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of St Alban and St Sergius, Oxford, England
of St Alban and St Sergius, Oxford, England.
The Fellowship is an ecumenical union of Anglican, Catholic
and Orthodox faithful. From their website: "The Fellowship
operates with the blessing of the local Orthodox hierarchs,
and with the approval of the Anglican and Roman Catholic authorities.
Our presidents are His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira
and Great Britain (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and the Right Reverend
and Right Honourable Dr Richard Chartres (the Bishop of London)."
The Fellowship worships at the Annunciation/Holy
Trinity Church, Canterbury Road. This is a round, low-rise
brick structure, purpose-built in the early 1970s in the garden
of St Gregory House, One Canterbury Road. The inside is adorned
with a magnificent, modern chandelier, and the walls are lined
with icons of the saints.
The Fellowship maintains branches throughout the world. The
reader is respectfully referred to their website for a detailed
description of their history, programs, grants, awards and other
activities, far too numerous to describe here.
Annunciation/Holy Trinity Church is located in an academic suburb
of a university town with a centuries-old tradition of internationalism.
Thousands upon thousands, if you include the saints depicted
in the icons round the inside walls of the church and the invisible
escort of the angelic hosts. But physically present were His
Excellency the Most Revd Kallistos, Metropolitan of Diokleia;
and the Revd Father Stephen Platt, general secretary of the
Fellowship. They were assisted by one robed acolyte and one
The date & time:
Saturday, 23 January 2010, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom Week of Prayer for
How full was the building?
With about 30 of the gathered faithful present, the building
was full enough for a newcomer/Mystery Worshipper not to feel
exposed and uncomfortable, but not so many that there wasn't
room for the "home team" (the Orthodox regulars) to
come and go, prostrate themselves, or whatever.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not as I arrived. But at coffee hour – see below!
Was your pew comfortable?
No pews. There were some benches along the side of the walls
and several chairs on the left-hand side of the church – a
concession to the infirmities of old age and a throwback to
the time when women would sit on the left side and men would
stand on the right. (I didn't notice any segregation today,
however.) Most people stood throughout, except during the sermon.
It occurred to me that a lot of the bowing and crossing oneself
that marks Orthodox worship practices might have arisen not
so much from piety as from the need to keep the blood circulation
How would you describe the pre-service
I stepped inside the church to discover that worship was already
in progress – a reminder that worship takes place unceasingly
in the courts of heaven. The gentle murmur of prayers, the dancing
light of dozens of candles, a thurible-wielding cleric circling
round censing anyone and anything within range – this
was pre-worship that made it very easy to attain "the spirit
of recollection, leading to inner stillness" of which my
confirmation-class teacher spoke so many years ago.
What were the exact opening words of the
I don't know, because I don't know when the service actually
began! Was it when the first audible prayer, an elaborate and
beautiful invocation of the Holy Spirit, was intoned from within
the sanctuary? Or perhaps it was when the opening words of the
divine liturgy itself were sung: "Blessed be the Kingdom
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and
for ever and unto the ages of ages." Or was it when the
congregation snapped visibly to attention (we were already on
our feet) at the deacon's exhortation: "Wisdom! Let us
What books did the congregation use during the
None – although we were, later on, each issued with a bit of
paper (which made the Anglicans feel at home) with an extra
prayer inserted into the liturgy for this occasion.
What musical instruments were played?
No instruments except the human voice, the little bells hung
from the chains of the thurible, and more little bells (in the
shape of pomegranates) sewn onto the hem of the Metropolitan's
outer robe. As all the movements of the altar party were slow
and deliberate, this made for a fascinating rhythmic counterpoint
to the chanting.
Did anything distract you?
There was plenty to distract once the action hotted up – which
it did, after about an hour. I mean, could you keep a straight
face if you caught a glimpse of the Metropolitan's pastoral
staff, which looked more like a small ice axe than something
you'd use to catch a wandering sheep. Quite good, I would imagine,
for braining a particularly exasperating member of the flock.
On the other hand, once you were into the flow of meditative
worship, nothing short of a small atom bomb was going to disrupt
the focus of your attention.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Byzantine. A long and elaborate ritual performed at about the
rate of the human heartbeat at rest. Music in Greek Orthodox
style (as opposed to Slavonic). Congregational role minimal,
in the sense that really there was nothing to say but the odd
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
8 A learned, but also amusing, exposition of motifs from
the Bible texts. The theological discourse was preceded by practical
instructions, including welcoming non-Orthodox to take the antidoron
(blessed but unconsecrated bread) after the service.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Prayer. Specifically, inner prayer or, as the Westerners might
call it, contemplative prayer. Prayer is not the same as asking
for things. It is standing before God. It animates our outward
actions: working for a better world, alleviating distress such
as that caused by the recent earthquake in Haiti, etc.
Which part of the service was like being in
The trisagion hymn: the cantor singing, and congregation praying,
"Holy God; holy and strong; holy immortal one, have mercy
upon us" echoed immediately by those within the sanctuary.
Total mindshift time!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Kneeling on the bare wooden floor while reciting the Week of
Unity prayer. Serious culture-shock time: they really mean for
us to do this without kneelers? Then you look up and see on
the wall an icon of St Seraphim of Sarov, kneeling on his rock
for 100 days and nights, and realise that five minutes dedicated
to seriously praying for unity among God's people is not too
much to ask.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. Perhaps they thought I was lost in prayer. But then
came coffee hour, and oh, did things change!
How would you describe the after-service
All of a sudden, parishioners who'd been worshipping in perfect
stillness were transformed into chatty, warmly welcoming hosts.
There was some very good coffee (in mugs) and platefuls of home-made
cake and a special treat – kolyva
in memory of the recently departed mother and father of one
of the parishioners, who had also baked the bread used in the
liturgy. Kolyva may be a calorie disaster area, but it makes
our naming of the deceased "in the year's mind" seem
very feeble in comparison.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 This couldn't happen, though, in the sense that you
wouldn't get this kind of experience more than once a year.
Going to the Orthodox parish week by week would mean a considerable
cultural adjustment to a different language and different community
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Orthodox and non-Orthodox kneeling together, our heads in clouds of incense.
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