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

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Report: US to Sail Warships Near Disputed S. China Sea Islands

Move will signal nonrecognition of Chinese territorial claims over area, Financial Times reports, citing senior US official More

Study Describes Ancient Deltas, Lakes on Mars

Research builds on recent NASA announcement that water flows on red planet today More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanoni
John Owens
October 08, 2015 7:32 PM
Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs