Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and the Holy Royal Martyrs
On the leafy Harvard Road, in west London, you will find a white church built in the traditional Russian style with the blue and gold-starred onion dome. Visible to drivers along the M4 and immediately brightening the landscape, this beautiful structure is the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and the Holy Royal Martyrs or, for short, the London Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (or yet shorter, ROCOR’s London Cathedral).
The Russian Orthodox Church in England dates all the way back to the late 17th century when, after visiting London in 1698, Peter the Great granted a petition instigated by Greek priests to fund an Orthodox church in London. After the Revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church abroad came to be called the ‘Russian Orthodox Church in Exile’ and is now known as the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad or the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). In 1989 the change of the building use for commercial premises prompted the Exile parish to build its own church, in the proper Russian Orthodox tradition. They bought a Victorian house and garden at 57 Harvard Road, Chiswick, and built a temporary church next to the house until sufficient funds could be raised to build the Cathedral Church. In 1999, the Cathedral Church opened for worship.
ROCOR’s London Cathedral consists of a lower church, and an upper church. The lower church was built first, and services were conducted there while the upper church was being constructed. The lower church is probably the first church in Europe to be dedicated to the Royal Holy Martyrs. ROCOR’s interest in the Romanovs is purely spiritual. ROCOR believes that the Royal Family was martyred and are saints, and has sustained this belief throughout the former Soviet regime, to the derision of the Soviets who were, unsurprisingly, resolutely against it. In 1981, ROCOR officially glorified (canonised) Tsar Nicholas II and the Martyred Royal Family, and the parish has prayed to them ever since.
The Moscow Patriarchate has, as of 2000, acknowledged the Royal Family as Royal Passion Bearers. The distinction is that Passion Bearers are those who faced death with resignation, in a Christ-like manner, whereas martyrs are those killed specifically for their faith.
ROCOR’s London Cathedral has a great devotion to the Holy Royal Family, whose icon occupies a prominent place in the iconostasis, both in the lower church and in the upper church. The upper church iconostasis was painted in Moscow and installed in the Cathedral in 2009. The icons are wonderfully interconnected with each other, the Royal Family, and the history of the church. Included in the iconostasis are icons of St. Jonah of Hankow (a righteous and holy bishop who served in Northern China after the revolution and died in 1925) and St. John (Maximovitch), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco (also known as St. John the Wonderworker), who died in 1966 and was a proponent of glorifying St. Jonah as a saint. ROCOR glorified St. Jonah in 1996 and St. John in 1994. The iconostasis also holds an icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov, who was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1903 at the request of Tsar Nicholas II, who was in turn glorified by ROCOR in 1981.
Continuing the thread into both past and future, there is also an icon of St. Xenia of Rome, a 5th century saint and the namesake of the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, the sister of Tsar Nicholas II. The Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna survived the revolution and came to live in London with her children. She was the patron of the Russian Orthodox Sisterhood of St. Ksenia and an honoured parishioner of the Exile Church in London until her death in 1960. The Grand Duchess’ funeral was conducted by John Maximovitch, the Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, the very same St. John the Wonderworker whose icon now graces the church’s iconostasis. The church also houses a holy relic bequeathed by the executors of the estate of the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna. It is a ‘shinel’, a trench coat, believed to have been worn by the martyred Tsar Nicholai II. Guided tours of this beautiful church are available on request.
Guided tours of this beautiful church are available on request.