East/West Dialogue

ecum1“The echo of the Gospel - the words that do not disappoint - continues to resound with force, weakened only by our separation: Christ cries out but man finds it hard to hear his voice because we fail to speak with one accord. We listen together to the cry of those who want to hear God's entire Word. The words of the West need the words of the East, so that God's word may ever more clearly reveal its unfathomable riches. Our words will meet for ever in the heavenly Jerusalem, but we ask and wish that this meeting be anticipated in the holy Church which is still on her way towards the fullness of the Kingdom.

May God shorten the time and distance. May Christ, the Orientale Lumen, soon, very soon, grant us to discover that in fact, despite so many centuries of distance, we were very close, because together -- perhaps without knowing it -- we were walking towards the one Lord, and thus towards one another.”

 Pope John Paul ll    Orientale Lumen


Ecumenical Dialogue has always been an important part of the life at Minster Abbey.  In the 1990s the sisters began to work more closely with the Churches of Minster.  For the great Jubilee year of 2000, ‘Christians Together’ prepared a programme of Millennium celebrations, among them the great mystery plays in St. Mary’s church and the Pentecost Picnic in the abbey grounds.  This cooperation between the Christian communities of Minster with the Lent meetings and joint celebrations continues to be a source of enrichment and encouragement. 

 In 1997 Pope John Paul ll invited monasteries to play a special part in working for greater dialogue between the Christian churches of east and west.  Since then the community has hosted annual East/West meetings.  This has brought people from Russia and Greece, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria to Minster.  


East West Ecumenical Dialogue at Minster Abbey


The following is an account of the East West Ecumenical Dialogue at Minster Abbey: its background and accounts of Conferences that have taken place since 1997. More detailed accounts of the earlier Conferences are given. The Dialogue of love continues not only during the times of the Conferences but through friendships that have been forged over the years. We value these friendships especially those with our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters at this time of suffering and uncertainty.

   The Apostolic letter Orientale Lumen commemorates the centenary of Orientale Dignitas of Leo X111, which sought to safeguard the significance of the Eastern traditions for the whole Church as an aid to restoring unity with all the Christians of the East. Pope John Paul echoes these sentiments, conscious that there has been enrichment through knowledge and interchange over the past century.

   The short account of the ecumenist Dom Bede Winslow is based mainly on archival material from Turvey Abbey, Bedford for which I owe gratitude to Br John Maynard OSB, and from information I have managed to gather through various personal contacts.

    Responses to our Church’s ecumenical dialogue with the Eastern Church, with its invitation to us to play our part in the healing of the wounds of division, take many forms. For example, there is the spiritual ecumenism and the notion of the invisible monastery so admirably lived out by Abbe Paul Couturier and his adherents on one level, and on the official level the vital work of the Dialogues between the Roman Catholic Church and all the Orthodox Churches, which include the non Chalcedonian Churches. All responses are vital if we are to realise the prayer of Jesus, that we may all be one.



   Dialogue is a complex maze, which spans from joint prayer and simple gestures of love and practical friendship, to Christological agreements and Theological statements set to confound the wisdom of the wisest! Perhaps the sum total of all endeavours will, in the final analysis, be the foundation of the unity for which so many of us thirst insatiably. The following is a brief account of the meetings which have taken place here in our Priory of St Mildred since 1996, with some contextual background. Firstly, I would like to quote from parts of the Apostolic letter Orientale Lumen most relevant to our reflections:


ecum4‘ The sin of our separation is very serious: I feel the need to increase our common openness to the Spirit who calls us to conversion, to accept and recognise others with fraternal respect, to make fresh, courageous gestures, able to dispel any temptation to turn back. We feel the need to go beyond the degree of communion we have reached.’


11: 17

‘Every day, I have a growing desire to go over the history of the Churches, in order to write at last a history of our unity and thus return to the time when, after the Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Gospel spread to the most varied cultures, and a most fruitful exchange began which still today is evidenced in the liturgies of the Churches. Despite difficulties and differences, the letters of the Apostles (cf. 2 Cor 9: 11-14) and of the Fathers show very close fraternal links between the Churches in a full communion of faith, with respect for their specific features and identity… The development of different experiences of ecclesial life did not prevent Christians, through mutual relations, from continuing to feel certain that they were at home in any Church, because praise of the one Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit, rose from them all, in a marvellous variety of languages and melodies; all were gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist, the heart and model for the community, regarding not only spirituality and the moral life, but also the Church’s very structure, in the variety of ministry and services under the leadership of the Bishop, successor of the Apostles…Although in the first centuries of the Christian era conflicts were already

slowly starting to emerge within the body of the Church, we cannot forget that the unity between Rome and Constantinople endured for the whole of the first millennium, despite difficulties. We have increasingly learnt that it was not so much an historical episode or a mere question of pre-eminence that tore the fabric of unity, as it was a progressive estrangement, so that the other’s diversity was no longer perceived as a common treasure, but as incompatibility.’


11: 18

‘Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, the Sacrament of communion, we find in the Body and Blood we share, the sacrament and the call to our unity. How can we be fully credible if we cannot live our sharing in the same Lord whom we are called to proclaim to the world? In view of our reciprocal exclusion from the Eucharist, we feel our poverty and the need to make every effort so that the day may come when we will partake together of the same bread and the same cup.’



ecum511: 19

‘I believe that one important way to grow in mutual understanding and unity consists precisely in improving our knowledge of one another. The children of the Catholic Church already know the ways indicated by the Holy See for achieving this: to deepen their knowledge of the spiritual traditions of the Fathers and doctors of the Christian East; … to combat tensions between Latins and Orientals and to encourage dialogue between Catholics and the Orthodox. In addition to knowledge, I feel that meeting one another regularly is very important. In this regard, I hope that monasteries will make a particular effort, precisely because of the unique role played by monastic life within the Churches and because of the many unifying aspects of the monastic experience, and therefore of spiritual awareness, in the East and the West…I judge very positively the initiatives of joint pilgrimages to places where holiness is particularly expressed in remembering men and women who in every age have enriched the Church with the sacrifice of their lives.’ 


11: 25                                                                      

  Some of the unifying aspects of the monastic experience are very evident at St Mildred’s Priory, and so we felt privileged, by God’s grace, to respond to Orientale Lumen. We began by hosting a meeting. The follow will, I hope serve to act as further background material.




ecum6Dom Bede Winslow OSB and the present foundation at Minster: early contacts with Orthodoxy


    The present community came to Minster in 1937 partly due to the providential intervention of the ecumenist Dom Bede Winslow (d.1959) monk of St Augustine’s Abbey Ramsgate. Ecumenism had become part of life at Minster since the re foundation, not by design, but simply by the way things were. It was during the early Nazi period that our monastery was refounded from St Walburga’s Abbey, Eichstatt, Bavaria and we simply needed to be accepted locally, as our sisters who were classified as ‘Alien Residents,’ found themselves in a vulnerable position. There were very few Catholics in our village and a large Anglican Parish. The locals were generally kind and generous during this sensitive time for our German sisters. The new community naturally appreciated local sympathy. In fact, during the early 50’s, when our future was looking rather bleak, our third Prioress, Mother Emmanuel was able to cite our good ecumenical relations with the Anglicans as one reason why we should continue at Minster. Yet, there was something else going on besides. Dom Bede Winslow was searching for a home where his dream could be realised: the foundation of a monastery for reunion.




   It was in 1924, after a visit to the Oriental College in Rome, that Dom Bede gave his life to work and prayer for the reunion of Christendom. He soon began to elicit interest in his notional monastery and for several years, he hoped that the newly arrived nuns from Bavaria would give hospitality to his plan for a monastery for reunion. They could not, but he became a close friend of the community, introducing them to some of his like-minded colleagues, and to the Orthodox. His many friends and supporters included Lord Halifax, Dom Lambert Beaudiun, Dom Constantine Bosschaerts, Dom Edmund Jones, and Orthodox from many traditions and Eastern rite Catholics. Dom Bede was a very well respected ecumenist not least for his work as founder and editor of the journal Eastern Churches Quarterly. He also initiated the annual Pilgrimage in honour of his beloved St Mildred whom he named, in true Orthodox style, ‘The Wonderworker.’

