Looking back over the past year… and lots of photos!

Dear brothers and sisters,

With the hot days of summer behind us, the darkening nights, the yellowing trees laden with berries and fruit, and the blessing of honey, fruit, herbs and flowers during the Great Feasts of August completed, we come to the end of the Church year.

Each year the development of the parish seems to gather pace and, as we reflect on parish life since last September, this year has certainly been different to past years in many respects, particularly in terms of the new faithful in Cardiff – whether converts to Holy Orthodoxy, present catechumens, those fleeing conflict in Ukraine, or those who commute from England and have made their spiritual home in Cardiff.

The parish has proved itself to be a place where everyone can feel safe and secure, and where people of all nations and cultures can share and celebrate their Faith.

In addition to our local parishioners, our weekly congregation usually includes parishioners from Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, showing the seriousness of people’s spiritual life, when the need for a traditionalist and maximalist parish is worth a journey of a hundred to a hundred and fifty miles for Liturgy. Praise God for such resolute firmness of Faith!

On a few occasions, I’ve been able to be the one making the journey to serve in the west of England in addition to our Gloucestershire activities.

I have been overjoyed by the selfless offering of our singers and altar-servers during the year. Even when there have only been several singers, or even a lone chanter, the Liturgy has been chanted with prayerfulness and devotion. Having Aleksandra with us whilst she completed her studies was a great blessing, and she is sorely missed!

Apart from the period of my last covidious imprisonment, and the Sunday when we supported Father Luke’s first Liturgy in Mumbles, we have celebrated the Liturgy every remaining weekend of the year, and even on the weekend of my self-isolation the parish came together for a sung typika and trapeza, even sending home-cooked Russian food to Llanelli with Deacon Mark and matushka Alla.

The same love and care is reflected in the generosity of our parishioners and spiritual children from other communities, week by week, as we are nourished with food cooked with great love and generosity, as well as by the spiritual food God gives us.

Our Deacon continues to do so much in addition to his liturgical role, acting as parish administrator for both Cardiff and Cheltenham, and ensuring that everything runs smoothly. We are also blessed to have such a dedicated starosta and trustees, who are an incredible support to the clergy and everyone in the parish, ensuring that a warm welcome is offered to all who come through the doors of St John’s or St Mary’s.

Our oltarniky have served with great competence and care, impressing visitors with the dignity and devotion with which they fulfil their obedience.

Though we took it for granted that we would have returned to Nazareth House by now, we remain in St John’s, and though financially challenging (costing £100 every Sunday) it has been popular with many of our families, especially given the ample space for children and for us to enjoy trapeza without moving buildings.

We have come to find how to use it best for Orthodox worship, and the Anglican parish has been happy for us to leave the Lady Chapel looking very much an Orthodox chapel after each Sunday’s worship. With Ukrainians using the vestry for language lessons each week, this allows somewhere for them to visit and pray, whilst in St John’s.

The greatest challenge with St John’s is that of time, with such a short time to set up, say the entrance prayers, hear confessions and perform the proskomedia. Every Sunday is a challenge, and sometimes only Father Luke’s presence has made it possible to celebrate Liturgy without turning people away from confession.

I know I keep repeating this, but I still suspect that many people do not appreciate the difficulties and the seriousness of the situation. We need a place of worship that offers sufficient time to prepare for worship without either rushing or having to continue priestly ministrations whilst the community shares trapeza without the priest, who is not interested in the food, but does want to spend time with the faithful and welcome new faces.

We have also been greatly blessed in having the constant use of St Mary Butetown for feast-day and Lenten services, confessions and catechism (where we struggle to get Father Dean to accept any money). Equally, the Oratorians regularly welcome us to use St Alban’s for day-time confessions.

Our profound thanks go to Fathers Dean and Sebastian and the Congregation of the Oratory in Cardiff. Like number 62 Park Place (when an Oratorian household) and Newman Hall under Father Sebastian’s custody, the Oratory remains a peaceful and hospitable refuge for an ever-walking, tea-seeking and foot-weary hieromonk.

A great challenge this year has been the loss of Newman Hall, where the Little Oratory was dearly loved, and saw its last Orthodox service just before the beginning of the new Church Year. It always seemed that Orthodox services were the time when his humble little sanctuary took on a new significance and really became the foot of Jacob’s Ladder. It evidently seems that our presence also kept it clean, cared for and loved.

The loss of the facilities of Newman has been a particular challenge since my full-time employment by the parish, as I no longer have a personal base in Cardiff.

It is wonderful to be able to be employed by the parish, and to not have to juggle secular employment with ever-expanding parish needs, but commuting to and from Cardiff, from home in Llanelli has been a major challenge, with in excess of twenty-four hours a week sometimes spent on public transport. The equivalent of one day in seven on buses and trains is not sustainable in the long term – physically above all – and continued full-time ministry will come to depend on the establishment of a priestly-base in the city, and this needs to be under our own roof, not reliant on the generosity and charity of other good souls.

To return the passing year… One of our greatest joys has been the baptism of our adult converts, most of them having been prepared for baptism through our Butetown catechism sessions.

Early Advent saw Aldhelm’s baptism in the waters of the River Ewenny at Ogmore Castle, with the brave young man being plunged into the icy waters on a beautiful December afternoon.

April and Lazarus Saturday saw George’s baptism in the sea at Watch House Bay, in Barry, in rather warmer circumstances, so that he was able to commune on Palm Sunday and was sacramentally prepared for his Pascha holiday in Greece.

Saturday of the Ascension, in June, took us to St Nicholas-in-the-Vale, where Melangell was baptised in the garden of the Old Church Hall.

