Sophie Koulomzin

Sophie Koulomzin

Renowned Orthodox Christian religious educator

Valley Cottage, NY: Sophie Koulomzin, renowned Orthodox Christian religious educator, died early Friday, September 29, 2000. She was born in St Petersburg, Russia on December 3, 1903, the youngest daughter in the well-known Shidlovsky family. Her father, Serge Shidlovsky, was the last Vice President of the Czar's Duma. Her life was dramatically changed by the social upheaval of the Russian revolution. Leaving Russia, she and her family found refuge in Estonia during her teenage years. It was there that she began an avocation that was the prelude to her life's work. Under the guidance of a refugee Russian priest, Fr John Bogoyavlensky, she began a catechism class for young, Russian emigre children.

Finding it extremely difficult to continue her education in a new country, she acquired the necessary textbooks and in a year of self-disciplined study was able to pass the exams to enter a gymnasium at the age of 18. She studied at the University of Berlin after which she settled in France, where she took an active part in the work of the Russian Student Christian Movement outside of Russia. Finally, she was able to study in the United States through a scholarship from the John D Rockefeller Fund. She graduated 1927 with a Masters Degree in Religious Education from Columbia University with the distinction of being the first Orthodox woman to do so.

She returned to France in the same year where she became the Director of Education in the Russian Student Christian Movement. She taught the emigre children and additionally, working with a group of priests and laymen, was the editor of two volumes of church school lessons.

In 1948, Mrs Koulomzin, together with her husband and four children, immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Nyack, New York. Church authorities in the Russian Orthodox Metropolia Church asked her to join the Metropolitan Council Church School Committee. Her work had an immediate impact on religious education activities in the Orthodox Church on this continent. She authored new material, including the books, The Orthodox Church through the Ages and God Is With Us. She translated some existing Russian materials, and revised, edited, and guided much of the church's work. She helped organize church school conferences and traveled extensively throughout the US, including Alaska, to lecture and conduct workshops.

In 1954 Mrs Koulomzin joined the staff of St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, NY, where she trained future priests and religious educators in teaching Orthodox religious education. Her former students went on to become Orthodox bishops in Japan, Alaska and Lebanon, as well as bishops, priests, and laymen from all Orthodox jurisdictions in the US.

Although as a Russian woman her work had started primarily in Russian Orthodox churches, Mrs Koulomzin recognized that the great need in this country was for a pan-Orthodox organization in religious education for sharing of materials and pooling of resources. In 1957 she was directly responsible for founding and organizing the Orthodox Christian Education Commission (OCEC) whose members include Albanian, Bulgarian, Carpatho-Russian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Syrian, and Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdictions. The Commission, guided by her philosophy that the spiritual needs of children are just as valid as those of adults, functions to this day producing religious education material for all ages.

Her influence was felt not only by Orthodox churches around the world, but by non-Orthodox churches who have sought her counsel, as well. She has written articles for the World Council of Churches, and attended conferences as an Orthodox delegate in Toronto in 1949 and Evanston in 1954.

Due to her immeasurable impact on church life in the field of religious education in the US and abroad, St Vladimir's Seminary awarded her the Degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, in 1970. She retired from the seminary in 1973 but not before she had completed a summary of her educational experience and thinking in a book entitled Our Church and Our Children (SVS Press).

In retirement, she maintained an active role in publishing religious education manuals and books in Russian for her native country. In recent years, the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia sanctioned many of these books as the official texts for religious education. With the onset of Perestroika, Mrs Koulomzin's influence in Russia Orthodox church life flourished. Even at the time of her death, her book, History of the Orthodox Church, used as a standard text for decades in this country, is being published this month for the first time in Russia under the title, 2000 Years. In addition, for many years, she headed an organization called RBR (Religious Books for Russia) whose purpose is to collect funds so that the works of modern Russian writers outside of Russia could be translated, published and distributed in that country. At the age of 77, she wrote her memoirs entitled, Many Worlds: A Russian Life, which was published in 1980 (SVS Press). Her last chapter described her first trip back to Russia since her childhood as being an experience of healing and release.

Most recently, Patriarch Alexis of the Russian Orthodox Church issued her the Order of St Olga in July 1999 for her many years of service to the Church. The legacy she has left was her own personal example that Christian education is always a process of growth, an interaction of persons, a personal relationship between teacher and pupil, man and God.

Mrs Koulomzin was 96 years old when she died. She leaves behind her husband of 68 years, Nikita, her daughters, Elizabeth, Olga, Xenia, and her son, George, along with eleven grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren.

Funeral services for Mrs Koulomzin were held at St Vladimir's Seminary on Sunday, October 1 at 6:30PM and on Monday, October 2 at 9:30AM. Burial was at Novo-Diveyevo Cemetery in Spring Valley, NY

May Sophie Koulomzin's memory be eternal!