The Russian Orthodox Diaspora:
Archpriest Nikolai Artemoff
Munich August 2015
Archpriest Sergei Plekhov, the rector of the Parish of St Alexander Nevsky in Copenhagen wanted to publish a book about the community, but found that he lacked certain information. When he asked me what I knew about the church life in Copenhagen, I realised that I could not remember all the details of my Copenhagen ministry. I did however remember about my pocket diaries from those years and ventured into the basement where I believed they might be stored. When I found them, I was amazed by the level of detail entered in day by day. I had forgotten that I once used to be organised like this (the electronic diary I am using at the moment doesn’t inspire one to make such detailed entries). The images of past events were coming back to mind once again. In 2012, during my summer holidays, I wrote up a historically-accurate account of those days, based on the notes in the diaries.
The extent of this account exceeded even my own expectations. Although, it was far too lengthy to be used in the Copenhagen Parish book, it seemed a shame just to discard it and so the text was preserved. Deacon Andrei Psarev, my colleague since 1989, read this account and asked to have it published. For a long time, I couldn’t get round to editing the text, but now, here goes …
Archpriest Nikolai Artemoff
St. Alexander Nevsky church on Bredgade 53. Its interior and exterior demonstrate the same imperial splendor as St. Alexander Nevsky church in Jerusalem (1896) or Holy Trinity Cathedral’s in Buenos Aires (1901). Photo by Bishop Agapit
St. Alexander Nevsky church on Bredgade 53. Its interior and exterior demonstrate the same imperial splendor as St. Alexander Nevsky church in Jerusalem (1896) or Holy Trinity Cathedral’s in Buenos Aires (1901). Photo by Bishop Agapit
I first drove up to Copenhagen together with bishop Mark. We left Munich on 9th June 1987 and stayed the night at the parish house in Hamburg. On 10 June, over tea on the ferry, Vladyka Mark explained that the situation in the parish had become untenable; unravelling it proved extremely difficult and it would be better to bring in a disinterested party. Vladyka gave no more details. The parish priest at that time was Fr Dimitry Makarov who was somehow connected with France.
Prior to Fr Dimitry, the parish was served by Fr Alexey Maklakov. He and his wife were Americans, and he even changed his surname to sound more Russian. Before his transfer to Copenhagen, Fr Alexey served in Rome and the transfer of the Roman parish to the Paris jurisdiction happened precisely under him – there was some unfortunate incident or other.
If I remember correctly, Fr Alexey was sent to Copenhagen to replace Fr Miodrag Glisic who was transferred to Baden-Baden in December 1985 (he is serving there even now). I remember that at one point Archimandrite Theodore (Golitsyn) used to go there but that was before my time.
In Copenhagen, Vladyka Mark and I took part in a meeting at the home of Tatiana Sergeevna Mainers (Ladyzhenskaya) attended also by some younger parishioners, mainly women – Nila Ramaya, Olga Zorina, Maria Kongor and others. The discussion was all about the current difficulties with the priest. Next day, on 11.06, we celebrated an early Liturgy and then had some rest. This was followed by a conversation with Fr Dimitry and the parish treasurer, a man of Greek extraction called Nikolas Politopoulos, known more succinctly in Danish as Politop. After lunch we had the torturous parish council meeting which went on according to my notes, from 15.00 to 21.45. Taking part were Tatiana Sergeevna and Feodor Ladyzhensky and also, I think, Andrei Nazarov (the then husband of N. Ramaya) and Maria Kongor, although I can be wrong. The meeting was truly torturous and was rapidly turning into a row. There was much confusion but everyone’s feelings were nevertheless very strong. Fr Dimitry was very rude and curt and attempted to threaten the meeting with refusing to serve. I was very shocked by this; later I was told that Fr Dimitry used to be an actor (or had simply worked in the theatre). Theatrical background often goes hand in hand with excitability; maybe that was the reason for his extreme irritability and emotion? In any case, it was clear to me that nothing constructive could be gained from this relationship.
You can see how exhausting this trip was; we had supper and went to bed at 1 am, and by 4.15 am were already on the road home. Vladyka Mark is used to this kind of schedule, but I really wanted to sleep and bit more, which was why we left 15 minutes later than planned. We drove so fast that at 17.15 we were already drinking coffee in my house. And you have to remember that there was no bridge then - we made the crossing by ferry.
As a result of this trip and the associated upset, it was decided that I would travel to Copenhagen on a regular basis and serve there. Since the Exaltation of the Cross 1986, I was also attached to the parish in Berlin. The communist regime in East Germany meant that a Russian emigrant like myself could only travel to Berlin by plane. I began to fly on alternate weeks to Berlin and Copenhagen for which reason I was quickly nicknamed “Aero-priest” by Archdeacon Agapit (now Bishop of Stuttgart).
My first trips to Copenhagen, however, were by train. I left on 29.07.1987 and travelled via my other parishes in Nuremberg, Erlangen and Bad Kissingen where I visited some parishioners. We spent the night in Hamburg, at the home of Fr Benedict Lomann, a German who had at one time also served in Copenhagen.
We arrived in the afternoon of Friday 31.07 and checked into the Viking Hotel where we had stayed with Vladyka Mark before. There was a vigil for the feast of St Seraphim of Sarov, and the liturgy on Saturday morning. Staying at the hotel for the four of us was proving awkward so arrangements were made for us to be moved to the basement of the parish house. That first week passed in organizing the necessary repairs to the roof and many other parish matters. It was then that I first came across Ole Ostergaard, known as Toto, who was the government church liaison officer. T.S Ladyzhenskaya enjoyed a very close relationship with him, as she did with many people. Her personality combined the simplicity of northern, seafaring manners with an aristocratic directness, and the parish house positively buzzed with energy whenever she appeared. She had a statuesque figure, a broad smile on her long “English” face (albeit covered with copious amounts of cosmetics) and a low sonorous voice. Her energy was infectious. She had grown up in Denmark and felt herself completely at home there. She, therefore, became a natural intermediary and a tremendous help in our dealings with the local authorities. It was also she who insisted that the parish should change allegiances, moving from the Paris jurisdiction to the Church Abroad under Vladyka Philotheos (Narko). This was how matters stood when Vladyka Mark assumed office.
