioned, including his visit to Gravesend in Kent. As the liturgy ended, a cricket match began on the green outside the church and the sounds of Orthodox singing were replaced by the sound of cricket ball against willow. We await the Orthodox of Kent at our next service.