Priest Hildo Bos: For Me, Orthodoxy Is Experiencing the Divine Mystery in This World

Part 1. My friend died, but I still became a believer

Father Hildo Bos teaching the Law of God in the Russian Student Christian Movement’s camp in France Father Hildo Bos teaching the Law of God in the Russian Student Christian Movement’s camp in France He had a brush with death in the Alps, fell in love with Russia when he was in university, and converted to Orthodoxy in a village near Novgorod in the waning days of the Soviet era. Hildo Bos is the priest of St. Nicholas Church in Amsterdam, part of the Hague Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. He also serves as Secretary of the Diocesan Administration and works as a part-time simultaneous interpreter. In this interview, we will discuss Tarkovsky’s secret language, talk about buying a church with a mortgage, and touch upon such issues as the straightforwardness of Russians, de-Christianization of the Netherlands, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh’s principles of parish life, euthanasia in the Netherlands, the Night of Churches and Russian émigrés.

You converted to Orthodoxy in 1990 in the Novgorod Region. In what church did this take place, and why there? What made you make this decision?

—I did convert to Orthodoxy in the Novgorod Region. This may seem unusual, but it was the culmination of a fairly long process. My journey to Orthodoxy began at a very early stage of my life, I just wasn’t aware of it. Many aspects remain hidden from me, and I only remember a few fragments. My grandfather was a pastor, yet we didn’t attend worship services. My parents had drifted away from the Church, so I didn’t receive any religious upbringing. But my mother was interested in religion. Her sister moved to France and converted to Catholicism. She was influenced by Marie-Madeleine Davy, the French philosopher. Davy had a very good relationship with the Orthodox. For example, she kept in touch with the St. Dionysius Theological Institute in Paris where Orthodox theology was taught in French. Fr. Alexander Schmemann was a teacher there for some time. Davy is even mentioned in Berdyaev’s Self-Knowledge.

Hildo’s childhood drawing of monks with an icon Hildo’s childhood drawing of monks with an icon     

So, when my aunt needed advice on how to become a nun, Ms. Davy referred her to Fr. Sophrony (Sakharov) who was living in France at the time. My aunt asked him her question and they had a conversation… I don’t remember if she ever told me about it, but we still have a drawing from my childhood of two monks and an icon. I guess something was already drawing me toward the faith back then.

As a child, I was always interested in the well-decorated churches and Medieval Christianity of Western Europe. Johan Huizinga’s The Autumn of The Middle Ages was an eye-opener for me. In this book, he described how the Renaissance became a turning point in the Christian and spiritual conscience of the West. That was why I was so interested in the Middle Ages, I guess.

Another aspect was my brush with death. When I was a child, I had appendicitis that turned into peritonitis. I almost died and had to spend several months in the hospital. This experience made me feel that God was close to me.

Blessing water in the parish church Blessing water in the parish church     

Later, when I was 18, I fell off a cliff. It was a miracle that I survived. A year later, my best friend died in a mountain climbing accident… Every time I saw death, I thought that it was something terrible and sad for the others, yet joyful too, because I firmly believed (and still do) that it was our chance to experience eternity. In particular, when people who were close to me died, I got a very distinct feeling that they didn’t simply disappear. Subconsciously, I felt a touch of eternity. Olivier Clement, my teacher in the St. Sergius Institute, told us one ancient Russian legend (unfortunately, I couldn’t find any references to it later). According to that legend, when a person dies, an angel of death comes for this person’s soul. There are eyes on the wings of this angel, and if for some reason the angel leaves without taking this person’s life, he replaces the eyes of this person with the eyes from his wings. It doesn’t matter whether this story is true or not, but I really understood that many people who came to Church had brushed with death. They were the people with the “other eyes.”

So when I discovered Tarkovsky’s movies in the last years of school, I found something that I could relate to. His movies had some religious component that was in sync with that experience of life and death, the experience of eternity. Intuitively, I decided to apply to the Philology Department for Slavic Studies. And then something unexpected happened. My father, a mathematician, was spending the year in New York and Princeton. Once, when I was still a freshman, I came to visit him at Christmas. I needed some help with my Russian Literature exam. He said that he knew somebody who could help me, and that was how I, through some of his colleagues, got to my first Orthodox church. The priest’s wife was a literature teacher and agreed to help me with my studies. When I walked into the church (The Church of Christ the Savior on the 340th street), I knew that this was no coincidence. I should say that for many people in the West, an Orthodox church is like a synagogue or a mosque—people don’t just walk in there. It was a rare chance for me. Even though it had nothing to do with religion at the time, visiting this sacred site was a mystifying and captivating experience for me. Fr. Mikhail Aksenov-Meerson, a student and a close friend of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, and Fr. Mikhail’s wife Olga gave me a very warm welcome. I still keep in touch with them.

First visit to the USSR in 1989 First visit to the USSR in 1989     

After I completed my first year of studies in the summer of 1989, Fr. Mikhail’s wife helped me arrange a visit to Moscow, so I could spend a month there. On the train, I met a man who was a believer. For a month, he showed me church churches and monasteries in and around Moscow, both active ones and others in ruins. Every time we visited these sites, I noticed that they touched something deep in my heart. The man from the train became my close friend. His name was Leonid. I started coming to Russia whenever I could. At Christmas, we visited the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra, and at Easter we went to the St. Joseph of Volokolamsk monastery. At night, in a dilapidated church, somebody gave me a banner and we started the procession. Naturally, I wondered whether it was a sign and whether God was telling me something.

In 1990, when I was a sophomore, I got a chance to spend three months in Leningrad. In May, my classmates went to Moscow for the holidays, but since I had already been to Moscow, I chose to accept the invitation of Leonid’s relatives. They told me that Fr. Joseph (Sofronov), an old archimandrite tonsured before the revolution of 1917, lived in the village of Vnuto in the Novgorod Region. He survived the GULAG, escaped to the West, visited Mt. Athos and then came back to the Soviet Union. He lived in a nearly abandoned village where he was sent to serve as a priest. People from Moscow and Leningrad came to visit him. Many of the believers I got to know went to that village specifically to visit this monk. I found out that my friends from Moscow and St. Petersburg went to visit him too.

Fr. Sergey Ovsyannikov and Fr. Alexis Voogd (the first two priests of the parish) with Bishop Simon in Fr. Alexis’ house. The parish was founded by Fr. Alexis and his wife. Fr. Sergey Ovsyannikov and Fr. Alexis Voogd (the first two priests of the parish) with Bishop Simon in Fr. Alexis’ house. The parish was founded by Fr. Alexis and his wife.     

Leonid’s relatives even bought a house in a nearby village. I decided to go to Vnuto too. I got acquainted with the monk and once again faced the question of what this all meant for me. I met one of his assistants. When they told her, “This is Hildo, he’s a Protestant,” she simply said, “We need to fix this.” Later she became my godmother. It didn’t happen right away, as I was still on the fence. I decided to wait a little bit before converting to Orthodoxy. It was very important for me to be sure that it wasn’t just a whim and I wasn’t simply intrigued by the beauty, aesthetics, spirituality, or exoticism of it all. I needed to be sure that I wanted to live a godly life as a member of the Orthodox Church.

My mother asked me, “I held you in my arms when you were baptized. Are you leaving all this behind?” I told her that I decided to convert to Orthodoxy because I could love Orthodoxy and still remain a Dutchman. Our first priest, Fr. Alexis Voogd, was very helpful. He was a native-born Dutchman who had fallen in love with Russia. He had been on a similar journey and combined the Dutch culture and the Russian Orthodoxy within himself. Eventually, at Christmas of 1990, Fr. Joseph baptized and chrismated me in the Church of Dormition in Vnuto.

One certainly can’t call Orthodoxy traditional for the Netherlands, and several of the Local Orthodox Churches have a presence there. Why did you convert to Orthodoxy and become the priest here in the Russian Church rather than the Serbian or Greek Churches?

