Vézelay Parish

The Orthodox Parish of St. Stephen and St. Germain of Auxerre

Dear friends,

At Vézelay, a center of Christian worship and pilgrimage since the eighth century, the Holy Liturgy of the Orthodox Church has been celebrated regularly for the past 20 years.

Taking part in eucharistic life in such a village, in which even the stones are pregnant with prayer, one is acutely aware of sharing in the liturgical cycle kept by generation after generation of those who worship one God in Three Persons.

The village is now preparing to sell the building in which for the past 12 years we have celebrated the Liturgy. Our heart insists that we make an effort to purchase that which in the past was only ours to rent. Thanks to many donations and one loan, we have collected the greater part of the FF 238,000 ($40,000) that the village asks.

It is because we have not found all the money needed that we ask for your help. With your assistance, Orthodox Christianity can remain a presence for future generations in the heart of Burgundy. (There is only one other Orthodox center in the Department of l’Yonne, the Monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God.)

If God so wills, you will come and pray with us in our chapel, which would give us great joy.

Thanking you in advance, with brotherly greetings in Christ,

Father Stephen Headley and the parishioners of St. Stephen and St. Germain of Auxerre, Vézelay

parish correspondence address:

Père Stephen Headley

67 rue St Pierre

89450 Vézelay

France

bank account: CCP No 462710 J Dijon (Paroisse St Etienne et St Germain); donations can also be sent care of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship; make your check payable to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, indicating it is for “the Vézelay parish”.

A brief history of the parish of St. Germain of Auxerre in Vézelay

In 1978 three Orthodox families, French and Russian, gathered in Vézelay to pray. Soon joined by five other families, God blessed this initiative, which has now lasted more than 20years. Throughout these years, Fr. Stephen Headley, rector of the parish of Our Lady Joy of All the Sorrowful in Paris, came at least once every two months to celebrate the Eucharist. In1998, with his wife Anne, he took up definitive residence in Vézelay. Since then, in addition to other services, there has been daily Vespers.

During the first few years, Fr. Stephen being committed to his Parisian parish, communion was given to the parish by Deacon Nicholas and many Christmases were celebrated by Father Simeon, Father Ephrem, Father George and Father Alexander from Paris, to whom we are forever grateful.

From 1978 to 1986, the place of prayer was occasionally changed. First we met in the attic of the deacon of our parish, later in the house of one of the parishioners, and then in the chapel of the Franciscans Sisters in the building adjacent to our present building.

Finally in 1986 the village gave us a temporary lease to use the “Romanesque House,” the oldest private dwelling in Vézelay. It is situated along an alley running off the southwest corner of the square that faces the medieval Basilica of Saint Mary Magdalene. The last owner and resident of the house, living there until the 1930s, made wooden shoes. Uninhabited, it gradually deteriorated. Much labor was required of the parish to make it suitable for renewed use. The upper room of the house, with its several romanesque windows, has been made into a chapel with an iconostasis, while the lower room and enclosed garden serve for parish social purposes and to house a small library. Because we do not yet own the building, the altar awaits solemn consecration. Though the house is modest in its dimensions, the chapel can hold as many as 60 people.

The need to attach the parish to one of the historical patriarchates was felt early on. The eucharistic community, wishing to become a parish, addressed an appeal to the Moscow Patriarchate. Metropolitan Philaret of Minsk, then head of the External Affairs Department, accepted our request in 1986.

In 1991 we were blessed in yet another way when the Roman Catholic archbishop of Auxerre gave the parish relics of St. Germain of Auxerre, a fifth century saint. Along with St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, St. Germain became patron of our parish. An icon was painted for us by Bernard Frinking and a Liturgy celebrated on the tomb of St. Germain in the crypt of the cathedral in Auxerre. Afterwards a large number of people carrying the icon and relics walked the 23 miles from Auxerre to Vézelay — a two-day journey.

Since our founding, four other families have joined us, a dozen children have been baptized, and a number of catechumens prepared to enter the Church. Our participation in local life, the friendships made there, the daily Vespers and life in the Vigil, have made Orthodoxy — and the cassock of Father Stephen — an integral part of Vézelay daily life.

It is by and large a serene rural life yet punctuated by events linking us to the larger world. We have held an annual seminar in icon painting every year since 1990, with Bernard Frinking as teacher. In collaboration with the Community of Jerusalem, since 1996, there has been an annual conference on Christian anthropology. In 1999, a conference on “Sacraments of Healing” was sponsored by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and led by Bishop Kallistos from Oxford. Another Orthodox Peace Fellowship conference is planned for the year 2000. We hope our parish can become more and more a center of Orthodox life and dialogue.

page updated September 3, 1999