   From photographs going back to the early 50’s, we get an impression of at least informal gatherings with the Orthodox, here at our Abbey. There are also photographs from the 70’s of Archbishop Anthony Bloom with members of the community outside our front door. The nuns at Minster certainly knew the importance of prayer for unity and soon after Mother Walburga, our fourth Prioress, was sent to St Mildred’s from Eichstatt in 1954, she made a special trip to visit our Anglican Benedictine sisters at St. Mary’s Abbey, West Malling. Mother Walburga, (d. 1991) who features in several of these pictures, was a great admirer of Dom Bede, referring to him as, ‘the famous ecumenist.’  She would recall his part in our foundation with considerable conviction, attributing our return largely to a postcard he sent to the Abbess Benedicta in Bavaria, telling of the Abbey’s impending sale, before their purchase of the Abbey in 1937. Although ecumenism here at that time tended to be mainly local, (most contacts being with post reformation communions), a sense of the Orthodox seemed to be growing. It was not surprising therefore, that when Orientale Lumen appeared in 1995 we were providentially prepared for our response.


Dom Bede Winslow:  His life and his vision for reunion.


   Keith F.G. Winslow was born in Putney on 27th May 1888. His family was Anglican and he was one of three brothers.  They moved to the Isle of Wight after his father’s death and it was there that he and his brother Cuthbert decided to become Roman Catholics. The brothers were instructed by a priest of the London Oratory and received into the Church in 1910. Before this, Keith thought seriously about joining the Orthodox Church. Three years later, he entered the Novitiate at St Augustine’s Abbey Ramsgate, taking the name Bede and was professed on 1st April 1914. In March 1914, in a letter to his friend and founder of Prinknash Abbey Aelred Carlyle, Dom Bede wrote the following:


‘I am so thankful and happy that God has at last let me be numbered among the sons of our Holy Father St Benedict. Please pray that I may correspond to the graces God has and will give me’




  Unlike most of his contemporaries, he was not sent to Rome for his studies owing to his lack of languages. Though he later had contacts with many people of various nationalities, and a close associate of Bede’s once remarked that a sort of reverse gift of tongues would take place: people who thought they could not speak English began to speak his language when they were with him! He studied at home and was ordained priest on 24th August 1922.

  It seemed that right from the beginning he felt a vocation to pray for unity, primarily by living the monastic life with a deep commitment to prayer. As a young priest, he considered the strict silence of the Carthusian life where he felt he might best be able to offer himself for the cause. He was given permission to try his vocation at the Charterhouse at Parkminster, but by the end of several months of the solitary life, it was concluded that this was not the path by which he could serve God best. Soon after this, he was to become a much-loved Monastic Guest Master and RAF chaplain at Manston, Kent. He also helped in the school and was chaplain to local convents. He was priest in charge of the parish at Minster when negotiations were made for the Benedictine nuns to return.

   Dom Bede died suddenly on 30th October 1959 during the nigh,t whilst at St Joseph’s College, Beulah Hill, London. He was to attend a meeting to discuss his dream of a Monastery for reunion. The late Fr Brochard Sewell writing his Obituary in The Tablet described him as: ‘ a very holy monk of quite exceptional personal charm who did good by wearing his habit always and everywhere.’ Perhaps this commitment to the regular wearing of the habit may seem of little importance now, but it is the practise of Orthodox Monastics and something he perhaps learnt from them. A well-worn prayer rope was another sign of the way the Eastern monastic spirituality affected his life. A former Abbot of Ramsgate, Adrian Taylor, discerned the secret of Bede’s success: his humility and his quiet tenacity. Dom Cuthbert Smith one of his contemporaries wrote of him after his death: ‘ One of Fr Bede’s most notable characteristics was his imperturbability. He was at all times and in all circumstances perfectly calm and tranquil…it is safe to say he never made a enemy.’ It was impossible to quarrel with him.’ Perhaps during those pre-Vatican 11 days when relationships with other Christians were very difficult for a loyal Catholic to sustain, these “person” gifts were among his greatest assets as an ecumenist.  However it is not only as an ecumenist that he is to be remembered; he was known by many for his qualities as a pastor of great holiness. He received at least 170 people into the Church and no doubt drew them to Christ through his example of personal, humble devotion to the Lord.




