Oct 2, 2008

The British Orthodox Church and Bridges Building

On Saturday, July 9, 1977, at a Quaker meeting house in the South-East of London, a new bishop was ordained for a small, autocephalous Orthodox Church. It was not an event to which, in the Orthodox world at large, any attention was paid. The church concerned, although founded some one hundred and ten years previously, was not in communion with any of the historic Patriarchates and, indeed, had been subjected to considerable criticism from representatives of some of these Patriarchates for its very existence. It had struggled throughout its history to maintain anything more than a fragmentary presence in the British Isles; its congregations were small, and its clergy, however faithful they may have been to the mission of trying to bring Orthodoxy to the British Isles, were essentially little known outside their own community. Various efforts to expand the evangelical work of the Church had been thwarted by lack of resources and by a surprising level of hostility from authorities of the Anglican Church.

It may therefore have been anticipated that the ordination of the new Bishop in 1977 would mark little more than another minor event in an otherwise unremarkable history - a history which, but for the assiduous attention of a small number of critics, would have been almost entirely unknown to the outside world. This was, however, not to be the case. The new Bishop was a man of considerable scholarship and extraordinary commitment to the original mission of the Church, and his ordination marked the beginning of a period in which he would take the Church out of its years in the Wilderness and into communion with one of the most ancient Apostolic Sees, and transform it from an obscure and isolated group, into a body acquiring an international reputation for leadership in the presentation of Orthodoxy in the English-speaking world.

Monday July 9th, 1997, marked the twentieth anniversary of the ordination as Bishop of His Grace Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury. At the time of his ordination, His Grace was deeply involved in research into attempts to establish a Western Orthodoxy. A series of articles by him, under the title Ex Oriente Lux, was being published in The Glastonbury Bulletin, and described the unsuccessful efforts of Dr Joseph Overbeck (1820-1905) and Father Stephen Hatherly (1827-1905), two Western converts to Orthodoxy, who sought to pass on the Faith which they had discovered to others in Western Europe. The Bulletin containing the first of these papers also quoted from Leo Zander, Professor of Theology at S. Sergius' Seminary in Paris, writing in the 1950's. Professor Zander, commenting on the problems faced by Westerners who converted to Orthodoxy: "...contrary to their hopes, they come up against the traditionalist attitude of men who quite sincerely ask themselves: 'What do these foreigners want ? If they wish to become Orthodox, let them accept Orthodoxy with all its historical and national implications.' This means that the would-be convert to Orthodoxy is faced with the prospect of having to become Greek, Russian, Rumanian .... If Orthodoxy in the west has not yet found its own forms of piety and theology, the very existence of its champions and the fight they are putting up is a pledge and even a prologue of the future. In the words of the poet, they are, as it were, 'the precursors come too early of a spring that comes too late'. You can only fight for something. The goal for which the converts strive is not only their personal dream. Their task is also an objective one: namely to free Orthodoxy from the historical and national provincialism that weighs it down."

For the newly ordained Bishop Seraphim, however much he may have felt himself to be a precursor come too early, the struggle to establish an Orthodoxy unburdened by unnecessary nationalism, ethnic culture or the perception of being foreign, was neither new nor easy. His research, whether into Overbeck and Hatherly, or the founding Bishop of British Orthodoxy, Jules Ferrette (Mar Julius, 1828-1904), could only have revealed to him a history of valiant efforts and either conspicuous failures, or inconspicuous and barely surviving partial successes. But he must have seen in his ordination at least a measure of Divine Providence; he had never sought ordination as Priest, let alone as a Bishop, and had come to Orthodoxy unexpectedly, unintentionally and cautiously.

