Orthodox Church in Switzerland
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Orthodox Church of Geneva

Located on one of the highest points of the city overlooking the lake, the gold domes of this church can be seen from afar, like glowing candles. On a clear day, you can see them sparkling from Nyon, about 20 kilometers or so from Geneva.

For nearly two centuries now, Switzerland – particularly along the shores of Lake Geneva – has been home to many Orthodox Christians, predominantly Russian. Igor Stravinsky and Vladimir Nabokov are but two of the distinguished representatives of this community, much appreciated on Lake Geneva’s “Riviera”.

A community in full growth
The number of Orthodox Christians and Eastern Christians has significantly increased over the last 30 years, with over 70,000 followers, or 1% of the Swiss population (three times as many as 20 years ago). This growth is clearly the result of immigration. The majority (78.7%) of foreign adherents to the Orthodox and Eastern Christian Churches in Switzerland are from Eastern Europe.

A secular tradition
The history of the Orthodox Church in Switzerland closely follows the development of the Russian community. The first Russian parish was established in December 1816 near Bern. This event was directly connected with Russian czar Alexander I. During his reign, nobility could travel freely and frequently sojourned abroad. Furthermore, children were permitted to receive their education in European countries. The influential Swiss educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi became known in Russia and the young Russian aristocracy were sent especially to his educational institutes. One look at our pages on private schools in Switzerland can attest to the fact that private schooling has remained a Swiss specialty to this day.

The first Russian students attended the Hofwil educational institute, near Bern, where they were deprived of the Orthodox teaching that was obligatory in Russia. This was a gap that had to be filled. The second reason that necessitated the establishment of an Orthodox chapel was the religious needs of Anna Feodorovna, wife of the Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich (the younger brother of Alexander I), who had settled in the vicinity of Bern. It was for these reasons that the first Orthodox chapel was consecrated in Switzerland in 1817, directly dependant on the Russian legation in Bern.

The Orthodox Church in Geneva
The Czar feared the Russian community would succumb to the liberal ideas that were en vogue in Switzerland during the 1850s. The embassy was closed and the chapel was moved to Frankfurt. Upon her anticipated return to Geneva, the Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna suggested the chapel be set directly in Geneva. Firstly, she herself was settled there, and secondly, the majority of Orthodoxy were either in Geneva, or in Lausanne – for a total of 30 Russians and Greeks. In 1854, the proposition was accepted by the holy synod and a chapel was created in an apartment of the Eaux-Vives district (referring to the springs that once spouted in this residential area).

From the time of the Reformation, Geneva – "Protestant Rome" – found itself at the heart of the religious controversies that disrupted Europe on the threshold of the modern era. In the nineteenth century, when the progressive circles sought to convey the ideals of tolerance and liberty of the Age of Enlightenment, the city played a forerunning role in the affirmation of religious tolerance and made its duty to encourage the construction of places of worship so that each and every denomination could unite in fellowship. The Geneva government donated a property in the historical center of the city, where Switzerland’s first Orthodox Church was consecrated on 14 September 1866, and has since welcomed Russians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks and Romanians. Located on one of the highest points of the city overlooking the lake, the gold domes of this church can be seen from afar, like glowing candles. On a clear day, you can see them sparkling from Nyon, about 20 kilometers or so from Geneva. This district of doctors and lawyers is also known as the "Orthodox Church district".

The Orthodox Church in Vevey
Orthodox Christians are concentrated in the small villages along Lake Geneva and in a few cities – Geneva, Lausanne, Montreux, Vevey. The blessed areas of Switzerland drew Russian emigrants who cohabited well with the indigenous population. Most of the emigrants were rich, with few of the Russian anarchists and revolutionaries. There nevertheless existed a certain rivalry amongst the communities that inhabited the different areas, which is explained by the fact that the Russian bourgeois made Geneva their choice, while the nobility lived in the country. The erection of the church in Geneva aroused jealousy. The misfortune that struck the count Schouwaloff, one of the wealthiest Russians in Vevey, was at the origin of Switzerland’s second Orthodox Church. The count’s wife died and, shortly thereafter, so did his only daughter. The young girl’s name was Barbara and she was married to the prince Dolgorouki. Suffering deeply, the count decided to immortalize his daughter’s memory by financing the construction of an Orthodox church. The building work was completed in 1878 and the church was dedicated to Saint Barbara the Martyr.

The Russian community in Davos
At the turn of the nineteenth century, tuberculosis was widespread in Russia. The treatment for this illness required specific climatic conditions that could only be found in Switzerland. The health resorts in the Swiss Rhaetian Alps were highly appreciated by the Russians. Davos became the most renowned fresh air cure in Russia and the number of Russians rose steadily: 310 in 1895, 684 in 1900, 1,272 in 1905 and 3,054 in 1911. These patients required the constant moral support and consolation of the Orthodox Church. The first stone of what was supposed to be Switzerland’s third Orthodox Church was laid in April 1914, but then the war broke out and the construction of the church was no longer a priority. True, the Russians were safe in neutral Switzerland, but they hadn’t counted on staying so long. They had to care for themselves and survive in the conditions of the crash of the ruble, its international non convertibility, and a total lack of financial resources. Savings ran dry. The Russian Sanatoriums went bankrupt and were sold. The sickest patients were taken in by the Swiss government, while the others either had to return to their country, or settle in other Swiss resorts. Such was the dismal end of the Davos community.



Russian Orthodox Church in Geneva
rue de Beaumont 18
1206 Geneva
Tel. (022) 346 47 09
Russian Orthodox Church
rue des Communaux 12
1800 Vevey
Tel. (021) 921 84 63

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarcate of Moscow

av. Jacques-Martin 11
1224 Chêne-Bougeries
Tel. (022) 349 94 54

Russische Orthodoxe Kirche
Postgasse 62
3000 Bern
Tel. (031) 961 96 10

Russisch-Orthodoxe Kirche im Ausland
Priester, Sturm Peter Engi
9533 Kirchberg
Tel. (071) 923 53 15

Russisch-Orthodoxe Kirche im Ausland
Hl. Pokrov
Haldenbachstr. 2
8006 Zurich
Tel. (01) 252 98 33

Francophone Orthodox Church
Révérend Père Renneteau Jean
ch. de Chambésy 37
1292 Chambésy
Tel. (022) 758 19 52

Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary

ch. de Bel-Ebat 1
1214 Vernier
Tel. (022) 341 33 98

Greek Orthodox Church 
Prêtre Iossifidis Alexandre
av. Florimont 2
1006 Lausanne
Tel. (021) 728 71 71

Serbian Orthodox Church

1000 Lausanne
Tel. (021) 653 81 61
Fax (021) 653 81 66
Romanian Orthodox Church
Paroisse Saint Jean Baptiste de Genève
Eglise de la Trinité
av. Eugène-Lance 2
1212 Grand-Lancy
Tel. (022) 700 49 18

Romanian Orthodox Church
Paroisse des Saints Roumains de Lausanne
av. de la Harpe 2
1007 Lausanne
Tel. (021) 729 89 81

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