THE LITURGY OF SAINT JOHN THE DIVINE
(Stowe Missal)

Jesus commanded His Apostles to go to every nation and to preach the good news to all people (Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:15). After twelve years, they scattered and took the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection throughout the Roman Empire and beyond as reported in the Book of Acts. However, Saint Aristobulus of the Seventy was sent by the Church of Jerusalem to Britain in AD37 (as recorded by Saint Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre and other contemporary writers) and the Orthodox Church regards him as the first saint and first bishop of the British Isles. He is commemorated on the 16th of March and the 31st of October.


The British Church sent representatives to many of the early Councils, including Arles and Elvira and, most importantly, the Great Council of Nicea in 325. Saint John Chrysostom wrote in 402, “The British Isles, which are beyond the sea, and which lie in the ocean, have received the virtue of the word. Churches are there founded and altars erected. Though you should go to the ocean, to the British Isles, there you will hear all men everywhere discoursing matters out of the Scriptures, with a different voice indeed, but not another faith, with a different tongue but the same judgment.” And this explains why, when he arrived to convert the Angles in 597, Saint Augustine found Christians with a church dedicated to Saint Martin in Canterbury.

It is thought likely that the Druids whom Saint Aristobulus found in Britain were open to Christianity due to a prophecy that at the end of a five hundred year period (which ended at the time of Jesus' birth) a great king would be born, so they would have been expecting such an event. Indeed many believe that the magi who visited Christ were Galatian Druids who were widely employed at courts throughout the middle east as resident wise men. These Druids were also trinitarian with one name of their trinity being Yesu which name persisted in Gaelic for Jesus ever since.

The early Church in the British Isles, while it had bishops, priests and deacons, did not have the diocesan-parish system of other parts of the Church and was largely clan/tribally based as the Druids had been before it.

Saint Ninian founded his monastery at Whithorn in south-western Scotland in AD 397 from whence missionaries spread across the country founding monasteries and inspiring hermits. Within three centuries the land was covered in monasteries from Skellig Michael in the Atlantic off Ireland, Cerne Abbey in the south-west of England and St Augustine's at Canterbury in the south-east, Old Deer in the far north of Scotland, and innumerable others now known only to God, culminating in the jewel of early monasticism on Iona and its daughter-house of Lindisfarne.

The British Church maintained that it got its liturgy from Ephesus at the time when Saint John was still living there. It is thought that what they got was a copy of the Didache with its early beginnings of liturgy. From that the British Church steadily developed its liturgy throughout the first millennium. The Stowe Missal (a complete book) deposited in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin contains what is probably the latest version of the liturgy known as the Liturgy of Saint John the Divine. It was most likely a book intended for use by missionary or circuit monastic Priests and written on coarse vellum early in the AD 600s being finally revised around AD 900. It includes the rite of Baptism-Chrismation, Communion of the Sick, and Holy Unction as well as a tract on Eucharistic theology meant for sermon guidance.

The theology of the Stowe Missal reflects the paramount importance of community over individuality. There is a tangible continuity between the living community and those who have gone on, between the Church militant, Church expectant, and Church triumphant. The British Church had a well developed theology of the Communion of Saints and it is reflected in their comprehensive litanies. The people who used the Liturgy of Saint John the Divine believed that being totally absorbed into this community was the goal and ideal life; they freely gave up their individuality to belong to something greater than themselves.

The Liturgy of Saint John the Divine is a genuine Orthodox Liturgy and was only ever used in the Orthodox Church. It was suppressed by the Norman invaders in AD 1066 in those parts of the British Isles that they conquered and finally suppressed in the rest of the British Isles in 1171 when the conquest was complete. Neither of course was it ever used by Protestants.

The Liturgy of Saint John the Divine is the genuine Orthodox inheritance of the people of the British Isles and parts of Europe. Using our own ancient Orthodox British liturgy we have a framework, to work with our own people to bring them back to the Orthodoxy which is their genuine inheritance. This Liturgy of Saint John the Divine is authorised for use here in Saint Bride's Hermitage in Scotland, it is in use in the Netherlands, and in countries outwith Europe amongst the spiritual descendents of the Christian Celts.

It is the liturgy used in its localised variants in the British Isles, the liturgy of our first martyr, Saint Dyfan in or around AD160, of Saint Fagan and Saint Mydwyn, and Bishop Elvan who died at Glastonbury around AD195. It is the liturgy of our most famous and best loved saints, of Saint Patrick, Saint Aidan at Lindisfarne, Saint Ninian the Evangeliser of the Picts, Saint Boniface, Saint Columcille of Iona, Saint Columbanus, Saint Barry, Saint Colman, and Saint David the Great Apostle of Wales and Archbishop of the British Church.