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, 8th 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 by Julius Ferrete.
  • Mar Theophilus I (Charles Isaac Stevens), consecrated in 1879 by Mar Pelagius. (Mar Theophilus was primus from 1889 to his death in 1917).
  • Mar Jacobus I Antipas (James Martin), consecrated in November 1890 by Leon Chechemian who was himself consecrated in May 1890 by Mar Theophilus (and Bishop Alfred Spencer Richardson).[2] (Mar Jacobus I Antipas was primus from 1917 to his death in 1919).
  • Mar Andries I (Andrew Charles Albert McLaglan), consecrated in 1897 by Leon Chechemian and Mar Jacobus I Antipas. (Mar Andries I was primus from 1919 to his death in 1928).
  • Mar Jacobus II (Herbert James Monzani-Heard), consecrated in 1922 by Mar Andries I. (Mar Jacobus II was primus from circa 1928/1930 to 29 January 1945)(died 1947).
  • Mar Georgius I (Hugh George de Willmott Newman), consecrated in 1944 by Mar Basilius (William Bernard Crow) on behalf of Mar John Emmanuel (Arthur Wolfort Brooks). Mar Basilius had himself been consecrated in 1943 by Mar Jacobus II (Mar Georgius was primus from 29 January 1945 to his death in 1979).
  • Mar Seraphim I (William Henry Hugo Newman-Norton), consecrated in 1977 by his cousin Mar Georgius, assisted by two other bishops, Bishop Smethurst and Bishop Raoult. (Mar Seraphim I was primus from 1979; he 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 in 1980 by Mar Seraphim, who was elected 8th 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 (Memory eternal).

Thus ends the title of Patriarch of Britain. As Primate of the Celtic Orthodox Church (of which Britain is a cherished part):

  • Mgr Marc I (Jean-Claude Scheerens), consecrated in 1998 by Mgr Mael, having been elected by the Holy Synod, was enthroned on 5 October 2014.

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 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.
  2. ^ Leon Chechemian may have been earlier (1879) consecrated by Leon Chorchorunian. According Bain ("Bishops Irregular: an international directory of independent bishops", 1985), Brandreth ("Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church", 1961) considers the claim that Chechemian was consecrated by Chorchorunian as doubtful.

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