By the time I came into contact with what was then called the Orthodox Church of the British Isles in about 1988 it was not really Syran in ethos. The senior bishop was Mar Seraphim and the clergy wore some Syrian vestments. The link with Syria had been severed a century before under pressure from the Anglican Church which was very active in the Middle East.
I met regularly with Mar Seraphim and was impressed by his genuine desire to maintain an Orthodox faith even among his isolated communities. There was a document published some years before I first met the OCBI called the Glastonbury Confession and I am still impressed by its patristic foundations and Orthodox content. I had no doubt that the OCBI was Orthodox.
Nevertheless it was isolated and at the time I was seeking for Orthodoxy and did not want to be joining a completely different tradition to the Evangelicalism I had grown up and been active in as well as having to be isolated from a wider communion of Christians.
In the years before I was received I continued to meet with Mar Seraphim. He always had a desire to be reunited with the wider Orthodox communion, not to make him important but because it was where he knew the flock under his care should be. I know that he would have been received even as a priest rather than a bishop if this was required for the welfare of his people.
As it was he developed good relations with some of the Copts in the UK. These helped make an introduction to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate possible. Part of the process was that he wanted to regularise the life of the OCBI. So they stopped using their own liturgy and started using an ancient and Apostolic one, that of St James. There were other things that took place, all designed to tighten up the Orthodox praxis.
The discussions with the Coptic Orthodox seemed to go very well - as far as could see. And at Pentecost 1994 in Cairo, Mar Seraphim became Metropolitan Seraphim and the OCBI became the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. A week or so later I was baptised and chrismated.
Certainly some of the Syrian Orthodox in the 19th century had a great vision, not for expanding the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, but for genuinely sharing the Orthodox faith with the West.
Equally at the end of the 20th century the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate has been imaginative enough to receive a French church some 30 years ago into union, and now thr British Orthodox Church.
At present we use the Liturgy of St James, together with the rites of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate for all other services and sacraments. Yet we are neither Syrian nor Coptic. We are British Orthodox. Living the Orthodox tradition, received most directly from the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in a British environment and context.
We use a different liturgy
We use a modified Western calendar for the fixed feasts
We sing some good, theological hymns from the ancient Western Orthodox traidition
We venerate our own British saints as well as those of the universal and Coptic Church
We use a different and British chant and in time, God willing, this will be more musical
We celebrate the services in English
I know that we love being part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. It has been a complete blessing. But we are committed to evangelism and mission among our fellow British citizens. If we do not evangelise then we will not grow, and we must evangelise in a British context.
We are not an autonomous Church but the very protocol of union made clear that Pope Shenouda expected and required that we maintain our British ethnicity. he did not want is pretending to be Egyptians.
In my own mission the service is not obviously Coptic. It is certainly liturgical but a visitor would not immediately think we were trying to be 'Eastern'. We have an iconostasis with a growing number of icons painted in the modern Coptic style. Many Western people actually find these more approachable than some other traditions. So we are obviously Orthodox but not obviously Coptic, let alone Egyptian.
But as far as our faith goes we are entirely in accord with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.
For myself I find it a constant pleasure interacting with Orthodox folk around the world, especially as I meet more and more young people with a serious faith and an earnest desire for the union of all the holy Churches of God based on truth and the fulness of the faith.
The BOC has tried to give something back to the wider community and I have published a couple of books. The most useful is 'The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined' by Fr V.C. amuel of blessed memory. This book really helped me and I was disappointed that it was almost impossible to get hold of so when I was given permission to re-publish it I was very pleased. It took me a long while but it has been available at Amazon etc for a couple of years now. We have also republished the Conferences of St John Cassian, which I love. And have plans for other works.
We publish the Glastonbury Review 2 or 3 times a year and this has good articles in it, some of which I have written. And you know that we also maintain www.orthodoxunity.org
and a number of discussion lists.
As a personal interest I also maintain www.celticorthodoxy.org
and I am studying for an M.A in Celtic Christianity - the Orthodox Christianity that is of the early British christians.
Our biggest concerns are to do with mission and evangelism I think. All of our missions and parishes need to grow and keep growing. I am organising a Family, and Friends weekend next year at a residential centre that will be an opportunity for us to enjoy fellowship together - which is also difficult for us - and will be a means of some gentle evangelism for our contacts and families who are not all Orthodox.
We are also currently producing a booklet Introducing Orthodoxy, in our context of course and for us to use in evangelism. I have so many plans and ideas but its all down to time and God making things possible.
This is just a bit about the BOC. I'm sure I'll mention more as appropriate.