Centenary of the Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe

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The Parish School of Rue Olivier de Serres

A parish school and a kindergarten have operated for many years with the parish of the Presentation 91 rue Olivier de Serres, Paris 15th. The Thursday School was founded by S. S. Chidlovsky and M. M. Sladkovsky in the winter of 1925-1926, during the Boulevard du Montparnasse era. It was called "Thursday" because classes were held on Thursday, which was then a free day in French schools. Its purpose was to keep children loving Russian culture, traditions, history. Already in 1928, the leaders of ACER perceived the danger presented by the estrangement of children and adolescents from Russian culture, a danger to which it was necessary to react immediately: “Children who study in schools in host countries gradually lose the habit of hearing their mother tongue. They no longer live under the good influence of a stable life, are deprived of the educational influence of national culture, lose their ties with the Orthodox Church and with Russia. […] The essential task of our life is to succeed in transmitting to our heirs the Russian cultural work, which is sacred in the Russian spirit, and this for the benefit of Russia.“

The subjects taught in the Russian school were catechism, Russian history, Russian language (there was even a program to prepare students for French state exams for the Russian language), history of literature Russian geography. In the 1950s, certain subjects taught were grouped together in a course on “knowledge of the homeland”. Classes began with morning prayer, the morning was devoted to small classes (for children aged about 4 to 7 years), the afternoon was devoted to large classes. Initially, the textbooks used were published in the Soviet Union and given to the pupils with pages glued between them, because there were portraits and photos of the Communist leaders. And, of course, the students were very intrigued and tried to peel off the pages to defy the ban. Then were published the "Course in the history of Russian literature" and the "Russian history" by IK Yuryff, typed and mimeographed (in 1965, the latter was published by YMCA-Press), as well as the "Russian grammar course" »By AM Ossorguine. The school year ended with exams, an office of thanksgiving and the distribution of diplomas and prizes in the form of Russian books for the best pupils. In 1942, the school had thirty-five students; in 1948 there were fifty-five enrolled children and six teachers; in 1963 there were ninety-five children, twelve teachers and eleven classes. In the years 1980-1990, the lists mentioned thirty-five pupils, and when, in 1998, there remained only nine pupils for four teachers, the decision was taken to close the school.

For many years the catechism had been taught by Father Alexis Kniazeff, who was appointed rector of the Institute of Theology in September 1965 and had to leave his service at the Church of the Presentation. He was followed by Father Victor Yourieff, Father Igor Vernik - who had, according to Father Victor, a special gift for teaching the word of God to children -, Father Stéphane Knijnikoff, Father Vsevolod Dounaieff and in recent years, Father Nicolas Rehbinder.

Among those who in the seventy years of the school's existence had actively taught there, we can mention Father Vsevolod Dunajev (geography), PE Kovalevsky (history), NN Romanoff, MA Levitsky, SE Miller, NA Terentieff , LA Grünau (Russian language), TI Smolensky (Russian language and song), AP Jikhareff (Russian language), MA Antonoff, CF Garon, AM Kononoff (literature), the wife of Father Igor ZI Vernik (Russian language), the wife of Father Victor IK Yourieff (history), SV Eltchaninoff (Russian language), MM Loukine and many others, who worked there wholeheartedly, for a symbolic fee.

Photos de l'école russe de la rue Olivier de Serres

A children's choir had also been set up at this school. It was directed by Thais Ivanovna Smolensky, who taught liturgical song. On the Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent, this choir sang alone the liturgy of the Presanctified. Its members then passed, as they grew up, in the church choir, thus completing the choir. In 1959, the rector noted: “We can also rejoice in the fact that there are more young people and children than adults in the church choir, which has a total of fifteen to thirty people. This thanks to a young and talented choir director - Serge Spassky (the son of Théodose Gueorguievitch Spassky) who brings in young singers. It is essential to specify here that the active participation of children and adolescents in the liturgies had always been part of the traditions of the parish, whether as altar servers - which could be from two to eight for an ordinary Sunday and more on feast days -, as readers in the church or singers in the choir, coming to help decorate the church for the feasts - especially on the occasion of Easter - or helping to prepare the mass wine, coffee after the liturgy and many other things.

Teachers and students at the school put on children's shows that were open to everyone. In the program of the February 1968 show, verses by Y. Polonsky and fables by Kryloff had been recited, the pupils had performed scenes taken from the novel by I. Gontcharov "The Precipice", a play by I. Kryloff "A lesson to the girls ”, the pupils of the final class had read excerpts from the novel“ Eugene Oneguin ”by A. Pushkin. Such an extensive program took place in four parts, with an intermission and a buffet.

Natalia Alexandrovna Terentieff devoted a lot of energy and time to educating children, preparing shows; she was one of the school’s most significant personalities. Many of her students still remember the respect she inspired and the culture she imparted to them.

Financial support for the school came from ACER, parish quests, parents, and substantial support also came from Zemgor ("Committee of Russian Zemstvos and Cities for Relief to Russian Citizens Abroad"). This money was used to buy books and notebooks, organize school parties, Christmas trees and pay teachers with a symbolic fee.

For many years the Russian school had been directed by Alexandra Grigorievna Castillon (Jabtchenko). A devoted member of ACER, she was a teacher by training and vocation with a real gift as a teacher. She knew how to listen and respect children while being severe and demanding. A. G. Castillon devoted her spiritual and physical strength to the school and was its last director. (

The teachers at that time were NM Boutleroff (history, geography and Russian language), AG Barteneff, X. Krivochéine (Russian language), E. Dolgouchine and K. Tchalaev (musical culture), N. Ivkoff (catechism and Russian language), as well as many other enthusiasts.

When the decision to close the school was taken in 1998, Alexandra Grigorievna asked for the blessing of the rector to organize a catechesis on Sunday mornings before the liturgy. She also organized the reading of paremias on Passion Saturday by young parishioners. This tradition is still alive in the parish. From 1997 to 2003, Alexandra Castillon was assisted by Olga Pichon-Bobrinskoy, Lydia D’Aloisio-Obolensky as well as Daniel Lossky and Christophe D’Aloisio.

Today, catechism continues to be taught to children by age groups, with children's ages ranging from 4 to 17 years old. After a common prayer, the children and the teachers divide into groups. They learn the Old and New Testaments, the liturgical year, the lives of saints, Slavonic, choral singing. And the parishioners get together to organize a Christmas tree every year open to all children, which continues to delight young and old.