William Henry Hugo Newman-Norton, who was to become Metropolitan Seraphim, was born in South-East London on February 27, 1948, the second son of a policeman who died when he was four years old. After attending a local preparatory and grammar school, he completed teacher training at St Luke's College, Exeter. He grew up in a moderately Anglican family and, although generally interested in religion, he did not begin to develop a sense of strong religious devotion until, at the age of sixteen, he met Metropolitan Georgius (1905-1979), head of the British Orthodox at that time, and first cousin to Abba Seraphim's mother. Although when they met in May, 1964, Metropolitan Georgius was fifty-nine and the future Abba Seraphim only sixteen, there was an immediate bond between them. Mar Georgius had, at that time, been head of the Church for over twenty years: he ultimately served as head of the Church from 1944-1979. Originally established by a missionary Bishop sent from the Syrian Orthodox Church in 1866, its history up to Abba Seraphim's involvement had been one of precarious development. Early loss of contact with the Syrian Church at a time when communications between western Europe and the Middle-East were extremely difficult, and a later repudiation of the mission by the Syrians, encouraged by officials of the Anglican Church, left the small mission isolated. Anglican hostility and Orthodox indifference, together with a lack of resources, meant that the Church was barely able to begin the missionary endeavour for which it had originally been established: to restore the indigenous Orthodoxy of the British Isles.

Mar Georgius, although endeavouring to advance the work of the Church and to unite various groups which sought Orthodox alternatives to Anglicanism or Roman Catholicism, was essentially a visionary and a scholar, rather than a practical administrator or evangelist. He had a somewhat naive trust in those who approached him, and often left himself open to exploitation by men seeking the appearance, rather than the reality, of Orthodoxy. It was almost as if he believed that the truth of Orthodoxy was so self-evident and profound that anyone being exposed to it would not only accept it and be converted, but undergo an inner conversion of life as well. The simple-hearted charity with which he received potential converts often led to the pain of betrayal.

After almost a year of study with Mar Georgius, during which time he was meticulous in reading all that he could of Orthodox doctrine and liturgy, the future Abba Seraphim asked to be received into the Church; this took place on April 23, 1965. He had no thoughts of ordination but, to enable him to assist Mar Georgius during the Liturgy, he received the first of the Minor Orders on December 26, 1965, and began to play an increasing role as the Metropolitan's personal assistant and, later, Secretary. As a result, to enable him to work more closely with his Bishop, Abba Seraphim returned to London to complete his studies at Avery Hill College.

His return to London, and the resulting closer contact with Metropolitan Georgius, fostered Abba Seraphim's interest in the early history of the British Orthodox mission. He regularly spent days at the British Library and the Public Record Office, and discovered many hitherto unpublished manuscripts which revealed that the claims of the first Bishop, Jules Ferrette, could be substantiated from independent sources, and the subsequent Syrian repudiation to have been based essentially on the malign influence of an eminent Anglican. The results of this research were published as Julius, Bishop of Iona (Glastonbury, 1971).

Abba Seraphim's research, no less than his work in the Church, motivated him to encourage renewed attempts to bring the British Orthodox Church back into communion with mainstream Orthodoxy, and this remained a theme in his Church life, culminating in the union between the British Orthodox Church and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in 1994. However, he did not accept any claim that the British Orthodox Church, however technically irregular its position might appear be in terms of Orthodox canon law, was other than a valid, and Divinely inspired, attempt to restore Orthodoxy to the British Isles.

Metropolitan Georgius was concerned that his familial relationship and deep personal affection for his young cousin should not allow him to hasten his advancement in the Church. Abba Seraphim was ordained to the full Diaconate on August 27, 1967, and served for three and a half years as a Deacon. It was, indeed, to the Diaconate that Abba Seraphim felt particularly called and in which he felt his vocation lay. During this period he also sought to expand his knowledge of Orthodoxy, and attended services at a range of Orthodox churches, as well as continuing and expanding his studies.

It often seemed to him that it would have been easier, and personally more satisfying, to abandon the tiny, struggling British Church and become part of one of the great Orthodox communities. On one occasion, feeling that this was the best path to follow, he was deterred by the counsel of a senior Orthodox monk who reminded him that the British Church was to serve as a bridge between the increasingly secularised religious communities of the west and Orthodoxy, and that it was in building this bridge that his true ministry was to be undertaken.

