Following Brother Roger’s death, it seemed to me essential to come to Moscow with two of our brothers during the first year of my new ministry, to express our community’s desire to continue on its way in great closeness and in profound confidence with the Holy Russian Orthodox Church. Brother Roger opened up this way for us and I want us, his brothers, to walk in his footsteps.
It was in December 1962 that a closer relation between our community and the Patriarchate of Moscow was established through the visit of Metropolitan Nikodim. Brother Roger always felt a strong friendship for him. He was able to speak with him one last time, a few moments before his death, in the anteroom of Pope John Paul I.
Patriarch Alexis II has himself recalled his visit to Taizé when he was archbishop of Tallinn.
In 1977, Bishop Seraphim of Zurich encouraged Brother Roger to make a visit to the Russian Orthodox Church. At the invitation of the patriarchate, in 1978 Brother Roger went to Moscow accompanied by two brothers. He spent two days in Leningrad, where he met again Metropolitan Nikodim, as well as Mgr Kirill, who at that time was rector of the seminary.
In 1988, there was another journey to Moscow, with a brother, on the occasion of the one thousand anniversary of the baptism of Rus. Brother Roger also visited Iaroslav, Kiev, and he was invited to the local council of the Russian Church at Trinity Saint Sergius.
During that visit and on the eve of the profound changes that were to transform the country, Brother Roger understood still more the enormous needs of the Russian Orthodox Church in order to exercise its ministry. He grasped that it was essential to support it. In agreement with the patriarchate, Taizé had one million copies of the New Testament in Russian printed in France, in the synodal translation, and at the beginning of 1989 had them dispatched to Moscow, Kiev, Minsk and Leningrad so that the Orthodox parishes could distribute them. Three years later, in the same spirit, Taizé undertook the printing of extracts from the New Testament in Russian, Bulgarian and Romanian, and had them sent to the three patriarchates.
Following this shipment, Metropolitan Philarete of Minsk came to Taizé in the spring of 1989 to thank Brother Roger. Metropolitan Kirill, who succeeded him as president of the Department of External Affairs, came in 1990. He had already visited Taizé when he was a student at Bossey.
From 1990, young Russian Orthodox began taking part in the international meetings for young adults organized by our community, either at Taizé itself or once a year in one of the major cities of Europe. Young Russians Orthodox have been welcomed in Taizé ever since. We also welcome young Orthodox from Byelorussia, from Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia. Their presence provides many young adults from other countries with a living witness of Orthodoxy.
The Taizé Community has never wished to organize a youth movement around itself. On the contrary, it encourages the young when they return home to commit themselves in their own countries and cities and in their own parishes. The young Orthodox are often accompanied by a priest. It is important for us that this participation receive the blessing of the bishops. During the summer, the Orthodox liturgy is celebrated two or three times each week (at one point, the representative of the Patriarch of Moscow in Paris brought an antimension for the Orthodox Chapel in Taizé).
Every year, the message that Patriarch Alexis II sends for the European meeting is a much appreciated support.
In many parts of the world, Christians are confronted today with the challenge of transmitting the faith to the younger generations. For our part, we can attest that still today the monastic commitment, centred on the essential, can offer a witness to the Gospel being lived out that speaks clearly to the young.
We have come to Moscow to express our gratitude for the links that our community has been able to enlarge with the Russian Orthodox Church through the years. These links are rooted in the family history of Brother Roger, who spoke about them one day:
“A profound love of the Orthodox Church goes back to my childhood. During the First World War, Russians had to flee from their country. They were Orthodox. My mother received some of them and I listened to their conversations. Afterwards, she spoke to me about the trials they had come through. Later on, in my youth, we lived near a Russian Orthodox Church. We went to take part in the prayer, and I tried to discern the suffering on the faces of these Christians who had come from Russia.”
Little by little the Taizé Community discovered what Brother Roger called “one of the secrets of the Orthodox soul”. This secret is to be found above all in a prayer of adoration where the goodness of God becomes perceptible.
It is first of all through prayer, the celebration of the liturgy or the prayer of the heart, that the Orthodox find an access to the great mysteries of the faith, the incarnation of Christ, his resurrection, the continuous presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church.
And it is in these mysteries that Orthodoxy understands of the grandeur of the human being. God became man so that human beings might participate in his divinity; and the human being is called to be transfigured with Christ, already here on earth.
Brother Roger underlined the importance for our monastic vocation of celebrating the transfiguration of Christ, premise of our own transfiguration. In this respect, there is a whole meaning for us in being in Moscow for the Feast of the Ascension. For this feast shows that the humanity of Jesus has been forever divinised and is a promise of our own participation in the divine life.
In Taizé, we feel an infinite gratitude towards the Orthodox Church for having kept these realities of the faith so alive through the centuries, in a great fidelity to the Church Fathers. The Greek Fathers were discovered by the West thanks to the Orthodox and in Taizé the thought of the Greek fathers is most important in the formation of the new brothers of our community.
In this period when the frontiers between peoples and cultures are opening up more and more, we have to deepen the bonds of fraternal love. In order to create new links of confidence between East and West, the theological and above all the spiritual contribution of Orthodoxy is vital. Western Christians have such a need to be attentive to the treasures of faith and humanity deposited in Orthodoxy. As for us, therefore, we would like to transmit to the young people from many countries, whom we welcome in Taizé, that vision of God, of human beings, and of the Church that the Eastern tradition has inspired in us.
We already receive with gratitude the love of the liturgy, the sense and the content of tradition. But the most unique aspect, the most irreplaceable, is to be found in the experience of Christians who have transmitted from generation to generation their love of Christ, and in particular those who confessed their faith at the risk of their lives.
Brother Roger had infinite respect for what the Russian Orthodox Church has been through; and he wrote, “In their trials, Orthodox Christians have known how to love and forgive. Goodness of heart is for many of them a vital reality.”
Could it be this capacity for goodness and forgiveness that make it possible today for societies that are a prey to profound tensions not to break apart?
In his last book, published a few weeks before his death, Brother Roger expressed words that remain very present for us as brothers:
“In Taizé, we love the Orthodox Church with all our heart and with all our soul. In the places where they pray, the beauty of the chants, the incense, the icons - windows open on the realities of God - the symbols and the gestures of the liturgy celebrated in the communion of Christians over the centuries, all of this invites us to discern the “joy of heaven on the earth”. Our being is touched in its entirety, not only in the intelligence, but in the sensitivity, and even in the body itself.
How can we express enough our gratitude to the Orthodox, in particular those of Russia, Byelorussia, Ukraine, for what they have been during the trials endured during seventy years, and for what they are today?”
Brother Alois of Taizé
Moscow, Ascension 2006