Our life in the basement with two children (Juliana was 8 and Barbara 4) was hardly romantic but had some original touches. We lived next to the kitchen whose sink could not be used because the drains were blocked. There was a lot of scurrying around of rats along the exposed water pipes on the kitchen ceiling too. The children had no idea. You couldn’t exactly call the basement cosy, dry or warm either, but our family still managed to live there quite happily, helped along by the offers of food from parishioners. Apart from the priest’s apartment, the library and the “the Royal Room” (so called because it housed royal portraits and the bust of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas) all the accommodation on the upper floor was rented out. The corner rooms were occupied by the “Oversettelse Bureau” (a translation agency). The tiny toilet was next door; we shared this facility with the translators, climbing up to it from our basement as inconspicuously as possible. This was also where we washed – at the tiny washbasin – before the translators began working at about 8 am. The translators were ferocious smokers and their smoke invariably seeped into the basement. A great treat was being able to take a shower in the homes of Olya Zorina or Andrei and Nila and my wife Natasha remembers to this day the pleasure of going to Laundromat where the attempted to wash away the perpetual mustiness of our bed linen.
After the first week, we moved into a little apartment near the sea at Tisvildeleje. F. S. L. took good care of us and drove us there in his own car. From then on, I was celebrating every weekend and also on feast days […]
Soon after our arrival, Olga Zorina began organizing choir practices. The singers were Masha Kongor, and the two Danish women, Katarina and Solveig (F.S.L’s wife). Later, more Danes joined: there is a record of a certain Silleman.
At this point, pastoral work began in earnest. I conducted molebens and panikhidas, visited parishioners, blessed new homes and took communion to the sick. We also had a wedding (at the conclusion of the Dormition fast) and served a service of intercession for the health of Father Archimandrite Theodor who had suddenly fallen ill. He was much loved in Copenhagen, but a day later we learnt that he passed away in Wiesbaden where he was then serving. [...]
At the end of August 1987, Fr Dimitry made an unexpected appearance. He spent two or three days in Copenhagen and his behavior was rather strange. He slammed doors, made a lot of noise and talked to himself loudly, scaring our kids. Naturally, he was annoyed by my arrival as this meant that his campaign had backfired. I had one conversation with him in which he vented his frustration. After that, he disappeared for good – to the South of France, I believe.
Following that summer in Denmark, I began to travel to Copenhagen every fortnight. My family joined me for the summer two years running. We also travelled by train on New Year’s Eve and stayed until Christmas. We no longer lived in the basement; after Fr Dimitry’s departure, I was offered the little apartment beneath the altar which he had occupied.
My relationship with the Ladyzhesky brother and sister was in general very warm. I described T.S earlier. As far as her brother, Feodor Sergeevich was concerned, he was a man of extremely subtle sense of humor. This is not to say that his sister had none; she also had a sense of humor – sometimes rather a caustic one, but generally benign. What distinguished him from his sister was his demeanor; he conducted himself in a very peaceful and collected manner. It was usually he who collected me from the airport and dropped me back. Because of our close relationship, I was asked to receive his Danish wife into Orthodoxy and so Solveig became Alexandra in memory of the martyred tsaritsa. They have a daughter, Natasha.
When I first came to Denmark, I tried to increase my parish visiting circuit to include those who used to come to church but had now stopped. This was motivated by their disapproval of the jurisdictional change from Paris to the ROCOR. I was able to reconcile at least some of them to the change. [...] There was also a small group of Danes who still belonged to the Paris jurisdiction and were suspicious of the ROCOR. I tried to reassure them the ROCOR had a firm intention to establish parish life.
Mostly, my pool of new parishioners was among the new arrivals from Russia. I used the recently-designed enrolment form to make up the parish list in order to convene a parish assembly in due course. In time, we had 60 enrolled members. (The parish assembly, according to all the rules of the Statutes, took place much later, when Hieromonk Alexij von Biron had assumed charge. I would have to check exactly when it happened and whether Archbishop Mark assumed the chair.)
Olga Zorina began to conduct the choir. We found some singers. One, Nila Ramaya was particularly keen. I used to call her an ‘Indo-German’ because her father was an Indian man who had emigrated from the USA to the USSR in the 1930s out of love for communism and her mother was German, already living there. Nila herself (Neonila in baptism) was a film director who failed to return to the USSR after a tour, claiming political asylum in 1979. She was a wonderful person but should never have been allowed to sing. In the end, Nila was not offended by being turned away from the choir; although she grumbled at first, she soon became a very enthusiastic church reader. Rita Rasmussen used to sing in the choir. She was a piano tuner and very musical. (She recently died from cancer – may she rest in the Kingdom of Heaven!)
After all the recent upheavals, the parish life was starting up again. I grew to love this church and the parishioners very much. After services, we used to have parish teas accompanied by talks in the “Royal Room”. The parish library next door (Andrei Nazarov) housed a most interesting collection of books and journals.
In time, I learnt to say a few litanies and read the Gospel in Danish, although I still conversed with the people in English. I was most surprised, however, that the Danes insisted they understood me when I attempted to read the Gospel in Danish. I could hardly get my tongue round the words taught to me by Solveig (Alexandra) Ladyzhenskaya and Theodor Beuck and my other teachers.
Nativity and the Christmas Party 1988. Theophany
The Nativity services fell over Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. As I said earlier, I was in the parish with my family. My notes state that on the preceding Saturday (02.01) I celebrated the vigil at 17.10 with no congregation, just the choir. That was the sort of vigils we used to have. [...]
At that time, I was busy compiling the parish list and used it to send out the invitations to the Christmas party. This party traditionally took place in another building in a different part of the city, as the parish did not have a suitable venue of its own. The Nativity Liturgy itself was uneventful but on the second day, attended by a small congregation, I baptized Boris Jordan. The baptism took place within the liturgy proper, as we sometimes did it in Munich (a very beautiful rite). Then, at 8.01 pm we boarded the train, and arrived in Munich on Saturday morning.
On Sunday, 17.01 we held the Copenhagen parish Christmas Party. As usual, there was a performance by the children who in turn received gifts.
The men drank “Absolut”, a drink much valued in Denmark and whose potency can rival Russian vodka. I am convinced that it was the consumption of this beverage that resulted in the heated debate outside the church where I found myself in company of Sasha Esliman, an excellent pianist, together with “Maxim/Nelly et al.” at the conclusion of the official part of the celebrations. They were clamoring to continue the discussion inside, whereas I was adamant that, under the circumstances, the church doors should remain locked. Their disappointment fuelled an impassioned speech on the subject of believers’ rights, equality and brotherhood of all men in the light of the higher Truth. I had to stand firm for the sake of the same higher Truth. This said, I remained as well-disposed to my companions as before, though I wouldn’t vouch the same was true for them. Still, what can one do?
My notes claim that the Royal Hours and the Liturgy of St Basil the Great with the blessing of water were celebrated on Monday 18.01. Olya Zorina and Sergei Mikhailovich (see below) are identified as respectively the reader and the singer for those services.
I visited the home of Oleg Khristianovich an old parishioner and a friend of my parents and gave him Holy Communion. Most probably he was also a member of the NTS, just like F.S. Ladyzhevsky; (in any case they were the Danish distributors of Posev and Grani ). Before the vigil, I managed to bless a few homes, belonging to those parishioners who did not require any complicated advanced arrangements other than to be told of the approximate time of my visit. These house blessings revealed a peculiarity of the Danish character, which I had not considered before. In Germany, I was used to visiting parishioners’ homes quite informally; sometimes that’s how I made my first acquaintance with somebody. Upon learning the whereabouts of an Orthodox household, I would drive up, ring the bell and, when admitted, would serve a short moleben and sprinkle my future parishioners’ dwellings with holy water. I was told from the start that this approach would not work in Denmark. People here expected to be warned of any visit by telephone at least three days in advance. I duly took note. My “blessing record” in Germany was 24 homes in one day; in Denmark this was out of the question and would have been regarded as breaking all social norms. I was happy then to have been able to visit just a few of my closest parishioners between the services. Later, after giving due notice and with the gracious leave of the hosts, I was able to bless a few more, thereby gaining a number of new parishioners from among those recently arrived in Denmark. A word got round that one could get an Orthodox to come by and bless your apartment. The organization of this process was taken up by T.S who coordinated all visits by telephone. These are the figures for the blessings performed: 2nd day of Theophany – 11; 3rd -20. On Friday 22.01, I could only leave the church after lunch and the blessings for that day stood at 8. A truly joyous record!
Pascha 1988, 9/10 April (new style)
Soren_Kierkegaard (d. 1855)
lived in Bredgade 70 just
a few blocks away from church
As the first (and as it turned out my only) Pascha in Copenhagen approached, I began to wonder more and more about the logistics of the paschal procession. I was told that normally those who wished to join the procession, left the church by descending the stairs and coming out into the yard. This was no means the whole congregation. There was a ready explanation for this reluctance to process. The procession followed a truly meaningless route. The people would leave the church via the staircase and then proceed into the yard through the imposing wrought iron gates mounted with double-headed eagles. Few more steps would take them behind the building and a dead-end, at which point the procession would be forced to turn back on itself and return to the church by the same route up the stairs. This senseless route, coupled with the inevitable bottleneck at the turning point, ensured minimal congregational participation. The procession was seen as irrelevant and cumbersome, notwithstanding the mighty double-headed eagles overlooking the imposing entrance.
Moreover, I was told in no uncertain terms that the service must be finished by midnight to allow everyone to get home. This meant a 9.30 pm start and many abbreviations to the service. The winning argument to all of this was “tradition”: this was apparently how it had always been done.
Tradition or not, but at this point I began to rebel. At the same time, a general surge of unrest was continually washing up different factions before me, each one with their own set of demands. At first I only listened. Then, while still not arguing back, I made up my mind: I wasn’t going to put up with any of this. The more they argued, the bolder I became. Presently, I began my own negotiations about the time of the service. There was no way I was going to violate Church canons and begin the Paschal Liturgy before midnight!
Finally, I stated plainly that such an early Paschal Liturgy cannot and will not happen. Everything will be done according to the church order. At first, T.S. Ladyzhenskaya insisted that no one would attend, but she soon came round. In fact, I had the distinct impression that she was sympathetic to my cause. Some of my new parishioners were also supportive. In the end, the parish council resolved to insist that the Paschal Liturgy be celebrated at the proper time.
As far as the procession was concerned, I decided to test a new route at the bringing out of the Holy Shroud. The parish has two shrouds. I continued to be obstreperous and wanted to bring out the Shroud, which is never carried out. This shroud was particularly beautiful, its raised surface embroidered with gold thread. Normally, at the Paschal Midnight office, it is censed and carried from its position in the center of the church into the altar at the conclusion of the 9th Ode of the Canon. It is then placed upon the Holy Table where it remains for all the liturgies until the end of Pascha. Of course, in the end, I couldn’t risk placing the Chalice and the Diskos on this raised surface, so was forced to return the Shroud to its usual location, the glass-topped “tomb” in the body of the church. Instead, I celebrated upon the other, flatter and simpler Shroud, also beautifully embroidered with silver thread, which had already been on the Holy Table for the purpose.
There were other reforms. Traditionally, the banners were never taken outside in the procession; it was believed that the poles were too heavy to be carried and too firmly fastened to be removed. As we had a number of strong young parishioners, this problem was satisfactorily resolved. New poles were obtained and attached to the banners. [...]
The Copenhagen processional cross was something special. Enormous and made of silver, it bore the inscription that it had been presented to the parish by Metropolitan Isidore (St Petersburg) for the consecration of the church. The cross was to be carried by Theodor Beuck, a Northern German from Flensburg who was our regular visitor and supporter. In the course of the Burial Service, as the procession turned back on itself, Theodor Beuck stumbled and developed a hernia which had to be surgically repaired after Pascha. At the Paschal procession, the cross was carried by Nega Beraki, the Ethiopian-born husband of Olga Zorina.
I so remember these days of preparation. By Pascha, I was completely exhausted; we were so few and there was so much that had to be done!
I still couldn’t reconcile myself to having the Paschal procession wind its way into a dead-end and then having to turn round and walk back towards the crowd – even if the way did lie through the magnificent gates topped with the symbolic eagles. So, on Great Friday, at the end of the service and all the confessions, I left the church and began walking around the block testing the route for our Paschal procession. The streets were lined with shops but were quiet. The pavement on the square by the Sankt Ansgars Kirke had been dug up (they were repairing water or gas pipes); nevertheless, the route was quite suitable for a procession, though certainly not a threefold one. I timed my journey and this was acceptable too. I think, I telephoned Ladyzhensky that very night and informed him that this was the route we would be taking on the night of Pascha. He protested violently; he insisted that in any case the police would have to be informed and it was far too late to do so now. I had to be firm in my response. The procession would be confined to the pavement and would not obstruct traffic, which, in the middle of the night, was in any case minimal in this peacefully dormant Northern city. If he felt the police still needed to know, that was up to him, but come Pascha, I would be leading the procession along this very route.
I also needed to arrange something like the Holy Fire in Jerusalem, that is, to make sure the only source of light came from the altar. I explained this to the parishioners on the eve of the feast, and then again to the assembled people on the Paschal night. I also reiterated that everyone was expected to join the procession; the church doors would be locked and only the infirm would be able to stay back.
These innovations were not very welcome by my more venerable parishioners, but somehow, even they put up with my “idiosyncrasies” in the end. At that time, I was still young and enthusiastic and used humor to smooth over difficulties. I don’t know how successful this was, but it made the whole business easier for me.
We had more than 600 people for Pascha. I can be certain about this, because of the practice, peculiar to the Copenhagen parish, of insisting that each member of the congregation buy a special ‘Paschal’ candle at the door of the church. This candle was no different from the ones sold inside, except you could only buy the one, the rest had to be bought upstairs. Thanks to this crafty arrangement, you could tell exactly how many people attended. A wonderful parish tradition!
We had a marvelous midnight procession. The church was successfully plunged into darkness except for the lit icon lamps. I lit the servers’ candles from my trikirion and then, after exiting the sanctuary, they began to distribute the light to the people. Virtually everyone came out for the procession, and the door was shut behind them. As we stepped onto the pavement, we were met by a large crowd already waiting on the road.
I remember how we descended the imposing marble staircase onto the street and turned left. Olga Zorina’s husband, the lean and curly-haired Ethiopian called Nega Beraki was charged with carrying the processional cross (as Theodor Beuck was no longer able to do this) At this point he suddenly hoisted the cross onto his left shoulder and, taking enormous strides, began to move away from the procession at a rapid pace. I immediately recalled that the best marathon runners were invariably Ethiopian and began to shout, “Nega, Nega, stop!”
At first, Nega paid no attention to my shouts and I was about to send a server to fetch him. Then he understood what was amiss and came back. I quickly showed Nega how to carry a cross and, accompanied by the hymn “ Thy resurrection, O Christ our Savior, the angels sing in heaven. Vouchsafe that we on earth may also glorify Thee with a pure heart ” we resumed our procession in a peaceful and dignified manner.
A contemporary view of Bredgade St.
Bredgade (in Danish it’s pronounced so differently from its spelling that you’d never guess what it is) is a quiet street with hardly any shops, except the laundromat so beloved by my wife, but on the way back to the church we were walking along lit-up shop windows. It was an impressive sight. Just imagine: it’s midnight, a deserted road on the right, brightly lit-up shop windows on the left and no pedestrians except for us walking steadily to the singing of the hymn “ Thy resurrection, O Christ our Savior… ” My brothers and fellow-celebrants (Hieromonk Alexij Biron and Fr Sergey Plekhov) later confirmed that the Paschal procession in Copenhagen has kept to this route from that day forward.
It was during that Holy Week that Stephanos, our Greek parishioner taught me to sing the Paschal troparion in Greek “Christos anesti ek nekron … ” and I sing it to this day.
The Paschal services were very solemn and joyful despite my complete exhaustion; because of all the preparations, I was only able to lie down for an hour beforehand. There was no deacon either, so I had to do everything by myself. I had to develop my voice too, because the churches I was used to celebrating in Munich were small, as was also the cathedral. That Pascha I said the litanies in Church Slavonic, Greek, Danish and English and the reading of the Gospel was multilingual too. Before the service, I set out all the colorful phelonia we had and changed them after each litany. One phelonion was made from a particularly heavy brocade stitched with metal thread, more suitable for vesting the holy table than a person. Its distinctive feature was the pattern of swastikas all over the fabric, a shocking sight for someone who had grown up in Germany where all Nazi symbolism is prohibited by law. I had to keep reminding myself that these vestments were made way back in the 19th century. By the way, the wall paintings at the royal chapel in Darmstadt depict the swastika, a design like the swastika but with the ends of the crosses pointing in the opposite direction. The swastika, however, is quite different in looks and proportion from the swastika, whereas the vestment was covered with this all-too-familiar design from the 1930-40s. Only the red/green/gold color combination distinguished this ancient Indian sun symbol from its sinister Aryan-German counterpart.
I can’t remember whether I had the full complement of twelve phelonia, but by the end of the service I was aglow with the joy of Pascha, as well as the effort of the constant vesting and unvesting. In my enthusiasm, I addressed the congregation loudly in a number of languages (including Serbian which I had learnt for my theological studies in Belgrade); “Holy Communion will be given only to those who have been to confession in the last few days. No Communion without confession! We are going to sing the Paschal hours now so there is still time to come to confession!”
