“If the Archdiocese had accepted Patriarch Alexy II’s proposal” – interview with Xenia Krivocheine
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The Orthodoxology website has posted a French translation of Xenia Krivocheine’s interview.  Here is our English translation:

Xenia Igorevna Krivocheine is a writer, an artist, a founding member of the Movement for Local Orthodoxy of Russian Tradition in Western Europe (OLTR), and one of the persons in charge of the Orthodox website of the Korsoun diocese (Moscow Patriarchate). She is an active Orthodox public figure in France. She was nominated for the patriarchal literary prize in 2016, and she received the Order of the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Euphrosyne of Moscow, 3rd degree.

Our interview with Xenia Igorevna focuses on the situation of the Orthodox diaspora in France and on the “Movement for the Local Orthodoxy of Russian tradition”, on the reasons and modalities of the construction of a new Orthodox cathedral in Paris, on the work of the Spiritual Center near the Seine, and on many other questions.

“The Movement for Local Orthodoxy of Russian Tradition in Western Europe [OLTR]”
– Dear Xenia Igorevna, you are a member and founder of the ” Movement for Local Orthodoxy of Russian Tradition in Western Europe”. Please tell us a bit about the need and relevance of this organization.

– On April 1, 2003, the Russian diaspora in Paris was shocked by a message from Moscow: the Russian Orthodox Church proposed to create a single metropolis. I remember very well how it was perceived in the archdiocese of the Constantinople Patriarchate, on Daru Street. The Russians, who had lived all their lives hoping to unite with the Mother Church, rejoiced, but others had been dreaming of a “French Orthodoxy” for decades.

The roots of this movement are found in the history of the archdiocese. Many pages have been written about it. An important remark: since the end of the 1960s, teaching at Saint Sergius Theological Institute has been entirely in French. I was dreaming that the younger generation of graduates of the Institute and of youth associations (like the OLTR) could turn the page of the “Russian” archdiocese, but that did not happen. Since 1932, when Metropolitan Evlogy went to Phanar, various congregations formed in the parishes of the Archdiocese. Some of them continued to serve in Church Slavonic, others in local languages. Both followed the liturgical tradition. Many people in the diaspora didn’t understand what “French Orthodoxy” was. Maybe a kind of renewal?

Bishop Sergei (Konovalov), a remarkable archbishop and friend of the Russian Church, died suddenly on January 22, 2003. These past years, he has gathered around him people who are not indifferent to the future of the Archdiocese. Vladyka was replaced by Archbishop Gabriel (de Vylder). The atmosphere drastically changed in Daru Street — I mention it in my book. Many supporters of the union between the Russian Orthodox Church and ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) were alienated, and later by the diocesan court.

Patriarch Alexy II’s proposal was quite worthy of interest, especially since it was not about “suppressing” the characteristics of the emigrant structures that had developed in the archdiocese. We know what happened next: in 2007, there was a historic meeting of the two branches of the Russian Church, and the law on canonical communion between the Russian Orthodox Church and the ROCOR was signed. History played a cruel joke on the archdiocese, and it is still paying the price today.

– Not so long ago, the Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate decided to dissolve the Archdiocese of Russian tradition. What awaits the community and the clergy of this association, whose center is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on Daru Street?

– When the decision was made public to build a new cathedral with the approval of the French government, questions immediately began to arise: “Why do we need an Orthodox cathedral in Paris? We have the archdiocese St. Alexander Nevsky church! It may sound strange, but if in 2003 the Archdiocese had answered Patriarch Alexy’s call and had joined the canonical reunion in 2007, it would not have been necessary to build a cathedral on the banks of the Seine! Joint liturgies would probably have taken place on rue Daru. It would not have been necessary either to open a seminary near Paris. Saint Sergius theological institute could really have been restored from its ruins – now, it is practically nonexistent. Prayers are served at Saint Sergius, but its students and teachers have moved to the Protestant Institute, where they are provided with a small room for classes and lectures.

The short-sighted policy of the Church today has left the faithful and clergy of the Archdiocese without “roof”, figuratively speaking. But Patriarch Bartholomew was the roof and the guarantor, so confused by his “canons”, that he removed the tomos granted to the archdiocese. As far as I know, in many parishes of the archdiocese, Patriarch Bartholomew is no longer commemorated in the divine services.

Let me come back to past events. The Movement for Local Orthodoxy of Russian Tradition in Western Europe was created on March 31, 2004.

The main goal of our movement is to contribute to the unification of the three branches of the Russian Church: the Russian Orthodox Church, ROCOR, and the Archdiocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The founding members of the movement are 25 Orthodox Christians from these three jurisdictions. Our chairman was Serafim Aleksandrovich Rebinder, who died on March 13, 2018. During all these years, OLTR organized numerous panels, published documents, organized joint Divine Liturgies, and created a website for the Movement.

