Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe

Moscow Patriarchate

Communique N° 02-10 of the Archdiocesan Council

Meeting of 9 March 2010

The Council of the Archdiocese met on the 9th March, 2010, under the chairmanship of His Eminence Archbishop Gabriel. Among the issues discussed :

1. Endowment funds. As proposed by Archbishop Gabriel, the Council approved in principle that the Archdiocese should create an Orthodox Endowment Fund (FDO in French) with the goal of helping to support and to develop charitable, educational and pastoral activitiesto of the Archdiocese

2. Visit of a delegation to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Archbishop Gabriel told the Council of the visit to the Phanar of a delegation of the Archdiocese, which he headed, from 22nd to 24th February, and which included Archpriest Alexander Fostiropoulos and Mr. Michel Sollogoub, Secretary of the Archdiocese Council.

During their stay, the delegation had an audience with His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew as well as a working meeting with the Commission of the Dioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate outside Turkey, and to which was given a report on the life of the Archdiocese in 2009. The interview with His Holiness the Patriarch touched on the essential points of the legal situation concerning the Cathedral in Nice, whereas the working meeting with the Commission of Dioceses outside Turkey was devoted, above all, to the situation of the parishes and communities in Great Britain and their future.

3. Consequences of the visit of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokalamsk to Paris. Archbishop Gabriel informed the Council that a few days before the visit to France of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokalamsk, president of the Department of Foreign Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, the latter had telephoned him personally to allow him to concelebrate the Divine Liturgy on the Second Sunday of Great Lent, on 28th February, in the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky in Paris. After profound reflection, Archbishop Gabriel replied by letter to Metropolitan Hilarion on 18th February, that the media agitation concerning the Cathedral in Nice, as well as the information published in some Russian media about the property titles of the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky made it impossible, at present, for such a concelebration.

4. Nice. Archbishop Gabriel informed the Council that following the decision of the TGI (High) Court of Nice, of the 20th January of last year, to attribute to the Russian Federation the property of Saint Nicholas Cathedral, their Ambassador in Paris proposed a series of measures concerning the functioning of Saint Nicholas Cathedral and the changes to be implemented. Archbishop Gabriel replied that since the matter was subject to an appeal before the Court of Aix en Provence and that therefore the judgement was not definite, it did not seem appropriate to consider any changes whatsoever.

Statement of the Council of the Archdiocese concerning the property of the Cathedral in Nice

The Council of the Archdiocese of Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe, which includes the Nice parish, constituted as a Religious Association in 1923 according to the legislation in force and inscribed in the ‘cadastre’ Land Registry by the French Administration as the proprietor of the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas the Wonder Worker, deplores the fact that this same Association should see itself disposessed of the property of the said cathedral, even though it has assured its continuity, maintenance and management for nearly 90 years.

The Council is mindful of the fact that the Soviet State, of which the Russian Federation presents itself as its successor in order to establish its filiation with the former Russian Empire, did not cease during 70 years to develop anti-religious campaigns and persecutions against the Church and believers and, especially, it destroyed thousands of churches in Russia.

The Council notes with surprise that the judgement deliberately ignored a certain number of documents showing that the land on which the St Nicholas Cathedral was built was the private property of the Russian Emperor and not the property of the Russian State. It is equally suprised by the decision which takes into consideration the entire property of the grounds, while the litigation is supposed strictly to concern only the plot on which the cathedral is built.

The Council approves the decision of those responsible for the Religious Association to appeal the decision of the Nice court, so as to restore the historical truth.

Historical reminder

The land on which St. Nicholas Cathedral stands today in Nice coincides with the former park of Villa Bermond, where Tsarevich Nicholas, eldest son of Russian Emperor Alexander II died on 24th April 1865. Anxious to honour his son’s memory, according to the terms of the title deed of purchase before the notary, the Tsar, in November 1865 « expresses the personal wish » – according to the terms of the Title Deed for the purchase of the property – to acquire this land with his personal funds, and in 1868 he ordered a commemorative chapel to be built on the very location of the tsarevich’s death. The signing of the Title Deed for the purchase of the property was done before a notary public of Nice, and it was signed in the name of the Emperor by the Russian consul in Marseille, who had been authorised for this purpose under a power of attorney which had been previously registered in the presence of a notary public.

In 1896, the church in rue Longchamp, in Nice, consecrated in 1860, was now proving to be too small, so the rector, Archpriest Serge Lioubimov, and the faithful of the Russian Orthodox community, conceived a project to build a larger, new church. They received the support of the Dowager Empress, Maria Feodorovna, who had been the fiancée of the late Tsarevich Nicholas. The initial project could not be fulfilled because of the lack of a sufficiently large plot of land. And so, in 1902, in the name of the Nice community, the Empress Mother turned to her son, Emperor Nicholas II, and he accepted that the new church should be built on part of the park of the Villa Bermond. The first stone was laid in 1903, but the work was stopped in 1908, due to a lack of funds. Again, Tsar Nicholas II intervened and offered from his private purse the necessary sum to complete the construction. According to a decree of 20th December, 1908, the Tsar entrusted the Imperial Cabinet to act as Management Authority for the territory of Villa Bermond. On 9th January 1909, the Imperial Cabinet established a 99 year long « emphyoteotic » lease, in respect of the plot on which the church was built, with the ecclesiastic administration of Saint Petersburg being represented by the Archpriest Serge Lioubimov. The new church was consecrated in 1912 and received the title of cathedral. After the Russian Revolution and the persecutions carried out by the Bolshevik regime against the Church, the Russian Orthodox Community of Nice, essentially consisting of Russian refugees, created in 1923 a Religious Association in accordance with French law. In 1926, the French administration registered the association, at the cadastre (Land Registry) as the proprietor of the plot of land on which the cathedral had been built.

It transpires in the present judicial litigation-without entering into the details of a complex case-that the Russian Federation claims, on the one hand, that since the land was bought by Emperor Alexander II, this fact made it right from the start the property of the Russian Imperial State and, on the other hand, since Emperor Nicholas II had passed the management of the Park Bermond property to the Imperial cabinet, an institution that reported to the Ministry of Palaces and Domains, this property became a State property. It also insists that the purchase deeds and leases having been signed in the name of the Emperor by Russian diplomats in France, that give these acts an unquestionable State character. Furthermore, the Russian Federation presents itself as the heir to the Russian Empire, insofar as it claims continuity with the USSR, which likewise presented itself as the continuation of the Tsars Empire.

For its own part, the Parish Association believes, on the basis of the historic documents in its possession, that it was the private property of the Emperor and that the Imperial diplomats were mandated by a special attorney’s act to represent him in these legal acts of a private nature. The Association likewise points out that the Imperial Cabinet had the function of managing the palaces and domains of the Crown in the same way as it did concerning the personal possessions of the Emperor and the Imperial family, which had a personal character, according to the Laws of the Empire (T q. art. 209,210 and 214). None of the palaces and domains could be outside the territory of the Russian Empire. The properties of the Emperor outside Russia were therefore inevitably of a private and personal nature. The Parish Association confirms that since the land was the private property of the last Tsar, it could not have become the property of the Soviet State, nor of the Russian Federation which has declared itself the heir of the latter, but that the plot of land as well as the cathedral built on it became the Association’s property, by virtue of the Right of Possession, due to the fact that the Association has occupied and managed them for more than 80 years, without problems nor claims by anyone, and that it was listed in the cadastre Land Registry as its proprietor since 1926.