We are a mission parish . You may never have heard of Western Orthodoxy, but our history is long and we have many great saints interceding for us in heaven.
According to tradition, St. Joseph of Arimathea was a tin trader who imported tin to Palestine from the British Isles. But, as we know, he was also a follower of Christ and gave his own tomb to Our Lord for his burial. Eventually, he was ordained a bishop and established the first Christian community in the British Isles near Glastonbury in 37 A.D.
Later, tradition holds that St. Aristobulus also came to the British Isles preaching the Good News of Christ in the later part of the 1st Century. We hold both St. Joseph of Arimathea and St. Aristobulus in great esteem as founders of the Christian Church in the British Isles. What is abundantly clear is that while the Roman conquest of Britain was well underway by the year 43 A.D. under the Emperor Claudius, Christianity was still persecuted and would not be accepted by the Roman Empire until nearly 300 years later. During this time the Church thrived among the Celtic peoples. But she was not a “national” church. Rather she was simply the church in her early state, unfettered and unbound by political and national interests.
The Celtic peoples were scattered throughout Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Brittany in France. They were country dwellers and had very few large cities. This fact alone greatly shaped their spirituality and the organization and administration of their churches. Prior to their conversion, the Celts practiced a pagan religion known as Druidism. However, the Druids had one particular concept that made Christianity intriguing to them. They believed that God was present in all things. Interestingly, that was precisely one of the primary Christian tenets. From St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians we are told, “[Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Christianity saw that indeed God is present in all of his creation and in fact God called his creation “good”. This is one of the reasons for which the Druids readily embraced the primitive Christianity that could easily perceive the divine in all of creation.
The Church in the British Isles continued as more or less a federation of small churches and monasteries that remained very local in their administration. Each community with its bishop was independent yet they held a common faith. From the British Isles, after the barbarian invasions, the Celtic saints took Christianity to the European Continent, to Germany, to northern Spain and northern Italy, and some made it so far as Kiev, in Russia. By and large, each newly established Christian community was supported by a monastery.
This system of monastic life paralleled the monastic life of the Eastern Church communities. Indeed, there was much in common between the early Church in the British Isles and the Eastern Churches which later became know as the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches. The common elements of the Eastern Churches and the Church of the British Isles can be seen in the common symbols used by both churches (see for example, the Book of Kells and the architecture of the monastic cells on Skellig Michael in Ireland).
We are ORTHODOX.
We adhere to the first three Ecumenical Councils though we accept the teachings of the subsequent four Ecumenical Councils (but we reject the anathemas they promulgated). To understand the word ‘Orthodox’ we must compare it to the word ‘Heterodox’. We are Orthodox precisely because we believe and profess the same faith as the early Christians (which we esteem to be the true and correct faith). We consider those who have changed or altered the faith of the early Christians to be heterodox or of a differing faith.
The basic faith of the early Church was clearly established by the third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in the year 431. Certain clarifications were made (or attempted to be made) over the course of the next four councils. But the basic Christian faith and beliefs were already established early in the Church’s history (even prior to the time the scriptures of the New Testament were written and certainly well before the Bible was compiled in its present form). Whether or not the Church would continue to develop new doctrines and beliefs would become a point of contention among the individual churches.
We are APOSTOLIC.
Indeed, the early Christian Church of the British Isles underwent a sort of death and resurrection of its own. It thrived and lived through a truly Golden Age. But slowly, the Roman Church forced the local Churches into it’s fold and subjected them to the Roman Church’s organization, structure and hierarchy. Ireland remained one of the last bastions of the early Christian Church preserving her as she had been founded in the British Isles by the early saints.
The Roman Pope Adrian IV authorized the Norman invasion of Ireland by King Henry II of England beginning in 1169. Following several years of war, in 1172 the hierarchy of the Irish Church finally submitted to Henry II in the interest of political stability. Following this, the Irish Church (the last of the Orthodox Churches of the West) began to be assumed into to the Imperial Roman Church.
But the spirit of true Orthodox Christianity was not annihilated completely. That spirit remained vibrant in the people who carried on its traditions and who later protested the Roman Church during the Reformation. Unfortunately, the Reformation of its own force could not restore the sacramental life of the early Christian Church.
In 1866, a Syrian Orthodox Bishop, Mar Boutros ibn Salmo Mesko (later Patriarch Mar Ignatius Peter IV of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch) consecrated a Bishop with the intention that he restore an independent Orthodox Church in the Western tradition. Since that time, the former Christian Church of the British Isles has slowly regained her strength and bearings. She possesses the authentic seven sacraments handed down from the Apostles. She professes the Orthodox (same) faith of the early Christians. She is Apostolic. Her mission is to love as Christ loved.