SUNDAY 22 / 5 DECEMBER 2021: Anticipating by a day the feastday of St Alexander Nevsky, His Grace Bishop Irenei celebrated on Saturday and Sunday the patronal feast of the Norwich Parish, co-served by the Parish Rector, Priest Spasimir Ivanov, and the Chancellor of the Diocese, Archpriest Paul Elliott of the Parish of St Elisabeth in Wallasey, who travelled from the North of England to be present for the festivities.
Arriving on Saturday afternoon after concluding the festal celebrations of the Entry of the Theotokos, which His Grace celebrated in London, Bishop Irenei was received at the parish for the evening services. After their conclusion, the Bishop was able to spend the later evening with the parish and visiting clergy, discussing with them the life of the Norwich community, which has grown dramatically over recent months, especially during the recent difficult period. On Sunday morning, His Grace was greeted at the door of the temple with the traditional bread and salt, presented by one of the children of the parish, after which he headed the festal Divine Liturgy, sung by the talented choir made up of singers of various nationalities and backgrounds, combining both Russian- and Byzantine-style liturgical music. A spirit of genuine joy accompanied the whole service, as the parish rejoiced in the blessings of its heavenly patron, St Alexander, communing of the Sacred Mysteries of Christ in the peaceful unity of the Church.
In his homily, Bishop Irenei remarked on this spirit of peace: ‘Behold, the source of true peace,’ said Vladyka, ‘namely, the authentic life of the “household of God,” mentioned in today’s Apostle (Ephesians 2.17-22). It is for this very reason that the Church puts such emphasis on the keeping of the inheritance we have received from the Apostles and their successors: on maintaining our sacred traditions, on following their divine teachings. And this is why we emphasise so strongly, as we have since the first generations of the Church, the adherence to the “rules of life” that we call the Holy Canons: the embodiments of the Holy Fathers’ wisdom, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that govern how we live together in this “household of God.” These are not merely “laws” or legal codes: they are utterances of deep pastoral care and love. They ensure that we plant our feet on the rock, and not on the sand. They inform us when we begin to wander from the right path, and guide us back towards it. The prevent us from taking actions that ultimately hurt, rather than help — and they do so with a wisdom that goes beyond the present moment, since they come to us across ages and centuries of the Church’s life; and with a truth that exceeds any personal understanding or interpretation we may exercise, since they are the fruit of the illumination of the saints and the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church.’
‘My brothers and sisters,’ the Bishop continued, ‘this is a time to cling fast to the rock of the Church, and not be blown about by the winds of renovationism and rebellion that are too present in our world. Every ordinance of the Church is life-saving; every departure from them is death-creating. Which, then, shall we choose? In truth there is no real choice, for it is the way only of foolishness and evil to choose death over life. We choose life, for in the clinging to every support in the household of God, we know that we cling to Him, “in Whom,” the Apostle says,we “are also being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” ( Ephesians2.22). May it be now, and be so forever!’
At the conclusion of the Liturgy, His Grace offered words of congratulations and encouragement to the parishioners, whose number has been expanded over the past months by the arrival of those departing from the sorrowfully uncanonical situation that has temporarily arisen in Colchester. ‘Your hospitality, faithfulness and love are becoming known through the whole Church,’ Vladyka noted, ‘since in times of trial you respond not in anger but in love, clinging to the truth and welcoming all in need of spiritual aid. May God reward you! We know that all trials are temporary, and we know that God’s love is stronger than the machinations of men. Don’t be disheartened or afraid, but keep on the good path, for which the rewards come not from men, but from God Himself!’
A festal meal followed the Divine Services in a nearby community hall, at which the Diocesan Bishop was able to spend several hours conversing with the faithful and clergy, answering questions about spiritual life and Church matters, and speaking individually with many parishioners. A programme of Bulgarian and Russian folk music and dancing was put on by members of the community, and all faithful and clergy shared in the joy of the feast and the parish’s thriving life long into the afternoon. At the conclusion, expressing again his love for the community, His Grace departed for London. His next travels are to New York for the regular session of the Holy Synod of Bishops.