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

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Parishes in Rome

Russian parishes in Rome differ from most other Russian communities abroad in that the history of a small local Russian colony began in the first half of the 19th century when it was inhabited by such celebrities as Gogol, the artist Ivanov or the artist Karl Brioullov whose iconostasis is still the most important decoration of the Church of St. Nicholas on Via Palestro. During World War I and the Revolution, many parishioners whose lives were linked to the history of Orthodox life in Rome during the 20th century were either already settled there or residing there temporarily for various reasons. For instance, the son of a Russian ambassador, born far from his native country, Mr. Miasoyedov, who served for many years as a starost of the Russian parish until the end of his life in the late 1980s. Others lived in other cities in Italy and moved to Rome and the surrounding area, or came to Rome for services. In Italy there were people who had fled the horrors of the civil war in the former Russian Empire. They were fewer than in other European cities, because the "Eternal City" did not offer activities that could attract emigrants who were looking for a job.

The parish lived quietly and relatively comfortably thanks to the support of famous donors such as the Queen of Italy (born Princess Montenegrin), Princess SN Baryatinsky or Princess MA Chernyshev who in 1920 gave the parish her property located at 71 Via Palestro , where in the great hall are still the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, a comfortable apartment for the rector, several apartments (which could bring in an income), a large basement and several garages.

After the revolution, the parishioner community lived in this comfortable Russian nest and under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside the Borders and under the leadership of a stable local clergy. From 1916 to 1969 the rector was Archimandrite Simeon (Sergei Grigorievich Narbekov in the world), from 1969 to 1984 Archpriest Victor Ilienko. Russian parishioners were joined by Serbs, Bulgarians, and parishioners and visitors of Slavic origin. But this parish life was seriously threatened: the small number of Orthodox in Italy did not allow young parishioners to frequent large enough circles of young Orthodox (as in Paris, Berlin or even in Brussels) to have a wide enough choice of future. husband or wife among the Orthodox. Young people born in Italy in the 20th century had to marry local Catholics. Until the 1970s, it took a superhuman will for the Catholic parent to agree to have the child baptized in the Orthodox faith and defy all social norms, under the threat of excommunication from the Catholic Church and the risk of 'be rejected by other members of the family and society. And because of that there was no renewal of generations. In the mid-1980s, the Sunday service brought together no more than 10 parishioners of Russian or Slavic origin and several dozen new refugees from Communist Ethiopia (who began to be admitted into the Russian Church, because the Church Greek only reluctantly admitted them).

In the mid-1980s there was a crisis, which almost ruined the parish and the Archdiocese saved it. In 1984, Father Victor Ilenko was replaced by a young American priest who began to "tidy up", squandered an extraordinary amount of church funds for the improvement of the rector's apartment and was subsequently involved in the scandals suffered by the AORHF on an international level. This caused the majority of the parishioners to separate from the Church Outside the Borders and their decision to pass to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Subsequently, the parish of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was under the omophora of Bishop George (Wagner), Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe.

To stabilize the life of the parish, Monsignor George sent to Rome Father Nikolai Cernokrak who began this difficult work, and then Father Michael Ossorguine, both from the parish of St Seraphim of Sarov and the Protection of the Virgin, located rue Lecourbe in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. A few months later, Father Michel stayed in Rome and was later appointed rector there (Father Nicolas replaced him as rector at St Seraphim Church in Paris).

Despite the fact that he had to be absent for two weeks a month to serve parishes in France, the parish of Saint Nicholas in Rome was not only regenerated, but also metamorphosed by Father Michel thanks to his energetic leadership - and literally martial-, supported by a small circle of faithful and active parishioners. Father Michael very often visited almost all the parishioners on the parish lists, including those who viewed him with suspicion or hostility (for example, the minority who could not forgive the passage to the Archdiocese); Father Michel provided moral support to the most active parishioners, trying to convince those who had long since withdrawn from church life to come to services more often if not regularly. Among those in need, Father Michael helped another young man get a job in the parish and he began to help with all the internal affairs of the parish. Thanks to his visits to parishioners living all over the region of Rome and not frequenting the parish, Father Michel found an interesting vacant position as a teacher to bring from France a young sacristan who began to help with pastoral work (especially during the two weeks absence of the rector), to attract young people, to attract new singers and to help the choir director to recreate a choir. Having found a single adolescent who came to church regularly (Acolyte Vsevolod Borzakovsky) early in his service in Rome, Father Michael began to train him for altar service. A few years later, this altar boy became a deacon, as for his young wife, whom he met among the new parishioners, she became very active in the choir (the mother of Father Vsevolod was the famous Italian singer Gabriella Ferri; the children of deacon father Vsevolod and his wife have become outstanding musicians).