Therefore, Abba Seraphim continued in his efforts to encourage an increasing stability and effectiveness in British Orthodoxy, and to make every endeavour to restore it to communion with one of the great Apostolic Patriarchates. To this end, he accompanied Metropolitan Georgius on a visit to Paris in 1969 for discussions with Bishop Jean Kovalevsky of the French Orthodox Church, then engaged in discussions with the Romanian Patriarchate. The experience of French Orthodoxy strengthened Abba Seraphim's resolve to hold fast to an Orthodoxy that was living, contemporary and relevant to the culture within which it was found. Bishop Jean invited Abba Seraphim to administer the chalice during the Holy Week Liturgy, demonstrating his own rejection of a narrow Orthodox legalism. Sadly, Bishop Jean died unexpectedly the following year.

Abba Seraphim rejected any notion that, because it was largely despised and rejected by mainstream Orthodoxy, the British Church should not hold fast to the Orthodox Tradition, should not clearly state its position and respond to its critics, and should not follow a traditional model of establishing local parishes. He initiated a revival in Church publications, and began producing The Glastonbury Bulletin which, with its emphasis on sound research and good scholarship, quickly attracted a readership far beyond the Church. He initiated and maintained, often in the face of criticism and even ridicule from some in other Orthodox Churches, communication and, often, effective working relationships with Orthodox priests and bishops. He equally persuaded Metropolitan Georgius to undertake reforms of the Church structure to simplify it and base it around local, living congregations.

In the midst of all this activity, Abba Seraphim was ordained to the Priesthood in February, 1971, and in the years that followed took an increasing role of leadership in the Church as Metropolitan Georgius' health deteriorated. After his ordination as a Bishop in July, 1977, Abba Seraphim was essentially responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Church. Metropolitan Georgius had written, after the ordination: I can now feel assured that, if and when I am called hence, the Church will be left in safe hands. Abba Seraphim succeeded as Metropolitan of Glastonbury immediately on Mar Georgius' death on February 28, 1979.

Abba Seraphim had long sought to regularise the position of the British Orthodox Church. This had not been his concern simply in the hope of silencing the critics of the Church. He had made it clear throughout his ministry that, while he was ever ready to respond to misrepresentations of the Church's situation, he regarded canonicity for its own sake as of very limited importance. His major study, Root and Branch. The Canonicity and Regularity of The Orthodox Church of the British Isles (Glastonbury, 1991)1, concluded: We do not seek to work alone or in opposition to our Eastern Orthodox brethren, especially those of British origin who have united themselves to the ancient Eastern Patriarchates, but we seek some sure sign from their hierarchs of a commitment to the same spirit of pastoral concern and urgent evangelism towards the peoples of these islands which inspires our mission. When they can say, like St Gregory of Nazianzus: 'We are seeking not victory, but the return of our brothers, separation from which is tormenting us", then may we not be wanting an equally loving response. An eagerness to share in the Orthodox mission in the British Isles was a continuing characteristic of Abba Seraphim's ministry, just as was a refusal to compromise the need for a genuinely British Orthodoxy.

Abba Seraphim had concluded that canonical Orthodoxy, for all its criticism of the British Church, had been entirely unwilling to incorporate it in such a way as to allow it to fulfil its mission or undertake its work of proclaiming the Orthodox Faith to the non-Orthodox of the British Isles. The British Orthodox Church could easily have become canonical had it agreed to surrender its mission, give up the very reason for its existence, and be absorbed into the essentially foreign Orthodoxy of one of the Byzantine Churches. But Abba Seraphim held firm to the original mission of the Church: the restoration of Orthodoxy to the indigenous inhabitants of the British Isles. The concept of restoration has always been of vital importance to him. It was, and is, almost inevitably forgotten that the British Isles were originally Orthodox. Both Roman Catholicism (following the Great Schism of 1054) and Anglicanism (following the separation from Rome initiated by King Henry VIII in the sixteenth century) came well after centuries of fidelity to Orthodoxy from its establishment in Britain early in the Christian era.

