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Centenary of the Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe

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The Christian Action of Russian Students

The Christian Action of Russian Students (since 1995, ACER-MJO) is a youth movement founded in 1923 by Russian emigrants who fled the Bolshevik revolution. Rich in an almost secular history, this movement still brings together many lay people today inspired by the vision of the founding fathers to "ecclesialize life". Throughout its history, ACER has been at the origin of numerous initiatives and undertakings in the service of the Church in fields as diverse as youth work, theological formation, social action, dialogue ecumenical and pan-Orthodox or editorial work. Many people have participated in the circles, congresses, camps, schools organized by this movement and have been awakened to the faith there. Likewise, many vocations of pastors, theologians, educators, iconographers, catechists, choir directors have been born within this movement.

Historical development

The origins of ACER go back to pre-revolutionary Russia and the various upheavals in the Church and in society at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The Church, emerging from a long period of servility to the State, is preparing its Council and important reforms within it are announced; cultural circles are booming and religion is entering the arts and philosophy. Meetings of religious philosophy reconcile members of the intelligentsia with the Church. Among the students, Bible study circles are springing up in major university centers, thanks in particular to the efforts of Protestant missionaries and the American organization Y.M.C.A.

The momentum of this spiritual, cultural and theological renewal is shattered by the Revolution, but it can be prolonged in emigration. The circles are reconstituted in the great centers of emigration (Prague, Belgrade, Berlin, Paris) and are often animated by the "professors", these intellectuals returned to the bosom of the Church before the Revolution and expelled from Russia by the Bolsheviks. ACER was born precisely from the meeting of these intellectuals (Father Serge Boulgakov, Nicolas Berdiaev, Basile Zenkovsky, Paul Novgorodtsev, Simon Frank, Antoine Kartachev) with student circles, then totally helpless by recent historical events and the sudden loss of life. benchmarks.

ACER was formally founded in October 1923 during the Congress in Pcherov (a town near Prague) which brought together delegates from the main circles of emigrant students and remained, in the memory of all participants, as a true spiritual event. During this founding congress, the participants rediscover the deep meaning of the Church, in particular during the many Eucharistic liturgies celebrated with particular intensity by Father Serge Bulgakov. The Church appears to them as a source of life illuminating and transfiguring all areas and aspects of human life and creativity.

In the years immediately following the Pcherov Congress, the Movement is organized, structured and developed its activities: think tanks, congresses, youth camps, parish schools, publication of newsletters and brochures, missionary trips in favor of the needy. ,… All these activities find their meaning in the foundational experience of Pcherov, that is to say in the resolute desire to place oneself at the service of the Church, inviting each one to find his way for this service and to deepen his ecclesial life.

The center of ACER activities moves to Paris, where the Y.M.C.A. Firstly, it provided premises located on Boulevard Montparnasse, which became the headquarters of the Movement. Very quickly, in order to emphasize the necessary incarnation of Christian life in the Eucharistic community, ACER decided to install a chapel in its premises and, in 1928, the parish of the Presentation of the Virgin was founded. at the Temple. In 1935, ACER acquired its current premises located rue Olivier-de-Serres in the 15th arrondissement, where the headquarters of the Movement as well as the parish were transferred.

After the war, the Movement's activity was concentrated in France, while a change of mind was felt in the Russian emigration: there was no longer any hope of returning to the country. The new 1953 charter recognizes the Movement's membership in France, without neglecting the Movement's responsibility towards ailing Russia and Russian culture.

The charter adopted in 1995 adapts the name of the Movement to its aspirations: "The Christian Action of Russian Students" becomes "ACER - Orthodox Youth Movement" to underline the Movement's attachment to Orthodoxy and show its openness to young Orthodox. of all origins.

Activities and fields of action

At the origin of the founding of ACER is the Pentecostal experience of the group present in Pcherov. The activities of the Movement and their forms appear naturally and spontaneously and evolve according to the experiences acquired and the different needs of the Church. The areas in which ACER has made a substantial contribution are many and varied:

- work with young people: Basil Zenkovsky, president of the Movement for many years, talented teacher and specialist in child psychology, insisted from the founding of ACER on the importance of religious education for young people solid to initiate a wider ecclesial renewal. Over the years, a pedagogy specific to the Movement has developed and is expressed through specific and original concrete forms of work. Among these, we must mention the organization of holiday camps, which bring together every summer (since 1929) children aged 7 to 17 to experience a community life based on a deepening of the faith. orthodox and punctuated by the regular celebration of liturgical offices. The Movement also insists in this work with the youth on the importance of the transmission of the cultural element, as an essential component in the construction of a person engaged with the spiritual quests of his time.

Reportage on the 1st ACER summer camp at La Servagère in 1989

- theological and spiritual formation, derives directly from the sense of responsibility of each one towards the Church felt in Pcherov and remains a priority for the Movement. This is how ACER played an important role in the creation in 1925 of the Saint Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute (decided at an ACER congress) and its animation (the first teachers were almost all linked at ACER). Many ACER executives are trained in this Institute and very close links exist between the Institute and the Movement for many years. Furthermore, the various circles, congresses, symposia and camps organized by the Movement are proving to be unique and effective places for formation and transmission of the faith.

- Social action holds a place of primary importance in the life of the Movement which, from its foundation, has set up mutual aid services for the many needy in the harsh conditions of emigration. Among the various initiatives emanating from ACER in this area, we should point out Orthodox Action, founded in 1935 by Saint Mary (Skobtsov) and “Aide aux Believers de l'USSR”, founded in 1961 by Cyrille Eltchaninoff for come to the aid of believers persecuted in the USSR and their families, and became ACER-Russia in 1997 which supports social projects in Russia.

In solidarity with the Christians of the USSR

- editorial work with the YMCA-Press publishing house, founded by the Protestants of the Y.M.C.A. and entrusted to ACER in the 1950s, which publishes the works of the best representatives of the literary, philosophical and theological world, while any form of publishing of these works is impossible in Soviet Russia.

- the commitment to pan-Orthodox unity, with the creation in 1953 of the world federation of youth - Syndesmos and in 1963 of the Youth Coordination Committee, which would later become the Orthodox Fraternity and more broadly in the ecumenical dialogue.