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British Orthodox Church
Type Oriental Orthodox
Classification Independent Oriental Orthodox
Theology Miaphysite
Polity Episcopal
Primate Patriarch Seraphim
Region British Isles
Headquarters Glastonbury, Somerset, England
Founder Jules Ferrette
Origin 1866
Official website

The British Orthodox Church, formerly known as the Orthodox Church of the British Isles, is a small independent Oriental Orthodox church defining its mission to the people of the British Isles. It has not been in communion with any of the Oriental Orthodox churches since a 2015 decision to return to an independent status.

The present British Orthodox Church derives from the consecration of a French former Dominican priest Jules Ferrette (1828-1904), who in the year 1866 was consecrated as Bishop of Iona by the Syriac Orthodox Church's Bishop of Emesa Boutros ibn Salmo Mesko (1799-1894) with the purpose of re-establishing Oriental Orthodoxy in the West.

In February 1994 a delegation headed by Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury, representing the Orthodox Church of the British Isles, was invited to Egypt by Pope Shenouda III, of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Coptic Orthodox Pope & Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Shenouda III met the delegation and discussed their dogma (they being of Orthodox origin), and the matter of their uniting with the Coptic Church.

On 19 March 1994, at the "Synod of Soho" which met at the House of St Barnabas-in-Soho, the clergy unanimously supported proceeding towards full union with the Alexandrian patriarchate. In further detailed discussions with Pope Shenouda and senior members of the Holy Synod, held in Cairo in April, May and June in Cairo again on 2–11 April and 28 May-5 June, details of the protocol determining the relationship of the Orthodox Church of the British Isles to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria were agreed. Pope Shenouda decided not to re-ordain Abba Seraphim but to recognise his orders and received him by economia on 4 June 1994. Although his episcopal orders were fully recognised, Pope Shenouda decided to ordain him as a bishop in order to bring all the clergy within the Coptic line of apostolic succession. He had been enthroned as Metropolitan of Glastonbury following the death of his predecessor in 1979, but now he would also be ordained as a metropolitan of the patriarchate. In the Coptic Orthodox tradition, metropolitans are actually ordained, as the senior episcopal rank. On 19 June 1994, on the Feast of Pentecost in the Great Cathedral of St Mark in Cairo, he received these ordinations at the hands of Pope Shenouda assisted by 63 metropolitans and bishops who constituted the Holy Synod.

On 4 October 2015 the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, in response to a request from the British Orthodox Church, "in the same spirit with which this union came into being", agreed to the British Orthodox Church returning to its pre-1994 status "in fulfilment to what it sees as its current mission in the light of the developments and changing dynamics of the Middle East and Britain". The British Orthodox website spoke of it "amicably returning to its original status in order to fulfil its mission more effectively". This resulted in the British Orthodox Church returning to a non-canonical status, outside of communion with any Orthodox or other Church.

Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury is the metropolitan of the Metropolis of Glastonbury and primate of the British Orthodox Church. In January 2019 it was announced that he would be known as His Beatitude Patriarch Seraphim.


Abba Seraphim (William Henry Hugo Newman-Norton) (born 1948), Metropolitan Archbishop of the Holy Metropolis of Glastonbury VIIth British Patriarch and Primate of the British Orthodox Church. He was a full member of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria from 1994 to the church's autocephaly in 2015. Since January 2019 he uses the title His Beatitude Abba Seraphim but is no longer in communion with any Orthodox or other communities. The Glastonbury metropolitanate has two other bishops consecrated by Abba Seraphim.


The British Orthodox Church originated in the consecration of a Frenchman, Jules Ferrette, as a bishop to serve independently in the West, by the Mutran Boutros (later the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch) at Homs (Emesa) on 2 June 1866. Ferrette was born in France of Protestant parents, but became a Roman Catholic and was ordained a priest. He came to leave the Roman Catholic Church and associated with the Irish Presbyterian Mission in Damascus. While in Syria as a Protestant missionary he was consecrated a bishop and travelled to Britain where he hoped to be able to bring about Christian unity based on the Orthodox orders he had received. After two years he abandoned his missionary efforts in Britain and moved to the United States of America. He later retired to Switzerland. He had gained a few followers in Britain during this short period but had been unable to establish a stable church.

An Anglican priest, Richard Williams Morgan (1815-1889), received episcopal consecration as Mar Pelagius, Hierarch or Caerleon by Mar Julius Ferrette before he left for the United States of America, and to have subsequently became associated with by the Order of Corporate Reunion. He continued to serve as an Anglican priest while also leading the small community of the Ancient British Church. He consecrated a former presbyter of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Charles Isaac Stevens (1835-1917), as a bishop in 1879, who later was styled as Patriarch Mar Theophilus and the documented history of the antecedents of the British Orthodox Church begin from this point.

In 1890, Stevens consecrated an Armenian, Leon Checkemian (1848-1920), as a bishop for the Ancient British Church. He had been a priest of the Armenian Catholic Church in Asia Minor before immigrating to the British Isles where he was consecrated a bishop for the Free Protestant Episcopal Church. In the same year he also formed the United Armenian Catholic Church as a non-Catholic alternative for Armenians. He also joined the Church of Ireland and was licensed by them to minister as a cleric. In 1897 he united his Free Protestant Church with the Ancient British Church, while preserving the independence of his United Armenian Catholic Church, and with the Nazarene Episcopal Church of James Martin (1843-1919).

In 1900 Checkemian passed the control of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church to Stevens, and it remained a union of the Ancient British Church, of which Stevens was considered the second Patriarch, and the Free Protestant Church, of which he was also the primus.

On his death in 1917, Martin took over as third patriarch and primus of the two bodies, using the name Mar Jacobus I Antipas.

On the death of Martin in 1919, Andrew Charles Albert McLagen (Mar Andries) became patriarch of the Ancient British Church and primus of the Free Protestant Episcopal church holding those positions from 1919 until his death in 1928.

The Ancient British Church and the Free Protestant Episcopal Church were only separated when Herbert James Monanzi-Heard (1871-1948), the successor of McLagan, was succeeded by William Hall in the Free Protestant Episcopal Church in 1939, and was succeeded by Hugh George de Willmott Newman (1905-1979) in the Ancient British Church in 1945. Newman held the position of Patriarch of the Ancient British Church, under various other names, until being succeeded in turn by William Henry Hugo Newman-Norton, as Mar Seraphim in 1979.

Name before 1994

In 1970 the name of the church was changed to the Orthodox Church of the British Isles at the suggestion of Bishop Jean Kovalevsky, primate of the Orthodox Catholic Church of France, as part of an increasing desire to seek union with one of the canonical Orthodox churches.

Relationship with the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria

Over the years the British Orthodox Church lost touch with its Eastern origins, but in 1994 under the leadership of the present bishop, discussions with the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria bore fruit and the church was reunited with the Oriental Orthodox churches from which it had come. On the feast of Pentecost in 1994, at Saint Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, Abba Seraphim was ordained as metropolitan by Pope Shenouda III, and the British Orthodox Church became a constituent of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.

The British Orthodox Church comprises seven locations in the British Isles where services are conducted. All its services are in English and it venerates the Orthodox saints of the British Isles and those of the wider Orthodox Church. It uses the ancient Liturgy of Saint James as its usual liturgy, together with all the traditional services of the Coptic Orthodox Church, such as the morning and evening "Raising of Incense".

The British Orthodox Church is a small community, and since 2015 has a policy of "concentrating on existing parishes" rather than establishing new missions.

Continuing church after 1994

In 1994, much of the United Kingdom branch of the church followed Metropolitan Seraphim into formal union within the Coptic Orthodox Church, thus forming the British Orthodox Church.

However, in 1995, a remnant of remaining bishops elected Mar Mael I (Paul Eduard de Fournier de Brescia) as patriarch. Mar Mael remained in office until his death in July 2014. The French and other members who did not join the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria adopted the name L'Eglise Orthodoxe Celtique (the Celtic Orthodox Church - officially the Celtic Apostolic Church), thus indicating that its jurisdiction covered the area of the former Celtic missions. In 1997/1998, several of the former Celtic parishes of the newly formed British Orthodox church left the Coptic church and returned to their mother church, being received by Mar Mael I into the Celtic Orthodox Church.

Return to independence

Following 21 years of unity with the Oriental Coptic Orthodox Church, a statement was released on 5 October 2015 stating the decision of the British Orthodox Church to return to its pre-1994 status of independence. In so doing, this ended the autonomous status of the church under the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. On this date the small British Orthodox Church ceased to be in communion with any of the ancient Orthodox churches.

On 29 October 2017, Metropolitan Seraphim, acting solus, consecrated Father David Seeds as Bishop David of Priddy.

On 23 February 2019, Patriarch Seraphim, acting with Bishop David of Priddy, consecrated Father James Maskery as His Eminence Abba James, Archbishop Titular of Caerleon-upon-Usk and Mafrian of the British Orthodox Church. Mafrian is a title used in the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Catholicos of the East, and the primate of the church in the Sassanid Empire, now Iran and Iraq.

The clergy of the British Orthodox Church now consists of one patriarch, two bishops, one priest and one deacon.

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