Παρασκευή 6 Μαΐου 2016

The Orthodox Church in Morocco

Patriarchal Divine Liturgy in Casablanca and Doxology for National Regeneration

On the 4th Sunday of Great Lent (2015), the feast of St John of the Ladder, a Patriarchal Divine Liturgy was conducted at the Holy Church of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in Casablanca by His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa,  together with the local Metropolitan Alexios of Carthage, the Mega Ecclesiarch of the Throne, the Very Reverend Archimandrite Theodoros Dridakis and the Parish Priests of Casablanca and Rabat Fr. Ioannis Gatzioras and Fr. Maximos Massalatin. The choirs  were attended also by the Very reverend Archimandrite Alexios Petrides, the visiting Dean of the Holy Church of the transfiguration in Halandri as well as many Romanian faithful who sang the hymns and parts of the Liturgy.

In his inspirational homily His Beatitude stressed the importance of unity within the Church and particularly in our Patriarchate, where all the faithful, irrespective of colour, language and race, are united in the name of the Lord, and praised the fact of the synchronized and multi-languaged diversity during the Eucharistic gathering, in the holy Church of the Annunciation, where Greeks, Russians, Romanians, Bulgarians and Serbs gather, sing and praising God in their own languages. 
His Beatitude was addressed by His Eminence Alexios Metropolitan of Carthage, who emphasized the significance of the Patriarchal presence in Morocco and the great blessing and message of unity and love, which  occurs in this choice Orthodox part of North Africa. 

The official Doxology of the National Day of 25th March (Greek War of Independence) followed, as next Wednesday will be a working day in Morocco. The wish and prayer of everyone today, he stressed, is for the difficulties to pass for our beloved homeland and together with peace and the love of Christ  that prosperity will return to our country. The Patriarch thanked the Authorities and the large congregation, as well as His Majesty King Mohamed VI for the honour afforded the Primate of the Orthodox Church on the African Continent. The gathering concluded with the singing of our National Anthem. 

Present were His Excellency the Ambassador of Greece Mr. Plato Alexios Hatzimihalis and the entire diplomatic corps of Greece in Morocco, Her Excellency the Mabassador of Romaia Mrs Simona Mariana Ioan, Her Excellency the Ambassador of Bulgaria Mrs. Boryana Simeonova, the Consul of Egypt Mr. Nagui Ghaba and the aAttaché of the Serbian Embassy Mr. Ivan Samardzic, as well as the former Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Morocco under King Hasan, Mr. Abderahman Yusufi, who is married to a Greek lady.

A reception followed in honour of His Beatitude at the hall of the Hellenic Community and awards were given to the Chairman of the Hellenic Community Mr. Constantinos Pistikos, and the members of the community Mr. Petros Katrakazos, honorary Chairman and creator of the Institution HORIZON DES HANDICAPES in Ouarzazate, Mrs. Aikaterini Androulaki and Mrs. Maria Zurdanet, valuable colleagues of the local Church and Community.
In conclusion His Beatitude visited and venerated at the chapel of the Dormition of the Theotokos in the Russian speaking community of Casablanca.

NOTE of our blog: The Holy Archdiocese of Carthage is a diocese under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. Its territory, in northwestern Africa, includes the parishes and missions located in nations of Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco.
Please, see: The Ancient Christianity (Orthodox Church) in Tunisia & Saint Julia of Carthage
See also
Ancient Christian faith (Orthodox Church) in Africa
Orthodox Liturgy in Casablanca, Easter 2016 (from here)
The Russian immigrants & the Orthodox Church in Morocco

The events which happened in the spring – summer of 2012 around the Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God in Casablanca, can be regarded as an important milestone in the history of interaction between the Russian-speaking community in Morocco with a Muslim population of the country.

The events create a lot of thoughts for a discussion of certain aspects in the adaptation of Russians abroad like socio-economical, anthropological, historical, cultural and confessional aspects. In this case, let’s focus on the two last aspects. Because this appeal to the Orthodox Church became a saving moment for a certain part of immigrants from Russia and the CIS in the process of "finding yourself" in a totally different cultural environment, as demonstrated during the described events.

So what happened? The Dormition Church of the Mother of God, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, built by first wave of Russian immigrants and their families in 1958 was fighting the demolition of a church in economical capital of Morocco – Casablanca. It is one of the only two Russian Orthodox churches in Morocco (there is also another Greek church in the country). The defrocked priest (by decision of an Extraordinary Spiritual Court of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Priest Nikolai Semenoff was defrocked for causing a schism and performing priestly services while under suspension, along with a series of other clergymen of the Western European Diocese) and French citizen Nikolai Semenov secretly sold the church to a Moroccan real estate firm using false documents in order of the demolition of the church and realization of a construction project on its territory.

