About Our Diocese: History

The Diocesan Region of Great Britain and Ireland


Britain is one of the oldest Orthodox lands in the world, having received the Gospel proclamation from an Apostle of the Seventy in the first century AD. For more than 2,000 years the Orthodox faith has been proclaimed here, and through the intercessions of our host of local Saints we continue to carry that banner, drawing peoples of every nationality, tongue, age and race into the life of the Gospel.

The British Isles (encompassing Great Britain and Ireland) have been home to the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia since its beginnings, at times administered as a vicariate of the European diocese, at times as its own diocesan entity. Since 2018, it is under the unified pastorate of the Bishop of London and Western Europe, having combined what in previous years were the separate Diocese of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Diocese of Western Europe into our present-day Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe. The region of the British Isles continues to have its own local administration and region-specific activities, together with all the activities of the Diocese as a whole. 

A Brief History 

There has been a Russian Orthodox Church in London for some 300 years. After the Russian Revolution, the Imperial Embassy Chapel was closed and a new home was sought for the longstanding parish. Our Diocese officially had its beginning in 1929, when Archmandrite Nicholas (Karpov) was consecrated as Bishop of London and took up residence in the United Kingdom. In 1932 Bishop Nicholas reposed in the Lord whilst attending a Synod meeting of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which was at that time headquartered in the Kingdom of Serbia. The next Bishop to reside in London and have oversight of the Diocesan parishes was the ever-memorable Archbishop Nikodim (Nagaieff), who served as head of the Diocese from 1954 until his death in 1976 at the age of 93. Initially, His Grace Nikodim was a Vicar Bishop under the ompohor of Archbishop John (Maximovich), who from 1953 to 1962 was Archbishop of Brussels and Western Europe (glorified in 1994 as Saint John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco). Following the response of Archbishop Nikodim, Bishop Constantine (Jessensky) governed the Diocese until his retirement in 1986. In that same year, Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany was appointed as Ruling Hierarch of the Diocese of Great Britain and Ireland. Upon Archbishop Mark’s retirement from that role in December 2016, the Diocese was temporarily cared for by the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, assisted from May 2017 by Bishop Irenei — at the time of his apointment the Bishop of Sacramento. In September 2018 the Holy Synod of Bishops appointed His Grace Irenei as Bishop of London and Western Europe, combining the two dioceses under his care.

Our Cathedral and Parishes 

Having moved locations several times in the three centuries of the Russian Orthodox Church’s presence in London (usually surrounding historical considerations of property leasing in the centre of the Capital), the principal Diocesan Cathedral has been in its present location in 57 Harvard Road, Chiswick, West London, since 1990 (previously it had been located at Emperor’s Gate, London; for a more detailed history, see the excellent book, Embassy, Emigrants, and Englishmen by Fr Christopher Birchall, published by Holy Trinity Press, Jordanville, 2014). It is the only purpose-built Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Great Britain, constructed in the Pskov Style and containing two Altars. The upper Altar is dedicated to the Nativity of the Mother of God, and the lower to the Holy Royal Martyrs. A project of beautiful frescoing of the upper church was completed in 2017, and the Cathedral was consecrated during a special reunion of the Holy Synod on 8th / 21st September 2018.

Our Diocese’s region of the British Isles includes parishes in various parts of these islands, including Colchester, Norwich, Mettingham, Liverpool, Cardiff, Cheltenham, and smaller communities elsewhere. It operates Orthodox schools, a long-standing publishing house and college, and since 2017 has been publishing a new magazine, Searchlight, aimed at youth and young adults in the Church. Our presence in Great Britain and Ireland is actively growing, seeking always the establishment of new missions in other parts of the islands, the founding of monastic communities, and other blessed works.

Our parishes worship in Church Slavonic and English, with other languages used in communities where this is helpful (for example, we have a strong Romanian-language based community in Colchester). Our doors are open to all who seek to live the Orthodox faith in its fulness, whatever their nationality, background or language. 

The Russian Orthodox Church as a Whole

The signing of the ‘Act of Canonical Communion’ in May 2007 brought together the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church that had been separated since the time of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. In 2017 we celebrated ten years since this God-provided restoration of full brotherly unity within our Church, and in Great Britain and Ireland we are particularly grateful to God for a close fraternal and pastoral relationship with our sister diocese in the British Isles: the Patriarchal Diocese of Sourozh.

Our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) is, within the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole, a self governing church with its own Synod of Bishops, headquartered in New York. Its First Hierarch is His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, and the ROCOR includes Dioceses in the USA, Canada, Central and South America, Australia and New Zealand — and of course our own Diocese of Great Britain, Ireland and Western Europe. In all our territories, the ROCOR bears witness to traditions inherited from Holy Russia’s pre-revolutionary history, with its own liturgical and pastoral customs that form an important, unique part of the vibrant witness of Russian Orthodox unity throughout the world. Its near-century-long history as a church in the diaspora means that we are wholly committed to the life of Orthodoxy that embraces the full cultures surrounding us in various parts of the world. The ROCOR has always had, and continues to have, a vibrant missionary spirit, and seeks both to support Russian Orthodox Christians outside Russia, and to spread the Gospel of Christ to the peoples of a wide range of countries, drawing all people into the Church of Christ, the Faith of the Apostles, and the Life of the Holy Fathers.

We maintain a special section of this website dedicated to the History of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which we invite you to peruse for further information.



More Resources:

Administration of the British Region

‘Searchlight’ Magazine

Statutes of the Diocese’s British Region