Celtic Orthodox Church

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The Celtic Orthodox Church (COC) is a small autocephalous church which derives from the church formerly known as the Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West) [1] and, before that, as the Ancient British Church and the Orthodox Church of the British Isles (OCBI), which was constituted by the Syriac Orthodox Church to develop an Orthodox church in the Western (Celtic) tradition without recourse to its Oriental roots.

Ancient British Church

The Ancient British Church was a British religious movement founded by Jules Ferrette and Richard Williams Morgan.

Syriac Orthodox Church The Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, or Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, is an Oriental Orthodox Church tracing its origin‎ to Antioch by Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the 1st century.

The Syriac Orthodox Church, or Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, is an Oriental Orthodox church with autocephalous patriarchate established by Severus of Antioch in Antioch in 518 A.D., influenced by Jacob Baradaeus, while tracing its history to Antioch by Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the 1st century, according to its tradition. The Church uses the Divine Liturgy of Saint James, associated with St. James, the "brother" of Jesus and patriarch among the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem. Syriac is the official and liturgical language of the Church based on Syriac Christianity. The primate of the church is the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch currently Ignatius Aphrem II since 2014, seated in Cathedral of Saint George, Bab Tuma, Damascus, Syria.


The Ancient British Church was canonically established with the consecration of Mar Julius (Jules Ferrette) in 1866 by Mar Boutros (Boutros ibn Salmo Mesko) who later became Patriarch Mar Ignatius Peter IV of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch.

Jules Ferrette was a Bishop of Iona and founder of the Catholic Apostolic Church of the West.

Ignatius Peter IV Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch

Moran MorIgnatius Peter IV 1798 – 8 October 1894) was the Patriarch of Antioch, and head of the Syriac Orthodox Church from 1872 until his death in 1894. He is regarded by many as the architect of the modern church.

However, as an autocephalous church, the Celtic Orthodox Church is not subject to the Syriac Orthodox Church or tied to its doctrinal position.

The Celtic Orthodox Church is not an Oriental Orthodox church and is not monophysite, but upholds the doctrine that the one Person of Christ has two Natures. Its position with regard to the Ecumenical Councils might best be described as Pro-Chalcedonian, that is to say it accepts the teaching of all seven councils, but acknowledges that only the first three were truly ecumenical.

Since 25 December 2007, the Celtic Orthodox Church has been united with the French Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of the Gauls, forming the Communion of Western Orthodox Churches (CWOC).

The French Orthodox Church is a self-governing Western Orthodox church formed in 1975. The church's current first hierarch is Bishop Martin (Laplaud), the abbot of the Orthodox Monastery of St Michel du Var. The EOF has communities in France, Brazil, and the French-speaking Caribbean.

The Orthodox Church of the Gauls is a self-governing Orthodox church comprising two dioceses. It was formed in 2006 with a mission to return the Orthodox Christian faith to people of western lands, particularly through the use of restored forms of ancient Gallican worship. The OCG is part of the Communion of Western Orthodox Churches, and its primate is Bishop Gregory (Mendez), the Bishop of Arles and the abbot of the Monastery of St Michael and St Martin near Luzé in the Touraine region of France.

The Communion of Western Orthodox Churches, also known as the Western Orthodox Church, is a communion of Christian churches of Orthodox tradition, standing alongside the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox communions. The Western Orthodox communion is distinguished by its adherence to the liturgical and spiritual customs of western Christianity.



In 1866, with the sanction of Patriarch Ignatius Ya'qub (Jacob) II of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, Mar Julius (Jules Ferrette) was consecrated by Mar Boutros ibn Salmo Mesko) who later became Patriarch Mor Ignatius Peter IV of Antioch, and dispatched to form an indigenous Orthodox church in Western Europe, which was not in any way subject to the Syriac Orthodox Church or the Patriarch of Antioch. The consecration was witnessed by the British Consul at Damascus. Mar Julius was given the title of Bishop of Iona and its Dependencies.

The Early Years 1866 to 1897 "Ancient British Church"

An early leader was Richard Williams Morgan ("Mar Pelagius I") (1815–1899). The church adopted the name Ancient British Church and aimed at the restoration or re-creation of the form of Christianity that they believed existed in the British Isles) during the earliest centuries of the Christian era. Morgan was consecrated a bishop by Jules Ferrette (Mar Julius) on 6 March 1874. Morgan was designated as first patriarch of the newly formed church.

Richard Williams Morgan (c.1815-1889) was a Welsh Oriental Orthodox priest and author.

British Isles Group of islands in northwest Europe

The British Isles are a group of islands in the North Atlantic off the north-western coast of continental Europe that consist of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Hebrides and over six thousand smaller isles. They have a total area of about 315,159 km2 and a combined population of almost 72 million, and include two sovereign states, the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The islands of Alderney, Jersey, Guernsey, and Sark, and their neighbouring smaller islands, are sometimes also taken to be part of the British Isles, even though, as islands off the coast of France, they do not form part of the archipelago.

Merger in 1897 "Free Protestant Episcopal Church"

On 2 November 1897, three jurisdictions merged to form the Free Protestant Episcopal Church (full name: Free Protestant Episcopal Church of England). The three were the Ancient British Church (then led by its second patriarch, Charles Isaac Stevens), the Free Protestant Church (founded and led by Bishop Leon Chechemian) and the Nazarene Episcopal Church (founded and led by Bishop James Martin). Leon Chechemian was appointed first primus of the new church and he served in this capacity for three years until 30 December 1900, at which point he was succeeded by Patriarch Stevens.

