Orthodox Friuli

Fate has cast Orthodox Christians all across the world. In any corner of the earth, you can find people from our homeland, but there are especially many in Italy. They have found themselves far from home for different reasons: some left to work, others to study but never returned, others married foreigners—everyone has his or her own story, or tragedy… Only in a foreign land did many become aware of Christ’s words about our citizenship in the Heavenly Jerusalem, and in these distant lands, tiny flames of Orthodox prayer began to burn. Thus did the Lord by His Providence plant the shoots of faith amongst a people who had begun to lose their faith.

Today in Italy there is an Orthodox Church in nearly every large city. The region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia is no exception. It is situated on the northeast part of the country, in the picturesque valley between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea. The Administrative center is the city of Trieste, and includes the cities of Udine, Pordenone, Gorizia, Grado, Monfalcone, Palmanova, and Aquileia. The region is autonomous, and Friulians have their own Friulian language, which comes from seven Rhaeto-Romance languages. In the middle ages many literary works were written in it, but now it is practically dead, although there is a television channel and faculty of Friulian language at the university in Udine. Many here greet each other using instead of the Italian ciao the Friulian manDi, which means “(go) with God.”

Christianity spread in these lands from the Roman city of Aquileia in antiquity. Local tradition has it that the Apostle Mark preached here. In 381, Bishop Valerian of Aquileia conducted an anti-Arian council, at which St. Ambrose of Milan presided. From the sixth century, Aquileia was the seat of what was called a Patriarchate, which held itself independent from Rome for a long time. There even existed a particular “Aquileian rite,” which simulated the services of the Eastern Church in many areas.

After the great schism, the Orthodox presence here was insignificant, but did not entirely disappear. There were Greek communities in the port cities, Serbia was located across the border, and therefore Orthodox services were served from time to time. Two Orthodox churches have remained from former centuries in Trieste: the Greek church of St. Nicholas from the year 1818, and a magnificent Serbian cathedral dedicated to St. Spyridon of Tremithius, built on the site of an ancient church in 1869.

In the mid 1980’s, one Italian young man, after a long search, found his path to God in Orthodoxy. He wanted to become a priest and went to Mt. Athos to Elder Paisios to ask what Orthodox country he should serve in. The answer he received was, “Stay in Italy. Soon, as if by a wave of the sea, the country will be covered by Orthodoxy. Divine services will take place in every city. You will be needed in your homeland.” In the 1990’s this wave rolled over to the Apennine shores. First came the Romanians—after the fall of Ceacescu’s regime, they left in droves to find a better life. The Italian and Romanian languages are similar, and therefore the Romanians quickly adapted. Being very religious, they founded an abundance of religious communities. Now the Italian diocese of the Romanian Orthodox Church counts more than one hundred communities, and is the largest Orthodox administrative unit in Italy. In Friuli, there are large Romanian parishes in Trieste, Pordenone, Gorizia, and Udine. Our (Russian) compatriots also began arriving to Italy during the chaotic years (after Perestroika): Russians, Ukrainians, Moldavians, and Georgians. It was very hard for them to satisfy their need for Orthodox services. Although there already were Russian Orthodox parishes of the Constantinople and Moscow Patriarchates, they were very far from Friuli. It was best for those who lived close to Trieste. The rector of the Serbian church, Fr. Rasko Radovic, began to serve the major part of the services in Church Slavonic. Nevertheless, the nature of the work in which our compatriots were employed did not permit them to travel very far, and they were deprived of Church life for many years. During that period, the first to organize their own communities were Greek-Catholics. The understandable language of Church services drew people living in a foreign land. Many of them were Orthodox. The Uniate priests, as a rule, did not emphasize their Catholicism, placed more emphasis on the Eastern identity, and often deceived people outright, saying that they are authentic Orthodox. But one has to give credit to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church—various organizations created at Greek-Catholic parishes were often the only support to people from the USSR, both morally and materially.

At the turn of the century, Russian compatriot societies began to be organized, such as "Unita," an organization that unites all those who come from the former USSR.

In 2001, through the efforts of some Russian compatriot organizations, the first parish was created—the parish of the Exultation of the Cross, of the diocese of Korsun, Russian Orthodox Church, for the Friulia-Venezia-Giulia region and Slovenia. The city of Udine was chosen to be the center of the parish. Due to the lack of priests, services were conducted irregularly, and in different places. The now reposed archpriest Fr. Boris Razdev, formerly rector of the St. Nicholas Church in Verona, ministered to the community for a long time. Batiushka's spiritual experience and strength of prayer were a great help to the young parish during its period of inception, when all of its ecclesiastical possessions could fit into two suitcases, when the date and venue of the next service was never known for sure, and therefore the faithful were invited for prayer via mobile phone text messages.

In 2010, the first rector of the parish was appointed—Archpriest Nicolai Samborsky, under whose care church life began to normalize, and a place was chosen for regular services. On February 21, 2011, Archpriest Vladimir Melnichuk was appointed rector.

The first thing that one most often notices at an Orthodox service in Italy is the lack of an iconostasis; the services are conducted in Catholic churches, or simply in a room, using a table. Ordinarily the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is well disposed to an Orthodox presence. They kindly offer us their churches for Orthodox services, and gladly permit us to serve molebens at the relics of our common saints. Due to the general apostasy of Western civilization from Christianity even in Catholic Italy, there are many empty churches. They often give them to the Orthodox for use, gratis.

In Udine, services are conducted in a church at the monastery of St. Vincent, at 105 Marangoni Street. Catholics serve there until 9:00 in the morning, and after that, the Orthodox serve. Therefore, the church utensils must be brought out for every service, and removed afterwards. Discussions are taking place with the archbishop of Udine about granting the Orthodox a permanent church, where an iconostasis can be set up. The parish is multi-national. The majority are Ukrainian and Russian, a third are Georgian, and there are also Moldavians and Serbs. Some Catholic Italians come—the husbands of our women. A church is a place where all want to feel at home, to hear the services in the language they are used to praying in. Therefore, besides the main Church Slavonic language, the Moldavian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Serbian, and Italian languages are also heard. The Italian language is becoming the lingua franca—many Georgians and Serbs no longer speak Russian. Fortunately, even amidst such diversity the parish has been able to avoid inter-ethnic conflicts. Clear become the Savior's words, that in Christ there is neither Greek, nor Jew. After services, people remain at the common meal. All share their problems and joys, and learn about new jobs. The parishioners are learning to care about each other, and live as one family.

The monastic calling is to pray for the whole world, and that is why our people so love monasticism. Neither has the Lord deprived Friuli of monastic prayer. Two women parishioners from the parish have chosen the monastic life, and labor in monasteries in the Ukraine. There is also a monastery here in Montegnero (in the Veneto region, on the border of Friuli); it was founded by Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom), and is now in the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The abbess is from Crete, the sisters from the Ukraine and Latvia. On the feast of the Dormition according to the Julian calendar, the sisters came to the parish and delighted the parishioners with their Byzantine chant. The parish has its own website, where they publish news and the schedule of services.

Everything in the world happens by God's Providence. The Lord turns people's suffering and problems to the good. Finding themselves in a foreign land, people cross the threshold of the church for the first time in order to remain there forever. Having become "strangers and pilgrims," the faithful from Orthodox countries brought the light of Christ's faith to places where it was dying out. And Orthodoxy in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia is not an accidental phenomenon, but an ancient faith, which needs to be shown to the world anew. This our compatriots' purpose in Italy.

Archpriest Vladimir Melnichuk
Translated by OrthoChristian.com

3 сентября 2011 г.

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