  Although well endowed with qualities we would now take for granted as being indispensable for ecumenical achievement, nevertheless it was with considerable surprise that his Abbot and community learnt of his desire to devote his life to the work of Christian Unity. He was not particularly gifted intellectually, with no language other than his own, yet he made ‘contact’ (one of his favourite words) with people and ‘things’ Oriental that was quite astonishing. He never visited an Orthodox country or wrote more than editorials and short papers, yet was known by hearsay in far away Egypt during his life and remembered even today by those who knew him for his remarkable accomplishments. He was concise, avoided arguments and managed somehow not to be excommunicated even in the climate of the Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius 1 ‘Mortalium Animos’ 1928. Apparently there was a famous one-word one-liner which he used when temperatures rose during conferences and debates ‘quite’, described by his friends as the ‘Bede Winslow quite’. It has been suggested by his contemporaries that one of the reasons why he was able to remain in the Church without serious censure was that he simply got on with what he could do, only asking permission when really necessary; and when he was told to hold back or change course he did it, without losing his vision, giving up or becoming bitter. For example if he wanted permission to go to London for a meeting he would ask the Abbot for a blessing to ‘go to town’. That it wasn’t Ramsgate town did not seem to worry Dom Bede! When told by a member of the hierarchy to amend a statement or change a detail of an arrangement he would generally comply but not give up on a principle he held dear. Getting on with the job was important to him even if the detail had to be amended. He was passionate about what needed to be done and simply never wavered up to his dying day. As prophet and visionary, he held fast to his aspirations with passionate intensity. This was perhaps most true of his dream to establish a Monastery for Reunion as mentioned above.



   In her Memoir of Dom Bede Winslow  ( Rediscovering Eastern Christendom 1960) his great friend Barbara Fry remarked: ‘No account of his life is complete without mention of his hope to found a monastery for reunion.’ It began in the early 30’s and continued until the day of his unexpected death. It was to be unlike the foundation of his fellow monk and ecumenist Lambert Beauduin at Chevetogne  with its Byzantine and Latin rite, as Bede’s plan was for it to be exclusively Latin, for in general he never really believed in Westerners taking on or using Eastern rites. In September 1940, a short article by Dom Bede appeared in The Tablet entitled ‘For Christian Unity’. The following is an extract from it:


ecum10‘ At a time when many eyes are looking for a Christian reconstruction of society in England after the War, the suggestion for the establishment of a Monastery devoted to the work of Christian Unity cannot be out of place; indeed, the time seems in a special way to demand such a foundation.

  This would be a centre of prayer and work and Christian hospitality; a centre where monks living the mind of the Mass  ( the words in bold were included at the request of Cardinal Hindsley in a letter to Dom Bede before he gave permission for it to go to print) and in the study of the Tradition of the Church, but not identifying themselves with any particular movement and avoiding all polemics, would approach the problem of Christian Unity from a positive and constructive angle .Here all the historical and theological questions connected with the problem would be studied in a spirit of peace and sympathy.


  Much has been said and written about Christian Reconstruction of which Christian Unity is a central part. Those who have planned the foundation of this new community think that these words and desires will gain immeasurably if supported by a concrete example. Nothing is more urgent than a return to a more spiritual and primitive form of life; a return to the cultivation of the soil-the only way of averting the imminent economic crash-a healthy intellectual production; lastly a return to that corporate community life of the first Christians, which is the most appropriate way of showing others what the Church means, and the most effective way of attracting all that is good and true in those separated from us. This is what the new community would try to work out gradually, for great things, like Christ have humble beginnings.’


Dom Bede then invited all interested in such a foundation to write to him at St Augustine’s Abbey Ramsgate. Although initially he received the backing of his Abbot and the English Hierarchy, and support from fellow ecumenists, he was to face much opposition and eventually the dashing of his hopes for a new foundation. His vision died with him, yet in some ways at Minster Abbey a place has been found were dialogue can take place in an atmosphere where the awareness of the unity that does exist between East and West is allowed to develop.





East West Dialogue at Minster

   Shortly before our first East/West meeting in 1996, the local Dean, Canon William Clements had introduced us to a Coptic Community in nearby Birchington. Four years later, we were invited to attend the Consecration of their beautiful Church of St Michael and St Bishoy in nearby Cliftonville, Margate. Pope Shenouda officiated in a very dignified yet relaxed and joyful community celebration. In addition, we regularly welcomed Fr Niphon, a Russian Orthodox monk from St Edward’s Brockwood who came to venerate our relic of St Mildred. Abbot Alexi, having commissioned a beautiful Icon of her around this time, brought it to our chapel as a gift. It now hangs above her reliquary there.








Orientale Lumen

    In May 1995 Pope John Paul’s Apostolic letter Oriental Lumen was being read and studied in our community. We began to prepare our response.


