Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Orthodox Church?
Orthodox Christianity, very simply, is that Faith that was believed, lived, and practised by the first Christians 2000 years ago, and handed down to us in our present day through the Orthodox-Catholic Church, which traces its lineage back through the successors of the Apostles all the way back to the Church of the New Testament. The early Christian communities mentioned in the New Testament - in Antioch, Athens, Jerusalem, Thessalonica, Damascus, and elsewhere - still exist and they are still Orthodox to this day.
Before the divisions that led to the existence of multiple churches, known today as Roman Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and so forth, all believing different things and worshipping God in their own ways, there was a single Church - the original Church of the Apostles and of the New Testament, the Church founded by Jesus Christ - and its faith and practice continue today in the Orthodox Christian Tradition.
We do not state this with pride or with a desire to belittle the experience of our sisters and brothers in other churches, with whom we share much and for whom we have great love, but rather with humble gratitude that we have been made heirs of this great treasure, and with an awareness of our responsibility to share it with the world.
Our Orthodox Faith is based not primarily on intellectual assent to a set of principles but rather on experiential participation in the life of the Holy Trinity through the Person of Jesus Christ.
You can learn more about what we believe here.
How come I've never heard of the Orthodox Church?
Well, there are probably a number of reasons.
For the first thousand years after Christ, the whole Church across the Christian world was Orthodox. There were arguments and squabbles, to be sure, just as you would expect in any family, but it wasn't really until the 11th century when a sad process began that would see the part of the Church in Western Europe and the British Isles break away and become what is today called the Roman Catholic church. Ever since then, history as we know it in this part of the world has been seen through the lens of the Catholic and Protestant churches. That's probably the main reason why you might not have heard of us.
However, the Orthodox Church continued to thrive and grow in the rest of the world: Greece, India, Armenia, Romania, Syria, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Japan, and many other countries. Over the centuries, from time to time, people from these countries have settled in Western Europe and the British Isles, and have brought their beliefs with them, building churches and practising their Orthodox Christian Faith.
Another reason you might not have heard of Orthodoxy is that, in many cases, these Orthodox churches really served as ethnic chaplaincies, looking after the émigré communities, who did not always receive a warm welcome in this country. Their churches served as a way of keeping their community together, and preserving their faith, language, and culture that they had brought with them from "the old country", whichever country that might have been. They often didn't have a strong sense of outreach to Western European people. Usually, the only Britons to find a way in were those who were absolutely determined to be Orthodox or who married perhaps a Greek or an Arab and joined the Orthodox Church as part of that process.
That began to change in the 20th century, with a large migration from Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe due to the political situation in that part of the world. Many settled in Western Europe and began to integrate into the local culture. They worked on sharing their faith with the local population and translating books of prayers and theology into the local languages. British people began to rediscover this original Orthodox Christian Faith and realise that it is their own ancient heritage, to the point that today, many Orthodox parishes and missions are made up of people from many countries, including the United Kingdom and Ireland, and have their services partly, if not completely, in English.
It is still early days, and Orthodox churches are not plentiful in the UK, but we hope to play our part in welcoming to this ancient and saving faith anybody who might wish to explore this journey in Christ with us.
To which jurisdiction do you belong?
St Melangell's is a mission of the Orthodox Church of the Gauls - part of the Western Orthodox Church.
Our distinctly western expression of Orthodoxy reflects the original vision for our church when it was founded by decree of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1936. This vision was nurtured by St John (Maximovitch) the Wonderworker, who was our bishop from 1959 until his falling asleep in 1966.
Today our bishop is his grace Bishop Gregory of Arles. More information about the Orthodox Church of the Gauls can be found here.
What is the Western Orthodox Church?
The Communion of Western Orthodox Churches is a family of Orthodox churches based primarily in France but with communities also in other parts of continental Europe, the British Isles, the Americas, and Australia.
