Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Address on receiving an honorary doctorate of divinity from the Moscow Theological Academy

3 February 1983
Theme: Pastoral care   Place: Churches, religious bodies, USSR   Period: 1981-1985   Genre: Sermon

On 3 February 1983, in the Lavra of St. Sergius of Radonezh at Zagorsk, seat of the Moscow Theological Academy, Metropolitan Anthony was given the degree of Doctor of Divinity honoris causa. Below we print the text of the address which he delivered that day in response to the conferment. The doctorate was awarded for Metropolitan Anthony ‘s outstanding contribution to the witness of Orthodoxy in his preaching, his pasto­ral work and theological thought.

Many years ago the Theological Faculty of the University of Edinburgh granted a Doctorate of Divin­ity honoris causa to one of the most revered Bishops of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Evlogy (Georgievski); in his reply he used words which I wish to repeat in my own name: ‘You are granting me this doctorate honoris causa, I receive it amoris causa — as an honour and with a deep joy, as it expresses the love which unites all the members of the Russian Church, which makes us one, who live abroad, with our Mother Church on Russian soil.

I will not hide from you that to receive this degree is a great joy for me, not that it will give me a right to boast of it, as I know too well that I am no scholar, not having been theologically trained; but this diploma will testify before the Churches of the West that my word is an Orthodox word, not a personal view but the voice of the whole Church.

About ten years ago the Presbyterian Theological Faculty of the University of Aberdeen granted me a similar Doctorate of Divinity ‘for the preaching of the Word of God and the renewal of the spiritual life in Great Britain’, and I rejoice that I can say now that the Russian Church recognises my word as a word of truth, of the Church’s truth. I ask you to convey my deep gratitude to His Holiness the Patriarch, and to the members of the Learned Commission and to all those whom God has inspired to surround me with such love, and to bestow upon me such trust.

From my very early years, from the moment when as a boy of fourteen I read the Gospel, I felt that there could be no other task in life but to share with others that joy which can transfigure life and which disclosed itself to me in the knowledge of God and of Christ. And then, still a youth, I started speaking of Christ, ‘in time and out of time’, at school, in the underground, in children’s camps; of Christ as he had revealed himself to me: as Life, as Joy, as Meaning, as something so new that it made all things new; and if it were not out of place to apply to oneself words of Holy Scripture, I could say to­gether with the Apostle Paul, ‘Woe unto me if I do not preach’ (1 Cor. 9.16). Woe! because not to share such a miracle would be a crime before God who had worked this miracle and a crime before men who through­out the world are athirst, ATHIRST for a living word about God, about man, about life: not about the life which we experience day by day, which is so dull at times and at times so frightening, and again at times so tender, not the life of the earth but a life of exulting plenitude, about Life Eternal gushing like a torrent in our souls, in our hearts, enlightening our minds, making us not only heralds but witnesses of the Kingdom of God already come with power, deeply penetrating our soul, pervading our life.

And yet who of us, shepherds or students who pre­pare themselves to be priests, can forget the words of Christ: ‘By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned’ (Mt. 12.37). When by the authority of the Metropolitan of Lithuania and Vilno, Eleferi — being still a layman — I began to preach, I asked myself this question: How could I speak of the things I had never done myself, about a holiness which I had not experienced, which I could only contemplate with reverence, awe and terror — how could I preach what I did not practise? But later, seeing around me the terrible hunger of spirit, soul and intellect, I remembered the words of St. John of the Ladder that there are men who will preach the word of God although they are unworthy of their own preaching, but who would be vindicated at the Last Judgement by those who were renewed through their word, who became a new creation and shall say: ‘Lord, had he not preached I would never have known thy lifegiving Truth’.

At the same time, whenever we preach, we must confront the judgement of our conscience which accuses us, our sober, severe, implacable conscience, and before Christ our All-Merciful Saviour, who com­mits to us his divine Word, which — alas! alas! we carry in earthen vessels — we must ask ourselves what does it mean to be a Christian?

