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||1343: The Intercession of the Holy Virgin (Pokrov),
Mystery Worshipper: Back-to-Front.
The church: The Intercession of the Holy Virgin (Pokrov), Manchester,
Denomination: Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate.
The building: This is a new building, completed in 2004 after the
previous building had aged to the point of being condemned. It is a two-storey
building, topped with an onion dome and traditional Russian cross, and with
a mosaic icon of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God over the large
south door. Inside, the worship space is much larger than one might expect
looking at the building from the outside. The walls are painted white and
are covered with icons, many of which were salvaged from the old church,
as was the rather lovely iconostasis. On the upper floor can be found a
kitchen and dining hall, along with various parish rooms.
The church: The parish was formed in the 1950s by Russians who had
fled the motherland during World War II. Their make-up is still predominantly
Russian, although there are people of other backgrounds as well. They were
originally under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.
However, when in 1993 ROCA found itself unable to send them a priest, they
petitioned Metropolitan Anthony, the ruling archbishop of the diocese of
Sourozh of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in the
British Isles. The Metropolitan sent them his suffragan bishop, Archbishop
Anatoly of Kerch, with whose pastoral care the church has been blessed ever
since. (Ironically, though, the divine liturgy is still celebrated only
every few weeks.) The parish seems to be a thriving and close-knit community,
with people travelling in from both near and far. The word Pokrov
refers to the Feast of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin, celebrated on
1 October according to the old Julian calendar.
The neighbourhood: Manchester is a large city in northwest England.
In June 1996 an IRA bomb blast caused much damage to the city centre, which
has since undergone extensive redevelopment and modernisation. The 47-storey
Beetham Tower, completed in 2006, is the tallest residential building in
the United Kingdom. The church is set in the middle of a multicultural residential
area which has a large Muslim and Sikh population.
The cast: The celebrant and preacher was the Most Rev. Archbishop
Anatoly of Kerch.
The date & time: Afterfeast of the Transfiguration, 20 August 2006
in the Gregorian calendar, or 7 August in the Julian calendar. The liturgy
was advertised for 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The building seemed comfortably filled. I wasn't able to count the exact
number but I estimate that there were about 60 to 70 people. The church
certainly didn't feel empty, while at the same time there was enough room
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, thankfully. There is little that is more unsettling and disruptive of
an attitude of prayer, in my opinion, than being accosted by smiling "greeters"
who insist on handing out books and making conversation. This is a time
of preparation for worship, not for social interaction. I arrived about
20 minutes early and slipped in quietly and unnoticed, to find everything
I needed placed in an obvious spot. This was the ideal welcome for me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Well, if you're referring to the chair that I sat on for 15 minutes during
the sermon at the very end of the liturgy, then yes, it was comfortable
enough. However, sitting doesn't really feature in Orthodox worship and
so I was on my feet for the most part, as was everybody else. Unlike my
home parish, which has a carpeted floor, this church has a wooden floor,
which made unshod standing (as is my custom) a little painful after a while,
and so the movement at communion provided some very welcome relief.
How would you describe the pre-service
I was very pleased to find that a baptism was going on when I arrived. It
was a quiet affair with mostly the family, and so I kept a respectful distance
and joined in the responses as I was able. The Hours began not long after
this, during which the archbishop heard confessions. As this went on for
a while, the choir sang some portions of the liturgy to cover the confessions,
and then the liturgy began. The whole atmosphere was intensely reverent.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, Amen" in Church Slavonic.
What books did the congregation use during the
None. People seemed to know the liturgy off by heart. The congregational
parts are fairly simple anyway, consisting chiefly of responses to the litanies:
Gospodi pomilui (Lord, have mercy) and Tebe Gospodi (to
Thee, O Lord).
What musical instruments were played?
None. The Slavic tradition takes quite literally St John Chrysostom's distaste
for musical instruments other than the human voice in Christian worship.
Instead, the rather good parish choir led the music of the liturgy very
competently, with some glorious harmonies as is to be expected of Russian
Did anything distract you?
It was rather unsettling to see people approaching for confession bearing
lists of their sins on sheets of A5 paper! I had never before seen this,
and in fact had been taught that listing one's sins was unhealthily legalistic.
In my personal preparations, I make jottings, which I then throw away before
going to church. I don't decry the piety of the people at this warm parish,
but it did make me feel rather inadequate, and so I was rather nervous when
I approached the archbishop. However, my uneasiness soon melted away in
light of his warm response. Also, something that brought a smile to my face
was an incident at the litany of the catechumens, where, for some reason,
the choir didn't sing their Gospodi pomilui at the right time.
The archbishop emerged from behind the iconostasis and said something to
them rather sternly in Russian, whereupon they started singing post-haste!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Happy clappy? HA! No. This was dignified worship in a relaxed formal style.
It was in the classical layered pattern, with a number of things being done
and chanted by different people at the same time, all coming together into
one corporate act of worship to God. The liturgy was chanted throughout
in Church Slavonic, although an English translation of the Gospel was read
after the liturgical proclamation.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
The sermon lasted for approximately 15 minutes. I must confess that I didn't
time it exactly as my attention wandered during most of it.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
I cannot rate him fairly. My attention wandering was not in any way a reflection
on the archbishop's preaching style, but rather was due to the fact that
the sermon was delivered entirely in Russian, which, sadly, I do not understand.
He held a cross in his hand for the entire duration of the sermon, which
I think may be peculiar to the ceremonial of bishops, as I have never seen
a priest do this.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
I wish I could tell you, but alas I cannot.
Which part of the service was like being in
The music, for certain. More than this, though, was the warm reception that
I received. The Patriarchate of Moscow and the Russian Church Abroad (of
which I am a member) have had a very difficult history between them. I wasn't
sure what the situation would be with regard to my receiving communion,
especially since this parish has moved from one jurisdiction to the other.
And so I explained my dilemma to the archbishop, saying that I didn't want
to cause any offence due to the situation between our two churches. He very
quickly corrected my wording, saying that he sees us very much as one church,
and insisted that at communion I was to come forward and receive. This was
so very heartwarming in light of what is happening on the world scene.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I can honestly say that I can't think of anything. Apart from the unsettling
feeling I had at confession, which quickly subsided, and my dilemma regarding
communion, which the archbishop graciously dispelled, the whole thing was
truly a heavenly experience.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance of that. I had already been in touch with one of the parishioners to ask about service times and parish custom, and so he kept an eye out for me and ushered me upstairs to where the food was waiting.
How would you describe the after-service
I got to talking to some of the parishioners over a delightful spread, which
was delicious. I'm always amazed by the ability of some Orthodox people
to come up with recipes for delicious foods that satisfy the fasting tradition,
and this was during the two-week fast leading up to the Dormition on the
15th of August (28th August in the Gregorian calendar).
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I am already settled in a lovely parish and it would take a lot
to make me leave. Also, while I have no difficulty following the liturgy
in Slavonic, I would have a problem with the sermon being entirely in Russian,
and also with the fact that the liturgy is not celebrated every week. These
are, however, purely subjective reasons. On its own merits, the parish seem
truly wonderful. I shall certainly be visiting again if, of course,
they'll have me.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warm and insistent welcome to the Sacrament by His Eminence Archbishop Anatoly.
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