Visit of Her Majesty Queen Paola of the Belgians to the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions and the Holy Trinity church
On 19 January 2003, the feast of the Epiphany, Her Majesty Queen Paola of the Belgians visited the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions in Brussels and attended the ceremony of the great blessing of the waters at the newly opened Church of the Holy Trinity.
Also present in the church on this occasion were the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Kingdom of Belgium Mr Sergey Kislyak, the Ambassador of the Republic of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Belgium Mr Vladimir Khandogiy, the Head of the Mission of the Russian Federation to the European Communities Mr Vassily Likhachev, the Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus to the Kingdom of Belgium, the Head of the Mission of the Republic of Belarus to the European Communities Mr Sergey Martynov, the Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the Kingdom of Belgium, the Head of the Mission of the Republic of Moldova to the European Communities Mr Mikhay Popov, the Head of the Mission of the Republic of Ukraine to the European Communities Mr Roman Shpek, councillor to the President of the European Commission Dr Michael Weninger, the Head of the Bureau of the Orthodox Church (Ecumenical Patriarchate) to the European Union Bishop Emmanuel of Reghion, the Director of the Bureau of the Representation of the Church of Greece to the European Union Bishop Athanasios of Akhaia, the President of the Community of Saint Egidio in Antwerpen Hilde Kieboom, the Abbot of Chevetogne Monastery Fr Philipp, Representatives of Christian Churches and ecumenical organisations to the European Union, members of other Orthodox parishes in Brussels.
Her Majesty was greeted at the entrance to the church by the Representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions Bishop Hilarion of Podolsk (presently of Vienna and Austria). This was followed by the ceremony of the blessing of the waters, presided by Bishop Hilarion with Archpriest Paul Nedossekin, the dean of the Church of the Holy Trinity, concelebrating. At the end of the ceremony ‘Many Years’ was sung to His Holiness Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia, to His Majesty King Albert and to Her Majesty Queen Paola of the Belgians. After the service, Bishop Hilarion delivered his welcome address to the Queen (see below).
There followed a reception to mark the visit of Her Majesty and the beginning of the work of the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions in Brussels. During this reception, the Queen met the guests of honour as well as members of the congregation of the Church of the Holy Trinity.
Welcome address by the Representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions Bishop Hilarion to Her Majesty Queen Paola of the Belgians
Allow me on behalf of the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, of the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions, and of the Russian Orthodox community in the Kingdom of Belgium, whose head is Archbishop Simon of Brussels and Belgium, to greet you in this holy church.
For the first time in the entire history of Russian Orthodoxy in Belgium does a Queen visit a church of the Moscow Patriarchate. This visit was made possible through the creation in Brussels of the Representation of our Church to the European Institutions. The beginning of the Representation’s work opens a new page in the history of Russian Orthodoxy not only in Belgium but also in all of Europe. We hope that, by virtue of this Representation, the Russian Church, which is still so unknown to many citizens of the European continent, so enigmatic and distant, becomes more accessible and close to them. And we are happy that the Representation is situated precisely here, in the capital of your hospitable kingdom.
Your visit has a special significance for all of us. In accordance with ancient Orthodox tradition, your name, together with the name of your royal husband, His Majesty King Albert II of the Belgians, is commemorated in this church at every service. And this is not only our Christian obligation, but also the desire of our heart. Some of our parishioners were born and grew up in Belgium, and for many of them Belgium has become their second homeland: having left their native countries, they found shelter here. For this the Russian Orthodox community is deeply grateful to the Royal Family, to the government and to the people of Belgium.
The Russian Orthodox Church is not only the Church of Russia. It is a ‘majority Church’ also in Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. This is why the Ambassadors of all these four countries to Belgium and to the European Communities are present today in our church. I would like to wholeheartedly greet the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Kingdom of Belgium Mr Sergey Kislyak, the Ambassador of the Republic of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Belgium Mr Vladimir Khandogiy, the Head of the Mission of the Russian Federation to the European Communities Mr Vassily Likhachev, the Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus to the Kingdom of Belgium, the Head of the Mission of the Republic of Belarus to the European Communities Mr Sergey Martynov, the Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the Kingdom of Belgium, the Head of the Mission of the Republic of Moldova to the European Communities Mr Mikhay Popov, and the Head of the Mission of the Republic of Ukraine to the European Communities Mr Roman Shpek. The presence of the honourable Ambassadors, who have come here in order to take part in this festive service testifies to the constructive and amicable relations, which have been established between Church and state in Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine.
