At St. Peter’s Parish Church Wisbech, we are friends and partners with Eastern Orthodox Christian communities. On Monday night (21 September) we welcomed our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters, on the Great Orthodox Feast of Mary the Mother of God, to St Peter’s Parish Church Wisbech. Valerie, Ingrida, and Lesley, were very busy with preparations. Afternoon became evening and gradually the faithful gathered at the Shrine Chapel of St Nicholas and St Seraphim of Sarov, in the Lady Chapel.
Father Vitaly arrived from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in London, put on his cassock, and, accompanied by Valerie, entered the church building. A trickle of Orthodox had now become a respectable gathering of women, mostly wearing head scarfs with a rowdy clutch of young children. Father Vitaly, softly spoken and serious, addressed the standing women: he taught them aspects of the Faith – including the seasons of the Orthodox Christian year.
Then Valerie, and Father Paul, formally welcomed Father Vitaly and the faithful to the chapel. Father Paul spoke of Christ’s call for us to be a family of Christians respecting each other’s rich inheritance of diverse histories, cultures, and traditions. He addressed the boys playing with their toy-cars lying on the chapel carpet as: “My little brothers,” and looking up at him, they joined their families in laughter.
Father Vitaly beautifully chanted prayers for the Feast of Mary Mother of God and encouraged the faithful to make the sung responses.
The group were thrust into an impromptu school of liturgical chant: they did very well – it is sad that there are no Eastern Orthodox priests living in the town, or near-by, to deliver catechism and singing lessons. The women gradually improved, and courageously found their way in the difficult liturgical Slavonic language, that is so different to the Russian they speak today.
Father Vitaly had brought with him a small bottle of myrrh from the Holy Land. He invited the faithful to reverence the Icon of Our Lady of Vladimir with a kiss and then he made the sign of the cross on each forehead with the fragrant myrrh. He came to Father Paul and invited him to apply the myrrh on his forehead: a generous ecumenical gift. He spoke again to the faithful and then stayed for refreshments.
It was a very good evening of prayer, worship, and generosity between two living Christian traditions. While there was the problem of language (all the prayers were in Russian) I think that we were together, aware of the incredible presence of the Spirit joining us to the prayer and fellowship of those who see God face to face in eternity.
There is a sublime beauty in Christians coming together in love, joy, and peace. And it was good to see again Ukrainians and Russians sharing their faith with care for each other. Our unceasing prayer mingled, and, I think, God smiled.
‘I remember that St Basil the Great solved the question how the Apostles could pray without ceasing, in this way: in everything they did, he replied, they thought of God and lived in constant devotion to Him. This spiritual state was their unceasing prayer.’ – Theophan The Recluse