Chiswick to Become a Cathedral City?

Spotlight on the Russian Orthodox Church in Havard Road

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In the far distant past a town had to have a university and a cathedral in order to be granted its charter as a city. If these criteria were still valid, Chiswick would already be half way along the road towards being an independent city of its own rather than merely being the Eastern end of the London Borough of Hounslow. For Chiswick now has its own cathedral, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, dedicated to Adoration of the Virgin Mary, in Harvard Road between Wellesley Road and the A4 to the South of Gunnersbury Station.

Those of us who live nearby have been watching its construction with interest but when I visited the site recently I was astonished to learn that the Cathedral has been open since April this year. It is still unfinished and it will be several years if not decades before the interior will be completed, but the building is in use for regular worship. The distinctive onion shaped dome arrived ready to be painted blue with gold stars and lifted on the roof to greet traffic coming into London on the nearby A4.

This small but beautiful cathedral has been built by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), which is independent of the Russian Orthodox and the Patriarch of Moscow. Unlike the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, ROCA never compromised with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or with the Communist Party and did not enter into communion with the Patriarch of Moscow and the Church in Russia following the fall of Communism and the limited freedom granted by the post-Communist Governments of Gorbachov and Yeltsin to the Orthodox Church in Russia. ROCA is however in communion with the Serbian Orthodox Church whose Patriarch Pavle is now living in Kosovo trying to protect the Christian Orthodox holy places, churches, monasteries.

It is a square, white building with very impressive woodwork on the outside. Inside there is an ornate screen running the width of the Church from North to South in front of the altar. There are a number of very old paintings and icons, which were smuggled out of Russia at the time of the Revolution. There are only a few seats for disabled, old and pregnant people as Orthodox Christians traditionally worship God standing up. As in the past services began with Vespers on Saturday evenings and continued with a vigil through the night until Mass on Sunday, the lack of seats goes to show that in the past at least the Russians were as tough, determined and as dedicated in their Christianity as in their subsequent performance in the Great Patriotic War against National Socialist Germany.

At the moment the cathedral has two priests, Father Vadim who came to Chiswick from the Ukraine with his family, and Father Thomas Hardy, a Canadian. Marco, the young choirmaster is a Londoner from Muswell Hill. There is no organ, as the church does not use musical instruments in its worship. In addition to Russians and Ukrainians, the congregation includes some English converts who do not appear to have a problem worshipping in the Old Church Slavonic used during the services. The Holy Spirit works in marvelous ways.

At a time when many Christian denominations are struggling to keep their churches open, it is most heartening to see any new church being built, let alone a cathedral! Let us wish our Russian Orthodox friends well with their new place of worship and pray that the day will come when we will all be part of a united Christian Church in communion with one another. Now all we need is the University of Chiswick and we will be well on our way to city status!

David Giles (first published in Chiswick Parish Magazine)