The Genesis of the Deanery
A Personal Perspective from Fr. Gregory Hallam
The Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy group of Anglican clergy meet with His Beatitude, Patriarch Ignatios of Antioch and all the East with his Vicar, His Grace, Bishop Gabriel in Paris in 1993
The establishment of the
Antiochian Orthodox Deanery in the United Kingdom in 1995 was arguably a
miracle of divine grace. The opposition to such a venture encountered by
members of the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy (as it was then called), sadly by
many Orthodox as well as non-Orthodox alike, made many of its members
sometimes question whether or not the initiative would indeed succeed. Most
from these initial groups becoming Orthodox were communities of ex-Anglicans
with their priests who had withdrawn from the Church of England on matters
of principle (the increasing liberalisation of its doctrinal base and the
ordination of women amongst many issues).
The love of Orthodoxy by these groups both preceded and informed this disenchantment such that by 1993 they were convinced that in order to be authentically Orthodox they must actually become Orthodox. Remember that these pilgrims constituted existing worshipping communities of friends. At the very least they hoped to stay together as they journeyed into the Orthodox Church. They longed that their pastors who had sacrificed so much with them on the journey might one day be ordained to serve them anew but as Orthodox priests. In this matter, however, they all submitted to the Church's judgement preferring only to ask that they be kept together and in areas where there was no Orthodox parish using English as a first language to form the nucleus of a new parish. All would be prepared individually for reception but the talk was of new Orthodox communities.
Initial meetings in Birmingham and High Wycombe had called together and established a highly motivated group of people across the country who were eager to see the project move forward. In the early days the American Antiochian Archdiocese was involved in facilitating and resourcing this pilgrimage which was just as well bearing in mind the negative reaction of many other Orthodox in the UK. Notwithstanding this reaction the pastors in the Pilgrimage considered it important to make some sort of formal approach to the Greek and Russian dioceses. A meeting to this end was convened in Oxford in 1993 but it soon became clear that the only method of reception made available to the groups would see their break up and assimilation into existing Orthodox parishes. That most of these routes also involved significant distances of travel and an entirely alien tongue for English speaking converts it soon became clear that such options would be still-born.
Sadly, it also became clear that a Committee set up to facilitate understanding between the Church of England and the Orthodox Church in respect of former Anglican converts was being convened without any consultation with the concerned parties. Rightly or wrongly and in the absence of such involvement many pilgrim groups suspected that these consultations were being used to obstruct the pilgrimage, not to facilitate it. Largely because the Committee had no involvement with the pilgrim groups themselves it found itself with little business to conduct and soon ceased to meet, (more especially when the Patriarch of Antioch had himself intervened).
The Antiochian Orthodox Church had
obviously been following these unfolding events with careful concern and
because the pilgrimage was now causing ripples in the media and even in the
Anglican Church itself, the Patriarch of Antioch, His Beatitude Ignatios IV,
took the initiative with the Antiochian bishop in Europe, His Grace, Gabriel
of Palmyra in taking over responsibility for these pilgrim groups. To this
end, there was a meeting with the Patriarch and the Bishop in Paris in
September 1994 which proved to be a great encouragement to all involved. By
the end of 1994 it became clear that there would be ordinations and
receptions in the Vicariate (later a Diocese) and that the Antiochian
presence in the UK would now grow beyond the large Arabic useage congregation in
London to a new English speaking Deanery constituted for the purpose of
receiving English speaking converts. The first ordinations and receptions
took place just before Pascha in 1995 and soon there were 9 new parishes
which together with new missions had grown to 17 some 12 years later.
The repose of Metropolitan Gabriel in 2007 and the accession of Metropolitan
John in 2008 marks a new and exciting chapter in the development of Orthodox
Christianity and Ireland in particular and Europe in general. Many
The Deanery, although still modest in size, has contributed disproportionately to the growth of indigenous Orthodoxy in the United Kingdom. Antiochian Orthodox play major roles in many national Orthodox societies and have pioneered local mission and the use of English. The Deanery seeks to work with all other Orthodox in the United Kingdom in extending and deepening Orthodox Faith and Life. The original vision of the founders of the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy has indeed born fruit and holds much promise for the future.