   In May 1996 I was able to spend about a week at the Orthodox Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, founded in the late 50’s by the Russian Fr Sophrony who died on the feast of St Benedict 1992. It was my first experience of an Orthodox monastery and it was a grace to spend time praying, working and living with the community. I felt welcomed and accepted as a fellow ‘ monk’   and learnt much about a tradition, which is so similar, and yet in contrast with my own. In conversation with Sister Sophia, one of the Greek sisters, I soon realised that the way to appreciate this rather extraordinary (in Western terms,) monastic life, was not by asking endless questions and making comparisons, but rather by a form of osmosis, and that on the level more of the heart than of the head.











The first Meeting 1996


   In many ways, we were well disposed to make our response to the Holy Father’s invitation. Yet, planning our first meeting was still rather a ‘shot in the dark’ and was, in part, a follow-up to a series of small, rather informal Monastic Patristic Study meetings open to Roman Catholics and Anglicans, which we had been hosting for a few years. Initially it was difficult to gain support for this new departure to include the Orthodox, either from ‘East’ or from ‘West.’ On reflection, it was a meeting to be valued and remembered, perhaps most especially because it was the ‘ birthplace’ of what was to develop into the excellent book by Dom Augustine Holmes     ‘ A life pleasing to God the spirituality of the Rules of St. Basil.’ (5) Fr. Athanese a Hungarian Greek Catholic monk from the Monastery of Chevetogne and the patristic scholar Fr. Anthony Meredith SJ also presented papers on St.Basil.

   We were grateful that Sr Marina from the Orthodox Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex was able to join us and present a paper on the practise of spiritual guidance in the east. This opened up dialogue on a level which was both practical and spiritual. Informally we discovered aspects of convergence and of divergence relating to our shared monastic inheritance.


   During this meeting we were warmly welcomed by our Anglican Benedictine sisters at St Mary’s Abbey, Malling where we learned of their contacts and experience of the Orthodox through Mother Maria who was professed in the Russian rite at Malling in the 60’s and who later went on to help found the Monastery at Normanby in Yorkshire.


 ecum13There was more input and much interaction and we felt that God had blessed our modest efforts and that it was something valuable and well worth repeating. Our plan in 1996 was not to enter into ecumenical dialogue as such, to avoid overt notions of ecumenism and simply, as monks and nuns sit together to look at a common source and share unifying aspects of our monastic experience. The important context of the meeting was the life and prayer of the host community, which transcend the realm of jurisdiction: the whole experience becoming ‘lectio.’ This has remained at the heart of our subsequent meetings, but we have possibly become a little bolder. Perhaps we now recognise that what God is doing among us is indeed ‘ecumenical’. It is essential to us that it remains within the boundaries of our monastic contemplative life.

    The following is part of a homily, which was delivered by Fr. Denis O.C.S.O of Mount St Bernard Abbey on the last day, which expressed many of our sentiments:


“…besides peace we have received much instruction. Most of all from our speakers but I think we have, all of us, learnt much from each other…In his Apostolic letter       Orientale Lumen the Pope writes:  ‘ The first need of Catholics is to be familiar with the ancient traditions of the Eastern Church so as to be nourished by it and to encourage the process of unity’. This meeting has done much to allow us to explore together our monastic heritage. It is for us to go back to our own monasteries with the seeds we have been given, and to plant and nourish them so that our monasteries, our Church, and we ourselves become increasingly open to unity. The psalmist tells us that ‘as far as the East is from the West so far does He remove our sins’.  Let this be our prayer and let us ask the Lord to pardon our sins.’


The second Meeting 1998


  By the time of our next meeting in 1998 we had made some more local contacts with the Orthodox, especially with the Coptic Community (still however without a Church building, which meant that they used our Chapel for the liturgy on a few occasions) and with the Greek Orthodox in Margate who had invited us to their Easter celebrations earlier that year.

 These contacts were a great blessing for our meeting as we were able to celebrate the Leave-taking of the Holy Cross at the Greek Orthodox Church celebrated by Fr. Kyprianos, and to hear from the Coptic monk priest Fr. Asheia al- Baramosy about his monastery illustrated with some beautiful slides. We learnt of the remarkable revival of monasticism in Egypt and of the liturgy of this Oriental Church.  Our then, Sister, (now Mother) Nikola helped with an introduction to the history of the Coptic Church, as Fr. Asheia’s English was not quite fluent enough. One evening we were led in the celebration of Coptic Compline in our Chapel. A very new experience for us!


