As there was a sort of general obsession seized the world with the US election, all continents were also driven by the fear or anger or violence and the uncontrolled development of the coronavirus, the first anniversary of the reunification of the former Exarchate Archdiocese of the Orthodox Churches (parishes) in Western Europe did not make the buzz. The frenetic atmosphere that took place a year ago in Moscow, the “Back home, return to the Mother Church” decision voted by some hundred clergy people had ended in the composition of a new jurisdiction within the framework of the Patriarchate of Moscow. On November 3rd, 2019, history got compacted and coherent again. Realism, saga, living dream that finally came true. Things went smoothly in fact. Some decided to change and quit the Eulogian Archdiocese, in particular in the different countries of the large European region where the Patriarchate of Moscow wisely had created a new Exarchate in Western Europe (Met. Antonyi of Korsun), an archdiocese in Spain and Portugal (Abp Nestor of Madrid, Spain, and Portugal) that enlarged and completed the structure of the Russian Orthodox Church along with the eparchies that exist in Germany, the Netherlands Great-Britain, and Italy.
The name of the new Archdiocese is also on the move: the jurisdiction of the Orthodox parishes (or churches, it depends on who and where you speak of the structure) in France and Western Europe. True, most of the remaining parishes and bodies are located in France, want to make use of French. But at this point, the Eulogian inspiration is either reduced to some heritage of the past Schools of Paris (Saint Sergius Institute of Theology, Saint Irenée’s Institute, the heritage of Vladimir Lossly and the Orthodox professors and whizzes of the century at St Sergius Hill). There is and was a strong, heavy, meaningful and at times side-thrust of the new French Orthodox believers, and a lot of clergy and laypeople desire to switch from Slavonic to French. Similar projects do not exist to such an extent in the other regions of Europe, where English, German, Dutch, Norwegian, inter alia, made their way calmly, in a rather isolated way, throughout the decades.
Was it an anniversary of a godovschyna\годовщина, a one-year memorial day?
The celebration had been scheduled for Sunday 8th of November, on the feast of Saint Dimitrios of Thessaloniki, and took place, without the Moscow patriarchal Exarch, Met. Antonyi of Korsun because of the present rules in force in France regarding the rising threat of the coronavirus.
In the course of the past year, some priests have left the “Rue Daru” structure and joined, in France, a new Vicariate on the build that remains in the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Let’s put it this way: on November 8th, the Sunday Divine Liturgy in Slavonic was broadcasted online from the renowned parish “The Virgin of the Sign” led by Archpriest Vladimir Yagello. On the feast of the saint, the community served a panichida (memorial service) of the twelfth anniversary of the repose of Hypodiakon André Schmemann, the brother of Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, who had served in this church for fifty years and also at the Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral of the Rue Daru. The old man had spent his life with the hope that one day, he would be again a true Russian citizen and see his homeland. President Vladimir Putin had given him (back after long years) his Russian passport in Paris on June 6, 2004.
While Met. Jean (Renneteau) of Dubna, Head of the new Archdiocese, celebrated online and live from the St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, with Bishop Elisée (Germain) of Reoutov. They were assisted by the clergy of the cathedral and the choir was conducted as always by Protodiakon Alexandre Kedroff. Some chorists used to sing in the choir of the Moscow patriarchal cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Some switched more or less permanently in the Daru choir. One can feel now mutual traditional influences, which is great.
The context was not easy this year. The metropolitan and the bishop often used French. Protodiakon Ioann (Dobrot) made the ectenies in Slavonic and some French. No other tongue from the Archdiocese was used, not even Moldovan-Romanian. Quite normal. The use of the French language develops among the Orthodox parishes and jurisdictions. It is evident because of the intertwining of the migrants and foreign workers. Protopresbyter Anatole (Rakovitch) made a special homily in Russian, after the reading of the Gospel (Poor Lazarus and the Rich Man), on the important Orthodox tradition of commemorating the departed. He underscored how nice and human and spiritual, a church tradition is to remember those who lived before us and whose names are to be inscribed in Heaven, sealed in the hope of redemption and everlasting life. Saint Dimitri’s day is a special feast of memory of what the Church really is: it encompasses the living and the dead from the origins of humankind till the end of times.
