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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Benefits to Aid Anglican Church's Restoration

For decades, the enormous neo-Gothic building at 8 Voznesensky Pereulok was known as a cathedral of classical music. It was the recording studio of Soviet disc-maker Melodiya.

But once, this was the spiritual fulcrum of the British community in Moscow, the place where Victorian expatriates were baptized and wed and buried.

St. Andrew's Church of England is slowly coming back to life on this hallowed ground close to the Kremlin. Since July 14, 1991, when Sunday services were restored, the congregation, which now includes parishioners from most English-speaking countries, has waged a legal campaign to regain the property. The goal is now in sight, says the chaplain, the Rev. Canon Chad Coussmaker.

"I sincerely hope that the complete return of the church property will not be later than next year," he said.

The property has been removed from Melodiya's books and placed on the State Property Committee's register. While the church and Melodiya will continue to share use of the church for at least a year, the neighboring parsonage is expected to be returned as early as June.

Coussmaker is sufficiently confident to begin fund raising for a $2 million restoration. He has already received a $10,000 pledge from De Beers. A worldwide appeal will be made through the Church of England, and on May 11 the first of a series of benefit concerts will be performed by Chamber Ensemble Excellente, a group of soloists from the renowned Moscow Chamber Orchestra.

"Although the church has been used continuously since confiscation in 1920, it has not been loved since that time," Coussmaker said. "Basically the structure is sound, but an awful lot has been neglected over the years."

After the revolution, the building served as offices for foreign delegations and later as a girls' hostel. Melodiya moved there in 1960.

Over the years, defective gutters on the northwest corner of the church have allowed rain to seep into a buttress. With every freeze, the buttress cracks further. The red brick facade of the church and neighboring parsonage needs to be pointed.

The congregations of yesterday would be shocked at the church's interior. The stained glass windows are long gone, including one that Janet Smith, the matriarch of one of the most prominent Moscow British families, donated for the nave. From 1856 until 1916, the Smiths operated a boiler-making factory in Moscow. They also contributed a boiler for heating the church and paid for the construction of the front gates, according to "The Smiths of Moscow, A Story of Britons Abroad," a book by Harvey Pitcher published by Swallow House Books in 1984.

Coke bottle-thick panes have been installed where the stained glass used to be. Over these, Melodiya placed a rippling layer of white, perforated acoustic board.

The church's pews were most likely burned for fuel during the hard winter of 1920 and 1921. But the wooden organ is rumored to exist still, either in the vaults of a Russian museum or at a monastery.

St. Andrew's was designed by Freeman of Bolton and built from 1882 to 1884 on the site of the earlier English Chapel, which dated from 1825. According to Pitcher's account, on Sunday mornings the spacious courtyard in front was filled with carriages, since the congregation was widely scattered. The unusually large entrance hall could accommodate parishioners' bulky coats and boots in winter. The church had a library, where friends met after services. In the basement lived the organist.

The church tower contained not a belfry -- only Orthodox churches were allowed to ring bells -- but a strong room for the British community.

During the revolution, 126 strong boxes including family silver and 193,000 rubles -- a small fortune at the time -- were removed by the communists. Melodiya has used the strong room to store its most valuable recordings.

The parsonage was built in 1894 by a wealthy parishioner in memory of her deceased husband. During the revolution, the communists commandeered the attic as a machine-gun post.

Anglican worship in Moscow had its beginnings in the time of Ivan the Terrible, who granted permission for Anglican services to maintain Christian and moral teaching for workers of the Russia Company.

The Anglican church was never a missionary church.

"There has never been any desire to convert Russians to Anglicanism," Coussmaker noted.

In almost three years in Moscow, the priest said he has performed only three adult baptisms -- and these only after urging the Russians to explore Orthodoxy first.

The pre-revolutionary Moscow British community hailed primarily from Lancaster and Scotland and at its height numbered around 1,000. The community included industrialists, merchants, diplomats and scores of governesses. For the last group, a wealthy patron built St. Andrew's House on Spiridonovka Ulitsa, where both English and American governesses could find inexpensive lodging. Other charitable works of St. Andrew's included nursing wounded Russian soldiers during the Russo-Japanese War and World War I. During the desperate year of 1919, Chaplain Frank North, who would be the last chaplain until the 1990s, ran a soup kitchen that served fish, millet and horse flesh to starving parishioners and British soldiers taken prisoner in Russia during the Allied intervention, according to Pitcher.

The Moscow British of the tsarist era were patriotic expatriates. According to the church minutes of December 1901, the death of Queen Victoria "cast a gloom over the British colony such as had not been experienced within the memory of any present at the Annual Meeting ... The Memorial Service held on the day of the Funeral was the most touching ceremony ever held within this Church."

The coronations of Edward VII, and later of George V and Queen Mary were commemorated with lively celebrations at St. Andrew's.

In October 1994, the connection was renewed between the British monarch, who is the supreme governor of the Church of England, and the Moscow church. Queen Elizabeth II attended a service at St. Andrew's as part of her diplomatic visit to Moscow. Coussmaker credits her with expediting the church's return.

"I think she probably advanced our claim on the building by at least five years," he said.

The St. Andrew's benefit concert on Saturday, May 11, begins at 7 p.m. at the church, 8 Voznesensky Pereulok (formerly Ulitsa Stankevicha). Tickets are $30. The program will feature works of Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi and Bach. For tickets call 229-5638 or 232-1361.