A US-Priest Serving in Moscow

Faith Can Unite Us


A conversation with Moscow’s Archimandrite Zacchaeus


M o s c o w -- Can Protestants do mission in Russia without giving Orthodox the impression they are proselytising? “I hope so,” responded the US-American priest Archimandrite Zacchaeus, head of Moscow’s “Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr in-the-Fields” parish. He sees joint work on humanitarian projects as a way to strengthen inter-confessional ties. “By working together to feed the hungry, we can bear witness to the love that we preach about every Sunday. By our example, we can demonstrate the bond of love and understanding between us and our Protestant brothers and sisters. We have mistaken faith in ourselves for faith in God. But if it really is God in whom we place our faith, then that faith will unite us.” During 2007, his congregation had cooperated with a soup kitchen sponsored by the Presbyterian pastor Bob Bronkema and his “Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy”.


Zacchaus was asked in the interview whether the Moscow Patriarachate’s definition of canonical territory left any room for Western Protestants to do mission in Russia. “We have to concede there is freedom of religion in Russia,” he responded. “That means, Russia is open territory. We Orthodox have to realise that we are constantly called ourselves to be a missionary church – here and in North America. So if we fear foreign missionaries, it is only because we are not doing a proper job of missionizing ourselves.”


The Archimandrite continued: “There have been very positive meetings in the recent past between Archbishop Hilarion and representatives of the Protestant community. That is something very, very good, because we must be open to understanding one another. And through that we will be able to overcome past difficulties and conflicts. There have been instances in which Protestants sought to missionize not only non-believers, but also the Orthodox. We must dialogue openly about this, for that is unfair and a major part of our problem with Protestant missionaries. If they were preaching to those who have never heard the Gospel, then that is one issue. But if they are preaching to those who just walked out of an Orthodox church, then that’s extremely irresponsible.”


The 1971-born Zacchaeus (Wood) is in essence the Orthodox Church in America’s (OCA) ambassador to the Moscow Patriarchate, responsible to Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen) in Washington/D.C. St. Catherine’s functions as the OCA’s “embassy” to Russia. But St. Catherine’s is also a typical Moscow parish – 99% of its parishioners are Muscovites. The priest reported that if there are Orthodox Christians working in the US-embassy, they tend to choose St. Catherine’s as their temporary spiritual home. He stated: “This year, we have four from the embassy and others from American businesses. Some years we have more Americans here, other years not even one. The stable part of our community is the Russians.” An English-language mass takes place at the church monthly (see also “www.st-catherine.ru”.)


Zacchaeus, who grew up Orthodox in Spring Valley/NY as the son of a Scottish-Irish father and a Belarusian mother, strives to make his parish a place of gathering for many peoples. “That is one of my major missions”, he stated, “to bring people from various backgrounds, faiths and nationalities together.” Such opportunities were signicantly increased by the merger of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) – also called Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOA) – with the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007. The ROCA sees itself as a Russian church; the OCA understands itself to be a church of many peoples residing in North America. Wood reported that the rejoining of the two, once-estranged churches has greatly increased his contacts with ROCA clergy: “It is now a rarity if a visiting clergyman from the ROCA does not stop by St. Catherine’s. It has happened that we have three churches – ROC, OCA, ROCA - leading one service and joining in common prayer. We are not ROCA, but many who come here on Wednesdays for our weekly service honoring Saint John (Maximovitch), are. We have a part of his holy relics in an icon donated to us. He was once a saint of the ROCA, but now of the entire ROC. He is now seen as a truly American saint.” When Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966) served in China from 1934 to 1949, he was the only Russian hierarch there who did not submit to the authority of the Moscow-based ROC. He was canonised a saint by the ROCA in 1994 and is – since 2008 – venerated by all churches in full communion with the ROC.


Unique about St. Catherine’s are the bells located in the church courtyard at Bolshaya Ordynka, 60/2. They were presented to the church by a US firm and a foundation to commemorate the victims of the attacks on 11 September 2001. Archimandrite Zacchaeus explained: “Terrorist attacks are continuing, so we have broadened the scope of our service to include Beslan and all other victims of terrorism around the world. So (at the yearly service) on 9/11, we have ambassadors from 15 to 20 nations here. When there has been an attack in their area, they come. We are the only place in Moscow that hosts such a service, and this is something very positive for us. It is an honor to be able to do this.”


William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 27 February 2010
Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance


Release #10-04, 866 words, 5.214 keystrokes and spaces.


Note: A lengthier version of this interview appears in the February 2010 issue of East-West Church & Ministry Report”.


Note from September 2020: Under unclear circumstances, Archimandrite Zacchaeus was removed from office by his superiors in July 2011. He returned thereafter to the USA.