Conference in Moscow on Metropolitan Anthony, 28-30 September 2007 (I. von Schlippe)

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

A personal account by Irina von Schlippe

Alena Maidanovich, a member of the Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Foundation, and Lena Sadovnikova, who recently returned to Moscow after many years in London, were the main organisers of this highly successful event. The conference was organised in co-operation with and on the premises of the Library/Foundation “Zarubezh’ie” whose function is to transmit the intellectual and spiritual legacy of Russian émigrés to Russia. Its many participants are extremely grateful to the organisers. Publication of the full text of all the contributions is anticipated. This is a personal account.

A very striking feature of the event was its informality, which in itself is a rare thing in Russia, combined with an exceptional feeling of friendship, companionship, community – we were all there because we wanted to share our experience of following the teaching of a great man.

There were no formal invitations, no tickets, no formal announcements, no payments asked of participants – money changed hands only in exchange for Metropolitan Anthony’s publications – in print, on video, on DVD. We did not know in advance how many people would come, apart from the speakers – and in the event, the conference proved to be just right to allow a vivid and extremely varied exchange of views, worship for all at a nearby church and in the conference hall itself, and a most impressive series of presentations.

The list of these, also the variety (not to say disparity) of themes appeared daunting at first glance: 24 talks in three days, three round table discussions, an opportunity to view filmed recordings of Metropolitan Anthony, and three services. Crammed – but wonderful: this very concentration of offerings turned the conference into a celebration and a feast, opening new springs of life, rejuvenating one’s mind, strengthening one’s spirit and provoking new departures in one’s Christian life.

The breakdown on themes on the three days was: Theology and pastoral work; philosophy, psychology, teaching, philology, medicine, social work; literature, art, personal witness.

We heard contributions from clerics and lay people, from those who had known our Bishop for decades and from those who had never seen him in the flesh, from those who follow his teaching in their spiritual life and those who use it in their professional life. The nationality, age, place of residence, profession, whatever, did not seem to matter.

First day: Theology and pastoral work

The conference received greetings from His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II. It started with a thoughtful message from Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk, Exarch of Belarus, stressing the extent of our late Bishop’s influence in Russia which is spreading ever faster thanks to the publishing efforts of the Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Foundation. He reminded us of Metropolitan Anthony’s “significant contribution to the spiritual awakening and renaissance in those years when our Church (in Russia) existed in extremely restricted external conditions”. Noting his great achievements in preaching Christianity outside Russia and in “Inter-Christian interaction”, Metropolitan Filaret stressed how precious Metropolitan Anthony’s teaching is as a source of deep insights and exact observations: this applies to his teaching about God as well as about a Christian understanding of Man in his relationship with God, with the created world and with other people. Metropolitan Anthony was true to the spirit of ancient Church tradition and at the same time he always searched for ways of being a witness for people living in our time – both people in the church and those just moving towards faith and the Church.

The planned   work of our conference started with a striking contribution of Igumen Petr Meshcherinov, head of the School of Youth Diaconate, who pointed to six main aspects of Metropolitan Anthony’s thought:

  •  Metropolitan Anthony insists on a person’s own responsibility for their spiritual life, as opposed to the current practice of handing this responsibility to one’s spiritual father: this pastoral method is based on a deep respect – as that demonstrated in the Gospel – for the person and for the freedom of a person’s choice;
  •  His life and teaching is the application of the Gospel to all manifestations of a person’s life, both inner and worldly. Every one is responsible personally and also morally for themselves and for the Church, for their relationship with God and neighbour, based on decency, honesty, freedom from any ideology, on Christian daring.
  • His ecclesiology is based on the Eucharist, on personal and community prayer which unite the Heavenly and the earthly Church, and on a faith which acts through a love which is offered to all people. Christianity is a practical thing, is must “work” as a result of a synergy of creative action by God and Man. The current aberration which equates the Sacraments with disciplinary asceticism and even subordinates them to the latter, creates a virtual reality instead of the firm real Church based on the Gospel and on the Sacraments;
  • A person develops and matures as a Christian by: organising their life in accordance with the Scripture, taking part in Sacraments, praying (different from reading through set texts and from standing in church waiting for the service to finish), making the effort to apply the Gospel’s commandments to their own life.
  • All this demands freedom, responsibility, the acquisition of the habit to think for oneself. Also study: one must (as far as personally feasible) study dogmatics, Church history, liturgics, in order to know exactly the reason for whatever is done in the Orthodox Church.
  • It is through one’s own personal relationship with God that one is a Christian, and one knows that one is on the right path when one does not judge, let alone condemn anyone.


Father Stephen Headley, who serves in Vezelay (France) was the first of many participants to remind us of Metropolitan Anthony’s insistence that we allow our personal Christianity to be “manifest in a creative, wordless standing before God, in self-sacrifice”, in opening ourselves to people. “we must allow the light of Grace to burn in our hearts so that it becomes visible to others, to make them ask of themselves whether they too might become fully human in Christ’s light… He wished that his parishioners be capable to shine with the love described by Tertullian when he says that pagans could not avoid noticing how love was living among Christians”.

Alexander Kyrlezhev, a specialist consultant of the Synodal Theology Commission of the ROC, used specific ecclesial terminology, in which he differed from most participants. He too singled out six points, concentrating on the way in which the biography of Metropolitan  Anthony was reflected in his personality and his mission:

  • His life and work as a priest and as a bishop expresses the main paradox of Christianity, based on the very fact of the Incarnation of God: inculturation and exterritoriality. Unless we are very careful, either of these can lead to deviations – either Church nationalism, or Church spiritualism. Metropolitan Anthony was of course a man of the diaspora, but also he retained Russian language and culture, definitely Russian church culture. He shares the main characteristics of emigration: being cut off their national territory, émigrés loved quoting the Epistle to Diognetes: “We are at home everywhere, and everywhere we are travellers”. This is a «great problem for us, who live in Russia: because of course the experience acquired by the Orthodox Church and the Russian church in the diaspora cannot be transplanted not only into Russia, but also to Rumania and any other Orthodox territories”.
  • Secondly, “Metropolitan Anthony’s theology is not scholastic, not technical, it is primarily a kerigma, a theology of proclaiming the Good News”. On the other hand, it is important to remember that he had a secular education, with two university degrees. His texts are methodical and logical, they appeal not only to piety but also to thought, and it is interesting to note that the methodology of both thought and speech acquired through a secular education can be used for this kerygmatic theology.
  • Metropolitan Anthony was a doctor and this too is reflected in his teaching, particularly in his celebrated writings about the misuse of authority by spiritual fathers: he shows deep respect for the person, seeing that they are sick and need help, treating people as both spiritual and corporeal beings: “a happy conjunction of different experiences, that of doctor and monk”.
  • Metropolitan Anthony’s style is entirely original, lively and existential, which the speaker also attributed to his not being burdened with excessive literary studies.
  • Metropolitan Anthony experienced a transcendental encounter with God and speaking from his own experience he stressed that such a personal experience is essential – here the speaker does not agree with Metropolitan Anthony, saying that this is “a very dangerous thing” as one cannot tell who had a genuine experience and who had an illusion. “Experience brings forth religious individualism when a person becomes self-centred”. While for some such an experience, such an encounter may produce a yardstick by which everything can be measured – and MA writes very beautifully about this – for others it is otherwise.

 

I do hope that Mr Kyrlezhev will be able to formulate more precisely his last point, where he tried to define the uniqueness of Metropolitan Anthony who as a person reminds us of a dimension of Christianity and a dimension of the Church which is not known to many people in the East, in the West, in all confessions, everywhere: people who live in their own country, who have a theological education, who have full stability – who are religious professionals. Their very stability prevents any transcendental encounter, whereas MA, having had this experience, was a free person, “condemned to freedom”, “forced to be open to everything without fear… because he, (like others who had the same experience) relied in everything on God, Whom he had met – in the most traditional, banal Christian way.”


Father Sergei Ovsiannikov, who was born and studied in Soviet Russia, was ordained in London and is now serving in Amsterdam, spoke about Metropolitan Anthony’s teaching us to live here and now. A forceful, fiery reminder of this essential message – one which Metropolitan Anthony never tired of repeating: we can control only what we do now, this minute, this second, facing this person, standing in this place. Regrets and memories, plans and hopes are outside our control, but the present is the one moment when we can genuinely live, when we can be in communion.

