Nun Vassa or Sister Vassa (secular name Barbara Larin or Varavara Georgievna Larina), Ph.D. (b 1970) is a tonsured rassaphor nun of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). Her podcasts, Coffee with Sr. Vassa, which have been produced since 2013, have a worldwide following, and have made her one of the most well-known monastics in the Orthodox Church. She is also an academic, having earned her doctorate in Orthodox Theology from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. She is an expert in the field of Byzantine Liturgy, and serves as a member of the Commission on Canon Law and the Commission on Liturgy and Church Art of the Interconciliar Presence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Besides teaching, she is a writer of many articles and papers, has developed state-approved religious curriculum for the Orthodox Church, and is a sought-after Orthodox speaker for both academic and popular groups. She currently (2016) resides in Vienna, Austria.
Born Barbara (Varvara) Larin in Nyack, New York, Sr. Vassa was the third daughter of Fr. George Larin, rector of Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, New York. She graduated from high school in 1987, at the age of 16, and continued her studies at Bryn Mawr College.
Religious and Academic Life
In late 1989, Sr. Vassa left college to join the Lesna Convent of the Most-Holy Mother of God in Provence, France (which was at that time a ROCOR monastery) , to become a nun. On March 9, 1998, she became a tonsured (rassaphor) nun. After ten years in France, she spent two years at a convent in Jerusalem. At some point, she became part of the monastic community in Munich, which was headed by Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin. ROCOR won the right in Bavaria that Orthodox children in the Bavarian school system should be able to receive Orthodox religious education in 1956, however, access to this education has been an ongoing problem, in part due to a lack of qualified religious educators. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich has an Orthodox Institute as part of its offerings, and so in the early 2000s, Archbishop Mark encouraged several monastics from the Munich area - including Sr. Vassa - to take classes there in order to become qualified teachers for Orthodox religious education. Sr. Vassa excelled there, earning a Master's in Theology in 2006. Although she had originally intended to write her doctoral thesis on Canon Law, she was convinced by a Fr. Robert Taft - a Jesuit Archimandrite, and world-renowned expert on the Byzantine Liturgy - that because she had already done some academic work related to Byzantine services, that she ought to continue on in that vein, and if she decided to do so, he would help her with her dissertation and with financing her studies. With the blessing of Archbishop Mark, this is the path she took, receiving a Ph.D. summa cum laude in 2009.
At the same time, Sr. Vassa was instrumental in writing a curriculum for Russian Orthodox religious education in Bavarian schools. This curriculum was later adopted (with adaptations) by the Conference of Orthodox Bishops in Germany (German: Orthodoxe Bischofskonferenz in Deutschland (OBKD)) for use by various Orthodox jurisdictions.
As of 2009, Sr. Vassa, again, with the blessing of Archbishop Mark, went on to the University of Vienna to work first as a University Assistant for the Catholic Theological Faculty there, and from 2013 was Research Project Director of a project on the Byzantine Liturgy which was funded by a grant from the Austrian Science Fund.
Coffee with Sister Vassa
In September 2013, Sr. Vassa started producing videos that were posted to YouTube under the series title "Coffee with Sr. Vassa". These videos, which typically run about ten minutes, talk about a variety of Church topics, from basic beliefs of the Church, to talks about feast-days and holidays, to contemporary issues and events in the Church. The videos have garnered an international following, and are regularly subtitled by volunteers into Russian, Greek, Serbian, Spanish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, and Slovak as well as occasionally being subtitled into even more. Sr. Vassa considers these videos to be part of her obligation, being as it was because of the Church that she received a large portion of her education, and that this education should be used not just for her own sake, but for the service of the Church. This ministry is supported, at least in part, through sales of coffee cups, monetary donations, and 'subscriber patrons' (who receive bonus podcasts & materials for making ongoing, monthly donations). Besides Youtube, Coffee With Sister Vassa does outreach through Facebook, VKontakte, Twitter, Google Plus, and Ancient Faith Radio. All is done with the blessing of Archbishop Mark.
Sr. Vassa is fluent in Russian, English, German, Italian, and French, and has published nearly sixty works in English, Russian, and German.
- Sr. Vassa's Curriculum Vitae (updated May 2015)
- The Inter-Council Presence of the Russian Orthodox Church Includes New Members from the Russian Church Abroad
- Interview Orthodoxy Is Not a Religion of Fear (2009)
- Sister Vassa (Larin), “I also Experienced, Together With My Church, the Very Unique Changes We Underwent” (2014)
- Treffen der Religionslehrer/Gathering of Religion Teachers (in German)
- Sr. Vassa's Publications, many with links to full texts Logike Latreia