Thus Abba Seraphim has never sought to bring a new, foreign faith to his country, be it from Constantinople or Moscow, any more than from Rome, but to restore the essentially British Orthodoxy which was here in the beginning. Of course, this has never meant for him the fabrication of some sort of spurious "Celtic Orthodoxy", based upon little more than fantasies about what the early Celtic Christians believed and practised. Although intensely interested in the earliest history of Christianity in the British Isles, Abba Seraphim's commitment to sound scholarship has made him careful to avoid the imaginative reconstruction of the past, even when this may have great romantic appeal. He has undertaken research on the Celtic Church over many years, and recognizes just how little factual knowledge there is on which to base any attempt at reconstruction. But this does not detract from his enthusiasm to learn more of what is and can be known. In mid-1997, accompanied by Father Gregory Tillett, Abba Seraphim undertook an extensive tour of Ireland, visiting the ancient holy places and the sites of churches and monasteries.

If restoration is an important concept to Abba Seraphim, so is evangelism to the indigenous inhabitants of the British Isles. This has been a further motivation to avoid being absorbed into an essentially foreign Orthodoxy. If Orthodoxy is to be proclaimed in the British Isles, Abba Seraphim believes, it must be proclaimed in a language and culture that is essentially relevant and meaningful to the inhabitants of the British Isles.

So, however much Abba Seraphim desired a reunion of the British Orthodox Church with an Apostolic See, he was never prepared to give up the essential mission of the Church. Approaches to a number of Orthodox communions were met with indifference. But, in 1993, Abba Seraphim began discussions with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, and he led a delegation of Church representatives to Cairo in February, 1994. Interestingly, in his approach to the Coptic Patriarchate, Abba Seraphim was following in the footsteps of an earlier British Orthodox Bishop: in June, 1936, Mar Frederic (Frederic Harrington, 1890-1942) had written to the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria seeking to initiate discussions regarding the possibility of a union of the British Orthodox Church with the Patriarchate. His Holiness' Private Secretary replied on October 23 acknowledging Mar Frederic's letter pleading for His Holiness' spiritual guidance and advice, and promising further correspondence. However, no further correspondence followed. Research by Abba Seraphim led to the discovery that a leading clergyman of the Anglican Church had urged that no relationship be established with the British Church. More than half a century later, the situation was very different.

After years of disappointment in the responses to his approaches to Orthodox hierarchs, Abba Seraphim was delighted by the openness of the Copts, and their commitment to evangelism. Equally, if not more surprising was the immediate acceptance by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III that, if the British Orthodox Church was to become part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, it must maintain its original mission, and maintain its distinct British identity. His Holiness was not at all interested in statistics and finances, matters which in the past had often appeared to be the primary consideration for other Orthodox officials who showed little interest in discussions with a small, and far from wealthy, Church. His Holiness was solely interested in the Orthodox Faith: having determined that the British Orthodox Church held firmly to the Orthodox Faith, he sought to welcome it into communion with the great and ancient See of Alexandria, generously inviting the British Church to "come home".

Having received such a positive response from His Holiness, Abba Seraphim returned to consult with the clergy and people of his Church. At an assembly held in London on March 19, 1994, unanimous support was given for Abba Seraphim to proceed towards full union with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. He thus returned to Cairo at the beginning of April for further discussions, and during a further visit at the end of May that year the final text of a Protocol determining the relationship between the British Orthodox Church and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate was agreed. The Protocol can be seen as a re-statement of the original mission of the Church: The British Orthodox Church of the British Isles is a local church, holding to the historic faith and order of the Apostolic Church, committed to the restoration of Orthodoxy among the indigenous population and desiring to provide a powerful witness to the Orthodox Faith and Tradition in an increasingly secular society.