—As I explained, my journey to Orthodoxy went through Russia. Besides, I deliberately converted to Orthodoxy in the Church that was being persecuted. I still remember the years when people had that uncontrollable fear of being persecuted by the authorities. I also saw many people who were searching for Christ in spite of these conditions. I remember that when Fr. Alexander Fedorov (the priest of Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg) and I went to the evening Bible study meetings, he would tuck his cassock into his pants so that it wasn’t so conspicuous… This was the Orthodoxy that I converted to. Thankfully, when I came to Fr. Alexis in Amsterdam and told him that I wanted to convert to Orthodoxy, I felt that he had the same attitude. I found the man whose decision to convert to Orthodoxy was inspired by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh who always supported the idea that we were with the Church that was persecuted in Russia. Our parish still follows this legacy, and that was why I felt so comfortable there. I felt at home in the parish, and the priest of that parish gave me his blessing to apply to the Institute of Theology, and later his successor, Fr. Sergey Ovsyannikov, suggested that I should be ordained to become a deacon and, later, a priest.

Working with the youth. Hildo Bos at the Syndesmos Youth Festival with Anastasios, Archbishop of Albania, former Vice President of Syndesmos. Working with the youth. Hildo Bos at the Syndesmos Youth Festival with Anastasios, Archbishop of Albania, former Vice President of Syndesmos.     

Why didn’t I didn’t become a priest in, say, the Serbian Church? Under different circumstances, I might have converted to Orthodoxy somewhere else. But this is not important. The important thing for me is that Orthodoxy is universal.

I didn’t realize it right away. By the time of my conversion, I had already understood that it didn’t force Russian secular culture upon me. However, I only knew the Russian traditions of Orthodoxy. In 1992, when I was still a neophyte, I was invited to attend a meeting of Syndesmos (World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth—Trans.). There were Serbs, Greeks, Arabs, Finns as well as Russian émigrés. Since I thought that Orthodoxy was uniform, I was amazed to see such diversity! I’ve heard some people say about youth work: none of this is necessary, it’s enough to just attend services and observe the fasts. I resented such ideas and sulked, but Fr. John Matusyak, a priest from America, listened to me very calmly, and after talking to him I understood that Orthodoxy was even broader. I started to take an active part in the activities organized by Syndesmos. I also grew to love other Orthodox traditions, Romanian, Greek, Serbian… I understood that Orthodoxy’s strength was its ability to co-exist with other cultures, including western culture. The most important thing was that I was serving the Orthodox Church. Incidentally, Vladyka Anthony of Sourozh used to say, “First, we’re Christians, second, we’re Orthodox Christians, and only after that we are representatives of any culture.”

Your grandfather was a pastor in the Calvinist Church. Did this influence your decision to become a priest in any way?

—I don’t think that I was directly influenced by that. We never talked about it. I remember some services that seemed very boring to me… Those were the traditional Calvinist services: organ music, singing, sermons, the empty white church… this didn’t appeal to me at all. My grandfather passed away when I was a child, so I don’t see any direct influence. On the contrary, my mother, as a daughter of a clergyman, had negative experiences, as parish affairs and conflicts were a constant topic of discussion at home. She saw how her father was always busy attending to people’s needs, and how he sometimes suffered from people’s actions. If anything, I think that the fact that my grandfather was a clergyman had a negative influence. I knew for sure that I wouldn’t want to be in the same situation. It is difficult to say what was happening with me on a subconscious level. When his wife, my grandmother, passed away, I was asked to say a few words. I decided to read an Orthodox prayer. After that, my grandfather’s colleagues came up to me and said, “Now we see that you are one of us.” This rather scared me, so I resisted. When Fr. Sergey, the priest of our church, and Fr. Boris Bobrinsky, my spiritual father, started suggesting that I should be ordained, I rejected their suggestions quite vigorously. I was afraid of it, and as a result, my ordination came much later.

Expedition to Pamir-Alai, 1992 Expedition to Pamir-Alai, 1992     

Mountain climbing is one of your hobbies. Did this have an influence on your religious outlook? How did you perceive death before and after you started your conscious spiritual life?

—Mountains have always been important for me. In the 1950s, my paternal grandfather travelled to an Italian canton in the southernmost part of Switzerland. He fell in love with this canton, bought a plot of land and built a house there. The house still belongs to our family. We have spent summers there ever since I was born. The mountains there are amazing. The population in this in this area was very poor, so they developed any land they could, even the most remote plots, and built incredible paths with stairs to access them. And they built painted chapels everywhere. For me, the beauty of the mountains and conscious religious life always seemed to complement each other somehow.

