About the British Orthodox Church
Who are we?
The British Orthodox Church is a small Orthodox jurisdiction, canonically part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. Our mission is to the people of the British Isles, and whilst being Orthodox in our faith and practice we remain British in our ethos with a deep appreciation of the Orthodox heritage of these islands.
Our community is canonical, because it is an integral part of mainstream Oriental Orthodoxy. It is traditional because it is rooted in the two thousand year life of the Orthodox Catholic Church. It does not change with every modern fad and is increasingly becoming a home for those from other Christian communities who are unable to remain in communities which are drifting away from the historic faith. We are the only Orthodox community in the British Isles which has an English diocesan bishop with a definite mission to bring Orthodoxy to British people in our own culture.
A Little History
On 2 June 1866 a former French Dominican priest, Jules Ferrette (1828-1904), was consecrated to the episcopate as “Bishop of Iona and its Dependencies” by the Oecumenical Metropolitan of the Syrian ‘Jacobite’ Church (Boutros ibn Salmo Mesko, 1799-1894). There was considerable opposition from the Established Church to what it considered an invasion by a foreign jurisdiction and attempts to question the authenticity of the new bishop, despite the British Consul in Damascus having witnessed the Instrument of Consecration. The Oecumenical Metropolitan subsequently became Syrian Patriarch of Antioch in 1872 as Mar Ignatius Boutros IV.
It is worth noting that in 1889 he also authorised the consecration of a Metropolitan to minister to converts from Catholicism in Ceylon, Goa & India and in 1891 he authorised the consecration of another Metropolitan for the Old Catholics in America.
From the consecration of Ferrette a succession of bishops was maintained, though the church remained very small. Contacts with the Syrian Church were not sustained and it was regarded as uncanonical by other Orthodox churches.
From 1944-1979 it was directed by Metropolitan Georgius of Glastonbury (Hugh George de Willmott Newman, 1905-1979), who revitalized its mission by emphasising the importance of early British Church history and looking to its saints and martyrs as indigenous Orthodox.
After 128 years of independent existence the British Orthodox was reunited to the Oriental Orthodox Churches by its reception into the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. On 6 April 1994 a joint Protocol was signed determining the relationship. In this the British Orthodox Church was recognized as
“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.”
On 19 June (Pentecost Sunday) in Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, Abba Seraphim (William Henry Hugo Newman-Norton), who had served since 1979 as successor to his cousin, Metropolitan Georgius, was consecrated Metropolitan of Glastonbury by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, assisted by some sixty three Metropolitans and Bishops. Abba Seraphim counts as a full member of the Coptic Holy Synod.
The Protocol also permits the British Orthodox Church to follow the Gregorian Calendar for solar festivals and appoints the Metropolitan of Glastonbury as chairman of a permanent liturgical commission to
“consider appropriate translations of the Coptic Orthodox service books and the use of alternative forms of services drawn from ancient Western Orthodox sources which may be adapted to the local situation”
and make recommendations directly to the Pope. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has authorised the use of the Liturgy of Saint James for the British Orthodox Church, although for all other services the Coptic Rite is used.
The jurisdiction of the British Orthodox Church extends over the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. In the British Isles the British Orthodox and Coptic communities exist as two parallel Orthodox jurisdictions with close co-operation on a number of pastoral and educational issues.
Where we are today
The British Orthodox today comprises parishes and missions throughout the British Isles. All our services are in English and we venerate the Orthodox saints of the British Isles as well as those of the wider Orthodox Church. We use the ancient Liturgy of Saint James as our normal liturgy, together with all the traditional services of the Coptic Orthodox Church, such as the morning and evening Raising of Incense.
Although the British Orthodox Church is a small community at present, it is committed to evangelism and wider ministry. Through the British Orthodox Press we publish the ‘Glastonbury Review’, the only English language journal to contain regular reports of the activities of all Oriental Orthodox churches as well as historical and theological articles and book reviews. Through the Oriental Orthodox Library (www.orthodox-library.com) we have also begun to republish some important – but not readily obtainable – theological works in English. We maintain a number of international and ecumenical email discussion groups, as well as promoting on the internet the work of the Joint Commission for the Dialogue between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches through our website www.orthodoxunity.org. Members of the Church participate in a number of ecumenical internet forums, seeking to increase understanding of the Oriental Orthodox communion.
The British Orthodox Church, as part of the Oriental Orthodox family of local Churches, is in communion with the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Malankara Syrian Church of India. Metropolitan Seraphim is a Vice-President of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK whilst one of our priests, Father Peter Farrington is currently the secretary.
Many of our Church members have visited Egypt, and spent time with Coptic Orthodox bishops, priests and faithful. Our bishop has made more than thirty trips, both for the meetings of the Holy Synod, and to develop close ties with the Coptic Orthodox Church. He has also travelled to Oriental Orthodox communities in Armenia, South India, Syria, Turkey as well as Europe and Australia.
Metropolitan Seraphim, is a member of the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Forum, the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Forum, the Tur Abdin Focus Group as well as a number of advisory boards, such as the Asylum Advocacy Group and the Council of Reference for Christian Research. He is often called upon to assist government departments in better understanding issues relevant to Oriental Orthodox Christians at home and abroad.
Committed to Sharing our Faith
Much of the time and energy of the British Orthodox Church is spent on evangelism, and on developing means of evangelism. We are convinced that the Orthodox Faith is the fullness of the Christian life, and that we have a great responsibility to share this Faith with all those among whom we live.
We appreciate that, like each one of us, those we talk with and share with are on a spiritual pilgrimage as they seek to be obedient to God’s will. Therefore we do not try to do God’s work of converting hearts to the Orthodox way of being a Christian, rather we seek to help each person understand what we have been entrusted with, and experience it for themselves as far as they are able in their own circumstances.
Most recently we have created the British Orthodox Fellowship so that our friends and enquirers can join a community of similarly minded Christians, even while they are not ready, or able, to become members of the British Orthodox Church. We hope this new venture will be another means of sharing the treasures of our Faith, and reaching British people with the Orthodox Gospel.