Romanian Orthodox Metropolis of Western and Southern Europe

Romanian Orthodox Parish of Saint George
in London, England

Parish History

The Parish of “Saint George" in London is under the canonical jurisdiction of the Romanian Orthodox Metropolis of Western and Southern Europe, Great Britain’s Deanery, being the first Romanian Orthodox Parish that appeared on the map of the Romanian emigration in the British Isles. The founding Father of the Parish is the Patriarch of blessed memory, Justinian Marina. Right from the beginning, the Parish operated in a rented space from the Anglican Church, located right in the heart of the City of London.

The period between 1964 - 1969

The first Parish Priest of this parochial community was Father Professor Vintila Popescu [1], originally from Imoasa of Mehedinti. Father Vintila was entrusted with the organisation and the leadership of this Parish from December 1964 until 1969 when he returned to Romania. The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated in 1964, on the Christmas day, with only five people in attendance: Father Vintila at the Altar, a lay person giving the liturgical answers and three other followers in the church! This number changed in just a few months since its establishment - over eighty people attended the Easter service in 1965. Once returned to the country, Father Vintilla lived a few more years, falling asleep in the Lord on August 1, 1971.

The period between 1969 - 1976

The second Parish Priest was father Lucian Gafton, the son of the priest John Gafton [2]. Father Lucian Gafton led and cared for the church between 1969 and 1976 when he returned to the country as a lecturer at the Orthodox Theological Institute in Bucharest where he had worked previously, before his appointment in England.
He then returned to London where he worked at the BBC studios for some time. Starting with 1982, we find him overseas, in America, in the Orthodox Church of America (OCA), where he established the "Holy Spirit" Parish in 1984. He fell asleep in the Lord in 1996. Father Lucian is the one who laid the foundation of the Charity (the Trust) of this Parish, registered with the Charity Commission since 1976.

The period between 1976 - 1980

The third Parish Priest was father Constantine Alecse [3] who led and cared for the church between 1976 and 1980. Father Constantine continued the pastoral and missionary activity of his predecessors, being also invested as Honorary Chaplain of the South London Bishop (Southwark). He changed the editorial board of the Parish’s newspaper “The Altar" because he was denied the publication of Eminescu's "Doina" in its pages, as that was considered to be not in line with what was imposed by Bucharest. He, therefore, attracted antipathy in the Bucharest regime, which is why he had to leave the British capital and go overseas, in America, where - as it appeared written in the recently published biography [4] - "the long proletarian's hand from Romania could not reach him!”

While overseas, Father Constantine served as a Priest for the Romanian community in Minnesota, and later the one in Los Angeles, until to date.

In 1980, the interim period (several months) was provided by Father Alexander Morar, currently a professor of Church History and Palaeography at the Faculty of Theology in Cluj-Napoca.


The period from 1980 - to date


Father Silviu-Petre Pufulete is the forth Parish Priest and by far, the longest-serving minister in “Saint George". During his ministry (over three decades), he observed how the Romanian community in the London metropolis evolved numerically: from a few dozen people to several hundred, thousands and tens of thousands in more recent years. He witnessed many changes in the profile of the Romanian emigration in London: from dissident immigrants with an exceptional professional training, to simple people who took the exile’s path after the events of 1989, with the hope of finding an adoptive motherland which would offer them a better life.

Starting with 15th of September 2013, with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, Father Constantine Popescu from  "St. Makarios the Great “ Parish in Leeds was transferred to the Parish of "Saint George” in London. Father Constantine ministered for over eight and a half years the Romanian community in Northern England built around the Parish of Leeds, being the first Romanian Parish in the British Isles to have its own place of worship through the purchase of a former Anglican church in 2011 and its consecration on September the 14th, 2013.


Description of the hosting City

London is the capital of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The etymology of this settlement seems to have originated from a Roman name, Londinium, named after the arrival of the first Romans settlers in 43 AD. Recent archaeological discoveries in the Vauxhall area on the Southern side of Thames confirms the existence of a wooden bridge dating from the Bronze Age. With the decline of the Roman occupation in the 5th century, London ceases to be a capital, due the repeated attacks of the Vikings which contributed substantially to the weakening of the Anglo-Saxon capital. Later, in 886, King Alfred the Great rebuilds London, the 11th century finding this settlement in a particularly flourishing state.
  
A very dynamic cosmopolitan capital, London is today an urban conglomerate that excels in many areas of activity: banking, commerce, arts, media, services, research, transport, tourism and education. For nearly 100 years (between 1831 and 1925), London had the largest urban population in the world. With a population of more than 14 million people, London is today the most populous city in the European Union and the most diverse in terms of culture and ethnicity, with over 300 spoken languages. From an architectural point of view, London has a number of buildings belonging to different styles and epochs, being the city with the most registered buildings with UNESCO as well as well as with the English Heritage. The Westminster Abbey, built in Romanesque style by King Edward the Confessor, is one of London's many emblematic buildings.

