Diocesan conference on ‘The work and legacy of Metropolitan Evlogii’

A memorial day marking the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Metropolitan Evlogii, who was founder and bishop of the Diocese from 1921 to 1946, was organised by the Diocesan Administration with the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Gabriel, on Saturday 7 October.

The day was attended by Bishop Basil of Amphipolis, representing the Episcopal Vicariate of Great Britain and Ireland.

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Pannikhide à Mgr Euloge
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La tombe de Mgr Euloge

On Saturday morning a panikhida was celebrated in the crypt of the Church of the Dormition near the Cemetery of St Geneviève-des-Bois, at the tomb of Metropolitan Evlogii. Archbishop Gabriel presided, assisted by a number of the clergy.

In the afternoon, a diocesan conference on the theme ‘The work and legacy of Metropolitan Evlogii’ took place at the St Sergius Theological Institute in Paris, chaired by Archbishop Gabriel. It was attended by more than seventy people, including Bishop Basil of Amphipolis and Bishop Andrew of Krateia (Ecumenical Patriarchate), and a dozen clergy.

The conference began with singing ‘O Heavenly King....’ and a short introductory talk by Archbishop Gabriel who recalled how often Metropolitan Evlogii served in difficult times, and yet that his life was ‘always inspired by the Church’. ‘It is a great honour for me,’ he said, ‘to be there too, to be his successor. I am without doubt unworthy and incapable of so being , but through his prayers, and your prayers, I feel that God is giving me the strength to do what I can.’

Archbishop Gabriel also read out a message from His Beatitude Metropolitan Savva of Warsaw, primate of the Orthodox Church of Poland, who wrote that ‘the name of Metropolitan Evlogii remains inscribed on the hearts and in the memory of the Orthodox living in Poland as that of a worthy and courageous pastor, devoted entirely to the Church’. Then Archbishop Gabriel read an extract from the last chapter of the ‘Memoirs’ of Metropolitan Evlogii, which forms his spiritual testament : ‘I have interrogated my conscience, and I must say in all sincerity that if, during the difficult periods of my life, I have acted and fought from different positions and in different directions, I have always done that in the service of the same indestructible ideal - for the Church... The Church is the central idea of my life.’ At the end of this reading, ‘Eternal Memory’ was sung for the repose of the soul of Metropolitan Evlogii.

Two talks followed, the first by Antoine Nivière, a professor at the University of Nancy-2, and the other by Nikita Struve, Emeritus Professor at the University of Paris X - Nanterre. Archimandrite Job, Dean of the St Sergius Theological Institute chaired these sessions.

In his talk, Antoine Nivière retraced the life and work of Metropolitan Evlogii, emphasising that at two particular moments in his life, his work was ‘to build a local Church’ to the extent that ‘on two occasions he created from nothing a diocesan structure with a network of parishes and religious, cultural and philanthropic organisations : first, before the Russian Revolution at Chelm, and then in the emigration in Western Europe.’ During the emigration, over a period of two decades, Metropolitan Evlogii supervised the creation of a hundred parishes across the whole of Europe. For the necessary formation of the priests for these communities, he opened a school of theology where he gathered together the principal thinkers of the Russian emigration - philosophers, theologians, Church historians - whom he personally supported and encouraged. Professor Nivière described various aspects of his work using memoirs and documents of the time. In the process of such exemplary pastoral activity, there occurred the jurisdictional crises in which, willy-nilly, Metropolitan Evlogii found himself caught up, conflicts which one must ‘neither under-estimate nor over-estimate’. ‘I must recognise,’ he wrote, ‘that I am not a combative type of person, but rather peaceable and calm, and yet during my life as a bishop, I have been led to live through all sorts of sudden changes and battles.’ Metropolitan Evlogii was led to hold these different positions by his concern to ‘keep the Church away from politics and defend her independence and her liberty.’ In the face of jurisdictional problems, the creation of the Exarchate under the omophor of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1931 brought, for Metropolitan Evlogii, ‘a stable canonical solution, and a guarantee of communion with the whole of Orthodoxy in her full universal dimension.’ Thus, under his authority, the Church was ‘liberated from the administrative constraints that existed under the old regime, and from the political control that the new regime wished to impose.’

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Nikita Struve

Nikita Struve, for his part, spoke of Metropolitan Evlogii as ‘one of the most remarkable bishops of the twentieth century, incontestably the most famous in the emigration’. Describing a personality that was ‘astonishingly harmonious’ with a great liveliness of spirit and at the same time a great simplicity, always surrounded by his faithful followers who sought contact with him, Nikita Struve recalled that ‘the fight for the liberty of the Church was the struggle of Metropolitan Evlogii’s whole life.’ If this did not produce a theological oeuvre, he had on the contrary left us ‘striking theological formulae’, especially when he speaks, in his memoirs, of ‘the marvellous gift of freedom’, a central theme with him which places him in direct descent from Alexis Khomiakov, the theologian of ‘sobornost’. These sayings of Metropolitan Evlogii, re-affirm that ‘love and freedom must determine ecclesial life at all levels’, and that ‘a Church which is not creative cannot be a Church’. On this theme, Nikita Struve insisted on the importance of the propositions put forward by Metropolitan Evlogii in 1905, at the time of a consultation between the whole episcopate of the Russian Church, when he himself was bishop of Chelm. He suggested that they should move beyond a certain rigidity and routine in the life of the Church, especially in the field of liturgy. ‘These recommendations, although, though moderate in nature, would have leaped beyond today, into a future century’, declared Nikita Struve. For example, he suggested a return of the Word of God to the central place, more frequent use of the psalms - and in Russian rather than Church Slavonic, including the congregation in the singing during celebrations, and the simplification of the Liturgy by omitting certain repetititions. ‘The broad scope of these proposals witnesses to the vision of a pastor who cared for his flock,’ said Nikita Struve, emphasising that the Archdiocese has a calling to preserve Metropolitan Evlogii’s legacy, even though, he added, there are those, particularly in Moscow, who seek today to capture that legacy and distort it.

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projection de photographies de Mgr Euloge

There followed a slide projection of photographs retracing the steps of Metropolitan Evlogii from the beginning of his episcopacy in Russia to his death in Paris on 8 August 1946. Very many photographs, with a commentary by Antoine Nivière, illustrated the great moments in his life, which was bound up with the development of the Diocese from 1921 to 1946 : his visits to the parishes, his constant presence at the St Sergius Institute with the teachers and students, and his regular participation in meetings of ACER.

An exhibition of unpublished historical documents from the archives of the Diocesan Administration was also on display.

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Among the documents shown were the Metropolitan’s pass to the Moscow Council of 1917, extracts from notebooks kept by him during his nine-month imprisonment in Galicia in 1919, and extracts from his correspondence with a number of figures of the Russian emigration - bishops, priests, theologians, philosophers, writers and musicians - but also with those responsible for other Christian communities (Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, Armenians) who were engaged with him in the early stages of the ecumenical movement.

Archimandrite Job then presented a brief summary of the presentations, highlighting the image of a ‘ferryman’ (passeur) that emerges from the work of Metropolitan Evlogii, ‘a ferryman between the inheritance of Russian theological thought of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century in the West, which generated a fruitful meeting with Western Christianity.’

In an impromptu speech by way of conclusion, Archbishop Gabriel recalled that around Metropolitan Evlogii, ‘there were your grandparents and your parents, who built these churches, this archdiocese’, who passed down to succeeding generations their spiritual and cultural riches, and that thanks to them ‘our Diocese has fulfilled her vocation of mission, and of witness to the faith.’ ‘All those who wish to work in the spirit of Metropolitan Evolgii with a view to fulfilling our mission and our calling in and by the Church are welcome, for the harvest of the Lord is great. Be faithful to that which you have seen and heard this afternoon,’ he added, ‘for that must be the source of your enthusiasm to continue their work.’

The meeting ended with the singing of the Hymn to the Mother of God.

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Mgrs Basile, Gabriel et André
Lors des Vigiles de Saint-Serge qui ont suivi la conférence diocésaine
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