You can imagine first my surprise and then mild despair when some thirty men and women immediately formed themselves into a line – Macedonian, every one of them. In fact, they had only a hazy notion of what confession was. The men in particular considered themselves to be good and decent Christians and were disconcerted by the efforts of “Uncle Pop” to convince them otherwise. Why would he want to do that? They put up a valiant fight and declared their complete innocence, but little by little I managed to explain what was wrong with extolling your virtue in confession. I was running out of time, or I could have said more. This was our Pascha of 1988!
Baptisms, as is well known, must be performed by triple immersion. This was a pertinent issue when I began to baptize adults. I had already encountered this problem in Munich and solved it successfully. When I had my first adult baptism (mother and daughter), I took a trip to the local rubbish dump which had an abundance of old bath tubs. There, I selected the best-looking one, its enamel covering intact and brought it to the church. This was an ordinary, heavy metal tub. To secure it, I had a special wooden frame constructed, which was then covered with a fabric “skirt”, made from an old sheet. That’s all very easy when you are on your “home turf”. I had never visited a Danish rubbish dump and have not to this day. In addition, the Danes don’t make much use of bath tubs. It’s considered enough to have a shower attached to one of the walls in your tiny bathroom with a plug hole for water in the corner of the tiled floor – this was certainly all I had. Still, I managed the deed with the help of some kind people, notably F.S. Ladyzhevsky, who, smiling modestly, procured a square bathtub. It was made of plastic, had four sturdy feet a step for sitting on the inside. This became our adult baptismal font. The first to be baptized in it was Boris Jordan, mentioned earlier. He was Bulgarian and remained in the Copenhagen parish for a long time afterwards. Perhaps he is there still.
The brotherhood of
St. Job of Pochaev monastery
in 1990. Novice Laurence is at
the very right of the first row
I was very interested in our church bells, which had not been rung for a long time. We had tried to work something out and even rang them a few times, which must have been heard at the palace. This last factor made me wonder whether the bell tower construction could be improved upon.
On the eve of the Transfiguration 1988, the bells before the vigil were tolled by Kolya Kongor (according to the diary entry). In the afternoon of the feast itself, a man walked into the church. His name was Lars Pedersen and he was a joiner. He had read the Church Fathers, which made him want to find the Orthodox Church. Later on in Munich, I baptized him with the name of Laurence, in honor of the martyred Roman deacon, at the St Job of Pochaev Monastery, which he then entered as a novice. Three years later, Laurence (Lars) returned to Denmark as a layman after spending some time on Athos and in Serbia. He remained Orthodox, however, and visited the church occasionally. Twelve years on, he presented a letter of repentance and intended to start coming to church again. However, he was already gravely ill with diabetes. One day, his sister, unable to get through to Lars on the telephone, went to the house where he was found dead, slumped at his desk in front of the computer. I so remember our first meeting back then, on the feast of the Transfiguration; we spent a long time talking about Orthodoxy and I was impressed both with his knowledge and the breadth of his reading. Then, afterwards, we went up to the belltower and discussed better ways of arranging the bells. After all, Lars was a joiner. As a result of that visit, we made improvements to the belfry and used the bells more effectively.
Another amusing anecdote in connection with that plastic baptismal font was also in the summer of 1988. After the end of the Liturgy, T.S. Ladyzhevskaya introduced me to a man by the name of Artemov and wondered whether we could be related. I replied immediately that we could not. On being asked how I could know so definitively, I said that it was very simple. In 1945, my father, in fear of a forced repatriation to the Soviet Union falsified his name, place and date of birth. His real name was Zaitsev whereas the new surname was a homage to his great-grandfather, a barrel-maker named Artemy. Artemy Zaitsev had travelled to Tyrnovo for oak, fell in love with a local girl and settled there for good. A Zaitsev clan was then established in Tyrnovo of the Ryazan District. However, I am the first and be the last “Artemov” offspring in the Zaitsev clan; my own daughters will have different surnames (and so they do now). So everything was cleared up: the stranger was not a relative but “a prototype” as it were. We had a laugh about that too.
The Artemovs were in Copenhagen for some sailing competition. The young couple came in with two friends. Over tea and conversation, it turned out that out of the four of them, two had not been baptized. We began talking about sacraments and ended up preparing for baptism. After 10 pm, we filled the baptismal bath for Natalya Artemova and Alexandra Shkurenkova (as I recall). We finished everything by midnight. After midnight, as if on Pascha, I gave the newly-illumined Holy Communion from the reserved Gifts. The register of baptisms states: Artemov performed the baptism and Natalia Artemova (my wife) stood as a sponsor for Natalia Artemova. If it weren’t for the Russian patronymics, this statement would have looked completely incomprehensible.
The same bath was used to baptise I.D., a blue-eyed Danish woman with long wavy hair. This was not a midnight baptism; when the newly-baptised woman stepped out from the font in her white gown, light shone all around.
A year before that she suffered an attempted rape in the course of which she sustained knife wounds to her throat and stomach. She was hitchhiking through Germany – even in the dark, but the Lord preserved her. The driver who had picked her up at night complained of tiredness and pulled over at the edge of the forest for a rest. In the middle of the night the young German began to harass her and when she resisted, lost his temper and attacked up with a knife. Afterwards, thinking that he had killed her, he pulled her out of the car and dumped her in the grass. At this point, the girl started crying and begging him not to leave her in the forest by herself. He, terrified by what he had done, drove her to the main road and left her cut and bleeding on the grass verge at 4 am. God sent a car for her literally within a couple of minutes. She raised her hand and the car stopped (although the driver could have easily driven past, thinking this was a scam of some sort) After a long conversation, she forgave her “killer” and wanted to be baptized. It is interesting to note that in court she stated that she had forgiven her attacker and did not want any money. However, the judge advised the penniless student that unless she identify herself as the injured party and claim compensation, she would be liable to pay half of the court fees. So one could forgive “in one’s soul “, but definitely not “on paper”. The girl had to put in a claim for compensation.
