Is HRH the Prince of Wales considering entering the Orthodox Church?
Prince Charles, quoted in the Russian journal 'Den' in September 1992.
Over the centuries several members of European reigning families have converted to the Orthodox Church, from the Swedish King Magnus in the Middle Ages, to members of Royal Houses in Denmark and Germany. According to the research of a good friend and Oxford scholar, Archbishop Macarius (Tyllirides) of Zimbabwe, in England in the sixteenth-century King Henry VIII, wishing to quit Catholicism, informed himself about the Orthodox Faith. Shortly after, Queen Elizabeth I enquired about becoming Orthodox with a view to marrying a member of the Russian Royal Family. In the nineteenth century two of Queen Victoria's grand-daughters not only became Orthodox, but also became Orthodox Saints - the New Martyrs Alexandra and Elizabeth.
When in 1948 HRH Princess Elizabeth, the present Queen, married the Greek Orthodox Prince Philip, the present Duke of Edinburgh, he was officially required to cease to be Orthodox (although he never ceased to make the Orthodox sign of the cross in public). His devout mother had become an Orthodox nun on being widowed, and she can be seen dressed as an Orthodox nun on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in photographs on various public occasions in the 1950's. Inside the palace a small Orthodox chapel was set up for her use. This was dismantled after her death in 1969 and her remains were buried at a Russian Orthodox convent in Jerusalem, as she had wished.
After many years of not practising his faith, HRH Prince Philip returned to Orthodoxy in the early 1990's. In an article of that time written by Giles Milton ('The Spectator', 14 March 1992), it was revealed that in May 1991 he had spoken in private to a Russian Orthodox bishop in London and for June 1993 he was planning a meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople, a visit to the Holy Mountain of Athos in Northern Greece and a visit to the Patriarch of Moscow. In the same article, the Prince's words to an Orthodox conference on Ecology in Crete in November 1991 were also quoted:
'The Orthodox Church has always known that every form of religious expression, worship, prayer, festival, preaching, monastic life or mysticism - can provide the inspiration to a practical response to the ecological crisis'.
In some ways it should not therefore be surprising that HRH Prince Charles, his son and heir to the throne, should also be taking a keen interest in the Orthodox Church. Although rumours of this interest reached our ears in the mid-nineties, a recent article in "the Sunday Express' (28 April 2002) suggests that his interest has grown much more serious.
The article, entitled "Is Charles turning his back on the Church' (i.e. the Church of England), reports that: 'Prince Charles has become so fed up with the Church of England he has been having one to one instruction in the Greek Orthodox religion. Friends say that he has made a 'spiritual commitment' to Greek Orthodoxy, but constitutional implications make it impossible for him to consider a full conversion'. A close friend of the Prince is said to have informed the reporters of the national newspaper that: 'The Church of England's absolutely pathetic attitude drives him mad - trying to be everything to everybody, and in the end standing for nothing'. It is asserted that Charles fell in love with Orthodox Christianity when he first visited the Holy Mountain of Athos with its two thousand Orthodox monks of all nationalities in 1996. On another visit to the monastery of Vatopedi on the Holy Mountain, he spent four hours talking alone to the Abbot. It is claimed that there was some sort of 'spiritual ceremony'. (Surely this can only be the Prince's induction as a catechumen of the Orthodox Church?). It is also affirmed that Prince Philip, who is a patron of the Friends of Mount Athos, had an influence on his son, but that the final catalyst was the tragic death of Princess Diana in 1997. "This was when he really got hooked because they gave him a lot of comfort, and that was when the great bond started", quotes the article.
Although the article contains many factual errors and a certain amount of journalistic hype, the possible future conversion of Prince Charles, secret or otherwise, to the Orthodox Church would be the highest-profile conversion to the Orthodox Church in this country in the last one hundred years. For Orthodox it should not altogether be surprising, for he is carried by the prayers of his devout nun-grandmother, and Orthodox Christians never underestimate the powers of a mother's prayers over up to three generations of descendants. Whatever the situation, we will continue to pray that 'the Lord God will remember in His Kingdom HRH The Prince of Wales' at the Great Entrance at every Divine Liturgy. As ever, we await that God's Will may be done in the great work of the Reconversion of England and all these Islands to the Orthodox Faith. May the Paschal light of Bright Monday illumine the hearts of all.