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

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Saint Sergius of Colombelles

The parish of Saint Sergius of Colombelles was founded with the support of Metropolitan Euloge and at the initiative of the local Russian community. Its nucleus was made up of several hundred former combatants of the white armies, recruited by the Société Métallurgique de Normandie (SMN), located north-west of Caen in the communes of Mondeville and Colombelles. As early as 1925, priests came from Paris to occasionally celebrate the office in temporary premises. In September 1926, Archpriest Dimitri Troytsky was appointed rector of the parish. In 1927, Archpriest Yakov Ktitarev succeeded him.

Unlike so many other Russian Orthodox parishes in France which had to be content for their churches with barracks or other ill-suited premises, the parish of Colombelles was able from 1926 to build itself with the help of the SMN a real spacious church. and bright, topped with the traditional blue dome. It was the parishioners themselves who built it and fitted it out during their time of rest.

It was under the rectorate of Father Mikhail Sokolov (1928-1942), himself a white veteran, that parish life experienced its greatest development. From 1930 the celebration of the office was enriched by the participation of the deacon Father Yevgeny Popov. From 1927 to 1939 there were between 16 and 36 baptisms each year. The Church of St. Sergius is adorned with icons (many painted by the iconographer Vassili Sergeyev). She provided herself with an excellent choir and organized a rich library. In the 1930s a veritable bell tower was built to cover a small two-room house, as well as a building housing the parish meeting hall. The parish enclosure was transformed into a perfectly maintained garden. The parish school welcomed several dozen children. Various activities were organized around Saint Sergius Church, including concerts and lectures. In the late 1930s the local Russian scout section organized meetings and camps.

The war years were very difficult. Many Russian workers in the MNC lost their jobs. Some had to resolve to go to Germany. At the end of 1942 Father Mikhail Sokolov, named rue Lecourbe in Paris, was replaced by Hieromonk Pavel Golychev, less appreciated by his parishioners. During the landing battles of June 1944, the Church of St. Sergius was in the heart of the battle between British and German troops and suffered extensive damage. A few days after the disembarkation part of the local population, many of them Russians, was forced by the German authorities to evacuate in several localities of the Orne. Father Evgueni Popov (ordained priest in 1943 and soon to be appointed to Belfort) attempted to organize Orthodox services there.

Under the rectorate of Father Elie Melia (1946-1949), then of Father Dimitri Khvostov (1949-1956), the Saint-Serge parish restored its church and regained a regular religious life. The parish school reopened. But the numbers had melted, many parishioners had left, in particular to Paris, Others, having married non-Russians, had not succeeded in passing on to their children an inheritance which, at the time, was still in both Russian and Orthodox. Father Dimitri Khvostov, in particular, put a lot of energy into bringing all aspects of parish life to life, but he was only partially successful before he left for Algeria, where he had been appointed Orthodox military chaplain.

In 1957-1960, the rector was Hieromonk Ioann Matsi, originally from Finland and ex-prisoner of the Gulag. From 1960 to 1994, under the long rectorate of Archpriest Vladimir Golounski and with the disappearance of its last Russians, the parish of Saint-Serge de Colombelles opened up to a locally established orthodoxy and to a liturgical life in the French language.

The project to organize from time to time liturgies in French arises from the observation that the Orthodox families around Caen are often mixed (Catholic / Orthodox) and as a result, the spouse and children do not understand Slavic. This project will begin to see the light of day in the parish in 1973, with the help of Father Boris Bobrinskoi and Father Wladimir who, seeing more and more French at the offices, made the effort to learn to read the text of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom in French.

In 1976, Father Pierre Tchesnakov took over from Father Boris. From 1980, he came to celebrate regularly once a month.

Until 1987, it was the S.M.N., owner of the land and buildings, which bore the maintenance costs and the charges for water and electricity. In difficulty, the factory decides to cede the church and the adjoining buildings. With the agreement of Father Wladimir who wished to be freed from administrative worries, a cultural association was created whose object is to acquire and maintain the church and annex buildings, the whole being made available to parish. The S.M.N. having decided to put an end to Father Wladimir's honorary fees, thanks to the commitment of ten families, the association can come to the aid of Father Wladimir and his family on a monthly basis.

In 1994, Father Wladimir was hospitalized. With his blessing, the parish council decides to keep the church open on Sundays by celebrating a "typical" service. On September 17, 1994, Father Wladimir fell asleep in the Lord.

Father Pierre Tchesnakov, whom everyone knew was not available for health reasons, it was Father René Dorenlot, second priest in the rue Daru crypt who became the rector. He provides two vigils and two Divine Liturgies per month, throughout Holy Week and Easter. He often leads a catechesis in French on Saturday afternoon, before the service. On Sundays when there is no Eucharistic Liturgy, the celebration of the typical is continued. During Great Lent, vespers are sung once a week. This allows, at least for those who live nearby, a more sustained community prayer life. From this moment, all offices are in French. Father René will assume the rectorate of the parish until he is 80 years old. Two years before his departure, in 2000, Jean Drancourt, a faithful who had served for a long time in the sanctuary, was ordained a deacon. Thus was renewed, 70 years later, a situation that the parish had experienced in 1930 with the ordination to the diaconate of one of its members, Eugene Popov.

In March 1996, the General Assembly decided to transform the statutes of the association into a religious association.

The church having been included in the supplementary inventory of historical monuments, from 1992, major renovation work could be undertaken (refurbishment of the walls, repair of the roof and total reconstruction of the bulb which threatened to collapse. ) thanks to the help of the State, the General Council of Calvados and the town hall of Colombelles.

In September 2002, it was Father Pierre Argouet who became rector of the parish. He ensures the same rhythm of celebration of services, baptizes many children of families seeking asylum. He is also very present in the representation of the parish with the civil authorities and in local ecumenical initiatives. His wife takes care of the catechesis of the children, the making and the restoration of the liturgical ornaments. An adult catechesis takes place, with a more “pastoral” than a theoretical objective. On September 10, 2017, in the parish of the Holy Trinity (rue Daru), the deacon Jean was ordained to the priesthood after having served 15 years as a deacon. He will serve as a priest alongside Father Pierre for two years before being appointed rector.

Today, the parish brings together on average about fifty faithful for Sunday liturgies (much less for evening services). It continues to attract French people who ask to enter the communion of the Orthodox Church. More and more Georgian faithful are attending the parish, some of whom express the wish to integrate more strongly into parish life. Assertive French-speaking parish, it is nevertheless a pleasure to express our desire to welcome everyone, beyond nationalities, by praying the Our Father to each Divine Liturgy in Georgian, Arabic, English, Romanian, Slavonic and French.