Conference on the Russian Orthodox Presence in Lebanon Takes Place
A scholarly conference on the Russian presence in the sacred land of Lebanon in celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the metochion of the Russian Orthodox Church in Beirut took place on 6th November 2021 at Russia House in the Lebanese capital.
The forum’s guests and participants were greeted by the dean of the metochion archimandrite Philip (Vasiltsev). “Today’s conference is a continuation of the celebrations for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the metochion of the Russian Orthodox Church in Beirut,” he noted.
The director of Russia House in Beirut V.I. Zaichikov greeted those gathered and emphasized the important role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the history of mutual relations between Russia and Lebanon. “It is the Russian Orthodox Church and her public bodies which have stood at the roots of cooperation between the two countries, whether it be support for the Christian population, or projects in the sphere of education and health care. Russian compatriots, who for whatever reason have found themselves in Lebanon, have always found in the metochion of the Russian Orthodox Church in Beirut something to remind them of home and the spiritual staples which bind them closely to Russia,” he said, inter alia.
In his introductory speech the Patriarchal exarch for Western Europe and the director of the department of the Moscow Patriarch for foreign organizations the metropolitan of Chersoneses and Western Europe Anthony noted: “We began the celebrations for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the metochion of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Divine Liturgy, with prayer. And at the service we heard the names of the clergy and parishioners who throughout these seventy-five years have comprised the rich history of our metochion in Beirut. These names denote the lives, destinies, landmarks and history not only of the metochion, but also of all the country of Lebanon.”
The bishop conveyed to those present greetings and the blessing of His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill. “His Holiness the Patriarch pays great attention to the events which make up the celebrations of the jubilee of our metochion. And in blessing me to undertake this journey, His Holiness the Patriarch expressed the hope that the celebrations, including this conference, will make a significant contribution to strengthening the fraternal relationship between the Orthodox Churches of Russia and Antioch,” said metropolitan Anthony.
The representative of the Patriarch of Antioch to the Patriarch of Moscow the metropolitan of Philippopolis Niphon spoke to the participants and guests of how he came to know Russian Orthodoxy: “When in Beirut they decided to open a metochion of the Russian Church, I was still a small boy, but I recall how my spiritual father the metropolitan of Zahlé Niphon (Saba) very much loved the Russian Church, was friends with a number of Russian bishops, and how in Zahlé we were occasionally visited by Russian priests and their flock. I did not know geography very well and only had a vague idea where the Soviet Union was located; however, I did know that there are Russians who believe as we believe, but who do not sit during the services and who cross themselves very frequently.”
“Then, when I grew up, my spiritual father wanted me to leave for Russia and study there at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity and St. Sergius,” metropolitan Niphon continued. “We met with the priest who then served in Beirut and with bishop John (Vendland), who was the representative of the Russian Church in Damascus. They were very pleased, and bishop John insisted that he would equip me for this journey. It was impossible to refuse as he had bought me a warm cassock and plane ticket for Moscow. I never saw him again, but many years later I prayed at his graveside in Yaroslavl. I recall that we met with him at a small apartment in Beirut, and I saw what I thought at the time was a very strange icon of the Mother of God. I was told that it was the icon of ‘Unexpected Joy.’ It then happened that in the church where I became rector in Moscow the most venerated icon was indeed that of the ‘Unexpected Joy’, and I became so fond of it that now in Zahlé I am engaged in the construction of a church in honour of this icon of the Most Holy Mother of God.”
Metropolitan Niphon recalled with affection yet one other former dean of the metochion of the Russian Church – archpriest Pavel Statov. “I was already studying at the Monastery, I had come home for the holidays to Lebanon and I served with him a number of times in one of the side-chapels of the Annunciation Cathedral in Beirut, which had then been handed over for use to the Russian metochion for services. I was often a guest at his home. He always treated us to Russian dishes, including very nice pancakes. Father Pavel enjoyed the favour of the then metropolitan of Beirut Elias (Saliba) of blessed memory who, as I recall, always invited him on the second day of Pascha to concelebrate with him at the cathedral, where Father Pavel would read the Gospel in Slavonic.”
“The representative of the Church plays a huge role in the strengthening of friendship between Churches and peoples because, in looking at us, people will judge our Church and our country,” the metropolitan added. “This is why I rejoice as I recall these representatives such as, for example, archpriest Iakov Ilyich, who was a very educated and cultured man.”
The representative of the Patriarch of Antioch to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia emphasized that “it is a great joy for me that today the metochion of the Russian Church in Beirut is headed by Father Philip. In looking at him, at his good deeds, at the life of the Russian community, the people of Lebanon can judge the Holy Russian Church, which I love deeply. I see how with a sense of awe and reverence Father Philip serves, with what piety and interest he learns about the saints and holy sites of Lebanon and with him the whole Russian community, and I rejoice that these people demonstrate through the way they live the fraternal relationship which exists between our Churches.”
“In conclusion, I would like to emphasize how we – the representatives of the Church of Antioch to the see of Moscow and of the Russia Church to the see of Antioch, both our metochions – exist with the blessing of our two Patriarchs, and how here in the ancient city of Beirut we exist with the blessing of the metropolitan of Beirut Elias,” noted metropolitan Niphon.
On behalf of His Holiness the Patriarch of Serbia Porfirije the metropolitan of Moravica Anthony greeted those present at Russia House. “The Russian Orthodox Church on the territory of most of the Local Orthodox Churches has made an enormous contribution to strengthening ecclesiastical fraternal relations,” noted metropolitan Anthony. “The churches built by Russians are memorials. The beauty and the magnificence of the services, the straightforwardness and diplomacy of the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church in many countries impresses the hundreds of thousands of people who become believers. We can see this in non-Orthodox countries such as, for example, China and Japan. In reading the pages of the history of the metochion in Beirut, we see what outstanding people here served and prayed; they enjoyed great authority. Dear Father Philip, I congratulate you on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the metochion. May God grant you wisdom so that you may further direct this metochion so well for the good of the two peoples of Lebanon and Russia.”
The representative of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia archimandrite Seraphim (Shemyatovsky) conveyed his wishes for “successful labours, a peaceful life and God’s aid for the blessed land of Lebanon” on behalf of His Beatitude Metropolitan Rastislav.
The Russian ambassador to Lebanon A. N. Rudakov warmly greeted the conference participants. “The relationship between Russia and Lebanon enjoys firm spiritual foundation by way of the traditionally friendly relationship between the Orthodox Churches of Russia and Antioch which is rooted in the distant past. At the beginning of the twentieth century in Lebanon under the Imperial Orthodox Society of Palestine and the Russian Orthodox Church there were active forty-eight Russian, so called ‘Moscow’, schools. The Russian embassy in Beirut, incidentally, is located in the building where earlier there was one such school,” the ambassador reminded those gathered.
He also made mention of the mutual understanding and inter-action that exist at both the international and inter-church level, as well as at the level of Orthodox public life in Russia and Lebanon.
“I would like to emphasize especially that the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church and her metochion in Beirut are aimed above all at establishing in Lebanon civil peace and accord, while at the same time preserving the Christian presence in the country,” Mr. Rudakov said.
He also assured people that “Russia will in the future continue to show support for the Orthodox community in Lebanon for the preservation of the balance in the political and confessional and public spheres.”
The representative of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia to the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East hegumen Arseny (Sokolov) reminded those gathered that the metochion in Beirut is the oldest site that testifies to the presence of the Moscow Patriarchate on the canonical territory of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch: “All of its post-war history, the life of three generations is the history of the Beirut metochion of the Moscow Patriarchate.”
Offering presentations at the conference were: professor of the Moscow Theological Academy and Sretensky Theological Seminary, member of the Inter-Council Presence of the Russian Orthodox Church archpriest Vladislav Tsypin, who spoke on the topic of the relationship of the Patriarchate of Antioch and the Russian Orthodox Church in the twenty and twenty first centuries; the director of ITAR-TASS in Lebanon D.A. Zelenin, who spoke about the first wave of immigrants and the Russian metochion; researcher into the Russian presence in Lebanon T.V. Bacher (Kuvsheva), who spoke on the topic of Russian burials in the cemeteries of Lebanon; and journalist and analyst Kfouri Iskander, who spoke on the ‘Moscow schools’ in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.
The forum’s participants agreed that Russians had made a significant contribution to the cultural life of Lebanon and that research work in this area should be continued. The restoration of Russian burials in the land of Lebanon was a particularly relevant issue.
In conclusion, the metropolitan of the Hills of Lebanon Siluan noted in particular that “your history is very beautiful and very interesting. I was very happy to listen to the speakers who came to us from Russia. I especially greet archpriest Vladislav Tsypin. This means that there are people who know the history of Russian-Arab relations.” The metropolitan expressed the hope that scholarly research work would be continued in this field and that it would “bear fruit in the future.”