Tag Archives: Missionary Work

The First 300 Years of Russian Orthodox Churches Outside Russia: 1617-1917


Although several Russian churches in Europe date back to well before the Russian victory over the atheist tyrant Napoleon and the liberation of Paris by Russian troops in 1814, ignorant and ethnocentric Western Europe only began to understand the reality of Russia then. The Russian Empire was not after all some kind of Asian khanate, but a fully-fledged modern Empire. Russian science and art flourished with names of world renown and the theological academies brought fame to the Russian Church, amazing obscurantist European scholarship. Although the treason of 1917 put an end to this, today, with freedom come, we are once more seeing Westerners taking a more enlightened attitude to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose presence among them now dates back 400 years.


The 1617 Peace Treaty established the legal status of a Russian priest in Stockholm’s Ryssgarden. Services were conducted in premises which merchants rented. A real and more or less permanent Russian church was founded in 1700, with a diplomatic representative in Sweden, and from then on services were conducted almost continuously. In 1684 an embassy mission to China opened. Church life began in Berlin in 1718. In 1721 a church opened in London. In 1727 the embassy in Paris started Orthodox services. That same year under Anna Petrovna, Grand Duchess of Holstein, a church was set up in Kiel and lasted until 1799. A church which lasted briefly was founded in Tokaj in Hungary in 1749.

From 1759 till 1765 there was a church in Königsberg. A church was set up in Madrid in 1760 and in Vienna in 1762. A church opened in Copenhagen in 1797. The Russian embassy in Constantinople (1802) marked the establishment of the church there. That same year two more churches were founded, one at the court of Ekaterina Antonovna, Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and the other in Üröm, near Budapest, the location of the burial vault of Alexandra Pavlovna, Palatine of Hungary and sister of Emperor Alexander I. In 1804 a church opened in Weimar and in 1808 in Ludwigslust (Mecklenburg-Schwerin). A church was founded in The Hague in 1816.


A church opened in Bern in 1817, later moving to Geneva. That same year a church opened in Teheran. The Stuttgart church was organized in 1819. The church in Rome was founded in 1823 and in Rothenburg (Kingdom of Wurtemberg) in 1824. Emperor Nicholas I sent an ambassador to newly liberated Greece and a Russian church was set up in Athens. In 1844 churches were set up in Naples and Wiesbaden. In 1847 Archimandrite Porfiry (Uspensky) opened the Mission in Jerusalem. A church was set up in Amsterdam in 1852, Baden-Baden in 1858 and Nice in 1859. Two churches were set up in 1862, in Brussels and Dresden, and in 1865 in Karlsruhe and in 1867 in Pau in France. In the following year churches in Karlsbad and Florence were built. In 1870 the mission to Japan began under the future St Nicholas of Tokyo.

In 1874 a church opened in Prague. There was a church in Coburg-Gotha from 1874 to 1905. In 1876 a church was set up in Bad Ems and in 1878 in Vevey in Switzerland. The church in Marienbad opened in 1882. An Orthodox community opened in Argentina in 1888. A church was set up in Franzenbad in 1889, in Biarritz in 1890 and in Menton in France in 1892 and in Merano in Italy in 1897. Two Church missions were founded in 1897 ─ one in Urmia in Persia and the other in Seoul in Korea. In 1898 a church was built in San Stefano, near Constantinople, and in the following year in Darmstadt and in Homburg. Three churches were founded in 1901 ─ in Hamburg, Herbersdorf (Silesia) and Kissingen. Finally, by 1910 there were churches in Sofia and Budapest. Several churches were attached to the main ones in cities like Berlin, Constantinople and Nice.


Thus, by 1894 the Synod and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs oversaw 51 churches with 96 clergy and during the reign of the Tsar-Martyr, this increased to 56 churches. In addition, in 1912 the United States Diocese had 286 churches, while the Japanese Mission had 266 communities, the Beijing Mission fifteen, the Urmian Mission seven and the Korean Mission one. Since the flood of refugees from atheism after 1917, hundreds more churches have opened, and not counting the thousand or so in autonomous Japan and China and in autocephalous Poland, the Czech Lands and Slovakia and North America, the total in 2017 is about one thousand, all dependent either on Moscow or on the Church Outside Russia, now based in New York.

(Our thanks to Deacon Andrei Psarev for information supplied for this article)

Ten More Russian Orthodox Churches for the East of England?

