Chambésy is a picturesque location. Signs to the left lead about 100m to the grounds of the Orthodox centre.
The train from Geneva to Lausanne arrives in the picturesque village of Chambésy within five minutes. On the road into the village centre, a sign points the way towards the «Orthodox Centre» along the Chemin de Cornillons. This soon leads to a vast green area, where light glints through leafy trees onto a modern building complex. A closer look reveals a dark grey rounded roof, along which runs a window. It is fitting to the simple lines of the concrete building. Fluting give a vertical structure to the bare concrete structure, which is otherwise outweighed by horizontal lines. The overall effect is one of clear and simple curving lines and surfaces.
Turf covers the step-shaped roofs of the centre and church like a natural carpet, thus fitting harmoniously into the surrounding park.
The eye is immediately drawn to a low tower with a semi-circular copper roof, on which stands a small cross; the clearest indication that this is Saint Paul's, the Patriarchal Church of the «Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.» The modern church with its semi-Cupola is «an attempt to give the Orthodox church a push towards renewal,» explains Georges Lavas in an academic article (see box right). The missing half of the dome should express that a «closed universe» (symbolised by a complete cupola) is no longer credible.
Opposite the church stands another building, connected by an open lobby, which a stone by the park entrance shows to be the «Centre Orthodoxe du Patriarcat Œcuménique». The grass growing on the lower roof of Saint Paul's and the stepped roof of the centre embeds the buildings into their park surroundings.
Architectural History and Reasons for Development
The villa, which was acquired as part of the property in 1966, contains the «Chapelle de la Résurrection» (resurrection chapel), and the main meeting room for the synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (based in Istanbul).
In the early 1960s the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople (based in Istanbul) initiated the establishment of a centre in the Geneva area. It aimed to deepen inter-Orthodox relations, as well as promoting dialogue with other Christian Churches. Metropolitan Emilianos Timiadis, representative of the Patriarchate at the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Geneva, was on the lookout for a suitable location. In 1965 the «Fondation orthodoxe du Patriarcat Œcuménique» was able to aquire a plot of over 10,000 square metres, with a stately villa. It was conveniently close to the Ecumenical Council of Churches, to various international institutions, and to the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey. The realisation of the project was supported not least by the Lausanne-based Greek ship owner Georges Lemos, who financed the church building. In addition to donations from the Orthodox community, a substantial contribution also came from the Protestant Church of Germany, the German episcopal conference and the Archdiocese of Cologne, as well as Lent offerings from the Swiss-Catholic Lenten Fund, inspired by the idea that the centre could be a bridge between East and West. Patriarch Athenagoras I consecrated the church on 3rd July 1966. It was then still housed in the villa, in which a small chapel was set up. Use of the centre was set to take place in 1967, but financial reasons meant that it was 1969 before building could begin.
The half-cupola of the Patriarchal church is a rarity: While traditional cupolas represent the heavens as a closed universe, the missing half at Saint Paul's refers to today's open world view. The windows on the flat side of the half-cupola also increase the natural light inside the church.
The establishment of the centre was linked from the beginning with the desire to build a church dedicated to Saint Paul. The foundation stone for Saint Paul's church was laid on 18th April 1971, under the energetic leadership of Metropolitan Damaskinos Papandreou (who served 1969-2003). Prof. Georges Lavas worked with architects Spiess & Wegmüller over the next two years on plans for the church. The owners had originally imagined the church in a traditional Byzantine style. Apparently, however, the local authorities did not feel that such a construction would complement the landscape. The blueprints were altered several times in order to meet planning demands. Work on the building which stands today could finally begin in 1973.
For all its modernity, the building retains the principles of Orthodox church architecture, such as the cruciform floor plan. Dr. Gary Vachicouras, lecturer at the instate of the Orthodox centre, sees the church as a successful expression of the vision of continuity and renewal.