Although His Holiness had determined that re-ordination of the British clergy was not necessary, Abba Seraphim had made it clear that the union with the Patriarchate of Alexandria was of such importance in the history of the British Orthodox Church that he would have agreed to be received by Baptism if necessary, and would have accepted the status of a Priest if that was required. Happily, it was not, and Abba Seraphim was incorporated into the Patriarchate by anointing with Holy Myron, administered by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III at the Papal Residence at the monastery of Anba Bishoy in the Wadi El-Natrun on June 4, 1994. Immediately thereafter, Abba Seraphim accompanied His Holiness to the nearby Syrian Monastery where he was admitted as a monk. His original monastic profession, made in 1977, was accepted, and he was simply received into membership of the El-Sourian monastery. When asked to which monastery he wished to be attached, Abba Seraphim had suggested the Syrian because the original mission of the British Church had come from Syria.

Abba Seraphim visited Egypt again in June. The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate met on June 18 to confirm the Protocol defining the incorporation of the British Orthodox Church into the Patriarchate, and to confirm Abba Seraphim's election as Metropolitan. The following morning, Pentecost Sunday, he was ordained as Metropolitan by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, assisted by some sixty Bishops and Metropolitans, in St Mark's Cathedral, Cairo.

As he stood amongst his brother Metropolitans and Bishops, in the presence of the Patriarch of Alexandria in the great Cathedral in Cairo that Pentecost morning, Abba Seraphim had every reason to feel that he had faithfully fulfilled the commission he had received from his predecessor, and from those who had headed the British Orthodox Church in earlier generations. He had led the Church back into communion with one of the great Oriental Orthodox Churches. As its representative, he was now a member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. The future of the British Orthodox Church, often so precarious throughout the past one hundred and fifty years, was now carefully assured and protected. The isolation and lack of support which had characterised the tiny British mission since its inception was now overcome.

However, it could not be taken as a time of complacency. Abba Seraphim immediately began work to ensure that clergy and laity alike were made familiar with the Coptic Tradition. He applied his considerable liturgical knowledge to the development of a text of the Liturgy of St James as a replacement for the older, more cumbersome Glastonbury Rite; in determining a Liturgy for the British Church in the new stage of its development, Abba Seraphim chose a text which was neither eastern nor western, but Apostolic, and translated it into a style of English which was at once dignified and solemn, as well as effective in communicating with the modern world.

There were, of course, critics in the Orthodox world who complained about the union of the British Orthodox Church with the Patriarchate of Alexandria; their essential theme appeared to suggest that Orthodoxy ought to be an exclusive club from which those not born to the Faith, or converted to it through the most laborious process, should be excluded. Resurrecting ancient theological controversies - which the world leaders of Orthodoxy have been busy endeavouring to resolve - they seemed particularly resentful of anyone seeking to proclaim the Orthodox Faith in English to the modern world.

Sadly, it was not only from outside the British Orthodox Church that critics emerged. Throughout his time as head of the Church, Abba Seraphim had sought to revitalise its sense of mission and to make its administration more efficient. After the union with Alexandria, he was insistent that closer conformity with the spiritual tradition of the Patriarchate be adopted. This did not mean conformity to the external forms of Coptic Orthodoxy (which would have undermined the very purpose of the Church), but with the spirit of the Alexandrian tradition. There were those within the Church who, finding the appearances of the Coptic Tradition very appealing, nevertheless resented the essential discipline its inner sense required. They complained of what they called "Copticization", but lacked the commitment to try to understand the richness and spirituality of the ancient Coptic Tradition. Having enthusiastically supported Abba Seraphim's work in guiding the Church into union with the Patriarchate of Alexandria, they now attacked him for implementing the logical and necessary consequences of that union. Not satisfied with disagreeing with his policy, some engaged in campaigns of personal vilification of him.

