Sheila Ralphs – a tribute by Mariana Greenan

Sheila Ralphs, born on 16th February 1923, died on 16th April 2021. Next Monday, 24th May, we shall be saying farewell to our dear Sheila, who was a shining light in our parish of the Pokrov, and its oldest parishioner. The funeral will take take place in our church at 11.30 a.m., followed by interment.

Sheila was born in Wales, the daughter of a schoolmaster. She always made the point that her family was English, but she retained a great affection for the land of her birth and returned to Wales frequently.
She was very scholarly, and studied with great success at grammar school and university. Sheila became a university lecturer in Italian language and literature at the University of Manchester. She retained a great love for Italian literature, and, to the end of her life happily quoted Dante’s Divina Commedia. She was also an accomplished musician and played the viola in orchestral and chamber music until very late in life.

Sheila loved to relate how she became Orthodox. It goes back to the days when Metropolitan Anthony of Blessed Memory was very much in demand to speak on the radio and television. At that time Sheila belonged to the Quakers, or Society of Friends, a faith group whose religious meetings were basically silent, interrupted only by an occasional inspiration, When she listened to Metropolitan Anthony on television, Sheila recalled vividly her admiration and amazement at the depth and strength of his faith and spirituality.

Of course at that time, she knew nothing about the Orthodox Church, and nothing about Metropolitan Anthony. She resolved to find out who he was, and where his church was, took a train to London and eventually arrived at the Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens. She arrived after the end of a Liturgy, but was received very kindly by Anna Garrett, then the church warden. Anna encouraged Sheila to stay in the Cathedral as long as she wanted. Sheila was struck by the beauty of the church and the devotion of the people praying silently in front of icons. It goes without saying that Sheila then knew nothing about icons, which were totally outside her experience. Anna recommended her to come again and be present at a Liturgy, which she did. She was very much attracted by the service and by the liturgical singing. When she went to kiss the Cross, Vladyka Anthony asked her who she was, and where she came from. She answered simply that coming to the Cathedral and listening to him was a great revelation.

Vladyka Anthony invited her to come and talk to him. Sheila recalled that she had several meetings with Metropolitan Anthony, and was amazed to discover that he knew a lot about the Quakers and admired them, which reassured Sheila. Gradually both Vladyka and Sheila came to the conclusion that she was ready to become Orthodox, and she was received in the Orthodox Church by Vladyka himself.

At first, as she lived in Manchester, Sheila decided to join the Byelorussian church of St. Nicholas, where she sang in the choir and made many friends. , but she also remained faithful to the Cathedral. When the Pokrov church joined the Moscow Patriarchate, Sheila decided to become a member of the parish and remained a faithful, generous, much loved and respected parishioner until her death. She never missed a Liturgy and even in her very old age she arrived in all weathers, always on time, sometimes with bandages round her legs, holding the arm of her faithful taxi-driver Greg. She was never afraid of expressing her forthright opinions, but above all her courage and cheerfulness were a real inspiration to all of us. She was greatly attached to all our clergy, and was on close and friendly terms with many parishioners, even when there was no obvious common language.

We thank you, Sheila, for your wonderful presence amongst us.