These first of six sessions of the Moscow conference set the tone for the others, however different their subjects and approaches. 19 more people presented papers – 12 from Russia or the former Soviet Union, 7 from the West; very many more talked of their own experience of meeting Metropolitan Anthony, either in person or through publications.

This is a list of those who spoke:

Anna Shmaina-Velikanova, Reader at the Centre for the Study of Religions of the Russian State Humanitarian University, Moscow. “Hesed: daily holiness in the teaching of MA”.

Elena Beliakova, PhD in history, Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow: “The Canonical Foundations of the Statutes of the Diocese of Sourozh”.

Dmitri Strotsev, poet and publisher, Information Department of the Byelorussian Orthodox Church, Minsk. “The Theology of Friendship”.

Amal Dibo, professor, Beirut University: “The Legacy of Metropolitan Anthony” (read in translation).

Gillian Crow, Orthodox writer, London, and Acting Secretary of the Episcopal Vicariate of Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Great Britain and Ireland: “Christianity in Life” (read in translation).

Second day: Philosophy, psychology, teaching, philology, medicine etc.

Mikhail Seleznev, Ph.D. Head editor of the Russian Bible Society, Lecturer at the Institute of Eastern Cultures and Antiquity at the Russian State Humanitarian University, Moscow: “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel according to St Matthew. The text of the Gospel, the popular interpretation and the torments of translators (‘The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place, it is a condition of the person’ – Metropolitan Anthony)”.

Irina von Schlippe, charity worker, London/St Petersburg: The Church in the Secular World”

Roger Holdsworth, President of the company “Talent  International”, Monaco: “God or Mammon – the Choice of the Businessman”.

Svetlana Panich, translator, lecturer at the St Andrew Biblical and Theological Institute, Moscow: ““The Other Language” of Metropolitan Anthony.”

Anastasia Zhuravskaia, PhD in philosophy, Reader at the Department of Theory and History of Culture of the Tver’ branch of the State Academy of Slav Culture: “The Sermons of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh and the Course ‘History of Religions’”.

Boris Voskresenski, PhD. in medicine, Reader at the St Filaret Orthodox-Christian Institute, Reader at the Department of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology of the Russian State Medical University, Professor at the Moscow State University of Psychology and Pedagogics, Moscow: “Spiritual Life and Mental Illness (the Experience of a Psychiatrist’s work in his Community and in Hospital)”.

Freke De Graaf, psychologist and reflexotherapist, First Moscow Hospice, Moscow. “The Legacy of Metropolitan Anthony. The Experience of Working with the Dying”. (Freke did not attend the conference, her contribution was voiced by another contributor).

Father Christopher Hill, Chaplain of the Chapel of the Life-Giving Trinity at the First Moscow Hospice, Moscow: “About the Hospice”.

Fedor Vasiliuk, Dean of the Department of Psychological Counselling of the Moscow State University of Psychology and Pedagogics, Moscow: “Metropolitan Anthony’s Concept of Understanding”.

Constantine Kharabet, Professor at the Military University, main legal adviser to the Federal Service on Control of Movement of narcotics, co-chairman of the Ter-Akopov Foundation of Assistance to Scientific Studies in the Field of Human Security, Moscow: “The Problem of Struggle against Sin in he Context of Prevention of Deviant Behaviour as Presented in the Works of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh”.

Third Day: Literature, the Arts, Personal Witness

The talks took place in the second half of the day, after a Liturgy.

Avril Pyman, Slavist, specialist in Russian Literature of the Silver Age, Reader Emeritus, Durham University, Durham: “Anthony, Metropolitan of Sourozh. Analysis of an Approach to a Work of Literature”.

Olga Sedakova, poet and translator, Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of the History of World Culture at the Philosophy Department of Moscow State University, Senior Research Fellow of the Library-Foundation “Zarubezh’ie”, Moscow: “The Language of Preaching, the Language of the Preacher: the Crisis of our Times and the Speech of Metropolitan Anthony”.

These talks were followed by a Round Table entitled “The Experience of Encounter”, a most moving series of personal witness to an occasion on which a person genuinely met Metropolitan Anthony, an occasion which enriched and changed lives. Participants came from a variety of cultures and a variety of countries; some of these truly meaningful encounters happened after decades of meetings and participation in common activities with our Bishop; some encounters came through a BBC broadcast or through a publication, but all shared two experiences: we saw God shining through the face of a living person, and this changed our life.

