On Sunday, 21st January 2024, the Orthodox parish of the Annunciation in Middlesbrough joyfully celebrated the feast of St Maximos the Confessor. His Grace Bishop Raphael of Ilion presided during the Divine Liturgy, assisted by Revd Presbyter Nikita Banev, the Priest-in-Charge. The occasion was further graced by the presence of the Revd Presbyter David Walker from the Holy Apostles church in Leyland as a guest clergyman.
The service attracted many faithful, including founding members of the parish from 1976. It was particularly moving to see these individuals witnessing their grandchildren receive holy communion from Bishop Raphael.
The chanting was led by Mr Efstathios Mentzas, Protopsaltis from the Church of the Three Holy Hierarchs in Leeds, and Liliana Banev, the Parish’s lead chanter. They were supported by the Edinburgh team accompanying Bishop Raphael.
In his sermon, Bishop Raphael reflected on the life of Fr John Maitland Moir from Edinburgh, whose life exemplified prayer and unconditional love. He shared how Fr John’s constant prayer was “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy,” a phrase embodying inclusiveness and selflessness. Fr John’s humility was evident in his willingness to risk his reputation for others, exemplified by an incident where he begged for money for those in need, unconcerned about misinterpretation.
Bishop Raphael underscored the teachings of Fr John that viewed suffering as a divine selection and a path to acceptance and gratitude for God’s will. He spoke of Fr John’s life transitioning to one of continuous thanksgiving, highlighting his non-judgemental and positive nature. Drawing on the Gospel and the words of Saint Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Bishop Raphael emphasised the importance and power of gratitude, especially during suffering. He recommended beginning each day with a thankful heart, suggesting the practice of daily expressing gratitude to God with the words, “Lord Jesus, thank you for everything.”
Bishop Raphael expressed gratitude to God and the congregation, especially thanking Fr Nikita for his spiritual leadership. He acknowledged the emotional support needed by clergymen and extended thanks to Fr Paul for his hospitality and support.
In his response, Fr Nikita expressed his deep gratitude to Bishop Raphael for his longstanding support and friendship, recalling their first meeting in 2000 at the monastery in Essex. He thanked the Bishop for his personal support, his love for the parish, and for officiating the Divine Liturgy. Fr Nikita echoed Bishop Raphael’s message of daily gratitude, urging the congregation to remember and pray for the Bishop.
A highlight of the visit was the festive meal, featuring the blessing of the traditional Vasilopita cakes by Bishop Raphael. Special thanks are extended to all contributors, particularly to Fr Paul, who ensured a warm reception area despite a power cut.