Church is Comprised of People
(Feast-day celebrations at SS Peter and Paul Church in Luxembourg, 2018)
The feast day at the Russian Orthodox church in Luxembourg is the namesday of the parish everyone flocks to celebrate. Whether weekday or weekend, rain or heat, no one wants to miss the chance to gather together. Traditions are maintained and the new is not rejected. A balance between the familiar and the novel is kept by the people, who change together with their parish. In order for the church to remain a spiritual haven for Russians in the diaspora, as the first wave of White Russian emigres wished when they established the parish in 1929, it must serve the desires of people who were born in Soviet or post-Soviet Russia. The first Russians were mostly retired military, now, as a rule, these are Russian mothers married to locals. Both strove to preserve and pass on their faith to their children.
Every year the children are counted: how many have reached adulthood? Have the older ones gone away to college? Meanwhile, new additions come to families; one-time toddlers are now pushing strollers themselves. The church, built in 1982, is aging, while the parishioners grow younger. New mothers and fathers, new singers under the direction of Elena Wittel, new Sunday-school teacher Natalia Petrovna, new children in the scout camp under the guidance of reader and scoutmaster Dimitry Rahr, the renovation of the church kitchen, all demonstrate change. So many new faces, yet the feeling is that the large table under the pine tree hosts a family.
The traditional feast after the long services, established almost a century ago, is taking on a new quality. The luncheon following the long lent of SS Peter and Paul has taken on a wondrous atmosphere, as though everyone bore witness to the breaking of the bread. Tables pop up out of nowhere, covered with food, glasses of wine, surrounded by familiar people filling their plates with gustatory delights after the long Lenten period. Directing the event is the tireless Fr George Machtalere, who replace the builder of the church, Fr Serge Poukh, who died at the age of 89 in 2016. Helping him is the widow of Fr Serge, matushka Emilia, whose face expressed joy that Fr Serge’s tradition lives on. A procession of the cross after church, and a sermon by Fr Nikolai Nikishin (invited from Paris to join Fr George), reminds the congregants that the faith according to Peter and Paul may be theologically solid, but also persuasive in its indestructible simplicity.
Together with Protopriest Peter Sturm from Zurich, Protopriest Stefan Weerts and the Greek priest Fr Spyridon Tsekuras from Luxembourg, the parish sang “Many Years” to all the Peters and Pauls, to matushka Emilia, followed by “Eternal Memory” to Fr Serge, who despite never having set foot in Russia, preserved the Russian spirit within his parish. Both old and new parishioners strive to the Church of Christ regardless of geography. “Holy Chief Pastors Apostles Peter and Paul pray to God for us.”