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Pannikhida at the Grave of Fr Eugene Smirnoff and Fr James Smirnove

The Grave of Mitred Archpriest Eugene Smirnoff — by Nicolas Mabin

When I was helping Protodeacon Christopher Birchall to prepare for publication his manuscript of Embassy, Emigrants, and Englishmen, (Jordanville, 2014) I learned that the last chaplain of the Russian Imperial Embassy in London was Mitred Archpriest Eugene (Evgeniy) Smirnoff, who died on 4 January, 1923, at the age of 77. In fact, he had been priest at the Embassy Church in Welbeck Street, London for a remarkable 46 years. I also learned that Fr Eugene had been buried in Kensal Green cemetery.

In the autumn of 2015, Deacon Andrei Psarev, Instructor at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary, Jordanville, asked me to send him a photograph of the grave of Fr Eugene, which he might use in connection with a paper that Fr Andrei was delivering to an upcoming conference at Jordanville. Accordingly, I contacted Kensal Green cemetery and asked them for the plot number and location of the grave of Fr Eugene and I then visited the cemetery to take the photograph.

It should be mentioned here that Kensal Green cemetery occupies a 72-acre plot in the northern (rather poor) part of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. It was opened as a cemetery in 1833 and today contains the last remains of more than 250,00 people in 65,000 graves.[1] On my first visit, I enquired at the cemetery office for help and was immediately directed to a grave quite near to the main entrance of the cemetery. Having heard me mention that I was looking for the grave of a Russian priest, the helpful office staff assumed that I was looking for the grave of Priest James Smirnove, who died in 1840, having been the rector of the Russian Imperial Embassy chapel in London for forty years. The grave of Fr James has a stone tomb built on top of it, perhaps eight-feet tall. It is no longer perpendicular, leaning to one side somewhat precariously. In 2012, the Russian Embassy and the London parish of the Moscow Patriarchate fixed a plaque in Russian and English to the structure. It reads:

Revd James Smirnove; 1754-1840; Russian Orthodox priest; Diplomat; Community leader; Sophia Smirnove +1852; Elizabeth Smirnove +1869; Catherine Smirnove +1873[2]

Interesting as it was to find the grave of Fr James Smirnove, I explained that it was the grave of Fr Eugene Smirnoff that I was seeking. After another examination of the cemetery records, the officials sent me off in another direction, armed with rather poor photocopies of maps. After several misdirections and much searching amid the 65,000 graves, I eventually determined, with not a little shock and surprise, that an unmarked plot of grass was the earthly resting place of the mortal remains of Father Eugene – no cross, no headstone, no gravestone – nothing marked the plot.

If there was ever any sort of memorial to Fr Eugene, it had long disappeared. There was no grave to photograph. On another day, I contacted the cemetery office again. I explained that I was puzzled as to why there was no gravestone, nor, indeed, anything to indicate that I had found the right place. I asked them to check their records again. This they did and, indeed, helpfully sent to me a photocopy of the entry in their records. This confirms that Fr Eugene is buried in plot number 47637 located at Square 123, row 3. The ledger states that there is “no monument.” The plot was “granted on 8 January, 1923 for 16 guineas to Zenedie Smirnoff of 32 Welbeck Street, Marylebone” with a subsequent note of the fact that she also had died. The owner of the plot is then recorded as Nicholas Smirnoff[3], who was the elder son of Fr Eugene and Matushka Zenedie. Zenedie Smirnoff died on 20 March, 1929 and was buried with her husband. Then, on 23 January, 1930, their younger son, Alexander, also died and was buried with his parents.

Nevertheless, this information did not give me comfort to know that I had found the correct piece of earth. However, the cemetery office was able to confirm that the adjacent grave was in the name of ‘Ivanoff’. I returned to the cemetery and found that, indeed, next to what I thought might be the grave of Fr Eugene was a quite well preserved gravestone, recording the fact that Olga Ivanoff and also Justina Ivanoff were buried there. I had found the grave!

I wondered whether the poverty of many of the Russian exiles in London prevented them from marking the grave of the priest who had so faithfully served the Russian community in London for more than forty years. Upon his death, naturally his wife inherited the estate of her husband, which was valued at £1,791-17-7: in today’s values, I estimate that to be about £80,000. It is curious that the Smirnoff family were unable to erect some sort of memorial at the grave. Perhaps they did; perhaps it was a simple wooden cross that has long since vanished.

At my request, on the anniversary of the death of Fr Eugene, 4 January, 2016, Archpriest Vladimir Vilgerts, Deputy Rector of the London Cathedral of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God and Holy Royal Martyrs, served a panikhida at the graveside. He prayed for the repose of the souls of Archpriest Eugene, his wife Zenedie, their son Alexander, and of Olga, another Olga, Justina (all buried nearby), and for all Orthodox Christians buried in that place. Afterwards, we visited the grave of Fr James Smirnove and offered prayers for the repose of the Smirnove family.

Nicolas Mabin

London

January, 2016

Nicolas Mabin is Subdeacon at the London Cathedral parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. He has a degree in theology (B.A. Hons.) from the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, and the degree of Diploma in Orthodox Theological Studies, awarded by the Center for Traditionalist Studies, Etna, USA.

[1] Since 1998, one part of the Kensal Green Cemetery has been owned by the Greek Orthodox in London and is dedicated to the burial of Greek Cypriots and their families.

[2] http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=36050527 [accessed January 2016] It is not clear from the plaque if the wife of Fr James is buried here. Fr Christopher writes, “Father James Smirnove had five children, all born in England: Constantine, born in 1782; Elizabeth, born in 1788; Sophia, born in 1791; Ivan, born in 1794; and Catherine, born in 1798.” (Embassy, Emigrants, and Englishmen. Jordanville. 2015. p. 28)

[3] Nicholas Smirnoff was born in Brussels in 1875. He married in London in 1927 Martha, whose maiden name was either Moranne or Pirotte: the records are not clear. Nicholas died in 1955 in Kensington at the age of 80. I have not been able to determine yet where he is buried.

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