In between, the Covid 19 framed the churches in Europe and in Paris too. Then, there was no representative priest of the Exarchate in Western Europe on this first anniversary of the new Archdiocese. In Great Britain, the Dean had his own birthday. In the Netherlands, the Archpriest and Dean chuckled when he received the message that the new Archdiocesan (Daru) ecclesiastical calendar for 2020 had been published!!!! He referred to the email that had been sent out by the archdiocesan administration to all the clergy of the… former Archdiocese! This means that some priests had left the new structure a long time ago, others had died, and, anyway, the new year was not considered though, God willing, we should reach out to 2021! One could hope, that in the near, very near future, such mishmash could be avoided. It requires a real staff, competent persons, and a bit of common sense and connectedness among the members and the governing staff of the structure. The Church cannot rely upon clerical awards and bombastic titles. The Eulogian spirit is really born in poverty, abandonment, service, and constant prayers.
Most of the Orthodox “experts” – whether priests or laypeople – who were definitely excited one year ago, seemed to be unconcerned by the hierarchal Liturgy. Canon Law Archdiocesan specialist, Fr. Jivko Panev, served online via Facebook. In Italy, isolated in Brescia, Archpriest Vladimir Zelinsky could not serve in his parish because of the threats of coronavirus but his assistant priest, Fr. Lazarus (Leonardo Lenzi) came from Milano to replace him. Still, he feels alone in a very embattled Eastern rite context of Ukrainians, Russians, and other migrant faithful of all backgrounds and jurisdictions. The new Archdiocese has also now a singled-out Canadian parish-chapel which makes it a very “brave new world” structure so far. Met. Jean ordained several deacons and priests in the course of the past months.
There is a need for order. The consecration of two French “vicar” bishops in the past months, with the blessing of the Moscow patriarchal Synod, is an important step. It is positive, and it became real. A breach in the Orthodox “way of life” that focuses on the consecration of “Russian national” bishops. This is the case for the Russian and the Greek Churches. So now, it became an hapax, newness, or exception.
A Thanksgiving Service was served at the end of the Divine Liturgy. The Moleben was also broadcasted. Met. Jean of Dubna introduced the Service in French and focused on the mission. He mentioned the “elders, the founders, the fathers,” who held tight to the tradition of “our” Church. He did not mention the “Russian tradition”. Mgr Jean underscored the faithfulness of those who marked the history of the mission of the Orthodox Church in the country. Europe as such rarely appeared in his words. Indeed, the mission is at the very core of the reflection and the actions conducted by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Met. Jean (Renneteau) of Dubna (aka and formerly of Charioupolis, Ecumenical Patriarchate), had lived and frequented the traditional Russian tradition of Orthodoxy at the Institute of Saint-Sergius indeed. He had lived there and he had encountered a lot of persons who came from the different traditions of the Byzantine heritage, mostly in Europe. He had presented the “Orthodoxie” program on the French national TV with the help of French theologians and thinkers and Russian heirs of the prestigious backgrounds of the two Paris Schools.
On the other hand, when he was appointed in Genève by the Phanar in order to create a French-speaking parish at Bossey, he spent most of his time serving in French and according to the Greek Orthodox Byzantine rite and way to celebrate. When he was assigned as a bishop (against his will he always opined) in the former Archdiocese of the Russian parishes of Russian tradition in Western Europe, he used to celebrate after the Greek rite and this remains something special for him at the present in the “full Slavonic” new Russian archdiocese, in his quality of a hierarch. This is not the case of the two vicar bishops that he recently consecrated with the blessing of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
“Eulogianism” in the Russian Orthodox Church historically corresponds to something else that included the mission, indeed, but focused on the reality of a true practice of authentic traditions, that allow to transmit a life-giving and not ritualized treasure of Faith. It means constant help to the refugees, to the poor, the disabled, the visit to the sick and the prisoners, and the service of the Brother. This costs a lot in terms of time, money, self-dedication, true contacts. This requires means and the funds are not always at hand or shared in other places.
