Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of the British Isles and  Ireland
"the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."

[Acts 11:26] 

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Deanery 2009 Archive

Ordination of Christopher Neill to the Diaconate
Paris, 5th December 2009 to serve the parish of Holy Cross, Lancaster.

ordination group
Metropolitan John ordains Christopher Metropolitan John with Fr. Deacon Christopher and his son, Duncan

 Fr. Deacon Christopher writes ...

I have been asked to report on my ordination to the diaconate which took place at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Stephen in Paris on 5th December.  My son, Duncan, attended together with two friends who came with us. I am told that it was a splendid hierarchical Liturgy but my recollection is patchy; I spent a lot of it standing with a towel over my head!

My son and I arrived early and found a locked church, so we waited.  I then rang Sayedna John to check the time, and soon afterwards we were let in; lights were lit and we were greeted by members of the congregation intrigued to meet this candidate for high office.  There is nothing odd about a Syrian Metropolitan ordaining an Englishman in a Greek Cathedral in Paris! Such is the Orthodox Church.

I lit candles for myself, my late wife Jackie, my son and the people I am to serve with and amongst.  Sayedna arrived, beaming at me, and clearly understood my nerves.  He literally held my hand soothingly. Then I was in the altar and he explained what was to happen. After months of facing this event it was happening, it was up there with marriage, the birth of my son.... far bigger than graduation or a new job.

Various people appeared, vested and resolved themselves into priests, hieromonks, a deacon and servers. I was greeted welcomed, encouraged and then stood quietly inside the south deacons' door until being led out to the throne, and eased to my knees. It seems that I was taken rather than escorted. I was under the archbishops omophorion and being prayed over.  Then I vividly recall  holding a bowl and pouring water over his hands and then I was “parked” in front of the icon of Christ at the iconostasis with a towel over my head.

I had been advised to pray hard at this point and did so.  I was aware I was tired, my legs trembled like that of a tired horse on parade. At one point I lost my grip and nearly dropped  the silver bowl.  I was also aware of being very "in the moment" and of feeling very like a small boy, my 8 year old self. Perhaps the real me as coming out?  I was delighted to be  a sub-deacon; could I just leave now?

Meanwhile my stole, tied round my waist was slipping loose and I was seriously concerned it would come off.  I think it was Fr. Gregory who retied it for me when he came to brief me about the Great Entrance procession.  I processed at the end, realising that I was in a full church and I heard the sub-deacon Christopher commemorated, before being parked again, this time in front of the Mother of God icon.

So I stand, towel still over my head before being taken through the royal doors. I am lead around, kiss here, here, here, and here as I am lead round the Holy Table. The archbishop sits to one side of it, a magnificent figure in vestments and mitre so as not to turn his back on the sanctified gifts.  I kiss his hand as directed and I am relieved that this personification of church authority at its most ancient is also the gentle man I respect and love.  The process is repeated again and again then I am kneeing, hands either side of my bowed head, clutching the altar table itself. I didn’t quite cry.  I had been tearful for days by now; this was beyond that.  The scariest part of the service comes now. I hear the archbishop's words that God is ordaining me by his hand. God physically present and close by is ordaining me to a sacred ministry.  Then the lovely man is sorting out my orarion over my shoulders.  The word “AXIOS!” is heard. The response includes firmly and emphatically my son's voice from the front rows of the congregation.  In Arabic and English too I am told I am worthy.

I receive Holy Communion, and this time, the first in my new rank, it is taken as separate elements. After the Communion of the people I am led out to do offer a short litany, now serving as a deacon for real. I pass over Sayedna's sermon except to say his greetings to us all in Britain  and Fr. Michael were especially warm and emphatic.  It then took a priest and a server to loosen my sticharion, I think a loop got twisted round a button ... but then it is over. I emerge in anteri and rasson and find I am taken seriously as a clergyman. On my early visits to the Holy Mountain (Mount Athos) I found priest monks daunting until I knew better.  Now I am addressed as a friend and a colleague. A cup of excellent Syrian coffee and more congratulations.  I hear myself addressed as Father for the first time (by a man called George).

Well my nerves did not fail me. I went through with it. My only regret is that my late wife Jackie was not there to share the joy.  The host congregation were pleased to see an Englishman ordained.

After all that, has it changed me? The short answer is no; I am simply more myself now. The longer answer is yes; very profoundly but I am still a “work in progress.” Please be patient with me!

With  my love and prayers
The very new Deacon Christopher.


Annual Deanery Conference 2009

Whirlow Grange 2009

His Eminence Metropolitan John (left centre)
and His Eminence Metropolitan Saba (right centre)

subdeacons group photograph
Subdiaconal Ordinations Full Group Photograph

PHOTOALBUM - ZIPPED PHOTOS - AUDIO 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8

(Photoalbum can be viewed but not saved.  To save rather than run sound and images in your browser, use right click).

The Annual British and Irish Deanery Conference met at Whirlow Grange Conference Centre near Sheffield from 13th to the 15th of July, presided over by His Eminence Metropolitan John of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Western and Central Europe with honoured guests, His Eminence Metropolitan Saba of the Archdiocese of Bosra Hauran, Jabal Al Arab and all the Golan and Father Parthenios Allati, all of whom delivered lectures on the Conference theme:- "Liturgical Celebrations."

With the many different cultures, languages and traditions represented both within the Archdiocese and the Deanery itself it has become especially necessary for liturgical practice to reflect certain basic common features of the Antiochian patrimony whilst providing also for a necessary diversity particular to the situation and needs of each part and place. 

The three conference speakers covered these issues admirably with both learning and pastoral sensitivity to the holy offering of the people of God.  The Deanery thought itself richly blessed to have in its bishop an archpastor with true insight and experienced guidance in these matters.  In Metropolitan Saba we had a man of God who had similar gifts of understanding acquired in leading the renaissance of his own Archdiocese during the last 10 years of his residency in Sweida.  The learning of Fr. Parthenios complemented the richness of this lectureship team beautifully.

In the worship of these three days, Sayedna John ordained three men to the subdiaconate; Cowey Barbour, Christopher Parsons (both serving in London) and John Hickey (Dublin).  He also tonsured Maximos Murray as a Reader (Belfast).

The wisdom, holy love and joy of these three days for a number of Deanery members to meet with our Metropolitan over an extended period was a real blessing; the first, God willing, we are sure, of many more to come.