Serbian-Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity
Serbisch-orthodoxe Kirche Heilige Dreifaltigkeit
|Type of building:
|Single-naved basilica from 1912 flanked by residential houses
|approximately 400 m2 (property 620 m2)
|30 m including cross
|Approximately CHF 2 million
|Yes, from town preservation
|Stiftung zur Förderung der Serbisch Orthodoxen Kirche in der Schweiz, Zürich (Foundation for the promotion of the Serbian-Orthodox Church in Switzerland, Zurich)
|Milenko Lekic (Neuhausen), Fritz Schiess (Rapperswil)
|Start of construction:
|Consecration of the Orthodox altar stone:
|23rd November 1996
|Consecration of the iconostasis 9th September 2001 (final consecration pending)
|Serbian-Orthodox since September 2001, previously Old Catholic
|Conception through to inauguration:
If one travels to the tram stop «Kalkbreite» in Zurich, then goes south towards the next quarter, one quickly finds oneself at the tram depot on Elisabethenstrasse. Following this road, at the end of the row of dormer windows one comes across a small grey-green bell tower. The well-suited style of the building fits seamlessly amidst the row of houses, but as one approached, it becomes clear that it is a Christian church. Beneath the tympanum, the triangular gable, and the high-arched windows, another small tympanum covers the entrance. At its centre a Christ figure can be seen in a relief on a gold background. Beneath it is written in golden Cyrillic letters: «Chram Svete troitze», or, «Church of the Holy Trinity».
The Serbian-Orthodox Holy Trinity parish was founded in 1969. They initially enjoyed the hospitality of Old Catholic church buildings, such as the Christ Church in Oerlikon. Over time, however, the desire grew for the their own place of worship. Director Gabriele Schiess says: «Nothing can compare with the atmosphere inside an Orthodox church, which appeals to all senses of the faithful.»
In 1994 the Old Catholic congregation rented the Elizabeth Church, built in 1912, to the Serbian-Orthodox community, who years later started the necessary conversions for an Orthodox church: unnecessary liturgical facilities were removed, such as the seating and the organ.
As the church, along with the adjacent buildings, were on a list of protected buildings, the municipal building authorities imposed a halt to construction in March 1997. Two years later the authorities definitively defined the group of buildings as protected as historical buildings. After tough negotiations between the town preservations authorities and the parish, planning permission was granted again in May 2000. However, the organ, the pulpit stairs and the baptismal font had to be stored in the basement of the church.
The interior is now packed with Byzantine wall paintings. Some of the icons have been placed in the open entrance and can be seen from the street. A «little consecration» of the iconostasis took place in September 2001 (see picture below). Six years later the congregation finally cast the missing bell and on 29th May 2007 hung it in the tower. The final expansion of the basement began in January 2008, where the organ had been stored until 2007. Only when this part is also ready to be used will the church finally be consecrated.
M. S. was the president of the church council for the Serbian-Orthodox Holy Trinity parish in Zurich in 2008. He says: «I was personally asked by Father Todovoric if I wanted to join the church council. For me it was a great honour.» M. S. was born in Belgrade, and has lived in Switzerland since 1969, where he moved at the age of one. In addition to his religious commitment, he works as a engineer in Zurich.
M. S., former president of the church council, says that the move of the Serbian-Orthodox Church into the former Elizabeth Church was a long process, during which it was clearly communicated what would happen and who would be using the church. Therefore, serious problems never surfaced with the neghbours: «We have had amazingly few problems.» When the new bell was hung, some neighbours were concerned that they would frequently hear the bells ringing. As it turns out, the ringing times are regular, and the bells are rarely rung, which has allayed concerns.
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 relationship between Serbian Church communities is not currently a problem. In Zurich there are currently two parishes, due to disagreements concerning the Bishop for Central Europe, Konstantin Dokic. The second parish (Assumption parish) is located at Glattstegweg 91, 8051 Zürich.
Text : Edwin Egeter
Photos : Edwin Egeter (6-8), Andreas Tunger-Zanetti (1-5)
«Cupola – Temple – Minaret» is a Project by the Centre for Research on Religions, Lucerne
Last updated: 18th December 2015
© 2015 Department for the Study of Religion, University of Lucerne