Holy and Life-Giving Cross, Orthodox Parish, Lancaster, UK

 

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The First Holy Liturgy in the new Temple of the Orthodox Christian Parish of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross at Lancaster (United Kingdom)

 

During my last visit at the UK I had the blessing to witness the opening of a new Temple at the St Martin of Tours’ Church, Braddon Close, Westgate, Lancashire for the Holy Cross Parish. Before my arrival on 9th March, the faithful had already set up the Church of St Martin , installed the Iconostasis, and it was beginning to look very much like an Orthodox Church already.

Have a look at more photos of the making of the iconostasis (a combined effort of an Englishman’s carpentry and Antiochian iconography!) 😃

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Glory to Thee o Lord, Glory to Thee! I have come to intimately know this warm Stavronian community with faithful from more than half a dozen nationalities (!) for two years and they have ever since become a part of my heart. They helped me so much during a time in need then, in Lancaster that I feel there is no way I can ever repay their prayerful support and practical help at that time.

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Fr. Jonathan Hemmings and Server Trevor Wearing

This Parish serves the liturgical and pastoral needs of Orthodox Christians studying and teaching at Lancaster University, from Greece and Cyprus and in more recent years from Romania and Russia. Yet far from it, this parish is not ‘too ethnic’ at all, but inter-national and ecumenical in the correct sense of the world; one may also encounter British people who have converted to Orthodoxy. A genuine “one holy, catholic and apostolic Church”, dedicated to the Life-Giving Cross, and from what I have witnessed there during my brief stay and from all subsequent long visits, I have come to the conclusion that this dedication, like all dedications or patron, has an intimate relationship with the Community and those belonging to it. Their dedication and service to the Holy and Life Giving Cross is hard, narrow and steep but it is a glorious path

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Back in 2014, this was the nearest church I could go during my stay at Lancaster University, so I began attending church services there. Everything was so different from our ordinary churches in Greece! To begin with, for each and every Holy Liturgy we have had to “build”, furnish and dismantle the “Church” (!) to give it some semblance of Orthodox character and creedal symbolism.” For 20 (!) years!!!  Quite an extraordinary experience for a Greek who can choose which parish to go every Sunday, since there are plenty in every neighbourhood. And yet, somehow, this ‘fragile’, “weak thing of the world to confound the things which are mighty”; this base thing of the world, and thing which is despised’ , yet God hath chosen, yea, and this ‘thing which is not’, to bring to nought things that are” (cf. 1 Cor. 1:27-28), this church which could be ‘contained’ in just three pieces of luggage, was more powerful, holy and alive than all others I have been to here in Greece!

I vividly remember the awe I have repeatedly experienced there during the Sacraments of the Holy Unction and Baptisms where plain olive oil acquired through prayers a heavenly fragrance and was literally transformed! Or, icons during services began streaming myrrh (ie. a sweet-smelling oily substance). Or, the icons and secondary relics that I was offered as a present started to produce a sweet-smelling fragrance in my hotel room. But this was not the only surprise that the Lord had at store for me.

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St. Nicholas Planas by Dimitrios Hakim

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St. Joachim of Ithaca by Dimitrios Hakim

For the whole autumn semester, I regularly attended Services there, read their newsletter each month with their news and spiritual food for thought, studied their translations such as St. Lioba’s or St. Joachim’s life and enjoyed their book publications, most notably Fountains in the Desert, based on the sayings of St Antony. I also got acquainted to Celtic Saints and Celtic Orthodoxy— so Constantine the Great  was not (only) a Greek Saint but was acclaimed as emperor by the army at Eboracum (Modern-day York) 😃?! — and venerated the icons and holy relics of St. Nicholas Planas and St. Joachim of Ithaca that this parish is blessed to have. Can you imagine this? Venerating for the first time Greek Saints’ relics in Great Britain ?!

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Fr. Jonathan (left) embracing the aer with Fr. Theodosios (right) during the Holy Liturgy 
in the Church of St. Nicholas in Ithaka, Greece.

Most importantly, these months I  and enjoyed their fellowship, having meals together and taking part in pilgrimages to Orthodox monasteries, churches, ancient Christian sites and other worship places (photos). To get a taste of their fellowship, listen to the Holy Cross choir chant the Orthodox Psalm (135) “O Give thanks unto the Lord”, while looking at their photos, most of which come from our pilgrimage to St. Herbert’s Island, Derwentwater, UK. St. Herbert is an important Orthodox Saint in the area.

To my immense surprise my brief stay there served as the catalyst for the re-discovery of the Orthodox faith, a mystical Baptism for which I am infinitely grateful to them. While there, I have been most impressed by the spirit of prayer and the presence of God at the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the University chapel and the spirit of ecumenical fellowship. Isn’t it an irony that the Holy Spirit chose to lead me ‘back’ to my cradle faith through a convert spiritual father ?! By the end of my stay there I knew my heart had chosen ‘them’ as my spiritual family, and everything had changed from ‘their’ to ‘our’. Thanks be to God I had discovered my spiritual oasis-retreat- fountain in the desert-home-pearl of great value! The Holy and Life-Giving Cross parish has become a ‘thin’ place for me! I had become a Stavronian myself!  😊

Last Easter, I felt that I had to celebrate Easter at Lancaster and what a Holy week we all had then! Our pilgrimage too during Bright Week to meet Fr. John Musther Of Cumbria at his church-home was an unforgettable experience!

