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Vespers and Talk at Exeter Orthodox Church

The Orthodox Church is small, seeming full with 30 people and tucked away, hidden as it is at the back of a neat garden on a busy road. Yet once inside, you cannot fail to be captivated by the intimate and mystical atmosphere of the place. The icons glimmer in the light of candles, the incense invades your senses and the harmonies of the small choir blend beautifully with the baritone of the priest. A stimulating and unforgettable experience to someone like me who had visited churches in Russia and marvelled at the architecture, frescoes and icons, but had never attended an Orthodox religious service before.

 

Members visiting Exeter Orthodox Church / Члены, посещающие у Эксетерской правослваной церкови

The Church is simply ‘Orthodox’ and not ‘Russian Orthodox’ and has existed in Exeter for 40 years. One of the 4 priests is Peter Scorer, a member of the Exeter-Yaroslavl Twinning Association, and it was he who officiated at our service. There is another Orthodox Church in North Devon.

 

With many Russians, Bulgarians, Slovakians, Rumanians and Greeks now living in Exeter, the Church often holds up to 60 adults and 20 children on Sundays – quite a squash! The three services per week are mainly conducted in English, but sometimes partly in Slavonic or Greek. During the Vespers which we attended, a Hail Mary was sung in Russian. Although the basic structure of the service remains the same all year, there are changes according to the Feast Days.

 

The walls are covered in wonderful icons, but there are no frescoes. The reason for this is simply that the atmosphere is too damp! The screen which separates the body of the congregation from the ‘holy of holies’, which only the priest may enter, is called the iconostasis. This represents the barrier between God and Man with the image of Christ as King of the Kingdom of God above the golden lamp in the centre. In Church God, not Man, makes the rules and there are only two of these: love God and love your neighbour. Also depicted are Mary, the mother of Jesus, on the left, and Jesus on the right. Only the priest may pass beyond the iconostasis as mankind is too sinful to enter, but this barrier between God and man is broken down by Christ as Saviour, so when the door in the iconostasis is opened, the congregation can catch a glimpse of what lies beyond the screen.

 

Fathers Peter and Porphyrios, Exeter Orthodox Church / Батюшки Питер и Порфирий, Эксетер Православная Церковь

The majority of converts to Orthodoxy are ex-Anglicans and there is a formal Service of Reception for new members. Adults are anointed with oil and babies are baptised, becoming immediately full members of the Church and being brought up for communion with the adults. In other countries the Head of the Orthodox Church is a Patriarch, but in England, the Church is under a French Archbishop who, in turn, is under the control of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Our Priest said he would be able to officiate at Orthodox Services in Russia.

 

After the talk, some of the group adjourned to a nearby pub for refreshments and one member even joined the folk group to entertain the other diners!

 

Very many thanks to Peter Scorer for allowing us to attend Vespers and for giving us such an interesting and informative talk.

 

Joyce Burgess

 

Website of Exeter Orthodox Church