Run by Retirees

by Nina Dimas

[Fall-Winter, 1999-2000]

   If you think RBR stands for "Run By Retirees", you are half right.  Actually, RBR -- Religious Books for Russia -- is a successful homespun venture which was started twenty years ago by a retired babushka, the late Catherine Lwoff.  Though in failing health, she single-handedly raised  money, collected Bibles, prayerbooks and religious material and managed to  get them behind the Iron Curtain.  

 After the death of the founding babushka, RBR's mission and mantle fell on the shoulders of another babushka, Mrs. Sophie Koulomzin. Many of you  remember that Mrs. Koulomzin established the Orthodox Christian Education Commission, while the priests she taught at St. Vladimir's Seminary prize  her work in establishing church schools at the parish level. There must  have been a point when Mrs. Koulomzin formally retired, but she never abandoned her dedication to religious education. She actually managed to recruit some babushkas and others to volunteer to carry on the work begun  by Catherine Lwoff. With Mrs. Koulomzin's guidance and active involvement, RBR now actually publishes books in Russia and continues to distribute them free of charge.

    Since after the fall of communism RBR books no longer have to be furtively smuggled into Russia but can actually be published there, you'd think RBR's work should be a lot easier. Today many millions who were raised on atheism want to understand and practice their ancestral faith.  Unfortunately,  countless non-Orthodox groups and cults also view Russia and the other former communist republics as fertile ground missionary ground. Thus RBR  has now become part of the Church's effort to teach the faith to those who know little or nothing about Orthodoxy and to raise a new generation of  believers.

  Patriarch Alexy II recently recognized RBR's and especially Mrs. Koulomzin's effort to contribute to the rebirth of Orthodoxy in Russia by conferring to her the Order of St. Olga.  On August 14,  in the Chapel at Otrada in Spring 
Valley,  Metropolitan Theodosius presented the patriarch's medal and certificate recognizing Mrs. Koulomzin's contributions to the Russian  Church.  The Metropolitan also honored her for her life-long work on  behalf of the Church in America. 

  Mrs. Koulomzin's family, many friends as well as the RBR's board of  directors were privileged to be part of this celebration. It was  particularly moving that the two former IOCC workers who had been held  hostage in Chechnya and who attended the AAC in Pittsburgh were also present. One of them, Dimitri Petrov now works for RBR in Russia. 


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