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

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Protopresbyter Basile Zenkovsky

Protopresbyter Vassili Zenkovsky

Auteur inconnu (DR)

Vassili (Basil) Vassilievich Zenkovsky was born on July 4, 1881 (Julian calendar) in the city of Proskurov in the province of Podolia. Despite the fairly modest living conditions of the family (his father was a teacher and his grandfather a priest), Vassili Vassilievich and his brother were able to go to Kiev for their education. His whole childhood, until the age of 14, "was illuminated by the light of the Church." He sang in the church choir and was very familiar with religious services.

V.V. entered university in 1900 and studied for nine years, first at the Faculty of Letters and History, then at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Kyiv University. In 1904, Vassili Zenkovsky moved to the faculty of Philosophy, and was elected full professor after the defense of his philosophy thesis "The problem of psychic causality" (Kiev, 1914) which was an important contribution to the psychological sciences. As V. Zenkovsky deepened into the problems of child psychology and the psychology of pedagogy, his thought focused on the theological meaning of human life, i.e. Christian anthropology , which took a central place in his works and his life.

In 1905, he made acquaintance with Serge Bulgakov and wrote with him the journal of Christian socialists "The People", which was closed after its eighth edition. The contacts with Bulgakov and the professors of the Kyiv Theological Academy led to the creation in 1905 of the "Philosophical-Religious Society Vladimir Soloviev", of which V. Zenkovsky was president from 1911 onward.

Vasily Vasilyevich took part in the First Congress of Clerics and Laity of All Ukraine, in which he was elected member of the Council of Bishops. V.V. was gradually integrating himself into the administration of the Ukrainian Church, which led him to give his consent - at the insistence of his friends and against his will - to enter the government of Hetman Skoropadsky as minister of religious affairs. He later called this decision a "mistake" testifying to his inability to "build his life ...and not to oppose anything", leading him to let himself be carried away by fate.

We understand, as do his contemporaries, that it was his exceptional talent, his gift of communication and above all his aspiration to serve the truth of the Church that were the criteria for the assignment of V. Zenkovsky to leadership positions.

After the fall of Kiev and then of Odessa on January 26, 1920, Vasily Vassilievich Zenkovsky left Russia forever. He settled in Yugoslavia.

He spent three rather difficult years in Belgrade. Immediately after his arrival he showed his talents as an organizer and created the "Association of Russian Scientists in Yugoslavia". He began to teach in the faculties of theology and philosophy. In the fall of 1921 an event occurred which may not seem important, but with which, as V.V himself writes "a whole new page in my life was bound." A group of students formed a philosophical-religious circle, which quickly grew and formed the basis of the Christian Action of Russian Students (ACER). At the center of this circle was the Zernov family, an active participant was Dimitri Klepinin, future priest of "Orthodox Action", tortured in a German concentration camp and now canonized. Members of this circle were future professors of the St. Sergius Theological Institute: S. Bezobrazoff, C. Kern, N. Afanassieff and others.

The first ACER congress took place in Pcherov (Czechoslovakia). Father Serge Bulgakov, G. Florovsky, A. Kartachev, L. Zander, (all future professors at St Sergius Institute), as well as P. Novgorodtsev and the responsible secretaries L. Liperovsky and A. Nikitin took an active part in the work of this congress. At the second congress in 1924, V. Zenkovsky was elected permanent president of ACER, he remained so until his death in 1962.

V. Zenkovsky possessed qualities that were very valuable for a leader: he had a special ability to listen, he was a peacemaker and knew how to bring everyone together, but the most important was his love of youth; he tried to instill in the young people the desire for a true ecclesialization of their lives.

Vassili Vassilievitch arrived in Paris in 1927 and lived there for 35 years. He was invited to become part of the faculty of the newly created Institut de Théologie Orthodoxe Saint-Serge. He was entrusted with the teaching of psychology, the history of philosophy, pedagogy, apologetics and the history of religion. V. Zenkovsky's participation was not limited to teaching, he dealt with the daily life of the Institute and even finances, and also played a leading role in the Council of Professors. In 1944, after the death of Father Serge Bulgakov, Father Basile became the Rector of the Institute.

From 1936 to 1942, V.V. Zenkovsky was a member of the Diocesan Council as a lay member, after his ordination in 1942 as a member of the clergy, until 1962.

In 1939, just a day before war was declared, V. V. Zenkovsky was arrested by French authorities for some unknown reason and taken to a prison cell, then to a camp where he was interned for over a year. His fate was shared by many representatives of the Russian emigration. These circumstances were at the origin of V. V. Zenkovsky's decision to become a priest. He was ordained in March 1942 by Metropolitan Eulogy in St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and appointed vicar of the rector of the Church of the Presentation. He served with Father Victor Yourieff in total unity of souls for twenty years from 1943 to 1962, complementing each other and often serving one another.

He did not like pomp in services and therefore was not in favor of concelebrations. He never wore the mitre and only put on the ecclesiastical cap (kamilavka) in the presence of the Bishop "for himself and for the people". He had refused to become a Bishop for the same reasons.

Father Basil loved to preach and preached often. He found the right and profound words, thanks to his eloquence.

