The British Orthodox Church

within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate

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new to celtic orthodoxy input please!
22-07-2008, 06:56 PM,
new to celtic orthodoxy input please!
I have been church investigating for a few years now without finding what i am looking for and the idea of Celtic Orthodoxy feels the most right so far. I can't help feeling that if it could expand and make itself more known and do so in the right way it could trigger a great revival. How could this be done. I am based in Bristol and would love to help build some sutch. I don't think i have a calling to priesthood but i have energy and passion. How could this be done? Where would the priests come from. They can't be made in a day but with the spread of the early church they didn't seem to go to college for 5 years.
If it were possible to help build a new parish it would be an amazing opportunity to present ancient and timeless ideas and ritual with a fresh approach. This freshness is perhaps what the church needs.

Dan Ashton
24-07-2008, 06:36 AM,
Dear Dan,

I think the first step towards a parish might be a British Orthodox Fellowship group in Bristol praying the monastic office monthly or fortnightly or weekly (depending on energy and enthusiasm levels, though remembering the general maxim that it is better to start off gently and build up rather than to take on too much too quickly and then falll away). To avoid any confusion the use of the word British in the title British Orthdoox Church refers to geography rather than to nationality, in other words an Orthodox Church for people of these British Isles (as distinct from an Orthdoox Church for people of, say, Ethiopia or Armenia). I have copied a college paper I once wrote as it, to the extent permitted by the confines of word limits, attempts to show the British Orthodox Church as a true and contemporary expression of the Orthdoox Faith of the Celtic Churches,



That there is currently a revival of interest in Celtic spirituality is difficult to deny. How much of that interest represents engagement with the Christian Celtic tradition is, however, sometimes open to question. There is what might broadly be termed a 'New Age' engagement with an interweaving of both Christian and pagan Celtic spirituality. Such engagement is dangerous for the unwary, leading them away from Christianity into alternative spiritualities. "That so little (relatively) is known of Celtic Christianity, its traditions of prayer and spirituality, ensures that it is a fertile field within which all manner of interesting - if sometimes noxious - plants, may be cultivated."(1) Even those sincerely attempting to engage with the Christian Celtic tradition have acknowledged this lack of detailed, accurate, original material. Thus David Adam's books are not necessarily described as Celtic prayers but as prayers in the Celtic tradition.(2) The late Mar Georgius acknowledged that the British Orthodox "Glastonbury Rite, though...compiled...with much material from the various Gallican texts still extant" was not "an original Gallican Rite, but merely...Neo-Gallican."(3) The Celtic Liturgy could not be accurately reproduced: "In the case of the Celtic Rite, even less has survived than of any other Gallican Liturgy."(4)

The safest way to engage with the Celtic tradition would seem to be within the context of the wider Orthodox Tradition to which it belonged. Prior to the Synod of Whitby (and for centuries after) the Celtic Church(es) leaned more to the Christian East rather than to Rome. And various features of Celtic spirituality were both then and have ever remained definite facets of Orthodoxy: God as both transcendent and immanent, an emphasis on the Last Judgment, pilgrimage, asceticism, beauty, the soul-friend...

If Western Christians engaged more with such aspects of spirituality they would be that much closer to their Celtic and Orthodox spiritual ancestry.

Whether Ethiopian Orthodox on pilgrimage to the rock churches of Lalibela, or Russian Orthodox in Jerusalem, or modern American Orthodox visiting Spruce Island (missionary home of Saint Herman of Alaska), pilgrimage has always been highly esteemed in Orthodoxy. Even the Celtic concept of "perpetual pilgrimage"(5) has its counterpart in Russian Orthodoxy, probably The Way of a Pilgrim(6) being the most popular example today.

Celtic asceticism was very much at one with the wider Orthodox asceticism both of those times and continuing to this day. Saint Padarn's father spending "his life in watching and fasting, praying day and night with genuflexions"(7) is an immediately recognisable figure to anyone familiar with the lives of the Desert Fathers. The popular Celtic "crosfhigheall or cross-vigil, praying with outstretched arms for long periods"(8) is also reminiscent of the desert Fathers - or, from more recent times (nineteenth century Russia), Saint Seraphim of Sarov "who spent a successive thousand nights in continual prayer, standing motionless throughout the long hours of darkness on a rock".(9) As for "the frequent signs of the cross"(10) by Celtic Christians, visitors to Orthodox liturgies invariably remark on the great frequency with which Orthodox Christians cross themselves. The Celtic observance, as well as Lent, of the fast of Moses after Pentecost and the Lent of Elias in Winter,(11) despite the different names are the Orthodox fasts of the Apostles (after Pentecost) and Advent (sometimes referred to as the Christmas Lent). And the Celtic expectation that asceticism was for every Christian, not monastics only, remains the Orthodox Tradition today.

Love for and veneration of the Gospels is both Celtic and Orthodox, whether the beautifully illumined Celtic manuscript Gospels (such as The Book of Kells) or the silver bejewelled Gospel Books of the Orthodox Church. This Celtic appreciation of beauty in, for example, these illuminations is at one with Orthodoxy - in the words of Saint Vladimir's envoys on the Byzantine Liturgy at Hagia Sophia (Constantinople): "We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth... we cannot forget that beauty."(12)

Even as the Celtic tradition recommended the soul-friend, the more experienced spiritual guide, even so has Orthodoxy ever recommended the wisdom of the spiritual Father. One body of British Christians to embrace this facet of Celtic and Orthodox Tradition as a Church is the British Orthodox Church which united with the ancient Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. The former as a daughter Church of the latter now has recourse to the spiritual experience of centuries, to the wisdom both past and present of her Mother Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church.

That this British Church (with its Celtic heritage) should have united with the Coptic of all the Orthodox Churches is most appropriate. "For there are an extraordinary number of...similarities between the Celtic and Coptic Churches...shared by no other Western Churches. In both the bishops wore crowns rather than mitres and held T-shaped Tau crosses rather than crooks or croziers."(13) Then there's the Celtic/Coptic wagon vaulted church roof,(14) the particular iconographic portrayal of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul together (common only to Pictish Scotland and monastic Egypt),(15) the Egyptian Book of Adam and Eve "known in no other European country except Ireland",(16) even the Celtic cross - in origin the Coptic cross (depicted some three centuries earlier in Egyptian than in Celtic Christianity;(17) probably derived from the Christianization of the Ankh). Then there's Celtic monasticism:

"This house full of delight
Is built on the rock
And indeed the true vine
Transplanted out of Egypt"(18)

Thus the (seventh century) Antiphonary of Bangor - of course all monasticism was transplanted from Egypt but perhaps not always so acknowledged. The Coptic desert origins of monasticism were remembered in the place-names the Celtic monastics bequeathed to posterity - the Irish 'Disert', the Scottish 'Dysart' and the Welsh 'Dyserth'.(19) These Coptic Orthodox origins are also remembered in a prayer from The Martyrology of Oengus a ninth century Irish monastic bishop: "Seven monks of Egypt in Disert Uilaig, I invoke unto my aid, through Jesus Christ."(20) A stone inscription in County Cork also recalls the Coptic/Celtic relationship: "Pray for Olan the Egyptian."(21)

Celtic Christianity was Orthodox - and the Celtic Church(es) had an especial relationship with the Coptic Orthodox Church. The British Orthodox Church has chosen to engage with the Celtic tradition by uniting with the Coptic Orthodox Church (renewing that relationship of earlier centuries), thus engaging with the Orthodox Tradition especially in accordance with its Coptic/Celtic expression. The British Orthodox Church is just that: British and Orthodox - fully Orthodox yet giving a British expression to that Orthodoxy... even as our Celtic Christian brethren before us.


