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

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Archpriest Igor Vernik

Archpriest Igor Vernik

© Photo Nadia Lebedeff

Father Igor was born on February 24, 1911 in Novocherkassk in the Don region. He was ordained deacon by Metropolitan Euloge on the feast of the Holy Spirit in 1943, ordained a priest by Bishop Cassian on the feast of Martyr Tatiana in 1948 in the Church of the Presentation of the Most Holy Mother of God at the Temple in Paris. Still a young man, Father Igor had joined ACER. He had fully embraced the ideas of the Movement. Having become a parishioner of the Church of the Presentation on Boulevard du Montparnasse, he had taken part in a few circles and rather than joining a higher engineering school, finally preferred to enroll at the Institute of Theology, which he completed in 1934.

Father Igor served in the Church of the Presentation of the Most Holy Mother of God in the Temple for thirty-eight years. He had been deacon there from 1943 to 1948, then assistant to Father Victor Yourieff from 1952 to 1966, and finally rector from 1966 to 1992. During all these years, he was a model of humility and "simplicity of heart", being not only the spiritual director but the close friend of many parishioners.

To earn a living, Father Igor had taught at the Russian High School from 1930 to 1940 and had gained valuable experience working with children there. Her darling child was the church of the reception center for Russian children which was first located in Villemoisson, then in Montgeron. He had been rector of this church and had taught catechism there from 1948 to 1955. This reception center was founded by Sophie Mikhailovna Zernov for children without parents. Father Igor organized sports competitions with Father Grégoire Svétchine. They were both very close to the children, the children felt it and went towards them. In addition to his activity at the orphanage, Father Igor worked extensively for ACER with L. A. Zander and Father Basile Zenkovsky.

During the first years of his priesthood, Father Igor took part in the Anglo-Russian fraternity of Saint-Serge-Saint-Alban. Metropolitan Euloge, who was co-president of this fraternity, had entrusted its spiritual direction to Father Lev Gillet in 1946. This first visit to England was followed by meetings, meetings and congresses. He had no difficulty in communicating as he and his wife Zénaïde Ivanovna were fluent in English.

Archpriest Igor Vernik lived for his parish, and his family was part of his parish. He noted in his diary all the memorable dates concerning his parishioners and their families (birthdays, feast days, dates of marriage and death). This diary remains a moving testimony to the care and love that Father Igor showed to all his parishioners and to the friends of the parish. It should also be noted that a special place was given in this agenda to the active members of ACER, who were responsible for different spheres of activity of the Movement.

Father Igor had other obligations related to the life of the diocese. Member, then president of the diocesan audit commission from 1954 to 1966, he was also a member of the Archdiocesan Council. In 1971, he was appointed dean of parishes in the Paris region. He fulfilled all that was incumbent upon him, for, when he had been ordained a priest, he had decided that he would fulfill all the obligations of a priest and all the demands of men. It has never failed. However, he had never worn the miter, although it was bestowed on him in 1978.

It is remarkable to note that Father Igor knew how to reconcile, in his service to the church and to the parish, a perfect humility, a free and authentic obedience to the divine will and a most active interest in contemporary life. The outside world, sports and music fascinated him, to the point that he was criticized for this. Every year on June 18, for Saint Igor, friends of all generations gathered in Olivier-de-Serres to celebrate Father Igor.

The balance between the sense of the Eternal and the preoccupations of the present gave his actions more richness and amplitude. All exaltation and anointing were foreign to him. He was deeply Russian, read a lot, and was interested in everything that was published in the West about Russia and everything that was published in Russia itself. He considered Nikita Alexeievich Struve to be his most interesting interlocutor in this area. However, his "russianity" did not prevent Father Igor from appreciating French thought and literature.

In his dealings with others, Father Igor was full of righteousness and sincerity, and possessed a real sense of humor, one that knows how to make fun of himself above all else. When he lightly mocked others, it was rare for anyone to take offense, for everyone felt that there was a grain of truth in what had been said. By his own admission, Father Igor was very skeptical of his writing skills: “I don't know how to write articles. In my whole life I haven't been able to finish a single one. "..." What a relief I don't have to worry anymore "was his reaction when he learned that someone had written on the requested topic.

Father Serge Bulgakov's teaching and preaching left a deep imprint on him, but Father Igor did not become a theologian, although he really enjoyed talking about theology, in particular the works of Father George Florovsky, with whom he had formed friendships. He didn't like to preach, preferring to give ready-made homilies.

Father Igor devoted a large part of his strength to daily visits and especially to the sick. In his last years, he received the help of Father Michel Ossorguine, who spoiled him and brought Father Igor and his matushka small gifts. He was soon helped in this by Kamil Tchalaev, a discreet young man who arrived in Paris in 1989 and was sent to the parish by Father Michel.

When Archbishop George (Wagner) freed Father Igor from his rectorate, the parishioners had great difficulty in letting him go. They warmly thanked him for his fidelity, his firmness, his genuine simplicity, his constant presence, both concrete and spiritual, his openness to everything and to everyone. They had noted the most important - the pastor's real love and self-giving to God and to his Church.