On 19th October 1975 the church became the Patriarchal church of Msgr. Chrysostomos Tsiter, the then Metropolitan in Vienna, whose Diocese included, along with Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. The celebration was like a small interfaith council: those attending were representatives of almost all the autocephalous (independent) Orthodox Churches. Delegates from the Roman Catholic, Old Catholic and Protestant churches were also present, along with civil and Church authority members from Chambésy and the City and Canton Geneva. Since its inception, the centre has been host to many important guests from religion and politics, such as Pope John Paul II on 12th June 1984, and Federal Councillor Pascal Couchepin in 2005.
Faces of the Building
Jeremias Kaligiorgis is Metropolitan (Archbishop) of the Swiss Metropolis, the Greek Orthodox Diocese which includes Switzerland and Lichtenstein, and and is subject to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, based in Istanbul.
Gary Vachicouras is lecturer at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Orthodox Theology, and coordinator for academic and organizational matters at the institute.
Metropolitan (Archbishop) Jeremias Kaligioris arrived in Geneva from Paris in 2003, to succeed Metropolitan Damaskinos in leading the Swiss Diocese, who was retiring due to ill health. Created as an independent Metropolis in 1983, the Swiss Diocese also includes the Principality of Lichtenstein, and is under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Suffragan Bishop Makarios Pavlidis is currently responsible for the Greek Orthodox community.
Dr. Gary Vachicouras has worked for the Orthodox Centre in Chambésy since 1989, serving as a lecturer on the Master's degree in Orthodox theology since 1997. He also coordinates the academic and organizational aspects of the institute. He says, «We are constantly challenged to renew our theological potential while maintaining our roots and historical continuity.»
Neighbourhood and Conflict
The view from the grassy roof, showing the adjacent buildings of the institute.
Vachicouras describes relations with the neighbours and the authorities as «excellent». He says «We are convinced that the inhabitants of Chambésy appreciate our presence, and we feel at home here.» He reports that the former Metropolitan Damaskinos Papandreo was often invited to events in the area – even once being invited to speak on 1st August (Swiss national day). For the lecturer, the church dedication in 1975 highlights the relationship with the authorities. «The local authorities were also present. It is a sign of this solidarity and support that the building exists at all.» The Mayor of Chambésy is also present every year to celebrate the beginning of the academic year.
In the centre of the semi-cupola Christ is represented in the traditional iconography as Christ Pantocrator (Ruler of All), above Mary, Mother of God, mediator to Christ.
About 150-170 million believers belong to the Orthodox Church worldwide. Although there are now 16 different Orthodox denominations, it is theologically understood to be an indivisible Church. Their common doctrinal basis is the decisions of the seven Ecumenical Councils (up to and including Nicea II, 787AD). They thus also share the resolutions of thee Councils with the Roman-Catholic Church. Nevertheless, long standing rivalry and antagonism between the «Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople» and the Roman Empire came to a head in 1054 in the «Oriental schism».
A characteristic of the Orthodox Churches are that they are «autocephalous», in that they choose their own Patriarch, Catholicos or Archbishop. This is in order to resist the demands of the Roman Catholic Papacy on primacy of jurisdiction (direct power of control), and the «infallibility» of the Pope in doctrinal decisions. For the Orthodox Church, infallibility lies in the whole Church, and can only be decided by a council of the whole Church. Other differences to the Reformed Churches concern the sacraments and the doctrine of justification (the understanding of original sin and the grace of God).
Christ as God-man: Wall painting behind the Altar. Light falls from the front of the semi-cupola, onto the corner above the painting.
The Orthodox Church sees its task as the representation of «the authentic tradition of the Church of the Apostles.» The central tenets of the Orthodox faith are the work of the Holy Spirit, the «deification» of man (theosis) and the understanding of the «sanctification of the entire cosmos» (metamorphosis). The pastoral priests are usually married, but widowers cannot marry again. The bishops, however, remain unmarried, and are usually chosen from the monkhood. Monasteries have had an important role since earliest times, and are considered central to the preservation of religious and cultural identity.