We hold to the same ancient Christian Faith as the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches but express this in a way that is in keeping with the Orthodox forms of prayer, music, spirituality, and worship that began to develop here in the British Isles and Western Europe prior to the divisions that began in the 11th century. These are collectively known as the Western Rite, and are markedly different from the customs to be found in most Orthodox churches that follow the Mediterranean, Eastern European, and African traditions. Many of these Western Rite traditions were preserved in the practice of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and some other western churches for many centuries and are much more accessible to British people today.
While it is true that there have been a number of cases where Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches have permitted communities to follow the Western Rite, history throughout the 20th and 21st centuries has taught us that, over time, antipathy towards Western Orthodoxy among some of the bishops and people of the eastern churches has often led to misunderstandings and the unfortunate breakdown of pastoral relationships.
Therefore, our family of Western Orthodox churches has come together to practise our faith free from these difficulties. Still, we recognise the Eastern and Oriental churches as our sister churches and hold them in great love.
Are you in communion with the Eastern/Oriental Orthodox Churches?
Our Western Orthodox Church is a family of Orthodox churches, with each member church teaching and living the Orthodox Faith and way of life, in a communion of faith and love with each other. We share that faith and way of life with the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches and consider them to be sister churches which we recognise and embrace as fellow Orthodox.
Sadly, at the present time, this recognition is not universally reciprocated. However, for us, the unity of the Orthodox Church is defined not by the ever-changing political relationships between territorial jurisdictions but rather by its common apostolic faith and sacramental life in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we continue to recognise the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches as our sister churches, and members of those churches are welcome to receive the sacraments and take full part in the life of our church. We are pleased that some of those churches also welcome us to their altars.
What are your services like?
At present, we are a new mission in formation. We do not yet have a priest so we do not have the Divine Liturgy (the Mass). Our worship takes the form of the Divine Office, led by a deacon. This consists largely of the Psalms of David and other portions of Holy Scripture, along with prayers and hymns.
Orthodox worship is a multi-sensory experience, involving all of the human senses, engaging the whole human person - body, soul, and spirit - in the worship of God. As with all Orthodox services, our worship is sung almost in its entirety.
Our services are prayed in a dignified form of contemporary English. We pray the office using Gregorian chant, and we aim for full participation by all insofar as they are able.
The word "rite" refers to the collection of prayers, chants, ceremonies, and devotions that form the sacramental and worshipping life of Christians in their worship of God in a particular place. Over the centuries, various rites have developed and been used by Orthodox Christians in different parts of the world. Some examples are the Byzantine rite, the Armenian rite, the East and West Syriac rites, and the Roman rite, among many others. These have become part of the identity and life of the Christians and cultures that use them.
Here at St Melangell's, we use the Gallican Rite in its form as restored for modern-day use by St John of Saint-Denis. The Gallican Rite was used in ancient Gaul, which roughly corresponds to modern-day France, Germany, and parts of Belgium and Italy. It was among the richest of the Western rites in terms of its texts and ceremonies, sharing certain elements with the worship of the Orthodox East for reasons that are lost in the mists of time. Are these similarities due to early eastern influence resulting from trade routes linking east and west? Or do they reflect an ancient tradition common to both east and west and which was preserved in Gaul better than many other western rites? We may never know.
What we do know is that many of these customs, often dismissed by some people today as easternisations in an attempt to discredit the legitimacy of our restored western rite, already existed in the Orthodox West in the first millennium, and were documented by St Germanus of Paris. Therefore, the Divine Liturgy, the Divine Office, and the rites for the Sacraments that we serve at our parish sit within the tradition which was known to the Orthodox saints of the west.
We are sometimes asked why we use a French rite when there are other western Orthodox rites indigenous to the British Isles. There are a number of reasons for this.
- The people called the Gauls, as well as their faith and worship, were not limited to what we today call France. Modern-day Scotland, Wales, and Ireland were also inhabited by the Gauls, who were in essence the same people as the Celts. To this day, the French name for Wales is Le Pays des Galles (the Land of the Gauls).