The history of the Parish Church

The Romanian community built around the Parish of “Saint George” in London operated from the early beginnings in the Anglican church "St. Dunstan's in-the-West”, rebuilt in 1831 on the site of an older church. John Shaw, the architect who designed the church in an octagonal Gothic style, died in 1832, leaving his son [5] to complete the work. The tower was severely damaged during the German bombing in 1944. It was rebuilt in 1950 through the generosity of a London press magnate, Viscount Camrose. From 1952, St. Dunstan's lost its statute of a Parish Church, becoming a Guild Church [6]. Many of the church's objects date from before the rebuilding of the church in 1831, the Anglican altar and iconostasis having Flemish sculptures dating back to the seventeenth century.

The distinctive piece of the entire church is actually the Romanian Altar, located on the left side of the Anglican Altar. The iconostasis, richly carved by brothers Peter and Michael Babic, was placed in the Antim monastery in 1861, where it remained for more than 100 years until it was transferred to London [7]. The iconostasis carries icons executed in the Renaissance style by the painter Peter Alexandrescu [8] (1860-1863), Patriarch Justinian being the artisan of the transfer of the entire iconostasis to London in 1966.

In front of this iconostasis would have been held the secret meetings of "The Burning Bush" Movement; in front of this iconostasis would have been brought the candidates for the monastic life, dressed in monastic robes, amongst them Metropolitan Bartholomew Anania, who remembered the iconostasis in front of which he gave his monastic vows as follows:


“It saddened me when out of jail, I learned that the beautiful iconostasis of Antim had been moved to England to serve the needs of the Romanian parish there. I saw it again in 1968, when I was passing through London, and I fell down and wept for its mourning and mine; we found ourselves among strangers, after so many years, the iconostasis carrying the same beautiful icons in the light, and myself, by contrary, with my soul haunted by whirlwinds, with the promises broken and with my own crucifixion shattered [9]“

Inside the church there is an icon of the Virgin Mary "Pantanassa", a hand-made copy of the famous icon housed in the Vatoped Monastery of Mount Athos, as well as part of the relics of St. George, St. Nectarios and St. Ecatherine.
  
Eminent chanters and curators

The Parish of “Saint George” has enjoyed over time of a number of outstanding chanters, including Nina Pavy, a church and liturgical music lover [10], who founded the first mixed polyphonic choir.
Another notable figure was the PhD student Nicolae Mihaiţă, currently Archbishop of Targoviste and Patriarchal Exarh. Eventually, the chanting style embraced by the choir was the Byzantine style.


Thus, Ion Minoiu - a graduate of the University of Music in Bucharest in 1994, with post-graduate studies in Orchestra conducting at the Royal College of Music in London, was the chanter of the Romanian church between 1995 to 2005 and between 2005 and 2008, he was at the Greek Cathedrals "St. Sophia" and "St. Ap. Andrew" in London. He currently collaborates with the “Nectarie Protopsaltul” choir group in Bucharest.


Starting with 2008, the choir is led with dedication, professionalism and competence by the main chanter (protopsaltis) Valentin Gheorghe, a graduate of the University of Music and the Faculty of Theology in Bucharest, the founder of the "Nectarie Protopsaltul" Group who managed to bring together some young lovers of Byzantine church music. This is why in the main church of "St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West" resonates on Sundays and feasts, the Orthodox Liturgies adorned with carefully selected hymns composed by Macarie Ieromonahul, Nectarie Schimonahul, Anton Pann, or Greek hymns translated into Romanian or composed by our young psalters in their attempt to closely follow the Byzantine music tradition.


The Parish had the continuous support and direct involvement of leading curators including the professor and engineer Harry McCormick [11], the son of an Irish-born Englishman married to a Romanian woman, Harry, who was born and educated in Romania, later emigrated to the country home of his father, England. Harry McCormick was a great supporter of Romanian culture and traditions, being the main point in organizing excursions and holidays in Romania as well as in the acquisition of the Parish House, a purchase made just a few years after the appointment of Father Silviu Petre Pufulete as the Parish Priest[12]. Amongst the other Parish Council member were the architect Barbu Calinescu, deputy chairman of the Parish Council during the 80s, Haralambie Tambakis, Aurel Bogdanescu, Frank Le Carpentier, Titus Bontea, Robert Anderson and Mrs Angela Windsor, Stefania Maşca, Elena Pop, Victoria Page, Aneta Psaros, etc.

Past and present cultural and philanthropic activities

The Parish of “Saint George” had a rich cultural activity, amongst them being the publication of “The Altar” magazine for almost 20 years. The debut of the magazine [13] identifies with the early life of the Parish. The first Parish Priest, Father Professor Vintila Popescu, felt necessary to edit a Parish magazine to help him in his pastoral and missionary work. The words spoken from the Romanian Altar on Fleet Street could reach the ears and the hearts of our compatriots who could not attend the church so frequently, because of their long commuting distances.