Archimandrite Viktor (Mamontov), Rector of the Parish of St Ephrosinia. Karsava, Latvia: “The Pastor of Love”.

This was the last talk, and possibly the strongest one. Archimandrite Viktor, a living starets, had celebrated with MA in London in 1998 and corresponded both with him and with some of his parishioners. Metropolitan Anthony invited him to come and serve together in London for a year, but Father Viktor felt that he could not leave his flock in Latvia. He asked Metropolitan Anthony to record a message for his parishioners, and he read this message out to us: it could have been addressed to each and all of us, wherever we were. Father Viktor reminded us of MA’s last actions, of his ”request to the Moscow Patriarchate to appoint as his successor Bishop Basil Osborne, who had served him for many years as his faithful assistant. He believed in his goodness and in his commitment to serve the Church and God.

“We must be the radiance of God’s love, we must become love” – Vladyka used to say again and again. He was truly and apostle of love. It is no accident that the day of his demise is the day of Mary Magdalen, Equal to the Apostles.

“ ‘Metropolitan Anthony’ – these are words written by Sergei Averintsev – ‘belongs to those Christians whose faith is not a comfortable warmth for the soul, but the fire of the spirit, as it was in the times of prophets, of martyrs, of anchorites, when people were ready for any sacrifice, when they went to the end and did the impossible. Fire is fire – it cannot be mistaken for anything else’”.

“There is no doubt at all that the Church will count Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh as a member of the cohort of Saints. ‘He is a living Saint’ Averintsev said about him when Vladyka was still alive.
“In spring of 2003 I received a present from him, his book “The paths of Christian Life” with a dedication: ‘To father Archimandrite Viktor, in the hope that this will bring you joy, M. Anthony.
“We all are waiting for joy, and it comes to us from the Lord”.

Many of the people packed in the conference hall were crying at the end of this talk, and even more when Father Viktor switched on the recording of Vladyka’s message. We had already heard the words, we had felt their impact, but now we heard them again in his own voice, and I think that this time they truly went into everyone’s heart. We were infinitely grateful to the organisers for having given us the opportunity to hear this holy man talk with such depth of love and understanding, in simple, human, ordinary words, telling us truths which we had heard in similarly simple and seemingly ordinary words from Metropolitan Anthony. This talk was the definitive proof for what we had already all understood from the many talks: Metropolitan Anthony’s legacy can indeed be transplanted, and in fact has already been returned from the diaspora to Russia. It is alive and well in many countries all over the world – the speakers witnessed to its life in the United Kingdom, in France, the Lebanon, the Netherlands, and of course to its flourishing in Russia. The experience of the diaspora, continuing the work of the Council of 1917-18, has brought the Church out of its isolation, out of its restriction to “professionals”, as was so well described by one of the Russian speakers, and extended God’s life into the full range of society and into “worldly” activity: this has been called “the churching of the world”.

The conference ended (after a Round Table at which the Director of “Zarubezh’ie” generously offered his premises for the second and many other such conferences in the future) by the third film in the series “The Apostle of Love” by Valentina Matveeva, the St Petersburg film director. This film shows mostly the activity of MA in Russia during the Soviet years, when he inspired and helped so many people. We all thought that the only recordings of the time were amateur tapes (the film showed the Maidanovich sisters in action transcribing and circulating those) and official films of official meetings – but thank God, we were wrong. One truly extraordinary feature of the film was a long recording of Metropolitan Anthony, young and aflame, preaching in Moscow at Easter.

And after this, we sang a panikhida for Metropolitan Anthony, followed by the stichira of Easter.

I would like to stress once again the atmosphere of unity and communion which reigned at the conference. One of the participants said after the Panikhida that he felt that the end result went beyond the conference, it had started a new parish. He asked - "When will our parish meet again?" There was a striking feeling that even after his death Metropolitan Anthony had succeeded to create a new parish, a new Christian community.

The end of this conference was an outburst of God’s joy at our having witnessed this life, at our having seen its influence and inspiration, at our being shown at least a few of the paths which we can follow ourselves, each in his or her own way, to develop this legacy and root it in new places. Yes, it can be transplanted much further.