My Local Parish: Swansea
The Orthodox Community of Saint Zachariah and Saint Elizabeth is
based in the Swansea area of South West Wales, in the United
Kingdom. This is a community of Christians within the ancient
Orthodox Church. We are part of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and
Great Britain, within the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Our aim is to serve
all Orthodox Christians in South West Wales, and to share our faith
with local people through the medium of English and Welsh.
Our community developed partly from the work of Father Barnabas
(Burton) who served the Orthodox people of Wales for many years. He
was Welsh, a monk of the Orthodox Church, and the head of a
monastic house. As a typical Celt, he travelled extensively, bringing
the faith to many outlying areas. One of those areas was Llanelli,
where he had an outreach from his monastery for a few years. There
was no full time priest, and no regular services, but Father Barnabas
helped to fan a spark into a fire. He is remembered with affection as
one of our founders.
[People still remember Father Barnabas. They often ask about him,
and about his monastic house in New Mills, Wales. Father Barnabas
passed away some years ago, apparently within sight of the village
where he was born. He was laid to rest a few miles from the monastic
house at New Mills. At that time I was a deacon, and served the
Trisagion for the dead with other clergy who gathered from all over
the British Isles for the funeral. The monastic house continued in use
for Orthodox services for some years, but was eventually sold.]
At the time when Father Barnabas was growing older and less able to
travel to outlying Orthodox centres, the Orthodox Christians of South
Wales decided to send one of their people to the Archbishop for
ordination. They chose me, a married British man, a convert to the
Orthodox faith. I trained in the Greek Orthodox church of Saint
Nicholas in Cardiff. In 1993 I was ordained deacon, and in 1997 I was
ordained priest by Archbishop Gregorios (Archbishop of Thyateira and
Great Britain). The Archbishop gave me the new name of Luke.
As Father Luke, I was instructed to establish a new Orthodox
Community for South West Wales, based in Swansea. Swansea is the
second largest city in Wales. The Archbishop referred to this as a
mission community. In those early days my wife Cacilia and I still had
a large family at home, and we tried to make everyone feel welcome
at church as if they had come to a family gathering.
At present we do not have our own church building. We have used the
small chapel at my home in Llanelli, and the Chapel at Sinngleton
We now celebrate the Divine Liturgy (Communion service) 2nd/3rd/4th
Sundays of the month at the Chapel Singleton Hospital, Swansea and
1st SUnday of the month at the Chapel in Llanelli. The Liturgy begins
about 10.30am. We finish about 12.00 p.m. and gather for a coffee.
Our time together after the services is most important in a community
like ours which is scattered over half of South Wales. As our
Archbishop said, the sacramental meal which we celebrate at the altar,
continues when we share food together at the table.
The community normally follows the traditions and customs of the
Greek Church, but people will bring other customs from time to time.
Orthodox services are sung without the help of any musical
Our parishioners come from many different races and backgrounds. As
well as English and Welsh speakers, we have some Greeks, Cretans,
and Cypriots, and growing numbers of Russians, Ukrainians,
Romanians, Poles and others from Eastern Europe. We have even seen
people from India, Ethiopia and Eritrea. All these people are united in
the Orthodox faith. There is a real mixture of people: students from
Swansea University, visiting workers such as doctors, local Swansea
people, retired couples, young families, asylum seekers. Holding all
these elements together over the last 14 years has been almost
impossible. I have tried to maintain a mission that can include local
people as well as Greeks and Orthodox from many other lands. One of
the most difficult things for our community has been deciding on the
language and style of singing we will use for services. There have
been some unpleasant disagreements because a few people have tried
to insist on one language and style of music that excluded the wide
range of other people. There have been other difficulties too, including
some deliberate misinformation and mischief. Numbers attending
church fell for some months. We have had to work hard for
reconciliation and understanding. For the future, services will be
mainly in English with a little Welsh. We will also retain some Greek.
Because of the many different languages represented, our committee
has a firm and clear understanding that we should use English as our
main language for worship and for mission work. We will also try to
move back towards more congregational singing – as we used to have
in the early days of our community. This is not because we feel one
language or one style of singing is better for Christianity. It is simply
the only way that a diverse community in South Wales is going to
survive and grow.
The community of Saint Zachariah is supposed to be a mission parish,
but we have only reached local people very slowly. This has not been
helped by a lack of encouragement from our Greek Archdiocese, and
some narrow ethnicity amongst a few parishioners. The community
board is trying to find better ways to carry out mission work.
The parish newsletter has recently become a bi-monthly publication,
which will now run alongside my older publication called “Orthodox
Christian Contact.” The newsletter now reflects events in Swansea, the
life of our people, and local parish concerns. You can receive the
newsletter by email if you register your email address. Local
parishioners can also receive a print copy. There is also a new parish
website which will gradually develop its own articles and information.
You should be able to access the new parish website soon. We hope
that the new site will develop as a friendly gateway for parishioners
and others to explore our community. The community board uses the
public information centre in Swansea, as well as the Chaplaincy notice
board at Swansea University. They use posters and you may find the
community mentioned in the Welsh newspapers occasionally. Our
committee is keen to develop our outreach, and to make sure that
visitors find a friendly and warm reception. Christianity is about
reconciliation, forgiveness and love. We try to reflect this.
I am a non-stipendiary priest. This means that I am not paid by the
Orthodox Church, nor directly by the Community (though people may
give donations for me in the collection). I have an ordinary paid job.
For many years I was fortunate to work as an advisor and trainer with
the Citizens Advice Bureau. More recently I have been employed as a
Welfare Rights worker by a local government authority (Neath Port
Talbot County Borough Council). I also work for an organisation called
Communities First (funded by the Welsh Assembly Government). I
work in a deprived area, alongside organisations such as Women’s Aid
and drug and alcohol advisory groups to deliver advice about welfare
rights and to help people claim benefits.
Alongside my role as the priest of the Community of St Zachariah and
St Elizabeth, I work to spread the Word of God. Over many years I
have produced a series of English Language leaflets setting out some
of the teaching and history of the Orthodox Church. These are currently
being revised and extended. For twenty years my wife and I had our
own market stall in Llanelli Market Hall, where Orthodox books, icons
and incense could be found alongside local Welsh produce for the
people of Llanelli. (Where else can you find the scent of incense
mingling with the smell of cockles and Welsh larverbread?) This
small profits from the stall and the website formed part of our income.
This enabled us to publish the leaflets mentioned above, pay for this
website, and publish Orthodox books under the imprint “Orthodox
Christian Contact”. I accept invitations to preach in a variety of
churches and chapels. In the past my wife and I have arranged
exhibitions and talks, particularly in conjunction with the Ecumenical
Fellowship of Saint David and Saint Nicholas, Cardiff.
In July 2009 my wife, Presvitera Cacilia passed away after a long and
painful illness. I am still adjusting to life without her, surrounded and
supported by a wonderful family.