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

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens More

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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs