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Religion

St. Catherine Stretches Her Wings
There are temples of worship for numerous faiths and confessions in Moscow. The Church of St. Catherine in Moscow is the only representation of the American Orthodox Church in Russia, and is led by its Dean, Archimandrite Zacchaeus.
Text by Elena Kryvovyaz, photos by Alina Ganenko

The legacy of wars

The full name of the church is quite long and it takes a secular person to make an effort to remember it: Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr in-the-fields. The story of the church itself is intriguing. The building survived the fire during the 1812 war (with Napoleon), and the October Revolution of 1917. Then it was closed by the Bolsheviks in 1931 and converted into a car factory and a kommunalka (a block of flats for workers or communal housing). From the early 1980s onwards, the buildings of the former church were used as a art restoration center.

 

The entire church complex was only returned to the parish in the 2000s because of Archimandrite Zacchaeus’s efforts. Recent years have turned out to be calm and benefi cial for the temple. Restoration works were carried out and the church became the Representation of the American Orthodox church in 1994. Part of the congregation of St. Catherine, in addition to Muscovites, is made up of ambassadors and diplomats from all over the world. It has been estimated that there are about 3,000 or even more Orthodox native English-speaking believers in Moscow and many of them visit the church from time to time. Some services are held in English, others are in Church Slavonic and translation is provided. The Archimandrite commented that there are no real major diff erences between the traditions of the American and Russian Orthodox Churches, with the exception that the offi cial language of the Russian Orthodox Church is Church Slavonic and for the American Church – English.

English-speaking parishioners can request a weddings, baptisms or other services in English. “We can hold weddings and other sacred ceremonies here in English as well as in Church Slavonic. Our parishioners are Russian, French, English and American. It’s a kind of uniting Orthodox action for everyone. According to Archimandrite Zacchaeus, baptisms present no great ecclesiastic problem, but weddings can present challenges: “The priests and I talk to them [the couple] before the ceremony to make sure they are getting married because of their true feelings and not just due to the English-language service. If we have doubts about whether they are taking full responsibility for what they are doing, we ask them to wait for a while until their decision becomes strong enough. The problem is that people are used to changing their minds very often. We try to explain that this sacred ceremony is once and for all.”

An American style “coffee hour” is held for the clergy and parishioners after every Sunday Liturgy. “Why is this important? The priest is a confessor for parishioners, and he must be available for them not only during the service but in informal settings as well,” explained Father Zacchaeus.

Archimandrite Zacchaeus was born and educated in America. Despite being American himself, the dean says that Moscow and the St. Catherine Church is his real home. “If the Church decides to send me back to America, I will go, though it would be difficult for me. So I pray it doesn’t happen to me and I can stay here in this parish more. You know, it’s like my own family for me and I really make no difference between them.”







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