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The Catholicity of Russian Orthodoxy

by Antoine Arjakovsky

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Seeking refuge from the oppressive regime of the Bolsheviks, more than 100,000 Russians settled in France in the 1920’s. While divided into a multitude of intellectual circles, religious jurisdictions and political parties, this dynamic community generated a prodigious sum of work in the arts (Sergei Diaghilev, Natalia Goncharova, Sergei Prokofiev), literature and poetry (Dmitri Merezhkovsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Maria Tsvetaeva), philosophy and theology (Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Vasili Zenkovsky) and politics (Pavel Miliukov). Their activities impacted the West irrevocably.

And though they had fled their motherland, these émigrés all felt a special responsibility for it, which continues for many of their descendants.

My maternal and paternal grandparents arrived in France in the 1920’s. During Russia’s civil war (which started after the Bolsheviks seized power in November 1918), my paternal grandfather, Mikhail Arjakovsky, served with the anti-Bolshevik White Army as an officer to General Peter Wrangel, whom he accompanied when the general evacuated his troops from Russia in 1921. In 1927, having become a house painter, he settled in France with his wife, Xenia Gogoliuk, and built a small house not far from Paris. They had two sons, including my father, born in 1938.

My maternal grandfather, Dmitri Klepinine, fled Odessa with his family for the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade in 1921. Four years later, he headed to Paris to pursue theological studies. In 1937, after his marriage to Tamara Baimakova, with whom he had two children, including my mother, he was ordained a Russian Orthodox priest.

Not unlike many Russian émigrés, my grandparents gathered around the Russian Orthodox Bishop of Paris, Metropolitan Evlogius, the Western European representative of Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow. In 1925, Metropolitan Evlogius founded a theological institute dedicated to St. Sergei Radonezh that quickly became the center of renewal for the Russian Orthodox Church. My grandparents took part in this renewal that flourished for decades, despite revolution, exile and world war.

This renewal of the Russian Orthodox Church featured many characteristics:

  • concern for church-state codependence in the Orthodox world
  • advocacy of freedom of conscience
  • condemnation of militant atheism in the Soviet Union
  • intolerance for extremism in the church
  • participation in the ecumenical movement
  • criticism of anti-Semitism
  • support of Jews during World War II
  • reassessment of the myth of Holy Russia and her salvific destiny.

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Tags: Russian Orthodox Church