Or­tho­doxy is Grow­ing

The Church of England - - SUNDAY -

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

on peter@brier­leyres.com.

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