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

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Church of the Presentation of the Holy Mother of God in the Temple

The church of the Entrance of the Theotokos was created in Paris in 1928 as part of the activities of ACER (Action Chrétienne des Etudiants Russes, the Russian Student Christian Movement). The “Movement’s church” had been created for the young in the purpose of bringing them into church. In his book “The way of my life”, Metropolitan Euloge (Georgievsky) wrote about the creation of this parish within ACER’s premises, boulevard du Montparnasse, and the appointment as pastor of this church of an outstanding priest, Fr. Serge Tchetverikov. After much work by future parishioners to transform the former shed into a church, it was consecrated in the name of the Entrance of the Theotokos, highlighting its function of “ecclesialising life” as it was envisioned in the Movement. From the very beginning a tradition of frequent (initially daily) services had been in place.

History of the Church

Outstanding Personalities

When the townhouse of boulevard Montparnasse was sold in 1936, ACER and the parish moved to the 15th district of Paris, at 91 rue Olivier-de-Serres. Scores of Russian immigrants lived in the neighbourhood, working in the Renault factories. Archpriest Serge Tchetverikov (1867-1947) was the church’s pastor from 1928 to 1936 and thought of his then years of service there as the best years of his priesthood, through his activity as spiritual director of the RSCM. In Fr. Serge time, the parish was noted for it dense life of prayer: the daily celebration of the liturgy, weekly services in French, the creation of a brotherhood gathering the most active members of the Movement in love, prayer and service.

In 1937, Fr. Serge left for the monastery of Valaamo in Finland. Fr. Victor Yourieff (1893-1966) was named rector in July 1937 and stayed there until 1966. Veteran of two wars, having been evacuated with the White Army from Gallipoli, he became a Warrior of the Faith, spiritually nourishing Russian immigrants during World War II. His wife I. K. Yourieff had taken the commands of the "Thursday" school, which had served 50, 80 and some years even up to 95 pupils . She had, on her own, written History, Literature and Russian Language textbooks for the school.

The Movement’s activities had been interrupted during World War II and its members had concentrated their efforts on the church. In 1941 the church became a center of help for Russian war prisoners and Russians deported by the Germans for forced labour in the Channel Islands, under the leadership of Hieromonk Sylvester (Haruns), who went on to become the Archbishop of the diocese of Canada in the Orthodox Church in America. Fr. Victor had set up social assistance for families with children and orphans, with the « Bureau of assistance » led by S. M. Zernov. By the end of the war the church of the Entrance of the Theotokos had become the parish of many Russians who lived in the 15th district. In 1946, ACER and the parish, in part by selling symbolic “little bricks”, were able to buy the house where the church is still located today.

In 1942 Basile (Vassili) Vassilievitch Zenkovsky( 1881-1962), who was president of ACER, a professor at the St Serge Institute of Theology , and the churchwarden of the church of the Entrance of the Theotokos, had been ordained priest by Metropolitan Euloge and appointed as attached priest to the church. He and Fr. Victor had served in complete union of soul for twenty years. A remarkable preacher, Fr. Basile also was an exceptional spiritual director. Having agreed with the teachers of the Institute of Theology, in 1949 he had organised the Women’s theology courses in one of the rooms of the church of the Entrance of the Theotokos. A hundred of students had completed the curriculum, classes having been taught for twenty years. Protopresbyter Basile Zenkovsky left a rich legacy as a scientist and theologian.

Fr. Igor Vernik (1911-1994) served in the church for 38 years. During all those years not only was he the spiritual guide but also a close friend of many parishioners. He had completed the full curriculum of the Institute of Theology in Paris, had taught at the "Lycée russe", had taught catechism in the Center for Russian children in Montgeron, and worked for the Movement. He has also been the chairman of the Diocesan Commission of audits and dean of the parishes of the Paris area. In the 1980’s Fr. Igor had asked Fr. Nicolas Rehbinder to take charge of the part of parishioners who had switched to French as liturgical language. This is how a daughter church was formed, the new French-speaking parish of St John the Theologian. In 1992, Fr. Nicolas was made rector and remained in the position for 25 years.

