The Pastoral Conference of the Western European Diocese concludes

From Wednesday 22 November to Saturday 25 November, 2023, the annual pastoral convocation of the clergy of the Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe took place in the Church of the Nativity of Christ and St Nicholas in Florence, Italy. The gathering brought together more than 45 clergy from ten countries of continental Europe, the British Isles and Ireland, to spend several days together in prayerful unity, discussing the ongoing development of parish activities and the challenges of pastoral service in the modern world.

This year, the convocation of the diocesan clergy was honoured with the visit of the First Hierarch of the Church Abroad, His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Eastern America and New York, who, following his enthronement a year ago, made during these days his first archpastoral visit to the Western European Diocese. The presidium was occupied by the Ruling Bishop of the Diocese, His Grace Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe, the Vicar Bishop of the Diocese, His Grace Bishop Alexander of Vevey, and Archpriest Pavel Tsvetkov, a cleric of the Geneva Cathedral and the senior most clergyman of the Diocese.

The official opening was marked on Thursday, 23rd November, with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Diocese’s beautiful Florentine church — the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in Italy and the Orthodox pearl of the city, which this year has celebrated the 120th anniversary of its founding. The Divine Service was accompanied by magnificent singing from the local church choir. On the opening day of the conference, the Rector of the parish, Archpriest Georgy Blatinsky, celebrated his birthday, and ‘Many Years!’ was proclaimed for him by the great host of his brother clergy. Then, following breakfast, the clergy, led by the hierarchs, moved to the lower church to begin their work.

In his welcoming remarks, Bishop Irenei spoke about the development of the Diocese in 2022-2023, introducing to his brethren the new clergy and parishes that have appeared over the past year on the map of the diocesan territory, which has significantly increased its presence both in continental Europe and in the British Isles.

Then Vladyka the First Hierarch presented a report on the ever-memorable Heads of the ROCOR, his immediate predecessors, Metropolitans Lavra (+2008) and Hilarion (+2022), sharing his personal memories of the years when he performed various Church obediences under their leadership. His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas called on every clergyman carefully to protect and cherish the ancient traditions of piety brought from Imperial Holy Rus’ and preserved over the course of a century by the shepherds and faithful of the Church Abroad, scattered across different countries and continents. On this same day, the ever-memorable hierarch Archbishop Seraphim (Dulgov) of Brussels and Western Europe, the former Ruling Bishop of the Diocese and who departed unto the Lord exactly twenty years ago, was also remembered with a funeral prayer.

After discussing the Metropolitan’s report and communicating with the Head of the Church Abroad, a meeting was held with the clergy, where many spoke about the achievements and urgent needs of the flock entrusted to them, the challenges of the time and the peculiarities of local service. Particular attention was paid to the discussion of the spiritual care of numerous refugees from Ukraine, who have abundantly poured into the Diocese’s parishes throughout western Europe, as well as all kinds of assistance that was and can be provided to them in the conditions of integration in western societies. During the discussion, satisfaction was expressed by the hierarchs with the sacrificial service of our clergy and parishioners in helping their neighbours.

After lunch, there followed a presentation by Archpriest Georgy Blatinsky about the history of the Russian Orthodox Church in Florence, which included a visit to the upper and lower churches and the parish museum. The clergy having concluding their morning labours, they then departed on an excursion into central Florence to visit the museum complex of Santa Maria Novella, and other sites. In the evening the Divine Services were served, after which the clergy continued their meetings and discussions regarding pastoral and parish ministry.

On Friday, 25th November, the convocation continued its fruitful work, starting the day with the Divine Liturgy. Following a discussion on the performance of Church marriages, led by the Ruling Bishop, and a conversation about various liturgical matters, a significant event of the second day of the conference was a pilgrimage visit to the Florence Cathedral (‘the Duomo’), where, standing before the relics of St John the Baptist, Apostle Andrew the First-Called and Saint John Chrysostom, a moleben was served, led by Metropolitan Nicholas. The harmonious singing of a polyphonic male choir comprised of diocesan clergy, under the direction of Bishop Irenei, shook the walls of the site, carrying Orthodox prayer to thousands of surprised listeners from visitors to this historical landmark.

The second working day of the conference concluded with the solemn All-Night Vigil, headed by the First Hierarch in concelebration with the bishops of the Diocese and its clergy. The next morning, Saturday 25th November, the entire host of assembled clerics concelebrated with the Hierarchs at the Divine Liturgy on the day of St John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, receiving communion at the single Chalice of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. At the Small Entrance, the cleric of the local church, Priest Oleg Tsurcan, was awarded the right to wear the kamilavka, in recognition of his years of work for the benefit of the Mother Church.

At the farewell meal, the clergy expressed their shared desire to gather regularly in full force in the future, emphasising the importance of the pastoral convocation in uniting the clergy and fruitfully discussing pressing issues of pastoral life, in search of active answers to all the challenges of our time.

In his final address, the Metropolitan, having blessed everyone, indicated that all the honourable clergy of Great Britain and Western Europe, despite the distance between continents, will continue to be in his heart, prayers and good thoughts, wishing everyone good health and abundant grace from God in their service in for the benefit of the Mother Church. Inspired by prayer and communication with like-minded people, the clergy left for various countries of Western Europe, leaving indelible impressions of the pastoral conference in their memory.

Metropolitan Nicholas, Bishop Irenei and several Priests remained in Florence to serve the Sunday service on the occasion of the feast day of St John Chrysostom, which the Holy Church celebrates on the 25th week after Pentecost.

Priest Vladimir Svystun


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