From 21st - 22nd August, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel visited Wales, arriving on Monday 21st at the administrative centre of the Wales Orthodox Mission in Blaenau Ffestiniog in the County of Gwynedd, and attending Vespers at the Orthodox Church of All Saints of Wales in the same town.
This was the first visit of Vladyko Antony since becoming Metropolitan, and it was Archbishop Daniel’s first visit. During the time since Metropolitan Antony’s last visit, many improvements had been undertaken in the Church, and the Church looked beautiful and the atmosphere was most prayerful. The service was well attended and the singing was likewise calm and prayerful.
The Hierarchs were welcomed at the door of the Church by Archimandrite Deiniol, the Administrator of the Wales Orthodox Mission who presented them with bread and salt.
At the end of Vespers, Archimandrite Deiniol presented the Hierarchs to the congregation from the solea, and explained briefly to the congregation the key role of Bishop as celebrant of the Divine Liturgy, pointing out that the priest’s role is to represent the Bishop in the local community as the bishop cannot be in all his Churches simultaneously.
In truly pastoral words, both Hierarchs then addressed the multi-national congregation, some of whom had travelled considerable distances to get to Church. The Hierarchs spoke with warmth and great kindness - the Metropolitan emphasising in his deeply moving sermon how everyone, every day, has the opportunity to witness for Christ and thereby to ‘make a difference’ in the world. We were left with the challenge that true encounter with the Gospel invariably presents us, and with the encouragement to rise to the challenge which is ever new and ever greater. The Metropolitan encouraged us to dare to be generous in our witness to Christ.
After the formal speeches, representatives of various nationalities present in the congregation came forward to greet both Hierarchs and present them with mementos of the visit. Representatives of ecumenical guests also came to greet the Hierarchs – an Anglican priest and one of the Catholic novices present at the service and on holiday in the area at a house of their Order.
Archbishop Daniel went round the Church, looking carefully at the icons – icons of Saints of Wales, and of many other countries and taking photos of some of them. Many of these icons are of recently canonised Saints.
Following the service, a buffet reception was held at which the congregation was given the opportunity to meet both Hierarchs. The Metropolitan and the Archbishop who must surely have been very tired by then after a very long day, stayed throughout the social event, blessing members of the congregation individually and giving time to speak to them individually with the warmth, and human kindness of true pastors of Christ. Members of the congregation were deeply moved by this opportunity to speak to the Hierarchs with ease and without haste. For many, it was the first time in their lives that they had had the opportunity to speak with Hierarchs – the Successors of the Apostles.
On the morning of 22nd August, the visiting Hierarchs were met by Archimandrite Deiniol and taken to see some spectacular views of north Wales and taken to see one of the local towns where they met and conversed with many local residents. The Hierarchs had the opportunity to hear the Welsh language spoken extensively in everyday life in a Welsh town. The journey took them past Snowdon Mountain – the highest mountain in England and Wales and at one of the viewing points met many visitors who had come to that part of Wales on holiday.
Crossing the Britannia Bridge – the second of the two bridges that cross the Menai Straights on to the Isle of Anglesey – the Hierarchs were first taken to the place said to have the longest place-name in Europe and the second longest official one-word place name in the world, namely Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
The Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Môn in Welsh) is known for its many historic Churches, and progressing further on the island, the three pilgrims went to the Church of St Cadwaladr on the west side of Anglesey. This small village is not far from village of Aberffraw, the capital of the Kingdom of Gwynedd from c.860 A.D. until c.1170. The church is renowned as the burial place of kings of Gwynedd, including King Cadfan, whose 7th-century memorial stone is set in the wall of the nave.
Within the Church the pilgrims viewed the memorial stone on which is inscribed in Latin: "Catamanus rex sapientisimus opinatisimus omnium regum" (‘King Cadvan, most wise and renowned of all kings’). This King Cadfan was the grandfather of the famous Saint Cadwaladr.
St Cadwaladr, the Saint to whom the Church is dedicated, was of the lineage of the ancient and noble family of Maelgwn Gwynedd, the ancestor of many Saints. The holy king succeeded his father in about 634 A.D. However, "Six hundred and eighty was the year of Christ when there was a great mortality throughout all the island of Britain... And in that year, Cadwaladr the Blessed, son of Cadwallon ap Cadvan, king of the Britons, died…’ [Red Book of Hergest, Mostyn Manuscript 116. 142a0]
St Cadwaladr was a man of peace and piety who embodied the Biblical ideal of kingship, according to which the king is the servant of God and of God's people. He is the Patron Saint of the Wales Orthodox Mission. The visit to St Cadwaladr’s Church was therefore particularly significant, poignant and deeply moving.
The present church dates from the 12th century, and of even greater spiritual significance than the stone is the depiction of the Saint in stained glass in the east window. This window is one of few depictions of Saints that has survived the Protestant Reformation, and the icon of the Saint in the Orthodox Church of the Holy Protection, Blaenau Ffestiniog is based on this stained-glass depiction. Visiting the Church, Archimandrite Deiniol observed that he thought the Saint will have rejoiced to have his Church visited by Orthodox Hierarchs for the first time probably since the Great Schism.
Having prayed at the Church the pilgrims travelled back south stopping and praying at the Church of St Nidan on the Isle of Anglesey.
After crossing the bridge back on to the mainland, the Hierarchs reached the city of Bangor the first Bishop of which was Saint Deiniol (died 584) . They made for Bangor railway station there to catch the train and start their journey back to London.
The Hierarchical visit to the Wales Orthodox Mission was a great blessing not only for the Orthodox community in north Wales, but for the many others who met their Eminences, Metropolitan Antony and Archbishop Daniel during the two days of their visit. For many – both Orthodox and non-Orthodox – it was the first time they had ever had the chance to meet and converse with successors of the Apostles. An atmosphere of joy surrounded service and reception at the Church of All saints of Wales, and during the pilgrimage, and the Orthodox community is left with a feeling of gratitude to the Hierarchs for having visited this remote flock, for having prayed with us and blessed us, encouraged us in our faith and life, and given us the opportunity to host a truly ‘Apostolic’ visit.