Then I discovered mountain climbing. I was into it for several years. You might even say I was fanatical about it. When I was in school, I definitely was. I think there were several reasons for that. Obviously, I was fascinated by the beauty of the mountains. Second, mountains, just like the sea, make you see things in a realistic dimension: God is great, and I am very small. Our world is set up in such a way that people do not notice this. We feel as if we are the most powerful, think that everything is under our control and we can comfortably go anywhere we want. We live in a controlled environment. In the mountains, you can feel God’s power and your own insignificance. I always found this appealing. Besides, mountain climbing and rock climbing are activities that require your full attention, so you can forget about everything else. When you’re climbing a cliff, that’s the only thing you can think about. Your thoughts and actions are one, and that was very important for me. It is risky, too. You need to be calm to avoid making mistakes and to assess your risks—some are worth taking and others aren’t.

Naturally, this was also an important part of my encounter with the Absolute, which was very unexpected for me. When I was 18, I made a mistake and fell. I was descending a cliff with someone and didn’t check the rope that he had tied, so I ended up falling from a height of fifty meters. Luckily, a tree broke my fall. As I was falling, I clearly understood that I was going to die and that it would be a tragedy for my family. I was sorry to leave this wonderful world, yet I knew that I was going somewhere where I would feel good. A year later, I was in the mountains again with one of my friends. He slipped and fell. I found him and tied myself to him with a rope so that we wouldn’t slip further down. I managed to call other people and they called for a helicopter that picked us both up. We were brought to a town called Chamonix. My friend was hospitalized, so that night I went for a walk around the night town and entered a church. Back then I didn’t know anything about prayers or God, but I started praying anyway. I said, “God, let’s make a deal: You keep my friend alive, and I will believe in You.” Of course, you can’t make such deals with God. My friend died that night, but I became a believer nonetheless.

With family in the mountains of Georgia With family in the mountains of Georgia     

I think these brushes with death (both in my childhood and in the mountains) help me in my priesthood in a certain way. I think that I feel more… comfortable (for lack of a better word) dealing with death and dying or sick people and their relatives. I am calm. I can look any person in the eye and calmly tell him or her that I believe that we are going to see God. Death is scary and tragic, but we go on, we do not just disappear. In a sense, I think that I got this understanding from mountain climbing. I still love the mountains, and although I barely rock climb now, my family and I go hiking in the mountains every year. Living without mountains is very difficult for me.

When you visited Russia, what impressed you the most in the believers?

—As I mentioned, I visited the Soviet Union at the very end of the period when the Church was still being persecuted. I was impressed by the combination of common sense and profound spiritual feelings among believers. People who are somewhat religious often impress you with their interest in the aesthetics or the beauty of the services, or with their ideological, political or cultural values, but I saw that the true believers of that period had a profound relationship with God. They had a very calm and sober attitude toward themselves, with a slight smile. They had this attitude without going overboard or taking themselves too seriously. It seemed as if they were saying, “We are willing to die for this greatness before us…” but there was no histrionics.

I once asked someone about a friend of ours and he answered, “Well, it’s complicated… he drinks, and then he quits and returns to God. We support him.” He said this naturally, humbly, without any drama. Yet this reservedness didn’t mean a lack of a profound spiritual life. I was amazed by the incredible work of the people who restored churches. I was amazed by the woman who would later become my godmother. She had a regular job in St. Petersburg, but every other week she volunteered in Fr. Joseph’s parish in Vnuto, helping, singing, reading, cleaning and cooking for the pilgrims. There were many people like her. This spirit, this combination of common sense and profound spirituality was very appealing to me. Later, I understood that you could see this in all the Local Churches and in monasteries, in particular.

The Church of Dormition, Vnuto Village, Khvoyninsky Region (Novgorod Region) where Hildo Bos was baptized in 1991. The Church of Dormition, Vnuto Village, Khvoyninsky Region (Novgorod Region) where Hildo Bos was baptized in 1991.     

When I returned home after spending a month in Moscow in 1989 and then for three months in Leningrad in 1990, I felt like people here in the West were covered in plastic like meat in the supermarket. They all seemed aloof and unapproachable. In Russia, people were willing to meet you halfway and accept you, they were sincerely interested in you, and if something was wrong, they would tell it to your face… I really value this, I can’t live without it.

