The 500 million people and 28 nations of the European Union are divided into almost 100 regions, each representing an average population of 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 eastern half, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and three in the western half: Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.
The East of England Orthodox Church is simply the name of the local charitable trust of ROCOR which runs one large parish church in Colchester in Essex and soon, God willing, a small second one in Norwich in Norfolk. God willing, we hope one day to set up other churches to cover not just the official region, but others that are more generally in the eastern half of England, which includes such vital sites of English holiness and history as St Albans, Canterbury and York.
Our hope is to be able to open public-access churches in the major cities and towns which would serve all the many nationalities who adhere to the Russian Orthodox Faith. This means all those that use the Orthodox calendar, use various languages, though principally Slavonic and English, have an iconostasis, do not abbreviate or otherwise tamper with the services and have confession before communion. Our desire is to be a home for all Orthodox who follow the Tradition; we do not believe in some sort of ‘Anglicanism with icons’ or manmade ‘Halfodoxy’ or ‘Anglodoxy’, such as can sadly be found in certain parts of the Diaspora.
The Past and Present
Our priestly service started in Felixstowe in Suffolk eighteen years ago in 1997. We dedicated our efforts to the two local saints, to St Felix (+ 647), the Apostle of East Anglia and the founder of the town of Felixstowe, which is named after his monastery, and to St Edmund, the first Patron Saint of England (+ 869). Eleven years passed with nothing to show for our efforts except perseverance and patience amid complete lack of support. Instead of giving up the struggle, we survived. God was testing us.
Thanks to Divine Providence, in 2008 the parish moved to the much more suitable location and our own premises in Colchester. In fact we have been told that this is the largest Russian Orthodox church building in Western Europe. This is appropriately dedicated to St John of Shanghai, the Apostle of the Diaspora. If it is God’s Will, at the end of this year we hope to open a small parish in Norwich. This will be dedicated to St Alexander Nevsky, who represents both our links with the North (Norwich means the north market or north town) and also our spiritual resistance both to the Materialism of the West and to the Islamism of the East.
The Possible Future
As that community becomes a parish and stands on its own feet, it will become independent and have its own trust and look after itself. And the sooner the better. For the East of England Orthodox Church Trust is merely a channel, an instrument, a catalyst, a path, a means; not a possession or an empire or an end. Our hope is to make a small and modest contribution to our vision of thirty years – to be a small building block in the great hope, in the foundation of a multinational and multilingual Russian Orthodox Metropolia of Western Europe, for which we have worked and which we have urged for thirty years.
If it were possible, and, true, here we are in the realms of the humanly impossible, we would one day like to see Russian Orthodox parishes with our own buildings in:
Cambridgeshire (but covering part of Bedfordshire too): a church in Cambridge, dedicated as a seat of spiritual learning to The Three Holy Hierarchs; a church in Peterborough (where there is a large Eastern European population), dedicated to its patrons St Peter and St Paul.
Hertfordshire (but covering part of Bedfordshire too): a church in St Albans, dedicated to its patron St Alban. Or perhaps just outside this city there could be a Russian Orthodox monastery, which is so desperately needed in this country, and dedicated to the Holy Martyr Alban.
Then, outside the strict territory of the East of England region, but still in the eastern half of England, in:
East London, a church dedicated to St George, the second patron saint of England.
Kent: a church in Canterbury, dedicated to the Apostle of the English, St Gregory the Great (the Dialogist).
Lincolnshire: in Lincoln, a church dedicated (as there are so many saints there) to All Saints.
Yorkshire: in York, a church dedicated to St Constantine, who was proclaimed Emperor in York, and to his mother St Helen.
Conclusion: Dream or Vision?
How much would such a vision cost? Millions of pounds; perhaps anything between £1,000,000 and £5,000,000. Surely then, this is all just a dream? And a dream is merely human and we do not waste our time and energy on dreams. However, a vision, although also human, requires the grace of God to come true. May we unworthy become worthy of a small drop of grace so that our vision may come true and not be a mere vain human dream.