Free Protestant Episcopal Church

The Free Protestant Episcopal Church - FPEC, now called The Anglican Free Communion, was formed in England, on 2 November 1897, from the merger of three smaller churches. Others were to join later.

Charles Isaac Stevens (1835–1917) was the second patriarch of the Ancient British Church from 1889 to 1917 and also was primus of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church of England from 1900 to 1917.

Leon Chechemian (1848–1920) was an Armenian Christian cleric. In 1897, he was a founder of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church, and that church's first primus. He is also considered an episcopus vagans.

The patriarch of the Ancient British Church and the primus of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church then coincided in Stevens and his successors until 18 May 1939 when Bishop Monzani-Heard appointed William Hall as primus of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church, but retained the role of patriarch.

Merger in 1944 "Catholicate of the West"

On 23 March 1944, a deed of declaration under Monzani-Heard united the Ancient British Church, the Old Catholic Orthodox Church, the British Orthodox Catholic Church and the Independent Catholic Church into a single organization, to be called the "Catholicate of the West". On 28 March 1944, Hugh George de Willmott Newman was chosen as "Catholicos". He was consecrated and enthroned on 10 April 1944 as "Mar Georgius". Newman's family background had been within the Catholic Apostolic Church (the "Irvingites") and he was influenced by that movement.

At Christmas 1944, the newly formed Catholicate resolved to bring its ministry, organization, usages and worship into general agreement with the pattern and model of the Catholic Apostolic Church, and the catholicate adopted the new name "Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West)" with a sub-title "Western Orthodox Catholic Church". The liturgy of the Catholic Apostolic Church was adopted, with a supplement. However, the Catholicate was fairly short-lived and was dissolved in 1953.

On 29 January 1945, Monzani-Heard resigned the office of British patriarch to Newman. An attempt was made in 1959 to revive the Catholicate of the West but this did not survive beyond January 1969.

List of Patriarchs

The following are the patriarchs in succession:

Proposed Alliance with Coptic Orthodox Church circa 1994

In 1994, Abba (Mar) Seraphim, following negotiations with Pope Shenouda III, took the UK branch of the Catholic Apostolic Church into union with the Coptic (Oriental) Orthodox Church, taking the name British Orthodox Church.

The Breton members of the Catholic Apostolic Church, who, under Bishop-Abbot Mael, had been made party to the negotiations with the Coptic Church, decided against joining in the 1994 alliance with the Copts, considering that their mission to promote and develop Western Orthodoxy was better served in its independence.

Interestingly, BOC's alliance with the Coptic Church continued for 21 years until October 2015, at which time the BOC withdrew from the alliance, considering that in the light of changed circumstances its objective would now be better served by its independence.

The French Eparchy becomes autocephalous as "L' Eglise Orthodoxe Celtique" ("Celtic Orthodox Church")

Accordingly, the remaining bishops of the Holy Synod elected Mgr Mael (Paul-Eduard de Fournier de Brescia), consecrated in 1980 by Mar Seraphim, to be primate of the former French eparchy, assuming the name L'Église Orthodoxe Celtique (the Celtic Orthodox Church officially the Celtic Apostolic Church) to indicate that its jurisdiction covered the area of the former Celtic missions.

In 2014, following the death of HB Metropolitan Mael, Mgr Marc (Jean-Claude Scheerens), consecrated in 1998 by Mgr Mael, was enthroned as primate of the Celtic Orthodox Church, having been elected by the Holy Synod.

The Celtic Orthodox Church in Britain

When, in 1998, some of the UK clergy who had followed Abba Seraphim into the Coptic Patriarchate subsequently asked to join the Celtic Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Mael received them and the Celtic Orthodox Church in Britain was given the status of an eparchy or province.

In 1999, a new bishop/eparch, Stephen Robson, was elected and consecrated for Britain; he had been one of the British priests who had chosen to leave the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.

In early 2007, the administration of the British eparchy came under the direct care of the primate when Bishop Stephen resigned.

Nations in which the Celtic Orthodox Church is present

The Celtic Orthodox Church has parishes in France, Switzerland and the United States, including a monastery (Our Lady of the Holy Presence) at Toms Brook, Virginia. Since the end of 2017 the Celtic Orthodox Church is now represented once more in Australia. In the United Kingdom, following deaths, retirements and secessions, the Celtic Orthodox Church now has one parish (St Gwenn's, Wessex).

See also

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  1. The name "Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West)" was adopted circa 1944 when the church was under the leadership of Hugh George de Willmott Newman (Mar Georgius). Mar Georgius's own family background and early life were in the "Catholic Apostolic Church" (often called "Irvingite"), a church founded in the 19th century. Mar Georgius was influenced by the "Irvingite" movement , but his "Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West)" is not the same as the "Irvingite" Catholic Apostolic Church.
  2. Leon Chechemian may have been earlier (1879) consecrated by Leon Chorchorunian. According to Bain ("Bishops Irregular: an international directory of independent bishops", 1985), Brandreth ("Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church", 1961) considers the claim that Chechemian was consecrated by Chorchorunian as doubtful.