You mentioned that it was Tarkovsky that influenced your interest in Russian culture. Can you tell us more?

—It is difficult for me to answer. This is partly because when I watch his movies now, having have joined the Church, I perceive them differently. Perhaps, it seemed mysterious and appealing for me when Tarkovsky spoke about mystery in a time of censorship. And that mystery, in Andrey Rublev and other movies, was religious in nature… I was moved by the scene where Rublev picks the boy who had made the bell up from the dirt and tells him, “Calm down! You’ll be making bells and I will be making icons—what a joy it will be for other people!” For some reason, this scene fascinated me. Its symbolism influences you subconsciously, I think. For me, Orthodoxy is a chance to experience the Divine Mystery in this world. It is a door that leads us to the mystery, and though this door the mystery enters our world.

This is the essence of the Divine Liturgy, of the entire worship service. It is our pitiful attempt to perceive that invisible Divine world. This is what Tarkovsky was doing in his movies. He spoke about various mysteries, the mysteries of beauty and kindness, suffering and loss… Under censorship, language often becomes more elaborate, profound, elusive and difficult to understand. But there was something appealing in it for me, so I followed that premise, and later found even stronger sources of it. When I watch Tarkovsky’s movies, they still move me profoundly. Incidentally, one of our parishioners was Tarkovsky’s co-worker, which I’m very glad about.

We will talk about your parishioners later. Let’s first talk about the history of Orthodoxy in the “tulip country”. When was the first Orthodox parish opened in the Netherlands? What can be considered the starting point of the community in the country?

—For many centuries, Holland was under the influence of the Catholic Church. The Reformation was very intense here and it caused a schism in the country. Part of the population remained with the Catholic Church, especially in the south that had been controlled by the Spanish Kingdom for centuries. The north of the country followed various Protestant movements. Naturally, the concept of Orthodoxy was totally alien to these people, so for a long time there was no Orthodoxy in the country.

The situation began to change in the seventeenth century. First, some scholars from Constantinople, Smyrna and other areas of the Ottoman Empire started coming to Holland to study. Some of them even converted to Protestantism, while others stayed there forever. Among those people were priests and bishops, and naturally they performed the worship services. The first accurate evidence of Orthodox worship in Holland dates back to Peter I’s first visit to the country. We know that he was accompanied by a priest, a deacon, choir members and other clergy, which means that Orthodox worship services were held in Holland in the time of what is referred to as the Grand Embassy. Moreover, we know that when the Grand Embassy returned to Russia, many students remained in Holland, and a priest stayed with them too. There is evidence that, before Pascha people came to the hotel where the priest lived, went to confession and then celebrated the holiday. We know that in the house where Peter I lived there was a room where he prayed and “fulfilled his religious needs.”

A period of inactivity followed. Then, in the mid-eighteenth century, a Greek-Russian church was founded in Amsterdam. There were Greek merchants in the city, and sometimes they would invite a priest to visit them. Russian sailors also visited the city occasionally. In 1750, they founded a joint community, after receiving the funding from the Greek community, the Emperor and the Holy Synod. They bought a room in the attic of a house in downtown Amsterdam and turned it into a church. This was the St. Catherine’s Church that existed till the death of Queen Anna Pavlovna. One can say that the true development of Orthodoxy in Holland started with the arrival of Anna Pavlovna.

She came to the country in 1816. Churches were built near all her palaces. The royal family had palaces in Brussels, the Hague and in the eastern regions of Holland. Anna Pavlovna kept a close eye on those churches and chapels and even wrote requirements for how the altar servers should dress. They were supposed to wear the military uniform worn in the times of her father. A priest always accompanied the queen. When she learned about the existing Greek-Russian church, she offered her patronage to this church, and one can say that after that the Orthodox life in Holland became more active.

There even were Orthodox Dutch people. Although they were there even before. We know that Peter I’s doctor, a Dutchman, converted to Orthodoxy. Some choir members and altar servers married local girls and they converted to Orthodoxy before the marriage. Some locals consciously made the decision to convert. According to the resolution of the Holy Synod, the Amsterdam church was closed after Anna Pavlovna’s death, and so were other churches and chapels that had been built near the palaces, with the exception of the church in her palace in the Hague that was transformed into the embassy church. It is still standing. We recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of that church. This Church of St. Mary Magdalene in the Hague is amazing. There are items that Anna Pavlovna’s brother, Alexander I, gave to her: for example, a portable iconostasis. This church probably has the greatest historical significance. I would say that the real development of Orthodoxy in Holland is associated with it. It should be noted that the first wave of emigration from Russia to Holland was sparse. The authorities were afraid of communism, and Holland was a very anti-communist country, so they let almost no one from Russia in, except for a few White émigrés.

