From Wednesday the 22nd to Saturday the 25th of November, the annual pastoral convocation of the clergy of the Diocese of Great Britain & Western Europe took place in the Church of the Nativity of Christ & St. Nicholas in Florence, Italy. The gathering brought together more than 45 clergymen from 10 countries of continental Europe and the British Isles, 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 honored with a visit of the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, His Eminence Nicholas, Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York, who made his first archpastoral visit to the Western European Diocese following his enthronement a year ago. The presidium was occupied by the ruling bishop of the diocese, His Grace Irenei, Bishop of London & Western Europe; His Grace, diocesan vicar Bishop Alexander of Vevey; and Archpriest Pavel Tsvetkov (dean of the diocesan cathedral in Geneva and the diocese’s senior-most clergyman).
The official opening took place on Thursday, November 23, with the celebration of Divine Liturgy in the diocese’s beautiful Florentine church ‒ the oldest Russian Church in Italy and the Orthodox pearl of the city, which this year 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, parish rector Archpriest Georgy Blatinsky celebrated his birthday, and the Polychronion was intoned for him by the great host of his brother clergy. 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 in the diocese over the past year, which has significantly increased its presence in both continental Europe and the British Isles.
The First Hierarch then presented a report on the ever-memorable Primates of ROCOR, his immediate predecessors: Metropolitans Laurus (Škurla; +2008) and Hilarion (Kapral; +2022), sharing his personal memories of the years when he performed various ecclesiastical obediences under their leadership. His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas, called on every clergyman to carefully protect and cherish the ancient traditions of piety brought from 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. The same day, the ever-memorable Archbishop Seraphim (Dulgov; +2008) of Brussels & Western Europe, former ruling bishop of the diocese and who reposed in the Lord exactly 20 years ago, was also remembered with a prayer for the departed.
After discussing the Metropolitan’s report and communicating with the Primate 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, the hierarchs expressed satisfaction with the sacrificial service of the clergy and parishioners in helping their neighbors.
After lunch, there followed a presentation by Fr. 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 concluded their morning labors, then departed on a tour of central Florence to visit the museum complex of Santa Maria Novella and other sites. In the evening, the divine services were held, after which the clergy continued their meetings and discussions regarding pastoral and parish ministry.
On Friday, November 25, the conference continued its fruitful work, starting the day with 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 gathering was a pilgrimage visit to the Florence Cathedral (‘il Duomo’) where, standing before the relics of St. John the Baptist, the Apostle Andrew the First-Called, and the Holy Hierarch 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, officiated by the First Hierarch in concelebration with the bishops and clergy of the diocese. The next morning, Saturday, November 25, the entire host of assembled clerics concelebrated with the hierarchs at Divine Liturgy on the feast day of the Holy Hierarch John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, communing of Christ’s Holy Mysteries from a single chalice. At the Little Entrance, local cleric 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, emphasizing the importance of the pastoral conference 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 honorable clergy of Great Britain & 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 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 feast day of St. John Chrysostom, which the Holy Church celebrated this year on the 25th Sunday after Pentecost.