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).

History[edit]

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.

An early leader was Richard Williams Morgan ("Mar Pelagius I") (lived 1815–1899). The church adopted the name Ancient British Church and aimed at the restoration or re-creation of the form of Christianity that had existed in the Atlantic Isles (British Isles) during the earliest centuries of the Christian era. Morgan was consecrated a bishop by Jules Ferrette (Mar Julius) on 6 March 1874. Morgan was designated as first patriarch of the newly formed church.

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.

On 2 November 1897, three juruisdictions merged to form the Free Protestant Episcopal Church (full name: Free Protestant Episcopal Church of England). The three were the Ancient British Church (then led by its second patriarch Charles Isaac Stevens), the Free Protestant Church (founded and led by Bishop Leon Chechemian) and the Nazarene Episcopal Church (founded and led by Bishop James Martin). Leon Chechemian was appointed first primus of the new church and he served in this capacity for three years until 30 December 1900, at which point he was succeeded by Patriarch Stevens.

The patriarch of the Ancient British Church and the primus of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church then coincided in Stevens and his successors until 18 May 1939 when Bishop Monzani-Heard appointed William Hall as primus of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church, but retained the role of patriarch.

On 23 March 1944, a Deed of Declaration under Monzani-Heard united the Ancient British Church, the Old Catholic Orthodox Church, the British Orthodox Catholic Church and the Independent Catholic Church into a single organization, to be called the "Catholicate of the West". On 28 March 1944, Hugh George de Willmott Newman was chosen as "Catholicos". He was consecrated and enthroned on 10 April 1944, as "Mar Georgius". Newman's family background had been within the Catholic Apostolic Church (the "Irvingites") and he was influenced by that movement.

At Christmas 1944, the newly-formed Catholicate resolved to bring its ministry, organization, usages and worship into general agreement with the pattern and model of the Catholic Apostolic Church, and the Catholicate adopted the new name "Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West)" with a sub-title "Western Orthodox Catholic Church". The liturgy of the Catholic Apostolic Church was adopted, with a Supplement. However, the Catholicate was fairly short-lived and was dissolved in 1953.

On 29 January 1945, Monzani-Heard resigned the office of British patriarch to Newman.

An attempt was made in 1959 to revive the Catholicate of the West but did not survive beyond January 1969.

The following are the Patriarchs 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.


NOTE: During 1994, Mar Seraphim led much of the UK branch of the church into union with the Coptic (Oriental) Orthodox Church, thus forming the British Orthodox Church. Many who had not supported this alliance with the Copts considered that Mar Seraphim and his supporters had seceded, and that it was those remaining outside the Coptic jurisdiction who truly represented the movement.
Mar Seraphim continued to lead the Coptic jurisdiction (the British Orthodox Church), and he continues still (as at 2014). However, those remaining outside the Coptic jurisdiction elected their own patriarch, as stated below.


  • 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 died on Sunday 20 July 2014 after a long illness patiently borne.

Thus ends the title of Patriarch of Britain.

Mgr Marc I (Jean-Claude Scheerens) (consecrated in 1998 by Mgr Mael) was enthroned as primate of the Celtic Orthodox Church (of which Britain is a cherished part) on 5 October 2014, having been elected by the Holy Synod.

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'Église 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. Following the death of the COC priest in Haddington in June 2015, three clergy remain within the Celtic Orthodox Church in the UK, in Bridport, Edinburgh, and North Wales.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The name "Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West)" was 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 to 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.

External links[edit]