On the one hand the answer is simple: all the Gospel tells us how to live, how to think and how to feel in order to be a Christian; but the same Gospel and the Fathers of the Church tell us that it is not enough to do, but that we must become another kind of person, a person for whom the commandments are no longer orders given by God but the elan of our own life: we must learn to become that which the Gospel reveals to us. And yet this is not what I want to speak about today. Everyone of us must read the Gos­pel deeply, discover in it those commandments, that call of God, that appeal of God addressed to each of us and to which each can respond with all his life, with his mind, his heart, all his soul, all his strength, all his frailty; must find those words which are not addressed to all and sundry but to him person­ally, those words which make his heart burn within him, cast a ray of light into his mind, renew his will, through which the power of God floods us. And we must also look attentively at that new dimension which the Gospel, our fellowship with Christ, his love for us, the love by which we answer his, must create, the new vision of God, of man, of the cosmos, of the whole created world. We must look at life and perceive it as God does.

I would take as an example the Apostle Paul. You all remember his daring words: ‘Be followers of me as I am of Christ’ (1 Cor. 4.16). For a long time I could not understand what it could mean, how he could possibly say to us: ‘Follow my example,’ be in my image as I claim to be an image of Christ… And suddenly it became clear to me that this is not what he meant to say, but that he was reminding us of what had happened to him. You know of his life as a Jew, how he persecuted Christ, how he hunted down his disciples, how he put all the power of his mighty, passionate soul into the destruction of all that he, whom he considered a false prophet, had done; and how on the way to Damascus he found himself face to face with Christ, whom he had known only as a cruci­fied criminal, and who now revealed himself to him as his Risen Saviour, as God come in the flesh to save the world.

At that moment all his life was utterly changed. He did not even go to the Apostles who had preceded him; that new Life that had opened itself up as a direct gift of God inspired him to pour it out, to share it with others, and this at a very high cost to himself (2 Cor. 4.7-12). You remember how Paul describes his life in his epistles (2 Cor.11.23-29). He truly could say: ‘I bear in my body the wounds of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 6.17), ‘I rejoice in my sufferings for you and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the Church’ (Col. 1.24). And by doing this he did what we all must emulate: be like him in his total conversion, which from being a persecutor made him into a disciple, and which inspired him to respond to the call of Christ addressed to James and John, with his whole life and not just an assent of the lips. ‘Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be bap­tised with the baptism that I am baptised with?’ (Mark 10.38), i.e. be merged into the ordeal which will be mine — the night on the Mount of Olives, the events of Passion Week, the crucifixion, the derelic­tion of the cross, the descent into hell…. This is what Paul calls us to when he says, ‘Be followers of me as I am of Christ’: learn from me that heroic conversion, that inspired renewal of life which makes us into new beings, citizens of Heaven sent into the world, witnesses of Christ.

And Christ calls all of us, each of us, when he says ‘Follow me’. While Christ was on earth this call was simple — difficult, indeed, oh! how diffic­ult! (remember the rich young man!) — but the call was clear; leave behind all your cares, turn away from all that occupies you and come together with me on the roads of the Holy Land…. But what does this call mean in our life? The very same thing: tear yourself away, turn away from everything that makes you a bondsman of corruption, a prisoner of the earth, that does not allow you to be free and to follow in my footsteps; first into those depths of your own life, of your spirit, of your heart, of your mind where alone you can find Christ the Saviour, our Living God, that Kingdom of God which is within us; and then, having found this Kingdom, partaking of its Life, come out on to the heroic path of the Apostles; and finally, carrying in your flesh the dying of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4.10), his total estrangement from everything that was and re­mains the cause of sin, of death, of falling away from God, of our turning away from our neighbour, grow into that full measure that will make you into an ikon, the likeness, the word, the very presence of Christ our Saviour.

Paul says in his Epistle to the Philippians (1.21): ‘To me to live is Christ’. How often we ask ourselves what can that mean? Yet we know when we love someone, when we are possessed by some passion, when something is so precious to us that we are prepared to give up everything for it, that this treasure is our life. This treasure of ours may be knowledge, theology, our family, it may be our pride, anything indeed that holds us in its power: it is with this irresistible force that we must be held by Christ. He must become for us, be for us — during our whole life, at every moment, to the measure of all the inspiration, the faith and the strength which we possess — all the meaning of our life, in the same way as the beloved one becomes all the mean­ing of the life of him who loves her, in the same way in which a secular man can give his life, indeed his death, for an ideal, for a task, for a cause to which he devoted himself. All that is of Christ must be ours; and everything that bears false witness that he lived and died in vain must become for us not only alien but horrifying. And then shall Christ be our life.

