Episcopal Delegation Present for Historic Consecration of Russian Cathedral

September 15, 2000

(ENS) Bishop Richard F. Grein of New York and Bishop George Packard, bishop of the Armed Forces, and their chaplains were the only invited leaders of Western Christendom at the August 19 consecration of the newly-rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

Nearly 8,000 people were present, including all of the Russian Orthodox bishops and delegations from Orthodox Churches around the world. The Episcopal bishops, dressed in purple cassocks, were highly visible as international television news teams captured the ceremony that was televised around the world.

The earlier Moscow Cathedral, the greatest in all Russia, was built by a 19th century czar in thanksgiving for the defeat of Napoleon and was a focal point of faith in the Orthodox world. For this reason Communist leader Joseph Stalin destroyed it. The cathedral was dynamited in 1931, and replaced by a swimming pool. To ensure that no trace of it would remain, Stalin had the photographic records of the cathedral, as well as the architectural plans, sent out of the Soviet Union. They were bought by a Berlin collector, and ultimately ended up in a collection of the New York Public Library.

With the fall of communism, Russia experienced a reemergence of its Christian Orthodox faith. Leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church began to think about rebuilding the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in its original form.

In 1992, Bishop Grein offered his support by presenting to the Russian Patriarch Alexy II a portfolio that included reproductions of the original pictures and plans from the New York Public Library. This portfolio has been an invaluable help in the reconstruction of the cathedral. Grein explained, "Having lived through 80 years of often unspeakable persecution and hardship, the Russian Orthodox now see this beautiful and potent symbol of their faith restored, once again inviting all to prayer and to worship."

On this occasion Grein presented the patriarch with an antique 1899 Orthodox chalice as a gift from Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold. The invitation of Grein to be present at the consecration is a sign of recognition and gratitude for his personal contributions to the work of rebuilding Christianity in Russia--and a sign of the special relationship of trust that has developed between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Episcopal Church.

"If you want a model for ecumenical relations look at the relationship between the Orthodox and the Anglican Church, especially the one forged by the Episcopal Bishop of New York," the patriarch said at a luncheon held for the religious dignitaries following the consecration. In a surprising gesture of honor, Grein was unexpectedly asked to join the Russian Orthodox bishops for a planned meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.

This was Packard's second trip to Russia, but the first to meet his counterpart in the Russian Church, Bishop Savva. Although initial news of the sinking of the submarine Kursk occurred upon their arrival and curtailed some ceremonies, Packard summed up the visit as a "hearty exchange" between friends. Candles lighted by the Russians and Americans throughout the visit symbolized a hope in God's greater care for the men trapped in the downed submarine.

Debra Wagner is editor of the newspaper for the Diocese of New York.