A Grand New Beginning at St. Andrew’s Moscow

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My first official visit in the new academic year was to Moscow. I last visited the Russian capital in the mid-1980s as a guest of the Soviet ‘Intourist’. So I was eagerly looking forward to returning to see how it had changed since the Soviet era. This time I was going not as a tourist, but as Bishop to license Malcolm Rogers as Chaplain of the Anglican community of St. Andrews.Moscow 1

Of course all licencing services are important occasions, but dare I say it there was particularly excitement surrounding Malcolm’s arrival. Few cities compare with the awe-inspiring grandeur and scale of Moscow. And few have such international significance.

Anglican clergy who love Russia and speak Russian, and have the deep pastoral experience needed to build Christian community in Moscow are to be particularly treasured. At an early stage of ministry, Malcolm and Alison spent two years at the Orthodox theological seminary in St. Petersburg. Malcolm then served long incumbencies in London and Bury St. Edmunds. Family circumstances seemed right to allow a move and a new challenge. So in the summer of 2017 Malcolm, Alison and their youngest son Andrew left the UK and began a new adventure in Russia.

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St Andrews church is a remarkable building. Built in the late 19th century, it is an example of English Victorian church architecture that is unique in Russia. It has an impressive tower, that was used as a machine gun post by the Bolsheviks in the revolution. (I was shown some of the bullet holes that remain in the tower wall.) A primary school was built adjoining the church. After the revolution, the church was seized by the authorities and used as a state recording studio. It was returned to us as a place of worship in the 1990s following a visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to Moscow. And the recent and much awaited granting of a long lease on the building only came after the Russian Patriarch’s visit to Her Majesty last year.

St. Andrews now offers a fine worship space with superb acoustics – I particularly appreciated not having to wear a microphone. Beyond the body of the church are no fewer than 26 meeting rooms. This allows St. Andrews to host a range of groups and activities: a playgroup, outreach amongst orphans and troubled young people, alcoholics anonymous, and creative arts. As one member of the congregation remarked to me: ‘our buildings are really more of a cathedral than an ordinary parish church’. Featuring on walking tours of the city, the church attracts a continuous stream of visitors, and when illuminated at night – courtesy of the city council – it looks stunning. The arrival of a priest and pastor to carry forward the work and mission of the Anglican community in such a significant building close to the heart of magnificent Moscow felt like a truly spine-tingling event.

Oh, and I must add, that St. Andrews boasts an eco-friendly garden. The brainchild of the International Protestant Church that meets on Sunday afternoons in the building, a considerable area of waste ground and rubble was cleared to make way for an attractive garden complete with two large greenhouses for growing summer vegetables. Not at all what you expect to find in central Moscow!

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Pat Szymczak proudly showing the Bishop the St. Andrews Garden
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A model of an early Muscovy Company trading vessel on display at the Old English Yard Museum near the Kremlin

One fascinating aspect of St. Andrews is its intimate link with ‘The Russia Company’. Formerly known as the ‘Muscovy Company’ it was the first of the great British trading companies founded by Tudor and Elizabethan merchant adventurers. (Today it is perhaps less well known than its ‘younger’ successors like the East India Company.) In the 16th century Richard Chancellor, arguably the first British ‘ambassador’ to Russia, journeyed to Moscow via the Arctic Ocean, White Sea and modern day Archangel – an incredibly dangerous voyage. He traded British woollen products for Russian furs. In succeeding decades, the Muscovy company gained exclusive trading rights with Russia and its merchants became the principal diplomatic contacts with Britain. Over the centuries, the trading rights were lost and the Company declined in importance. But there is still a fine ‘court’, now a museum, and in the 20th century the Russian company converted itself into a charity which supports the Anglican church in Russia. We were delighted to have representatives of the Russia Company involved in Malcolm’s appointment and present at the licensing.

Malcolm is supported by a Church Council with diverse passions and interests, from work with children, to care of the buildings, to researching the history of English burials in the Moscow non-Orthodox cemetery. I enjoyed a good lunch with the Council – pictured below at a local French-speaking Algerian restaurant.

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The British Ambassador to Russia, HE Laurie Bristow was kind enough to host a reception to welcome Malcolm to his new role. The Ambassador’s residence is located on the bank of the Moskva river with superb views across the river to the Kremlin. We had the great privilege of dining in the room in which Stalin and Churchill had met to discuss the post-war ‘settlement’ of Europe. In such a wonderfully historic environment, the Ambassador took the opportunity to remind us all of the long-term significance of the institutions in which we serve and our important but time-limited role in carrying the life of our institutions forward.

Building on the successful visit of the Russian Patriarch to HM The Queen and Lambeth Palace earlier this year, we were delighted to hear from Metropolitan Hilarion that The Patriarch would be happy to receive a visit from Archbishop Justin in November. This will be a major diplomatic event for the Anglican Communion. At a time of strained international political relations, it enables our church leaders to take some small steps to building understanding and contributing, in our own way, to world peace.

In addition to his pastoral duties, Malcolm has an important diplomatic role as Archbishop’s representative (apokrisarios) to the Russian Patriarch. Appropriately, Malcolm’s licensing was attended by four ambassadors – Britain, New Zealand, Namibia and South Africa. His arrival certainly opens a new chapter in the life of St. Andrews Moscow. It starts to place our work in Moscow in a key place in international Anglican concerns. Do pray for Malcolm, Alison and their family as Malcolm moves into this very significant position, as he finds his place in St. Andrews, and as he starts to engage with a very significant archiepiscopal visit soon after the start of his ministry.

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Pictured here, on the British Ambassador’s balcony overlooking the Kremlin are: The Papal Nuncio, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (spiritual leader of British/Russian Orthodoxy), HE Laurie Bristow, Metropolitan Hilarion (head of the Department of External Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church), Canon Malcolm Rogers, The Bishop in Europe, The Archbishop of the Russian Lutheran Church, the Archdeacon and Pastor Mike Zdorow of the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy.