The city’s Russian Orthodox community has been united with the Moscow Patriarchate for a long time before the break between Moscow and Constantinople. "We cannot exclude ourselves from communion with our motherland,” says one leading member.
Florence (AsiaNews) - The Russian Orthodox church in Florence is dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lord and to Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. It is one of the most glorious and prestigious churches in the Russian émigré community. Inaugurated in November 1903, well before tragic revolutionary events at home, the first Russian religious building in Italy marks the great triumph of Tsar Alexander I over Napoleon, including the banners of 1814, when the emperor celebrated in Paris the victory that led Europe to the Holy Alliance, the romantic dream of union among Europe’s Christian empires. Even today Russian Orthodox worshippers in Florence aspire to unity of all Christian denominations and nationalities, at a time of difficulty and division even among the Orthodox.
We talked about these aspirations with Anna Georgevna Worontzoff-Weliaminoff (pictured), the parish administrator (starosta in Russian), a great-granddaughter of Alexander Pushkin, and heir to one of the most prestigious branches of Russia’s nobility. A linguist, Anna Worontzoff is one of the last descendants of those Russian émigrés who arrived at the beginning of the 20th century. Together with the members of the community, she threw her support behind Fr Georgy Blatinskij, Archpriest of the Florence church who decided to join the Russian Church abroad (Zarubezhnaya). This Church, set up in exile after the revolution, has been in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate since 2004. Other Churches in Europe are following the same path after the break between Moscow and Constantinople.
How has your community experienced this past year, so painful for Russian Orthodox and the Orthodox community as a whole?
We have tried to maintain our good relations with everyone, reflecting the spirit of our Church. At present, few of us have ties with the old Russian émigré families. Most parishioners are recently-arrived Russians, Ukrainians, Moldovans and others, including Italians with Russian family ties, who have no interest in taking sides with one or the other patriarch. We live and work, with all the problems of normal life, and we wish to come together to pray and celebrate our faith, culture and shared existence.
When the events that led to the creation of the new Ukrainian Church, and the break with Constantinople, occurred, we all suffered. We had a good relationship with the ecumenical patriarchate, and there were no reasons to break off relations. When the break did take place, the Patriarch of Moscow suspended the sacramental communion with Constantinople. For all of us that created a serious problem of conscience as we cannot exclude ourselves from communion with our motherland. Apart from a few Western Ukrainians, who feel bound to the new Church approved by the Greeks, most Ukrainians in our parish have remained faithful to the Church of Moscow.
Have there been conflicts with the Greeks and other Orthodox?
In Florence there is a Greek Orthodox church, which celebrates the liturgy thanks to the hospitality of Catholics, as well as three Romanian Orthodox churches. We didn't have great relationships with them, but there were no hostile feelings. When the Greek Metropolitan of Venice, Gennadios (Tzervos), tried to impose the transition to the jurisdiction of Constantinople, we decided to join the jurisdiction of the Russian Church abroad, which is in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. The bishop of London Irenei (Steenberg), an American who heads the Russian Church abroad, immediately visited us and confirmed our community. Parishioners, after all, do not care much about which patriarch we respond to. Today we remember the Moscow Patriarch Kyrill, but our wish is to be in harmony with all Orthodoxy. It is not surprising that Bishop John (Renneteau) of Paris and most European Russian priests chose to remain with their homeland, but we all know that we only want to live in communion, each according to their own history.