A view of the building on Narzissenstrasse 10. It is only on closer inspection that is becomes clear the building is a church.
The poster with two Matrjoschkas advertises the Russian children’s centre, which operates its kindergarten and offices from the church building.

In Zürich Oberstrass, about 150 m below Universitätsstrasse, from some angles between the multi-story buildings, an onion-shaped, dark-green tower can be seen on a gabled roof. On its golden peak a golden cross rises towards the sky. We turn left from Stapferstrasse into Narzissenstrasse, and are soon standing in front of a building that must be a church. The main entrance, flanked by two images of angels, can be found on the left of the asymmetrically designed frontage. Over the porch roof is a picture of Christ with two disciples at the meal at Emmaus, with «Emmaus» written below it. The message board on the fence at the road explains: «We are no longer the Emmaus Chapel of the Chrischona Parish, but the Russian Orthodox Church of the Resurrection.» Moreover, this is no ordinary church building, but besides the church space also contains a rectory, a kindergarten, a crypt and several meeting rooms. The history of the building also explains why the angels at the entrance are not painted directly onto the façade, but are simply screwed on. 

Architectural History and Reasons for Development

The bell-tower in traditional style on the roof, delivered from Russia. On top is a cross with three crossbars, a shape which is only found in the Russian Orthodox Church. The lower slanting bar symbolises the rise from hell to heaven, made possible through the Church.
The bell-tower in traditional style on the roof, delivered from Russia. On top is a cross with three crossbars, a shape which is only found in the Russian Orthodox Church. The lower slanting bar symbolises the rise from hell to heaven, made possible through the Church.

From its foundation, the Russian-Orthodox Church of the Resurrection was located at Kinkelstrasse in Zurich. Father Oleg Batov says: «From 1936 to 2001 we only had a 2-room apartment as a church.» How did they come to the new church? «It was like a miracle. I always had an eye on this house as it was a church with an adjacent building. From 11th to 16th September I was on a pilgrimage to Bari, and a day later I saw an advert on the internet for this church. We said ‘We’ll buy it!’» In order to acquire the Emmaus church built by the Chrischona Parish in 1910, the «Church Building Association of the Russian Orthodox Church, Narzissenstrasse» was founded that same year. A donation from Russian business people enabled the purchase of the church. Even the Chrischona community seemed happy that the Church wanted to buy their building. «It went quickly. Two months, and everything was done and dusted», remembers Batov.

Not much needed to be changed, but the organ was removed. «We don’t have organs in the Russian-Orthodox Church. (…) Everything needed to be in the Orthodox style.» The onion-shaped tower was delivered from Moscow. It was placed on the existing church-tower, and then covered in dark-green tiles. As it is a listed building, the new tower could not be higher than the existing height of the tower, but they managed to fit in the Russian-Orthodox cross. The shape of the windows could also not be changed. This was no problem for the community however: «We didn’t have any concrete requirements, although we might have made the windows curved at the top. But first we needed to ask.» Two paintings of angels, which had been painted on either side of the entrance by the Chrischona community, could not be removed, so the new owners made do with covering the original paintings with two painted sheets, on which two heavenly messengers in the Russian-Orthodox style now greet new arrivals. The internal decorations were overseen by Moscow-based artist Kornouchow Alexander, who had also worked in Georgia and the Vatican. Alexander created mosaics for the altar wall and church floors.

On the 15th December 2002 it was finally finished, and Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, a member of the Holy Synod and chairman of the foreign office of the Moscow Patriarchate, performed the «great consecration». Just six weeks earlier, the owners of neighbouring buildings had submitted objections against the attaching the bells, but Father Batov has sympathy: «They were afraid that they might not be able to lie in on Sundays. That’s normal, the neighbours are very close to the church. We understood this, and promised that we would not ring the bells very much.» The objection was finally dismissed in March 2003. The bells, therefore, only ring once on a Saturday at 5 pm, and once on Sunday at 10 am, ringing at midnight only on Easter.