After the White émigrés arrived, this small community split into several camps supporting the Church Abroad, the exarchate in Paris and the Moscow Patriarchate respectively… In 1936, hieromonk Dionisius (Lukin) came to Holland to serve in the only existing church in the Hague, but he also had a missionary spirit. Fr. Dionisius started to translate the services into Dutch, which made the services more appealing to Dutch people. After the war, two [Catholic] Dutch monks who had been prisoners of war and were held in captivity with some Russians got interested in Orthodoxy. Fr. Dionisius baptized them. So, together they started dreaming of not simply having worship services in Dutch, but of Dutch Orthodoxy. They believed that though they had been influenced by the Catholic West for some time, 1000 years earlier they had been a part of the true Church. There were pre-schism saints and their relics. The efforts of these monks led to the appearance of small parishes where the services were held in Dutch and Russian, and sometimes in both languages. One can say that currently most of the parishes of our diocese are in one way or another connected to these three monks.

Eventually, hieromonk Dionisius became the Bishop of Rotterdam, and the two Dutch monks became Archbishop Jacob (Akkersdijk) and Archimandrite Adrian (Korporaal). They founded a small convent and several parishes… They translated almost all worship books into Dutch. We still use their translations.

After Perestroika, more typical Russian parishes appeared to serve the new wave of Russian people who came to Holland. In practice, however, the parishes are marked by the coexistence of both cultures.

Working with youth – Pilgrimage to Romanian monasteries in 2000. Working with youth – Pilgrimage to Romanian monasteries in 2000.     

How many Orthodox parishes of the Russian Church are there in Holland now? Are services held in Russian in all of them? How big is the parish? What is the percentage of Dutch people who have converted to Orthodoxy?

—Currently, the Russian Orthodox Church has seven fully-fledged parishes, two communities and two monasteries in Holland. Five of the parishes use only Dutch, although some of the hymns may be performed in Church Slavonic. Two parishes – one in the Hague and the other in Rotterdam – mostly use Church Slavonic, but some of the texts might be read in Dutch. Our parish in Amsterdam is the only parish that uses both languages equally. The main texts are repeated in both languages, the sermons are also delivered in Russian and in Dutch. If there’s a fifth Sunday in a month, we also add English to the services.

Our diocese follows different calendars. Some parishes use the Gregorian calendar, while others follow the Julian. As you see, there is a fairly wide spectrum of cultural heritage. It is noteworthy that practically all our parishes accept believers from other Local Churches. We have our Serbs, Romanians and Greeks, because in some cities our Orthodox churches are the only churches they can go to. Sometimes we add some of their prayers or traditions to make their stay in our church comfortable and pleasant.

Tell us about your parish. How did it come to be and who founded it? Who are your parishioners?

—Our parish is dedicated to St. Nicholas. It is not accidental, as he is considered the patron saint of Amsterdam. The Greek-Russian church was dedicated to St. Catherine, but when our church was built, they decided to dedicate it to St. Nicholas the Wonder Worker. He is the patron saint of sailors, and Amsterdam is a port. Our parish was founded in 1974. As I said earlier, we had Orthodox churches before, and the Church of St. Catherine existed until 1865. There were other attempts to found a church here, as described by Metropolitan Evlogy, but by the end of the Second World War they had all disappeared, so the believers had to go to the Hague to church.

The Church of St. Nicholas was founded through the efforts of two or three different groups. There was Alexis Voogd, a Dutchman who got interested in Russia and married a young Russian lady, Tatiana Stoyanova, who had moved to Holland during the Second World War. Through Maria Yudina, they got acquainted with Metropolitan Anthony, and he baptized Voogd. Under Metropolitan Anthony’s guidance, Voogd was also ordained into the priesthood. At the time when the parish was founded, however, he wasn’t a priest yet, so a group of Russians and the Dutch who wanted to found a parish in Amsterdam joined the Serbs. They got help from other Christian confessions (the Council of Churches had already exited in Amsterdam), which made it possible for them to pay the salary of a priest who had been sent to Holland to provide services to workers from Yugoslavia. That was how the three groups united to have joint services.

It is worth mentioning that our community still includes Serbian families that have been with us since that time, even though a separate Serbian church was founded later. Metropolitan Anthony gave us several important principles of church life: follow the Russian spiritual tradition, be open to the surrounding Dutch society, be simple, honest, consciously participate in services and set your priorities straight. As I mentioned earlier, first and foremost, we’re Christian, then we’re Orthodox Christian, and only as a third priority we belong to a certain nation.

Initially, the community was very small, so we gathered in a small room in the attic of the main Catholic Cathedral. Then we rented a small former baptismal chapel from another Catholic church. Later, we managed to buy a building, a former Pentecostal chapel. And 10 years later we bought a former Catholic monastery downtown.

Another principle that Vladyka Anthony handed down to us was to do everything ourselves. During the Communist times, when the Patriarchal parishes in the West could receive certain aid from the Moscow Patriarchate, our parish always refused to accept these subsidies. We believed that the parishioners must take care of the church and the parish themselves. Vladyka Anthony also gave us the parish Charter of the Russian Orthodox Church that had been approved at the Moscow Council of 1918. We still live by this Charter, and it is very important for us, because it emphasizes the responsibility of all believers for their churches and communities.

Our parish is multicultural. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been using two liturgical languages from the beginning. Now, after the Iron Curtain had fallen, and after the economic crisis hit many countries of Eastern Europe, we have parishioners from more than 20 ethnic backgrounds. With about 500 people regularly attending our worship services, we have about 200 officially registered members with families. On average, services are attended by 200-300 people. As I mentioned, these people are from various professions and walks of life: We have rich, poor, educated, uneducated… yet they all get along well in one community.

Our second priest, Fr. Sergey Ovsyannikov, managed to preserve the spirit of the community when the number of the believers noticeably increased after the fall of the Iron Curtain. New people rushed to the parish, and he was the guiding light for them. Fr. Sergey was Russian, but he was also a dissident who had consciously adopted Christianity. On one hand, he could share with the new parishioners their yearning for the homeland, and on the other hand, he was also showing them the path to God. He reminded them that they could come to God here in Holland too, and many of them became more consciously Orthodox here. People often came to the Church for cultural or social reasons, simply looking for people to talk to, and then accepted Christ. Fr. Sergey managed to keep all these people in one community.

We dedicate a lot of efforts to maintaining our community. Every two years we organize parish weekends. These weekends are like mini-conferences held in the countryside, and are attended by around 150 people. We have lectures, talks and discussions to help people keep in touch with each other. It is important to have clubs, volunteer activities and drink tea together after services. It is very important because everything we have is done by volunteers. Only the clergy and administrative workers get a small salary. Other than that, everything is done by volunteers: the choir, readers, altar servers are all volunteers; our candles and prosphora are made by volunteers, and the cleaning is also done by volunteers. This is our strong suit. Coronavirus was a big challenge for us but, thank God, our parishioners continue to support us and pay their membership fees, so this crisis was less difficult for us compared to the churches whose income is exclusively made up of donations.

You mentioned that Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh was directly involved in establishing the Orthodox community in Holland. Did you meet him? What do you remember about him?

—Unfortunately, I attended only one of Vladyka Anthony of Sourozh’s services, so I can’t say that I knew him personally, unlike most of our clergy. Our first two priests were his spiritual children. Our current priest, archimandrite Meletius (Webber) communicated with Vladyka Anthony a lot in Oxford. This is very important for us.

As I mentioned, I am just following the tradition that Vladyka Anthony established in our parish. We keep this tradition alive. When parishioners from the Cathedral of Sourozh visit us, they say that our parish has the spirit that their cathedral had in the time of Vladyka Anthony. Naturally, this means a lot to us. We cherish his heritage and his views on church life and believe that they are still relevant.

To be continued

Vladimir Basenkov
spoke with Priest Hildo Bos
Translation by Talyb Samedov

Pravoslavie.ru

4/8/2021

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