08/08/2020, 15.31
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Fr Boris Bobrinskoy, a great Russian theologian in Europe, is dead

by Vladimir Rozanskij

He introduced the treasures of Orthodox spirituality to the West. He worked extensively with Pavel Evdokimov and Olivier Clément, and was a great ecumenical figure who studied with the Jesuits, taught Protestants and Catholics, and backed Russia’s religious revival during and after the atheist regime. He recognised the "Babylonian captivity" of the Russian Church (excessive dependence on state power) and the need to let oneself be carried away by the "shocking breath of the Spirit".

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Father Boris Bobrinskoy, one of the great representatives of Russian theology outside of Russia, passed away yesterday morning at the age of 95.

Protopresbyter of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe (now the Patriarchal Exarchate in Western Europe), Bobrinskoy was the former dean of the St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute[*] in Paris, the last member of the great generation of Russian theologians who brought the treasures of Orthodox spirituality to the attention of the West.

Born in 1925 to an aristocratic family of Russian exiles in Paris, Boris was from childhood a friend of Vladimir Lossky, son of the philosopher Nikolay Lossky, who became the main voice of The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, to cite the title of his most notable work published in 1944.[†]

Bobrinskoy studied with Russian Jesuits in Meudon, and completed his studies in 1949 at St Sergius, the Orthodox institute founded in 1924 by Sergei Bulgakov, Georges Florovsky and Nikolai Berdyaev, to name only the better known figures.

Florovsky himself, founder of the theological "neo-patristic" current, supervised Bobrinskoy's thesis on the "Sacrament of Chrismation in fourth century Eastern Fathers".

Bobrinskoy tried to introduce the practice of Confirmation in the Orthodox Church in line with the ancient Syriac Fathers, separating it from the baptismal rite with which it is inserted in the Byzantine liturgy.

He studied for several years in Athens, deepening the hesychastic spirituality of St Gregory Palamas and the monks of Mount Athos.

After he returned to Paris in 1951, he taught history of the Ancient East and Dogmatic Theology, focusing in particular on the Trinitarian theology. He also became parish priest at the St Alexander Nevsky Church in Paris.

For many years he was one of the main points of reference of the Russian community in Paris, together with the historian of theology Paul Evdokimov, and patrologist and theologian Olivier Clément.

Boris Bobrinskoy played a leading role in the ecumenical dialogue during and after the Second Vatican Council, teaching at the Protestant University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland and at the Catholic University of Paris.

In the 1970s he was also very active on radio and television, and in various publications.  His radio programme La Voix de l’orthodoxie,[‡] carried by various stations, became famous, supporting the religious revival in Russia at a time of dissent and samizdat, and after the end of the atheist regime.

In his works he denounced the "Babylonian captivity" of the Russian Church, not only during the period of Soviet persecution, but also as a result of its excessive dependence on state power throughout its history.

He proposed a spiritual renewal, letting oneself be carried away by the “shocking breath of the Spirit" that transforms the whole of life into the life of the Church.

To give it some sense, he came up with a Russian term, votserkovlenie zhizni[§] (churching of life), that was later used to describe Russia’s religious revival in the 1990s as a form of return of the world to the Church.


[*] Institut de théologie orthodoxe Saint-Serge.

[†] Essai sur la theologie mystique de l'Église d'orient (1944); English edition, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (1957).

[‡] The voice of Orthodoxy.

[§] воцерковление жизни.

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