Face of the Building

Oleg Batov

Oleg Batov received his ordination into the priesthood in Smolensk, and lived in Moscow until April 2000. Since then he worked as priest and pastor at the Church of the Resurrection in Zurich. He has also been president of the church council and building association since 2001. In the community he is affectionately known as «Batyuschka» (dear father). Batov is married and lives on the 2nd floor of the church building on Narzissenstrasse. In November 2006 he was appointed Archpriest by the Metropolitan Kyrill Gundjajew, the highest rank that a married priest can reach in the Orthodox Church.

Neighbourhood and Conflict

A view from Narzissenstrasse.

Elena Mersserli, the church treasurer, says, «We have very good neighbourly relations. At Easter we have a large midnight procession. We notify the people with a little note with a small Easter egg attached, apologising that it may be a little loud, and then everything is fine.» About 500 people with candles make up the procession, and the bell sounds at midnight. This of course requires a police permit.

As part of the Prayer for Christian Unity week, an ecumenical Blessing of the Water was conducted for the first time in January 2002. Representatives from the various Christian Churches in Zurich took part in the procession, in which they walked towards the Limmat river with Church banners. According to the Orthodox doctrine of the sanctification of nature, Oleg Batov immersed a blessed cross into the Limmat at the end of the procession. 

[Translate to Englisch:] Religiöse Tradition

Inside the church. A lectern stands in the middle of the room. On the ceiling above it is a mosaic of Christ. That the «Light of the World» emanates from him is symbolised by the large chandelier. As in all Orthodox churches, the congregation worships standing up, so no seating is installed. On the ceiling the original stucco can be seen. At the back of the room the iconostasis separates the altar.
The sanctuary, which is visible to the community through the middle door of the iconostasis. During the service, and especially the Eucharist, the separation between the earthly realm (the nave) and the heavenly realm (the sanctuary) is dissolved, and, mediated through the priest, the congregation becomes part of the divine reality which has been «opened up» before the earthly realm once again become separate at the end of the service.
A view of Moscow, the seat of the Patriarch of the Russian-Orthodox Church.
Holy pictures, postcards and religious literature are available in the foyer of the church. The «Icons» (Greek for picture or image) represent certain religious truths. They are therefore not an object of worship in themselves, but an aid to prayer and worship of God.

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.

According to legend the apostle Andrew was the first Christian missionary in what would become Russia. Historians believe, however, that the Eastern Slavic people of Russia were converted to Christianity in the 10th century. The Russian Church was under the canon law of the Patriarch of Constantinople until the 16th Century. In 1589 it gained status as a church with a private head (autocephaly), and the self-confidence of Moscow was soon clear as the «third Rome».

After the October Revolution, the land and property of the Russian-Orthodox Church was expropriated in 1918. From 1929, the use of the buildings was heavily restricted by the state. Until 1940, many Church members were arrested, and the state carried out anti-Church propaganda. Since 1990, however, the Church has recovered a large portion of its property. In 1998, under the eyes of the international community, the celebrating of the 1000 year anniversary of the Church led to further easing of relations between Church and state.

The Russian-Orthodox Church, with about 60 million believers (in Russia itself) is the largest Orthodox Church in the world. It includes about 130 eparchies (dioceses). Since 27th January 2009, their leader has been Kyrill «Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia», who as Metropolitan had consecrated the Church of the Resurrection in Zurich.

The Russian-Orthodox Church celebrates its festivals according to the Julian calendar, which currently differs from the Gregorian calendar by 13 days. For this reason the church on Narzissenstrasse celebrates the birth of Christ on 7th January. The Russian-Orthodox liturgy is held in Slavic.

The Church of the Resurrection was founded in 1936 in Zurich and is the only church subordinate to the Patriarch of Moscow in German-speaking Switzerland. It counts 300 registered members. In addition, there is also the parish of Saint Pokrov at the Haldenbachstrasse 2 in Zurich, although this belongs to the «Russian-Orthodox Church Abroad», which was established after the October Revolution and civil war by Russian-Orthodox Christians outside the Soviet Union. This has its head («Metropolitan») headquartered in New York since 1957. The Russian-Orthodox Church Abroad has an irregular status, but it considers itself part (until 1990 as the free part) of the Russian Church.