Impressions of the Coronation from. Fr. Antony Bloom, Priest of the Russian Church in London
THOSE who take an active part in the life of our Parish know that, long before the Coronation, it had begun to prepare itself for the great event for which we were all waiting. Two lectures had been given in our Church House to describe the Russian Orthodox rite of the Coronation of Emperor; extensive explanations had been given as to its meaning and history, and parallels drawn between the Russian Orthodox and the Anglican rite had stressed the outer analogies, and the inner identity of spirit, between the two rites.
On the Sunday before the Coronation, a special service had been held in our Church, after and in addition to the usual prayers offered at every service for «our sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Family, the country, its people and all who dwell therein»— a votive office was sung: all those who could leave their homes and come to Church were present: and it is from their whole heart that they presented their petitions to God that He would give to the Queen the fullness of His grace, the abundance of His gift of counsel and wisdom, of strength and charity; that He would lead her into all truth, and make her people to live in peace and concord, in worship and righteousness, during her reign, and protect her against all foes visible and invisible.
Before this service, a sermon was preached on the meaning of the service to which the Queen was about to come, and its significance for, and in the lives of, all those who are privileged to live under her God-given rule.
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But all this was only the keeping of a vigil.
At last the long expected great day came.
I am not to tell about things that everyone has seen, or could see and hear — things already abundantly spoken of: but I shall tell of the thoughts and feelings which have found their way to the depth of my heart.
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At the Queen’s command (as the invitation issued by the Earl Marshal said) I was given the privilege of being present at the Coronation Service in Westminster Abbey, with a group of Anglican Bishops from overseas (Jerusalem, Sumatra, New Zealand . . .), and with the Metropolitan of Thyatira Athenagoras, Apocrisiarius of the Patriarch of Constantinople in Great Britain. There was no other Orthodox with us: the other clergy of our various Churches were seated in different parts of the Abbey.
I arrived early in the morning, as I had been directed, in a car with the Vicar of St. John the Baptist, Holland Road, who was driving thither a friend of his. The latter had a permit, the former a car — and I was kindly offered the benefit of both!
One could hardly recognize either the Abbey or its surroundings. A great many tribunes, an annex to the Abbey itself, and a variety of decorations, had been built round the Abbey. Everything was colourful and glorious — both things and people — in spite of the rain. And obviously, people had come together not to «look at» a ceremony, but to take part in a great, gladdening event — to rejoice at their own feast.
Inside, also, the Abbey was quite new. From the floor to the roof tribunes had been built, solid and beautiful, with the arms and ciphers of Queen Elizabeth II. Later, I discovered that more than 7,000 people had found place under the vaults of the shrine of Great Britain’s glory. But when I arrived, people were still few. I took the opportunity to see things which later, as I rightly expected, would not be visible for me — the Altar, covered with golden dishes, cups, patens, etc., the pride of Westminster Treasury. Shall I avow my feelings? I was disappointed by all the dishes. So much better do I love its usual sober beauty!
I was seated at the junction of the Sanctuary and the North Transept, in the East gallery of the latter, looking West. I could therefore see the Throne and its surroundings very well, and all the way to it from the West Door. So each of the processions came towards me, and their slow dignity made it easy to recognize each one.
By and by, guests began to fill up the Abbey. I do not venture to describe the colourful variety of the costumes, the vivid, spectacular beauty of the scenery, the sober intensity of every action, the joy, devout and shining, of all those to whom it was given to take part in the Feast — their own feast, and that of all the peoples of the Empire. I only feel sorry for those who were not given the privilege of experiencing it, or proved unable to see or sense it. But to those who have seen and understood, the old Abbey Church of Westminster — so often misunderstood by idle and superficial tourists — has revealed all its grandeur, all its eternal glory, and will remain dear as only a flag or an icon can be.
Leaving aside now everything else, I shall concentrate upon a few impressions immediately connected with tlie person of the Queen.
When the Queen entered the Abbey all the rest faded away — or rather, all its shining beauty was focused and became meaningful. Nothing was left of the dazzling pageantry, of all the diversity. Greatness only remained. And each and all were spellbound, merged into silence deep and worshipful: not an outward silence only, but an inner sense of it.
The Queen was being brought to the Altar by two Bishops. And she walked towards her destiny merged into a deep and severe thought, with the amazing simplicity and recollection which is hers. She was going forth consciously to the Altar of the Living God, to be a living sacrifice, like the daughter of Jephthah — to die to herself, in order to live with and for her people. In the words of the Russian writer Leskov, «A life was coming to an end: a ‘Vita’ was beginning». The young Queen did not prepare her heart for a feast, but for a consecration — that is, a sacrifice. How could one not respond with one’s whole heart, one’s whole soul, and one’s whole strength, «O Lord, save the Queen : and hear us when we call upon Thee».
The Queen has brought all her youthful life, and given it up to God for her people. And not only God, but all, have accepted and received this gift. How carefully, worshipfully, are we to live now, to remain true to the gift of God, and the oath pledged on both sides**.
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The Service begins with the Recognition of the Queen by all those who are present both in the Abbey Church and in the wide world. The Archbishop of Canterbury presents the Queen to her people and asks, «All you who are come this day to do your homage and service, are you willing to do the same?» Thus did he turn to the four quarters of the earth, and from each of them came a firm, truthful, and decided reply — «God save Queen Elizabeth». And all those who heard how that reply was given, without any hesitation, will witness that her people stand as a faithful, devoted bodyguard round the Queen, speaking of whom Churchill said, «…the Lady whom we respect because she is our Queen, and whom we love because she is herself».
After the Recognition, follow the Coronation, and the Holy Communion Service. First of all, the Queen takes the Oath that she is to rule the peoples and countries given to her by the will of God in accordance with law, justice, mercy, and freedom: that she will keep whole the Faith of her people. Of this she is to be reminded by the Holy Bible, presented to her by the Moderator of the Church of Scotland with the words, «Here is wisdom : this is the royal law : these are the lively oracles of God».
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I will not attempt to describe the Service. All could read, see, or hear it. But I want to say a few words about the Homage. The representative of each of the orders of peers approached the Queen seated upon her throne in full regalia, surrounded by her supporters. He knelt down before her, and put his hands in hers, reading his Oath in the name of those whom he was representing, all of whom knelt at the same time, thus taking part in the action.
The first to approach was the Duke of Edinburgh. And this, it seems to me, was a great and beautiful thing — a «mystery» — the acceptance of all that kingly service meant to her: the recognition that his wife is also his queen — a sacrifice of self as great as the Queen’s; a new depth in their life; a renewal, at the greater depth of the Church of God, of the marriage vows which build the «Small Church of the Christian family».
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While entering the Abbey Church, and during the days that followed, I watched the crowd; I looked into the faces of all whom I met; I listened to the comments made by various people — from the simplest folk up to the varied company the Archbishop of Canterbury called together at his Coronation Garden Party. Each and all were full of a true, vivid gladness, without a shadow of indifference, or of envy; a joy personal, direct, that the Lord had given to the Country and to the Empire a Queen who in her short lifetime had won the love and respect and wholehearted devotion of all. It really has been a «spiritual spring of life and joy», a time of renewal, of raising of our best hopes, of a vital and cheerful move towards the building up of a new life, the life of the Kingdom of God. And this shall be, if only we, all, unfeignedly, soberly put our hands to the plough and, with the Queen and for the Queen, give up our lives into the hands of God.
* It is not clear in what language it was written/said originally. Coronation took place on 2nd June 1953
** Cf. the Queen’s Address to her People — «I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust».
Christian East. 1953, summer. Vol. II. N.5-6. P.125-128