A Convent Conversation

From ‘The Herald of R.O.M.E’.
(The Herald of the Russian Orthodox Metropolia in Europe, No 8, 2026)

On 7 August 2026 we visited Sts Peter and Paul Convent just outside Rome and interviewed Archimandrite Pavel (Kirillov), the spiritual father, and some of the nuns.

Interviewer: Fr Pavel, you are an archimandrite and the senior priest and confessor here. Can you tell us something about yourself and the Convent?

Fr Pavel: I am Russian, but as a young man I worked as a cook in restaurants for many years in Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland, before going back to study at seminary in Moscow. I became a hieromonk in Moscow in 2004 and, as I spoke Italian, I was sent straightaway to serve in Italy, where there was then a great shortage of Russian priests.

I am helped here by a young Italian priest Fr Ambroggio, who is married and lives near the Convent, and a Moldovan hieromonk, Fr Tarasy. Fr Tarasy serves a lot. Fr Ambroggio serves one week a month and the rest of the time looks after the main Italian-language parish in Rome as well as visiting many of the local families who come here for services. With the help of some laymen, he even set up a football team for the boys of the families who attend the Convent. The local boast is that we are the only convent in Italy with its own football team. And last year we even won our league!

I: What language do you use here?

FP: We use Italian as our main liturgical language, with Slavonic and Romanian as what I would call reserve languages. Most sisters speak at least one other language apart from Italian. At present we have 39 nuns of sixteen different nationalities, with twelve Moldovans and eight Italians. Moldovans have played a great role in Italy, helping to set an example and convert Italians. I think this is because the cultures and languages are so similar, but the Moldovans have Christ, whereas the Italians had lost Him.

I: Tell us something of the history of the Convent.

FP: Originally, there was a need for a Convent somewhere in Italy, but we did not know where to start and whom to dedicate it to. Once we had the buildings, the Abbess, Mother Paraskeva as she now is, had thought of dedicating the Convent to the Resurrection – Mother Paraskeva would dedicate everything to the Resurrection, if she could, since she says that Italians don’t know what the Resurrection is. That’s why there is always one Sister called Anastasia. In any case you can imagine what joyful Easter services we have here! However, when these buildings outside Rome came up for sale and we asked Metropolitan Nicholas in Paris about them, he decided that the dedication of the Convent should be to the great apostles and martyrs of Rome, Sts Peter and Paul. This year he came to our patronal feast together with Bishop Gregory, our diocesan bishop in Italy, and preached a sermon where he spoke of how very different Sts Peter and Paul are and yet how they complement each other. He said that this is what we have to do in our Convent. With so many nationalities, we have to complement one another. He told us that whenever we have an argument, we should look at the icon of Sts Peter and Paul embracing and pray to them to guide us.

I: What is the main problem for Italians in integrating the Orthodox Church?

FP: The same as for all people of a Western background. It is one thing to join the Orthodox Church and another to become Orthodox. And yet if you do not first become Orthodox, then you cannot remain Orthodox. That is why Metropolitan Nicholas and all the diocesan bishops of the Metropolia instruct their priests to prepare catechumens very carefully. The knowledge of facts that occurs in the head is of secondary importance. But Western culture puts knowledge first. What is in reality of primary importance is the understanding of facts. That is Orthodox culture. And since understanding is located in the heart, and not in the head, understanding therefore depends on the purity – or lack of purity – of the heart.

The greatest problem for Western people is to come to the understanding that Western culture must be subordinated to Orthodox culture. Culture is the world, not all culture can be absorbed into the Church. Whatever cannot be baptised into the Church, must leave – just as a catechumen leaves the Liturgy. If Western people do not do this, but idolise their Western culture instead and are offended when parts of that are rejected, they will never become Orthodox, for they are unworthy. The Gospel is what we always put first.

I: How do you maintain your own inner life?

FP: Every year I go to Optina in Russia for six weeks and there I am free to talk to my spiritual father. For me it’s very important to keep contacts with the Motherland.

I: I turn now to the Abbess of the Convent, Mother Paraskeva. Could you tell us something about yourself, Mother?

Mother Paraskeva: Like many in the convent, I am Moldovan, but I came to Italy in the early 2000s, seeking work, sending money home to help my family. I was already at that time a Churchgoer and was thinking of monastic life, but could not find the right place. It was only after several years of searching that I found a convent in Moldova in 2012. It was a huge relief to me. I felt as though I had come home. Then I was sent here as an obedience when this Convent opened in 2019. I had no idea that after only one year I would be made Abbess – if I had known, I don’t think I would have come! When Bp Gregory made me Abbess, instead of congratulating me, Fr Pavel said to me: ‘My condolences’. He was right!

I: What Italian people come to services at the Convent?

MP: We have a whole group of Italian men who were in the Italian Army, sent as peacekeepers in Kosovo for NATO. When they saw the injustices that were happening there and the anti-Serb persecutions, many of them became Orthodox, some of them even married Serbian women. They have remained faithful even though all the north of Kosovo long ago returned to Serbia. But apart from these families, we have families from Romania, Moldova, Russia and the Ukraine in particular. But Italian is our common language.

I: What does the Convent live off?

MP: We sew vestments, bake prosphora, make candles and, above all, make soap. Soap-making is our most financially profitable activity. Thanks to it we have been able to restore all the buildings in the complex that we have and we can now take another twenty nuns, if there are suitable candidates.

I: I will now turn to some of the nuns who are here with us. Sister Clotilde, what about you? Where are you from?

Sister Clotilde: I am French, a Parisian, where I was born in 1996. I joined the Russian Orthodox Church in Paris in 2015 after realising that atheism brought no answers and is even irrational – for nobody can prove that God does not exist. Since I studied Italian and Russian, an unusual combination, and I felt that my future was in a convent, I came here after I had finished my studies in 2019.

I: And you, Sister Odile?

Sister Odile: I am from Germany, but my mother was Italian. I come from just near Alsace, across the French border. So I would say that I am Alsatian, which is why I have a French name. I have been here for four years. My background is in history and I worked for eight years as a history teacher at a university in Germany.

I: How did you come to the Church?

Sister Odile: As a historian I had a great interest in Napoleon, who was the first to try and unite Germany. Through him I became interested in Tsar Alexander I, the mystical Tsar who defeated Napoleon. My other great interest was in the Crusades. My conversion came about when I started reading about the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople in 1204, even though many ordinary people in the West opposed the Crusades. Then I read on the internet an Orthodox writer who said simply: 1204 = 1453 = 1812 = 1917. In other words, he was saying that the sack of Constantinople by the West led to its occupation by the Muslims in 1453 and that 1812, the occupation of Moscow by Napoleon and his 12 tribes, led to 1917, the sack of Moscow by the West through their Provisional and then Bolshevik agents. These historical connections and their injustices, 1204 = 1453 = 1812 = 1917, and their implications converted me. I ended up coming here four years ago, together with Sister Mauricia, who is Swiss and was also a history teacher.

I: Mother Thecla: I believe you are Russian?

Mother Thecla: Yes, there are four Russian nuns here. Myself, Sister Matrona from Moscow, Sister Lydia the choir director and Sister Marina, but she has gone on a pilgrimage to her patron in San Marino with the parish there. However, most of the Moldovan sisters speak good Russian and several others, like Sister Gabriela from Poland and Sister Maria from Austria, understand it. I was born in Ryazan but came to Italy in 2007. I became a spiritual daughter of Fr Pavel when he was parish priest in Turin and then followed him when he was appointed here.

I: Sister Lydia, how do you find the adaptation to Italian life?

Sister Lydia: That is something of the past for me. Today this is my place, my home. Sometimes I even find myself forgetting Russian words. I can only think of the Italian ones. I love singing in Italian. It is just as musical as Slavonic.

I: And you, Sister Agatha? You’re Italian, aren’t you?

Sister Agatha: I’d like to say not Italian, but Sicilian. We have another Sicilian sister here, Sister Pancratia from Taormina, as well as a Corsican sister, Sister Giulia, and we all feel the same, not really Italian. We’re pleased to be from the islands and to have this identity. But, of course, our real nationality is Orthodox.

I: How did you come to the Church?

Sister Agatha: I’m a cradle Orthodox, my parents converted. They were Catholics but were so disgusted by various compromises that they became Orthodox in Palermo. That’s where my brother is an Orthodox priest. However, we realised that we must have Orthodox origins. My father’s mother, Sicilian born and bred, spoke a dialect of Greek. Once all Sicily was Orthodox, it’s in our folklore. Catholicism was imposed on us, it’s superficial. So Orthodoxy is like a liberation for us, it is what is underneath us all, our buried identity.

I: And you, Sister Theodora? Are you Italian?

Sister Theodora: I’m Greek, but was born in Italy, actually in Venice, where my parents studied, met and then stayed on to work. So actually I speak better Italian than Greek. I feel at home here. So to be an Orthodox nun in Italy is the best of both worlds.

I: What about your, Sister Tatiana, Are you from Moldova too?

Sister Tatiana: Not at all. I am Italian, a pure Roman, like St Tatiana herself. Mother Paraskeva likes to give us the names of the saints who lived in the places where we lived before we came here. She says that the saints are our spiritual identity, so we must carry that identity in our names. So we have Sister Sofia, Sister Lorenza and Sister Alexia, who are all from Rome like me and Sister Januaria, who is from Naples. Then many of the Moldovan sisters, Sisters Anastasia, Sabina and Melania, also from Rome, Sister Agnes the Hungarian, from Rome too, Sister Paula who is Maltese, and other Moldovans, Sister Ambrosia from Milan, Sister Nicola from Bari and Sister Apollinaria from Ravenna.

I: And what about you, Mother Eulalia?

Mother Eulalia: I am Catalan from Barcelona, but I have been living in the Convent since the beginning. Because I spoke Italian, Mother Sebastiana sent me from the Convent in Madrid right at the beginning in 2019 to help. I look after novices and guests.

I: Mother Paraskeva, if I can return to you, what are your relations with local Roman Catholic convents like?

MP: We don’t really have any relations. That does not mean that they are bad, it’s just that there are so few Catholic convents left nowadays and most of the nuns in them are in their eighties. It’s like two parallel worlds, we just do not have much to talk about. Their life is totally different from ours, for us they are like retired social workers, devout laywomen who live in retirement homes. Our nuns are young. We only have three mothers, the other 36 are still sisters, riasophore nuns, and then there are seven novices at the moment.

On the other hand, we have a lot of contact, and not only by e-mail, with other Orthodox convents in the Metropolia, in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Austria, England, Germany, the two in France, the Netherlands and also the new convent in Copenhagen, where we have just sent our Danish sister, Sister Anna, and our Swedish sister, Sister Olga. We also have a lot of contact with other ROCOR convents in the USA and Australia, not to mention with two convents in Moldova and one in the Ukraine. Metr Nicholas is very keen for us to have these contracts. He says it is especially important for us in our Metropolia, so that our different countries are bound together by bonds of spiritual love. This is why we have a meeting of all the abbesses of the Metropolia once every two years, in a different convent each time. The abbots from the Metropolia monasteries do the same. Metr Nicholas says the Church is a family and we must keep together and see each other, like a family.

Last year we had our meeting in Paris, during which Vladyka’s namesday fell, on 17 July. Thanks to the meetings we realise how different our situations are. For example, here we are very multinational, but the Convent in Germany is nearly all Russians and Ukrainians. In Portugal, they have three Brazilians and two Angolans, in Spain they helped set up the Convent in Peru and train a lot of Peruvian and Bolivian nuns. In England the Convent was founded from the USA and they have two Australian nuns. One of the Convents in France is half-Romanian, whereas we only have one Romanian, Sister Paisia. The new Convent in Denmark has two Norwegian novices and one Icelandic novice. And so the differences are enormous.

Sometimes we also have visits from hieromonks and monastic fathers. For example, last December Fr Columba came to us from his hermitage on Iona in Scotland. He is a fascinating man, a real ascetic, but also well-read. He knows the Psalter by heart – but more than that, he understands it and can interpret it too. He has read the Fathers.

He spoke to us in English, but our English sister translated into Italian. He said that for our Metropolia of Europe to be successful, we must, ‘Take the Napoleon out of the French, the Prussian out of the German and the British out of the English’. We all laughed when he said that last part because he is Irish and so he would say that! But Sister Elizabeth, who was interpreting and is English, reminded us how in the life of her patron, the martyred Grand Duchess, her parents were very upset when the Prussians forced unification on her native Hesse. Sister Ursula, who is German from Cologne, agreed and said that the Prussianisation of Germany was its downfall. With Prussianisation German people went from music and opera and culture and dancing to warfare in less than two generations.

I: Mother, could you leave us with a parting word, something edifying?

MP: Well, I think I would end with Fr Columba’s words, which echo the words of the Gospel. In other words, in order to live an Orthodox life, especially nowadays, when the masses are atheists, we have to take out the old man out of our old identities and know that, whatever our native language and whatever our origin and background, our unity is in the New Man, in Christ. While we are in the world, we are all a little spiritual Prussians and spiritual Napoleons and spiritual British, but we all have to get rid of that and become true Orthodox Christians. Only so can we live in Christ, and not live in the world.

I: Thank you, Mother Paraskeva.