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

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Saint-Hermogenes Parish, Marseille

The historical context

Unlike Nice, Cannes or Menton, which in the 19th century were popular holiday resorts for Russian and English high society, Marseille was a port where foreign tourists only stayed in transit to other destinations. Also, at the beginning of the 20th century, it did not have any Russian religious building, whereas the Greek merchants, established in the city at the beginning of the 19th century, had founded in 1834 the Greek Orthodox Church of the Dormition, the first Orthodox church in France.

The Russians who arrived in Marseilles are among the populations who, during the civil war, had regrouped in Crimea, the last stronghold held by the White Army under the command of General Wrangel. In November 1920, when the threat from the Red Army increased, General Wrangel made the decision to evacuate Crimea.

A few hundred of these emigrants from Crimea arrived in Marseille in April 1921 on the ship “Rion”. Other ships of the Russian merchant fleet were already in the port, waiting for the authorities to decide their fate. On one of these ships (“Emperor Nicholas I”) was installed a chapel in which Father Peter Brilev, brother of the captain, celebrated services.

The Russian civilian refugees are welcomed in the Victor-Hugo camp, installed by the French Red Cross on a vacant lot near the St-Charles station.

In 1923, the camp accommodated nearly 600 people.

Metropolitan Euloge permitted the establishment of a place of worship in the camp and appointed Father Avenir Diakov to serve it. In his memoirs, Metropolitan Euloge recounts: “A very modest church was installed in one of the barracks; the wind whistled through the cracks in the walls. Sometimes dogs could be seen entering. One night, the mistral blew so hard that the barracks in which the priest lived collapsed like a house of cards. Father Avenir awoke; above his head he could only see the sky and the falling rain. ” [“The path of my life” p.413]

When the City of Marseille decided to abolish the camp, the Russians moved to the city and the community rented premises for the church and for the priest.

The creation of the parish

It was then that the parish of Saint Hermogenes was created. The community chooses as protector this patriarch who, in the very agitated period of the “Time of troubles” (beginning of the 17th century) courageously defended the Orthodox faith in the face of all the political and military aggressions suffered by Russia. He was canonized in 1913, just before the cataclysm of the great war and the revolution broke out. Perhaps the Marseilles emigres felt they were living through a historical moment comparable to the turbulent years of Boris Godunov's reign. So they placed their parish under the protection of a saint who had passed through all human trials without fail, supported by the strength of his faith.

The parish moved into a small building, located on the edge of Borely Park, which belongs to the City. It is an old grant, which the first parishioners themselves converted into a church, building a small bulb surmounted by a cross, an interior dome, an iconostasis to separate the nave from the sanctuary ... A small adjoining room was built for the accommodation of the priest. With little means but a lot of dedication, the parishioners worked to maintain this small church.

In 1934, when King Alexander I of Yugoslavia was assassinated in Marseille (killed at the same time as Louis Barthou, French Minister of Foreign Affairs in an attack on the Canebière), the Yugoslav authorities had a monument built in the church. of Alexander I, a large icon representing Saint Alexander Nevsky and Saint Andrew, patrons of the king and of the House of Serbia.

During World War II the building was requisitioned by the German army. Returned to worship after the war, the church was maintained uninterruptedly by the faithful. When, on the death of Father Leonid Lioubimov in 1963, there was no longer a permanent priest, the church was served by the clergy of the cathedral of Nice.

The current situation

Ordained in 1982, Father Jean Gueit was appointed rector of the parish by Archbishop George (Wagner). The community then consisted of about fifteen “survivors” from the founding generation. Following on from this heritage, out of respect for the elders and for the Russian tradition, while opening up to contemporary and local realities, Father Jean proposed to celebrate every Sunday, alternating the Russian and French languages.

The regular celebrations allowed the community to grow and diversify, integrating Westerners whose personal journey has led to Orthodoxy, as well as new immigrants, arriving from different countries of Central and Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova ...)

From now on, the liturgy is celebrated every Sunday in the two languages, French and Russian to allow the participation of the greatest number. Vigils are celebrated mainly on the eve of major festivals. Catechesis for children is provided by "matouchka" Anne Marie, assisted by mothers, that of adults by Father Jean also in the two languages ​​alternately.

Note that the Saint-Hermogenes Church has benefited from the invaluable contribution of two iconographers (Elisabeth Heriard and Anne Levert), who produced frescoes and several major icons as well as two large crosses.