The Dormition Church of the Mother of God in Casablanca, Morocco, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, is in peril of destruction, as reported on June 1, 2012, by the Rector of Resurrection Church in Rabat, Morocco, Priest Maksim Massalitine.
"On February 1, 2012, the church, recently renovated through the efforts of local parishioners, was entered by laborers who destroyed the valuable iconostasis, tore the old icons off the walls and tried to extract the holy items from the church to an unknown destination, but were stopped by the tenant of the parish property,” said Fr Maksim.
Fr Maksim explained that the reason for this action was the “unlawful sale of the property of Dormition Church to a Moroccan real-estate concern with the purpose of razing the church and developing the site, since Dormition Church is located in the center of the city, in one of its most prestigious neighborhoods.” According to Fr Maksim, a former priest of the Russian Church Abroad who was defrocked in 2001, citizen of France Nikolai Semenoff, sold the church.
On February 16, His Eminence Archbishop Michael of Geneva and Western Europe made an urgent visit to Casablanca, which is within his jurisdiction, together with Fr Maksim, and filed a complaint with the police and the Royal Attorney General of Casablanca. After criminal charges were leveled against Nikolai Semenoff, he was detained by the police at Casablanca’s airport in late February and was prohibited from leaving the country pending investigation of the matter.
At the present time, the investigation has concluded and handed over to the prosecutor’s office for arraignment. At the same time, the new owner of the church has given notice to the tenant of the parish property to vacate. The premises have been almost completely vacated now and nothing else prevents the planned destruction of the church, since no steps have yet been taken by the Moroccan authorities on this matter.
Dormition Church in Casablanca was built through the efforts of Russian émigrés in 1958. This was one of the two remaining Russian Orthodox churches on the territory of the Moroccan monarchy.
Formally, the church is the property of the Communauté et Eglise orthodoxe russe au Maroc (Community of the Russian Orthodox Church in Morocco), established in 1948 by Admiral AI Rusin, Princess VV Urusova and other eminent figures of the Russian emigration. The first rector of ROCOR’s Dormition Parish in Casablanca was Protopriest Mitrofan Znosko-Borovksy, future Bishop of Boston. Since the 1970’s, since most of the parishioners of the church had departed, the Russian Church Abroad ceased appointing a rector to the church. In 1978, the parish territory was leased by ROCOR to an Orthodox family, the Gnediches, with the aim of preserving the church and permit the possibility of performing divine services there from time to time. When the Gnedich family moved to Paris in 1986, the Western European Diocese of ROCOR had no choice but to least the premises to a Moroccan citizen, Mohamed M’Zhid, an honorary member of the Supreme Commissariat of the United Nations on refugees. Since then, he has maintained the office of an international organization here.
The church was visited once or twice a year by a ROCOR priest from Western Europe. In the 1990’s, this was Nikolai Semenoff. Since 2000, despite numerous appeals by the local residents of Casablanca, Semenoff did not visit Morocco once to perform religious services. On October 30, 2001, by decision of an Extraordinary Spiritual Court of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Priest Nikolai Semenoff was defrocked for causing a schism and performing priestly services while under suspension, along with a series of other clergymen of the Western European Diocese.
Since 2002, Dormition Church was ministered to by Rector of Casablanca’s Greek Church in the jurisdiction of the Alexandrian Patriarchate, at the time Russian Priest Andrei Pronin, who celebrated regular services there for the local Orthodox population. Since 2005, as part of negotiations which concluded in 2007 with the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the Department of External Church Relations, with the help of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Casablanca, helped ROCOR resolve property-ownership matters in Casablanca. As a result, an agreement was made that priests of Resurrection Church in Rabat, Morocco, of the Moscow Patriarchate would regularly visit Casablanca to perform religious services. The final service was celebrated on the feast day of St Seraphim of Sarov on January 15, 2012.