The history of this church is inseparable from the history of the Russian community and especially the people who built it. The letter which was found by me among the various papers (which were held in the church until 2010) helps to understand it1.

Aged parish warden Kolarovich Petr Nikolaevich outlined historical periods of prosperity and decline of the parish. The letter dated February 28, 1969. It was addressed to the Italian historian.

“In 1948 more than a thousand Russian immigrants came to Morocco. There were “old emigrants” fleeing from Eastern Europe before the coming of the Red Army. And there were “new emigrants” like prisoners of war or workers brought to Germany during the war, who did not want to return to Russia after the war was ended, fearing reprisals by the Soviet government, or simply because of the brutal regime.

Most of the newcomers settled in the suburbs of Casablanca called Burnazel. Together with “old Russian immigrants” in Morocco, they have created a new Orthodox community, which was under the jurisdiction of Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church located in New York that time. A large barrack in Burnazele was rebuilt into a temple and in Casablanca itself a new church was established in an apartment on Reuters street.

In 1949 a new pastor Archimandrite Mitrofan Znosko-Borovsky came. When new churches were opened in Rabat and Marrakech cities one priest was not enough. In 1950 archpriest Gregory Barannikoff came from Europe. Later he became the abbot of the Holy Resurrection Church. Also churches were established in Tangier and Khouribga. On the work of phosphates in Khouribga many Russian were employed. Directorate of Mines built a wooden Orthodox church there as well. By the end of 1951 the number of parishioners was about 760 people.

In 1952, on the general annual meeting, the father Mitrofan announced to vote for buying a villa with a plot to establish a new church in there. Every parishioner undertook to donate at least 10,000 francs. The money was collected, and in 1958 the building was purchased. Great Hall of the villa was rebuilt, and increased increased by one-third; a temple which could accommodate all the parishioners was constructed there. The temple was named The Temple of the Holy Assumption. A chapel with a crypt inside was built at the cemetery.

This period was marked by the mass departure of Russians to America. The colony became much smaller. Only hundred of Russians stayed in Casablanca. In 1959 the father Mitrofan moved to USA. In 1960, the father George – rector of the parish had died in Rabat.

The reason for a significant reduction in the number of Russian community in Morocco during these years was the re-emigration to the United States and the death of elderly immigrants. Currently there are about 150 members of our community in Morocco. For this reason, a lot of churches were closed in many cities of the country: the church in Khouribga was handed to Greeks in 1960 because no Russians left there; the church in Burnazele was closed in 1965; churches in Marrakech and Tangier were closed in 1967. Nowadays services are performed in the temples of Casablanca and Rabat”2.

In fact, behind these events and dates is a difficult life of Russian people in Africa. They tell themselves about how it was.

“Thank God! We finish our ten years of service in Morocco by canonizing for you – the sons of Russia – The Assumption Church in Casablanca with the parish house. We have invested the most precious things we have taken from Russia during creation of the temple” – exclaims the initiator and organizer of the construction Archpriest Znosko-Borovsky on the day of canonizing the church 12/25 January 1958. “While the majority of parishioners saw no opportunity to purchase a land and built the temple on the collected money, a miracle happened: here we have our church, built on a piece of our own, and, therefore, we can say, Russian land” – said to him, Deputy Chairman of the Community – Petr Nikolaevich Kolarovich3.

The interior of the church was created by the hands of parishioners. Here are some words in memory of the officer of the Russian Army – Metrophane Mitrofanovich Koltovskiy.

“When there was no priest in Morocco, Mitrofan was gathering some kids around him, talking to them, and teaching the Law of God. Until the last days of his life his room was constantly filled with children who use to come to listen to his stories. The children loved him. Suffering from heart attack, he was preparing the interior of the temple in which today we pray for him. Everything here - iconostasis, and analogies, and the chandelier and candlesticks – was made by his hands, this is the result of his love for the Savior and the belief in an afterlife. We have seen him here in Morocco, in a truly miserable situation, but how rich was his spirit, how thirsty he was for creativity!”4

Very few of our compatriots living in Morocco in 2012, know the history of their predecessors, who came to this country against their will in the first half of the twentieth century. There were different destinies, different migration motives. Today the "Russian community" in Morocco consists of Russian women who married Moroccans who studied in the Soviet Union; they have half Moroccan – half Russian children. "Russians" here are the ones who due to the circumstances of the geopolitical scale became citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and other former Soviet republics. The overwhelming majority of Russian-speaking community in Morocco are women, more than 50% of which have Ukrainian passports. Most women have higher education, but they are mainly engaged in housekeeping. However, among our compatriots there are employees of private Moroccan companies, some of them lead their own businesses, mainly in the field of medicine, pharmacology, education and in the service sector.