But how to achieve this? Is it really possible? What gigantic power must we possess to accomplish such a task? We must here remember again the Apostle Paul who tells us that he prayed for strength and that Christ answered him: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12.9). Human efforts will never achieve our Christian vocation: who can by his own strength become a living limb, a particle of the body of Christ, his continued incarnate presence on earth? Who can by his own efforts so open up himself as to become the unsullied temple of the Holy Spirit? Who can by his own endeavour become partaker of the Divine Nature? Who can by his own exertions become the Son of God in the way in which Christ is the Son of God? And yet St. Irenaeus of Lyon tells us that the glory of God, his very splendour, is man when he reaches his fullness and perfection, and that when we become one with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit we become, together with the Only-Begotten Son of God, the Son of God. No merely human effort, no merely human struggle can accomplish this; and yet grace can: ‘With man this is impossible; but with God all things are possible’ (Mt. 19.26).

Truly the power of God manifests itself per­fectly in weakness, but not in that weakness which continuously prevents us from being Christ’s own people; timidity, cowardice, and sloth, inertia, sinfulness, the way we are attracted to things earthly and turn away from heavenly things; — but rather in another weakness, which is suppleness, transparency, the kind of frailty into which God can pour his strength as the wind fills a sail that will bring the ship to harbour. We must learn that weakness which is perfect flexibility in the hand of God, perfect transparency, because then the power of God achieves its purpose despite our weakness, in spite of the fact that on another plane we who preach the Word of God are sinners also, and that we need salvation as much, indeed perhaps more, than those, to whom we proclaim Life and Salvation.

Yet in the quotation which I made at the outset Paul says that ‘for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (Phil. 1.21). What is our attitude, not to death in general, but to our own death? When I was a teenager my father said to me: ‘Learn to live in such a way that you can wait for your death as a young man waits for the coming of his beloved one, his bride’. This is the way Paul waited for his death, because, as he says, ‘While we are in the flesh we are separated from Christ’. However deep our exper­ience of God through prayer, however transfiguring the action of the sacraments, we remain separated from Christ; between him and us there is a veil; we see things through a darkened glass. And how we long to break through this glass, to tear apart this veil as the veil of the Old Testament temple was torn asunder and find ourselves beyond this veil; to see God, to know God as he knows us, according to the promise given us through the Apostle (1 Cor. 13.12)!

When we ask ourselves if we are Christ’s own, this question applies to all our life: what are we prepared to live for, day in and day out, hour after hour, and what is there for which we are prepared to lay down our lives? And again to lay them down day after day, hour after hour, renouncing ourselves, taking up our cross and following Christ every step of the road, not only in glory but on the way to the Cross. What is our attitude to death, to our own death? Are we athirst for this encounter? Do we see in death nothing but the end of our earthly life, or a door that will be thrown open and admit us to the fullness of life? Paul said that according to him to die was not to divest himself of temporary life but to clothe himself with Eternity. Is this our faith, do we proclaim Eternity with this kind of conviction?

But Paul adds one more feature which I will ex­pound in my own words. Having spoken of death he adds: ‘And yet it is more expedient for you that I should live’ — and he accepts to live on (Phil. l. 22-24). Measure what that means: it means that all life was for him an ascent to the Cross on earth; that for him death was the moment which would open to him the gate into the blessedness of sharing the life of the Risen Christ; and yet he is prepared to renounce even this blessedness to bring to others the life-giving, transfiguring and saving word of God: does he not say ‘I could wish that myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brother?’

This is the third criterion which I wanted to set before you, and which is before me always and compels me to say: ‘Lord, forgive; I have not yet begun to be a Christian! Grant me to grow — of course not to the measure of Paul — in such a way that you should be my Love, that my dream should be to meet you, to be united to you, and that I should be ready for any sacrifice in order to enthrone you in the hearts, the minds, the destinies and the lives of all those for whom you lived and died’. Amen.

Published: Sourozh, 1983,  N.12, p. 1-7

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