Report on the South American Diocese of the Russian Church Abroad
The Church of All Russian Saints in Ituzaingo, Argentina, the former monastery and crypt are closed to the faithful. The church is in a suburb of Buenos Aires and has been under the illegal control of schismatics since 2007, who deny Orthodox faithful access not only to the church itself, but to the historic crypt where some 400 Russian emigres were laid to rest, most of whom arrived in Argentina after World War II. A Russian-language report on the South American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is posted here.
The church is remarkable for its size and grandeur. Its builder, Fr Georgy Romanov, envisioned it as an option for the headquarters of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR, which was forced to leave Europe in 1950.
The site was called “the Russian hearth” by Fr Georgy, who was sent by the Synod to Argentina in 1947 to organize the possible immigration of Russian refugees there, many of whom wished to flee from the USSR. He was able to forge connections with the government and personally with President Juan Peron. Registered as the “Russian Orthodox Hearth” (Hogar Ortodoxo Ruso) by a presidential decree, Fr Georgy also received a subsidy for a reception center for Russian refugees at the location known then as Villa Arisa, where he set up dormitories in an old horse stable building. Soon the first refugees arrived, who were housed and fed at the site.
In February, 1949, the first annual general assemply of the Russian Orthodox Hearth was convened, which confirmed its by-laws, in which it states that the organization “consists of faithful members of the Russian Orthodox Church, respecting the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia as the sole lawful ecclesiastical authority of this Church, and that the rector of the church founded at the ROH… can only be a priest of the aforementioned jurisdiction… and the Head of this Diocese shall forthwith be the Honorary Chairman of this society.”
These words were recorded with the aim of emphasizing that the new society belonged to the canonical ROCOR, for at the time the first schism rent the Russian Church, led by K. Izrastsov. But these words remain in effect today, an against the will of its founders the church has been unlawfully seized by the “jurisdiction” of Agathangel Pashkovsky.
By decree of the Ruling Bishop at the time, Archbishop Panteleimon, of 9 September 1949, Fr Georgy Romanov was appointed Rector of the future Church of All Russian Saints, and he was charged with “taking all necessary measures to the expedient opening of the established parish.”
The first temporary church was set up in one of the dormitory rooms. A few years later, after all preparatory work was completed, His Eminence Archbishop Ioasaf of Argentina and Paraguary, on June 6/19, 1955, lay the foundations of the Church of All Russian Saints.
Oleg Mikhno was the architect, himself the son of a priest and friend of Fr Georgy. He also painted many of its icons for the future church. Holy Virgin Protection Church on the Nerla River, Russia, was chosen as the model for the new church.
The enormous church could indeed have housed the entire Synod of Bishops, and was completed in 1962, though another ten years was required for interior decoration. The church was built in two stories.
On January 1, 1957, the lower Church of St John of Pechersk along with the crypt were consecrated. The saint’s relics were placed in the foundation stone. The walls were shelved with niches, where the remains of Russians were placed after being exhumed from the cemetery 4-5 years after their deaths. As Fr Georgy wrote in an August 1957 report to Archbishop Afanassy, “Permission to place these remains in the church was issued in Argentina for the first time since 1825, when a special law against the Roman Catholic Church’s practice of interring remains ‘in holy places’ was issued. So this was a special Divine blessing upon the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.”
This was truly a blessing from God, to allow the Russian diaspora to have a crypt for the preservation of their dead (in Argentina the practice is to dig up graves after several years and place remains in common graves). Memorial services began on a regular basis for all, and one could obtain an urn for interment.
By 1957 it was clear that the Synod of Bishops would not move to Argentina. It was then that the idea of establishing a monastery in Castelara first emerged. Fr Georgy wrote in a thank-you letter to a donor on March 1, 1957: “In the future, on the large parcel surrounding the church being built will be a Russian Orthodox monastery. The church will therefore obtain a diocese-wide significance, since the crypt can be used for all residents of the Republic, and the future monastery will become an Orthodox spiritual center for all of South America.”
The full report in Russian on the Church in South America can be viewed here.