Father Mikhail Gundyaev grew up in St Petersburg at a time the city was known as Leningrad and when religion was still frowned upon in the then Soviet Union, so studying at Bossey in 1994 and 1995 opened new horizons for him.
“It was a valuable and precious experience to meet people from different churches and from many different cultures,” said Gundyaev. “I saw people from Africa who had never seen someone from the Orthodox Church.”
Archpriest Gundyaev has served for many years in Geneva as the Representative of the Moscow Patriciate at the World Council of Churches (WCC) and now knows Bossey well.
“When one first meets people from other traditions, it can be something of a cultural shock, if one comes from a very different liturgical life,” said Gundyaev.
“At Bossey there was the possibility to see this and to encounter the sincerity of the beliefs of other people, leading to a better understanding.”
It was not an easy time in the early 1990s at Bossey for someone from the Russian Orthodox Church.
“It was when the Bulgarian and Georgian Orthodox churches left the WCC. There was pressure on the Russian Orthodox Church to leave the WCC.”
Sustaining its ties with the WCC is important, though, for the Moscow Patriarchate says its representative in Geneva.
“Sometimes we have problems because there are some differences because of new liberal movements in Western churches…but we have always seen a role for cooperation.
“We might disagree about modernity, but can cooperate in the social sphere and on diakonia. We can also work together on our testimony in a world that has become estranged from religion with the rise in secularism,” he says.
Already an ordained priest when he went to the Ecumenical Institute, Gundyaev was familiar with Western culture after the Moscow Patriarchate had sent him to study for a short period in Berkeley in the United States.
“Now after all these years attending various commission meetings, Bossey is like a second home to me,” he says.
Gundyaev had engaged in further studies at the St Petersburg Theological Academy and worked at a cathedral in his home city for three years after his Bossey studies, before later embarking on a virtual lifetime of work in Geneva.
The 70th anniversary celebration at Bossey was for him a wonderful chance to meet people from his time there. Five people from his year attended.
He was delighted there were five new students from the Moscow Patriarchate completing studies at Bossey, two from Russia and two from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate).
Their presence is part of what Rev. Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus, professor of ecumenical theology at the Ecumenical Institute describes as Bossey playing “a role in helping to interpret the Eastern tradition to the West.”
“I think Bossey must continue its role in getting people to build one community and getting to know other traditions and countries,” he said.
Gundyaev also greatly welcomes the new interreligious courses. “It is most useful to bring Christians Jews and Muslims together to build common respect.”
Bossey: forming ambassadors of reconciliation (WCC press release of 7 October 2016)