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Leon Zander

Leon Zander

© INA (capture d'écran émission orthodoxie du 19.06.1977

Leon Alexandrovich Zander was born on February 19, 1893 in Saint Petersburg. His father was a doctor attached to the court with the family of the Grand Duke Michel, son of Nicolas I. Leon often accompanied the Grand Duke with his family on his travels, that is why he received home education with preceptors. During his frequent stays abroad, in the South of France, in Germany and in Switzerland, he became familiar with several foreign languages. In 1910 he entered the Alexander College in Saint Petersburg, from which he graduated brilliantly in 1913 with a gold medal. At the same time, he took the exams at the Law School of the University of Saint Petersburg and then traveled to Heidelberg to study philosophy which had interested him since his years at the University. He had to return in haste to Russia because of the outbreak of the war.

In Russia he was attached to the Ministry of Public Instruction, while participating in the creation of the Red Cross department dedicated to helping Russian prisoners.

In 1915, Léon Zander was attached as a translator to the staff commanding the Artillery and went to the headquarters of the commander-in-chief of the armies and witnessed the events which upset the course of history, he attended the farewells from the Tsar to his General Staff. He will describe all these moments later in his memories which will be published by "Pensée Russe" in Paris in 1975, after his death.

After the demobilization Leon Zander worked in a public library in Petrograd in the philosophy department with W. Weidlé and S. Bezobrazov, who would be his colleagues at the Institut de Théologie Saint-Serge in Paris. He got to know Professor A. Kartachov, who was at that time an important figure in the religious sphere. In the winter of 1917 he was offered a chair of philosophy at the University of Petrograd which soon moved to Perm and Leon Zander left Petrograd forever. From Perm the University moved to Vladivostok where Leon Zander will remain until 1922. Zander taught a course on philosophy and logic, is interested in V. Soloviev, K. Leontiev, S. Kierkegaard and writes his first important study

" K. Leontiev and progress ”.

In 1922, the World Congress of Christian Youth was held in Beijing under the chairmanship of John Mott. The participants were mostly Protestants, but there were also representatives from Orthodox countries: Bulgaria, Romania and some Russians. Zander was a delegate from Vladivostok University. There he met L. Liperovsky and A. Nikitin, former members of the Moscow Christian circle. In a private conversation with John Mott, he told him about his idea of establishing a Higher School of Theology for Russians who emigrate. This idea will be realized in 1925 with the creation of the Institute of Orthodox Theology in Paris.

After the coup d'état of the Bolsheviks in Vladivostok in the autumn of 1922, Leon Zander, seeing that the teaching of philosophy from a Christian perspective, which was his main interest, proved to be impossible, decided to leave Russia, passing first through China, then settling in Prague, where many Russian intellectuals had gathered. In Prague, he was appointed head of the personal library of President Masaryk and became involved in the creation and activities of the Christian Action of Russian Students (ACER). He met V. Zenkovsky and Father Serge Bulgakov, took part in the founding congress of ACER in Pcherov. The encounter with Father Serge was of capital importance. He became his spiritual son and follower of his religious and philosophical thought. In 1923 he came to Paris to hold lectures on philosophy as well as on his favorite writer F. Dostoievsky. In Paris, he met by chance, at the Vigil of the Saint-Alexandre-Nevsky cathedral, rue Daru, his childhood friend Valentina Kalachnikoff, whom he married in 1924. His wife was also a member of ACER, very cultivated, daughter of A. Kalashnikoff who had become a priest in 1920 in Constantinople. Leon Zander and his wife, very different in character (he, lively, passionate, brilliant, she - reserved, almost withdrawn, with an interior life of prayers) formed a whole, complementing each other. After a brief return to Prague, Leon Zander and his wife settled in Paris, where they actively participated in the organization of ACER.

In 1925, when the Institute of Theology was established in Paris, Leon Zander was invited to teach introductory philosophy and history of ancient philosophy, as well as logic and pedagogy.

In 1929, the Zander couple went to the Baltic States for three years, where they developed a very important activity in the organization of religious life with the youth. In 1933, after their return to Paris, the birth of their daughter made them go through a difficult ordeal: their daughter had Down's syndrome, an incurable disease. They surrounded him with all their love, never being ashamed of her illness.

In 1935, the family settled in a suburb of Paris, in Boulogne-Billancourt, where they remained all their lives. This warm apartment became a living home for many. Religious circles gathered there, Russian and non-Orthodox alike. Who couldn't we meet there? Father Serge Bulgakov, Bishop Cassien (Bezobrazov), Father Basile Zenkovsky, Wladimir Weidlé and Mother Marie (Skobtsov), the iconographer Sister Jeanne (Reitlinger) and many, many others.