- Of the two indigenous British rites in use in Orthodox churches today, one is incomplete, with no musical and limited other resources to make it usable, and the other (the Sarum rite), while complete and very beautiful, is not used anywhere in our jurisdiction. While Bishop Gregory does not insist on liturgical uniformity and has freely given his blessing for the Roman Rite to be used by our communities in North America, our parish is geographically closest to our mother church in France. For us to use the Sarum rite would make us the only parish of the Orthodox Church of the Gauls to do so, and would isolate us unnecessarily from the rest of our jurisdiction. Using the same services as our immediate family enables us to visit each other and share fully in our worship together.
- Most of the Gregorian chants, psalm tones, and hymn melodies of the Gallican Rite, as well as a number of its ceremonies and customs, are universal among the western rites and will be just as accessible to British people as those of the Sarum Rite. Where there is a Sarum tradition, such as the distinctive Sarum chant for the Exultet or the Sarum variant of the melody of hymns such as the Vexilla Regis Prodeunt, we have received episcopal blessing to use this local version here in the British isles.
- The Gallican Rite as restored by St John of Saint-Denis has a certain richness to it, resulting partly from its ancient character, which is distinct from the austerity of some of the other western rites, but also due in part to it being sparingly and sensitively supplemented in some ways with certain hymns and prayers of the Byzantine Rite which have come to be loved among Orthodox Christians. There is nothing wrong with this, as there are countless examples throughout the centuries of this sort of cross-fertilisation from east to west, and vice versa. We feel that there is a didactic and spiritual benefit to embracing this richness in our worship of God.
May I receive Communion?
Communion is a sign of fullness in the participation of the life of Christ and his Church. Only Orthodox Christians receive Holy Communion, and only then after preparation through prayer and fasting, and provided they practise a pattern of regular confession. If you are Orthodox and intend to receive Communion, please make yourself known to the clergy before the Liturgy begins.
All people - Orthodox or not - are invited to receive the blessed bread at the end of the Mass.
Those who are not yet Orthodox Christians are warmly invited to explore the Orthodox Faith with a view to being fully united with us in the Church of Christ.
Which calendar do you use?
In keeping with the practice of the wider Western Orthodox Church, we use the Gregorian Calendar for all fixed and moveable feasts.
For the time being, Pascha (Passover/Easter) is also calculated according to the Gregorian reckoning, as it is in the Orthodox Church of Finland and the Armenian Apostolic Church. However, the bishops of our communion have resolved to adopt the method for calculating Pascha proposed by the World Council of Churches when it gains wider acceptance. This method is faithful to the principles established by the Holy and Great Council at Nicaea while avoiding the inaccuracies entrenched in all of the current methods.
Is your church Chalcedonian or non-Chalcedonian?
The answer to this is somewhat nuanced.
We confess the ancient faith of the Apostles, transmitted to us in the Holy Scriptures and the Three Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), and Ephesus (431).
We affirm and claim as ours all the doctrinal definitions of the four further Great Councils, believing in particular that the Christological formulations of Chalcedon explicitly render the doctrine of the Undivided Church complete.
We also accept the Councils of Constantinople of 1341 and 1351 which confirm the teaching of St Gregory Palamas on the Divine Light and the Uncreated Energies, as well as the whole doctrine and practice of Hesychasm.
While we accept the true theology of the holy councils named above, we distance ourselves from any unjust condemnations of people which may have been pronounced in the fiery heat of human passions. In particular, we reject any charges of monophysitism and monothelitism which have been wrongfully brought against our Oriental Orthodox sisters and brothers. In keeping with the Orthodox Joint Commission, we state that there are no fundamental differences of faith between the Orthodox Churches in spite of the misunderstanding of the Council of Chalcedon, and we hold them all as Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ.