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'Thy Kingdom come’: the Church in the world but not of the world
May 26th - 28th, 2023
 High Leigh Conference Centre, Hertfordshire

A personal view

The Diocese of Sourozh held its annual conference from Friday the 26th to Sunday the 28th of May, 2023. The theme was ‘Thy Kingdom come: the Church in the world but not of the world’, and the conference marked a return to the usual annual schedule, following a four year break due to the Covid pandemic. Sadly, Bishop Matthew was unable to attend due to his pastoral visit to Canada but sent a message of greeting which was read at the opening of the Conference by Father Maxim Nikolsky, who presided throughout.

A profound and challenging talk by Metropolitan Anthony was then screened, focusing on the notion of love, and on how we need to thoroughly examine our soul for any trace of insincere or adulterated love. Metropolitan Anthony spoke of free will - a gift given us by God out of love, but how our tragic misuse of this gift has led us to betray ourselves, and our vocation. God’s response to this was the Incarnation – an act of self-emptying love.

After breakfast and morning prayers on Saturday, Archbishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church spoke on ‘the Church, in the world’. His Eminence discussed the fine balance that is needed when living the faith in the world, and the necessity of self-care and boundaries in the spiritual life when serving others, lest we find ourselves out of our depth and burnt out. As the archbishop himself said, how can we save a drowning man if we ourselves are drowning? As we know, such spiritual health can only be nurtured through the life and sacraments of church, and in regular dialogue with our spiritual father.

Sister Seraphima, from the monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, then followed with a fascinating talk entitled “Saints Sophrony and Silouan the Athonites: Theologians of Knowledge for our times”. Her talk focused on Saint Sophrony’s early life and career as an artist and his preoccupation with being, immortality and eternity in art – a preoccupation which led to the formation of an inner, almost parallel life within him, which eventually lead him back to his ancestral faith where he discovered these things in their totality.

The tone changed then with a talk given by Fr Dragos Herescu, Principal of the Cambridge Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, which laid out the challenge for the Orthodox Church in the West to come out of its traditional cultural enclaves. Such a need was acutely felt by Metropolitan Anthony himself, when he opened the doors of the Russian Orthodox Church to seekers in the West.

The last talk of the day was given in Russian by Fr Georgiy Zavershinsky, who heads the deanery of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. He discussed his recent novel, whose title could be translated into English as ‘The Atomic Pastor’. This novel is an apocalyptic work whose protagonist is a priest serving those entrusted to him during a nuclear disaster. It was telling also to see how three aspects of Fr Georgiy’s life - the scientist, priest, and writer - have combined in writing this novel, evidence of how our personalities can indeed be accentuated and brought to fulfilment in the Church. Saturday concluded with the celebration of the Vigil for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council.

Sunday brought with it an early Divine Liturgy, concelebrated by the seven priests and three deacons attending the Conference. Singers from various parishes ‘came together and formed a choir’ under the able direction of  Matushka Sarah Skinner. A small children’s choir sang the Kontakion of the Ascension, which they had studied in the children’s programme led by Fr Stephen and Matushka Anna Platt.

There followed by the fifth talk, a paper by Dr Martin Dudley on the relationship between monarchy and the Orthodox Church. This uneasy relationship was explored, beginning with the often turbulent relationship in the Old Testament between the king and prophet. And as Dr Dudley pointed out, whilst monarchy is the ideal form of government, very few people are cut out to be ideal monarchs! A correlation was drawn between King David - the adulterer and murderer who became a great prophet through repentance, and King Solomon, who despite being granted great wisdom by God, turned to idolatry.

The conference concluded with Irina Kirillova, a veteran of almost all the Conferences, recounting her recollections of Metropolitan Anthony, whom she got to know when he was a young priest living, together with his mother and grandmother, on the first floor of her family home in London. She mentioned in particular how the conference was established in 1975 by Metropolitan Anthony to bring together the diocese, so that those from very different backgrounds could get to know one other, and become one in Christ.

This conference, held twenty years after Metropolitan Anthony’s repose, was very much in that same vein. It brought together a diverse group of around 100 people, of all ages and nationalities, united by their love for Christ and by their finding a family and a spiritual home in the diocese of Sourozh. Friendships were forged, phone numbers were exchanged, and children laughed and played freely together. This coming together also tied into the conference theme – how living relatively isolated lives as Orthodox Christians in the West requires community and spiritual sustenance. And the conference provided just that. The fellowship was aided by the wonderful weather and the stunning location – High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire, with its glorious gardens and forest walks. It was a true blessing being there.


Glyn Lasarus Jones

Church of All Saints of Wales,

Blaenau Ffestiniog

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