Patriarch Kyrill had clearly expressed that he wanted to gather all the body of the Mother Church of the Russian Orthodox tradition. Therefore, the return of a certain number of faithful priests and of a flock scattered in Western Europe was very important for most of the Russian Orthodox believers and the jurisdiction. Could it turn to become a way to trap some “survivors”? Definitely not at a large level and from the part of the Moscow patriarchate and Holy Synod. Only a few “long-term serving priests” in the Archdiocese who were present at the Union and, someway, the Patriarchate of Moscow rescued them warmly.
In the course of the year, some involvements of Met. Jean of Dubna and, incidentally, of the “highly respected master of tradition”, Protopresbyter Anatolyi (Rakovitch) could seem special. When the Church of Moscow inaugurated the Church for the Army and the Victims of the Wars, the ongoing discussions on the so-called Stalin and Putin icons, “communist icons” could be solved locally… Met. Jean and Fr. Anatolyi sent a letter of support to Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow. Well… Then, the recognition of Mother Maria (Skobtsova) of Paris, canonized (glorified) by the former Archdiocese with the blessing of Constantinople is also fully revered by the Russian Orthodox believers. Some experts made pressure that she could have a memorial plaque at the Russian Orthodox Sainte Geneviève-des-Bois cemetery. She was added as a Russian resistant/fighter in France. It depends on what jurisdiction (the Archdiocese and/or Moscow or the Russian government) exercises, at the present, control over the internationally renowned cemetery.
The Archdiocese is also in the pangs of new birth, just in a low-gear mood. It needs new personalities and has to avoid a tendency to self-framing in some (viral) entre-soi. Would Met. Jean plays the role of a “go-between” who could persuade some priests and faithful to follow him into his “rescuing” request to be admitted in the Patriarchate of Moscow? Some people did join him because they respected the man and they followed an “individual”, who is very up-to-the-minute in our days. While the new St. Sergius Institute of Theology returned this Fall to the historical site of the Hill, the staff remains limited, the obedience to the Head of the Archdiocese will have to evolve in the coming months and years adequately. It remains formal or based upon a sort of local agreement.
They play their own stance, hopefully with enough credits and competent lecturers and professors. Although some of the professors are in contact with a lot of scholars and researchers of diversified circles, they would need a refresh if not a revamp and be associated with vivid Russian institutions that also developed or are interested in the intuitions of Met. Eulogii in the homeland and in the diaspora.
Serbian, Georgian, Polish, Greek priests or lecturers or members of other Churches (Catholics and Protestants – these lodged the Institute for some time before the revival this year) did not show at the anniversary at the cathedral. There is the virus and also the duty to serve in the Archdiocesan parishes. There is a feeling of prudence too. Quite often in the Orthodox Churches, “obedience” also means that one thinks it is possible to act independently once the “hierarchal blessing or kissing of the right hand”, if any, has been granted.
There is a special French “exception”. It is not strictly and solely “Orthodox” and it also shows in the constant “Gallican” drifting-away process. One can speak of new Gallican Orthodox tendencies. These are built on a mixture of national aims to revive the French Christian heritage that is profoundly Latin Catholic and rooted in the See of Rome in Western Europe. The rush of the refugees and migrants from the Slavic and Greek and East-European countries one century ago, allowed them to reconnect with the Roman Catholic traditions of the West. It also gave the opportunity to meet with the local historical splits (Anglicans, Protestants) that were quicker than the Latins to welcome the Orthodox scholars.
