Orthodox Churches in Ireland
The ICC has four Orthodox traditions: Antiochian, Greek, Romanian and Russian.
ORTHODOXY IN IRELAND
No Orthodox parish existed in Ireland before 1969. A small number of Russian emigrés arrived shortly after the 1917 Revolution, among them Nicholas Couriss later to be Ireland’s first resident Orthodox priest. Several hundred Orthodox including Greek and Greek Cypriots settled in the country by the early 1950s. In 1969 a parish was established by the Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR) with Father Nicholas as priest. A number of Irish were received into the Church. From 1971–3 he was assisted by Fr Michael Beaumont, University College Dublin lecturer and priest of the Moscow Patriarchate. Father Nicholas died in 1977 and with him the house chapel.
The first Greek Church was consecrated in 1981 at St Mary’s, Mary Street, Dublin. In 1986 the building was declared unsafe. A mendicant period ensued. A permanent building at Arbour Hill was consecrated in 1994. Father Tom Carroll is their pastor (086–239 4539). The present congregation of the Church of the Annunciation is multinational and numbers about 70.
The late 90s saw an influx of people from Eastern Europe. The Russian Church (Moscow Patriarchate) began its services in 1999 with monthly Liturgies at the Greek Church Arbour Hill, but subsequently moved to premises at Harold’s Cross Dublin in 2002, thanks to the Church of Ireland (Anglican) with Fr Mikhail Nasunov (+353–86–734 7934) as pastor. There are about 1,500 members of the church. Fr Nicolay Evseev (+353–86–100 9531) is pastor of the Russian community at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic church in Drogheda. They also have monthly Liturgies for members in Cork, Limerick and Waterford.
The Romanian Church came into being with its own priest in October 2000. From January 2001 worship took place in Belvedere College chapel in the centre of Dublin, courtesy of the Jesuit Fathers. In June 2005, the Church of Ireland made available their church building at Christ Church Leeson Park, Dublin 6 to the Romanian community. The Pastor of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is Fr Calin Florea (+353–87–614 8140); his assistant Fr Constantine Uncu (087– 251 2101). There are two deacons. A second Dublin parish is in Hartstown Community Centre, Hartstown Road, Dubin 15 with Fr Raul Simion pastor (+353–87–639 4530) and Fr Godfrey O’Donnell assistant (+353–87–678 0150) who is also ecumenical representative of the Church in Ireland; there is a deacon. A third Dublin parish is found in Porter’s Road, Coolmine Industrial Estate, Dublin 15 with Fr Ireneu Craciun pastor (+353–87–794 1988) and Fr Petru Vlaic assistant (+353–86–394 0784). A seventh priest, Fr Viorel Hurjui (+353–87–677 2241) was appointed pastor in Cork, and Fr Tudor Ghita (+353–86–228 2690) was ordained with responsibility for a new parish in Galway at St Nicholas Collegiate, Lombard Street. Fr Tudor also services Limerick at the Sisters of Mercy, Westbourne Convent, Courtbrack Avenue. Fr Cornel Clepea (+44–777 525 9542) looks after Ballymena at All Saints RC church, 4 Broughshane Road, BT43 7DX; St Paul’s, Falls Road, Belfast, BT12 6AB has a liturgy once a month with Fr Cornel. There are also occasional Liturgies in Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Mullingar, Portlaoise, Sligo and Waterford. This church serves about 1,500 in the Dublin area, about 120 in the other parishes.
The Antiochian Orthodox Church founded in Ireland in 2004. They have two parishes, one in Belfast, St Ignatius’, St James COI, Corner of Antrim Rd & Cliftonville Rd, with Fr Paul Totten (+44–7798 655548) as pastor and a community of 50. Fr John Hickey (+353–86–791 3689) is pastor at the Carmelite Church Community Centre, Whitefriar Street Off Aungier Street, Dublin 2. Fr John also holds a Liturgy in Holy Trinity Friary, Fr Mathew Quay, Cork on the first Saturday of each month. The deanery priest Fr David Lonergan (+353–87–652 7184) currently serves the Georgian Orthodox parish of St Maximos the Confessor at St Mary’s Church, Bloomfield Avenue, Dublin 4.
Three of these Orthodox Churches are apostolic in origin. The church of Greece has approximatively 9 million members. The Antiochian, one of the ancient Christian patriarchates, 750,000. According to the 2002 Romanian census, 18,817,975 out of the 21,680,974 inhabitants of Romania are Orthodox Christians (86.8%). In terms of population the Church of Romania is second in size only to Russia, and the most numerous Orthodox Church of any state in the EU. Christianity in Russia developed slowly from a gradual infiltration from Byzantium, Bulgaria and Scandinavia with definitely a church in Kiev in 945. The Russian Princess Olga became a Christian in 955. Around 988 Olga’s grandson Vladimir who reigned from 980–1015 was converted to Christianity and married Anna sister of the Byzantine emperor. Orthodoxy became the state religion. Today there are 150 million adherents worldwide.
THE ORTHODOX MISSION IN IRELAND
The mission of the Orthodox Church in Ireland is seen as fulfilling the instruction of Christ our Saviour to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you’ (Mt 28, 19–20) since He ‘desires everyone be saved and come to knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2, 4). In Ireland this will be primarily done by continuing to preach and serve those Orthodox of the diaspora presently living and working in Ireland, other Orthodox who have no spiritual home, and those others, particularly Irish, who might be drawn to the Orthodox faith. For us it is not about getting into competition with other Christian Churches. It is about sharing the riches of our tradition and an invitation ‘to come and see.’(Jn 1, 46)
BASIS OF BELIEF
‘Guard the deposit‘. (1Tim 6,20)
‘Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church‘ (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church)
‘The thing that first strikes a stranger on encountering Orthodoxy is usually its air of antiquity, its apparent changelessness. Orthodox still baptise by threefold immersion, as in the primitive Church; they still bring babies and small children to receive Holy Communion; in the Liturgy the deacon still cries out: ‘The doors! The doors! – recalling the early days when the Church’s entrance was jealously guarded and only members of Christian families could attend; the Creed is still recited without any additions… And whenever Orthodox are asked at inter–Church meetings to sum up the essential characteristics, the will nearly always point to its changelessness and its determination to remain loyal to its past, and its sense of living continuity with the Church of ancient times… The idea of living continuity is encapsulated in the one word Tradition.‘ ‘Christian Tradition,’ says Metropolitan Cellists, is the Trinitarian faith and practice ‘which Jesus Christ imparted to the Apostles, and which since the Apostles’ time has been handed down from generation to generation in the Church (compare Paul in 1 Cor 15,3)… But Tradition means something more specific and concrete than this. It means the books of the Bible; it means the Creed [the Nicene–Constantino–politan Creed]; it means the decrees of the seven Ecumenical Councils, [the seven sacraments, devotion to Our Lady the Mother of God], and the writings of the Fathers such as St Athanasius or St Symeon the New Theologian; it means the Canons, the Service Books, the Holy Icons – in fact the whole system of doctrine, Church government, worship, spirituality and art (icons) which Orthodoxy has spelt out over the ages. Orthodox Christians of today see themselves as heirs and guardians to this rich inheritance received from the past, and they believe that it is their duty to transmit this inheritance unimpaired to the future.
In Orthodoxy we understand that the Bible forms a part of Tradition. In reality there is only one source of Christian faith, since Scripture exists within Tradition received as a gift of the Church and the Holy Spirit; to separate and contrast the two is to impoverish the idea of both alike. Among the various elements of Tradition, a unique pre–eminence belongs to the Bible, to the Church through baptism, to the Creed, to the doctrinal definitions of the Ecumenical Councils; these thing the Orthodox accept as something absolute and unchanging. That not everything received from the past is of equal value, nor is everything received from the past necessarily true. As one of the bishops remarked at the Council of Carthage in 257: ‘The Lord said, I am truth. He did not say, I am custom. There is a big difference between ‘Tradition’ and ‘traditions’. Many traditions which the past has handed down are human and accidental – pious opinions (or worse), but not a true part of the one Tradition, the fundamental Christian message.’ Finally, ‘Tradition is the witness of the Spirit: Christ’s words are to be recalled, ‘When the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth’ (Jn 16,13). It is this divine promise that forms the basis for the Orthodox devotion to Tradition.’
Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, The Orthodox Church, (London: Penguin Books, 1997), pp.195–97; 199.
GOVERNANCE AND ORGANISATION
All the Orthodox Churches are self–governing or autocephalous. Each is guided by a Holy Synod, a board of bishops and laymen, where the head of the Church is the moderator of the Synod. The number of Orthodox Churches comprises the 4 ancient Patriarchates – Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem; 9 other autocephalous Churches – Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania. All except 2 –Poland and Albania – are in countries where the Christian population is predominantly Orthodox. The heads of the Russian, Romanian, Serbian and Bulgarian Churches are known by the title Patriarch. The head of the Georgian Church is called Catholicos–Patriarch; the heads of the other Churches are called Archbishop or Metropolitan. There in addition several Churches which, while mostly self–governing, are not fully independence. These are termed ‘autonomous’ – Czech Republic and Slovakia, Sinai, Finland, Japan and China. Then there is a large Orthodox diaspora in western Europe (like Ireland and the UK), in North and South America, and in Australia. All the diaspora in some way depend jurisdictionally on one of the Patriarchates or autocephalous Churches, but in some areas there is a move to self–government, in particular the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, but this has not not yet been officially recognised by the majority of other Orthodox Churches.
A unique ancient church is that of Mount Sinai (already mentioned), made up of the monastery of St Catherine and its subject houses. The Archbishop is also higoumen or abbot. The monastic community of Mount Athos in Greece is another special case. Known as ‘the Holy Mountain’, Athos is composed of 20 ‘ruling’ monasteries (of different nationalities) and a large number of smaller houses, as well as hermits’ cells. The whole peninsula is given over completely to monastic settlements. ‘Synod’ as an Orthodox term is especially important as signaling a basic point of differing ecclesiology between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic; in contrast to the papacy and its synod of bishops in the West, the basic authority in the Orthodox Church resides in the body of the episcopacy sitting in council.
Patriarch Daniel of Romania has written well of the Orthodox contribution to ecumenical relations since the early 20th century which I here offer in summary form. The unexpected initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1920 to consider the divided Christian confessions as being members of Christ (although in a state of estrangement) and to call them all to form a koinonia of Churches presents an apparent paradox in light of the permanent affirmation that the Orthodox Church is not simply just another confession, but rather the Church, the most faithful witness towards being the One, Undivided, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Orthodox Churches which were co–founders of the World Council of Churches at Amsterdam in 1948 (namely the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Church of Cyprus and the Church of Greece) do not hesitate to express their often uncomfortable position in the WCC. Joined by other Orthodox Churches which enthusiastically became part of the WCC at the New Delhi Assembly in 1961 (the Churches of Russia, Romania, Bulgaria and Poland), these all meet from time to time to review and revise their desiderata, as they continue as a minority among a Protestant majority. Nevertheless, at every assembly of the World Council of Churches, the Orthodox continue to renew their commitment to stay and to work for unity together with other Christian Churches. The Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, during his visit to the World Council of Churches in November 1967, underscored that the Orthodox Church’s involvement in the Ecumenical Movement appears not only as a chance or opportunity to witness, but even as one of its obligations:
‘The more a Church has the consciousness that it possesses the truth and remains faithful to the word of Christ, so much the more has she the obligation to enter into dialogue and collaboration with all other Christian denominations, in a spirit of love, humility and service.’
The sobornost vision of the Orthodox Church identifies in fact the unity with the koinonia of divine–human love. W.A. Visser’t Hooft, the first general secretary of the WCC noted the interest of Western theologians for such a vision of unity: “…when the Russian Orthodox emigration began to make itself heard in the West, particularly in France, after the First World War, it was their awareness of the ‘sobornost’ of the Church, as an integrated wholeness, which made the deepest impression on Western Christians.’ During the 60s the primary Orthodox contribution to ecumenical reflection on the Church and its unity involved the rediscovery of the importance of the local Church as not only a part of the universal Church, but the manifestation of the catholic/universal Church in a given place. The unity of the local Church is expressed by the proclamation of the same Gospel, confession of the same apostolic faith, sharing in the same Eucharist, and the common witness and service within the world. This vision of Church and unity found itself incorporated in the documents of New Delhi and Vatican II, helping the collegiality of bishops. A deeper understanding of the notion of ‘catholicity’ as the fulness of the truth contained in Christ and in which the faithful of all places and of all ages are united by the power of the Holy Spirit. The rediscovery of the catholicity of the local Church in communion with other local Churches which confess the same faith helps to overcome the opposition between the local and universal dimensions of the Church. This idea was integrated into the vision of unity produced by the 1968 Uppsala assembly of the WCC. An understanding of Eucharistic ecclesiology as developed by Fr Nicholas Afanasiev and his students in St Serge in Paris, which in spite of certain limitations, played an important role in the promotion of an ecclesiology of communion at the ecumenical level. This theme was later developed in greater depth by other theologians such as John Zizioulas and played an important role in the Orthodox–Roman Catholic dialogue.
In the common document from Munich (1982) produced by the Joint Commission we see an ecumenical effort to understand Eucharistic ecclesiology in a Trinitarian perspective. A particular contribution attempted to respond to the Protestant opposition between Scripture and Tradition. First, the Orthodox theologians corrected the scholastic view that Scripture and Tradition are two sources of Revelation. In fact there is only one source: the person of Christ, to whom both Scripture and Tradition bear witness. In this sense, the content of Scripture and Tradition is the same. This constitutes the Apostolic Tradition. The Apostolic Tradition contained in the Gospel is transmitted in and by the Church through the centuries. In this sense, Scripture is the Tradition of the Church, and the Tradition of the Church is the content of Scripture transmitted, in other words, experienced and interpreted from generation to generation. The Apostolic Tradition rests in the Scripture and the Scripture rests, or rather moves, within the Tradition of the Church. Scripture and Tradition are identical in content, but different in form. The form of Scripture is fixed once for all, but the form of Tradition is renewed from generation to generation in order to remain faithful to the original Revelation of Christ and to make it relevant to each generation. The Orthodox would prefer to replace the slogan Sola Scriptura with Sola Traditio, since Tradition itself is understood as Tradition, and they have therefore defined Tradition as the living memory of the Church and as the witness the Holy Spirit bears to Christ in the Church through the ages.
The question remains: How far can the divided Christian confessions be identified with the Apostolic Tradition? One attempt to respond partially and indirectly to this question was the whole exercises connected with the elaboration of the BEM (Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry) document, and with its reception by the various Christian Churches. The ecumenical reflection of the 3 sacraments shows again that the experience of the Apostolic Tradition cannot be reduced to the letter of the New Testament, but implies the witness of the Church which fixed the canon of the New Testament.1
To Find out more:
1 Patriarch Daniel of Romania, Confessing the Truth in Love: Orthodox Perceptions of Life, Mission and Unity, ‘The Golden Treasure in Earthen Vessels: The Orthodox Witness in the Ecumenical Movement’ (Bucharest: Basilica, 2008), pp.225–234.