Celtic Orthodox Church

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The Celtic Orthodox Church (COC), formerly known as the Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West),[1] and before that as the Ancient British Church, and the Orthodox Church of the British Isles (OCBI), is an autocephalous Orthodox Church, which was canonically established with the consecration of Mar Julius (Jules Ferrette) in 1866 by Mar Boutros (Boutros ibn Salmo Mesko) who later became Patriarch Mar Ignatius Peter IV of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch.

The church is represented in America, Australia, France, Switzerland and the UK. From 1977 onwards, the previous Primate of the COC, HB Mael, 9th Patriarch of Britain, Metropolitan of Dol and titular Bishop of Iona, who resided at the Monastère de la Saint-Présence (Monastery of the Holy Presence) at Saint-Dolay in Brittany, the Headquarters of the COC, initiated profound reforms, and since then the Church has continued to grow, regaining the historic Celtic traditions, her Rite and her spirit. New communities have been born, establishing ecumenical relations with other Churches. The Celtic Orthodox Church is an important part of the heritage of Western Orthodoxy.

Since 25 December 2007, the Celtic Orthodox Church has been united with the French Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of the Gauls, forming the 'Communion of the Western Orthodox Churches' (CWOC).


In 1866, with the sanction of Patriarch Ignatius Jacobus II of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, Mar Julius (Jules Ferrette) was consecrated by Mar Boutros (Boutros ibn Salmo Mesko) who later became Patriarch Mar Ignatius Peter IV of Antioch, and dispatched to form an indigenous Orthodox Church in Western Europe, which was not in any way subject to the Syrian Orthodox Church or the Patriarch of Antioch. The consecration was witnessed by the British Consul at Damascus. Mar Julius was given the title of Bishop of Iona and its Dependencies. The Church has had a mixed history, with a poor reception for Mar Julius, and as a result both he and his successors had great difficulty in maintaining the Church in the UK. Resistance was encountered from Catholic, Protestant and other Orthodox churches, but gradually it survived and grew.

The following are the Patriarchs of Britain in succession:

  • Mar Pelagius I (Richard Williams Morgan), consecrated in 1874.
  • Mar Theophilus I (Charles Isaac Stevens), consecrated in 1879.
  • Mar Jacobus I Antipas (James Martin), consecrated in 1897.
  • Mar Andries I (Andrew Charles Albert McLaglan), consecrated in 1897.
  • Mar Jacobus II (Herbert James Monsani Heard), consecrated in 1922.
  • Mar Basilius (William Bernard Crow), consecrated in 1943.
  • Mar Georgius I (Hugh George de Willmott Newman), consecrated in 1944.
  • Mar Seraphim I (William Henry Hugo Newman-Norton), consecrated 1977, who seceded and led much of the UK branch of the church into union with the Coptic (Oriental) Orthodox Church in 1994, thus forming the British Orthodox Church.
  • Mgr Mael I (Paul-Eduard de Fournier de Brescia) consecrated 1980, who was elected 9th Patriarch by the remaining bishops of the Holy Synod in 1995.

Patriarch Mael I reposed on Sunday 20 July 2014 after a long illness patiently borne (RIP). A successor is yet to be announced.

The French and other members who rejected the opportunity to join the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, remaining faithful to their status as the continuing Church founded by Mar Julius, assumed the title of the French Eparchy: L'Eglise Orthodoxe Celtique (the Celtic Orthodox Church - officially the Celtic Apostolic Church) to indicate that its jurisdiction covered the area of the former Celtic missions. In 1997(1998?) several of the former Celtic priests of the newly formed British Orthodox Church left the Coptic Church and returned to their Mother Church, being received back by HB Mael into the Celtic Orthodox Church. By 1998 the Church in Britain was given the status of an Eparchy or Province and in 1999, a new Bishop Eparch, Stephen Robson, was elected and consecrated for Britain; he had been one of those British priests who had chosen to leave the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. In early 2007, the administration of the British Eparchy came under the direct care of the Patriarch, HB Mael, when Bishop Stephen, asked for release, with the blessing of HB Mael, from the Celtic Orthodox Church and was received as a monk into the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2008. In 2012, a priest and small congregation in Bournemouth also entered the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Four clergy remain within the Celtic Orthodox Church in the UK, in Bridport, Edinburgh, Haddington and North Wales.

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  1. ^ The name "Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West)" was a name adopted circa 1944 when the church was under the leadership of Hugh George de Willmott Newman (Mar Georgius). Mar Georgius's own family background and early life were in the "Catholic Apostolic Church" (often called "Irvingite"), a church founded in the 19th century. Mar Georgius was influenced by the "Irvingite" movement , but his "Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West)" is not the same as the "Irvingite" Catholic Apostolic Church.

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