Others felt that the West was subject to a harsh process of secularization, even apostasy (esp. during World War II), and there came up the deep in-born Russian Orthodox motto and spirit of missionary activities in the West. A century ago, the Russian refugees, Met. Evlogii (Georgievsky), had to supply their fellow people with spiritual assistance. They had arrived with very unsecured projects. But they also wanted to find the theological atmosphere that reminded their home country. They provided real nourishment to the Orthodox believers in dire days of impoverishment in foreign and European contexts.
Met. Jean (Renneteau) of Dubna accepted the yoke to be appointed as an archbishop while he was peacefully installed in the nice environment of Switzerland. A French speaker from Bordeaux, who had lived at Saint-Sergius Institute of Theology. He belongs to the followers of Saint Sophrony of Essex, thus lining on the spiritual teaching and theological influence of Saint Silouane of Mount Athos. He is from the French Aquitaine with relatives in long-distanced French Polynesia. He was appointed in order to heal a local situation that was not European, not even “Russian Orthodox”. He supposedly had to bring some therapy to a Church structure that was exhausted. He is not a Russian, does not speak the languages of the Archdiocese as it was five years ago. He had been consecrated by His Holiness Bartholomaios of Constantinople, and subsequently, he was recognized as an Exarch at that time. I maintain that he could fathom to set up the new Archdiocese because the Ecumenical Patriarch did not ban the then-Archbishop of Charioupolis and did not stop the movement that continues to develop on its own line. Mgr Jean does not speak Greek but was cheerfully applauded by a lot of clergy and laypeople of the Archdiocese because he speaks nicely, welcomes everybody.
This is definitely what Patriarch Kyrill expressed went he spoke of his encounters with the then-priest Jean in Geneva: always welcoming the guests, cheerful, warm, thus showing hospitality and international connectedness to all in French, the Bordeaux way upgraded with a touch of Helvetic neutrality. He is also a businessman, pragmatic. Things have to go. He went through nightmares till the “Archdiocese” harbored back in the bosom of the Russian Mother Church of Moscow. It was an “impossible mission” and – maybe due to the present ravaging pandemic – the silence that makes things plain and in a sort of “entre-soi” does not mean that the body evolves smoothly.
Everybody seems to be eating some sorts of “rillettes de la Sarthe” at the present in the new Archdiocese. The zakuski turned into a very “French countryside delicatessen”. This tracks back to some insights into how the structure is being revamped. Patriarch Kyrill and the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow did not bless the consecration of a British bishop elected by the members of the new Archdiocese. It may happen in the future, but the Church of Moscow mainly admitted a French innovation. It was maybe a part of the price to accept for the return of the exiled portion of the Patriarchate that had left a century ago and had surfed on swinging waves till the final touch, in November 2019. And… a Sarthois spirit of newness seems to be developing in the overall renewal of the Patriarchate of Moscow in Western Europe.
At Saint-Mars-de-Locquenay, in the Sarthe region, the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Silouane (of Mount Athos) had been created, in 1990, by Fr. Symeon, a former Cistercian monk, who had become a priest at the French-speaking parish of Notre-Dame de Joie-des- Affligés – a long-term French-speaking church of the Patriarchate of Moscow, the parish of Vladimir Lossky and many historic Russian Orthodox clergy and may people interested in inculturation. Now Bishop Symeon (Cossec) of Domodedovo founded the monastery with the blessing of his spiritual Father, Fr. Sophrony of Essex within the Patriarchate of Moscow. All things being equal, the development of the monastery showed to be very interesting over years. Mgr Symeon had been banned by the then-representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow and submitted to a very severe epitimia. He then turned, with the community, to Archbishop Gabriel (de Vylder) of Comana and they were accepted in the Archdiocese of the Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe, thus in the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The situation should be considered accordingly. Archimandrite Symeon gathered a certain number of Orthodox faithful from several Orthodox and other circles that were rooted in the long history of the presence of the Russian Eastern tradition in France. He is known to the Patriarchate of Moscow. Incidentally, he could eventually be elected as Archbishop heading the Archdiocese when Mgr Gabriel of Comana passed away. His journey through the Patriarchate of Moscow in his first service as a priest had to mature and wait for the switching transition of Mgr Jean from Charioupolis to Dubna.