After a long period of preparation, I.D. was baptized before the Liturgy on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (1987). As is universally known, this is strictly a fast day. However two parishioners of the Paris jurisdiction brought in a cheesecake to celebrate the baptism in style! I was forced to explain the difference between God’s law and human customs. Besides it was a Friday, though, of course, that did not make any difference. I remember that this caused considerable tension, but I felt I had to uphold the rules of the church. This incident revealed that there was still much work to be done among the parishioners on the subject of fasting. Many of our Copenhagen parishioners were not accustomed to fasting. I think, it is significant that when the Copenhagen icon of the Mother of God was streaming with myrrh, it happened only during the fasts. This was duly noted by Vladyka Mark, who took the opportunity to remind the parish of the necessity to keep the fasts.
Certain Danish Peculiarities
I’m not the best person to talk about Denmark and the Danish people as the company I kept was mostly Russian. However I can mention a few points of interest. First of all, there is the language. When you first arrive in any country you need at least to know the address of where you are going. On my first trip to the parish, I hired a taxi and gave him the address of the church in Bregade. My university training in modern languages proved to be entirely useless in getting the taxi driver to understand where I wanted to be taken. It was only when I wrote the name of the street on a piece of paper that he finally muttered something, nodded, and drove me right up to the church gates. I was very much intrigued by this incident and once asked Feodor Sergeevich to say the name of the street where our church was situated. He muttered something which sounded like “Brelgel” burying the “l” deep within his throat. In essence this sound is akin to the English “th” but muted. As I mentioned earlier, I subsequently learned to read the gospel in Danish, but always found the pronunciation baffling.
Secondly, as I also mentioned before, in Denmark, you can’t just visit someone on a whim, for example to bless the house with holy water. I have no idea how they go caroling in Denmark or whether they go at all. This requirement to make appointments by telephone was cumbersome and could not be done away with. No amount of arguments from me about my “pastoral responsibilities” and the shortage of time could change this custom. All in all, a great deal of my 18-month ministry in Denmark was spent on the telephone, much of it from Germany.
Another Danish peculiarity, which I hadn’t at first noticed was brought to my attention by a mathematician called Igor Chitikov, now a priest in the USA. When he first came to Copenhagen, he called round to see a friend. The friend offered him something to drink and Igor reclined; no other drink was offered for the rest of the evening. The next day he happened to see this the same friend and upon being asked whether he wanted a drink, Igor immediately blurted out, “Yes, beer, and plenty of it!” It’s true that the Danes tend to offer something just once and then take any refusal seriously. In other words don’t lie! Let your “nay” be “nay”. In Denmark, hospitality is never forced on anyone. I remember being told of a Russian man who praised the Danish hospitality offered to him, “Everything was wonderful – the food, the company but there was no ‘compulsion’ about it”. Yes you won’t find compulsion in Denmark
As I listened to this assessment of the Danish character, I readily recalled many a “dry “evening, when, having been offered a drink once and refusing I was not offered anything else again. Back then, lively conversation made up for the lack of refreshment. Actually, it was in Copenhagen that I read in St Isaac the Syrian that one should offer once or twice but no more than that. [...].
Another church memory. Our church is in the center of the city, near to the Royal Palace and is surely mentioned in the tourist guides. It is hardly surprisingly, therefore, that we have many visitors and tourists in the church, most of them completely unfamiliar with the Orthodox services. In those days we still had the old chairs in the church. I was always surprised in the way these strong northern men could drape themselves over these chairs, the right foot hooked over the left knee and the elbows hanging over the back. As I passed by behind their backs with the censer, the visitors would perform another impressive acrobatic feat – they would also tilt their heads back, the better to observe me. I came to the conclusion that I should regard these people as part of the furniture, the immovable fixtures of the church as it were. I never censed them, just as they would not have bowed to me in response.
When lent began, we managed to serve occasional liturgies of the Presanctified Gifts, despite my only visiting the parish every fortnight. It was obvious that I could not allow these kind of visitors in church during, for example, the transfer of the Holy Gifts. I decided to resort to the old practice of locking the doors after the litany of the catechumens, and we carried on with the service without an audience and in complete peace.
Every year, Copenhagen hosts an ecumenical common walk for Christian unity, the so-called Kirkevandering. The Parish Council pondered what role we should play in this; after all, we could hardly lock the church. It seemed clear to me what should be done. We should welcome our visitors and I would then preach a sermon in English on the text “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem ” focusing on the Lord as He prepared His disciples for Golgotha. I then linked it with the Russian Golgotha and the suffering of Christians in our own times. This was followed by the troparion and kontakion to the New Martyrs, and the Danish procession moved to the next venue. Everyone seemed to be satisfied; nobody complained that no common worship was being offered and the Orthodox precedent was thus set.
Visit of Metropolitan Vitaly
Vladyka Vitaly visited Copenhagen between 25th and 29th October 1988. It was mid-week. He was supposed to celebrate a pannikhida at the royal burial chapel in the Roskilde Cathedral. T.S. suggested that Vladyka might want to perform a marriage service for Larisa Yurevna Hejl-Hansen and her husband. Both were already advanced in age. Strictly speaking, the request was not entirely proper; it was a Thursday and beside, monastic clergy do not normally perform weddings. However, Metropolitan Vitaly clearly did not want to disappoint and therefore agreed. The metropolitan was celebrating the Liturgy and I became an unwitting witness of his growing unease. Larisa Yurevna had arranged to receive Holy Communion that day but, for some reason, was running late. Vladyka kept looking for her and was clearly nervous. Finally, he said, “If they are not here by the Cherubic Hymn, I will not give her Communion”. Fortunately, the couple arrived just before the Cherubic Hymn and Larisa Yurevna was able to receive Communion, never having any inkling of the Metropolitan’s misgivings.