Orthodoxy does not see itself primarily as instructive, rather as a eulogistic community of God, whose theology has an experiential character. The Liturgy has a central position in the Orthodox faith, and is intended to appeal to all the senses. The Orthodox mass, known as the Divine Liturgy, can last for several hours, during which the congregation are mostly standing. Chanted prayers play a large part of the service, and are often sung by trained choirs. Musical instruments are not permitted. An iconostasis (screen painted with icons) separates the nave, filled with the congregation, from the altar, in which are the priests, deacons and acolytes. The nave symbolises the earthly human world, while the altar symbolises of the «Kingdom of God.» During the Liturgy, the priest enters through the opened «Holy Doors», the central gate of the iconostasis, as a representative of the congregation. Candles and incense, the «scent of heaven», are central to the Liturgy as a sensual experience.
Two modern-style murals inside the church.
Today, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is responsible for the Greek-Orthodox metropolia (dioceses) other than the non-traditional Orthodox areas in western Turkey and Crete, as well as the monastic state of Mount Athos in Greece. Within Orthodoxy, the Patriarchate has a leading position, an unofficial «primacy of honour». Bartholomew I, who has been Patriarch since 1991, visited Switzerland in 1995.
Overall, the centre in Chambésy, with its church and two chapels, offers a place for religious and cultural life for the various Orthodox communities. The Patriarchal Church of Saint-Paul, Apôtres des Nations (Apostle Paul) is directly subject to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and thus does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Swiss Metropolis. The Liturgy is held in Greek, and the ecumenical Patriarch is included in the liturgical prayer. Saint Paul's Church is used by the Greek-speaking Orthodox, and once a month by the Georgian Orthodox community.
Interior view of the crypt of Saint-Catherine/Saint-Trinité.
In the basement of Saint-Paul is the crypt of Sainte-Catherine/ Sainte-Trinité (Holy Trinity). It is used by any Orthodox who wish to attend French language Liturgies. Among the approximately 200 families of the «Paroisse orthodoxe francophone» can found Russian, Serbian, Syriac, Greek and Romanian Orthodox members, as well as Swiss converts.
Inside the villa is the «Chapelle de la Résurrection» (Resurrection Chapel), which was used until 1975 by the Greek Orthodox community. Today members of the Patriarchate of Antioch (Orthodox Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians) worship here, and Georgian Orthodox and Romanian Orthodox also use it for their Divine Liturgies.
The «Chapelle de la Résurrection» (resurrection chapel), is in the villa which was acquired as part of the property in 1966. Today, Romanian, Arabic and Georgian-speaking Orthodox communities worship here.
The Orthodox centre itself is considered a branch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the west. It seeks to increase contact between the local Orthodox Churches, and thus promote inter-orthodox unity. Another goal is to «inform the Christian world, especially western Europe, about the worship, doctrine tradition and theology of Orthodoxy». (From:.The center of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate, Chambésy. Mimeographed newsletter by the Centre, Geneva, undated). The centre promotes meetings between Christian denominations, particularly dialogue between eastern and western Churches. It should be «a window of the Orthodox East to the West and vice versa, a window of the West for the Orthodox East» (ibid.) In addition, the centre offers space for academic exchange between Orthodox and non-Orthodox theologians, either in seminars, or through the in-house publications.
Another view of the grounds.
For decades, the centre has held a key position amongst all the Orthodox Churches. The foundations for this were laid at the pan-Orthodox conference in the summer of 1968, where it was decided to form a «Secretariat for the preparation of a Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church». The Secretariat, headed by Metropolitan Damaskinos Papandreou organized several pan-Orthodox conferences in Chambésy - now one of its main tasks - as well as theological and intercultural dialogue with representatives of the Old Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant and the Roman Catholic Church, as well as Islam and Judaism.
Acknowledgements: We thank Dr. theol. Maria Brun, Lucerne, for her valuable advice in connection with this building portrait. Dr. Brun worked as a researcher at the Orthodox Centre in Chambésy from 1980-2003.