PARIS Jan 17 Russia has begun building what is
likely to be one of its most high-profile Orthodox churches
abroad on the banks of the River Seine in Paris, near the Eiffel
The church, to be built in limestone and glass, topped off
by traditional Russian golden domes, reflects the resurgence of
Russian Orthodoxy - the world's second-largest Christian church
- since the fall of Soviet communism in 1991 and the emergence
of new leaders keen to extend its presence at home and abroad.
The grounds will include a cultural centre and a primary
school for 150 pupils.
The 100-million-euro project won by French construction
group Bouygues finally got off the ground after being
sent back to the drawing board several times over the past three
years before getting the French authorities' green light last
Presenting a model of the building on Friday, Russia's
ambassador to France Alexander Orlov estimated there were up to
10,000 Russians in or near Paris and tens of thousands more
throughout France but they had only about 20 churches.
"Some 150,000-200,000 Russians emigrated to France after the
October Revolution (of 1917) and many of their descendants
preserved the language, culture and faith," he said.
He said he hoped the church could be built in two years.
The Russian Church has an estimated 165 million members
worldwide, making it by far the largest single member among the
loosely linked Orthodox churches and second only to Roman
Catholicism's 1.2 billion Catholics in global Christianity.
Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian church, is a close
ally of President Vladimir Putin and his "foreign minister," the
polyglot Metropolitan Hilarion, frequently travels the globe
visiting Russian Orthodox communities abroad.
In recent years, the Moscow Patriarchate has built or
planned churches in countries as diverse as Spain, Malaysia,
Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
In 2007, it reunited with the New York-based Russian
Orthodox Church Abroad whose founders had fled Bolshevik rule
almost nine decades previously.
It has also retaken possession of older Russian Orthodox
churches in Nice on the French Riviera and in Bari, Italy, that
passed into local ownership after the Soviet revolution in 1917.
The church's riverside site in Paris, made vacant when the
Meteo France weather service moved to larger premises, was a
prized plot and media reports said Saudi Arabia had also bid for
The Russian state bought it for the Church in a deal that
was agreed in 2010 by then presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitry
(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan; Editing by Susan Fenton)