by Fr. Dcn John-Mark Titterington
We all have a story which defines us. It is not a history, nor even a biography which starts with date of birth and moves on to the end of the road. Our story resides in our heart and tells us who we are in the world and how we fit in. The story develops as we grow older and one thing is certain — our story has a deciding influence on our actions, thoughts and decisions. Allow me, then, to tell my story as I see it.
My parents were what was used to be called “high-church Anglicans” and I was introduced gradually into their way of worshipping. This involved, not only going to our own Parish Church, but often to other “higher” churches with more “atmosphere” and a greater sense of the numinous.One Easter Sunday morning at Holy Communion, I felt that I had a vision. It was of a very bright light in the Church which seemed to be beckoning me on. At the time, I said nothing to anyone — for I was afraid — afraid because it gradually dawned on me that the vision seemed to be calling me to a life in the ordained ministry. The first person to whom I confided was the Head of my RC Secondary School who, very wisely, neither tried to discourage me or build up expectations. The outcome, he seemed to say, would be decided by exam results – a typical Head’s approach.
After some false starts and four years in the armed forces during and after WWII, I managed to obtain a theological degree; be accepted into an Anglican theological college and marry a wife, before being ordained. There followed thirty years of parish ministry in the Manchester Diocese.
The strange thing was, that early on in that ministry, I became aware that in some important issues the Western Church was mistaken and the Eastern Church right.
The first of these “bumps” came early in the first incumbency over the difficulties concerning the baptism and subsequent confirmation, of infants. The C of E’s guidelines on these did not work and were frequently counter-productive.
By contrast, the Eastern Churches practice seemed precise, compact and complete. Eventually, it became clear that we had lost contact with the original policy of the undivided Church in the sacraments of Holy Communion, matrimony and ordination.
This, I found to be, unsettling and the new forms of service which arrived in the 1960s seemed to do nothing to help: rather they widened the gap between the modern and the original Church and at the same time destroying what sense of the numinous remained. Life became very difficult and very different, but there seemed no way of dealing with these sort of problems.
Probably I was not alone in the C of E at that time kidding myself by playing at being “Orthodox”.
Then another problem reared its head – the cry for the ordination of women. I was twice elected on a negative ticket, to represent some of the clergy of the Manchester Diocese on the new General Synod of the C of E, but after six years, it was obvious that there was no future in this and I did not seek re-election. The untimely death of my wife allowed me to volunteer to join the Anglican Church in Papua New Guinea, which had been a possibility for me way back in the 1950s.
Before setting out for Papua New Guinea, I became a Novice of the Oblates of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield, and a Papuan brother of the Society of St Francis received, on behalf of CR, my Oblation the following year. The support which this gave cannot be exaggerated. For the first time in my life, my own spiritual life and my ministry in the Church, seemed to come together. Partly, this was because we were geared to mission.
Eleven years in Papua New Guinea were among the happiest and most fulfilling in my life but then there arose the question: what to do on returning to the UK? Whilst overseas, I twice sent for the Directory of Orthodox Parishes in the UK only to find that the nearest ones worshipping in English were in Bath and Oxford. Once in England, I tried to wait patiently for some guidance from the Lord: O for another vision!
This came on 10th July 1993 when THE TABLET printed an article which said that a group of Anglican priests were setting up an English-speaking Orthodox Church under the Patriarchate of Antioch. To read this was for me, a Damascus road experience and a very welcome green light.
Another up-heaval; a painful time of breaking life-long connections and then of finding the way in a new and different Church, with new people and a new and
different life-style. Looking back, the strange thing is, that there was never a thought of giving up the newly-found treasure and trying to regain lost pastures. It was a typical Church paradox, the future for us lay in the original Church, the one which had planted Christianity first of all in these Islands, only to have it destroyed in 1066. The vision now was, under God’s guidance, to try to build up a branch of the Orthodox Church in Great Britain which once more worshipped in the language of the people of the land
Twenty-two of us were Chrismated (ie anointed) into Orthodoxy on Palm Sunday 1995 and received with the gracious embrace of “Welcome home!” Similar ceremonies were held in ten centres around the country, after the priests had been ordained to serve them. It was another three years before I was called to Paris to be ordained Deacon by Bishop Gabriel, as was he was then, though he is now Metropolitan of Western Europe, and we hope, soon, he will send us our own Bishop in the UK.
The spiritual journey from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, was not such a big leap and we were not asked to abjure anything of our past, except any known heresy.
It is more true to say that it was a genuine homecoming, which has been likened to that of the Prodigal Son walking back into the home where his mother pressed him close to her heart, never to leave her again Like that famous lost son, we may have found it awkward for a while in the new home, as there is a gap of almost a millennium in British Orthodox Christianity, and the challenge for us lies in re-building our rightful heritage.
Few people realise what this entails because of the difference, now, between the (original) Eastern Christian way of worshipping God and the modern Western way. It does mean that there is a.lot to be done and we try to do our best to get on and do it with God’s guidance.