St Andrew’s, Moscow

May 12, 2011 in Anglican Churches in Europe

The foundations which would allow the establishment of the Anglican community in Russia were laid by Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible), who reigned between 1533 and 1584. In an effort to promote trade with Europe, he gave permission for foreign communities of merchants to worship according to their own traditions, complete with their own church buildings and ministers. Russia’s first Anglican church was most probably built in Archangel in the seventeenth century. Archangel, like Hamburg, was a bustling centre of trade, with the British Isles among Russia’s foremost trading partners. From around 1705, Archangel’s chaplain regularly travelled to Moscow to hold services there. In those days, with St Petersburg the capital, Moscow’s British community consisted mainly of young merchants living far from their homes and families. As might be expected, drunkenness and disorder were common, frequently with loss of life.  Women were few and far between – in 1706, they numbered only eight in the congregation, six of whom were probably servants. Thus Moscow remained a small and isolated outpost of the Anglican Church, becoming one of four congregations in Russia, the others being Archangel, St Petersburg [established 1754] and Kronstadt [established 1771]). Like the others, it was supported and administered by the Russia Company, a powerful trading company responsible for much of Anglo-Russian trade. It appointed the chaplains and provided the financial means to maintain the congregations, an echo of our own links to the Merchant Adventurers at St Thomas Becket.

The Anglican community in Moscow remained small until the nineteenth century, when the city underwent rapid industrialisation. With this blossoming came the settlement of numerous professional families involved in trade and manufacturing, and thus the congregation grew sufficiently for it to obtain first its own chaplain in 1825 (prior to which it had been served from first Archangel and then St Petersburg) and then its own church building in 1828. The British (Anglican) Chapel, as it was officially called, was far more than just a place of worship – it was the heart of the British community. Over the subsequent years, its facilities grew to include stables, a coach house, a hearse house, a library and a school. It thus exerted a stabilising influence on the British population, providing a focus for social life and encouraging families to put down roots. Furthermore, the chaplains and congregation were also committed to playing a role in wider society. An orphanage was founded in 1831, and places at the school were open to Russian and British children alike.

Eventually, the congregation outgrew the small chapel and the Russia Company was persuaded of the need to construct a larger building. Thus it was that the English architect Richard Knill Freeman was commissioned to build a replacement on the existing site, a project completed in 1884. What he created was, as noted in 1915 by Herbert Bury, Bishop for North and Central Europe, ‘almost startlingly like, it seems in that ancient capital, to a bit of a London suburb.’ The congregation gave generously to support the project, for although the Russia Company contributed 25,000 roubles towards it, this fell far short of the final bill of 213,616 roubles ‘exclusive of stained glass and other presentations’. The windows, almost all of which contained stained glass, were contributed mainly by families in memory of deceased relatives, and fittings and furnishings were in many cases donated by members of the congregation according to their profession. Thus the ‘draperies and fittings for the nave doors’ were supplied by Muir and Mirrieles, a Scottish-owned department store, and the boiler, wrought iron church gates and railings were a gift of the Smith family, who owned a local boiler factory.

The story of how the church came to be dedicated to St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, is an interesting one and highlights that life at the chaplaincy was not always as harmonious as might be supposed. The congregation was roughly equally divided between English (Anglican) and Scottish (Presbyterian) members. Neither could agree on how the church was to be run, and at one point the dispute was so bitter that each side appointed its own wardens and there were fights over which side should have the minute book. Foremost among the Scots’ complaints was the style of worship. The clergy, being licensed to officiate by the Bishop of London, were obliged to conduct services according to the Book of Common Prayer, which was unpalatable to those of a Presbyterian persuasion. One former chaplain later recalled: “My work in Moscow was difficult and uphill… for I am a good and definite Churchman, and yet I had to persuade people, who were really Dissenters, to look at Church matters from the Church point of view.” Thus the decision to dedicate the new building to St Andrew was a compromise in return for the Scots permitting services to be conducted according to the rites of the Church of England. Not that this entirely resolved the disputes: in December 1911, the then chaplain, Rev Frank North, was criticised by the committee for decorating the church with flowers and evergreen foliage at Christmas. Thus the old tensions appear to have persisted for decades afterwards.

What did successfully bring the congregation together, however, was a shared spirit of national identity. Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, for instance, saw a profound outpouring of grief. Such occasions also underlined the importance of the British community’s role in Muscovite society. A year later, the service to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII drew 285 people, including, as the committee minutes record, ‘the Consuls of most foreign nations’. When Edward died in 1910, those attending the memorial service (550 in all) included the Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her retinue. Yet despite taking pride in their shared national roots, the congregation was also deeply involved in helping the wider community. Jane McGill, who funded the construction of the parsonage in memory of her deceased husband, also established a hospital. Later, during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), the Ladies’ Committee helped to raise funds for wounded Russian soldiers, stating that ‘although we are living here in a foreign country, yet it is our duty to help those who are… to a large extent, our personal and good friends in their hour of need.’

This relatively stable state of affairs was thrown into turmoil in 1917 by the October Revolution. During the fighting, the church tower was commandeered the Bolsheviks, who used it for a machine gun emplacement. When the fighting had passed, the chaplain and his family emerged from their hiding place in the basement to find ‘many spent cartridges in the courtyard and two large pools of blood.’ Nor was this the only immediate consequence of the Revolution for the church. The church strong room, which had contained valuables deposited there for safekeeping by members of the congregation, was raided by the new authorities, and some 126 locked boxes and 193,000 roubles in cash taken. The upheaval also brought hardship and persecution, and here the incredible contribution of Rev Frank North and his wife Margaret deserves to be noted. In the turbulent times between the October Revolution and leaving Russia on the final train to Helsinki in March 1920, they visited those in prison, protested to the authorities about cases of ill-treatment and were themselves imprisoned several times. They bought food on the black market to feed the weak and destitute, turning part of the parsonage into a canteen. Finally, when it became clear they would have to leave, they did not do so without first organising the evacuation of the British community. For their efforts, they both received CBEs for services to the community, and Rev North became chaplain of Helsinki or, as it was renamed, ‘Helsinki with Moscow’, a symbol that St Andrew’s, though vacant, was not forgotten.

Under the Soviet Union, the church became a hostel and then, from 1964, offices and recording studios for the state-owned recording company, Melodiya, whilst the parsonage became first the Finnish Embassy and then the Estonian Legation. Anglican worship in Moscow was restricted to occasional services held by visiting clergy, often at the British Embassy. Finally, in 1991, Rev Tyler Strand, the Helsinki chaplain, managed to persuade Melodiya to allow him to hold services in the church on Sundays, and on 15 July the Eucharist was celebrated there for the first time since 1920. From then on, services took place roughly fortnightly the appointment of a full-time chaplain, Rev Canon Chad Coussmaker, in 1993. What has followed since is a process of gradual transition back to the building’s original use as a place of worship. When HRH Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1994, she was told by President Boris Yeltsin that the church was being returned to the congregation, yet it was 2001 before Melodiya fully vacated the premises. Today, St Andrew’s is once again a thriving community, with weekly attendance numbering approximately 150 people drawn from a wide range of national backgrounds, and around 200 for major festivals. The tower is home to an Anglican–Orthodox education centre, St Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute.

this article is based on the articles by Jean Coussmaker that appear on the St Andrew’s website.

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