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“The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow when she begins to again venerate her own Saints”  (Saint Arsenios of Paros †1877)

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 And now, at long last, after 20 ‘crucified’ years, of using borrowed premises and enduring numerous hardships and trials, the Orthodox Community of the Holy and Life Giving Cross , has finally found a building for a Temple that will serve the needs of the Orthodox Christians in the Lancaster area.

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Sunday of the Orthodoxy and St. Cuthbert’s Day’,  one of England’s most beloved Wonderworking saints once greatly venerated here — Sancte Cutbertus ora pro nobis!

This new Temple seems to be a blessing from Father Jonathan’s spiritual grandfather, Blessed Seraphim Rose, who had a special love for the Celtic Saints, and St. Martin of Tours in particular.

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Cf. The prologue to Vita Patrum written by him:

“And then, even as the news of the phenomenon of Egyptian monasticism was still spreading through the West, the West produced its own ascetic miracle: St. Martin of Tours.  Even before his death in 397, his manuscript Life was being circulated in Gaul, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere in the West, revealing him as a monastic Father and wonderworker in no way inferior to the desert Fathers in the East.”

 

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Another spiritual ‘coincidence’ seems to be at stake. While reading St. Martin’s vita a certain incident attracts our attention,

“CHAPTER III.   Christ appears to St. Martin.

ACCORDINGLY, at a certain period, when he had nothing except his arms and his simple military dress, in the middle of winter, a winter which had shown itself more severe than ordinary, so that the extreme cold was proving fatal to many, he happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens[8] a poor man destitute of clothing. He was entreating those that passed by to have compassion upon him, but all passed the wretched man without notice, when Martin, that man full of God, recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak in which he was clad, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar purposes. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Upon this, some of the by-standers laughed, because he was now an unsightly object, and stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar. They especially felt this, because, being possessed of more than Martin, they could have clothed the poor man without reducing themselves to nakedness. In the following night, when Martin had resigned himself to sleep, he had a vision of Christ arrayed in that part of his cloak with which he had clothed the poor man. He contemplated the Lord with the greatest attention, and was told to own as his the robe which he had given. Ere long, he heard Jesus saying with a clear voice to the multitude of angels standing round — “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed[9] me with this robe.” The Lord, truly mindful of his own words (who had said when on earth — “Inasmuch[10] as ye have done these things to one of the least of these, ye have done them unto me”), declared that he himself had been clothed in that poor man; and to confirm the testimony he bore to so good a deed, he condescended to show him himself in that very dress which the poor man had received.

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Your mercy toward the poor man without clothes gained you, O Martin,

The vision of Christ, who said to the angels

‘Martin has clothed Me with this garment.

Have mercy on us who are poor

And who have no good works to clothe ourselves,

And pray to the Lord of the Universe

That He have mercy on our souls. (St. Martin of Tours Troparion, Tone 4)

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“The Charity of St. Martin” 

Likewise, this Holy Cross community have been given the use of the residence for half week, for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays! 😃

In a sense, Divine Providence and the Communion of Saints is brought into our (sic!) acquisition of the Church!

On St. Patrick’s Day, Father Jonathan Hemmings and five Stavronians made a pilgrimage to Heysham to St Patrick’s Chapel and Monastery at Heysham. Have a look at this lovely photo with the Faithful. Not only five though! Plus a host of angels and some onlookers- a group of five young people totally unrelated to the Stavronian community or the Orthodox Church asked if they could have a photo taken with the Icon of St Patrick!

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Heysham is where the great Saint Patrick crossed to Ireland to spread Christianity there. Father Jonathan is chanting St. Patrick’s Lorica (The Breastplate) ! Events like this are really important so that we reconnect with Britian’s Orthodox past. This pilgrimage brings tears to my eyes as I remember a pilgrimage, together with Father Jonathan, which took place 2 years ago. Such fond memories to treasure!

 

The Easter news of the Holy Cross parish are:

  • “We are doubly blessed to receive at Great and Holy Week a hand crafted Icon, a comb and a prayer rope that belonged to St Paisios and Reliquary for containing these holy relics. We will also have on loan  for Holy Week a piece of his clothing from another Monastery in Greece. Those from other Orthodox Parishes who wish to come to venerate these secondary holy relics of St Paisios should contact Jonathan so that we may offer appropriate hospitality.”
  • “We are blessed to welcome again the Byzantine St Anysia Choir from Thessalonika for Pascha who came last year to embellish our worship with their beautiful singing.

For more information about the Orthodox Christian Parish of the Holy and Life ­Giving Cross at Lancaster   visit their website http://www.orthodox-lancaster.org.uk and their Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/126074338184/?fref=ts

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“The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow when she begins to again venerate her own Saints”  (Saint Arsenios of Paros †1877)

 

 

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