Throughout its life, the church of the Entrance of the Theotokos had the following rectors and attached priests: Frs. Serge Tchetverikov, Lev Liperovsky, Basile Zenkovsky, Victor Yourieff, Alexis Kniazeff, Georges Sérikoff, Pierre Tchesnakoff, Igor Vernik, Grégoire Svetchine, Nicolas Rehbinder, Alexis Struve, Vladislav Trembovelsky, Daniel Cabagnols. The current pastor is Archpriest Iakov Rehbinder ; Archpriest Mikhaïl Cusnir serves with him in a spirit of unity and respect for the traditions of the parish.

Charitable actions have always held a special place in the life of the parish. In the 1930s and 1960s, the most materially difficult years for emigration, most of the collected money was distributed to the needy. A women's self-help association was founded in 1949 on the initiative of V. A. Zander. Permanencies were organized to ensure the distribution of clothes, shoes and financial aid to the emigrants of the first and second waves. Collections made it possible to offer gifts on the occasion of Easter to the needy and to boarders. Retirement homes, charity concerts were organized.

The first boulevard du Montparnasse church was installed in record time of 3 days. The Kovalevsky brothers had made an iconostasis, hung the icons of the Most Holy Mother of God, Saints Serge of Radonej and Seraphim of Sarov from the campaign iconostasis serving at ACER congresses. The icons of the Savior and the Mother of God painted by Sister Jeanne (Reitlinger) had also found their place. Many icons were donated, others commissioned from G. V. Morozov, parishioner and icon painter. The church has been decorated by many emigration iconographers including: T.V. Eltchaninoff, G.V. Morozov, Sister Jeanne (Reitlinger), E.S. Lvoff, I.A. Kuleff, S. Tchekounoff, G. Lapierre, M. Struve, E. Ozoline , N. Spassky, E. Lefoulon-Eltchaninoff, N. Tchernetsky, N. Pampouloff, O. Platonova, O. Oustinov. The mural by Sister Jeanne (Reitlinger) “O Full of grace, in you all creation rejoices! " in honor of the Most Holy Mother of God occupies a special place behind the altar.

The active participation of children and adolescents in the liturgies had always been part of the traditions of the parish. A parish school and a kindergarten have worked for many years with the Church of the Presentation with the aim of preserving in the children the love of Russian culture, traditions and history. In 1998 it was decided to close the Russian school, while keeping the teaching of catechism on Sundays. Children learn the Old and New Testaments, the liturgical year, the lives of saints, Slavonic, choral singing. Every year a Christmas tree unites parishioners of all ages around the Christ-Child. There have always been many circles and communities in the parish. Public courses were organized: catechesis courses for adults have resumed, with reading of the Holy Scriptures, O. Platonova has opened a course in iconography.

The Parish Today

The parish has always had an abundance of active and devoted parishioners. In 1928 M. V. Lavroff-Zernov had been the first churchwarden in the church of the Entrance of the Theotokos, but was soon replaced by V. V. Zenkovsky. A. A. Terentieff, E. A. Sélivanoff, A.V. Malama, S. V. Eltchaninoff, N. V. Fried, who is the current churchwarden, followed them. All our churchwardens carried out their mission with great humility and dedication, and they had in common an astonishing gift for peacemaking.

Among the important personalities that frequented the church there were theologian M. I. Lot-Borodine, writer B. K. Zaïtsev, poet V. A. Smolensky, painter I. A. Kuleff, publisher N. A. Struve, teacher and religious activist C. A. Eltchaninoff, professor emeritus N. K. Rausch from Université René-Descartes, and poetess and USSR opponent N. E. Gorbanevskaya.

The website www.eglise-de-la-presentation.net of the church of the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple in Paris informs visitors on the history of the church, the parish’s life, now uniting members of all emigration waves. The parish has published two books, one in Russian and one in French, about its history – they can be found at the parish.