Without doubt the cost of leading his Church back into the communion of Oriental Orthodoxy has been high for Abba Seraphim. His understanding of the origins and history of British Orthodoxy enabled him to see the direction in which the Church needed to go. Those with lesser knowledge and more limited vision neither understood the past nor had a clear vision of the future. As was the experience of the early Church, those who desired to shape the Faith for their personal ends, eventually separated from Orthodoxy to satisfy their private fantasies of what Orthodoxy ought to be, not understanding that it is the individual who needs to conform to the discipline of the Faith, not the Faith to the taste of the individual.

Some looked back with misguided nostalgia for what they believed had been "the good old days" of British Orthodoxy, when it was autocephalous and independent. Insofar as this presupposed a lack of discipline and orthodoxy, it was a time that had never been. Abba Seraphim's willingness to set aside all his personal and ecclesiastical status in submitting to the See of Alexandria gave a clear indication of what he expected from both clergy and laity. His concern was, as he expected theirs to be, not about me and mine but about us and ours. It was therefore a time in which wheat and chaff necessarily separated. But it was also a time of revitalisation in which what had in fact been the stagnation of the "good old days" was replaced by new life: new, committed, hard-working people have come increasingly to be attracted to the Church. Others, already converted to forms of ethnic Orthodoxy, have seen in the example of the British Orthodox Church a better model than has previously existed for the propagation of Orthodoxy in the west, and upon the often-overlooked foundations of the mission which began in 1866, Abba Seraphim has begun to build a substantial work, labouring cautiously and diligently to ensure that the edifice is both sound and secure.

Part of his work has been the encouragement of ecumenism between churches of the Orthodox Tradition. Abba Seraphim quickly established very friendly relationships not only with Bishops and Priests from within the Coptic Orthodox Church, but also from the other Oriental Orthodox Churches. And while some who had been enthusiastic in its criticism of the British Orthodox Church for not being in communion with an historic Patriarchate now voiced criticism of union with an Oriental Patriarchate, many other now felt comfortable in developing more positive relationships with the British Orthodox Church. Indeed, Abba Seraphim's new position as a part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate led to a dramatic increase of demands upon him as churches and church organisations discovered the remarkable writing, teaching and speaking abilities of the Metropolitan.

Interest in The Glastonbury Bulletin also increased, and leading members of the Coptic Orthodox Church throughout the English-speaking world were attracted by its high standards of scholarship and English language, no less than by the breadth of subjects it covered. Abba Seraphim determined to expand the role of the Bulletin, declaring: Although it will continue as the mouthpiece for the British Orthodox Church and in full loyalty to the traditions and teachings of the Coptic Patriarchate, it will also endeavour to be Pan-Orthodox and eirenic in its outlook and evangelistic and pastoral in outreach. He sought to make the Bulletin a means of communicating between Orthodox jurisdiction, of promoting the important work of inter-Orthodox dialogue and of a sound, well-informed English-speaking and western approach to Orthodoxy.

Abba Seraphim has made regular visits to Egypt since Pentecost, 1994, taking his responsibilities as a member of the Holy Synod very seriously, and ensuring that the British Orthodox Church not only maintains effective communication with the Patriarchate and with the Coptic Orthodox Church, but that, wherever possible, it contributes to the Patriarchate and the Church. He is regularly asked by Bishops of the Coptic Orthodox Church for advice and guidance, particularly in regard to the work of the church in the lands of immigration.

He has not only visited Coptic Orthodox Churches throughout the British Isles, but also in Italy and Germany, and undertook an extended visit to Australia in August, 1995. The presence in Australia of a native born English-speaking, British, convert Metropolitan of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate was seen as providing a powerful witness for Orthodoxy not only amongst the non-Orthodox, but equally amongst young Copts who, having grown up to identify themselves as Australians, often feel that Orthodox is essentially an ethnic or foreign faith. The enthusiasm of young Copts in Australia for "the British Metropolitan" (as he is always described) was extraordinary, and requests for further and longer visits have been repeated time and time again. After discussions with Abba Seraphim, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III authorised two of the clergy of the British Orthodox Church, Father Gregory Tillett and Deacon Brendan French, to serve the Coptic Orthodox Church in Australia, establishing a visible ministry of co-operation between the British and the Coptic Orthodox Churches.

