Orthodox in Edinburgh
The Archimandrite John Maitland Moir has died at a ripe old age and, though I have not seen him for decades, he never failed to send me the smallest Christmas cards I have ever received. They were always tiny 2″x 1″ Eastern icons, with a short greeting on the back in Fr John’s writing.
He was a Scottish Episcopal priest in the 1960s when we first met, but even then he looked like an Orthodox priest, with a wispy beard and a Sarum cassock. No Roman buttons down the front for him. He gave lectures on Patristics at Edinburgh Theological College and showed his deep love of the Eastern Church and the Greek Fathers. Eventually, inevitably, he swam not the Tiber but the Hellespont and was ordained a priest of the Greek Orthodox Church in Great Britain.
In the 1970s, when I was Rector of St Michael & All Saints Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, I gave the use of one of our side chapels to Fr John Sotnikov, a Russian Orthodox priest who had a little congregation in Edinburgh. They had their Liturgy between our 8 and 11 o’clock Masses, and believe me, it took them all their time to cram it in, even though Fr Sotnikov began muttering the preparatory prayers long before my 8 o’clock was over!
When Fr Sotnikov died, Fr Maitland Moir took over the chapel and the congregation. He was fluent in Greek, of course, but in everything else he was a home-grown son of a staid Presbyterian Edinburgh doctor. He became a “weel-kent” figure riding a heavy iron bicycle around Tollcross and the Meadows. He used to have one meal a day only, and that was for years provided by Mrs Pinhorne, a member of St M & All Ss, whom I eventually buried at the age of 102. He was very strict about his Orthodox diet, and I remember Mrs Pinhorne’s maid, Jean, lamenting to me one day in Lent “Father, there’s a limit to the number of ways you can cook lentils”!
Because I gave over the chapel in St M & All Ss to the Russians, I was invited to dinner by a Russian lady, the widow of Sir Edward Reid, and who was therefore Lady Reid (no relation). Just before she died she enrolled me as a life-member of the Clan Donnachiadh Society, the clan of (mainly) Reids and Robertsons. So I suppose I am still a member, though I have never done a thing about it.
Anyway, to dinner I went, and the two other guests were Fr Sotnikov and Fr Maitland Moir. The course that sticks in my memory was the one where a vast silver bowl of Beluga caviare was placed in the centre of the table, sitting on a bed of ice, accompanied by lots of hot toast and a large bottle of Russian vodka. Lady Reid, Fr Sotnikov and I tucked in merrily, and got even merrier as the vodka glasses were replenished several times. But Fr Maitland Moir took only the tiniest bit of caviare and one piece of toast, and made a sort of suppressed groan as he tasted the vodka. He was not tea-total, but I’m sure he would rather have had a glass of sherry and a water biscuit.
He was a faithful parish priest, a good friend and mentor to many, and I am sure he will be waking up to hear his Lord’s welcome: “Well done, good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”.