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

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Paroisse Saint Séraphin de Sarov, Chelles-Gagny

At the end of the 1920s, a large community of Russian emigrants was formed in the "Abbesses" district, straddling the towns of Chelles (77) and Gagny (93).

These "white Russians" settled in France, following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the civil war that followed until the 1920s. Some of them had left Russia earlier to join the Russian Expeditionary Force in France, engaged alongside France in 1916, during World War I. Among them were a majority of Cossacks, soldier-peasants from the Kuban region, located between the Caucasus and the Don. Working in Paris, poorly housed, they had found in the cheap land, subdivided in 1926 by Poliet and Chausson in the “Abbesses” district, a unique opportunity to finally be able to find a piece of land and build, often with their own hands, a small house.

All these emigrants, who had a solid Orthodox faith, quickly formed a religious association with the aim of founding an Orthodox parish. The statutes specify in Article II that the association "is subject to the authority of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sremski-Karlovci, Yugoslavia". As early as 1933, they rented land in Chelles, avenue de Sambre et Meuse, for a symbolic franc, and built there, with their own hands, a small church. It was inaugurated on November 1, 1933 and consecrated to Saint Seraphim of Sarov. In 1939, the owner wishing to increase the lease or sell the land for a price deemed too high, the parishioners dismantled the building stone by stone, and rebuilt it on the current site, which they acquired definitively in 1950. The choice of the land , straddling two communes and two departments, was not innocent. Indeed, with an entry into each commune and department, one avoided the granting fees then levied on funeral convoys.

When Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev) made the decision to return to the Moscow Patriarchate after World War II, the parishioners decided not to depend on anyone. However, the community needed a priest and in May 1949 asked Metropolitan Wladimir (Tikhonicky) to be welcomed into our Archdiocese.

At its beginnings, the parish association had more than fifty members and residents of the two Russian retirement homes, the Russian Red Cross in Chelles, and Zemgor in Gagny were added to the usual parishioners. In fact, Father Nicolas Ivanov, who resided in the house of Gagny, served the parish and brought with him the residents of the establishment. When he died, the parish found itself without a priest, and for a time it was the Saint Serge Institute which sent its student priests to provide services.

Then Father Alexandre Trofimoff, who first resided in Moisenay and then at the Russian House of Chelles, became rector of the parish. A visionary, he was aware of the evolution of the parish, which he encouraged to turn to celebrations in French. The practice of French was further encouraged by Fr. Nicolas Samarine, who came from the Institut Saint Serge to lead meetings with young people of the parish.

When Fr. Alexandre fell ill, the churchwarden, Alexandre Nicolsky, had the idea of ​​appealing to Fr. Jean-Marie Arnould, from the parish of the Three Saints Doctors, who agreed to come, and was thus "loaned" to our Archdiocese. by the Moscow Patriarchate. Fr Jean-Marie celebrated alternately with Father Alexandre, then replaced him. The celebrations passed entirely to French, and the parish was declared francophone in 1983. It then passed to the Gregorian calendar. It should be noted that Fr. Jean-Marie enriched the liturgical library of the parish with books which he himself bound, using the French texts in use at the Moscow Patriarchate.

But Father Jean-Marie was fighting against cancer which prevented him from speaking and swallowing and he appealed to Father Georges Bellières, cleric of the Rumanian Patriarchate, and former member of the ECOF (Catholic Orthodox Church of France), who replaced him at short notice and kept the parish alive for more than three years.

The next rector was Hieromonk Elisee (Germain), now bishop of Reoutov, vicar bishop of the Archdiocese. He celebrated in French once a month and was helped by a young priest from Bucovina, Father Adrien Haraha, with whom the parish resumed celebrations in Slavonic, once a month.

Since 2014, the rector is Fr. André Drobot, always assisted by Fr. Adrien. The celebrations are now held in two languages, Slavonic and French, so as not to divide the parish into two distinct communities.

If the community that attended the church in its early days was Russian, today it is made up of Orthodox of various origins: descendants of Russian emigrants, new emigrants from the former Soviet Union, Romanians, Lebanese and even French people converted to Orthodoxy.

Celebrations are held two Saturdays and Sundays per month, and for the major holidays. The celebrations are in French and Slavonic. The parish returned to the Julian calendar after noting, for several years in a row, that for the Nativity service on December 25 the church was empty, while it was full on January 7. Sunday services bring together around thirty people. Easter celebrations attract many more worshipers.