This was also the reason why the Father Professor called the magazine “The Altar” , the place around which the whole community life should be vibrating. Over time, the magazine had also the role of informing the Romanians already settled in the UK. Although the beginning was difficult, the Father Professor's approach was sustained and amplified by those that followed him in the ministry.


With the increasing number of the first Romanian parish community in the UK, the catechetical activities intensified. In the informational cluster offered by the modern media, most people are unable to choose what’s right and what’s wrong, the lack of continuous and systematic catechisation further enhancing the confusion. The catechesis, mainly performed on the occasion of Baptism and Weddings, helped the Romanian devotees to a great extent - and especially the mixed couples - to clarify and strengthen certain aspects of the Orthodox faith. The Parish also has an large library - over 5,000 volumes of religious books and Romanian literature have been added during these 50 years of existence.

On the Commemorative Anniversary of the Brancoveni Martyrs (2014), the Parish published the book "For God and Nation - 300 years from the martyrdom of the Brancovenian Saints" in a print of 1,000 copies. Also, in collaboration with the "Nectarie Protopsaltul" Group from Bucharest, we published - for the first time! - a compact disc with hymns from the Matins service, dedicated to the Brancovenian Saints.

Recently, the Parish organised a series of cultural activities, amongst which a concert of carols with the participation of soloists and instrumentalists from Sibiu (December 2014), a piano recital by the young pianist Szoc Botond (March 2015) as well as a concert of music and a CD and book release with the participation of the "Om Bun" group from Braşov (May 2015). Within the Parish, it also activates the Iconography and Aesthetics Group "Sf. Maria ", coordinated by Professor Aurelia Chiriac Carabinieru.

The philanthropic (charitable) activity of the Parish has been carried out on multiple levels, the beneficiaries being generally social centres for children such as ProVITA Valea Plopului or poverty-stricken families in Romania or the UK. Although discreetly, scholarships have also been granted to Romanian students in London. New Parishes, Missions or Monasteries established in the United Kingdom also enjoyed the material support offered by the Parish of “Saint George” in London.
             
The current profile of the parish


From a numerical point of view, the Romanian community in London has grown at an unprecedented pace - the number of people attending the liturgy every Sunday, exceeds 400 people. The Pastoral demands grew, the Parish registering a record number of baptisms in 2011 - over 700! In this context, it became obvious that the Romanian Orthodox Community in London needs more parishes. As such, new parishes were established throughout London, gradually moving away from an emergency type of mission to a proximity one, by placing the newly established parishes in the areas where there is a higher density of Romanian people.


Bibliography

The Pious Beda, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Dover, USA, 2011. The collection Parish publications “The Althar”.
Valeriu Anania, Memories, Polirom Publishing House, Bucharest, 2009.
Protopresbyter Constantin Alecse, The Immigrant Priest, Vol. 1, accessed online at http://constantinalecse.com

Notes:

[1] Fr. Vintila Popescu was Professor of Theology before 1964. Being married to an Englishwoman, Patriarch Justinian considered he is the best person to lay the foundations of a Parochial Community in the capital of Great Britain.
[2] Being a window after his wife went to the Lord in 1933, he became Bishop of Ramnic and Arges where he ministered over 40 years under the name of Iosif.
[3] Originally from the Buzau area.
[ 4] Protopresbyter Constantin Alecse – The Immigrant Priest, Vol. 1, accessed online at http://constantinalecse.com/

[5] Who wore the same name, John Shaw.
[6] Guild Churches are designed to serve the active population that work in a certain area, during the day.
[7] Between 1964 and 1966 the Antim Monastery in Bucharest had a massive restoration work of the whole monastery complex. On this occasion, the original stone carved iconostasis of the Antim Monastery was brought from the lapidary from the courtyard of Stavropoleos Monastery in Bucharest and reinstalled in Antim, and the wooden one brought to London, for the newly established Parish of St George.
[8] Student of the painting schools in Vienna, Rome and Paris, later a teacher at the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest.
[9] Valeriu Anania, Memories, Polirom Publishing House, Bucharest, 2009.
[10] Nina Pavy also sang in the choir of the "Domnita Balasa" church in Bucharest.
 [11] Harry McCormick is the owner of some patents in the field of batteries, but also in the field of spectroscopy (major contributions to the development of the differential detector).
[12] The Parish House was acquired in 1983.
[13] Thought later as almanac (yearbook).

 

Our church address

Address: St Mary Le Strand Church, Strand, London, WC2R 1ES

The closest subway stations are Temple (Circle and District), Chancery Lane (Central line) or Holborn.

 

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