The characteristic of the attitude of our compatriots towards their religion and the church in comparison with immigrants of first and second waves is contained in an interview with the former abbot of the Resurrection church in Rabat Father Dmitry which he gave in 20105.

Compatriots who arrived to Morocco from the Soviet Union - is another category of immigrants. Although they were people of another culture, many of them found their way to the temple and kept their faith and culture. Many of them were not religious people in Russia for obvious reasons. They didn’t attend the church. They have no spiritual core, and therefore, when they face a different culture in Morocco, they have nothing to oppose it. They find hard to resist the pressure of unfair "callers" to Islam. Also, they intimidate them, saying that if they not become Muslims, then they could have legal problems related to inheritance and children. Although there is no such law in Morocco and there is no any kind of religious discrimination. But looking for an easy life without problems, and a lot of ignorance make them believe these "horror stories" and give them an excuse to renounce their faith. This is so comfortable! There is an expression which is so popular between Russians in Morocco today: embrace Islam to avoid problems!”

On the other hand, I respect the fact that many Moroccan husbands warn their wives from insincere acceptance of Islam. As we see in practice and history, precisely because of opportunists different kinds of problems happen: family problems, problems in daily life, spiritual crisis, and even physical problems.

As you can see, people come to understanding the affect of faith on their lives in different ways. But our goal is not to force or persuade people. After all, everyone makes his own choice. Our goal is to give those people the solid spiritual and cultural ground, help them to adapt to the new reality, so they can find their place in society and keep their inner spiritual integrity. In my pastoral Ministry, I pay more attention to preaching in the temple, not liturgical conversations or personal meetings”6.

Indeed, members of Russian community in Morocco are very different in their attitude towards religion. Many have kept the Soviet ideals and principles of their lives. (mostly representatives of the older generation, who had emigrated from the USSR). Some Russians accepted Islam formally, others converted to Islam sincerely. Most of them were not religious in Russia at all and, of course, their experience of church life there was very limited. In the late '80s, when the "Association of Soviet women in Morocco" collapsed, the lack of communication with their compatriots, lack of opportunities to gather together, to teach their children Russian language and their native culture has led them to the church. Without a doubt, going to church does not automatically make the person religious. For the majority of people the Orthodox Church became a place of spiritual rest, a certain reminder of the homeland and its cultural symbol. Many people do not attend the service itself, but they try to attend meetings after service on Sundays or on different Christian holidays. 

The church in its last period was like a club for them, the Russian club of communication in addition to its role as a discussion club on spiritual matters. Here - a quiet harbor in this stressful world. Some people seriously turned to Orthodoxy for a spiritual support. Obviously, this is normal: the human being by his nature cannot be guided only by logic. Especially, when he is experiencing strong emotional and psychological overload occurring in the process of adaptation to the new conditions of life. Human being has psychological need to believe, we have religious feelings inside us, and these are needs of the human spirit. “By establishing a connection between the mind and heart, religion provides "active going beyond our “I”, a lively sense of the connection between our limited “I” with an infinite and higher extension in the pursuit of unattainable perfection”. – said S.N. Bulgakov7. 

That’s why activists from Casablanca community wrote a lot of letters to the former rector of Assumption Church Nikolai Semyonov to Brussels asking him to come for services sometimes. These calls have gone unanswered. Then they began to gather in the club at the Greek Orthodox Church (Patriarchate of Alexandria), where they met a Russian priest the Father Andrey Pronin. In 2002 he began to hold regular services in the Church of the Assumption growing Russian-speaking Orthodox community in Casablanca. On the basis of the Act of Canonical Communication between the Russian Orthodox Church and ROCOR, signed in 2007, some abbots were coming to Casablanca periodically for services from Resurrection Church in Rabat. The last service was carried out in the church on the day of memory of St. Seraphim of Sarov (icon) 2/15 January 2012 by the Moscow Patriarchate priest abbot Maxim.

The dramatic story of the struggle for the temple began several months ago. On February 1, 2012, the church, recently renovated through the efforts of local parishioners, was entered by laborers who destroyed the valuable iconostasis, tore the old icons off the walls and tried to extract the holy items from the church to an unknown destination, but were stopped by the tenant of the parish property. On February 16 2012, His Eminence Archbishop Michael of Geneva and Western Europe made an urgent visit to Casablanca, which was within his jurisdiction, together with Fr Maksim, and filed a complaint with the police and the Royal Attorney General of Casablanca. After criminal charges were leveled against Nikolai Semenov, he was detained by the police at Casablanca’s airport in late February and was prohibited from leaving the country pending investigation of the matter. 

There is a tough judicial suit with an unpredictable outcome ahead. The important thing for us is the behavior of compatriots as parishioners and those who only occasionally attend church. When the news of sailing the Church spread throughout the Internet, parishioners and sympathizers offered their assistance to the abbot of the Resurrection church in Rabat. In early February, the meeting was held under the chairmanship of Archbishop Michael Genevskiy, which aimed to restore the parish church of the Assumption in Casablanca, fill it with real people and address on their behalf to the Moroccan authorities with a request to protect the temple from the machinations leading to its destruction. When this case was transferred to the legal plane, "Facebook" was not only an instrument for the overthrowing of dictators in the Arab world, but also a place for uniting all Russian-speaking inhabitants of Morocco, who were not indifferent to the fate of the temple. Of course, this was also an indicator of integration Russians in Moroccan society. A lot of connections were involved in this situation (friends, relatives, colleagues) in order to influence the course of the investigation opened by the royal prosecutor. 

An important role in mobilizing public opinion in the country has played Praskovya Petrovna Sheremeteva, bright representative of the first wave of Russian emigration, a direct descendant of the ducal family. She drew attention of Moroccan media, Historic preservation organizations such as Casamémoire, and well-known public figures in Casablanca to this case. Praskovya Petrovna expressed her position in an interview which she gave to ITAR-TASS: “The temple in Casablanca is very important for the Russian community, it is a symbol of openness, tolerance, and so it must continue to exist.”

The culmination of the struggle for the temple was a demonstration on 4 June at the walls of the Assumption Church. Among the participants of the demonstration authorized by the authorities of Casablanca were “old” and “new” immigrants, Russian experts working in Morocco, diplomatic personnel from Russian and Ukrainian embassies, Moroccan graduates of Soviet and Russian universities, Orthodox, Protestants and Muslims who are indifferent to the preservation of cultural and religious monuments. More than a hundred people gathered there for demonstrations. Prepared in advance posters appealed to the Moroccan public: “This is your heritage as well!”

The demonstration received wide response: numerous articles have been published in the leading newspapers of the country; a lot of reports were made in many Moroccan radio and television channels. Russian media reacted as well: radio "Voice of Russia", " Rossiyskaya Gazeta" and others. Two days before the demonstration correspondent of ITAR-TASS in Rabat wrote about this problem. The article caused the official reaction of the hierarchs of the ROC and ROCOR, the reaction of the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. All this has forced the Moroccan authorities to take actions for protecting the territory of the church and to investigate the case.

To sum it up, we can say that in this extreme situation, we observed the formation of the modern parish community of compatriots living in Morocco, on the one hand, and the positive experience of its interaction with other cultures on the other hand.


1 All the documents from the Assumption church in Casablanca were handed over by the author in 2011-12 to the House of the Russian diaspora abroad named after Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
2 Text written in pencil on a notebook sheet was found by the author in the Assumption church in 2010. Obviously, this is a copy of a letter which was written on February 2, 1969 by P.N.Kolarovichem at the request of the Italian reporter Marco Zucchini. All the papers which were found in the Assumption church in Casablanca were handed to the House of the Russian diaspora abroad named after Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
3 Mitrofan (Znosko-Borovsky), The Bishop. Chronicle of a life. On the sixtieth birthday of pastoral ministry IX.1935 - IX.1995.Publishing house of St. Vladimir brotherhood. – 1995.
4 In defense of the truth (Articles 1952-1977), the Word of the 40th day of the death of M. Koltovskaya, NEW YORK, N.Y. U.S.A. 1983 is available at: http://russian-inok.org/books/mitrofan.html#local36
5 The Father Dmitry (Orekhov) Rector of the Parish in the Church of Resurrection in 2008 - 2011. At the present time - the abbot of an Orthodox church in Havana (Cuba).
6 “The life of Russian patriarchal communities lights with an unquenchable fire”. Interview with the rector of the parish of the Church of Resurrection in Rabat (Morocco) priest Dimitry Orekhov, www.pravoslavie.ru/guest/41745.htm#_ftn2
7 Bulgakov S.N. Christian sociology // S.N. Bulgakov “Works on the sociology and theology”. volume 2 1997, pp 50-52.

Sukhov N.V.

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