The holy relics from Diveyevo in the UK (continued). Oxford
Our sisters report from the UK where they accompany the holy relics of the Diveyevo saints:
We traveled to Oxford on the feast of the Ascension.
From the early morning, the day promised to be warm and sunny. We found that the local weather was quite pleasant. Despite the fact that the English make it a habit to complain about the weather as too wet or rainy, it was quite different during our stay in England. On cloudy days, the light rain might have drizzled for a while. On sunny days, the skies cleared up and it got pleasantly warm, but not humid. As a result, the English plants and greenery are truly vibrant, varied and diverse.
We arrived just in time for the Liturgy at the small church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker at one of the ancient streets of Oxford. The church pastor and the parish priest Father Stephen (Platt) met us inside the still empty church. Father Stephen enjoys the extraordinary love and respect of his parishioners. We witnessed why and understood how it could not be otherwise. Meeting him was one of those encounters in England that will always stay with us in our memory.
The service was a breeze. We were led up front towards the area with stasidias in front of the altar. We were a little embarrassed at first, but after a short while, an amazing feeling of unity overwhelmed us and we felt as if one with those praying in the altar and at church. Not a word, noise or rustle was heard despite the church full of people. The big choir sang beautifully, peacefully and soothingly. Familiar melodies, sung in a foreign language, reflected inside in a special way.
What a joy it was to see Father Stephen commune! Everything went as usual except that he treated each communicant with such calm attention and kindness.
After the service, the church was filled with noise, movement, and conversations. It turned out that the parishioners (about forty of them came today) had a tradition to have lunch at church on Sundays and during holidays. They bring a dish, either homemade or bought, to share with everyone else. It was so easy and exciting! It was fun when we, equipped with just a couple of phrases in English, tried to get to know some of the parishioners who also knew just a couple of words in Russian.
An elderly couple sat in front of us: the priest, Father Stephen, treated as an elder due to his advanced age and spiritual counsel, joined by Matushka Joanna. They were married for 62 years! What a pleasure it was to observe them and meet other kind and friendly Christians. We also enjoyed meeting Marianne, the church sacristan. An elderly lady with an excellent command of Russian, she was born in Shanghai, China, to the family of Russian servicemen who lived there since the tsarist times. St. John of Shanghai held her in his arms when she was still a baby. She later moved to England during the times of His Grace Anthony of Sourozh. The way Marianna looked and talked, her humility and piety – everything about her was quite engaging. She said that the congregation is going to ask Father Stephen to form a pilgrimage group to visit Diveyevo.
We went sightseeing in Oxford. The town is no longer a single university surrounded by a handful of small houses for servants. It is a busy college town with its own transportation system, factories, and over 150 000 residents.
All of its university buildings are built in the Gothic style and it is quite beautiful! As you walk around it, you see the formidable stone facades piercing the skies and made of ancient yellow stone. Once you step inside the buildings, you will see white walls, intricately carved and decorated with brightly colored stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes and the lives of saints.
Christ Church is the largest college in Oxford. We visited the burial place of an ancient British saint, Frideswide of Oxford, located in its church and reverently remembered there. Father Stephen took us to a picturesque village of Binsey nearby holding an ancient well of St. Frideswide located next to the Anglican Church of the Holy Martyr Marina (Margarita) of Antioch. The well sprang up by St. Frideswide’s prayer. While there, we wrote in Russian: “Christ is Risen!” that became the first ever entry in Cyrillic in the church’s guest journal. We also stopped by to take a closer look at the local fields. The British farmers offer anyone the opportunity to gather crops and then buy as much as they want for a small fee. We observed how strawberries, beans, and asparagus are grown there. It turned out that the local soil was poor and loamy.
Before we returned to London, we were invited for a cup of tea. We were able to enjoy the delightful conversation with Father Stephen and his sister, nun Seraphima. They were Oxford graduates and mother Seraphima still teaches theology there. They spoke very warmly about our sisters who came there accompanying the relics of Father Seraphim. I hope that our visit will leave good memories, too! At parting, all of us sang the Troparion to our Diveyevo saints. It is quite touching and nice that our saints are revered at distant lands. Father Stephen blessed us and bid us goodbye with his endless love.