Renovated St. Sergius Mission rededicated in J’lem

The dedication ceremony took place at the entrance to a small museum in the compound, following a sanctification ceremony conducted by Archimandrite Alexander in the adjacent building.

July 19, 2017 23:37
4 minute read.
Renovated St. Sergius Mission rededicated in J’lem

AT THE REDEDICATION ceremony for the St. Sergius Mission in Jerusalem yesterday are (from left) Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin; Sergey Stepashin and Igor Ashurbeyli, chairman and director, respectively, of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society; and Bishop Antony of Bogorodsk, administrator. (photo credit: ALEXANDER OMELIANCHUK)


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The St. Sergius Mission, one of Russia’s most important holy sites in Jerusalem, was rededicated on Tuesday after extensive renovations of the property that began in 2011.

The ceremony was led by Bishop Antony of Bogorodsk, administrator of the Moscow Patriarchate’s parishes abroad, together with Sergey Stepashin and Igor Ashurbeyli, chairman and director, respectively, of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society.

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Stepashin is a former prime minister of the Russian Federation, and Ashurbeyli is a well-known entrepreneur and philanthropist.

The dedication ceremony took place at the entrance to a small museum in the compound, following a sanctification ceremony conducted by Archimandrite Alexander in the adjacent building, which once housed a pilgrims’ refectory and is now a church.

Stepashin and Ashurbeyli each spoke (in Russian) of the importance of the Holy Land, particularly Jerusalem, to Russian pilgrims, and emphasized the significance of the compound’s location in the center of Jerusalem, within walking distance of the Old City and Christianity’s holiest sites.

They also expressed appreciation to President Vladimir Putin for his input into the project as well as to prime ministers Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu for their cooperation.

The project will strengthen ties with Russian Jews living in Israel and in Russia, they said, and is of particular importance to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Initially, it was thought that the compound would be an insulated Russian enclave, but Stepashin and Ashurbeyli, as well as Antony, gave assurances that it would be open to people from all countries with which Russia has good relations.

“We must work together for a better world,” said Antony.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, speaking first in Russian at the request of the organizers and then in Hebrew, said that the return of the estate by Israel to Russia in 2009 went beyond diplomacy and extended to Russia’s strong cultural contribution to Jerusalem.

Although diplomatic relations between Israel and Russia were renewed only 25 years ago, he said, Russian roots in Israel go back much further.

Elkin was hopeful that in light of the positive bilateral cooperation that had gone into the renewal project, Israel might finally succeed in its bid to have the famed Ginzburg collection of ancient Jewish books and manuscripts transferred from Russia to Israel. The collection, which encompasses more than 17,000 items, was collected by three generations of the noble Ginzburg family.

Following the death of Baron David Ginzburg in 1910, efforts were made by the Zionist leadership to bring the collection to the Land of Israel. In May 1917, the National Library in Jerusalem contracted to buy the collection for half a million rubles, paid by Russian Zionists, but the shipment was delayed by World War I.

During the Bolshevik revolution, Soviet authorities seized the crates and sent them to the Lenin Library in Moscow.

Acquisitions of property in the Holy Land began during the period of Ottoman rule, with religious entities from Greece, Russia, France and Italy as the key purchasers. A substantial amount of church property was sequestered by the British Mandate authorities.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 gave Russia cause to claim its property.

A Soviet-Israeli understanding led to the revival of operations by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, whose first official representative arrived in Jerusalem in March 1951.

However in 1964, the bulk of Palestine Society property was sold by the Khrushchev government to Israel.

In 1967, in the aftermath of the Six Day War and the severing of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Israel, all Soviet representatives, including those of the Palestine Society, left the country.

In 1989, with the advent of perestroika and glasnost, the Palestine Society became independent, and in 1990, its members attended the Three Faiths Jerusalem Forum for Peace in the Middle East.

The Russians were particularly keen to reclaim the St. Sergius Mission, whose buildings had housed Israel’s Agriculture Ministry and whose grounds had been used for open-air concerts and other events hosted by Israel Radio.

In 2003, Sharon told Putin that Israel would cede ownership in exchange for promising not to sell weaponry in the Middle East. Although the promise was made, nothing was signed. The final transfer agreement was signed in 2009 by then acting-prime minister Olmert. In 2011, Russia demanded that Netanyahu evacuate the Agriculture Ministry from the mission premises, as a precondition for his visit to Moscow. Netanyahu ordered the evacuation the same day, whereupon work on the multi-million ruble renovations began under the supervision of Israeli architect Uri Padan.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, who heads the municipal Planning and Construction Committee, said Jerusalem is in the flux of development and urban renewal and that the St. Sergius project “is a meaningful sign of the multi-cultural character of Jerusalem.” He also said that the municipality appreciated the Russian government’s investment in St. Sergius, which has now been restored to its former glory.

Russian Ambassador Alexander Shein said the transfer of the property had contributed greatly to the advancement of bilateral relations and friendship between the two countries. He also stressed the importance of renewing other projects in the Holy Land.

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