Patriarch Kirill: Churches in Russia, UK served as bridge between our countries for centuries
Your eminences, your graces, your eminence Archbishop Elisey, your grace the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Your Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, distinguished representatives of the Catholic Church and the Armenian Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, fathers, and brothers and sisters,
I congratulate wholeheartedly all of you on the historic occasion that has happened today in the life of the Russian Orthodox church on the British Isles. We are celebrating the 300-year anniversary of the presence of Russian Orthodox believers in the British isles.
And we are also celebrating the 60th anniversary of our presence in this wonderful temple, which has been graciously given to us by the Anglican church and then purchased thanks to the donations of believers. This is a very great event. And based on my memories I can testify before you to the great way that this community has gone. The first time I visited this temple, it was in 1969. I do not know whether there is someone here today who visited the temple back then. I remember that this was a very small community united by the Orthodox faith under the guidance of the ever-memorable metropolitan Antony Bloom who has done a lot to strengthen this community. And today we are grateful to witness that the Russian Orthodox presence has strengthened. This can be explained by the very number of Russians, not just Russians, but also Ukrainians and Belarusians who live today in Great Britain. But the ever growing number of Russian-speaking people in the United Kingdom cannot be at all the only reason which explains the growth of the Orthodox community. The growing of this community is testimony to the fact that the Orthodox faith is growing stronger in the hearts of our people. And what we are seeing today in London, we are also seeing back in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
For many years our people have suffered under the yoke of atheism and having overturned it they have felt with a very acute feeling the need for this spiritual guidance in their lives. And we know that in the last 25 years something happened which has never been seen before in history. Over these 25 years, tens of thousands of churches have been built. Tens of thousands of orthodox parishes have been built. Hundreds of monasteries. Tens of theological higher education institutions. Something happened which we could not have imagined. And these changes cannot be explained only by the missionary efforts of the church even though they have been quite significant. And this miracle of spiritual revival we are witnessing in these times, secular times, can only be explained by God’s intervention, by his grace. And this grace of our lord has also been related to the great deeds of holy martyrs and confessors, tens and thousands of them that have adorned the fabric of our faith. Thanks to their prayers and thanks to their intersession before God, Orthodox Russia has risen again. And today, when celebrating the 300th anniversary of the presence of the Russian Orthodox people in the United Kingdom, we thank God for everything, for our suffering and our joys. We thank him for the unique experience of our people’s spiritual life, which today gives us the force to address our God with conviction. We ask him to save and to forgive us. Help us God in our life. Today we are strong and there is much in our hands, we are educated and highly cultured. And despite the difficulties our economy is growing rapidly. But we all know that genuine success is only possible when human efforts are complemented by God’s grace. And thanks to God, our people understand that. So it is with hope that we look into the future. And we believe that our lord will not abandon us, thanks to God’s grace and the grace of the martyrs.
The Church has a special significance for the spiritual life of people. It brings people together regardless of national, social, material, cultural or political borders. By its nature the church cannot be together with the right or the left, or with the centrists. It cannot be together with the rich against the poor or together with the poor against the rich. It cannot be together with one nationality against another. The church is a community open to the whole world. And within this community all human differences are erased. Even a very rich person stands surrounded by poor people. And even high-ranking people stand side by side with ordinary people. This symbolizes the erasure of those differences within the church. The very same role has to be played by the church in international relations. The faith, the religion, the church is the mirror of the people’s soul. And at the deepest level the church represents its people outside, in the world. And I think that here, in Great Britain, many discover Russia and Orthodoxy through your community – just as we understand the people and the country better when we are in contact with the Anglican church. At a spiritual and cultural level the interaction between our countries and peoples is particularly strong. And that interaction is not subject to the short-term political interests of today. And the three-century-long history of the Russian Orthodox church’s presence in the United Kingdom is testimony to that.
There were times when the relations between our counties were developing wonderfully. There were times when we together fought against a common enemy. But there were also times when our relations deteriorated significantly. And sometimes even our diplomatic ties were severed. But over these three centuries, the Russian orthodox church has never ceased to exist in London. And despite all the short-term interests and political competition people still came here to pray together. And all these problems did not preclude our people from viewing their Anglican brothers and sisters as their true brothers and sisters united with them in God and in faith. I am deeply convinced that this peace-keeping mission of the church is as significant as ever today.
We, people of the faith, can see things that cannot be seen by those who doubt. We can distance ourselves from the short-term interests and problems and offer a different perspective, including on the current state of Russian-British relations. And our perspective is vastly different from that of the politicians, because our two nations are bound together by historical, religious and even monarchic ties. We know each other and respect each other greatly. I do hope that through developing this potential we will be able to improve relations between our countries and peoples in the future.
I'd like to once again go back to the history of this parish. Remarkable clergymen headed the Russian community at different times, Protopriest Yakov Smirnov, Protopriest Evgeny Popov and Protopriest Vasily Popov among them. Before the Revolution and right after it, they did a lot to strengthen the Russian Orthodox community here in London.
In the early 18th century the diplomatic ties between our countries were suspended, but the senior priest of our church here continued to carry out our diplomatic mission. The same thing happened every time our bilateral relations soured. The churches in Russia and the UK served as a bridge between our two countries. I would like to once again mention the name of the commendable Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom). He did so much to bring together the Russian Orthodox community here and explain Russian Orthodoxy to the British people, and contributed greatly to developing the relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of England. As we remember our forefathers and predecessors today, we thank God for their deeds and their efforts. I'd like to sincerely thank Archbishop Elisey, Archbishop Mark and the clergy who are working here. And I'd like to thank everyone who worked hard in order to restore this Dormition Cathedral. With your sacrifice and your efforts you've done a lot to support this church and this community. May God's blessing be upon all the Russian Orthodox parishes in the United Kingdom, and especially this one, the Dormition Cathedral.
To commemorate this joyous occasion I would like to present you with this icon of Our Blessed Mother of God. It's a centuries-old icon. Praying before it, please pray for our Church and for our country. And since there's a small plaque here that says it was a gift from your patriarch, please, pray for your patriarch as well.
I'd also like to thank Archbishop Elisey for his efforts. I would like to present you with the cross and panagia that were crafted on the occasion of the 1,000-year anniversary of the death of Saint Prince Vladimir.
And to everyone who is here today I would like to present this image, depicting all the British saints. The United Kingdom has been blessed with many saints. Many of them belonged to the undivided church of the old, and their names are venerated in Russia and other countries where the Russian Orthodox Church has been traditionally present as much as in Great Britain. It's these saints that tie us together with bonds stronger that any human ones. This is our shared heritage. This is our shared history. This is the embodiment of our shared values. And I'm convinced that it will also serve as the foundation for our bright future together.
God save the Queen! God save the United Kingdom! God save Russia! And praise be to God in our hearts and our bodies. I would like each and every one of you to have this icon, with my blessing.