The wedding itself turned up many surprises, including some for me. As Vladyka, clad in his mantia, solemnly moved to the end of the church to perform the betrothal and the exchange of rings, he quickly said to me, “ I will betroth, but you will do the crowing”.
And so it was. After intoning the prayer over the rings, about “Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in the land of Babylon and the uprightness of Tamar “, Valdyka, his light blue metropolitan’s mantia rustling, solemnly departed for the altar. As he went in, I came out and led the couple into the middle of the church, where, with the hierarch’s blessing, I performed the crowning. Of course, this was a little surprising for everyone, but this was clearly what Vladyka Vitaly’s decided would be appropriate in the situation.
I gained much from Vladyka Vitaly’s visit to Copenhagen.
I was often unhappy with some of the parishioners’ conduct in church and, seeing that Vladyka was also concerned by this, took the opportunity to ask him what I should do when I am distracted by these thoughts during a service. He gave me this pastoral advice, “Then you must say a brief prayer for all those in the church that the Lord would feed their souls in this place”. Much later, the Parish of St Alexander Nevsky in Copenhagen received a new antimension, and the old one was sent back to the Diocesan Administration at the monastery of St Job of Pochaev in Munich. And so it was, that I ended up celebrating the Liturgy in Augsburg for many years – until 2011 – on this very antimension, bearing the signature of Vitaly, Archbishop of Montreal and Canada. You can see that another antimension, signed by Metropolitan Philaret is sewn up inside. It has an historical significance. I have to add that T.S. was acquainted with the bishops from other jurisdictions. In any case, Metropolitan Pitirim always visited her on his trips to Denmark. Maybe other Moscow hierarchs did too.
Sergei Mikhailovich was a particularly colorful figure in our parish. He used to tell us of his days as an “ispollatchik” to Patriarch Tikhon, that is, one of the trio of boys who sing the Greek greeting “Eis polla eti despota” (“Many years, O Master!”) at the hierarchical liturgy. Seven decades later, young Seryozha’s once strong young treble voice had changed into a mature bass, this process greatly accelerated by the quantity of smoke passing back and forth over his vocal chords. This was Sergei Mikhailovich - our permanent chanter and reader (albeit an unordained one). He wore thick horn-rimmed spectacles which sat on the bridge of his substantial nose, framing a pair of bright kind eyes behind the thick lenses. He also possessed a formidable sense of humor. F.S. related how the aforementioned Danish visitors once burst into spontaneous applause at the conclusion of the reading of the Apostle which Sergei Mikhailovich always read in his special way, going up a semitone at each new verse. Although I was not present myself, I could easily imagine the scene. I myself nearly fell off my seat during the reading of the Apostle (the priest is meant to sit during that reading if he had finished the censing) [...] I clearly remember sitting and listening to the conclusion of the Epistle to the Corinthians which ended with St Paul’s saying that, “Aquila and Priscilla greet you with a kiss”. Unfortunately, Sergei Mikhailovich misread the “i” in Aquila as “u”, turning Aquila into Akula ( Russian for “shark”- trans.). My mind readily conjured up a kissing SHARK…. On the other hand, if the Latin name Aquilla can mutate into the Russian name Akulina, maybe a shark is a legitimate corruption of the Latin “aquila” (Latin: eagle)? Nevertheless the image of the brotherly-kissing shark was henceforth firmly imprinted upon my mind, especially since the image was first introduced to me in the middle of the beautifully appointed tsarist church, complete with wrought iron pillars and gilt Slavonic inscriptions on the walls, as firm and unshakable as the Russia of old under Tsar Alexander III. Yes, this was a truly powerful memory, so much so that every year, whenever I hear that epistle reading, I am transported once again to “my” Copenhagen and I can’t help but smile to myself, remembering our Sergei Mikhailovich.
A similar memory, but from an altogether different church, tiny garrison chapel, in the town of Almburg in Bavaria. There, an octogenarian named Leonid Zommer was habitually slurred and stumbled through the Apostle, making it virtually incomprehensible. The language of the Epistles tends to be complex in any case, even when the text is enunciated clearly, unhindered by loosely-fitting dentures. I was sorry that the reading was so unedifying and began to ponder at the futility of offering such readings to the 15 or so old men and women gathered for the service. Suddenly, I was aware of a sobering voice within, calling me back from my idle musings, “There is one man here who is capable of understanding the lesson, and he is not even listening!” Yes, instead of attending to the reading, I was lost in futile daydreaming. Vladyka Vitaly admonished me in a similar way when he said, “Pray for these people”. And that’s what I have been doing ever since.
The celebration of the millennium of the baptism of Russia. 1988
At the millennium celebrations Bishop Mark
presents Queen Margaret with a memorial medal
The millennium of the baptism of Russia was celebrated across the entire Russian Church Abroad. After Copenhagen, the most notable events, which I participated in were in Stuttgart (10.05) and Berlin (15–16.05). Olga Zorin flew to Berlin from Copenhagen to play at a piano recital. There was a prayer service at Frankfurt’s St Bartholomew Cathedral, all the more noteworthy for its taking place – icons and all- in the very place where, in 794, Charlemagne anathematized the Seventh Ecumenical Council. There were also a large exhibition (opened 06.07), a diocesan conference and a liturgy followed by a reception on 10.07. The events in London took place 16–17.07. Similar celebrations followed in Baden-Baden and finally in Munich.
The Copenhagen festivities took place on Saturday 7 May 1988 in the presence of Queen Marguerite and Prince Henrik who both attended the hierarchical liturgy celebrated by Archbishop Mark. The Queen was presented with a commemorative gold medal minted by the German Diocese. On the obverse, the medal depicted the Baptism by Water and on the reverse, a fragment from the icon of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia, that is to say the Baptism by Blood. This was also the theme of our exhibition erected on the steps, leading up to the church. The exhibits traced the history of the Russian Church for the last millennium and, on the last panel, expounded the path of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. This exhibition was nothing compared to the one in Frankfurt, professionally installed by the city authorities next to the Romer Rathsus. In contrast, our modest exhibition consisted only of photographs with captions in Russian and Danish. However, it was informative and a small accompanying book was subsequently published by our monastery [...]