The Orthodox monastery in the Sarthe is also resourceful because two other Orthodox monks are members of its community. Mgr Marc (Alric), Vicar Bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in Western Europe has been spending a long time at the monastery. He participated in the consecration of Archimandrite Symeon as a bishop and, on the same day, of Higumen Elisée (Germain), the rector of the French-speaking parish of the Très-Sainte-Trinité (Rue Daru) where FFr. Pierre Struve, Boris Bobrinskoy, Alexis Struve had served.
Rector Elisée (Germain) was elected by the Archdiocesan Assembly in order to be the other assisting Vicar Bishop to Met. Jean of Dubna, with special a special mission among the French-speaking parishes. His path is truly deep-seated in the Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, in the history of the Archdiocese since his early childhood. And still, he has been involved in ecumenical circles, contacts with the Carmel spirituality. He explained with much emotion how he felt to be called to be “a monk in the city”, as Mother Maria (Skobtsova) had been accepted as a nun in the city by Met. Eulogyi. This is a part of the heritage of the Orthodox School of Paris and the Service of the Brother.
Fr. Elisée had become a monk at the Monastery of Saint Silouane. There is a direction that connects the two French new archdiocesan bishops from Paris to Levallois-Perret to Saint-Mars-de-Locquenay.
Would the Sarthe region be the sign of the rising future of the Orthodox presence in Western Europe?
Other priests and a deacon were present at the special celebration of the first anniversary of the “Union”. Some are of Ukrainian, backgrounds – this has been a general trend in the history of the Archdiocese, as also the presence of some Baltic clergymen. As for now, there are many Moldovans. There is also Archdeacon Ioann Dobrot who explained in some TV interviews how his family and some hierarch of the Church of Moscow had been assassinated during the Revolution.
The good tidings come at the present from this Sarthe region, a nice area of the French paysage. Why? The Russian Church can also be fascinated by the inspiring French parlance and culture. Hieromonk/monk-priest Alexandre Siniakov was ordained a priest in Vienna (Austria) in 2006 by Met. Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, now in charge of the External Affairs of the Patriarchate of Moscow, then serving in Central Europe. An important location in the present development of the Churches. Die Wiener Stimmung has always been marked by all Russian citizens, scholars, passers-by, refugees, and promoters of the future.
Monk-priest Alexandre Siniakov wrote his biography and path from the Old Believers from the Caucasus bordering Russia, his family back from exile in Turkey. He explained how he learned French. He is also a representative of the Orthodox Church in Brussels and is very close to the Catholics (Dominicans, Jesuits). Since 2008, he is the rector of the Russian Seminary Sainte Geneviève located at Epinay-sous-Sénart in the Western suburb of Paris. He just opened a new “spiritual compound” in the Sarthois region located at Sougé-Le-Ganelon, not too far from “Les 24 Heures du Mans”. His activities include dogmatics, Greek, rectorate, horse and donkey care, and stables, races along with quails and fish. He is now a farmer and also has dogs and the seminary produces honey and participates in The Voice and songs. Definitely resourceful.
He would seem to be attracted by the very spirit of the Archdiocese, i.e. the respect and acceptance of the decisions taken by the Russian Council of Moscow in 1917-18 which is at the core of the ongoing reflection of the School of Paris and the Eulogians. Many Russians reflect on the possibility to serve in the local languages, namely French in France and Belgium, Luxembourg and Canada as also Russian in the vast territory of the Russian Mother Church in her homeland.
One year has passed. The coming years require insightful redevelopment outside of the Sarthois spirit. Challenging years will show, in the context of the hardships due to pandemics and discernment.