I was very pleased to have been invited to participate in the annual Indian Orthodox family conference, which took place this year at Yarnfield Park Conference Centre, near Stafford. I had been given permission to attend by H.E. Metropolitan Seraphim, and then by H.G. Bishop Angaelos, and this was a wonderful opportunity to meet old friends such as Father George Joy, of the Hemel Hempstead congregation, and to receive the blessing of H.E. Mor Thimothios, the bishop of the Indian Orthodox Church in the UK with responsibility for much of Europe and Africa as well.
A Youth Conference was taking place from last Wednesday, 26th August, while delegates of the Family Conference arrived on Friday evening, 28th August. I had arranged to arrive early in the morning of Saturday, 29th August, and set off from home about 5:30 am.
The theme of the conference was “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”, and I had been asked to speak to the Family Conference, and the Youth Conference on this theme. The conference was very well organised, and since I was staying overnight so that I might attend the Sunday Liturgy, I was checked into a very attractive room in the Conference Centre.
I spoke to the Family Conference about those things that are needed if our youth are to set out themselves on the spiritual journey of our life towards union with God in the heart by the indwelling Holy Spirit. I used the analogy of a traveller and suggested that all pilgrims, and we must all be and become pilgrims, need a clear destination that we are setting out for. We need a map that describes the obstacles and highlights of our journey so that we do not become discouraged. And we need to be properly equipped and nourished for the journey. I related these necessary aspects to our own Orthodox Spiritual tradition. But I concluded that what the youth most needed was to be guided and discipled by those who had already set out on the journey of union with God, of theosis, so that they could lead with confidence, integrity and authenticity, and that therefore what was most needed was that we become those Christians we wished the youth to become.
When I spoke to the youth I tried to convey some sense of the essential character and substance of our Orthodox faith and life. That it is not essentially a matter of practices, however useful and necessary these are. But that the essence of our Orthodox Christianity is to have a true and transforming experience of God, so that we are made into those unique persons that God has created us to be. I tried to express the idea that if we have not yet experienced God for ourselves in an increasing measure then we should not abandon what we have not yet tasted but seek the substance of the spiritual life even more, until we do.
After a restful night’s sleep I joined the other priests and faithful in the presence of H.E. Mor Thimothios, who celebrated the Liturgy in Malayalam. I was made entirely welcome, and despite the language barrier during the Liturgy I was able to vest and hold a candle at the appropriate time and participate in the worship of the Lord in the beauty of holiness. There was a depth of spirituality in the service, not least because the youth and the other participants had been patiently waiting to speak to their priests and make their confessions until 4:30 am on Sunday morning.
After the Liturgy I was glad to have fruitful conversations with Indian Orthodox from many of the 23 churches that this community has now established. And after joining the other clergy and their bishop with the adults, youth and children to review and reflect on the activity, I said my goodbyes and left them having received much blessing.
I was only a short distance from Stoke, where the English language mission of the Orthodox Community of St Chad of the Coptic Orthodox Church is located. So I took advantage of my having already driven to the area and spent several happy hours with some of the community there. We are all excited about the possibilities for service and growth within the Coptic Orthodox Church as God wills. I will return in a week and we will hold a business meeting, and start to prayerfully determine what God would have us do.