Monday, 4 February 2008

A crossroads of the Orthodox World (1) [O răscruce a Lumii Ortodoxe]

One of the biggest surprises for the Brits themselves, not least for any Orthodox believer from any corner of the world, would be to find something more than a mere island of faith in this secular UK. For this is what the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights (Maldon, Essex) actually is - a crossroads of the entire Orthodox World, by no means just an isolated oasis of spirituality.

Otherwise how could this humble monastic community of 33 souls (as of 2008) attract dozens of pilgrims from all the Orthohox countries in eastern Europe, but also from as far as Iceland, USA, Japan, and Argentina?

The deepest explanation would go back to the life of St. Siluan the Athonite (1866-1938), the spiritual father of Archimandrite Sophrony (1896-1993), the founder of the monastery. However, I am far too overwhelmed with how meaningfully I felt there, and I know too little about these amazing people to dare telling others about them.

The most I could do for now is meekly share a fascinating first impression of the monastery, whose stavropegic status means that it is canonically dependant directly on the Ecumenical Patriachate in Constantinople.

Among so many things, what struck me most was listening to liturgical hymns sung (by nuns of various nationalities) in Church Slavonic, a language whose beauty was a revelation for me. Out of a sudden, I felt as though I understood one of those things that never happen by chance, yet whose meaning had always eluded my reason until two days ago.

The fact that for so many centuries the majority of Orthodox peoples used this language (why not other?!) for the Divine Liturgy couldn't have possibly been just accidental. By the 18th century, not even the ordinary Russians understood this language, let alone Romanians whose Latin core of the language is above denial.

Nevertheless, if the language I heard this weekend had sounded like that throughout the centuries, then it would have been enough to keep believers' hearts awake during the Holy Liturgy. Of course that I am not advocating the idea of returning to dead or artificial languages. I am only saying that nothing is meaningless for God, and I just wanted to share this view of mine to those who have never heard Slavonic chants in an Orthodox church.

Just listening to this language (and I admit that the nuns' angelic voices may also weigh in a great deal in this conviction of mine) should be enough to understand how it was possible for the Orthodox Faith to be kept alive when illiterate people praised the Lord in what was apparently an incomprehensible language. Be it only sung or listened to, beauty is always comprehensible!

[For all the episodes of this series, and all the posts on this blog go to/ Pentru toate episoadele din această serie şi toate postările de pe acest blog mergi la: Contents/Cuprins]


Lavinia said...

vaaai ce vizitat manastirea asta, si eu vreau sa merg acolo ca mai stau in Marea Britanie pana la sfarsitul lui August.

MunteanUK said...

May the Lord help you get there!

In case it's helpful for you, someone posted here...

...details about the journey from Birmingham to Tolleshunt Knights.

I don't know how helpful this is for you, if you are coming all the way from Manchester.

The London - Essex part of the trip could be helpful, I assume.


From London, there's also another possibility:

- take a train to Witham (a town in Essex) from Liverpool Station

- the journey is about 90-120 minutes, if I remember well

- near the train station in Witham there is a bus stop

- (again, if I remember well): the bus taking you to the monastery (or at least very close to it) is number 92

Anyway, just ask people at the train station in Witham!

Everybody knows about the monastery around there, no matter how 'irreligious' locals may be!

Mihai said...

When I was planning my trip to the monastery I wrote an email to the Maldon Tourist Information Center ( to get some help.

They responded very quickly and provided me with lots of useful information and suggestions.

They also gave me this link: which seems to be very useful for planing a trip, or at least for getting information about buses/trains schedule.

May the Lord help you get there !

MunteanUK said...

Dear Mihai,

Thank you for the link that you added!

Actually, posting it would have been appropriate in the first episode of this series...

...where I mentioned these 'travel planners' and also gave some links.


Nevertheless, let's hope that if anyone makes a Web search for the Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist (+ Essex, Maldon, Tolleshunt Knights etc) and lands on this page, that person won't be disappointed.

Thanks to your contribution, my blog post is not merely an 'essay' but a helpful tool for someone searching the monastery :-)


I don't know how 'official' it could be, yet here's a Facebook page of the monastery:

As for a directory (almost complete list I assume) of Orthodox Churches in the British Isles (therefore including Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland & Wales), I am recommending this link: