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Russian Brazilian


Svetlana Polivanova

The first Russian person that Joshua Braganza met was a circus mechanic. Joshua grew up in a small town in the state of Rio de Janeiro, where nearly everyone knew each other. The Russian’s name was Nikolai, and he was notable for his education: he was well versed in literature and music. Nikolai shared what winter was like in Russia and about beauty of its nature. Those stories spread a fairy tale sensation - this is how children perceive a narrative of a journey to faraway lands. Perhaps that was the time when the boy got a forefeeling in his soul that his whole subsequent life would be connected with Russia.

Following refugees

Since his young years Joshua has chosen the path of serving God. He entered the Catholic seminary. Once, at a geography lesson, he saw a photograph of Orthodox clergy in Cross Procession. He remembers that he noted how many bishops there were in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Then he learned that there were Orthodox Syrians and Turks in the city, and they held worship once a month in the Cathedral of John the Baptist. Coming home for holidays, he attended such worships services, and that was where his network of Russian acquaintances expanded.

Father Dionysius Kazantsev, the Archpriest of the Annunciation Cathedral, with parishioners, Joshua Braganza is in the center

There were also Russian emigrants in Niteroi, where he studied at the seminary. They made agreement with representatives of the Anglican Church to conduct Orthodox services in their temple. We must give credit to Joshua’s independent mind as back then he was already wondering why the Catholics, who are much closer to the Orthodox, do not provide their churches for worship, and the Anglican Church accommodates religious needs of the Russians. Reflections and spiritual searches brought Joshua to the Society of Jesus in 1953. In Russia we know little about actual activities of this Society. But the fate of Russian émigré community from Harbin is closely connected to its history.

The Jesuits are actively engaged in science, education, and upbringing of youth, and massively develop missionary activity, ministering in various countries. You can recall what it was like for religion in Russia in the mid-1950s.

Sometimes Russian migrants took sacerdotal rite and joined the Society of Jesus. It is appropriate to recall here, for example, the fate of Andrei Urusov, a priest. He came from a noble princely family; during the Revolution in Russia he was left an orphan. He emigrated, studied in Rome, lived in the Collegium Russicum. Then he took the rank of hieromonk in the Society of Jesus. He is known for his active work in establishment of the Russian Center at the Fordham University in New York and the Center for Study of Russian Spiritual Culture in San Francisco. In 1967, he moved to the Orthodox parish of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Post-war migration from Harbin and Shanghai was the second one for those who emigrated there after the Revolution. Back then those Russians also established the Catholic community of the Byzantine rite in Shanghai. Father Fyodor Wilcock actively served there and subsequently supported Russian immigrants in São Paulo. During the period of the Japanese occupation, Father Fyodor survived the imprisonment. And at the end of the 1950s he went to the second migration following his congregation. Let us put aside the discussion about various objectives of the Vatican in respect of Orthodox migration. Let's talk about the fact that the Jesuits who actually worked with the Russians in the places of migration were, in fact, the few people who helped the refugees survive.

Neither Hellene, nor Jew

Joshua also had such high spiritual aspirations in those years. He began to study Russian language and literature on his own, with disk records. He recalls reading Dostoevsky in the subway when he was on his way to studies. Joshua felt very close to the writer’s characters, his political and religious views. While studying in the Collegium Russicum in Rome (a Catholic educational institution that trains priests of the Byzantine rite), Joshua began to attend Orthodox services, which he immediately accepted with all his heart. Joshua would carry his love to church liturgical chant throughout his life.

The Annunciation Church in São Paulo

He was ordained to the priesthood of the Byzantine rite. Joshua was given a new name in priesthood - Father Vladimir. Russian parishioners of the Annunciation Church still call Joshua as Vladimir today out of habit, as a tribute to the life story that connects these people.

Commitments of the Jesuits are very similar to Orthodox ones as to asceticism. However it is personal for the Jesuits. The Society of Jesus has strict discipline. They serve where they are sent, just like soldiers. Joshua always went to places where his knowledge and skills were required: to America, France, he studied in Rome, learned the basics of Orthodoxy in Porto Alegre in Brazil. He is able to share a lot about the ministry of the Society members in these countries among representatives of Russian émigré community. But the circumstances were such that he kept returning to Brazil.

Joshua remembers how he first came to the Annunciation Church in São Paulo in 1959. The church is located near the Monument to Brazil Independence and literally buried in verdure. He shares that approaching the church building, he heard singing in Russian. And then he saw in that temple everything that had been known to him mostly in theory: everyone spoke there only Russian, the service was held according to Orthodox canons.

Students of St. Vladimir and St. Olga Colleges with priests and educators

Joshua remembers his conversation with Father John Steusser, who served in this church for many years, becoming dearly beloved father for representatives of the Russian émigré community. In the 1950s, the St. Vladimir College was established for boys from poor Russian families in the Brazilian city of Itu. There was a similar college for girls, which was named after Saint Olga, Equal-to-the-Apostles. Back then, ordinary Orthodox Christians and Catholics did not notice any specific differences in dogma. Nevertheless, both sides looked upon the Jesuits with disbelief. At first, the Jesuits’ assistance was vital for Russian immigrants. It took time to adapt, learn Portuguese, local traditions and customs for many of them. Russian immigrants, as a rule, had a good education. So they adapted rather fast and made professional careers in various fields of economics and social life.

This whole history was taking place in front of Joshua; he was its participant and chronicler. Each year, his life was increasingly interconnected with the fate of Russia. And at the same time, the Society’s activities became less organized. Joshua did not feel himself relevant anymore. He was a priest, but taught theology at the university. All those things, certainly, gave rise to many questions and confusion. And he made a difficult decision to leave the Society.

The second homeland

And soon he received a good offer from an enterprise that employed many Russians. But even then he was still hesitating. He was thinking to go back to his native state of Rio de Janeiro.

Joshua Braganza (first left) greets Metropolitan Ignatius of Argentina and South America

He was stopped by love of a very young Russian girl, Tatiana, who once was his student at the College of Saint Olga, Equal-to-the-Apostles. In the course of time, they got married. And Joshua began to learn more about Russia, subscribed for the Literaturnaya Gazeta and technical literature. His knowledge of several languages, including Russian, helped to become a good translator. All these years he attended the Annunciation Church. He calmly accepted, like all members of the community, the decision to transfer the community to the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. Probably, it is because Father John Steusser loved Russia so much, the descendants of emigrants have not forgotten about their distant native country. And for Joshua, Russia has become his second homeland.

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