THE INTRODUCTION TO THE SAINT MELANGELL PRAYER BOOK
In 1930s France, after some years of wandering and much fervent prayer, a group of Christian communities, led by Father Irenée Winnaert (Saint Irenaeus of Paris), finally found their home in Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church. Fr Irenée and his flock were established as the Western Orthodox Church by a formal decree of the Church of Russia in 1936, when they were given a blessing to continue in the Western liturgical, musical, and spiritual tradition that had formed them in their faith in the Saviour and brought them to holy Orthodoxy.
After Fr Irenée fell asleep in the Lord in 1937, these communities came under the care of a priest by the name of Father Eugraphe Kovalevsky (Saint John of Saint-Denis). As a teenager, the young Eugraphe had fled post-revolutionary Russia, along with his brothers and the rest of the family, and had come to settle in the safety of France. It was here that he made a pilgrimage to the shrine housing the relics of Saint Radegund in the ancient city of Poitiers, and was inspired by the common roots of the Faith of his homeland and that of his new home.
Through this revelation, he came to love the Western liturgical tradition, and worked tirelessly to restore forms of prayer and worship, devotion to the saints, and the spiritual consciousness that were indigenous to ancient Gaul and Western Europe, for adoption by Orthodox Christians in modern times, as a local expression of the one, apostolic Faith.
Fr Eugraphe solicited the help of his brother, the deacon and musicologist, Maxime, who faithfully and painstakingly set all of the services to music, sensitively adapting the ancient Gregorian chants to the French texts. He introduced sublime harmonies both to simple prayer responses and to more complex hymn melodies, and produced new compositions, drawing on ancient chant traditions for inspiration. This work has been continued by his student, Bishop Gregory (Mendez) and others.
In these labours, Fr Eugraphe found an ally and ardent supporter in the person of St John Maximovitch, at whose hands he was consecrated as bishop for this Western Orthodox flock—perhaps the first Western Orthodox bishop for many centuries.
Ever since then, it has been through these forms of prayer and this spiritual life that generations of Western Orthodox Christians have entered into communion with God, have been fortified with the Holy Mysteries, and have worked out their salvation. This Gallican Orthodox tradition now forms the bedrock of the faith of Western Orthodox Christian communities in France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Brazil, Argentina, the Caribbean, the United States of America, and, in more recent years, the British Isles, for which may God be praised!
This present volume is an attempt to bring something of the beauty of this tradition to the daily spiritual lives of Orthodox Christians in the anglophone world. Towards the end of 2018, with the blessing of His Grace Bishop Gregory of Arles, the community of Saint Melangell was formed in Manchester as a mission of the Orthodox Church of the Gauls. Much of the early effort was spent on translating the French liturgical materials into English and adapting the music to sustain the English texts for public worship—work which continues today. However, we were keenly aware very early on that, in addition to this liturgical work, materials would be required so that the faithful could keep their faith at the heart of their lives when not gathered for worship.
As St Melangell’s mission grew and was raised to the status of a parish in 2021, this need became more pressing. Although it was our intention only to produce a simple booklet of prayers for use by our parish community, it quickly became apparent that there was wider interest in such a resource and that there was a desire for a more substantial book of Western Orthodox devotions. Circumstances and human weakness meant that there was a delay to this project but, in the summer of 2023, work began in earnest on what was to become The Saint Melangell Prayer Book.
This is not a liturgical book: in these pages you will not find the cycle of the monastic hours or the sacramental rites of the Church; you will not find the ceremonies of Holy Week or the funeral rites. What you will find is a collection of domestic prayers and devotions, providing that which is needful to aid the worship of the eternal God in the daily lives of his people: morning and evening prayers, thanksgiving for the provision of food, prayers to open the heart to God in various circumstances, forms of preparation for Confession and Holy Communion, and much else—all drawing from the rich treasury of the ancient Western liturgical, musical, and spiritual tradition.
In this matter, a purist approach has not been taken, and certain prayers, practices, and melodies have been included which have been borrowed from the wider family of the Orthodox Church. Anybody performing even the most cursory comparison of liturgical rites could not fail to notice that such cross-fertilisation has been a hallmark of the worship of God in different parts of the world from time immemorial.
Thus what is presented here is a prayer book for the use of the Western Orthodox Christians of today, who are steeped in and nourished by their Western spiritual heritage while firmly remaining part of the universal Orthodox Church, founded by Jesus Christ.
While the public liturgy of the Church is almost always sung, private devotions may be sung or spoken, according to the disposition and abilities of the faithful. As far as is possible, we have tried to provide the users of this volume with all that is necessary to chant their daily prayers if this is what is desired. Where the dots and lines are not helpful, they may simply be disregarded.
The prayers included in this book are rendered in the singular or plural form, depending on how they appeared in the original sources or how we anticipated they would most commonly be used. However, this is a book of private devotions and nothing is regimented. The user must feel at liberty to adapt them according to what is needed.
There have been many fine Orthodox prayer books of Western tradition produced over the years, which are loved and treasured by those who use them. It is our hope that this present work, offered for the glory of God, may take its place among them, as an expression of the saving Faith that was known to such luminaries as St Melangell of Powys, St Winefride of Treffynnon, St David of Menevia, St Chad of Lichfield, St Aidan of Lindisfarne, St Hilda of Whitby, St John of Beverley and countless others, who walked these islands in ancient times, who entered into communion with God here, and whose works of mercy, tears of repentance, and blood of martyrdom hallowed this soil.
At their heavenly intercession, may the Father draw us to Himself, may Christ the Son have mercy upon us, and may the Holy Spirit direct our hearts and draw us into ever closer union with the Holy and Undivided Trinity.
Hieromonk Cyprian (Astley) of Bois-Aubry
The Feast of Saint John of Saint-Denis
30th January, MMXXIV