The canonical jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church includes, apart from the aforementioned countries, the Orthodox believers of the Baltic States and of the states in Central Asia, former republics of the Soviet Union. Dioceses and parishes of the Russian Church exist also in many other countries, notably in the member states of the European Union. This conditions the desire of our Church to be a full partner in the dialogue relating to the processes of European integration. The presence among us today of Dr Michael Weninger, a councillor to the President of the European Commission, testifies to the progress in this dialogue.
The Russian Church is a Church of martyrs. For seven decades it was persecuted by an atheistic regime, persecutions that began immediately after the revolution of 1917. In the course of the 20s and 30s most bishops and priests, many monks and lay people were executed or imprisoned, all monasteries and theological schools were closed, many churches were destroyed or refashioned to suit other needs. A task was undertaken eradicate ‘religious prejudices’ and to transform the Soviet Union into an atheist state, in which ‘the last remaining priest’ would be ‘exhibited in a museum’.
But ‘God is not mocked’ (Gal. 6:7), and the atheists’ plans were never to be fully realized. In spite of decades of the most cruel acts, faith did not die in the people. And as soon as the grip of militant atheism started to weaken, people began returning to the faith of their forefathers. In the nineties, this return took place on a mass scale. I think it would not be a mistake to say that the Russian Orthodox Church is one of the fastest growing Churches in the world.
What you see here today – a provisional iconostasis made of veneer, posters instead of real icons – can be seen in hundreds and thousands Russian Orthodox churches. The restoration of church life takes place everywhere: houses of worship, monasteries and theological schools are being built and restored. But most importantly human souls, mutilated during the long reign of terror, are also being restored.
We believe that the resurrection of our Church takes place thanks to the prayers of many thousands of martyrs and confessors, who sacrificed their lives for Christ. Orthodox churches are now being built on the places of their martyrdom. In one such church in the northern outskirts of Moscow I celebrated the Divine Liturgy one year ago. It is difficult to express in words the emotions one feels reflecting upon and praying for the 120 thousand people who were executed at this place: among them were bishops, priests, monks, nuns and lay people. They were shot dead only because they believed in God and served the Church. Here breathed his last the 82-year old Metropolitan Seraphim, who, paralysed, was carried to the place of execution on a stretcher. Here died both the elderly and the young, both men and women. Their bones are still lying in lines under a think layer of earth… But the entire Russian land is covered by mass graves such as this.
Those Orthodox Christians who managed to leave the country, established Orthodox parishes outside it, in particular, in the countries of Western Europe. The first Orthodox parish in Brussels was, however, created as early as 1962: this church at the Russian Embassy laid a foundation for the spread of Orthodoxy in Belgium. In 1937 the Russian Archbishop received from the King the official title of Archbishop of Brussels and Belgium. Russian Orthodoxy in this country has existed for more than 140 years.
It gives me special joy to welcome into our church today guests from other Russian Orthodox communities in Brussels, including those which are not yet in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. The division that took place in the 30s for political reasons has not yet been overcome, but the process of rapprochement between the Russian Orthodox Church and those communities which separated from it in the past has already begun. And we are glad that the visit of Your Majesty contributes to the cause of inter-Orthodox reconciliation.
I welcome today my beloved brother the Director of the Bureau of the Representation of the Church of Greece to the European Union Bishop Athanasios of Akhaia. I wholeheartedly greet our friends from the Roman Catholic Church, the President of the Community of Saint Egidio in Antwerpen Mrs Hilde Kieboom, who has done much to prepare this visit, the abbot of Chevetogne monastery Fr Philipp, as well as other representatives of Christian Churches and ecumenical organisations to the European Union. May the visit of Your Majesty contribute also to the rapprochement between various Christian confessions.
Your Majesty, in memory of your visit allow me to present to you this icon, which was painted by a young Russian Orthodox painter. May this icon of our Lord remind you of our church and our community. And may our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ protect you on all your paths, assisting and blessing you and your royal husband, His Majesty King Albert, the Royal Family, the government and the people of the Kingdom of Belgium.