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A Morning in the Russian Church

Morocco is a country where all monotheistic cults coexist. A morning in the Russian Orthodox Church can testify to this.

It’s Sunday 8:30 am, and I am looking for a spiritual place, no matter the beliefs. Getting a cab, I am on my way to the Russian Orthodox Church or the Church of Resurrection, a small building near the botanic garden in Rabat. The taxi stops right in front of an all-white building adorned with two blue ceramic domes, a bell tower, and an orthodox cross at the top. 

The story of the Russian Orthodox Church of Rabat is worth a visit. By the beginning of the last century, Morocco had fallen under French and Spanish protectorates. Therefore, the representatives of theses countries were building churches for their citizens living in Moroccan lands. As Tangier was an international city long before the Protectorate, Moroccans were familiar with British and American culture and cults, too. At that time, they knew nothing about Russian Orthodox traditions. 

What makes the Orthodox Church special, is that it wasn’t built by the Soviet Embassy or ordered by the government, but it was constructed with Russian migrants money, coming from URSS in the 20s, unlike French and Spanish residents.

The land of the current church was a donation from a Muslim man called Sharif Hussein Djebli in 1929. He was married to a Russian woman named Bezrukova. He realized, at that time, that the Russian cult was taking place in a church set up in wooden barracks belonging to the municipality. Thus, he decided to give them a place to practice their cult and prayers. Following his decision, the Russian community began collecting donations to afford the construction of that holy place. To do so, they held charity evenings with a theater program for Moroccans and French people.

The cornerstone of the church, was laid on the 5th-6th of July, 1931, day of the celebration of Virgin of Vladimir. 

Since 1933, the church has had a charitable committee, which provided money and things to Russian emigrants.

As soon as you put your feet in this place, you lose the feeling of time. The smells and the colors blow your mind, with a mesmerizing effect.

When I arrived, the preacher was already reciting the prayer, holding a Bible in one hand, and a fumigator in the second one. Three women were already there, litting candles. 

Candles were offered for sale at the symbolic price of 10, 20, or 50 dirhams depending on their size (the equivalent of 1, 2, or 5 dollars, respectively). The money collected goes to charity, not only for Russians, but for all those in need.

The church is small. The walls are decorated with Christian drawings of the Christ, its disciples and Mary Magdalene. In the center of the church, a giant copper chandelier lays, with several lamps illuminating the place. The axial chapel in front of the door with no see-through portals, however, gives a glimpse of a small illustration of the Russian church of Moscow. The city is considered the 3rd Rome, since the fall of Constantinople.

During the prayer, the priest went back and forth to the axial chapel. A lady read the Bible with him in the alternate, with a high voice.

When she finished, another lady started to sing, with a choir composed of 5 children with magical voices. One cannot tell if this music comes from the throats of human beings, or symphonic music as if a great orchestra was behind this chant. As prayer drew to a close, another preacher joined the room, this time reciting in Latin, the official priest gave a sermon on patience, love, modesty, faith and hospitality, and closed the morning with the Christian ritual of the sip of holy water and the piece of bread.

I learned that the priest changes his Sticheron (a long tunic that reaches down to the feet) every Sunday. Each week it is a different color, and each shade always matches the color of the rugs and the candlestick.

Spiritual places have that in common: they bring you new energy. 

The magic of Morocco also lies in the fact that everyone can experience it in a variety of ways, since, in the country, all monotheistic cults coexist.