Christ the Saviour, Welling – Orthodox (Greek)

History

The church building dates from the 12th or 13th century. Originally the Anglican parish church of St Michael, the building was sold to the Greek Orthodox community at some point after the 1930s, when the Anglican congregation moved to the current St Michael’s church down the road.

Appearance

Having originally been an Anglican church dating from the Middle Ages, in the inside of the church can be seen several memorial plaques which stand out from the otherwise Orthodox style interior. There is a large medieval mural of an angel – perhaps the Archangel Michael – on one wall.

Upon entering the church, the first thing I saw was the large iconostasis at the opposite end. This has three rows of icons: at the top is Christ and the twelve apostles, the middle row shows various scenes from the New Testament in chronological order, from the Annunciation to Pentecost, and the bottom row – in which are the doors – has Christ, his Mother, John the Baptist, and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel.

Two chandeliers hang above the congregation, smaller versions of those at Ss. Constantine and Helen’s. There are lots of little chairs in pew-like formation for the congregation to sit on, although as one traditionally stands for most of an Orthodox service, these were not used much except by the more elderly and served mainly to mark somebody’s space.

At the back of the church, opposite a large icon of the Transfiguration, is a desk which supplies service sheets and sells candles, the latter of which can be lit in a raised container of sand (that looks like it may have once been a font) nearby. A door near the desk leads off to a side room in which I saw lots of icons stored.

The chanters were next to a large ornate throne at the front-right of the church, which would be used by a visiting bishop.

Clergy

The service was led by two priests, one in blue and the other in white vestments, and a deacon in gold vestments. Three chanters – two men and one woman – and two altar servers, all five in black cassocks, also helped with the service.

Congregation

As with most other Orthodox churches I’ve visited, the congregation swelled with more people joining as the service went on. When I arrived, there were fourteen or fifteen people other than the clergy; by the end of the service, there must have been roughly sixty.

Unsurprisingly, the congregation was predominantly Greek, although I did see several people who appeared to be English or of another ethnicity. In terms of age, the make-up of the congregation leaned towards the elder side, but there were plenty of younger people too, including a few teenagers, as well as several parents with young children. I would estimate that the gender divide was about 3:2 female:male.

I didn’t really interact much with any of the congregation; nobody greeted me as I entered or welcomed me to their church, but that does seem to be the norm in Orthodox churches, with the congregants focused on the service. The gentleman behind the candle desk gave me a friendly nod with an interested smile (as if to think “oh! a new person!”) but that was about it. However, the congregation in no way came across as unfriendly or aloof; the lack of any proper welcome did genuinely seem to be down to everyone focusing on their own prayers.

Service

The Sunday morning service consists of two parts: Orthros (Matins, morning prayer) and the Liturgy (communion service). According to the noticeboard outside the church, Orthros is from 9:30-10:45 and Liturgy from 10:45-12:30. Due to a delay with the trains, I arrived at 10:00. I was therefore quite surprised to find the Liturgy start a mere ten minutes later! The service finished at 12:15.

The service was the standard Orthodox Sunday morning communion order of service, the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, full of chanted prayers and hymns and psalms, incense, and processions.

The church being very small meant that the various processions had a somewhat squashed route. The clergy and altar servers would come out from behind the iconostasis with the Gospel, communion chalice, etc, walk down the aisle to the entrance door, then have to try to double back on themselves; they somehow managed to navigate a circular route down a short straight aisle without bumping into each other and losing any of the necessary dignity and gravitas required.

The second priest – the one in white vestments – spoke what I believe was Romanian. The Epistle (Galatians 1:11-19) and Gospel (Luke 8:26-39) readings, as well as the Nicene Creed and Lord’s Prayer, were read first in Greek, then in his language (which I do believe to have been Romanian, but can’t be sure), and then in English. There did seem to be more of the service read in English than I have seen at most Greek Orthodox services, but the majority was in Greek. Towards the end of the service, notices were given in English and then in Greek.

I really enjoyed the experience of attending this service. The Greek chanting created a very prayerful atmosphere, and as soon as it started to get monotonous there would be a bit of English so that my attention was regained. I could also tell that it was a bit of a challenge – especially once all the congregation had arrived – to hold the service in a building so small, but it was managed brilliantly.

Afterwards

After the service, the congregation went up to the priest in blue at the front, who handed out antidoron (blessed bread). Meanwhile, at the back of the church, larger pieces of bread were given out, together with kolliva (boiled wheat with nuts, raisins and pomegranates) and some little sweet things in cupcake wrappers (I’m not sure what they were, but they were delicious).

 

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