Father Alexis Kniazeff noted that the priestly service of Father Basil, nourished by scientific and cultural knowledge, had marked out a particular path in the history of the Orthodox pastoral ministry. This path of secular and scientific priesthood had been followed by the historian A. V. Gorsky, then by Father Serge Bulgakov. The young theologians of the Saint Sergius Institute including Alexandre Schmemann, Jean Meyendorff, Boris Bobrinskoy, Nicolas Koulomzine and others were also engaged in this path.

A rare natural kindness, a delicate care and an infinite love for the neighbor characterized the pastor that was Father Basil. He wrote that his dream was "to love all men without distinction, without concern for interest or morals" and said: "I love each person in his individuality and his originality; it is my intuition, turned towards the soul of others. "

Father Basil was an exceptional spiritual director. People came to confess to him, forming long lines, because he was an excellent psychologist, not only by his profession and his great erudition, but because he had the particular gift of understanding all the intricacies of each one. We came to see him with various problems, and often a priori without particular issue, and to each one he tried to show that he was in the image of God, that the Kingdom of God was open to him so that he tends towards the light. Father Basil did not stigmatize anyone, he tried to understand everyone and offer them something positive.

It was therefore not surprising to see many people coming to confess to Father Basil. He was naturally open and affable to his neighbor and greeted his visitors by calling them "my child" (goloubtchik) with his characteristic southern accent. He always offered them tea and bread rolls. Although he was always very busy, he made special efforts to devote some of his time to the lonely people who, sitting in his modest and uncomfortable little accommodation, could find spiritual comfort there. He was also delighted to see a family forming: he was always happy at weddings and baptisms. Yet when he did go to an invitation, there was no more than half an hour left, having to strictly manage his "time budget" as he worked sixteen hours a day.

Father Basil attached great importance to the role of women, considering that the Christian mission was only possible with the contribution of mothers, wives and sisters. Thus, having come to an agreement with the teachers of the Institute of Theology, he founded the women's theology courses in 1949. Valentine Alexandrovna Zander and her sister Nathalie Alexandrovna Terentieff had undertaken to organize these courses in a room of the Church of the Presentation. About a hundred listeners had thus completed this cycle of studies, the courses having been taught for twenty years.

Father Basil saw himself above all as a historian. He had started to prepare the edition of his book "Russian Thinkers and Europe" in Russia and had completed it in Serbia. But it was in Paris that he began to systematize his work on Russian philosophy, at the insistent request of his students at the Institute of Theology. The Russian edition of the "History of Russian Philosophy" was an event in the intellectual life of the Russian emigration living abroad. It was translated in the years 1948-1950 into French by C. Andronikof and into English by G. Klein. The publication of this book widened contacts with the learned world and prompted Father Basil to print the book "Das Bild des Menschen in der Ostkirche" (The Image of Man in the Eastern Church). During the last years of his life, Father Basil endeavored to take stock of his philosophical reflections and to outline the main features of the "Foundations of Christian Philosophy". This project was only partially realized. In 1961 appeared the first volume "The Christian Teaching of Knowledge" (Frankfurt). Three years later the second volume "Anthropologie" appeared. The third volume "Cosmology" has remained in draft form.

Father Basil loved the world of ideas, his interest in scientific constructions is in fact inexhaustible, but the burden of his social relations and his obligations as a spiritual father did not allow him to devote sufficient time to science. He considered his scientific studies to be the most important and was grieved when other areas of his activity were considered more important than science. Possessing an exceptional erudition, an unparalleled capacity for work, being able to read in 4 languages, VV. Zenkovsky wrote articles and monographs on a wide variety of subjects, approaching each question from a religious point of view. The basis of Father Basil's worldview was the religious foundation of all existence ”; all his work was imbued with the idea of "ecclesialization of life" in all its forms. The whole meaning of the role of Christendom in history rests on this idea, as Father Basil writes in his study of Orthodoxy and the Contemporary World.

As ACER was founded on the same ideas, it was therefore no coincidence that Father Basil Zenkovsky had become President of the Movement. He felt that there were unwavering links between the service of the Church and the service of ACER and used all the forces of “love in action” so that the Movement became an incarnation of Christianity in its creative life and in his obedience to the Church through the Sacraments. He placed the ecclesial principle above the national principle.

However, the great load of his activities gradually undermined the strength and health of Father Basil, despite his great work power and his will and ability to manage his time. He had a weak heart. By the spring of 1962, his health had prevented him from taking part in the services of the Annunciation, the Sunday of the Cross and Holy Week. It was very painful to him, but he took it as "a punishment or some kind of lesson", with humility. In the summer his illness worsened, and on August 5, 1962, he fell asleep in eternity at 3 a.m., surrounded by his faithful children and accompanied by the chanting of the Paschal Canon. His funeral was very solemn, with the participation of representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad. Archpriest George Florovsky delivered a speech on the role of Father Basil Zenkovsky in Russian religious thought. Archbishop George (Tarassoff) and Bishop Method (Kuhlmann) performed the funeral service in the presence of a large crowd of parishioners and ACER members.

Father Basil was an exceptional spiritual guide of Orthodoxy to Russian youth and our contemporary world.