Sophie Koulomzin

Sophie Koulomzin

Professor of Christian Education [1954–1973]

Sophie Koulomzin (December 3, 1903–September 29, 2000), renowned Orthodox Christian religious educator, was born Sophie Schidlovsky in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1903. She was the daughter of Sergei Schidlovsky, the last vice president of the Czar's Duma, or Parliament. A life of privilege was replaced by one of poverty as the family endured the first years of Soviet rule, then fled, first to Estonia, where her father died, then Berlin, then Paris.

In Germany, she studied philosophy at the University of Berlin and took part in philosophical discussions led by Nikolai Berdyaev, The Rev. Sergius Bulgakov, and Semyon Frank, leading Russian religious thinkers and former Marxists who became liberal Christians and were expelled from the Soviet Union by Lenin in 1922. They were formative in her development as a broad-minded Orthodox Christian activist.

In 1926, a scholarship from the John D. Rockefeller Fund took her to the U.S., where she graduated from Columbia University with a master's degree in Religious Education. Returning to Paris, she became a leader of the Russian Christian Student Movement, taught émigré children, and edited two volumes of church school lessons.

Mrs. Koulomzin was married in 1932 to Nikita Koulomzin, an engineer who was also of aristocratic descent. They had three daughters, Elizabeth, Olga, and Xenia, and a son, George. During their family’s time in Paris, Mrs. Koulomzin did social work among poor Russian émigrés, working with Elizabeth Skobtsova, who became the Orthodox nun known as “Mother Maria” and died in the Ravensbrück concentration camp as punishment for rescuing Jews during the German occupation. Mother Maria was later canonized by the Orthodox Church. Surviving the occupation, the Koulomzin family lived in Paris and then in the French provinces, where they also helped Soviet prisoners of war taken by the Germans.

In 1948 the Koulomzins moved to Nyack, N.Y., and Mrs. Koulomzin resumed work as a religious educator, creating an English-language education program and lecturing across the country. She founded the Orthodox Christian Education Commission (OCEC) to coordinate the work of the various Orthodox Christian church jurisdictions in America.

Beginning in 1954, she taught for nearly 20 years at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, and after her official retirement in 1974, she continued working. At the time of her death she was president of “Religious Books for Russia,” founded to send Bibles and religious literature to Russia.

Mrs. Koulomzin's books, including God Is with Us, History of the Orthodox Church, and Our Church and Our Children, have become classic texts in Orthodox Christian Religious Education, including within Russia itself. Her memoir, Many Worlds: A Russian Life, written when she was 77, ends with an account of her first visit back to her homeland, in 1970. In July 1999 Patriarch Alexy II, primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, issued her the “Order of St. Olga” for her many years of service to the Church.

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