On the eve of the translation of the remains of Empress Maria Fyodorovna Romanova from Denmark to Russia, Interfax-Religion correspondent Vasily Pisarevsky has obtained an interview from Priest-monk Feofan Lukyanov, rector of the Moscow Patriarchate Parish of St. Alexander Nevsky in Copenhagen.
- In Russia, there is a great interest in the upcoming event – the translation of the remains of Empress Maria Fyodorovna, mother of the Holy Passion-bearer Nicholas II. As is known, she participated, together with her crown-bearing husband, Alexander II, in the consecration of the church of the Holy Prince Alexander Nevsky in Copenhagen. Tell us, Father Feofan, whether her name is remembered in Denmark?
- Of course! You must have noticed a woman’s bust standing next to the birch-tree in the church yard and bearing the inscription ‘Dagmar (her Danish name) – Maria Fyodorovna – Russian Empress’. A member of the Danish royal family, the young princess came to Russia, married to the Emperor Alexander III and embraced Orthodoxy, which became her own religion, and our country became her second homeland. But she never broke her bonds with Denmark. Besides, she wanted Denmark to have an Orthodox church as well.
And her dream came true. The Russian imperial family allocated funds to build a church of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Danish capital city. Though the place for it was chosen right in the center of the city, across the royal palace, the church proved to be squeezed between other two buildings. For this reason, processions with the cross have to go now through a city block. In addition, contrary to church canons, the sanctuary turned out to face not to east but west – the fact that displeased the czar. It took three years to build the church. Its frescoes were made by well-known Russian artist Bogolyubov, a teacher of the imperial family. It was consecrated in 1883 in the presence of the imperial couple.
Due to the 20 century historical upheavals, the Parish of St. Alexander Nevsky had to change its jurisdiction several times after 1917. Until 1983, it was under the Patriarchate of Constantinople and was incorporated later in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Six years ago, some parishioners withdrew from the ROCOR jurisdiction and returned to the Moscow Patriarchate. Much effort was put into the building and recognition of this Orthodox parish by its warden, Princess Tatiana Ladyzhensky, who died last February. At present, the church is actually owned by the ROCOR parish.
- Where do you serve then and where do parishioners of St. Alexander Nevsky’s church assemble?
- In our search for a place for worship, we have chosen the church of the Naval Mission, a Danish organization for seamen, which rents it out to us on preferential terms. It is convenient for us, since considerable money is required to rent a Lutheran church here.
This church is also located in down town Copenhagen, at one of the most beautiful canal embankments. But we have some difficulties because it is also an acting church with a Danish pastor serving in it at regular intervals. And sometimes Lutheran services coincide in time with our feast days. When the Lutheran pastor serves on Sunday we have to conduct our service on Saturday. For instance, once we were notified suddenly that some function would be held in this church on our Dormition Day. Thank God, we managed to arrange for an Orthodox service to be held on that day.
Incidentally, our parish includes not only Russians but also Orthodox people from some former republics of the USSR, such as Georgians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians. Our services are also attended by Orthodox Bulgarians, Serbs and Greeks. The service is held in Greek for them. In addition, we have an excellent chorister who can sing Byzantine hymns in Greek. There are also parishioners of Danish origin, a minority though. Occasionally, Danes embrace our baptism, converting to Orthodoxy from Protestantism.
- What are the prospects for getting a permanent place for your parish?
- The Russian Embassy is helping us in this matter. Ambassador Dmitry Ryurikov has taken much effort personally to find a place for us, but it is rather hard to do it here. As for purchasing a building, it is very expensive for us. Then it has to be made into a church, with a cupola and necessary facilities. Still we hope that Danes will find an opportunity for handing over to us some closed Lutheran church, which could be re-arranged in the Orthodox style.
- Are there any peculiarities about the service of a Russian Orthodox priest abroad?
- It is a special service of course. Parishioners are people who are already integrated in the Western culture and Western way of life. It is difficult to find among them the ones who would assume assistance in parish affairs.
Besides, the attitude to the Church here is somewhat different from that in Russia. I would describe it as consumerist. Some regard a church as a sort of club in which one can sit and talk, unaware of the spiritual essence of the church sacraments. This is disturbing, of course, and I try to eradicate this attitude. But it is rather difficult to do since local people’s mentality has been strongly influenced by the Protestant culture.
Besides, as parishioners are unable to withstand long service we cannot not conduct major All-Night Vigils and have to shorten the services. As I have already mentioned, you cannot always serve whenever you would like to, because the conditions do not allow this.
As for benefactors, unfortunately, there are no large-scale businessmen who would like to support our parish. For various reasons: some allude to modest incomes and absence of charitable projects, while others do not want to wedge themselves between the two parishes for political reasons. That is to say, our benefactors are mostly our poor parishioners who donate their last pennies.
- Let us come back to the theme with which our talk began. In your view, what is the historical and moral significance of the translation of the empress’s remains?
- I think for us, Russian people, it is an act of national repentance in a sense, since our ancestors in their time banished the imperial family and allowed their murder. But the czar is an anointed one of God and, as the Bible says, ‘Who can lay a hand on the Lord's anointed and be guiltless?’ (1 Sam. 26:9). We all are direct or indirect accessories to this sin. And now by returning the remains of Maria Fyodorovna, an outstanding representative of the Romanov family, to the Russian land we repent of what was done.
We also comply with the empress’s wish to unite with her family. Her husband, Alexander III, was buried in Sts Peter Paul’s Cathedral. We should also remember that the remains of her son, a royal passion-bearer, and of his family are in the Russian land, and it would be impious not to allow the empress to unite with those whom she loved so much.
It seems to me this action is important also because it reminds us that Maria Fyodorovna was a member of many charities and participated in the social service at times difficult for Russia, such as World War I. It is an important lesson for us, a strong impulse for further development of the traditions of social service at our time.