Despite its simplicity (only 6 or 7 panels mounted on the stairs leading up to the church) the organization proved to be a real headache. Initially, an artist called Evgeny Brookman volunteered to set it up. Evgeny had an artistic and therefore highly-strung temperament and I spent long days and well into the night with him, discussing all aspects of the project. These plans were very ambitious (which made me hesitant from the beginning) and Evgeny was slow in implementing them, although he appeared to be making some progress. However, at the last moment, when it came to the crunch, he announced his resignation from the project citing poor organization, lack of funding and goodness knows what else as his reasons. In reality, I think he simply realized he was not equal to the task in hand. This was a disaster. What could we do? I was away from Copenhagen and with only about 10 days to go until the opening of the exhibition, had to write an urgent letter to Polytop, the parish treasurer who, it turned out, had in fact been obstreperous and money-pinching from the beginning. He certainly had no need of any exhibition! Without being in Copenhagen full time, it was hard – not to say futile – to sift through all the arguments. We had to get on with the task in hand the best we could. All we had at this late stage was exhibition panels, bare save for some decorative adornment here and there. The rest we had to do ourselves. It was hard, but, for some reason not particularly upsetting. There was no mystery about what had happened – it was all run-of-the-mill stuff. We managed to avoid a complete disaster however, by working through the night pasting photographs and captions with Andrei Nazarov and Theodor Beuck who was responsible for the Danish-language sections.
The exhibition was presented to the Queen after the Divine Liturgy, an event which was unfortunately marred by slight embarrassment. I was forced to guide the Queen through the exhibition in reverse order, as, at her suggestion, we were descending the stairs, whereas the arrangement of the panels assumed a gradual ascent, from the bottom of the stairs to the top. This was unfortunate, but unavoidable; we could hardly insist that the Queen go down after the Liturgy, then up the stairs to see the exhibits and then down again.
At the bottom of the stairs, by the first panel, I manoeuvred myself into a tight corner by the bust of Maria Feodorovna, which stood there. The front door was ajar, and I failed to notice that Prince Henrik, modestly keeping a few paces behind the Queen as was his wont, had also positioned himself behind me, in the space between the open door and the wall. After guiding the Queen around the first, or in our case, the last exhibition panel (The Baptism with Water – The Baptism with Blood, with the quotation from St John’s epistle about the three witnesses of water, blood and the Spirit), I stood back to let the Queen pass to the exit. In so doing, I completely failed to notice the Prince who was trapped in the corner by the door, and worse than that, trod on his foot whilst backing away. Of course, I was dreadfully embarrassed, apologizing profusely for the awkward layout of the church, but the prince was very gracious and kind. We took our leave on the street, and the photograph of this parting is in our Vestnik, I believe.
At the end of November 1988, the book accompanying the Millennium of the Baptism of Russia exhibition was published. It had expanded; besides the photographs and captions, the book contained an edited article from the German Diocesan Herald ( Vestnik Germanskoi Eparkhii ) on the 70th anniversary of the enthronement of Patriarch Tikhon. We had a living link with the latter – his former “ispollatchik” and our very own Sergei Mikhailovich. The first Russian Patriarch for 217 years was enthroned on 21 November/4 December 1917, the Feast of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple. The article, as well as tracing the path of the holy Patriarch, also discussed the possibility of a future dialogue between ROCOR and the Patriarchate of Moscow, touching upon, amongst others, the ecclesiology of Kyrill (Smirov), Metropolitan of Kazan. “The Act of Canonical Communion” was finally signed almost 90 years following St Tikhon’s enthronement, on 17 May 2007.
At the end of November 1988, Fr Andrej Biron, appointed to assume responsibility for the Copenhagen parish, arrived in Munich, There, we worked through the list of the Copenhagen parishioners and on the Feast of the Entry, I announced the new appointment to the parish. Ten days later, on 15.12.1988, we arrived together in Copenhagen and spent the next 6 hours with “Toto”, going through the official parish records. On the feast of St Savas, 18.12, Fr Andrej presided at the Liturgy and preached a sermon in English. There were congratulatory speeches and pronouncements of “Many Years” at the festive lunch following the service. In the evening, on the eve of the feast of St Nicholas, all the church bells were ringing. There was some unpleasantness, however; for some reason, we forgot to invite Vera Tsipurdeeva, the daughter of the first Copenhagen priest after the revolution. She was offended, and I had to telephone her in the evening with apologies and explanations. That same evening I flew back to Munich, this time for good.
Jerusalem icon of the Most Holy Mother of God began to stream myrth in 1995. On the photo Fr. Nikolai with Fr. Aleksei (Biron) in 1996
The long-anticipated and carefully-prepared Parish Assembly Meeting was finally convened at a much later date. Larisa Yurevna Hejl-Hansen became the new church warden. T.S. was not best pleased, although she had previously complained a great deal about her age and infirmity and was generally wholly supportive of Larisa Yurevna. This was only natural for a strong-willed former warden; authoritative personalities do not embrace change easily.
T.S.’s disapproval took on an unwelcome form. She left the parish and at one point was actively campaigning for the establishment of a Moscow Patriarchate monastery in Denmark. There were also attempts on the part of the MP itself to set up a parallel parish in Copenhagen – with the same dedication of St Alexander Nevsky. The complicated church scene at the time made these difficulties seem inevitable. They were reported briefly in Vestnik Germanskoi Eparkhii , which hardly made cheerful reading. Now these distant days form a bridge to our own times, inviting us to acknowledge the people who contributed so much by their prayer and labors. For decades, in spite of various difficulties and human weakness, these people worked tirelessly, ensuring the very survival of the Copenhagen Parish and its prosperity to this day.
* Georg Seide, Verantwortung in der Diaspora (Munich, 1989)
* Vestnik Germanskoi eprarkhii, 6 (1990); 1 (1996)