A Visit to St. Andrew’s Moscow

I last visited St. Andrew’s Moscow two years ago, on that occasion in the company of Archbishop Justin. Much has happened in the intervening time: the building restoration project has begun; Malcolm Rogers is now well established in his ministry; and the church has grown significantly both in spiritual togetherness and in numbers. So I was very keen to return.

St. Andrew’s Moscow was used as a music recording studio during the Soviet era. It was restored to use as a Church following the visit of her Majesty the Queen to Moscow in the 1994. In 2016, the Church was granted a ‘free use’ agreement with the federal Ministry of Property and registration of title rights until 2065, the maximum term allowed under Russian law. The British royal family has taken an active interest in the restoration of this church building, which is unique in Russia.

Meeting at the Moscow Mayoralty with Mr. Vitaly Suchkov (Head of Department of National Policy and Inter-regional relations) and colleagues from the historic monuments department.

With the support of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, the church building has been included in the City of Moscow restoration programme. During my visit, I met with senior staff at the Mayor of Moscow’s office. This gave me opportunity to thank the City for its huge sponsorship of the restoration of the exterior of the church. Our meeting was extraordinarily warm and friendly. At its conclusion, the City agreed to set up a Working Group, bringing together the different parties in the project to help ensure good communication and the mutual understanding of deadlines.

The major structural works on the walls and foundations will run to millions of euros and take several years, but one smaller way in which the diocese has been able to give more immediate help is through the sponsorship of a kitchenette. My Advent Appeal in 2018 was towards providing this facility which will support the wonderful hospitality for which St. Andrew’s is known. I was invited to dedicate the new cooker, sinks and dishwashing equipment which are neatly built into a large meeting room adjacent to the church itself.

The Church of England’s relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church is very important to us. During my time in Moscow I met with Fr. Stephan Igumnov, Secretary for Inter-Christian Relations in the Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations. We discussed a number of areas of common interest including Syria, the Lambeth Conference and the World Council of Churches (on whose Central Committee we are both members). We looked for ways in which the momentum generated by Archbishop Justin’s visit in 2017 could be sustained.

There was space in the visit for some ‘religious sight-seeing’. The British Embassy kindly provided a driver and car to take us an hour and a half out of the City to the Monastery of Sergiev Posad. The complex is part monastery, part theological seminary. To some extent this beautiful and ancient place is the spiritual heart of the whole country. The Orthodox church kindly offered us a an expertly guided tour of the fascinating museum, which displays mainly Orthodox art and the various traditions of iconography in particular.

The main liturgical event of our visit was a Friday evening confirmation service. We had 12 confirmation candidates and 4 (already confirmed) candidates welcomed into the communion of the Church of England. All were adults and mainly younger adults. The candidates wrote accounts of why they wanted to take this big step, some of which were highly impressive. During the service, two candidates gave inspiring testimonies.

The following day (St. Andrew’s Day), the church was cleared to provide a splendid venue for the annual Advent bazaar. The church benefits from heating provided by the Moscow City heating system, so it was beautifully warm and cosy inside as the rain and sleet fell outside. In the background you can just see a military presence: the soldiers were on hand to provide tours of the historic tower (that has military significance owing to its role in the Bolshevik Revolution) and seemed to be enjoying the bazaar as much as everyone else.

It was a huge pleasure and inspiration to be with this flourishing Christian community, which is thriving under the wise pastoral leadership of Malcolm Rogers and his wife Alison. At its main Sunday service, this building is now full, and the question is starting to arise as to whether an additional service is needed. As well as regular worship, the building supports social outreach (particularly amongst those suffering from alcohol and substance abuse), houses a large youthwork charity and provides a wonderful venue for concerts. The congregation is thoroughly international, and its work is evidently respected by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Moscow civic authorities alike. This is demanding ministry in a key location. I am thankful for all the sensitive and effective pastoral care that goes into building a city centre church like St. Andrew’s. It really is a joy to behold.

Remembrance Sunday in Ljubljana

Modern day Slovenia is a small, well-developed nation sandwiched between Italy, Austria and Hungary and straddling alpine and Mediterranean climates. It is the only one of the former Yugoslavian nations to be in both Schengen and the Euro and prefers to think of itself as central European rather than Balkan. The view from the medieval castle at the heart of Ljubljana (above) takes in the red-roofed medieval centre, the communist era blocks behind them and the forests, hills and mountains in the distance. On an autumn Sunday it is a pleasant and peaceful view, with the loudest sound being the city’s church bells.

But during the great wars of the twentieth century, the country that is now Slovenia witnessed terrible violence. In the First World War, more than a million Italians and nearly 700,000 of their opponents from the Austro-Hungarian empire lost their lives or were seriously injured in fighting in and around the Soca valley. Indeed, the small advances in territory and the huge casualties mirrored very much what was happening in Flanders, but with the added terror of extreme cold and avalanches. And in the Second World War the population suffered under fascist occupation, with the horror of mass roundups and killings. So Slovenia seemed a very appropriate place for a European bishop to spend Remembrance Sunday.

Our Anglican congregation meets in this very handsome Evangelical Lutheran church building by kind permission of Bishop Geza Filo.

The congregation has enjoyed something of a rebirth in recent months. The mainstays of the congregation had been growing older. But we have benefited from the arrival of several families connected with the American Embassy. In particular, The Revd. Dr. Taylor Denyer, an ordained priest in the United Methodist Church, is kindly officiating under the ecumenical canons and building up the congregation through her pastoral care and her networks. What was once a predominantly elderly congregation enjoys the presence of young families with children.

In the picture above, Barbara Ryder, who was for several years the Reader who looked after the congregation, together with The Reverend Taylor Denyer, prepare for holy communion. Martin Luther looks on approvingly (I like to think).

Above, Bishop Robert, The Reverend Taylor Denyer, and Bishop Geza Filo: a United Methodist minister welcomes an Anglican Bishop in the premises of a Lutheran Bishop. It was very good to celebrate our unity in Christ on Remembrance Sunday.

After the service we shared some refreshments, including these poppy biscuits baked by one of the children.

In 2019, Remembrance Sunday is as important as it ever was. Conflict is a feature of the human condition. The stories of the countries and nations of modern Europe have been profoundly affected by warfare. If we are going to understand each other as peoples, we have to listen to each others’ stories of conflicts, invasions, occupations, victories and defeats. Moreover, because war is so terrible, those caught up in it whether as soldiers or civilians are usually marked by it in the deepest way. For those of us who have had the good fortune not to be caught up in armed conflict ourselves, it remains a matter of Christian compassion and proper human respect to honour the experiences of veterans and victims, to hear and to value their stories. And to be humbled by them.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.