Many of us Orthodox who were born in Western Europe in the twentieth century look to the future with hope – but to the past with despair. With hope because we believe in miracles, with despair because the past was the land of a lack of vision, foresight and leadership. It is due to this that the Church all over Western Europe is now suffering from a catastrophic lack of infrastructure. In England, for example, the only Orthodox bishop who established solid infrastructure was the bureaucratic Greek Archbishop of Athenagoras: what a pity that he compromised Orthodoxy…The result of that is that the parishes he founded are now emptying as his clergy and people have largely failed to pass on the unique Faith to the succeeding generations – like so many Russians before him.
I remember in the 1970s listening to an utterly sterile debate at the St Sergius Institute in Paris about whether it was better for a bishop to be ‘a good administrator’ or ‘a man of prayer’. Of course, the answer is that he must be both – any division is purely artificial, why ever should the two qualities be mutually exclusive? One who is only a good administrator, a bureaucrat, has little spiritual and pastoral understanding and his parishes sooner or later die out; one who is only a man of prayer has no administrative skills and chaos results. Thus, St John of Shanghai was both; no-one doubts that he was a spiritual man of prayer and a good pastor, but he also built two huge cathedrals on two different continents, established an orphanage, convents, parish churches, served, ordained, trained, wrote, organized…
I cannot speak for all of England, still less for all of Western Europe, in specific geographical detail, but I do know from other Russian Orthodox who regularly write to me from France, Finland, Norway, Ireland, Sweden, Scotland, Portugal, Spain and Austria that we all desperately need churches, priests and choirs, let alone the dream of Orthodox schools (the Catholics have them…). However, in my corner of the East of England, about a quarter of the country, which I know well, I know from parishioners, whom I have visited and who travel to us from over a hundred miles away and more for confessions, communions, baptisms, weddings and the rest, that we need churches, priests and choirs. Where are the needs that so scandalously are not being met?
Essex and Norfolk are now catered for; there are large and accessible towns with some sort of permanent churches and centres. Now, please God, grant us the money and we will found the ten more churches needed in each county or area of this region, 100 miles from east to west and 200 miles from north to south, and with their possible dedications, in:
Hastings (Sussex) – dedicated to the Resurrection, in remembrance of all those who died defending Orthodox England nearby.
Canterbury (Kent) – dedicated to Christ the Saviour, as was done in the sixth century.
Stratford (East London) – dedicated to the Royal Martyrs, who will help the teeming tens of thousands of Orthodox immigrants who have arrived at the railway station there from Europe and live around it, seeking housing, work and happiness after their homelands have been ravaged by the EU.
St Albans (Hertfordshire) – dedicated to St Alban, a church which would also cater for all those in the north of London.
Bedford (Bedfordshire) – dedicated to the Holy Trinity, in rejection of the heresy of the local Cromwell, who had no understanding of the Incarnation and the Holy Spirit and and so became a genocidal maniac and iconoclast.
Cambridge (Cambridgeshire) – dedicated to the Three Holy Hierarchs, as this is a University city.
Bury St Edmunds (Suffolk) – dedicated to All Saints (which includes St Edmund).
Peterborough (the Fens) – dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul.
Lincoln (Lincolnshire) – dedicated to the Birth of the Mother of God and St Paulinus.
York (Yorkshire) – dedicated to Sts Constantine and Helen, since St Constantine was proclaimed Emperor there over 1,700 years ago.
Will it ever happen? I don’t know. A dream? Yes, but, as the Good Book says, ‘without vision the people die’. O ye of little faith, we live in hope, for our God is the God Who works wonders.