Long path to reach spiritual home

Margaret Jackson – 27/12/12


TWO funeral services for the Very Reverend Archpriest Ambrose Trevor Jackson,  one in Adelaide and the other in rural Victoria, were attended by clergy and  parishioners from the Serbian, Greek, Russian, Antiochian and Romanian Orthodox  as well as Coptic, Anglican and  Catholic churches.

The diverse congregations demonstrated the connections Father Ambrose had  made in  an unusual life journey.

Ambrose Trevor Jackson was born in Fairfield. He was brought up as an  Anglican, educated at Ivanhoe Grammar School. After graduating from the  University of Melbourne, he embarked on a career as a teacher of history,  English and, occasionally, music.

After a few years he left for England.   There  a friend took him to Great  Vespers  in  London’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. He said he had ”never  experienced such beautiful worship”  and, though he continued to attend  Anglican services on Sundays, he made a practice of going to the Russian  Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday nights.

When he returned to Melbourne,  teaching at  his old school, he joined a  group called the Anglican Orthodox Fellowship, made up mainly of Anglican and  Orthodox priests who met to discuss their beliefs and ways of worship. These  meetings always began with a service in one of the city’s growing number of  Orthodox churches.

In 1975, after teaching in Sydney and Ballarat, he took up an appointment in  Timaru, a port on New Zealand’s South Island, as headmaster of a secondary  boarding school for girls. He also had musical commitments there, as in all the  cities in which he taught. He had been organist and choirmaster at Holy Cross in  the St Pancras area of London, then at Knox Grammar and Ballarat Grammar as well  as at Anglican churches that included Christ Church in Brunswick, St Cuthbert’s  in East Brunswick, St Anselm’s in Middle Park, and Ballarat Cathedral.

While in New Zealand he  presented for ordination in the Anglican Church,  having obtained a diploma in theology from the Australian College of Theology in  Sydney.  He was ordained in Christchurch in 1981,  at the age of 45. He then  took on parish work in addition to  looking after the girls’ school.

Back in Melbourne once again, he became chaplain of Mentone Girls Grammar,  followed by 12 years as senior chaplain at Brighton Grammar, where he also  taught.  As in New Zealand, he  served as an associate priest in several  parishes.

In 2000, at the age of 65, he retired from school life. Hardly had he done so  than an old friend who was then bishop of the Murray, a diocese on the eastern  side of Adelaide, offered him the parish of Strathalbyn.  He accepted, becoming  a full-time parish priest for the first time.

Over the decades Father Ambrose had kept up his association with the Orthodox  Church. Many of his friends were Orthodox, several of them priests. He also had  a long connection with the English-speaking parish of the Holy Trinity Russian  Orthodox Church in Melbourne, having attended in 1988 the first meeting for its  establishment, and later coached the choir for its first church service in  English. He was also a dedicated iconographer,   and in Strathalbyn was  directing an icon school he had established, following on from other icon  schools he had directed in Eastern Hill and Murrumbeena.

More importantly, in his personal spiritual practice he felt himself being  drawn to the Orthodox life: ”My private prayers were really Orthodox prayers,”  he said.

During his time in South Australia, Father Ambrose had become increasingly  disturbed by developments within the Anglican Church – in particular, the  ordination of women and  liberalisation of its theological outlook and  morality.

Finally, he decided he could  not remain in the church. However, he was bound  to it in many ways: he was a ”rural dean” (a priest in charge of a group of  parishes); a member of the diocesan synod; president and chairman of a panel of  priests who recommend  candidates for ordination; and had been made a canon (a  title of honour for senior priests) of the Murray diocese. It took him more than  nine months to free himself of his commitments and  able to resign from his  parish, after almost eight years there.

In 2008 he was received into the Russian Orthodox Church at a monastery at  Monarto, near Adelaide, where he and his wife and son had been going to services  for some time. He was now a layman though, and there was no indication from the  Russian Orthodox Church that he was seen as a candidate for priesthood.

Then a year-and-a-half after his admission to the Russian Orthodox Church,   Bishop Irinej Dobrijevic, bishop of the Serbian Metropolitanate of Australia and  New Zealand,   contacted him to ask whether he would be interested in  ministering in the Serbian Orthodox Church.

He replied that he still felt the call to the priesthood but knew nothing of  the culture of the Serbian church. That did not matter, Bishop Irinej said; he  would learn as he went along. He suggested that Ambrose join a parish in  Adelaide, St Sava in Hindmarsh, where the priest, Father Slavko Kasikovic would  give him all the help he needed.

Father Slavko did indeed, treating him like a brother from the beginning. In  2010, Father Ambrose was ordained a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church,  becoming only the third former Anglican clergyman to follow that path. He  conducted services in English but  had begun learning Serbian.

Late last year, he was admitted to hospital for an emergency operation after  being diagnosed with bowel cancer.  He returned to parish work after being  discharged and, with the aid of painkillers, led a fairly normal life. However,  seven months after leaving hospital he woke one morning in great pain and unable  to walk.

Three months later Father Ambrose died peacefully in a nursing home in Mount  Barker, South Australia.

Only weeks before his re-admission to hospital, on a particularly holy day in  the Serbian Orthodox calendar, Father Ambrose had been attending the ordination  of a student of his at Elaine (a town between Geelong and Ballarat) when, quite  unexpectedly, he found himself the centre of attention in a ceremony conducted  by Bishop Irinej to elevate him to the position of archpriest. Bishop Irinej had  not planned the event. It was as if he had sensed during the service that Father  Ambrose was close to death and that this would be the last opportunity to honour  him.

In his final weeks, Father Ambrose prepared an account of his life, which he  finished with these words: ”That was my physical journey. As far as Orthodoxy  is concerned, I must say I have never been more happy in my life. I am so glad  that God brought me into the full life of the Orthodox Church. I am so grateful  to Him, too, for allowing me the privilege of continuing in the priestly  ministry in the church.” He said he and his family had arrived in their ”true  spiritual home”.

Father Ambrose is survived by his wife Margaret, their son Patrick, and his  daughters Samela and Bridget.