1 Father Gregory Tillett Reconstructing Celtic Spirituality: Searching for a Western
Early Church, in The Glastonbury Review, no.100, vol. 10, June 1990, British
Orthodox Church, page 43

2 For example David Adam Tides and Seasons - Modern prayers in the Celtic
tradition, Triangle SPCK, 1989 and The Edge of Glory - prayers in the Celtic
tradition, Triangle SPCK, 1985

3 His Grace Mar Georgius The Divine Liturgy of St. Joseph of Arimathea,
Glastonbury, Metropolitical Press, 1979, Foreward.

4 Ibid, Foreward.

5 Diarmuid O'Laoghaire Insular Traditions in Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright
& Edward Yarnold, The Study of Spirituality, SPCK, 1986, page 220

6 R M French (translator) The Way of a Pilgrim, Triangle, SPCK, 1986

7 Diarmuid O'Laoghaire Insular Traditions in Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright
& Edward Yarnold, The Study of Spirituality, SPCK, 1986, page 223

8 Ibid, page 223

9 Timothy (Kallistos) Ware The Orthodox Church, Penquin Books Ltd, 1985
reprint, page 131

10 Diarmuid O'Laoghaire Insular Traditions in Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright
& Edward Yarnold, The Study of Spirituality, SPCK, 1986, page 223

11 Ibid, page 223

12 Timothy (Kallistos) Ware The Orthodox Church, Penquin Books Ltd, 1985
reprint, page 269

13 William Dalrymple From the Holy Mountain, Flamingo (Harper Collins), 1998,
pages 418&419

14 H. V. Morton Through Lands of the Bible, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1938, page 126

15 William Dalrymple From the Holy Mountain, Flamingo (Harper Collins), 1998,
pages 421&422

16 His Grace Abba Seraphim On the Trail of the Seven Monks of Egypt, article in
The Glastonbury Bulletin, no. 91, vol. 8, November 1995, British Orthodox
Church, page 90

17 William Dalrymple From the Holy Mountain, Flamingo (Harper Collins), 1998,
page 419

18 Ibid, page 418

19 His Grace Abba Seraphim On the Trail of the Seven Monks of Egypt, article in
The Glastonbury Bulletin, no. 91, vol. 8, November 1995, British Orthodox
Church, page 90

20 Ibid, page 90

21 Ibid, page 90
25-07-2008, 08:38 AM,
Dear Simon,

I completely agree of course that it is necessary to steer well clear of mystical celtic fantasies and stay grounded and conncected to the wider trunk of Christianity (ideally) and yes I was aware that until 1066 Britain was basically orthodox. I am reading 'the fall of Orthodox England by Vladamir Moss at the minute.
I do notice you swap between British Orthodox and Celtic Orthodox and some web sites such as Celtic Orthodoxy - the Celtic Christian revival use the term Celtic. Is there any vacillation here? I am guessing it is something that you must have discussed before!
I personally find the term Celtic preferable. What is British? An alliance that came much later. I thought you were trying to be authentic?
'Celtic' is a slightly anomalous term it seems to refer to a people as well as an area. It could also refer to a kind of spirit of a particular area and time. I believe this is what we are largly drawing from in our quest to revive a spirituality which is drawn from these lands. Shouldn't we be looking to be unified with all other Celtic churches in Ireland and Northern France and Scotland. I believe all these countries are comfortable with the word Celtic. There is an additional beauty in the term Celtic. It seems to invoke the colour green and also hills and the beauty of nature. I believe that we should worship God and celebrate the beauty of the land he gave us. But not to get lost in the details.
I would love to put one a meeting in a public place and advertise for interest in a Celtic / British Church and invite some speakers. I think there are a few advocates in Gloucestershire? and Glastonbury? Is Father John Ives anything to do with the BOC? Is there any possibity of creating a serious church? I still wonder where experienced and wise clergy would come from ?

Dan Ashton
25-08-2008, 05:25 PM,
There are a few Celtic Churches in the British Isles, and alot more in the US, some of which are in communion with one and other, but as far as I am aware none are linked with BOC.

I wouldn't think finding Clergy would be a problem, especially if a few of the Churches decided to come together in some way.

While I am posting, have the BOC got a presence in Scotland?

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