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

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Saint Nicholas parish, Lille

Like many other Orthodox Parishes in Western Europe, Saint Nicholas Parish in Lille traces its origins to the arrival of the Russian diaspora after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. It is indeed the meeting of a group of Russian students and emigrants living in Lille, eager to live their Orthodox Faith, which seals the creation of the Northern France Russian Orthodox Religious Association, declared to the Prefecture of Lille on September 25, 1925, according to French Law.

Its purpose was "to provide the worship practice strictly in accordance with the Eastern Greek-Russian rite”. Its first Headquarters were at 43 rue Nationale in Tourcoing. Among the founding members we should mention Father Dimitri Soboleff, Mr. André Ostrikoff and Mr. Nicolas Aladjid, who would play a leading social and unifying role for many years. As an engineer in a large Building and Civil Works company in Lille, he actually helped many Russian and Greek emigrants to settle and work in the region.

On the departure of Father Dimitri Soboleff on June 12, 1926, the arrival in Lille as local priest of Father Jean Popoff until 1934 is followed by that of Father Paul Pukhalsky as a rector for a much longer period, until 1951.

Besides, it is worth knowing that other communities of Russian emigrants had found work and accommodation in the highly industrialized Northern France of the time (textiles and coal mines), and that about 4 other parishes have also allowed liturgical and sacramental life to last for many years.

Indeed, in a census-type questionnaire referred to the Diocesan Administration in Paris and dated 1935, we may find the following details:

- in Tourcoing, there was an Orthodox Parish dedicated to Saint George, which reckoned 60 faithful. Celebrations took place in a room lent in the Reformed Church Protestant Temple, rue du Haze. It is important to note that Protestants have played a significant role in meeting the liturgical needs of our communities at that time.

- in Valenciennes county, there were two parishes, one in the very city of Valenciennes, which reckoned 40 faithful, the other in Blanc-Misseron (on the Belgian border), with 25 faithful and dedicated to the Saint Apostles Peter and Paul.

- finally, another community, based in Haumont, included 30 faithful.

The same questionnaire mentions that each parish had its own iconostasis, and it was the Lille priest who celebrated the religious service in turn.

As for Saint Nicolas Parish in Lille, it too had been hosted in the premises of the Reformed Church of Fives-Lille, (Minister Nick), based at the "Maison du peuple " rue Pierre Legrand, all along the first eleven years following its creation. In 1935, it already reckoned 161 faithful (117 men, 29 women and 15 children). Thus, adding up all the parish members, we reach a total of 316 people for the department of the North!

We may also notice the existence of two Russian schools, both hosted in private homes in Lille and Tourcoing, where the parish children were taught catechism and Russian language.

Moreover, a large Greek community was also living in Lille and its surroundings at that time, and Orthodox joint liturgies were celebrated at Saint Nicholas: two choirs, Russian and Greek, provided the common chant for the services. Sometimes Greek priests would come to Lille and celebrated according to Greek typicon.

Only much later (in the early 1950s) has the Greek parish been assigned a place of worship of its own, at 108 rue Princesse, in the "Vieux-Lille", dedicated to Saint Apostle Paul.

The year 1936 marks a turning point for Saint Nicholas Parish. The Reformed Church needing to recover its premises, a 350 square-meter piece of land at 3bis rue Necker in Lille-Fives ends up being purchased via self-financing and donations from parishioners. The same year, Metropolitan Euloge consecrates the parish church, and the Headquarters of the Religious Association are transferred there. It is the same church that hosts our community today.

It is important to know that the building of a "Parish House" joint to the Church was planned at that time. That is why the Church was built in the background for the "front-to-street"was to receive the Parish House. Unfortunately, this project, under discussion until 1956, never succeeded, and only the church was finally built on the site.

In the mid 1960s, the founding members of the parish became fully aware of their local roots: many of them had founded a home after their arrival on the land, and their children were French by birth. Therefore they submitted to the archbishop a request for a local priest who could celebrate in French because their children did not understand Old Church Slavonic any longer.

Accordingly, the transition from Old Slavonic to French was smooth and gradual, which allowed the first French to enter into the communion of the Orthodox Church.

In 1961, His Eminence Archbishop Georges (Tarasov) appointed Father Dimitri Rostoff as rector of Saint Nicholas Parish, a former military chaplain. He was in charge till the end of 1965. Being the last priest living in Lille, his departure had a significant impact on liturgical life. It simply led to the progressive disappearance of all the parishes in Northern France except for Saint Nicolas in Lille which could still have one liturgy per month.

In 1966, Father Leonid Mogilevsky came to Lille, and from 1967 to 1974 he was followed by Father Stephan Knijnikoff, the frequency of liturgies remaining the same.

On May 25, 1973, Archbishop Georges authorized Father Stephan to celebrate the fixed Feasts of the liturgical year according to the Western Calendar.

In 1976, it is Father Nicolas Ozoline who became rector of Saint Nicolas Parish while he was still performing his pastoral duties in Paris. In the 1990s he was assisted by Father Jean Dewaere from Brussels, then by Father Jean Maquart, Rector of the Parish since 2004 to the present-day.

Saint Nicolas Parish has now become multiethnic and opened to new arrivals (Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians...). Liturgical celebrations are held weekly, with the All-Night Vigil s celebrated every Saturday evening at 6.00 p.m., and the Divine Liturgy every Sunday at 10.00 a.m. Moreover, the Great Feasts of the liturgical year that fall on a weekday are also celebrated on their calendar date as a rule.

A catechism course for adults is held once a month, and a liturgical calendar is published every two months.

Should be finally mentioned the presence in Lille of a third Orthodox community under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Metropolis: Saint John the Baptist Parish. The appointed priest, Father Ioan Mera, celebrates two Sunday liturgies per month in the Saint Eloi Catholic church in Lezennes.

Our parish has lately benefitted from a legacy which enabled us to consider expansion works that doubled our hosting capacity to 99 faithful, and to comply with the present regulations concerning public reception. During the works lasting from November 2016 to May 2017, we were able to ensure liturgical celebrations for ordinary Sundays and all Feasts in the church of the Lille Catholic Major Seminary.

On Sunday 21 May, 6th Sunday after Easter, celebrations in our new church resumed and on Sunday 27 August, His Eminence Archbishop Jean came to Lille and consecrated the new church.