Seminarian Participates in Diocesan Placement in UK

My name is Aiden Harrington, and I’m a second year seminarian at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary. During my first year in seminary a great opportunity was presented to the unmarried seminarians in which we would be able to spend roughly six weeks moving around different parishes within the ROCOR Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe. During this time we would be able to spend time serving in the altar, singing in choirs, assisting with Church needs, and traveling with clergy on pastoral visits. Students who applied for this travel program would be placed in a nation based on what their language competency was. Students with Russian speaking backgrounds and knowledge in Church Slavonic would have more flexibility with their placement. For me, my only language is English, but this wouldn’t be an issue for me as I preferred placement in the United Kingdom—with much of my heritage being from these lands. I immediately started doing research on the parishes of the United Kingdom and put my hat in the ring. 

Excited at the thought of traveling, I actually already started contact with one of the priests in the United Kingdom who was working with our Dean of Students, Hieromonk Theodore (Stanway) to organize the trip. That spring I found out I would be presented with the opportunity to participate in the travel program. Eventually with the support of my family, I purchased my tickets to spend six weeks in the United Kingdom from June 13, 2023, to July 26, 2023. I would be spending my time at four parishes. These parishes were; the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God and the Holy Royal Martyrs in Chiswick, London; the Mission Parish of the All-Merciful Saviour, St Leonards on Sea; the Parish and College of the Mother of God ‘Joy of All Who Sorrow’, Mettingham; and the Parish of St Elizabeth the New Martyr, Wallasey.

On July 26, 2023, I finally made it to the United Kingdom safely. Landing at London Heathrow airport, I would go on to spend the first part of my trip staying with a host family in Ascot, UK, and attend services at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God and the Holy Royal Martyrs in Chiswick. During my time at the cathedral I spent more time serving in the altar and observing the different serving practices in the diocese from what I’m familiar with in Jordanville. I’d never thought I’d see a fresco of my patron Saint in an Orthodox Church, but the cathedral proved otherwise. Staying so close to London, it was very easy to take the train into the city and get around easily with the London tube.

The next part of my trip was spent in the Southeast of the country at the Mission Parish of the All-Merciful Saviour in a town called St. Leonards on Sea. This parish is located on the property of a beautiful bed and breakfast modeled after 1890s Victorian England managed by the Priest, Fr. Alexander Groves. The chapel itself is small, and the parish is really growing—it was difficult to move around during Liturgy! A short trip from the chapel and you’ll find yourself right at the beach overlooking the English channel.

Next, I made my way to the Parish and College of the Mother of God ‘Joy of All Who Sorrow’,  in Mettingham. The parish is located in a remote location thirty minutes south of Norwich, and directly adjacent to a town called Beccles. I stayed with Fr. Dcn Andrew Bond in a beautiful manor house titled ‘The White House’, and on the property there was a nice wooden Church. Fr. Dcn Andrew runs the St. George Information Service which is a great resource focusing on “distributing Church books, candles, cards and supplies and free paper Orthodox News.” The services are pretty much fully English, and there is a strong veneration of the saints of the British Isles in Mettingham. With Fr. Dcn Andrew I visited the Church of St. Botolph in Iken. The Priest at Mettingham, Fr. Mark Tattum-Smith with his family took me to visit the site of St. King Edmund’s martyrdom. Fr. Mark is the co-chair of the diocese’s ‘Saints of the British Isles Liturgical Project’ which is focused on gathering hymnography for the Saints of the British Isles and eventually commissioning new materials.

The last parish I visited was St. Elisabeth the New Martyr in Wallasey. The town of Wallasey is directly across the River Mersey from the city of Liverpool. St. Elisabeth’s is probably the second largest ROCOR parish in the UK, and has grown so much that it is jokingly referred to as “The Cathedral of the North” by Bishop Irenei. The parish has three Priests, one Deacon, and two Subdeacons. My stay in Wallasey was great and marked by many Priestly visits with the rector, Fr. Paul. In our travels we visited St. Winifred’s well in Wales. 

My stay in the United Kingdom changed my perspective of many things greatly, notably how I look at seminary. It’s very easy to forget why we as seminarians choose this path. The temptation of despondency can sometimes feel overwhelming at times. Being secluded in a monastic environment, although spiritually formative, comes with great struggle.With my stay in the UK, I remembered why I embarked on this path of seminary in the first place. Being able to visit parishes of different sizes whether it be a huge cathedral such as our cathedral in London, or a smaller rural parish such as Mettingham gives us seminarians real insight into the operation, struggles, and labors it takes to serve the Church. With this insight it provides a much clearer idea of where our path may lead in service to Christ and His Church after our time in seminary concludes.

This trip allowed me to have a glimpse into the rich Orthodox history of the British Isles and her Saints. I will forever be grateful for the experiences going on pilgrimages, observing pastoral duties and care, and spending time with Orthodox youth groups. I encourage all seminarians to go on a Church centered trip to another diocese if you get the chance to—maybe you too, will have a variety of new perspectives.

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