X.B. sung during confinement by the choir of the parish of Rome

But above all Father Michel began a real missionary work among the population (several thousand) of the immigrants of the "third wave" coming from the USSR and other countries of the communist bloc. Many of them were Orthodox, citizens of the USSR, Bulgarians, Romanians and East Poles. Having received an exit visa, these emigrants, under international agreements, landed in Vienna where they had the right to refuse asylum in Israel (the only direction where, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet authorities allowed final departure) and to seek asylum in the countries of America and/or Western Europe. To await a response from the authorities of these countries, according to the same international agreements, they had to go to Rome, where the Italian authorities placed them in specially designated rooms and apartments in spa towns like Ladispoli and Santa Marinella near the sea. capital city. Usually they did not wait more than a year and all received a visa. In 1990, the Soviet Union fully opened its borders to those who wished to leave, and there was a veritable influx of immigrants. But soon their situation became tragic: reading that under the perestroika regime there was no longer a threat to human rights, Western states began to systematically refuse asylum and at the same time l The Soviet embassy prohibited the entry of those who wished to return to the USSR on the principle that whoever requested the final departure from the country renounced Soviet citizenship and the nation. Although Father Michael did not visit them in Ladispoli and Santa Marinella, Father Michael drew dozens of these immigrants to the church, the parish grew. In his own words, "the parish was built on pasta", meaning that at the end of each service, Father Michael systematically invited to his apartment for tea or for lunch every day. new people attending the parish for all kinds of reasons - faithful believers in need of religious services, non-religious people but feeling nostalgic for the homeland, more or less believing people in need, poor families or refugees illegal begging for material help or just advice, students in Roman universities, tourists, business travelers or just people entering out of curiosity. At these dinners, often hours after dessert, Father Michael conversed with everyone. He buried their loved ones, married and baptized (there were cases when adults found faith and requested baptisms for themselves and for the family). Although the majority of them disappeared without thanks and gave no more news, a dozen families became regular parishioners. Some have even expressed a desire to stay in Rome after multiple attempts and requests for visas to America. Church life had already become the center of their family life.

Despite his astonishing efforts (which cost him two heart attacks), Father Michel had to contend for years with surprising aggressiveness (in the Southern Italian style) on the part of two or three manipulators - the same who had participated in the destabilization of the parish in the 1980s with the hope of recovering the finances of the administration and the splendid property. They were linked to a corrupt network started by a high-ranking local Greek bishop (later archbishop of all Greek parishes in America, he was urgently replaced by the administration of the Church of Constantinople when just a few weeks after his arrival, American newspapers and magazines reported that crowds of parishioners had signed complaints, demanding his dismissal). Unfortunately, this harassment and intrigue (which resulted in death threats) poisoned Father Michael's relations with Constantinople to such an extent that he has, despite Archbishop Serge's (Konovaloff) persuasion and appeals for patience succeeded in persuading the majority of parishioners to leave the Archdiocese and enter under the omophore of the Moscow Patriarchate, years before the Archdiocese with Monsignor Jean (Renneteau) reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate.

Despite the close ties with Father Michel which lasted until his death, a small group of the most active parishioners (including Deacon Vsevolod Borzakovsky,) who had not voted for passage under Moscow jurisdiction, decided to remain faithful to the Archdiocese and created a new church of St Nicolas the Wonderworker. The dynamism of the parish best reflects the parish life of Saint Nicholas on Via Palestro.

Now that the Archdiocese itself is under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate and although the old parish is under the direct administration of the Moscow Patriarchate, the two parishes can be considered to have found a common path.