So many recent posts on the blog have dealt with depressing matters that I thought a change of pace was required. Listed below are the known Orthodox, Middle Eastern and “Oriental” churches in North-East England. Although I do not belong to any of the churches identified in the post, I have long had an interest in Orthodox, Middle Eastern and “Oriental” churches, and especially the churches in these categories that are “miaphysite” (the Armenian, the Syriac Orthodox, the Coptic and the Ethiopian churches) rather than “dyophysite/diaphysite” in how they understand the nature of Jesus.
So here goes. I begin with what is the most widely known such church in North-East England.
St. George and St. Athanasius Coptic Cathedral, 67 Brighton Grove, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE4 5NT.
The Russian Orthodox Parish of St. George the Trophy-Bearer, which utilises St. James’s United Reformed Church, Northumberland Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 8SG.
Three and Four.
The Russian Orthodox Parish of St. Cuthbert and St. Bede, which utilises the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Parish of St. Mary-the-Less, South Bailey, Durham, DH1 3EE.
The Eastern Orthodox Chapel of St. Cedd’s, 9 Auckland Road, Darlington, DL3 9EJ.
The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Anthony The Great, which utilises St. John the Baptist Anglican Church, Grainger Street, Newcastle, NE1 5JG.
St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Church, which utilises St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Paxton Terrace, Millfield, Sunderland, SR4 6HP.
The Russian, the Greek and the Eastern Orthodox churches/chapels identified above are part of the Orthodox family of churches, which are indistinguishable in terms of belief and practice despite using different languages (Russian, Greek, etc.) for their liturgy. This said, the Orthodox churches are in many ways the opposite to the highly centralised Roman Catholic Church in that decentralised power relations prevail. This is partly reflected in how each Orthodox church (the Russian, the Greek, the Serbian, the Bulgarian, etc.) is named after the nation state that comprises its heartland.
The only “miaphysite” churches above are the Coptic cathedral in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and St. Thomas in Sunderland; every other church/chapel encourages its congregation to adhere to the “dyophysite/diaphysite” interpretation of the nature of Jesus subscribed to by the Roman Catholic, the Protestant and the Orthodox churches.
For those who do not know, the “miaphysite” doctrine derives from Cyril of Alexandria who described Christ as being of one incarnate nature where both the divine and the human are united. While the prefix “mono” refers to a singular one, the prefix “mia” refers to a compound one.
The “dyophysite/diaphysite” concept of Jesus can be equated to a glass containing oil and water (the two natures, the divine and the human, are present in Jesus, but do not mix), while the “miaphysite” concept of Jesus can be equated to a glass containing wine and water (the two natures, the divine and the human, mix).
In some respects, St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Church is the most interesting church/chapel identified above. St. Thomas has been a parish of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church since 2008.
We are led to believe that the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church was founded by St. Thomas, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, who is said to have arrived in what is now south-west India in 52CE (the Church is still especially strong in Kerala). The Church is in communion with the Antiochene, Alexandrian, Armenian, Eritrean and Ethiopian churches. The Church uses liturgies and practices popular with Christians in western Syria in the past and still popular with the Syriac Orthodox Church today. Beliefs are shaped by the councils of Nicea (325), Constantinople (381) and Ephesus (431). The Church subscribes to the “miaphysite” understanding of Jesus’ nature, which explains why it has close relations with the Armenian and the Ethiopian churches.
Just for the record…
The Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption used to be at Normanby, Whitby, North Yorkshire, YO22 4PS.
An informative newspaper article dated 2002 (it is still available on the internet) explains that the monastery was once a cowshed. The cowshed was restored and equipped to house a nun, Mother Thekla, who, by 2002, had been joined by Mother Hilda, about thirty years Mother Thekla’s junior (in 2002, Mother Thekla was in her eighties). In 2011 Mother Thekla died, by which time Mother Hilda had moved to another monastery.
Mother Thekla is best known outside Greek Orthodox circles for how she provided inspiration to John Tavener, one of the 20th century’s most famous and popular classical composers.
The monastery remained empty following Mother Thekla’s death, but in 2014 the Coptic Church submitted plans to take over the building and expand it so it could be used as a Coptic monastery. My understanding is that planning permission to expand the building has been refused (2014 and 2015). Perhaps new plans will soon be submitted by the Coptic Church that satisfy the requirements of the local authority.
Not far from what was the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Assumption is the Coptic Monastery of St. Athanasius. The monastery is part of the Diocese of Ireland, Scotland, North-East England and Affiliated Regions. The full postal address is St. Athanasius Monastery, Langdale End, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO13 0LH.