Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Curse of Nice

Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St Nicholas, Nice (France)

For a very long time, the parish in Nice in the southeast of France was a lighthouse of Orthodoxy of the Russian Orthodox Exarchate in Western Europe (EP). Sadly, it has become a centre of provocations, disputes, disappointments, and fear in connection with the banning from communion of a well-respected parishioner. Excommunication from communion in the church is an extreme and exceptional measure. How did this happen?

This tragedy did not suddenly descend upon the parish. The chain of events started with the death of Bishop Roman Zolotov. His successor was forced to leave Nice after only a short period because of an unpleasant matter involving indecent affairs.

After the voluntary resignation of Bishop Pavel, Vladyki Sergei Konovalov appointed a congenial archpriest, Fr Vladimir Jagiello, giving him the mission of making peace and restoring trust in this injured parish. Over several months, parishioners wrote letters of praise and appreciation to the Exarchate, confirming the wisdom of the bishop’s actions. Indeed, Fr Vladimir did bring peace to the parish, he appointed able people to key positions, and transmitted to the Exarchate important legal documents concerned with the property of the parish. This included the long-term lease executed by Tsar Nikolai II through the local notary’s office, which stipulated the exact duration of the lease and precisely denoted the conditions concerning the property upon which the parish church was later built.

A special commission, which included an attorney and a notary, examined these documents and confirmed their legality. Soon after this, Archbishop Sergei passed away. His successor quickly announced his intent to appoint one of his confederates to this prestigious position, for Nice is the richest parish of the diocese. However, it was first necessary to remove Fr Vladimir. After getting wind of the archbishop’s plans, the parishioners sent him letters and petitions in order to retain their beloved rector. In spite of the ambiguous statements of the new archbishop, in spite of the bishop’s personal meetings with Fr Vladimir, who truly was beyond reproach, after a sharp exchange of letters and petitions to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the parish in Nice had to accept the appointment of Fr Johannes Heidt as its new rector.

Acting like St George, who slew the dragon, the loyal protégé of the bishop gutted the parish of St Nicholas on Boulevard Tsarevich in Nice, and he removed many of the parish officers appointed by his predecessor. The assistant clergy who attempted to establish peace, calm, and reasonable order were removed. They were expelled during Holy Week. Fr Lyusen, Fr Yaroslav, Fr Georgy, and there were others too, were removed for being “too Russian” and being too popular with the parishioners.

This “cleansing” occurred before the expiration of the long-term lease which gives the parish title to the property. It soon became clear that the situation concerning the lease would not be handled via a mutual agreement, but, it would be handled by the civil court. The new clergy converted the court case into a stormy campaign directed at Russia, which caused much upset amongst the leadership of the local Russian émigré organisations, which issued the following statement.

“We are disturbed by the disastrous consequences of the campaign in the press that some are directing against Russia, the beloved motherland of many of us… We oppose such an approach because, obviously, it is a cynical manoeuvre meant to confuse the French public. It is nothing but disinformation, similar to Soviet tactics from the period of the Cold War”.

However, these notorious new clergy began to lose faith in the effectiveness of their press campaign. They began to look for other ways to attain their ends. It seemed like each of them came up with their own idiosyncratic plan. As a result of a rather comprehensive inventory made of the sacred items at the Cathedral of St Nicholas in Nice, icons and crosses were found missing, which strangely reappeared after parishioners complained bitterly about their disappearance. The parish became a hotbed of constant rumours. People began talking openly of the irregular handling of the parochial finances and about the behaviour shown by the bishop’s favourites amongst the clergy.

These rumours were the result of the fear and scepticism of the parishioners towards the new clergy. The people did not see in them a respect for the teachings of the Orthodox Church, a faith that they received from their parents and relatives, a quality that they valued in Fr Vladimir. It goes without saying that the rumours quickly grew into exaggerations. It quickly became obvious that it was necessary that this vicious cycle had to broken somehow. There were two possible solutions. One was to listen to each other with love in Christ. The other was to pitilessly destroy the “enemy” by publicly smearing their reputation. Unfortunately, the latter course was chosen.

Their chosen victim was a well-respected elderly lady, who after vain attempts to right the matter privately, wrote an article in the newspaper Russkaya Mysl (Russian Thought). She was banned from receiving Holy Communion as a result. This unprecedented harshness not only shocked the Orthodox community in France, but, all over Europe as well. The clearly exaggerated nature of the punishment, which, moreover, was applied during Holy Week, the failure to hold a preliminary hearing, and the dubious and contradictory charges couched in lies and in perversion of the truth without the least presentation of proof, all this gave the impression that the action of Archbishop Gabriel was rash and disorderly.

We asked Orthodox theologians and canonists whether the punishment applied to Mme Plas for “an indefinite period” was appropriate to her actions. The reply was that such a sanction is used in Orthodoxy only in very rare cases, such as open blasphemy, apostasy, or intentional murder… If this punishment is applied to Mme Plas, it means that the present leaders of the diocese think that criticism directed against them is equivalent to the named offences. They did not inform the accused of the charges against her, and what they expected of her. They gave her no opportunity to explain herself, nor did they allow her to offer any justification for her actions. The parishioners of the parish (to say nothing of the faithful of the entire diocese) were not informed concerning this rare, and, truly, uncanonical procedure. The canons (Apostolic 74) prescribe that such unilateral punishment can only be imposed if the accused fails to appear before the appointed tribunal. However, there were no charges. There were no proofs given as to the accusation that Mme Plas openly lied. This means the open contempt shown for the common canonical procedure and the ignoring of the most elementary rules concerning the issuance of this decree renders this excommunication of Mme Plas null and void.

The unjustified excommunication of Mme Plas has converted a serious matter into a derisive Shakespearean tragicomedy. The effects of this general malaise are being felt beyond the limits of our diocese. This is multiplied because these events transpired during the Great Lent. A pall falls not only on those who committed so rash an act, but, also on the entire Exarchate. These are methods that were only used in the past by the Catholic Inquisition.

Understanding finally what “tsunami” has buffeted our beloved diocese, the archbishop now says he can re-examine his decision… but only if his innocence would be preserved?

Isn’t it truly his pride that is the cause of all this chaos?

6-12 June 2008

Vasili Tisenhausen

Former secretary of the Diocesan Council of the Orthodox Bishops of France

Member of the Editorial Board of the newspaper Russkaya Mysl (Russian Thought) (Paris)

Russkaya Mysl (Russian Thought) (Paris)

Quoted in Interfax-Relgion


Editor’s Note:

I kid you not… this photo came from a PRO-SCHMEMANN site… really! ADS was full of himself, wasn’t he… so are his successors in SVS and St Sergius… actually, they are twice as arrogant and half as intelligent, by gar!

The group spoken of in this article is the body that Alexander Schmemann came out of. In fact, many of the nasty tactics used against Mme Plas were used by Schmemann and his cronies in the OCA in their desire to crush all opposition to their fancies. Herman Swaiko continues to use such tactics; he is a good pupil of Alexander Schmemann.

Reflect on this. SVS LOVES the Paris Exarchate. It defends them through thick and thin. That means that they would not hesitate to use such methods against anyone considered a threat to their positions.

You have a choice. You can support OCA autocephaly, which means supporting the thuggish behavior exemplified in the Plas case, or, you can go home, where your Mother is waiting anxiously for you, your place at table is ready, and the warmth of a large family circle yearns for your presence.

Moscow is calling you home. There is no place like home…


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