At that time, Leon Zander often attended ecumenical congresses, he had many friends everywhere. He was appointed financial secretary of the Institute of Theology, and was responsible for raising funds to ensure the material life of the Institute. For this, he organized tours of the choir of the Institut Saint-Serge under the direction of Ivan Kouzmitch Denissov, former artist of the imperial opera of Saint-Petersburg. They traveled through Switzerland, England, Holland, Sweden, Scotland, Denmark and Norway. These tours turned out to be a real mission among the non-Orthodox. Leon Zander preceded each concert with an explanation of Orthodox services. This enabled him to introduce Orthodoxy to many Westerners, especially Protestants. At first cautious, the Protestant world opened up to Orthodoxy and subsequently provided significant financial support to the Institute of Theology. He described these tours in the book "The Song of the Lord in a Foreign Land", a posthumous publication.

“In these hours of encounters with Western Christendom, we ceased to feel exiled, for we were called to bear witness to the glory and the beauty of our Orthodoxy in the forms of its piety and its divine beauty” - writes L. Zander in the introduction to his book.- “So, we no longer felt ourselves as broken pieces of past Russia, epigones of bygone times, but as living and active representatives of the eternal truth of the Church. <…> Our mission had not only a universal value, but also a Russian value which was dear to us. <…> By this very fact we were the witnesses of eternal Russia, which cannot die, because it carries she love of Christ. Western Christians felt this and welcomed us as bearers of the living and creative force of the Church. "

As a result, as Protopresbyter Alexis Kniazeff remembers, these “financial fundraising tours” turned out to be one of the most brilliant chapters, not only in the history of the Institute, but also in the history of Orthodoxy in the West.

At the start of the war, Léon Zander was arrested by the Germans and spent a few months in the Compiègne camp. After being released, he wrote his monumental work “God and the World”, in which he systematized the religious thought of Father Serge Bulgakov. This work is precious in that, during its writing, Leon Zander consulted Father Serge and everything he wrote received his approval. Zander finished his book after the death of Father Serge. He also wrote a book on Dostoevsky, his favorite writer, which he called "The Mystery of Good" (published under the title: "The Problem of Good").

In 1941, during the absence of Fr. Nicholas Afanasiev, Leon Zander took charge of the course on Canon Law, and after the death of Father Serge Bulgakov in July 1944, was given the course on Comparative Theology. Father Serge's death was felt by the Zander as an immense personal loss. As in these times of war all links with Paris were severed, Léon Zander and his wife walked 30 km from Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois to the church of Saint-Serge, where Father Serge's funeral was taking place.

After the war, Leon Zander’s ecumenical activity expanded. He was invited everywhere to hold lectures on Orthodoxy, its liturgical services, the veneration of the Mother of God and of the saints - a particularly difficult question for Protestant circles. He held lectures on Russian religious philosophy, its relationship with Orthodoxy, and took part in the work of numerous ecumenical congresses. Before the war, he had participated in the world congresses in Lausanne (1927), Oxford, Edinburgh (1937) and Amsterdam (1939,1948). After the war, he continued to take part in the work of several congresses at Amsterdam (1939,1948). After the war, he continued to take part in the work of several congresses abroad and in France. He regularly participated in ACER congresses and until 1952 was the Association's secretary general. He devoted numerous articles to the work of ACER. From the foundation of ACER onwards, he was one of the favorite speakers at annual youth congresses.

The problem of ecumenism had always been close to his heart and he knew all its internal difficulties. His book "Vision and Action", published in 1952, is devoted to the problem of ecumenism. This book was translated in 1959 into German with the title "Einheit ohne Vereinigung" ("Union without unification"). This book has not been published in Russian. It exists as a manuscript under the name “Problems of Ecumenical Realism”. Leon Zander was awarded the title of Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Marburg for his work in the ecumenical field. In 1964 Leon Zander was invited by the University of Berlin to teach a six-week course in Orthodoxy. At the end of that year, after a series of lectures at Heidelberg University, he died of cardiac arrest on a train on his way to Paris.

His funeral took place in the church of Saint Sergius and gathered many Russian and non-Russian friends. Everyone liked his kindness, his cheerfulness, his open-mindedness; he was remembered as a man of goodness working in the fields of the Lord.

ACER's "Vestnik" No. 75-76 of 1965 is dedicated to the memory of Professor Leon Zander. It contains articles by Protopresbyter Alexis Kniazeff, Wladimir Weidlé, Vladimir Ilyine, John Morozoff, Protopresbyter John Meyendorff and many others.