In Memory of Fr Serge Poukh: Five Remarkable Stories
January 27, 2016, marked the ninth day of the repose of Mitred Protopriest Serge Poukh, Rector and founder of the Church of SS Peter and Paul in Luxembourg.
An unknown woman once approached Fr Serge and said: “I am in such debt I can’t repay it…” He asked “How much? I’ll give it to you…” Anecdotal stories such as this are many.
This was a person who had faith in God, Who had healed him from mortal illness. His life, therefore, can be divided into two parts: the one granted at birth, and the one gifted to him, which he lived in utter recognition of Whom he was to thank for the gift of life.
Fr Serge is remembered well by all who knew him.
Archbishop Michael of Geneva and Western Europe said:
Fr Serge was 15 years older than me, the son of Russians who went abroad. He hails from the first generation of those born here. In the 1920’s, the Russian emigration mentally and morally viewed their exile as temporary. No one thought that they would spend the rest of their lives here. Everyone thought they would return tomorrow, or the next day.
My father told me that it was only after the war that the realization came that they would never return to Russia. But over this time, the Russian diaspora managed to build their own Russia abroad, they recreated its own spiritual and ecclesiastical Homeland here. Fr Serge was infused with this effort. He had the idea of building a church here, which sounded crazy at first, but was God-pleasing, and despite all obstacles, he succeeded.
According to Timofei Kitnis, a historian and theologian who organizes pilgrimages to the holy sites of Europe:
When we went to Germany in 2000, the ancient town of Trier, there was no Orthodox parish there yet. The church in Luxembourg was the only one within range in the region. It was then that I met Fr Serge.
Fr Serge was the son of an officer in Wrangel’s army; he was born in Bulgaria, and later moved to Luxembourg with his parents. Educated in Europe, he moved to America to launch a brilliant banking career.
He was apparently always fond of Orthodoxy and never, even in his youth, did he stray from a churchly life.
The turning point in his life was when he fell ill. He never said what ailed him, but it was obviously a terminal disease, and he made a vow that if the Mother of God would heal him, he would abandon everything he had in America-a successful career and his friends, he would sell his house, return to Luxembourg, build a Russian Orthodox church there and become a priest.
And a miracle happened. He was healed, and set out to fulfill his vow.
But obstacles rose to hinder him. The Lord was testing him, was he indeed firm in his commitment? Circumstances seemed to prevent him from leaving for Luxembourg. His daily cares occupied his time, but the biggest problem was that he could not find a buyer for his house, which he could not simply abandon.
Fr Serge told me that he began to pray in earnest to the Most-Holy Mother of God during this time of tribulation. He spent an extraordinary amount of time praying before the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God "of the Sign." He kept reading the akathist to the icon over and over.
Once, as he was reading the akathist with heartfelt fervor, the telephone rang and his realtor told him that he found a buyer for his house at a good price.
The future priest then came to Luxembourg and visited Archbishop Anthony of Geneva. As an eyewitness told me (whose name, alas, I cannot remember), the idea of building a church in Luxembourg seemed to everyone present to be a fantasy, utter madness.
Yet Fr Serge zealously set about to accomplish his plan, and the Lord blessed his efforts: in the very center of the European capital, a Russian Orthodox church rose up, dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. Fr Serge’s professional expertise came in handy. As the rector, he donated all the money from the sale of his house into building the church and took out construction loans in his own name.
At first there were almost no parishioners. Fr Serge and his matushka, Emilia, sometimes performed divine services alone. One of the first parishioners was Svetlana Yurievna Ushakova, a friend of Fr Serge since the age of seven, also a child of Russian emigres and a descendant of the renowned Admiral Feodor Ushakov.
In the 1990’s, this remarkable “Noah’s Ark,” as it were, became a haven for many believers who arrived from the former Soviet Union. The church drew worshipers not only from Luxembourg, but from neighboring France, Belgium and Germany. Fr Serge was for many years not only the priest but genuine spiritual father of the parish.