Many of us Orthodox who were born in Western Europe in the twentieth century look to the future with hope – but to the past with despair. With hope because we believe in miracles, with despair because the past was the land of a lack of vision, foresight and leadership. It is due to this that the Church all over Western Europe is now suffering from a catastrophic lack of infrastructure. In England, for example, the only Orthodox bishop who established solid infrastructure was the bureaucratic Greek Archbishop of Athenagoras: what a pity that he compromised Orthodoxy…The result of that is that the parishes he founded are now emptying as his clergy and people have largely failed to pass on the unique Faith to the succeeding generations – like so many Russians before him.

I remember in the 1970s listening to an utterly sterile debate at the St Sergius Institute in Paris about whether it was better for a bishop to be ‘a good administrator’ or ‘a man of prayer’. Of course, the answer is that he must be both – any division is purely artificial, why ever should the two qualities be mutually exclusive? One who is only a good administrator, a bureaucrat, has little spiritual and pastoral understanding and his parishes sooner or later die out; one who is only a man of prayer has no administrative skills and chaos results. Thus, St John of Shanghai was both; no-one doubts that he was a spiritual man of prayer and a good pastor, but he also built two huge cathedrals on two different continents, established an orphanage, convents, parish churches, served, ordained, trained, wrote, organized…

I cannot speak for all of England, still less for all of Western Europe, in specific geographical detail, but I do know from other Russian Orthodox who regularly write to me from France, Finland, Norway, Ireland, Sweden, Scotland, Portugal, Spain and Austria that we all desperately need churches, priests and choirs, let alone the dream of Orthodox schools (the Catholics have them…). However, in my corner of the East of England, about a quarter of the country, which I know well, I know from parishioners, whom I have visited and who travel to us from over a hundred miles away and more for confessions, communions, baptisms, weddings and the rest, that we need churches, priests and choirs. Where are the needs that so scandalously are not being met?

Essex and Norfolk are now catered for; there are large and accessible towns with some sort of permanent churches and centres. Now, please God, grant us the money and we will found the ten more churches needed in each county or area of this region, 100 miles from east to west and 200 miles from north to south, and with their possible dedications, in:

Hastings (Sussex) – dedicated to the Resurrection, in remembrance of all those who died defending Orthodox England nearby.

Canterbury (Kent) – dedicated to Christ the Saviour, as was done in the sixth century.

Stratford (East London) – dedicated to the Royal Martyrs, who will help the teeming tens of thousands of Orthodox immigrants who have arrived at the railway station there from Europe and live around it, seeking housing, work and happiness after their homelands have been ravaged by the EU.

St Albans (Hertfordshire) – dedicated to St Alban, a church which would also cater for all those in the north of London.

Bedford (Bedfordshire) – dedicated to the Holy Trinity, in rejection of the heresy of the local Cromwell, who had no understanding of the Incarnation and the Holy Spirit and and so became a genocidal maniac and iconoclast.

Cambridge (Cambridgeshire) – dedicated to the Three Holy Hierarchs, as this is a University city.

Bury St Edmunds (Suffolk) – dedicated to All Saints (which includes St Edmund).

Peterborough (the Fens) – dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul.

Lincoln (Lincolnshire) – dedicated to the Birth of the Mother of God and St Paulinus.

York (Yorkshire) – dedicated to Sts Constantine and Helen, since St Constantine was proclaimed Emperor there over 1,700 years ago.

Will it ever happen? I don’t know. A dream? Yes, but, as the Good Book says, ‘without vision the people die’. O ye of little faith, we live in hope, for our God is the God Who works wonders.

Patriarch Kyrill in China

Twenty five years ago the largest country in the world, the Soviet Union, began to throw off official atheism, allowing the Russian Orthodox Church to celebrate publicly the 1,000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. Is it possible that today, a generation later, the most populous country in the world, China, will also throw off official atheism, at last giving freedom to the Chinese Orthodox Church to operate there?

Today, 10 May 2013, Patriarch Kyrill has arrived in China and been in talks with the Chinese President. During his visit he will celebrate the liturgy in Orthodox churches and meet senior Chinese officials. The Patriarch’s press service told the RIA-Novosti news agency, ‘Our First Hierarch will meet government leaders in China, leaders of religious groups, and also Chinese officials responsible for religious affairs”. During his five-day visit, the Patriarch will serve at the Cathedral of the Protecting Veil in Harbin and meet Orthodox from China at the Russian Embassy in Beijing’.

The Russian Mission in China stretches back to the seventeenth century; by 1949 over 100 Orthodox Churches existed in China. However, after Communist China was established, the USSR signed agreements with the new government that it would transfer jurisdiction over those churches to the Communists and effectively they were closed. The Chinese Orthodox Church became autonomous in 1956, ending the Russian Mission. Today, although there are thirteen active parishes in the country, their activities are strictly limited. However, China, part of the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, may now at last be opening itself to take part in the worldwide mission of Russian Orthodoxy.