  Other talks included one by Fr.Abbot Hugh OSB of Pluscarden Abbey on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross drawing our attention to the fact that this feast came to the west from the east. Mother Mary John OSB of Malling Abbey spoke of the place of Repentance in the Rule, reminding us of yet another unifying experience of the monastic life.


  It was at this meeting that Dr.Philip Boobbyer, lecturer in Russian History at the University of Kent at Canterbury, gave two very moving talks. The first was on the extraordinary life of the Russian nun, now Saint Maria Skobtsova and her work in Paris among the poor and displaced, around the time of the Second World War. The next was a memorable presentation of the situation of prisoners of conscience in 20th century Russia, focusing on their spiritual struggles and deep suffering.





The third Meeting 2000





  By the year 2000, a remarkable encounter had taken place. Just after the Millennium, Fr. Benedict from St. Augustine’s Abbey, Ramsgate, was walking in the town. He saw an Orthodox monk and asked him where he was from!  “ Balamand, Lebanon,” was the reply. A few days later Fr.Benedict brought the monk over to see us and we discovered that this gentle and humble, Syrian monk was the Abbot of Balamand and Dean of the Theological Institute there. He returned to us one afternoon with beautiful photos of Balamand and stayed for Vespers. From that time on we have had contact with the now Archbishop Paul of Aleppo and his community. This was a providential encounter for which we thank God and of course our dear Fr. Benedict! I was particularly delighted to meet Abbot Paul as I had recently been reading the report of the Official Dialogue between our Churches, which had taken place at Balamand in 1998. Our contact with Archbishop Paul has introduced us to the Antiochian Orthodox Church.



    By this time, we had made another very providential encounter. We met Aziz Nour, Deacon of the Syrian Church and Secretary of the Council of Middle Eastern Churches. Aziz has helped us enormously by arranging Archbishop Yohanna’s visits, in 2002 and 2004, and facilitating contacts with other Oriental Churches. He is a well-respected and true ecumenist to whom we are sincerely grateful. It is with great anxiety and sadness that we now await news of our dear friends Archbishop Paul and Archbishop Yohanna who were kidnapped in April 2013.




     We were, by now, growing in our desire to learn more about monastic life in the East and so we asked Abbot Kyrill of the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex if we could spend a day there. This experience has become a high point in our encounters and we are always overwhelmed by the generous hospitality of our hosts in their outstandingly beautiful and prayerful monastery. Similarly, we were able to attend the Coptic liturgy in Margate for the first time and spend the day with Fr Angelos el Antony (who had by now become the parish priest), learning about the Coptic liturgy and Church at the parish of St Michael and St Bishoy. This proved to be another experience of outstanding welcome and generosity. Fr Abbot Laurence and our brethren welcomed us at St Augustine’s Abbey’ where Dr Sebastian Brock of the Oriental Institute, Oxford spoke eloquently of the ‘Prayer of the Heart in the Syriac Tradition.’ It was from Sebastian that we learnt of the current  Pro Oriente Dialogue between our Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church.

   Participants came from abroad, including two monks from Balamand, Lebanon (one of these monks is now Bishop Demetrios Charbak of Safita, Syria), a monk from Bose in Italy, and one of our monks from New Mexico. Our Syrian brothers from Balamand brought with them their rich heritage and still more opportunities for learning and dialogue. 

   Many lay people were showing an interest in what we were doing and so the idea to include a day open to anyone interested in our initiative became part of our 2000 meeting. By this third meeting, we had come to discover Sister Esther’s work for East/West dialogue at Turvey Abbey and since then she has been involved with our meetings, helping us by her many contacts, and her skills and insights as an icon painter.Together we planned an Open Day when we looked at the lives of three prophets for reunion:

 Dom Lambert Beauduin: Emmanuel Lanne OSB Chevetogne  

 Dom Constantine Bosschaerts: Sr. Esther OSB Turvey Abbey    

 and Dom Bede Winslow : Sr. Benedict OSB Minster Abbey

About 70 people attended.


The fourth Meeting 2002


  By our fourth meeting in 2002, we had made contact with Fr Colin Battell OSB of Ampleforth. Fr Colin had lived in Ethiopia for eighteen years and presented us with a fine exploration of Ethiopian monasticism and the Church of that ancient tradition which is the largest Orthodox Church after Russia. Once again, we visited the Coptic Church and Fr Angelos presented stunning slides with an informative talk about his Monastery of St Antony in Egypt. We were invited to a delicious lunch with the opportunity to meet the dedicated lay people of this remarkable and fervent local church.




   Our most distinguished participant and guest speakers this year was Archbishop Paul Yazigi, whom we had met in 2000, when he was in Ramsgate, as Abbot Paul, and the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, also from Aleppo.  Archbishop Paul accompanied us to the monastery of St. John the Baptist where he gave an impressive and encouraging talk on the ecumenical situation in Aleppo. However, perhaps we will all hold his memory most deeply in our hearts when we reflect upon the veneration of the relic of the Holy Cross during our Open Day that year. The following is an account from an article written by one of our participants, Peter King, emeritus senior lecturer of medieval history at St Andrew’s University and author of Western Monasticism. (6) It eloquently sums up yet another unifying aspect of our monastic experience:

   ‘The most impressive liturgical celebration of the meeting took place in St Mildred’s Chapel. The sisters sang the afternoon office. Then followed the veneration of a relic of the Holy Cross. First Archbishop Paul Yazigi incensed the choir and the people, wielding the censor as only an easterner knows how. Then, as the sisters sang Kyrie eleison* many times repeated to a Greek melody the people- (Catholics, Russian and Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Uniates) came forward to venerate. There seemed at that moment nothing strange about an Orthodox celebrant, a choir of Catholic religious, and worshippers from the various churches. The simple act of worship was familiar to all and therefore the ecumenism was not artificial but perfectly natural. It was a vision of what could be and should be. For many participants this moving ceremony formed the highlight of a very special week.’

   * Taught to us by Sr.Marina of the Monastery of St John the Baptist.


   The Open Day that year was entitled  ‘ Mary the Mother of God: East and West ’

 Our speakers were from the following Traditions: Orthodox:  Mother Sarah,

 Anglican:  Abbess Mary John, Malling Abbey OSB,

 Ethiopian: Fr. Colin Battell OSB,  Ampleforth Abbey

 and Roman Catholic: Dr.Greta McHugh  Lecturer at the Franciscan Study Centre, Canterbury



  As well as an open day in 2002, we hosted a dialogue day, gathering about 40 people, specifically aimed at a deeper look at theological questions and official dialogue. This was a new and perhaps rather adventurous development, which proved to be most valuable. It opened out our monastic meeting to a broader participation, whilst at the same time narrowing the field to deepen the level of dialogue. Dom Augustine Holmes of Pluscarden chaired the event. We were greatly honoured by the presence of   Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, our speaker, who reported on the  Pro Oriente  Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Syriac Tradition which, after ten years was moving from an unofficial capacity into an official one. His tone was optimistic and upbeat. Fr (now Bishop) Bernard Longley represented the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. There was a panel discussion and other Churches were represented including the Russian Orthodox, by Fr Stephen Platt and the British Antiochean by Fr Alexander Haig Fr Colin Battell OSB joined the panel as a monastic presence.



Open Day 2003


  ecum17  By 2003, we were beginning to realise that it would be good to host another Open Day before our next meeting planned for 2004 This took place in November. The main speakers were Sr Benedicta Ward SLG who delivered an absorbing and highly relevant paper entitled ‘ Bede, Theodore and a Patristic Tradition in England ’ and Archpriest Sergei Hackel of the Russian Orthodox Church gave a paper entitled  ‘ The Christian East and West: Hopes for convergence in a single cup.’  This appeared in the Tablet  (29th November 2003).  The following is an extract from the Tablet’s notebook  (6th December 2003)

   ‘Abbot Hugh Gilbert of Pluscarden Abbey tells us that Dr Hackel’s frank admission of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy’s maltreatment of Catholics in Russia was a most memorable “ crack in the ice” with regard to the two Churches. Dom Dyfrig Harris of Belmont Abbey Hereford reports that the lecture stunned the whole audience to silence, “ It was only after we had recovered from our state of astonishment that we were able to greet his words with appreciative applause.’


  After the talks, a panel was set up chaired by Dr Philip Boobbyer where Fr Thomas Weinandy OFM Cap responded to some of the issues that arose. There followed some lively debates.

  The day ended with Russian Vespers, including the veneration of St Mildred’s relic, in the now Anglican Church of St. Mary the Virgin. It was there that St Theodore consecrated Mildred more than thirteen centuries ago.

   It was at this meeting that Fr Dyfrig OSB from Belmont Abbey joined us for the first time, sharing his knowledge of the Eastern Churches and his enthusiasm for Orientale Lumen.