Abba Seraphim has been active in encouraging support for ecumenical dialogue. He is a member of the council of the Society of St John Chrysostom, an ecumenical society committed to the study of Eastern Christendom. On July 23, 1996, he met with His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Great Britain to discuss future co-operation and the need for more regular meetings between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox hierarchs, and the desirability of closer relations between the two families of Orthodox at local level. Abba Seraphim has participated in services at the Eritrean Orthodox Church in London, and of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, and visited Istanbul as the guest of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate. He has also maintained close relations with clergy and laity seeking an understanding of Orthodoxy while members of other churches, thereby endeavouring to maintain a quiet, but effective, evangelical witness.

It has been said (with the saying attributed to various authorities) that those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. As a scholar of history, of the history of Orthodoxy in the west and of the British Orthodox Church in particular, Abba Seraphim has been uncompromising in his efforts to ensure that the lessons which should have been learned from the history both of attempts to establish Orthodoxy in the west and of the development of small, autocephalous Orthodox churches are applied to ensure that the British Orthodox Church under his leadership moves forward, rather than round in circles.

On the second day of June, 1866, in Emesa, in what is now Syria, a bishop for ordained for what was to be a new Orthodox mission. It was not an event to which, in the Orthodox world at large, any attention was paid and, indeed, in later years there were many who denied that the ordination had ever happened. As Abba Seraphim's research has disclosed, both in Julius. Bishop of Iona (1971) and in the later article "New Light on Ferrette's Consecration"2, the matter must surely now be beyond dispute: the British Consul at Damascus at the time (and who witnessed the signature of the ordaining bishop, Peter the Humble, later succeeding to the Patriarchate as Ignatius Peter III) wrote to the Foreign Office in London, in response to enquiries from the (Anglican) Archbishop of York, stating that he knew both the new Bishop and his ordaining Bishop well, and confirming that he had notarised the signatures on the document attesting the event. On his arrival in the British Isles in August, 1866, Bishop Julius perhaps expected an enthusiastic reception and the opportunity to evangelise; he found a little curiosity, and a great deal of hostility, as he sought to return both laity and clergy to the point in time before the divisions of Christendom came about.

The ministry of Mar Julius, Bishop of Iona, was not in any sense immediately successful. He wrote of himself a few years before his death: My failure was that of Moses. That was thirty years ago. When forty years have passed, possibly some Joshua may be raised to take up my work. As for me I imagine that I am fated to remain....a forerunner. [Quoted in Abba Seraphim's Julius, Bishop of Iona, 1971, p. 47] It might indeed be argued that not only Mar Julius, but those who succeeded him in keeping alight, if at times but weakly, the flame of the British Orthodox Church for the century that followed, were essentially forerunners. They were faithful men, but poorly equipped to do more than maintain what they had received. It cannot be too extravagant to view Abba Seraphim as the Joshua to whom Mar Julius referred, coming not forty years but some one hundred and ten years after the episcopal ordination of his predecessor.

That which began as a vision for Mar Julius has now begun to become a reality in the British Orthodox Church: an Orthodoxy faithful to Tradition but transcending any particular traditions, an Orthodoxy meaningful for the West but preserving the rich spirituality of the East, an Orthodoxy which is distinctively British but is capable of drawing into it the full splendour of all Orthodoxy from wherever it should come. Mar Julius began a new work, and Abba Seraphim has begun a new phase of that work. His vision, his energy and his devotion to the work of the Church will be appropriately remembered with thanksgiving on the twentieth anniversary of his ordination as a Bishop, and the hymns of Axios! be equalled only by those of Unto many years!

by Father Gregory Tillett

Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury

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