WESTERN EUROPEAN DIOCESE: 11 January 2023
Monaco hosts a fund-raiser celebrating the fraternal relations between the Russian and Serbian Orthodox Churches
On January 8, 2023, the second day of the Nativity of Christ, the Parish of St Elena in Monte Carlo, Monaco, hosted its fourth annual Gala Christmas Dinner.
Hosted by His Grace Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe, the evening was especially dedicated this year to the century-long relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Serbia. The special guests of the Diocesan Bishop were His Grace Bishop Justin of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Western Europe, the Ambassador of France to Monaco, the Honorary Consul of Serbia to the Côte d’Azur, representatives of the President of the Prince’s Parliament and of the Princely Palace of Monaco, Prince Michel of Yugoslavia, and many dignitaries from the Governments of Monaco, Serbia and France.
The evening began with a festal moleben served before the icon of the Nativity of Christ by the clergy and singers of the St Elena Parish in Monaco. Both Bishop Irenei and Bishop Justin prayed at the solemn Divine Service, as Priest Evgeny Nikitin (Menton and Monaco), Priest Dionysius Baikov (Sanremo) and Hieromonk Theodosius (Menton and Monaco) led the service. At the conclusion of the Moleben, the Nativity Epistle of Bishop Irenei was read to the gathered faithful.
The Gala Dinner then commenced at a restaurant in central Monaco, where a specially-catered meal of Serbian dishes was offered to a large gathering that represented participants from the local and nearby parishes, as well as parishes in France and Italy, from the Serbian Diocese — especially from its cathedral in Paris — and the many invited guests.
During his welcome remarks, His Grace Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe, who is also the Synodal Secretary of the Church Abroad for Inter-Orthodox Relations, began by giving glory to God for the great compassion and love to which the present Feast of the Nativity bears witness, offering the only true peace that will abide in this world — most sorely needed at the present moment of warfare and conflict. ‘Our fervent prayer is that the present bloodshed and warfare in Ukraine will cease immediately and this peace, the true Peace of Christ, may reign amongst all nations and peoples.’
His Grace then gave thanks for the century-long bond of friendship and unity between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Church Abroad. “The relationship between our Churches is as close and deep as is possible to be found,” Vladyka said to the gathered guests. “In those sorrowful moments at the start of the twentieth century, when the autonomous life of our Church Outside Russia was necessitated by the tragic revolution and bloodshed amongst peoples that had long been bastions of Orthodox piety, the ancient Patriarchate of Serbia opened its arms to our forebears, as a loving brother to a brother in need. It was within the territory of Serbia — that blessed nation with its culture forged by Orthodox piety — that the Holy Synod of our Church Abroad first met, and from which it was able to begin the immense task of organizing the life of the Russian Orthodox Diaspora, which could not abide under the atheism and hostility that had then overtaken its homeland.
“Now, more than a century later,” continued the Bishop, “the Church Abroad has undergone many changes. We have become a ‘local church,’ as it were, within the territories of the Diaspora, whether in Europe, in Australia, in the Americas — where our Church Abroad is now headquartered and where our Primate resides — or in other parts of the world; and we continue to bear the faith and culture of our forefathers in these lands that have become our own. But one thing that has not changed is the closeness we have always felt, and continue to feel, to the land and peoples of Serbia, and above all to the Serbian Orthodox Church. We continue to feel ourselves the closest of spiritual kinsmen, the bearers of a common faith, the sharers of a common chalice. Our hearts and our lives are bound together, and we thank God for the piety and fidelity of our Serbian Orthodox brothers and sisters, whom we are pleased to honor here this evening.”
His Grace went on to offer warm words of welcome to his honored guest of the evening, His Grace the newly-enthroned Bishop Justin of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Western Europe, and to welcome him to the Nativity festivities in Monaco. “Our parish of St Elena here in Monaco is diverse, encompassing the wide variety of nationalities who call this Principality home,” Vladyka said. “We are Monegasques and French, Russians and Ukrainians, Italians and Americans, and a host of others. But tonight, we are also Serbians — and we welcome in our midst the spiritual father of the Serbian community in Europe, as the honored guest of our parish and the Orthodox faithful of Monaco.”
Bishop Justin in turn greeted Bishop Irenei and the assembled guests with warm words of friendship. He then introduced a female chorale of Serbian singers that had accompanied him from Paris, which performed a program of Serbian religious and folk music for the season, throughout the evening.
In addition to being an evening of fellowship and prayer, the Gala Dinner is also a charitable occasion, raising funds for the Serbian Children’s Fund and the Monaco Red Cross.