The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius came into being as the result of several events which were indirect consequences of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Over the years that followed the Bolshevik revolution, large numbers of Russians, many of them young and forthright Orthodox Christians, left Russia and came to live in the countries of western Europe, especially France, as refugees. Here they came into contact with other Christian denominations that many of them had only read about, or had very limited contact with, in Russia.
Under the auspices of the Student Christian Movement, one of these young Russian refugees, Nicolas Zernov, organised a series of conferences in the English town of St Albans with the aim of bringing together young Eastern and Western Christian students with the aim of discussing points of similarity and difference between their respective theological outlooks and church disciplines.
For most of those present, the Anglo-Russian Student Conferences of 1927 and 1928 were to be the first real opportunity to meet with Christians of other traditions. The Orthodox dimension of the conferences came mainly in the form of Paris-based Russian refugees, though there were also a few Greeks and non-Chalcedonians present. The Anglicans came mainly from the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, although there was initially some interest from evangelicals and also from Methodists and Scottish Presbyterians.
Opportunities for contact between Anglicans and Orthodox in England had been very limited until this point. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were only five Orthodox Churches in Britain: Greek churches in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff and the Russian Embassy Chapel in London, which was itself closed in 1917. There were similarly small numbers of English people who considered themselves to be members of the Orthodox Church.
Stephen Hatherley, an Englishman who converted to Orthodoxy in the late 19th century was one such person. Having been ordained a priest of the Ecumenical Partriarchate of Constantinople, he gathered around himself a group of English converts, opening a small church in the town of Wolverhampton in the industrial midlands. His activities so displeased the Anglican authorities however, that following the intervention of the British Foreign Office, Hatherley was forbidden to receive a single further person into Orthodoxy. The church in Wolverhampton was closed and he ended his days ministering to the community of Greek merchant sailors in the newly-opened Greek church in Cardiff.
Another key figure was yet to return to England. Archimandrite Nicholas (Gibbes), another Englishman, had spent time in Russia as Charles Sidney Gibbes, English tutor to the Tsarevich Alexis, son of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II. Following the assassination of the Russian imperial family, Gibbes left Russia for the large Russian communities in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Harbin, taking with him icons and other personal belongings of the Tsar as relics. In China he received the monastic tonsure and was ordained priest, so it was as Father Nicholas that he returned to England, establishing the first Orthodox chapel in Oxford in 1941.