Saint Alban, the First Martyr of Britain, suffered in the persecution of Roman Emperor Diocletian and was therefore a contemporary of the Great Martyr George. Archaeological evidence confirms that Christians were organised and worshipping in Britain in the 2nd century and local tradition claims that St Joseph of Arimathea visited Britain and built a small place of worship at Glastonbury. What is a fact is that in Britain we can trace our heritage back to almost the beginning of the Christian era whereas our Russian brethren in the Faith are only now celebrating their millenium. As an Englishman, the saddest historical fact I have to record is that my ancestors followed Rome into Schism in 1054.
About a hundred years ago an Englishman, Stephen Hatherley, was ordained priest in Constantinople. Over the past century English people, little by little have found their way into the Orthodox Church, some have been ordained, a few small monasteries and parishes have been published including "Orthodox News" of which I am the editor. Yet these pathetically small developments have been the result of individual effort rather than the dynamic leadership of hierarchy. Indeed the Orthodox Church in Britain has now only reached the stage it should have reached in 1900.
In 1969 I was received into Orthodoxy by a priest of the Russian Church and my name was entered in the "Register of Converts." Had I been a six week old baby at the time, and therefore totally unaware of the significance of the sacrament, my name would have been entered in the Baptismal Register.
About two years ago I attended the funeral of a priest. Afterwards I was talking with another priest who was present. He asked, "was Fr Kyril born Orthodox or was he a convert?" and I replied, "Nobody is born Orthodox, we all have to join the Church in the same way." The priest was offended.
Now I offer these two examples of a way of thinking. I do not suggest that there is a conscious attempt to create two grades of Church membership but in so many words and actions there is the implication that unless you are Orthodox by accident of birth, somehow you will only ever be accepted with reservations. But there is one exception to this and that is to become an honorary member of the ghetto by marriage. In many places I know that it would be useless to try to explain that I became Orthodox as a matter of conviction and that because I joined the Church, I met the woman I later married. So I use the device I personally hate; I simply say, "But my wife is Russian." That is considered to be an acceptable reason for being a member of the Orthodox Church, almost as though marriage came before "conversion." It is because of this sort of attitude that I prefer to avoid speaking about "converts" which is a form of class distinction, an ecclesiastical apartheid.
Many of my co-religionists have had a real struggle to join the Church. A lady attended services in the Greek Cathedral for several years. This is about thirty years ago. Then she asked if she could join. She was advised by the bishop to join the Roman Catholic Church instead. She even tried to follow the advice until she was firmly convinced that it was wrong. So she returned to the Greek bishop and asked, "Do you believe that Orthodoxy is the True Church?", "Yes, of course," he replied most emphatically. "Then why do you want to keep me out?" asked the lady. Very soon after that she was received into the Orthodox Church. Too many people have been received into the Church by priests who have made it clear that they either do not understand the motivation of the person being received or, even worse, are acting under protest. Is it any wonder that people's illusions are shattered and they lapse?
Ignorance is rife among ethnic Orthodox. Where would the Slavs be if Saints Cyril & Methodius had not undertaken their missionary labors yet how often have I been told, "Our Church is not a missionary Church." The only possible reply is, "Well if it is not, then it is not the Church."
What is the future of Orthodoxy in Britain? There is a school of thought which says that there should be only one jurisdiction in Britain and it should be under the omophorion of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. If we look at the Directory of the Archdiocese of Thyateira we see that the chief hierarch is listed as "His Eminence Archbishop Methodius of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch to His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury." Ecumenism and mission are incompatible. This official title proclaims not the uniqueness of Orthodoxy as the One True Church, but acceptance of the Anglican Branch theory which is unknown to either the canons or the Fathers. When a question is asked about some missionary project or other, the answer is likely to be that, regardless of the merits of the scheme, it cannot be given a blessing because it might upset the Church of England. Was St Basil so nervous when he ruled the Diocese of Caesarea? Did he say, “We must not do this or that, it might upset the Arians?" I think not.
In the area where I live in London, the Jehovah's Witnesses are very active. They knock on my door quite frequently. I once asked if they all go out knocking on doors and I was told, "Yes, of course, if we did not then we could not call ourselves Witnesses." In the Liturgy, we sing, "we have seen the True Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the True Faith by worshipping the undivided Trinity. This has saved us." Since we really do have the true Faith, should any less missionary commitment be expected from us? Time and again I have been told that some scheme or other cannot be done because there are no resources, no skilled people, or not enough priests. With all due respect we must ask, what the bishops, confessors, spiritual fathers are doing. Is it not their job to be alert to potential spiritual gifts and talents among the people which could be developed? God has given many gifts, some of us are suitable to be trained as teachers, others to become monks or nuns, some will sing and some will become priests. Surely these things should be organised in a more consistent way rather than being left to chance. I could personally name many people who are known to me, people who have talents that the Church is not using. What do these people have in common? Energy, enthusiasm, a deep commitment to the Orthodox Faith and initiative. Do the hierarchy value these things so little? Do they see them as some sort of threat?
Lord, have mercy!