Archpriest Dmitry Osipenko during the celebration of one of the services at the Fundación Iniciativa Ortodoxa premises in San Pedro. SUR
It is increasingly evident that the Costa del Sol, especially the so-called 'Golden Triangle' formed by Marbella, Benahavís and Estepona, is highly attractive for Russian investment and tourism. The property market in this area breathes more easily thanks to the money from Russia which is being used to acquire a large number of the luxury houses which estate agents have on their books. But those who leave behind the cold temperatures of Moscow to live on the Costa del Sol want to maintain at least some of their customs on this side of the globe and this growing interest has resulted in two projects to build Orthodox churches just a few kilometres away from each other: one in Marbella and the other in the municipality of Benahavís.
Behind these initiatives are two foundations with very different interests and ways of life. Broadly speaking, one can say that the Fundación Iniciativa Ortodoxa, which is negotiating with Marbella council for the concession of a plot of land near Puerto Banús, is formed by the Russian community which has resided in the area for some time, while the Russian Imperial Foundation, which wants to build a church in Benahavís, has been set up by business people for whom the Costa del Sol is a holiday destination.
Archpriest Dmitry Osipenko is the head of the Orthodox community in Marbella, which he says is the only one recognised by the Patriarchate of Moscow for the south of Spain. This group has been holding religious services in premises in San Pedro Alcántara but these have become too small as they only hold 150 people, so the Fundación Iniciativa Ortodoxa was set up with the aim of collecting enough money to build an Orthodox church which could hold at least 500. Architect Mijail Filipov, who is highly regarded in Moscow, is already working on its design. “Its main characteristic is that it will be easily recognised by anybody from Russian culture, who will be able to say: this place is a link to my land, with my faith, with my history”, says Dmitry Osipenko.
The construction of this church, which will also contain a cultural section for the diffusion of the Russian language and culture, has been made possible thanks to private donations and the organisation of fund-raising events such as the one held recently at the Villa Padierna hotel, which was attended by the Russian ambassador to Spain, Yuri Korchagin.
Fewer details are known about the project proposed by the Russian Imperial Foundation, an organisation formed by a group of business owners and representatives of Russian culture. It organises charitable events and promotes the recovery of the lost traditions and cultural heritage of the Imperial Russia of the Romanovs. Its president, Alexander Anisinov, set his sights on the Benahavís area when he attended the Russian Meeting Point property fair at Villa Padierna early last year and a few weeks ago an agreement was reached with Benahavís council and Villa Padierna Hotels and Resort under which the Foundation would be given a plot of land free of charge to build a Russian church. At present nothing more is known, other than the date for the laying of the first stone which will be January 20th, says Ricardo Arranz, the president of the company which owns the land.