 From 2003 to 2013 we have hosted annual conferences at Minster, building on local contacts and extending our contacts with our Syrian and Coptic friends. In 2006, we spent a day at St John’s seminary Wonersh, taking with us our friend Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, the Syrian Oriental Metropolitan of Aleppo. This was part of a Conference dedicated to the study of the Council of Chalcedon 451. We were led to a greater understanding of this early Church Council by Rev.Prof. Richard Price of Heythrop College, London. Fr Richard has been a much valued speaker in subsequent meetings.

   Rev Nadim Nassar and Huda Nassar, both Syrians, who head the Middle Eastern department of ‘Awareness Foundation’ in London, became involved  in 2013. Both made presentations at our Conference, which have helped us in a greater understanding of the situation in the Middle East.

Bishop Demetrios Charbak of Safita Syria has been a firm and loyal supporter of our meetings since 2000 but recently has had great difficulties attending, due to the situation in Syria. We very much value our contacts with him and with the sisters of the Annunciation, Aleppo, most of whom have been forced to leave their Monastery.

At every meeting, we have enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of our local Coptic brothers and sisters in nearby Cliftonville.


  Other topics of mutual interest have been ‘The Primacy of Peter’, with special reference to the ‘Ravenna Document’ (2007) the date of Easter and the life of St Theodore of Tarsus/Canterbury.

   Many people, local and from afar, from all the traditions, have helped and encouraged us in our East/West Dialogue. As a community and as participants, we are grateful to each one, but they would be too many to name. It is to Dr Anthony O’Mahony lecturer in theology at the centre for Christianity and Interreligious Dialogue, Heythrop College, University of London, Dr Sebastian Brock and Prof.Fr. Richard Price that we would like to offer special thanks. Sebastian has lectured at our monastery several times and in spite of a very demanding academic life, he is always so generous in his response to our invitations. He has introduced us to the writings of the Syriac Fathers and to the Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and Syriac Tradition  Pro Oriente. Many of us have been helped by Anthony, Sebastian and Fr Richard to a better understanding of the background to early Christological disputes and to the amazing ground that has been broken in the dialogue, most significantly in recent times, with the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.




  It is with great sadness that we learn of the tragic situation in Syria and indeed of the continued suffering of the Christians in the whole of the Middle East at this time. We have become more aware of the work of ‘Aid to the Church in need’ and at our last Conference in September 2013 John Pontifex spoke of the work of this wonderful charity with special reference to the Middle East.


  In 2014, we hope to hold another conference with special reference to the historic meeting in Jerusalem, 50 years ago in 1964, between Pope Paul V1 and Patriarch Athenagoras.

A fuller account of our 2013 conference will soon be available.


  I would like to end this ‘memorandum’ with a few words on gestures.


 Just before our Easter Vigil in 2003, Fr Angelos telephoned to wish us a happy Easter. Being very conscious of the fact that it was Palm Sunday for him, I responded with  ‘but it isn’t yet for you Abouna.’  Nevertheless, our kind brother wanted to assure us of his greetings. I invited him to our Vigil, not thinking he would be able to come. To our great joy, he quietly slipped in at the back of the chapel just after the Gospel of the Resurrection had been read and stayed until the end of the service, even holding his little candle while we renewed our Baptismal promises.

After the vigil, we went to greet him. He had brought for us a beautifully hand platted palm cross, explaining that the palms had come from Egypt and the little olive leaves adorning it from Greece via the local Orthodox Church and that he was now bringing it to us. We were so touched by this considerate gesture of fraternal love. The following year he arrived late on the evening before our Palm Sunday, straight from the airport to the Abbey, bearing enormous decorative Palms for our procession. He is determined that we should have beautiful Palms for our feast!



18 years on from Orientale Lumen Blessed John Paul 11’s words have taken on a dynamic meaning for us, and it is with some of his words that I would like to conclude:






   ‘ For us, the men and women of the East are a symbol of the Lord who comes again. We cannot forget them, not only because we love them as brothers and sisters redeemed by the same Lord, but also because a holy nostalgia for the centuries lived in the full communion of faith and charity urges us and reproaches us for our sins and our mutual misunderstandings: we have deprived the world of a joint witness that could, perhaps, have avoided so many tragedies and even changed the course of history.












Mary, “Mother of the star that never sets”, “dawn of the mystical day”, rising sun of glory”, show us the Orientale Lumen.’ 11: 28