The Cheltenham Mission

Dear brothers and sisters,

Many of you will be painfully aware of the unfolding events surrounding the schism within our diocese, in which one archpriest, has led two deacons, a group of readers (and two non-ROCOR Moldovan priests) to the former Paris ‘Exarchate’, which has received them without canonical release by our ruling hierarch, Bishop Irenei. The ROCOR clerics have all been suspended.

It has been claimed that the communities involved are moving, with their clerics, after a meeting and vote.

This affects us in the west, as the Cheltenham parish (served by the Cardiff clergy until recently) has been drawn into this. Its reader, Philip Hicks (now suspended) is one of those who has followed the suspended Archpriest, Andrew Phillips.

This is very sad as the Cheltenham parish has been a wonderful example of community-life during and after lockdown, in which Reader Philip has selflessly ensured not only the maintenance, but also the growth of parish prayer life.

There have been openly discussed and acknowledged frustrations regarding provision of a priest, and uncertainty about the future, which may have led to the exploration of alternative ways forward.

However, this was not done openly, but without any discussion with Father Deacon Mark or I, and without discussion with our Chancellor or Bishop, as far as I am aware. Clearly, there were discussions with other parties, who involved Cheltenham (without the knowledge of the parishioners) in their own plans and schemes.

Contrary to claims, the few Cheltenham parishioners with whom Deacon Mark and I have spoken have said they know nothing of this move, and that there has been no meeting or parish discussion regarding a change of jurisdiction. Parishioners have referred to vague allusions to alternatives, but no group discussion.

Last night, together with his new Dean, the suspended Reader Philip made an on-line announcement that a meeting will be held this Wednesday to discuss and vote on this matter, despite the fact that he now claims to belong to another jurisdiction and under the omophorion of another bishop. This is obviously an anomaly, and for a ROCOR parish this meeting is unconstitutional.

The clergy who have served the parish cannot even get replies to emails, and I am sadly unable to communicate with most Cheltenham parishioners, as only Reader Philip has their contact details, and has sole administrator rights of all social media. For a considerable time, my greetings and homilies have not been published on the Cheltenham Facebook page, and this seems to suggest a gradual de-ROCORisation of the parish, as Deacon Mark and I have been airbrushed out of parish identity.

From the perspective of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, what has been reported and what is being planned is irregular, uncanonical and an abuse. All of these machinations are a painful betrayal of the trust of the parish, the clergy and diocese, trampling on the obedience which is the very foundation of any ministry in the Church.

I wish to stress that despite the burdens of combining full-time work and parish responsibilities, the Cardiff clergy will continue to minister to the Cheltenham faithful who reject this schism and remain faithful to their Church.

I urgently ask Cheltenham parishioners to contact the clergy to seek clarification, accurate information, and assurance.

Email: and .

Telephone: Hieromonk Mark 07593 239947 (though unavailable until this evening) and Deacon Mark 07790 031375.

Please pray fervently for the peace of the Church and all involved in this tragedy, and share this information with Cheltenham parishioners.

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

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