of the Pan-Orthodox Assembly

of Bishops with Churches in Great Britain and Ireland

Report on the work: January - June 2011



The regular meetings of the Pastoral Committee of the Pan-Orthodox Assembly of Bishops with Churches in the British Isles took place at the Cathedral of the Diocese of Sourozh in London on 14th of February and on 14th of May.


Pan-Orthodox Liturgical Events

One of the main items on the agenda was the annual Pan-Orthodox Vespers. According to the decision of the Second meeting of the Pan-Orthodox Assembly of Bishops the Georgian and Romanian Communities should begin hosting this event and the Service of Pan-Orthodox Vespers in this year should be held at the Georgian Orthodox Church of St George. However, because of the Georgian diocese was unable to host the event this year and because of the Romanian diocese was also unable to host the event until they had space to hold the reception it was decided that the Pan-Orthodox Vesper should take place this year at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The Committee expressed satisfaction with the good organization of the event and the beauty of the service.

The committee reviewed the recent chronology of the event and proposed the following order for the future: 2012 - Georgian church, 2013 - Romanian church, 2014 - Greek church. Thereafter, the sequence should follow the diptych order of the participating Churches.

Similar events had taken place in Glasgow and Dublin and were under desirable development in Birmingham and Manchester.

The visit of His Holiness Patriarch-Catholicos Ilia II to the UK in February became an important event for the Orthodoxy in British Isles. His Holiness consecrated the first Georgian Orthodox church in this land. The service and reception following was attended by representatives of the other Orthodox Churches, including Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira & Great Britain.

Another significant event had been the consecration of the Russian Orthodox Church in Manchester happened on 12th of March. Many representatives of other Orthodox Churches took part in the consecration, which made it a truly Pan-Orthodox celebration. It is recommended that this should be the pattern for such events in future: invitations should be sent to hierarchs and local clergy.


Pan-Orthodox Clergy Conference 

Whereas the Bishops' Assembly had proposed that a Pan-Orthodox clergy conference should be held and whereas this issue is related to both Pastoral and Educational committees - the Pastoral committee proposed to form a joint conference organizing committee with the Educational committee. The following were proposed from the Pastoral committee: Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh, Fr Michael Harry (Antiochian Diocese) and Fr Joseph Skinner (Diocese of Sourozh).


Practice about Holy Communion and Confession 

The Pastoral Committee has studied the question of the official positions and practices of the various Orthodox Churches concerning the question of the participation of the faithful in the Mysteries of confession and Holy Communion and the relationship between the two. There is little or no official guidance in the form of Synodal instructions on this subject, but there are quite strong and divergent practices.

Generally speaking, in those Churches where the laity on the whole partake rather infrequently of Holy Communion, confession is regarded as an indispensable part of the preparation for Communion. A period of fasting (several days to a week) is also expected. In some Churches or parts of Churches where more frequent Communion is becoming normal, confession is not always required before each communion and there may not be the same insistence on a special period of fasting before communion. In some places, for example, most dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church, the old insistence on confession before each communion coexists with the newer practice of more frequent partaking of Holy Communion, which can lead to the reduction of confession to a brief and sometimes formal enumeration of sins and serious difficulties for priests who have to hear many confessions before or even during the Divine Liturgy.

The opposite problem of neglect of the Mystery of confession also exists. This may be as a result of the lack of priests with the blessing to hear confessions in those Churches where it is not automatically conferred at ordination, or in places with a high proportion of converts who have not been adequately instructed in the Orthodox understanding of the importance of confession.

The divergence of practices can lead to difficulties for the faithful in this country who attend a church of a different tradition from that in which they were raised because it is more accessible to them than their ‘own’ church. In this situation, authoritative pastoral guidance on these questions could be very valuable in helping the laity both to understand the differences in existing practices in various parts of the Orthodox Church and to come to a deeper appreciation of the vital importance of participation in the Mysteries of both confession and Holy Communion for their spiritual health and development.

Summaries about the local practise of their Churches prepared by the members of the Committee on this issue are attached to this report for the attention of the Bishops’ Assembly.


Practice about Mixed Marriages

The Pastoral Committee has studied the question of the official positions and practices of the various Orthodox Churches concerning the question of mixed marriages, that is marriages between an Orthodox and a non-Orthodox Christian.

In several dioceses  these are allowed by oikonomia, under certain conditions, usually including some form of undertaking to bring up children as Orthodox. The blessing of the Ruling Bishop is usually required.

The Antiochian and Georgian Orthodox dioceses require the non-Orthodox partner to become Orthodox prior to the marriage.

The question of mixed marriages, which are likely to increase as Orthodox immigrants integrate into the local society, may be viewed as a pastoral problem with a risk of dilution or loss of the faith of the Orthodox partner, or as a pastoral opportunity for bringing the non-Orthodox partner into the Church. Whether the latter aim is best served by insisting on conversion prior to the marriage or by allowing the person to proceed at their own pace towards a possible eventual acceptance of Orthodoxy is a matter on which there could be different opinions.

The related summaries are attached for the the Assembly.


Social Service

Members of the Committee where asked to prepare brief written statements concerning the matters itemized Healthcare in hospital and at home, Prison chaplaincy and Cemetery use addressing the question of whether any official relationships exist with the relevant authorities (hospitals, prisons, cemeteries) and how matters of pastoral care are dealt with in practice.


List of Orthodox communities and clergy in British Isles

The committee discussed that there should be kind of officially approved Directory of Orthodox communities and clergy in Britain and Ireland. It could perhaps be based on that published for many years by the Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist. It is planned to discussed the issue with the editor of the OFSJB Directory.

Questions of canonical status of certain clergy

The Committee expressed concern that there have been a number of cases in the past in this country where transfers of clergy from one jurisdiction to another have given rise to pastoral problems or serious questions about their canonical status. This is especially the case where there are multiple transfers and/or involvement with non-canonical bodies.

Canonically, a letter of dismissal from the cleric’s bishop to the bishop of the diocese to which he wishes to transfer is required. In the circumstances of the diaspora, it seems prudent to require that inter-jurisdictional transfers should be effected on the basis of a letter of dismissal from the Primate of the Local Orthodox Church to which the cleric in question belongs.


Pastoral education for the clergy

The Committee expressed the necessity to have a full pastoral course of education for the clergy and to create the corresponding pan-orthodox school in U. K. The note was agreed by the Committee to discuss at the Pan-Orthodox Bishops Assembly.