Limmatplatz Zurich, we cross the Sihlquai, undeterred by the noise and smells of the busy traffic at Kornhausbrücke. Below flows the sluggish Limmat river. Commercial buildings and apartments blocks are stacked up on both sides of the river. At the northern end of the bridge stands a modern, white-grey, rectangular building. The only noticeable feature is the conical tower rising from the roof. Coming closer, a small, dark-grey dome is visible on the roof. It is still difficult to make out the small silver-grey cross which tops it.
Father Emmanuel Simandirakis says that when he came to Zurich in 1967, «I saw that the Orthodox Greeks were homeless.» The community celebrated Mass in the Old-Catholic church in Elisabethenstrasse (converted in 1996 into the Serbian-Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity). However, as this could only begin once the Old-Catholic Mass was finished, the «morning mass», which lasts about two and half hours, sometimes only ended at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Simandirakis says «the church was nonetheless always full, and I thought, this can’t continue». Simandirakis therefore initiated the establishment of a foundation through which to build a church of their own.
From 1967 they began to save up: «We collected franc by franc, until we had 2 million, but as you know, this only builds a nice house in Switzerland.» The money was only enough to purchase the land. «But we were lucky», continues the priest, «the blessed Panajotis Angelopoulos, a wealthy Greek told us, <don’t collect any more money, I’ll take over construction of the church>.»
Emmanuel Simandirakis came from Crete, and was sent to Switzerland in 1964, after his theological studies at the «Ecumenical Partriarchate of Constantinople» in Instanbul. After starting off in St. Gallen, he came to Zurich in 1967. The same year he founded, together with other initiators, the Greek-Orthodox Foundation of Zurich. According to Father Simandirakis, amongst Orthodox Christians, the priest is «the soul of the Church». He is therefore on the board of trustees for both the Church and the foundation. He is also responsible for the building facilities.
Father Simandirakis describes the neighbours as «very nice people», who celebrate the major holiday together with the Orthodox community. He says: «We are thrilled that the neighbours have never caused any problems.»
The location on the heavily used road was not always easy for the priest from Crete. «Roads here, roads there – at the beginning I couldn’t sleep.» This is even more grievous, as the building project which the Orthodox community had favoured did not plan to build the living quarters directly on the main road.
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).
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.
The metropolitan (diocese) of Switzerland is subject to the Instanbul-based «Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople», among other dioceses within and outside 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, and laid the foundation stone in for the new Orthodox Church Münchenstein and the spiritual centre in Basel.