Orthodoxy is Growing
are located in England, nine per cent in Scotland, three per cent in Wales and two per cent in N Ireland. The biggest denomination by far is the Greek Orthodox Church, accounting for just over half, 51 per cent, of the overall total.
Greeks have been coming to this country for many years. In 2009, the Office for National Statistics estimated that some 290,000 people of the UK population were Greekborn, about one person in every 200. About two-thirds of these are notionally members of the Greek Orthodox Church. Relatively few Orthodox, of whatever denomination, attend church – and perhaps seven per cent of these Greek Orthodox do so at least once a month. It is very different at Easter, however, when many thousands of Orthodox attend special services affirming “Christ is Risen! Hallelujah!” The British Greek Orthodox are part of the Diocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, in turn part of the OEcumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The next largest group are the Russian Orthodox, difficult to count precisely because of the various splits and mergers that have occurred in recent years, but roughly a third the size of the UK Greek Orthodox. In June 2006 the Russian Orthodox Church leader in Britain, Bishop Basil, caused a split by beginning a parallel European Diocese centred in Paris; in 2007 two Russian Orthodox Churches united.
There are also many smaller Orthodox Churches, such as the Romanian (60,000 members in the UK in 2013), the Armenian (23,000), the Ethiopian (6,000), the Antiochan (also 6,000), the Bulgarian (5,000), the Ukrainian (also 5,000), the Eritrean (4,000), the Serbian and the Georgian (each 4,000), the Coptic (3,000), the Byelorussian and the Syrian (both 2,000) and several smaller groups.
There is also the Coptic Orthodox Church of Wales, and a special English branch of the Coptic Church. So the Orthodox are a very mixed group of (mostly) European nations, growing in the UK because of migration. For example, there were 5,000 Bulgarians in England in 2001 but 46,000 in 2011; 12,000 Ukrainians in 2001 but 21,000 a decade later; less than a thousand from Eritrea in 2001 but 5,000 in 2011.
So what can we learn from such growth?
1) The importance of befriending those of other nationalities. It isn’t just a question of giving a warm welcome, but actively initiating places, such as a church hall, where they can meet others from the same community and speak their language.
2) The Orthodox growth has been across many different nationalities without anyone seeking to co-ordinate the whole. In other words, there is less central administration but more people doing whatever is necessary locally, allowing the initiative and entrepreneurship vital for encouraging local community action.
For example, some churches join together in an area to provide a regular afternoon of English language teaching, with a crèche, especially for immigrants’ wives who have little opportunity to acquire English language skills or meet young English mothers.
Such a welcome is not to be confined to those of other nationalities. People of different culture, class, social standing all need to be reached and welcomed in an appropriate way whoever and wherever they are. Dr Peter Brierley may be contacted