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

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Parish of brescia (Italie)

The history of our parish is recent; it actually coincides with the history of my priesthood. Ordained priest in September 1999 for the church of San Remo and dismissed by his parish council a few weeks later, I found myself alone in my town of Brescia, where I was teaching Russian language and culture at the Catholic University , without church, without community, without chalice or priestly vestments. I only had in my possession the antimension of Sanremo. Monsignor Serge (Konovaloff), our Archbishop at the time, gave me his blessing to celebrate wherever I want with the utensils I could get, the Archdiocese not having another free parish for me. Very quickly, with some acquaintance, I found a church where the rector was willing to be hospitable, because he was celebrating in another. I posted advertisements on the trees in the boulevard frequented by the Slavs and Moldavians (Brescia was the first city in Italy for the rate of emigrants), and so our community began its existence at the rate of 'a celebration every two weeks, then three a month, and finally every Sunday. As for the items and utensils needed for the celebrations, I managed to get them through donations or through my own efforts.

A few years passed like this, but the church that had offered us hospitality was bombed during the war and needed drastic repairs, so we ended up on the streets. From 2007 we started traveling from one Catholic church to another, sometimes finding refuge in basements or attics. The decree of Pope Benedict XVI prohibiting the celebration of the Catholic Mass and the Orthodox liturgy on the same altar has not made our life easier. In 2010, we found a small church, but the plaster falling from the ceiling sent us back into the void. It was only from December 2013 that we permanently obtained a small 17th century church, made available to us free of charge by nuns living in a neighboring convent. We signed a formal contract with them, which we renew every four years, and we were able to build an iconostasis.

In January 2019, Father Léonard / Lazare Lenzi was ordained at Saint-Alexandre-Nevsky Cathedral in Paris for our parish, which welcomed him with great sympathy, so that we now have two priests. This now gives me the opportunity to breathe a little: previously I could only be away one Sunday a year. The Italian presence in our community is becoming more and more visible and regular. Indeed, apart from a small number of Russians and Moldovans, the overwhelming majority of our parishioners come from Ukraine and retain Ukrainian citizenship. They are in fact "in transit" in Italy, where they perform the most humble tasks (most of them are housekeepers). But this situation can last for several years.

The ecclesial unrest in our diocese hit the parish of Brescia hard despite its location far from the capitals. Our parishioners were unaware of the tensions between Moscow and Constantinople and as long as these Churches remained in communion, all was well. They are Orthodox born and baptized into the Moscow Patriarchate, who do not even imagine that another, let's say "foreign", orthodoxy is possible. Seeing themselves cut off from communion with the Russian Church, a good number of them (around 30-40%) left us in 2018 to join the Moldovan parish, whose celebrations are 70% in Romanian. Most of them did not return, even after our attachment to the Moscow Patriarchate in 2019. Our parish also suffered the consequences of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine: another group of parishioners left us for the Greco-Catholic parish, located just 70 meters from ours. They found the Ukrainian language there, as well as a firm political and patriotic stance, which we seek to avoid. Finally came the pandemic, with its many restrictions, which robbed us of our best altarnik (altar server) with his family. This man, who had served in our parish for many years and who was a candidate for the diaconate, passed away, believing that the use of wooden spoons for Communion was a betrayal of Orthodoxy.

Despite all of these hardships, we survived. Celebrations are regular on Sundays and on major holidays. The Sunday liturgy is attended by 20 to 40 people on average. Our parish is growing and gradually becoming Italian. We have a churchwarden and some volunteer helpers, including a Nigerien, who arrived in Italy as a refugee and became a fervent parishioner after having come by chance to our church. I baptized him in Lake Garda. Within our parish, we have set up a support system, particularly for finding work. Thanks to Father Lazare and his wife, a law professor, we can now also provide legal assistance, which our migrant parishioners, who ignore Italian laws and are often duped and exploited by their bosses, badly need. An Italian doctor, member of the parish, provides medical assistance. I dare say that we have become a family.

This is how spontaneously we became a multicultural community: Ukrainian, Russian, Moldovan, Italian, Greek, which does not cause any tension between the members. The Apostle is read in three languages, the Gospel in two. The readings are always followed by two sermons, one in Russian and the other in Italian. Sunday school for children is successfully run in Italian by Father Lazarus, but has had to be cut off due to the pandemic. We have on the agenda the development of the trilingual website of the parish which is already functioning, but in a still limited way, as well as the organization of pilgrimages. We have only been able to make one so far at the Shroud of Turin a few years ago.