“The British Orthodox Church (Metropolis of Glastonbury) is the Indigenous Orthodox Church of Britain – Abba Seraphim
OCP-COS-MARP – 11/9/2020
An exclusive interview with His Beatitude Abba Seraphim – VIIth British Patriarch and Primate of the British Orthodox Church – Metropolis of Glastonbury.
Your Beatitude, please provide an overview of Orthodox Christianity and its historical relations with the British Isles
Most people think of Orthodoxy as a strange ‘foreign’ variant of Christianity because its principal centres are Russia, Greece, the Balkans and the Middle East. Yet Orthodoxy is not limited to one particular nation or part of the world, as it maintains the traditions of primitive Christianity, untarnished by modern additions or subtractions and, as such, is the universal heritage of all Christians everywhere. Orthodoxy means both right belief and right worship and, therefore, Orthodox regard their Church as the Church which guards and teaches the true belief about God and which glorifies Him with right worship, that is, as nothing less than the Church of Christ on earth.
It may seem a contradiction to speak about Orthodoxy as universal on one hand and British on the other, yet it is not really so. The Orthodox Church is a family of self-governing or autocephalous (Greek: own-head) churches held together, not by any centralised organisation like the Papacy, but by unity of faith and church order. Each church has its own presiding Bishop, who may be called Archbishop, Metropolitan, Patriarch or Catholicos, depending on the tradition of the local church. They vary in size from the autocephalous church of Mount Sinai (comprising 20 or so monks in the monastic community, as well as a few hundred Bedouins and fishermen who live in the Sinai), to that of Russia (perhaps as many as 110 million, comprising 95 million in Russia, with a total of 15 million in linked autonomous churches), yet each local church enjoys the same freedom to direct its own internal affairs within the Orthodox tradition.
Many people still regard Orthodoxy as a form of Christianity totally unsuited to the West and argue that either the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of England are more satisfactory alternatives to Orthodoxy and certainly more in keeping with the western temperament. We would not agree that either of these are Orthodox, either in practice or in spirit, but believe that Orthodoxy, far from being a universal import, is the true faith of the West.
The British Isles did not owe their conversion to the Roman Catholic Church but derived their faith directly from the missionaries and evangelists of the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic eras. Holy Tradition asserts that the faith was brought to Britain by St. Joseph of Arimathea statim post passionem Christi (Latin: immediately after the passion of Christ), but we can also turn to concrete documentary and archaeological facts to prove that the British Isles received the Christian Faith nearly nine centuries before Holy Russia was evangelised. British bishops are recorded as having participated in the councils of Arles (314), Nicaea I (325) Sardica (347) and Ariminium (359). In the Diocletian persecution of 303 British bishops of London, York, Llandaff, Glasgow and Carlisle, along with priests and deacons and some 900 other martyrs, gave their lives for the Faith. During the great Arian controversy, when many of the Eastern Sees fell into heresy, the British were commended by St. Athanasios the Great for their Orthodoxy.
It was not until 597 that Pope Gregory the Great despatched the monk Augustine to evangelise the pagan Saxons, who had driven the Christian Celts into the West. Augustine’s mission tried every possible means of crushing the individuality and autocephaly of the Celtic Church until finally, at a synod held at Whitby in 664; they were tricked into accepting the rule of Rome. As late as the 11th century some remote outposts of Celtic Christianity still clung to their Orthodoxy and distinctive customs, but these were steadily and relentlessly crushed into a rigid Roman uniformity. In 1054 the full breach of unity between the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman) Church occurred and thereafter Orthodoxy – once our natural heritage – was lost to the West.
“The British Orthodox Church of the British Isles is a local church, holding to the historic faith and order of the Apostolic Church, committed to the restoration of Orthodoxy among the indigenous population and desiring to provide a powerful witness to the Orthodox Faith and Tradition in an increasingly secular society” (Shenouda III, + Seraphim). 
What is the British Orthodox Church?
The British Orthodox Church (Metropolis of Glastonbury) is the indigenous Orthodox Church of this country. Orthodoxy was finally restored to the British Isles in 1866 when the Œcumenical Metropolitan of the Syrian ‘Jacobite’ Church (who later became Patriarch Môr Ignatius Peter IV) consecrated a French ex-Dominican priest, Jules Ferrette, as Môr Julius, Bishop of Iona and sent him into Britain to restore the indigenous Orthodox Church. Although the ‘Jacobites’ were alleged to accept the Monophysite heresy, the Oriental Orthodox churches were actually Miaphysites so were faithful to the apostolic theology of St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria. From Môr Julius (Ferrette), a line of ‘British Patriarchs’ descends, of which I am the seventh. In 1994, through the generous support and hospitality of the late Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Shenouda III, the British Orthodox Church was received into union with the Alexandrian Patriarchate and thereby entered into full communion with all the Oriental Orthodox churches, from which it had originated in 1866, and which once fully established, enabled close fraternal relations to be established with the Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopian, Eritrean and Malankarese churches. Although Pope Shenouda recognised the authenticity of our apostolic succession from the Syrian Orthodox, he also conferred conditional consecration upon me in order that our British Orthodox clergy might also possess the apostolic succession of Coptic Orthodoxy.
Please comment on the union and separation of BOC and the Coptic Patriarchate
After the death of Pope Shenouda in 2012 several issues affecting our ministry were not fully understood by the new administration, so we negotiated with Pope Tawadros to return to our original independent status, which he generously granted in October 2015, although the effect of which was that the formal communion with the Alexandrian Patriarchate and its sister churches thereby terminated. The British Orthodox Church merely returned to being a local Orthodox Church under its own hierarchy, and was neither schismatic nor excommunicate, although it owed no allegiance nor was subject to any foreign jurisdiction. However, we still fully adhere to the fullness of the Apostolic faith, holding firmly to the theological tradition of Miaphysite Orthodoxy of the Oriental Orthodox tradition. Despite no longer being part of the Alexandrian Patriarchate we still follow closely the Coptic liturgical tradition in respect to adopting their prayers and conferring the sacraments. However, Pope Shenouda gave full approval to the British Orthodox Church specifically adopting the ancient Liturgy of the Holy Glorious Apostle Saint James, Brother of the Lord & First Bishop of Jerusalem rather than those of Saints Basil, Cyril and Gregory commonly used by Copts. The Liturgy of Saint James apart from being a most primitive apostolic text is common to both the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox traditions and when adopted by the British Nonjurors (Anglican converts who adhered to Orthodoxy) in the eighteenth century played a significant rôle in the moves to restoring British Orthodoxy.
Your Beatitude, are you concerned about the fact that BOC merely retains her Western Rite Orthodox character?
Although the British Orthodox Church is clearly a Western Orthodox Church it does not adopt Western Rites of the Divine Liturgy. However, from the time of the Nonjorors the Liturgy of Saint James was their principal liturgy yet adapted as a Western Rite. The late Canon E.C. Ratcliff (1896-1967), Professor of Liturgical Theology at King’s College, London, described the Saint James Liturgy as of “great beauty” and commended it as a model for worship in the Indian Anglican Church, where it became the inspiration for the ‘Bombay Liturgy’; so just as it has been adapted for use by both families of Orthodoxy, so it could serve as both a Western and Eastern-rite for Orthodox.
How do you follow the current crisis within the Orthodox World?
Whilst we adhere to the theological consensus between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox traditions, of which the late Pope Shenouda was an active exponent, we are deeply saddened by the division created by the Russian Orthodox Church in protest at the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox by the Greek Orthodox Œcumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and feel that the obsession with what they claim to be canonicity is seriously problematic and derives from pharisaical bigotry and self-righteous legalism which is contrary to the true spirit of Orthodoxy.
We have noticed Your Beatitude and BOC have been attacked and criticized several times in various social media platforms? What in common are your comments on such attacks?
Just as some Orthodox disfigure these distorted standards of true canonicity by insisting that authentic Orthodoxy requires adherence to one of the historic Orthodox jurisdictions of Christendom, they have sometimes aggressively criticised and reproached The British Orthodox Church for violating ecclesiastical order by being unpretentiously an independent jurisdiction.
Would you comment a bit on the ecumenical and inter-church relations of BOC? Kindly mention any dialogues in progress?
Despite these opponents, the British Orthodox Church still maintains fraternal links with individual Orthodox Christians and communities. A number of clergy of the Malankara Orthodox Church have maintained unofficial, but fraternal links, of which The Orthodox Cognate Page, which is a pan-Orthodox Christian society based in Kerala, has shown considerable co-operation with both our historical and academic studies. Our ministry is fully centred on the British Isles with our existing churches not only ministering to British converts to Orthodoxy but also to other Orthodox Christians – both Eastern & Oriental – living in the United Kingdom who are not closely linked to their ethnic jurisdictions. Currently, our church at Chatham in Kent, which has no resident priest so is only used for a British Orthodox liturgy once a month, is now shared with a local Roumanian Orthodox community, with whom we have warm relations. Although we do not claim jurisdiction in other Orthodox countries we have taken under our protection a former Coptic Orthodox community in California which found itself treated unreasonably by the local Coptic hierarchy so placed itself under our safeguarding because it was assured of our fidelity to Holy Orthodoxy and its essential traditions.
 Article 1 of the 1994 Protocol determining the relationship of the British Orthodox Church to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.