The Theological and Spiritual Foundations of the Return to the Icon.


The Hesychast basis

AscensionEcclesiastical and spiritual filiation is the guarantee of fertility, of the powerfulness of prayer and artistic creativity - of course, so long as they are divine-human activities, i.e. imply the co-operation between God and man. If the flow of this life current is interrupted, there is no more prayer or creation. What remains is the necessity of the humble acceptance of not being free to choose the one who begot us in spirit, but of accepting him from the hand of Providence, such as he when, for example, the Mother of God presented Father Athanasius in person to the future Metropolitan Anthony, as we saw earlier.

       Prayer is the fruit of this life current and it cannot develop without Hesychasm as the perfecting of spiritual life. Saint Isaac the Syrian calls Hesychia « catholic », too, because it possesses the integral Christ and unites the one who prays with all men. « The icon - [such as the icon of the Holy Trinity painted by Saint Andrew Rublev, which is the very icon of Hesychia] is a testimony to the deification of man, to the plenitude of spiritual life, communication through image of what man is in a state of prayer, sanctified by Grace. In some way, it is painting nature, yet it is painting drawn from renewed nature with the use of symbols. It is the way and the means; it is prayer itself. It is from here that the majesty, simplicity and calmness of movement of the icon come, as well as the rythm of its lines and colours wich flow from perfect inner harmony. (88)»

       For twelve years, Father Athanasius Nechaev was this icon; he was the one who carried the community spiritually, both monks and parishioners of Rue Pétel. There were regularly held monastic meetings and all monks and candidates to Monachism would attend them to deepen their knowledge of it. The future Metropolitan Anthony once made an exposé on Saint Nil of Sora. Father Athanasius would never come. Metropolitan Anthony asked him why. He replied: « One can not speak of Monachism - one has to live it ». In 1943, when he was ill, he wrote a note to the metropolitan, saying: « I have just experienced what contemplative silence is. Now I can die. » He died three days later. (89)

       He was not only a spiritual Father to Metropolitan Anthony but also to Archimandrite Sergius Schevich, who himself became a monk before his death in 1943 and was the spiritual father of Father Gregory Krug. All of them were hesychasts, men of silence and prayer. So there has always been a continuity of monasticism in the Exarchate, rooted in the spiritual tradition of the Valaam Monastery. So, in the few years that followed Father Sergius's death in 1987, three monasteries, which took over the tradition of Hesychasm and uninterrupted prayer, were founded. In addition to that, a small monastic community was always associated with the Three Holy Hierarchs' Church, on the same premises or much later, in Nikolai Berdayev's house.

       In addition to that, in 1934, Father Andrei Sergeenko had bought a parcel of land in the Chevreuse Valley where he had built a church and a small house. He bequeathed all this to Father Sergius Schevich when he returned to Russia in 1945, and that is where Father Gregory lived from 1948 after he had taken his monastic vows.

       Faced with the poverty of the community, which could not provide enough for the priests to live on, in 1933, a decision was taken to found another parish, then a second one in 1935, in order to reach a larger number of people and to improve the situation. That is how Father Stephane Svetozarov established the Holy Trinity parish in Vanves (90), in Impasse Alexandre where Krug was already painting icons, such as the large icon of the Trinity; this parish was later transferred to Rue Michel-Ange.

       Two year later, Father Michel Belsky founded the parish of Saint Genevieve at Rue de la Montagne Saint Genevieve. The parishioners of Rue Pétel, who were among the most faithful, were spread between the two parishes. The future Father Sergius was assigned to the parish in Vanves and the future Metropolitan Anthony, to the parish of Montagne Sainte Genevieve... Among the members of this parish - "the poorest in Paris" (91)» - were the painter Milioti, Maxime Kovalevsky who would sing at the kliros, the Zimins and the Losskys …

       In the minds of its founders, the parish was to be the church of the Brotherhood and take over its missionary activities. The celebration of the two rites - the Eastern , in Slavonic and the Western in French - was taken up again. However, there had to be two priests for this and the French were becoming too few. So they gradually started celebrating the Eastern rite only, and subsequently, and from 1953, solely in French. Translating Eastern texts then gradually became the main task. E. Kovalevsky wrote later: « Fr. Michel Belsky, whose parish received some French elements [after the Father Lev Gillet's departure in 1938] continued, to a certain extent, the cause of French Orthodoxy. However, he was bound by an immense majority of his parishioners who were Russians (92)». Metropolitan Anthony was tonsured a monk - in secret because he was a doctor - by Father Athanasius Nechaev, in the presence of Father Sergius.

88) L. Ouspensky, L'icône, vision du monde spirituel, Mélanges de l'institut orthodoxe français de Paris, Setor, Paris,1948, p.22. See the article reproduced in this volume.

89) Interview with Metropolitan Anthony of May 2000.

90) The statutes of the cultual association are dated from May 1937, but the oldest documents are going back to 1933.

91) On the life of this parish see Galina Makrova's article, 'Souvenirs Part 2, Paris 1949-1959', published in Russian in Miara, 'Literaturny istoriko-khudozhestvennyi religiozno-filosofskii zhurnal', n°4, St Petersbourg, 1995, p.140-162, and the part devoted to the Uspensky's, p. 142-147

92) Bref historique - A brief history with corresponding dates   

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