Since 2004, many things have changed in the minds of the people of the archdiocese. Today, nothing can prevent the faithful of Rue Daru from coming to services in the new cathedral, built on the banks of the Seine. I see these parishioners praying at the Liturgy, and I know it was a real sorrow for them to stop communing with the Russian Church after Patriarch Bartholomew’s thoughtless actions.

– What will happen next?

– We will wait until September 7… and then, perhaps, until spring. The Russian Orthodox Church is not at all in a hurry, it is totally autonomous – recently, the diocese of Korsoun received the status of Metropolis of Western Europe. Archbishop John (Renneteau) has publicly and repeatedly stated that he had full confidence in the proposals made by the Moscow Patriarchate and that he is ready for the transition, but not everyone agrees with him.

– Your wonderful book “Golden Cupolas in Paris” was recently published. Tell us about the idea that made you write it. How did the idea of ​​building Holy Trinity Cathedral come up?


– From my previous answer, it is probably clear that from the very beginning, I have been a direct witness of the events of those years. My husband Nikita Igorevich Krivocheine and I remained parishioners of the archdiocese for several years, until 2003. Then we moved to the diocese of Korsoun. The confrontation and the real hatred, unfortunately, between the fauthful of both jurisdictions reached a boiling point these past years. It can only be compared to the 1930s, when “the Anthonians”, “the Evlogians” and the “Sergeians” were enemies. In my book, I discuss some curious cases in the life of these parishes.

It seemed necessary to retell the construction of the cathedral not in the dry language of the “foreman”, but to guide the reader along the history of Orthodoxy in France. Hence the small subtitle on the cover: “The cradle of Orthodoxy in the center of Europe”.

Holy Trinity cathedral in Paris did not grow in the void, and the history of ecclesiastical relationships between France and Russia dates back to the first visit by Emperor Peter the Great in 1717. It is him who established a wonderful tradition for all the following monarchs to visit France and build Orthodox cathedrals. They are still present in Nice, Biarritz, Cannes, and Paris.

The 20th century, namely 1917, broke this tradition, and the Russian Orthodox Church had to leave its beautiful cathedrals and live until 2016 in a small temple, built from a garage on Petel Street. In the book, I tell how difficult it was for Russian emigrants. Among them, there are famous names: Vladyka Veniamin (Fedchenkov), Archimandrite Afanasy (Nechayev), Nikolai Berdyaev, Vladimir Lossky, Vladimir Ilyin, Maria Kallash, Mikhail Belsky, Leonid Ouspensky, etc. In the book I tell the story of future Metropolitan Anthony (of Sourozh), a 17-year-old boy at the time, who was present at the birth of the “Holy Cave” (called the Church of the Three Holy Hierarchs of the Diocese of Korsoun, Petel Street).

The golden domes really shone in the center of Europe, and the path the Russian Orthodoxy went through was not a rosy one. Ecclesial divisions in Orthodoxy, which began after the revolution, touched the diaspora and impacted Russian families in a very hard way. The outcome is still being felt, now in the third and fourth generations.

– Tell us about the day when His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II came to France.

– Patriarch Alexy II visited France in 2007. About the Russian diaspora, he told then President Nicolas Sarkozy that Orthodoxy had extended its walls, and that the Moscow Patriarchate Church on Rue Petel, in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, could no longer accommodate all the faithful.

He appealed to the president to help him build a large cathedral. The request was heard and President Sarkozy, the French administration, and the Roman Catholic Church did their utmost to help the Russian Church build their cathedral in Burgundy stone plan on the banks of the Seine. A year later, Patriarch Alexy reposed in Christ, and the plan became a kind of testament for Patriarch Kirill. He came to Paris in 2016 to dedicate Holy Trinity Cathedral. On the eve of this event, he prayed with the parishioners of the Church of the Three Holy Hierarchs.

The reader will be interested to discover the complicated and unexpected story of the construction of the new cathedral. I describe in detail all the bumps during the international contest for the architectural projects of the future cathedral, and I explain how the project by the famous architect Jean-Michel Wilmott won.

– It is surprising that this Orthodox church was built next to the Eiffel Tower, the “business card” of Paris. How did our compatriots manage to agree with the local authorities on such a construction? At first sight, it seems almost unrealistic.

– I cannot tell you here about the entire content of my book. It does describe in detail all the stages of the construction and coordination with the French administration.

In 2008, rumors began to circulate that the Paris authorities wanted to sell the building of the National Meteorological Service (Météo France) on Branly banks for demolition. It had been located here since 1948 on a plot of 95,000 sq ft. The French announced a call for tender, and the Russian government immediately expressed its desire to bid. Private companies as well as countries like Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Russia participated in these tenders on an equal footing. Throughout 2009, negotiations and information gathering continued. Canada wanted to build an embassy, ​​but there was no particular originality in this request. The most difficult thing for Russia was its project of the Orthodox Spiritual Center, because it had to compete with the project by the country of the sheikhs.

The French left and the media openly lobbied for the idea of ​​building a large mosque on this site.

In the event of Saudi Arabia’s victory on the banks of the Seine, the construction of a large mosque was planned. Left-wing French parties and many associations openly pressured the media and television for this option. But in 2010, Russia won the prestigious tender.

– Were Parisian Christians happy with this decision?

– It is well known that not only the inhabitants of the 7th arrondissement of Paris, where the cathedral was built, were happy with this decision, but also Christians of different denominations. From the beginning, the Roman Catholic Church had a positive attitude and helped in every way possible to implement the plan.

I hope it will be interesting for the uninitiated reader to know more about the international architecture competition, which was held in public for all media, both French and Russian.

– Last December, I visited the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Paris. I remember that the Divine Liturgy was partially served in French. How long has this practice existed?

– The cathedral was built to welcome all Orthodox Christians: Russians, Moldovans, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Lebanese, and French. Since the beginning of 2018, the weekly Saturday Liturgies in French have been served by the clergy of the Russian Seminary in honor of St. Genevieve of Paris. These services attract many French speaking Orthodox Christians. The seminary choir sings the Liturgy in French.

The cathedral was built for all Orthodox Christians, and now on Saturday there are French liturgies. And every Wednesday, there are services in Moldavan. The diaspora is large, friendly, and despite the early hour of he services, the cathedral is packed.

Of course, the golden cupolas are very beautiful next to the Eiffel Tower. This combination has become another attraction in Paris. Nothing can be done, good or bad, without attracting tourists. The multilingual crowd provoked a natural reaction: it was necessary to organize tours. This has been resolved and at certain times, the clergy of the cathedral organizes group tours.

– Besides prayer services, what happens inside the Spiritual Center on the banks of the Seine?

– In one of the buildings, there is a large conference room that can accommodate more than 250 people. Since its opening in 2016, it has hosted dozens of lectures, book and film presentations, church choirs, and individual musicians. The program of the exhibition is also organized in a logical way. On two floors, there are modern exhibition halls with lighting and showcases, even for interactive displays. Immediately after the opening of the diocese of Korsoun, exhibitions were organized on the icon painter Leonid Ouspensky, on Alexander Serebryakov, on Mikhail Shemyakin, and a collection of embroidered icons was brought from Russia.

The multimedia exhibition “New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church” – the first of its kind outside Russia, built on the historical and chronological principles, was held, with great success.

For the first time, Parisians and the Russian diaspora saw the works of Ivan Kyulev (1893-1987), a theater painter and artist. The exhibition of the famous painter Sergei Chepik (1953-2011) has just ended, and today a great retrospective of Father Gregory (Krug 1906-1969) is open.

– A few years ago on https://pravoslavie.ru/, there was an interview with your husband Nikita Igorevich Krivocheine. How did you meet this amazing man, a representative of the famous Russian noble family who suffered a lot?

– It is said that “marriages are made in Heaven”.  In my case with Nikita Igorevich, the meeting was “planned” in 1913. In my book “Оттаявшее время, или Искушение свободой” [Time thawed, or the temptation of freedom], I tell about my meeting with Nikita in 1979 in Geneva, where I had come to visit my 100-year-old grandmother. I also write about family ties and how my grandfather, the famous opera singer Ivan Vasilievich Ershov, took care in 1913 of Natalia Mechtcherskaya, Nikita’s aunt. This romantic pastime did not lead to marriage, but pictures are kept. And when Nikita told her aunt that he was going to marry Xenia Ershova, she enthusiastically asked, “And is she related to Ivan Ershov?” On this website, I have already spoken in detail about the family and my meeting with Nikita.

– Are you doing anything specific right now?

– Nikita Igorevich and I have a website / blog in French Parlons d’Orthodoxie [Let’s talk about Orthodoxy]. It was founded in 2009 with Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev)’s blessing. The objectives of the site are vast: reflection on the news of the Orthodox world and Russia, interreligious relationsships, culture, and history. The idea of creating such a site, which combines relevant publications, documents, lively exchange of opinions and so on, had been under development for a long time. The French-speaking Russian diaspora is scattered all over the world, events require not only objective reports in the media, but also communication. The future of the archdiocese is under discussion there. Today, we have up to 30,000 readers every day, not only from Europe, but also from Canada, the United States, and Ukraine. Recent events with the tomos have caused the reaction of people who are not indifferent.

Source in Russian

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About the Author

Emma Cazabonne

Emma Cazabonne

Beside an anthology on Cistercian texts, Emma Cazabonne has translated and published articles on Cistercian spirituality, the Middle Ages, and Orthodoxy. She converted to Orthodoxy in 2008. Her husband is an Orthodox priest. If you are interested in having your book translated into French, she can be contacted here https://wordsandpeace.com/contact-me/

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