We returned on the eve of the Dormition to baptise Mary before vespers for the feast, which was also her first nameday. We are very grateful to Melangell for making the garden available for adult baptisms and for expressing willingness to do so in the future.

James would have been baptised last month, had family illness not prevented it, and we look forward to doing so in the next few weeks, on his return from Seattle.

We also look forward to the baptism of our student catechumen, Thomas, who will be baptised and named in honour of St Vasily the Blessed around the feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God. This is no coincidence, as St Vasily – the Blessed Basil – was buried in the cathedral of the Protecting Veil, on Red Square, where his shrine is still a place of pilgrimage.

During the Church Year, pilgrimages have seen small groups of us head to Llancarfan, Llandaff, Bradford on Avon, Glastonbury, with parishioners also visiting Penrhys, and Pennant Melangell.

We have also made several local pilgrimages to the shrine of St Alban in the Cardiff Oratory, praying before his relics and icon.

I had rather hoped that we would have regular pilgrimages, but – for various reasons – this has not happened, this year.

I have also been blessed to serve in Walsingham in February, April and July, and look forward to hopefully returning in November, possibly with a parish group. ROCOR has been part of the life of the shrine since the 1930’s, and it is a great joy to continue the diocesan presence. It is a place where the Mother of God feels extremely near, and pilgrimage to this little corner of North Norfolk is special time spent with Our Lady.

House blessings have taken the clergy to Wiltshire and Somerset, as well as visiting parish homes in Cardiff and its environs, and the greatest blessing of all was the visit of the Kursk-Root Icon, which visited some parish homes in Chippenham, Cardiff and the Vale, in addition to services in Cardiff and Cheltenham, and the clergy’s journey taking the icon to Telford.

After previous visits of the Kursk-Root Icon, most parish homes have been visited, though there are several exceptions which are our priority next time the Mother of God blesses us with a visit of her wonderworking-icon.

Deacon Mark and I have also served in the cathedral during the year, concelebrating at some of the great feasts, including the altar-feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God and being part of a parish group who celebrated Theophany in the cathedral, where – for once – I had the pleasure of blessing the faithful with copious amounts of holy water. Following the ROCOR tradition, I also concelebrated the Mystery of Holy Unction (Soborovanie) and the Liturgy of Holy and Great Thursday with Bishop Irenei and the clergy of the diocese during Holy Week, with the beautiful rite of the washing of the feet.

The Cheltenham parish continues to be served from Cardiff, and after internal problems last summer (and despite the loss of the use of All Saints, Pittville), parish life has settled down.

We sometimes struggle musically, and lack the beauty of All Saints, but the little community overflows with love and is so incredibly prayerful and spiritual that every visit to the little nonconformist chapel we use in Prestbury is a wonderful blessing.

The arrival of our greatly loved ‘extended parishioners’ from Ukraine has brought great joy, and we have parishioners travelling from as far as Exeter each month. This Saturday, in fact, will see our last Cheltenham Liturgy of the Church Year, when we shall celebrate the Saints of the Far Caves, in Kiev.

With a reduction of the number of Liturgies in Llanelli, we are benefitting from having Father Luke with us, and are very happy to have some of the faithful from further west joining us every few weeks, with Nicholas and Silouana assisting with reading the Hours and thanksgiving prayers, and Isaiah taking photographs for our local Facebook pages.

On the theme of readers, it is good that we now have a small band of very capable readers from the Cardiff and Llanelli parishes, and look forward to advancing several of our men towards being tonsured by Vladika Irenei in the not-too-distant future.

I am planning some practical workshops for the autumn, and hope that we can spend time looking at the structure of the services and how they ‘fit together’ in terms of variables and the sources of texts. Several parishioners have asked for something of this sort since buying the recently published Anthologion. As a start, I will talk about the Hours and the Psalter after compline this Friday. We will also undertake formal training of readers.

Having already mentioned our Friday catechism / discussion group in St Mary Butetown, I should say that this has not only been for the benefit of catechumens, but also for other parishioners who have attended and deepened their knowledge of the Faith. Our Friday evenings in St Mary’s have also been a social time of great joy and fellowship.

We recently observed that such joyful community celebration seems to be the character of every gathering at St Mary’s, where parishioners clearly feel at home. This is why it was such a joy to celebrate Holy Week and Pascha in the great Victorian sanctuary, gathering in the choir-stalls and celebrating at the high-altar. Following this great success, our weekday Liturgies for feasts have been celebrated at St Mary’s, with a festive trapeza following each Liturgy in the parish room.

There are no doubt things that I’ve forgotten – and I AM so forgetful, these days – but I’m sure that there will be be gentle reminders pointing out things to add to our round up!

Many thanks to everyone who had been so positive, so supportive and so generous during the last year. The parish only operates so well because its brothers and sisters work together, and give so much, as do our benefactors.

Parish life and priestly life is still a challenge, given the lack of our own temple, but the Lord knows far more than us, and such is His will that this is our lot until He sees fit to grant us our heart’s desire.

In the meantime we struggle forward in Faith and prayer: for one another; for our parish and other diocesan communities; for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; for our bishop, Vladyka Irenei, and for all of our bishops as they approach the procedure to elect our next First-Hierarch.

We remember those who have gone before us in Faith, particularly our recently departed and beloved First-Hierarch Metropolitan Hilarion, of Blessed Memory.

And – soon we will invoke God’s blessing for the new Church year, knowing that it will bring blessings and challenges, and that with God’s help, we will have more to celebrate at this time next year, when – as now – we will say, “Glory to God for all things! Слава Богу за всё!”

With love in Christ – Hieromonk Mark

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