The Orthodox experience from the British Isles

On Sunday, January 24th 1999, Fr Kyrillos Leret-Aldir concelebrated with Fr Theoklitos and Deacon Fr Emmanuel the Divine Liturgy at Sts Constantine and Helene, in Perth, Western Australia. Fr Kyrillos visited Perth from the Archbishopric of Thyateira and Great Britain. The following is transcript of an interview with Fr Kyrillos after the Divine Liturgy.

Question: Thyateira is not a city in Great Britain, how was the Metropolis named?

The Thyateira and Great Britain is an Archbishopric or, in other words, an Archdiocese; it is much more important that a Metropolis. Many Greeks have lived in Great Britain for many centuries, and during the time of the Reformation in western Europe there was a Greek Orthodox Church in London, but it had to close because of problems with the Protestants. When the Greeks had to abandon Asia Minor at the beginning of this century, they spread throughout the world, including to Great Britain.

The Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios in 1923 established a series of Metropolis and Episcopacies using the titles from the lands of Asia Minor that were lost. Thyateira was one of the great dioceses of the Christian Church, and one of the dioceses of the Apocalypsis; you may recollect from the Book of Apocalypse (Revelation) that God sent a message to the angel of the Church in Thyatira. The name of Thyateira was given to the whole of western Europe, however London was the centre of the Metropolis. The Metropolis became an Archdiocese in the 1960's and includes the whole of the United Kingdom and Malta. Other European countries are now Metropolis' or Archdioceses in their own right.

During and after the Second World War a great influx of Polish Orthodox Christians came with the Polish armies to fight against Nazi Germany. Many of these people, including their Archbishop Sava and Bishop Matthew, settled in England and created parishes under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and acted as 'auxiliary' Bishops of Thyateira.

There is Orthodox churches spread throughout United Kingdom today, many of which are now 'Anglicised'. It must be emphasised that we also use Greek in our Divine Liturgies, because this is the language of the Bible and of the ancient prayers. My parish in Weston super-Mare, for example, is very Cypriot and is like a little village. The church has about 110 families and we use mainly Greek in the Church. In my parish in Bristol, on the other hand, the Church is Polish and includes other nationalities and around 1000 students from throughout the world who attend the universities and colleges in Bristol. The Divine Liturgy is largely in English, but we still use Greek on a regular basis.

Question: Looking at your name, Leret-Aldir, one can safely assume that you are not from Greece or eastern Europe. How did you meet the Orthodox world?

Indeed, it is very difficult to determine my origin from my name. I come from Spain and was born in Madrid, and both the Leret and Aldir families are very small and restricted geographically in Spain. The Aldir family members are descendants of Jewish and Arabic communities in Spain, and became devout and good Christians many centuries ago. The name Leret originally comes from France then Cuba. My grandfather was an officer in Cuba and came with his young wife to Spain after 1898, when Spain lost Cuba...

I went to England in 1962 on a teacher exchange agreement between the British and Spanish governments. The exchange was supposed to be for only a year, but I ended up living there since. I married in Britain, and my children were born in Britain. In 1972, I was received as an Orthodox Christian.

Question: How has the encounter with Orthodoxy and being a devout Orthodox Christian affected your life?

As a Catholic, I think I would have been as fervent as I possibly am now, but I would not have been a priest because I was a married man. Therefore, my life was changed dramatically, because I was ordained as a deacon in 1980 and soon after to the priesthood. My life as a priest became totally and unexpectedly different, but, as an Orthodox Christian and a priest, the most important thing or aspect of Orthodoxy that has modified my life is the discovery of the texts of prayer of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church has a very rich and active literature that is prayed. Therefore, when we read the prayers of the Church, the verses of the Canons, Orthos, Hours etc, have the power to modify our lives. Being an Orthodox Christian opens us up and immerses us in a wealth of prayer that brings us closer to God.

A more elemental thing is that a Christian is no longer a man or a woman; a Christian is more than that. A new Christian is a new creation, as St. Paul says. We should be offended to be called a man or woman, because we not only have the knowledge of the cosmos through the sciences, our common sense and imagination, we also have the knowledge of God given by Christ.

Jesus Christ did not only come to redeem us from sin but, what is more important still, He came to give us the power to become the children of God, therefore, equal in some ways to Jesus Christ. We are not only equal, we are completely transformed and taken over by Jesus Christ. This makes us, in some way, participants of the Holy Trinity of God and we are included in the inner life of God. We, however, do not completely participate in this life, because it is an adoption and a gift.

That means, we are no longer men or women, but we have become children of God. We have entered a process of life that is partly provided by God through the Holy Sacraments, the Holy Scriptures, and through the prayers and tradition of the Church, which She received and gives to us. On our part, we also participate and collaborate with, and totally surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, not as men or women but as children of God fulfilling all the Commandments of God. We thus must deny ourselves and take up our cross, everyday, to follow Jesus Christ.

This transformation has obviously modified my life. I, as an old man, can see all this process of transformation into Jesus Christ or process of divinisation, as the Holy Fathers of the Church put it, happening with the aid of Orthodoxy, which is the purity of the tradition of Jesus Christ. This is why we have to be faithful to maintain Orthodoxy, which we must never change. If, one day our Bishops decide to modify and shorten our Services in any way it would be disastrous for the Church, because She has transformed me, you and all the Holy Fathers and Saints of the Church. The richness of Orthodoxy transforms those attending Liturgical prayers.

That is why, the greatest treasure given to me by Orthodoxy is Her Liturgical books. With these books, I quietly pray at home from the day I was Chrismated. Not only do I now live as a Christian, but as a priest I also pour out the treasury of Life and Light of Jesus Christ to other Christians who receive Him during the Sacrament of Baptism. This adoption will modify us beyond our imagination, as we live a Christian life and obey God's commandments.

My prayers for you will always be in my heart, and when I celebrate the Services of the Orthodox Church, you will be there. Therefore, the blessings of the Lord and His mercy will be with you always.

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