Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

A Church Built for an Anti-Russian War Shall Become a Russian Orthodox Church

The old garrison church at Colchester, soon to be the home of St John the Wonderworker parish

In ancient times, when it was a province of the Roman Empire, Colchester, a city located some 80 kilometres northeast of London, was the first capital of Britain. It was a garrison town of “special designation” in that period. In the nineteenth century, during the time of the Crimean War (1853-56), Colchester again became the location of a military base, where some 5,000 soldiers were trained for dispatch to the Crimean front. For their spiritual needs, the British government built a large garrison church. Today, the majority of English historians have come to the conclusion that the Crimean War was an entirely unnecessary conflict, it was “an error”, a “failure”, and many lives were ruined in the course of its useless slaughter.

In the years since, Colchester has remained a major British army base, being enlarged and updated over the years. In March 2007, the original garrison church was closed and divine services in it ended. A new, somewhat smaller, chapel was built for the servicemen in its place. It was in this area, with God’s blessings, through the prayers of our Patron and Father amongst the Saints John Maksimovich the Wonderworker, and with the material support rendered by the readers of the journal Orthodox England and the internet site Orthodoxengland.org.uk, that our parish leased modest premises in the small seaside town of Felixstowe for some 11 years, a place where St Felix (+647) preached in antiquity.

When it became available, I dared to believe that I could acquire the large (and now closed) church in which the soldiers of the Crimean War period said their prayers. Finally, we received the news last Wednesday, on 7 May 2008, that our tender for the purchase of the old church building was accepted. We were shaken by this good news. The total floor area of the church building is 650 square metres (@7,000 square feet), and the area of the chapel, office, conference room, and hall add an additional 170 square metres (@1,800 square feet).

We intend to dedicate the main church in honour of St John Maksimovich, who, some 50 years ago, was the ruling archbishop of London. We shall dedicate the chapel to All the Saints Who have Shone Forth in the British Islands. It seems to us that St John Maksimovich himself shall bless our intentions. Soon, we shall visit Russia and acquire an iconostas and all necessary church utensils and fixtures. The very existence of our parish, the only permanent Russian Orthodox church in the East of England, seems to me to be nothing short of miraculous. Everyone who sacrificed to help us in the acquisition of this former Protestant church that we intend to convert into a proper Orthodox church is a co-participant with us in this miracle. This miracle was a miracle of the survival of an Orthodox community that overcame many obstacles, having to move here and there, but, because of the spirit of self-sacrifice, determination, and fortitude shown by its people, it has lasted these past 40 years.

A church built by the heterodox and which served the forces fighting in an anti-Russian war, now, becomes a parish church of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some shall see it as an irony of fate or history, others shall see in it divine judgement, and it shall be an example of what we call in English “poetic justice”. We consider it a spiritual victory that we were allowed to acquire this church, it is a celebration of the purity of Orthodoxy. This church was built to admonish and inspire soldiers fighting a country confessing the Orthodox Faith. However, God’s inscrutable ways unfold before us, and before our eyes this previously heterodox chapel is converted into a temple of holy Orthodoxy.

13 May 2008

Fr Andrew Phillips

Pastor, along with the clergy and parishioners of St John Maksimovich the Wonderworker



Editor’s Note:

If anyone heard of this worthy project through my posts, thank you. Fr Andrew and his parish still need help, you can access his website via the blogroll on the right-hand side of the page.

Bog blagoslovit, Batiushka!



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