The shocking news today, 31 August 2019, is that Archbishop Jean (Renneteau) of Rue Daru has been suspended by the Phanar. The latter appears to have finally lost leave of its senses, having replaced the Archbishop with the Archmodernist married priest Alexis Struve of the Fraternite Orthodoxe (and descendant of the Marxist Struve family, which helped overthrow the Tsar and the Christian Empire). This has scandalized everyone. However, let us recall better days at Rue Daru.
I must have met some hundred bishops in my life. Most were most definitely not saints, two perhaps were: Archbishop Antony of Geneva and Archbishop Antony of San Francisco. However, there were two others who I think were definitely saints: One was Metropolitan Laurus (Shkurla) and the other was Archbishop George (Tarasov). Curiously they both at one time had the same title: ‘of Syracuse’. The first had the title because he lived most of his life near the town of Syracuse in New York State, the other because he bore the title of the ancient Greek town in Sicily, which in 1820 gave its name to the Syracuse in New York State.
Much has been written in English about Metr Laurus, but little about Archbishop George. This latter, like the former, was a faithful bearer of the Russian Church Tradition, who strongly disliked novelties and loved Russian Orthodox piety. Archbishop George accepted everyone, of all nationalities and ages, as I can bear witness; he did not reject the non-intellectual, as some do, making clubs and cliques in tiny inward-looking ‘parishes’ and groups of celibate intellectuals, but equally he did not reject them. His heart was open to all – the clear sign of a saint, for all he wanted to do was to serve all who came and not some particular ethnic group or subculture.
George Tarasov (in the French transliteration Georges Tarassoff) was born in Voronezh in central European Russia on 14 April 1893. He studied at the Technical School in the city and then at the Higher Technical Institute in Moscow, where he graduated in chemical engineering. Later he studied aeronautics and in 1914 volunteered for the Imperial Air Force, which was then by far the largest air force in the world. His life changed in 1916. Aged 23, he was sent to the Western Front, with many other Russian military personnel, to help the faltering French war effort, as a pilot. After the 1917 betrayal of the Tsar, he remained on the Western Front, joining the Belgian Air Force reaching the rank of major.
Major George Tarasov was demobbed in 1919 and settled in Belgium, where he worked for various companies as a chemical engineer from 1921 to 1934. However, in 1922, aged 29, he married a Russian called Evgenia Freshkop. The photograph of her which he showed us was that of a very gentle and kind woman with softness and nobility in her face. She was a zealous Orthodox. I was later reminded of her on meeting in Paris the delightful matushka of Fr Sergij Chertkov, Ludmila Chertkova, who did so much to soften him, taking off the edges of her husband with her gentle smile and innocent charm.
On 25 March 1928, Georges Tarasov was ordained deacon by Metropolitan Eulogius, who had not yet broken with the Russian Church, and on 3 February 1930, Deacon George reluctantly accepted the priesthood. He was then aged 36. He was appointed rector of the parishes in Ghent and Louvain. However, two years later, he was tragically widowed. He always loved his wife and at the end of his life he would speak to us of her, showing that she had always remained his ideal. He lived for her and patiently waited to meet her on the other side in God’s own time.
In 1933 Fr George was tonsured monk. Seven years later, in 1940, he was appointed rector of St Panteleimon’s parish in Brussels, though he continued to serve other Belgian parishes also. He was an exceptionally zealous and loving pastor, his task was always to serve others. During the German Occupation he was arrested at least twice and one interrogation lasted ten hours non-stop. In Brussels he then came to take over the second parish of St Nicholas, whose rector had been deported to Berlin
In 1945, just before he died, Metropolitan Eulogius at last returned to the Russian Church. However, Fr George was forced to remain under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, as his distrusting parishioners refused to return. In 1948 Fr George was made an archimandrite by the new Rue Daru Metropolitan, Vladimir. Then on 4 October 1953 he was appointed Bishop for Belgium and Holland and the few Orthodox under Rue Daru in West Germany, with the title ‘of Syracuse’, though he continued to live in Brussels. Like Metr Eulogius, Metr Vladimir wanted to return to the Russian Church, but this was impossible for as long as the episcopate of that Church was held hostage by the militant atheist government of the Soviet Union.
After Metropolitan Vladimir died at the end of 1959, Fr George was appointed his successor, but received the rank only of archbishop, as Constantinople was downgrading the ever smaller Rue Daru group. Archbishop George continued to be a loving pastor, visiting his small and scattered archdiocese, and notably encouraged the use of French in services, even though he himself spoke it very badly. At the end of 1965, for purely political reasons, the very weak Patriarchate of Constantinople, politically manipulated, dropped the Rue Daru Archdiocese from its jurisdiction.
A month later, on 29 December, Archbishop George was forced by powerful laymen in Paris to proclaim the temporary independence of the Rue Daru Archdiocese. True, he could have returned to either part of the Russian Church, but he could not abandon his flock, who would not have returned with him, as had been the experience of Metr Eulogius in 1945. In the event, just over five years later, in January 1971, Constantinople repented and took back the Diocese.
Now there began a new trial: Archbishop George was increasingly persecuted by modernists and ecumenists from the ‘Fraternite Orthodoxe’, an anti-clerical, anti-monastic, anti-episcopal, mainly lay organization of protestantizing pseudo-intellectuals, many of them prosperous Parisian bourgeois or aristocrats. They would hiss at him at church, boo him and mock him quite openly, of which we are witnesses.
Archbishop George lived in poverty, his clothes bought for him by a faithful parishioner, Barbara Shpiganovich. He continued to serve the faithful, living and departed. One thing he took on himself was to pray for all the departed of his flock, as it was then dying out, and he had thousands and thousands of names. He would begin to commemorate them on Saturday evenings, praying for them far after midnight and then early on Sunday mornings. This was his Proskomidia.
The end of his life, ill and despised, living in his tiny flat and usually robed in a dressing gown, a St Seraphim of Sarov figure, found him in total poverty, with only photos of his past to remind him of happier times. Faithful to the traditions and piety of the Russian Church, he was rejected by the arrogant and persecuting modernists who had come to dominate Rue Daru and would later destroy it, forcing others to leave it. The intensely humble Archbishop George passed away on 22 March 1981 after a long illness. He was aged 87. His last message to his clergy and faithful was: ‘Tell them, I love them all’. His body lies in the crypt of the church of the Russian cemetery of Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, south of Paris.
I cannot forget my first encounter with Archbishop George nearly forty years ago, at the Feast of St Sergius on 8 October 1979. I did not know then that I would get to know him better and he would even attend my wedding the following year. Archbishop George was a faithful Russian Orthodox and although he was persecuted by the secularist elements in his flock, he was only waiting to return to a politically free Russian Church. Sadly, he did not live to see that. If he were alive today, there is absolutely no doubt that he would long ago have returned to the Russian Church, as his predecessors also wanted to do. His passing was the turning-point in the history of Rue Daru as after him it descended on the long and sorry path of its absurd Russophobia and so break-up.
To Archbishop George – Eternal Memory