The Russian Orthodox Church established a diocese in Austria in 1962. At present, however, the Law on Orthodox Churches recognizes only one parish of the Moscow Patriarchate – the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Vienna. For several years we have been trying to convince the Austrian authorities to recognize our diocesan status.
I am pleased to announce that on 10 October I met with Metropolitan Michael of Austria, who voiced his understanding for the necessity of officially recognizing this diocese of the Russian Church. We agreed that we would work together toward a new model for organizing the Orthodox Church in Austria, one which would be acceptable to both the Orthodox Churches and the Austrian government. I consider this agreement to be an important, positive step toward the resolution of this problem.
The St. Nicholas Cathedral in Vienna is the main spiritual centre of our diocese. Built in 1899, this cathedral is a gem of Russian Orthodox architecture and a real decoration of the city of Vienna. I would like to add that it is also the largest church of the Moscow Patriarchate in Europe, with a height of almost 60 metres.
Over the past 5 years, large-scale restoration work has been undertaken in the church. This renovation, which is being implemented under the direction of Mr. Wolfgang Zehetner, Chief Architect of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, should be completed by the beginning of December.
The renovation was financed by funds collected from different sources. The chief sponsors of the project were the Russian Federation, Lukoil, the Magistrate of the City of Vienna, the Austrian Ministry of Culture, and the company Gazexport. During the final stage of renovation the company Mossib and a number of private sponsors and businessmen also provided support. I would like to invite all those interested to contribute to this project, since there is still much left to do in the remaining two months (the renovation of the church’s main entrance, beautification of the church territory, restoration and gilding of the historic iconostasis built in 1899, etc.).
At present, approximately 90 per cent of all the planned work has been completed. The crosses and cupolas of the churches have been completely renovated and gilded; the tiles on the drum of the central cupola and on the roof have been restored or partially replaced; and the ornamented ceramic tiles have been restored or replaced. Moreover, the roof has been given a complete overhaul; the masonry has been completely renovated; the church’s foundation has been reinforced; a drainage system has been installed around the church; the electrical, ventilation, and heating systems have been replaced; and the total renovation of the interiors of the upper and lower churches has been finished.
The inside walls of the upper church, which is dedicated to St. Nicholas, have been covered with frescoes in the traditional Byzantine-Russian style (with a total of more than 1,500 square metres of artwork). The frescoes were painted by a group of artists from Russia headed by Archimandrite Zinon (Teodor), an iconographer of worldwide repute. According to specialists, the frescoes represent a masterpiece of large-scale art without analogues in modern Europe.
For the lower church in honour of St. Alexander Nevsky, Archimandrite Zinon created a new iconostasis consisting of three types of marble and 20 icons, drawn with natural paints on a golden background.
The uniqueness of the St. Nicholas Cathedral, its significance for the Russian diaspora in Europe, and the scale of the renovation were the main reasons for the planned visit of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, who expressed his wish to personally consecrate the church after the restoration.
The Patriarch’s visit will take place upon my invitation, as the head of the Diocese of Vienna and Austria, and on the invitation of His Eminence Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, head of the Vienna Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Archbishop of Salzburg, Alois Kothgasser, will take part in the events connected with the Patriarch’s visit. The Salzburg hierarch visited Moscow this year on Easter, met with Patriarch Alexy and invited him to Austria.
Cardinal Peter Erdö, with whom I have friendly, cooperative relations in Hungary (where I also head the Moscow Patriarchate parishes), will also join us in the festivities.
Among the other participants will be Archbishop Jukka Paarma, Head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar, heads and representatives of the Christian Churches in Austria, the leadership of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria, and members of the Pro Oriente Foundation. Additionally, Metropolitan Michael Staikos of Austria (Patriarchate of Constantinople) and representatives of other Local Orthodox Churches in Austria will also be present.
During this visit, Patriarch Alexy will be accompanied by a large delegation from Russia, including Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, and Metropolitan Vladimir of Chişinau and all Moldova, head of the Orthodox Church of Moldova, which is a self-governing Church within the Moscow Patriarchate.
Moreover, 8 bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe, including 3 bishops from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (which reunited with the Mother Church – the Moscow Patriarchate – in 2007), will also be present at the festivities.
The exhibition “Icons under the Hammer and Sickle” has been timed to coincide with the visit of His Holiness. This exhibition is devoted to the tragic history of the Russian Orthodox Church in the twentieth century. It will take place in the Museum of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and will be opened on 18 November by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and myself. Patriarch Alexy will visit the exhibition on the first day of his visit – Saturday, 20 December.
On Sunday, 21 December, Patriarch Alexy will lead a festal service at the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Vienna, concelebrating with 14 bishops. The service will begin at 9:30 and will last at least 3 hours.
In the evening of the same day an official reception will be held at the Klosterneuburg Abbey, attended by the Russian church delegation.
On Monday, 22 December, Patriarch Alexy will meet with Heinz Fischer, President of Austria, at 10:30. A press-conference is scheduled after the meeting.
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