News / Europe

    Russian Orthodox Church Opens its First Seminary Outside the Former Soviet Union

    Intent to serve Russian diaspora, foster ties between Eastern and Western Christian churches in face of increasing secularization

    Lisa Bryant

    The Russian Orthodox Church has opened its first seminary outside the former Soviet Union - in a small French town outside Paris.  The institution is starting modestly but has big ambitions: to serve Russia's growing diaspora and foster closer ties between Eastern and Western Christian churches. 

    It is a bitterly cold afternoon, but the large stone building in the heart of Epinay-Sous-Senart is warm and welcoming, with smells of cooking and a Christmas tree in the front hall.  Upstairs, half a dozen black-robed students are studying theology. 

    The building is an old convent.  But the nuns are gone and their Roman Catholic crosses have been traded for Russian icons and incense.  The students are on the front lines of a bold experiment launched by the Russian Orthodox church, the first pupils of the church's first seminary in the West.

    Alexander Siniakov is the seminary's director.

    "The Russian Orthodox church needs more than ever good specialists who know not only the life of Christian churches in western Europe, and in the West generally, but also who know the theology, the history of the Catholic Church and the other Orthodox Churches and specialists who know foreign languages and are able to study the experience that Christians in Europe encounter with secularization," Siniakov said.

    The seminary was officially inaugurated in November and it is starting modestly with about a dozen students enrolled in its five-year program.  Most are from Russia and former Soviet republics, but there are plans to diversify and grow the student body to 40 over the next few years, with the seminarians also earning master's degrees in theology from the Sorbonne University in Paris.

    One of the students, 25-year-old Andrew Seebrych Anekcandroviych from Ukraine, says he likes the cross-cultural experience.

    "It is a nice possibility to study French and to study and to know how western people live in France and in other Western countries," Anekcandroviych said.

    Some students will return home after graduating.  But others are being groomed to serve Russia's far-flung diaspora that has ballooned after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Establishing a Russian Orthodox seminary in the West was the idea of Patriarch Kirill, who was elected to head the Moscow church in February.  Orthodox priest and researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, Stephen Headley, says Patriarch Kirill wants to train priests to serve parishes wherever Russian expatriates are located. 

    Father Headley also teaches at the seminary.

    "He wanted to have a seminary in Paris where people would get used to using foreign languages, get used to living in a secularized society, like France," Headley said.

    The seminary's director, Father Siniakov, says the institution is open to students of all Orthodox faiths, including those linked to the Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul.

    The Moscow Patriarchate has also reached out to the French Catholic Church, asking for help in finding a location to house the seminary.  French bishops put the Russians in touch with elderly nuns living in Epinay-Sous-Senart, who were moving out of their convent.  The nuns still come back to teach the young seminarians French. 

    Monsigneur Michel Dubost is bishop of the Evry-Corbeil-Essonnes diocese where the seminary is located.  He explains why it is important to have ties between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.

    "We cannot be Christian ignoring the oriental tradition.  The church has got two lungs as Pope John Paul said, one occidental and one oriental.  And we cannot know the roots of the Catholic Church when ignoring what happened in the Orthodox Church," Dubost said.

    The relationship between the seminary and the French Catholic Church reflects more broadly the warming ties between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church after centuries-old divisions.  The dialogue has intensified under the current leaders, Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Kirill, who have met several times in the past.

    Although differences remain, Father Headley, the Orthodox researcher, believes the leaders are focusing on ways they can work together.

    "I think there was a conscious decision on the part of the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate to try to cooperate on the social level, which talks about the re-Christianization of western Europe and the Christian roots of western Europe, because that would be a more fruitful and productive venue for them to work on," Headley said.

    On a practical level, Father Headley believes the two churches may eventually lobby for causes they believe in.  Both Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill have conservative views on matters like euthanasia, abortion and homosexuality.

    Russian Orthodox church expert Michael Bourdeaux, who founded the British Keston Institute, agrees.

    "If the Catholic and Orthodox churches came closer together, they would form a huge beacon for conservatism in the world today.  Conservatism in terms of theology which they share, and conservatism in terms of sexual morality, morality in society in general," Bourdeaux said.

    As night falls, the students at the Epinay seminary put their books aside and head for the large, plain room that serves as the school's chapel.  They chant for Vespers service in Russian, with director Siniakov chiming in in French.

    Asked earlier what the Orthodox Church can offer the West, student Anekcandroviych thinks for a while.  His answer: spirituality.  He says for many Russians, the Orthodox faith is not just a matter of rules and rituals.  The Orthodox faith, he says, is alive.

    You May Like

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora