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

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    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.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora