Fr George is a very local Englishman. He traces his ancestry through a long line of Lincolnshire farmers. They have lived in villages within 20 miles of the City of Lincoln over the last 400 years. Ever since the 16th century reformation the family members had worshipped according to the ‘Prayer Book Catholic’ tradition within the established Church of England.
George originally intended a career in the Police Service and served in both the Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire Forces. After 8 years service with the Police however he felt moved to respond to a call from the Church of England for young men to offer themselves as priests. We need “men for the ministry” was the cry in 1965. So George found himself handing in his staff and handcuffs and settling down to his books and his prayers at the then active Lincoln Theological College, a stone’s throw from Lincoln Cathedral – and later at the University of Hull, where he was awarded a Master’s degree in Theology.
Before going to train at the Theological College George had never head of the Orthodox Church and like many Englishmen had thought that the Christians were divided into just three groups, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Anglican. It was as a student at Lincoln that he had his first transforming encounter with Orthodoxy. The Warden of the Anglican seminary, the Revd Alan Webster, had invited the Orthodox Bishop Anthony Bloom to the college as a visiting Lecturer. Bishop Anthony came from the Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens, London, and spent several days resident in the College. He gave lectures about the Orthodox Church, its Faith and its history.
Above all he served the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, in English, in the College Chapel.
The Liturgy was attended by the entire student body. This experience opened the door for the young George on a whole new world…the world of Orthodox Christianity.
Following the Liturgy Bishop Anthony took coffee with a group of the students, answering their questions and explaining more about the Orthodox way of life. It was at this point that George said to Bishop Anthony,
“Bishop, I am beginning to feel strongly that I really ought to be Orthodox. What must I do?”
Bishop Anthony looked at him with those piercing eyes of his and replied without hesitation, “I say to you – stay in the Church of England and work to make it more Orthodox.”
It is important to remember that this encounter took place some forty years ago. In those days Bishop Anthony’s advice to the student George was the standard response of Orthodox clergy to young Anglicans who wanted to be received into the Orthodox Church. The reason for this is well explained by Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy Ware) in his book ‘The Inner Kingdom’ published in 2001. In the first chapter Bishop Kallistos, the first Englishman to become an Orthodox Bishop in England since 1066, writes this…
“Forty or fifty years ago there were many Orthodox, and also many Anglicans, who sincerely hoped that the Anglican communion would be reconciled to Orthodoxy in a corporate way. Individual conversions from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy were therefore discouraged; Anglicans, it was felt, would do better to remain where they were, and to work for unity within their present Church, acting as an “Anglo-Orthodox” leaven. I fear that these hopes for corporate reunion were always unrealistic. But it has to be remembered that, during the first half of the twentieth century the moderate “High Church” party within Anglicanism – which bases itself upon an appeal to the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers – was far stronger than it is today, whereas the extreme “liberal” tendency, with its doctrinal and moral relativism, was much less pronounced…Bishop James was by no means alone in his dream that High Anglicanism might eventually develop into the nucleus of a native-grown Western Orthodoxy.”
And so the young George remained Anglican, completed his studies and in 1969 was ordained priest by Michael Parker, Bishop of Bradford. As an Anglican parish priest Fr George served in the C of E dioceses of Bradford, Lincoln and Derby, gaining much experience of the nitty gritty of parish work and life. Throughout these years Fr George joined the Fellowship of Ss. Alban and Sergius and the Anglo-Orthodox Society and developed close personal contacts with the Orthodox Church and Orthodox priests and people. He continued to read and study the History, Faith and Practice of the Orthodox Church and, in so far as he was able, taught Orthodox Catholic Christianity within the Church of England.
Fr George’s contacts with Orthodoxy deepened during his 20 years as a parish priest in Derby where he was asked to teach English to an incoming Serbian Orthodox priest, Fr Georgije. During a memorable summer of 1983 on extended leave of absence Fr George and his family accompanied three Orthodox monks from England on a visit to the then Yugoslavia, still under Communist domination. The party stayed in several monasteries throughout Serbia and Bosnia, and in the homes of married Serbian parish priests and also with the relatives of priests on rural farms and finally in the capital, Belgrade. This contact with Orthodoxy as it was lived by ordinary Christian people under a hostile political regime made a deep impression on Fr George.
To cut a long story short there came a day at the turn of the century when Fr George travelled down to London and made a visit to the Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens. There he sought out Bishop Anthony, now a very sick old man – actually, dying – but still serving his people. “Bishop,” he said, “Many years ago you told me to stay in the Church of England and work to strengthen its Orthodoxy. Father, I can’t do it any longer.” Bishop Anthony put his hand on George’s shoulder and said, “I think that now you can come home.”
Fr George resigned from his post as parish priest in his Anglican parish in Derby and with his wife, Annis, moved from a large vicarage in Derby to a small bungalow between Newark and Lincoln to prepare for the next step.
Wondering where to worship they searched the internet and discovered that the nearest Orthodox Church was the Church of the Transfiguration on Carlton Hill, Nottingham. Each Sunday they made the round trip of 40 miles to attend the Liturgy and in due course they were each received into the Orthodox Communion by Father David Gill, then the Diocese of Sourozh parish priest at Carlton. George was received into Lay Communion, as all Anglicans are who enter the Orthodox Church.
For two years following, relieved of the burden and weight of parish ministry, George studied Orthodox Faith and Practice in more depth with the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge.
Towards the end of his studies with the Cambridge Institute he was offered ordination in the Orthodox Church and invited to serve as assistant to Fr Philip in the new Mission at Lincoln. Having been received in the Russian jurisdiction of Sourozh and later transferred by consent to the Antiochian jurisdiction he was finally ordained an Orthodox priest by Bishop Kallistos of the Greek jurisdiction at the request of the late Bishop Gabriel of Antioch. A living example of Pan-Orthodox co-operation and a demonstration that the Orthodox Church is One!
Fr George continues as assistant priest with the Antiochian Community of All Saints of Lincolnshire, meeting in St Matthias Church, Burton Road, Lincoln. It has been a long journey but it is good, very good, to have ‘come home’.