Duchess Svetlana Ushakova, parishioner and childhood friend of Fr Serge:
I knew Fr Serge since the age of seven. He was a remarkable child, he only learned to talk later in childhood. Our parents were friends . We lived in Maertert [Luxembourg], and their family in Wiltz (these were small towns in Luxembourg). We did not have a church then, our parents would get together and conduct services first in their cellar, then, because there was no work in the area, their family moved to Wasserbillig and we set up a house chapel right in the apartment.
When I bid goodbye to him for the last time, I talked about our childhood, and remembered how we would fight, and how I almost knocked his eye out, and my mother would go apologize to his family. Funny, but when we were children, he was the only one I spoke Russian with.
Priest Nikolai Nikishin, Director of the Pilgrimage Center of the Korsun Diocese:
Fr Serge can be called the “last of the Mohicans.” He was the tie between those people who grew up in Russia, were infused with the Fatherland, and were witnesses of genuine Russian spiritual life.
The first remarkable thing about Fr Serge was his independence of character and generosity of his soul. Many people in the West have lost this generosity.
He also attracted people by his spiritual directness, Fr Serge always spoke the truth, even if it seemed harsh, but people would not take offense. Everyone understood that if he spoke too straightforwardly, it was always truthful and honest.
It’s a different time now, that tragic page in history - of a people torn asunder, when people fled their homeland and could not go back - has been turned,
The borders have been opened, and many pilgrims from Russia come here, they see how many churches there are in the traditional church architectural style that were built by our emigration. Initially, because of difficult financial circumstances, they would set up chapels in homes, in barracks, in basements and garages.
Fr Serge was able to do what few could accomplish, and this wonderful, already historic church in the very capital of Luxembourg will of course be an eternal monument to him.
Protodeacon Georgi Kobro, a friend of the family:
It is hard to remember when we met. Apparently, it was church-related, and Vladyka Anthony sent me here for some church holiday. This was 25-30 years ago.
When I met Fr Serge, I learned about his life, and his devotion to Orthodox Christianity Russian history and monarchy made a great impression on me.
Fr Serge established a long - time tradition in his parish: after every trapeza luncheon he and his matushka would sing “God Save the Tsar!”
Everyone in attendance would also start singing, but the older Fr Serge got, the fewer parishioners knew the words. Those who remembered them would sing.
Then, Fr Serge and his matushka would sing the national anthem of Luxembourg, paying tribute to their new homeland, which provided asylum to them and their parents. The anthem was sung with all the textual nuances, in the Luxembourgian dialect. Germans find this dialect quaint.
Later, when I became better friends with him and his wonderful matushka, his heart was revealed to me-it was the pure heart of a child. Sometimes he was nervous, especially during the parish feast day, but everyone knew that it was nothing to worry about. Even when quarrels would begin, a generous smile would almost always appear on his face, and no one was upset.
Also, everyone knew that he was a great philanthropist, who helped many people with no thought of remuneration.
The story about how, having gotten cancer, he made a vow to build a church is a well-known story. Our relationship was always friendly. Knowing him for many years, I saw his earnestness and purity which attracted many people, including me.
Ludmila Giovanelli, a parishioner:
Fr Serge had a remarkably kind and generous heart. A good long time ago my friends came to visit, an unmarried couple. They were here for medical treatment. He was a singer but lost his hearing. One can only imagine what a tragedy that is for someone who devoted his life to the vocal arts.
I scheduled an appointment for him, and his wife, who never left his side, with a doctor in Nancy. The doctor said that, unfortunately, nothing could be done.
After hearing his fate, we went to have some coffee to make sense of it all. My friend said that it was obvious that he had to leave the world of music. But I said “Wait, Vitya, why don’t we get you two married, then you will begin a new life.” That is how they met Fr Serge.
He was moved by Viktor’s predicament. He set up an examination with another doctor, he helped, supported and consoled him. When the couple went to church to get married, they realized they didn’t have wedding bands…
Fr Serge stopped the car, ran out and bought them two rings as a gift.
This couple truly embarked on a new life, which Fr Serge blessed for them through his prayers and active help.
Eternal memory, and eternal rest!