Vladyka: Christ is risen! We know that during Bright Week you have travelled in the east of England. What can you tell us about your visits there during these days?
Truly, He is risen! Yes, it is true that during this week I have made a bit of a voyage through the eastern part of the country, to celebrate in various places, as it is the tradition of our Church for the Divine Liturgy to be celebrated each day in Bright Week when possible, and this provides an opportunity for me to visit several places in a short amount of time, that we can share the Paschal joy together.
Having celebrated the Divine Liturgy of Bright Monday and Tuesday in our Cathedral in London, surrounded by many faithful and co-served by our Cathedral clergy, I travelled to our Church of the Mother of God, ‘Joy of All Who Sorrow’ in Mettingham in Norfolk. This small countryside parish serves Orthodox faithful from many surrounding villages and towns in a beautiful wooden temple set into the countryside. There, with the local clergy, we celebrated the Divine Liturgy of Bright Wednesday with a procession around the temple with the artos, after which we had a luncheon in the attached College followed by a spiritual discussion that, due to the sheer number of sincere questions about the spiritual life in the world posed by the faithful, lasted several hours!
Several hours? What sort of things did the parishioners wish to discuss?
Questions were asked about the rearing of children in our contemporary society, with its many challenges and difficulties; about prayer; about interacting with heterodox and those of our surrounding communities; and many other topics. People are hungry for the spiritual food and wisdom that the Church offers, with its practical guidance on how to live in the world in a way that draws men into the life of God.
Where did you travel after Mettingham?
Following our discussion there, we travelled to Norwich in the heart of Norfolk, where the Parish of St Alexander Nevsky is amongst our newest full parishes in the British Isles. There we celebrated the Divine Liturgy of Bright Thursday in the small temple that sits in a former storefront in the heart of the city.
In a storefront? Does this work for a church?
It works beautifully! Receiving good counsel in its foundation from Archpriest Andrew Phillips and the Priest who now serves it full time, Fr Spasimir Ivanov, the parish sensibly sought out not a grand palace that would be beyond its means to sustain, but a small structure that it converted into a wonderful parish temple. It has a full iconostasis and kliros, icons and all other necessities of a church, and under the loving care of Fr Spasimir the Divine Services are kept with great joy and sincerity. I was especially pleased to be able to greet an English convert who was baptised on Holy and Great Saturday, who was clearly overjoyed at his new life in the Church and the Norwich parish. We all share this joy.
After Norwich, Your Grace travelled to Walsingham, which is the site of a famous shrine to the Mother of God and one of the most beloved sacred places in Great Britain. Was this visit purely to visit the shrine?
To the contrary, it was to celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Bright Friday, which we served in the Orthodox Chapel built within the larger shrine complex. The place is, indeed, very holy, bearing the imprints of the Theotokos’ visitation and apparition there over 900 years ago. For many decades there has been a dedicated Orthodox chapel on the site, which our Church Abroad was instrumental in establishing, and which is the shared inheritance of all our Orthodox Churches in these lands, with Divine Services performed there by clergymen of various dioceses.
Amidst a group of faithful sufficient to completely overwhelm the space of the small chapel, I celebrated the Divine Liturgy together with Hieromonk Mark, rector of our Kazan Icon parish in Cardiff, as well as Priest Antony Bardsley and Deacon Mark Tattum-Smith from Mettingham, and Archpriest Raphael Armour, priest of the Moscow Patriarchal parish in Cambridge. As it is the tiniest of Altars, it was something of a miracle that we managed to fit four clerics around the Holy Table, together with a young server as well. Following the Divine Service, we had a festal meal on the shrine grounds.
And then I began my travels northwards. On Bright Saturday I will celebrate in a small chapel connected to our Liverpool parish, and on Saturday evening and Thomas Sunday I will celebrate in the main parish of St Elizabeth, Wallasey.
Did you find your time in the east of England enjoyable?
Profoundly so, and inspiring. I am filled with optimism and spiritual joy when I encounter the rich diversity of life within our Diocese, here in Britain as well as throughout Western Europe: from the large surroundings of our Cathedral in London, to a rural parish, to a town church, to a chapel — in each of these places the faithful seek after the Living God earnestly, filled with love and sincerity, and bear witness to our shared Orthodox life in a most beautiful way. The circumstances and situations may be different, but our hearts are the same: we are all longing to be closer to God Who loves us.
And I am not quite finished in the east of England. Whilst this weekend I am in the north, and then will be for several days back in London, next weekend I will travel to St Albans for our Diocesan Pilgrimage on Saturday, and then onwards to our Parish of St John of Shanghai in Colchester, which is another of our very large parishes, likewise filled with joyful people, and it shall be my happiness to conclude the present archpastoral visit there.