I met Metropolitan Anthony for the first time in September 1981. My priest in Boston, Father David Black, sent me to him. And so at one o’clock in the afternoon I rang at the light blue door. After some time quick and soft steps could be heard. The door was opened by a man of medium height in a grey cassock. He put his arm round my shoulder and took me through the whole church to his reception room, which was then located to the north of the altar. On the way he talked to me about the new icons and church news. When we arrived a few minutes later, I had the feeling that I had known him for a long time and he also knew me. And I began to tell him of things I had never told anyone, and he, sitting in his hard wooden-backed armchair, listened. Until that time I had never seen anyone listen in that way. For him I was the only person in the whole world, and everything else did not exist. I asked him what Love was, and he said that he himself would like to know that. He then said, ‘Learn to love yourself, because God created you by His Love, and if He loves you, it is a sin not to love yourself. And then you will learn to love others’.
After an hour he rose and accompanied me to the door. His excellent feeling of time impressed me then and always astonished me afterwards – he never looked at a clock. He simply knew – now 45 minutes of conversation have elapsed or 5 minutes have passed. ‘punctuality is the courtesy of kings’ And Metropolitan Anthony is a master of this royal courtesy. The present tense here is not a slip- he will never be “in the past” or “in the future” – he is always in the present, here, nearby.
After some years a misfortune burst upon me, depression set in, life fell into pieces that could not be put together again. I came to London to stay for six weeks in the hope that Metropolitan Anthony would be able to put these pieces together again. I came to the church in the morning to the liturgy on Lazarus Saturday. I decided that if Metropolitan Anthony did not recognise me it meant that he could not help. When he began to read the Gospel and came to the words ‘Lazarus, come forth’, I had the physical sensation that he came from the ambon, approached me in the flesh and said these words to me alone. And I ‘arose from the dead’.
When I went up for communion, he called me by name. A long time later, I said that I was afraid that he would not recognise me. His reply was remarkable: ‘Encounters are not forgotten’… Each of us was for him an encounter, in each one, although we were a thousand, he sought – and found – the Light of God. ‘Seek you also this Light in each person, whom fate brings you to meet,’ he told me. ‘For people do not get under one another’s feet, but meet one another, to look at one another – and see and not walk past. Anyone who walks past ‘just like that’ loses something both for you and for himself.’
Metropolitan Anthony persistently worked with me – twice a week we talked, and he tried to get me out of the mess. People gravely insulted me, and he said: If you cannot forgive them, do not force yourself. Better to simply have pity on them – they did something bad and wounded you, but more than anything, they wounded themselves, have pity on them, and then gradually forgive’. When I asked him what ‘forgiveness’ was, he said: ‘You already asked what love was (the conversation about Love had been five years before that. Everyone of our conversation when they were interrupted, began as though with a comma – years later). Forgiveness is also difficult. Learn to have pity, find whether there is justification, an explanation for the behaviour, and always put yourself in their place. Hatred only burns you.’ I had got away from it, but I was still afraid that I was not completely cured. When I told him about that, he told me one of his wonderful stories.
‘Once Buddha, who was already a well-known teacher, came to a little village and sat down in the market square. People came to him for advice.
An old woodcutter approached and asked: ‘O wise teacher, I am a simple woodcutter. How am I to attain Nirvana (the highest Truth)?’
‘Forgive me, o woodcutter’, said Buddha. ‘I was born a prince, I grew up in the court and do not know what a woodcutter is.’
‘Every morning’, the woodcutter said, ‘at dawn I go into the forest, choose a good tree, I saw it down, clean away the roots, cut it up into logs, bring the cart with this firewood to the square and sell it. The people light a fire on the hearth and bake bread.’
‘And tell me, O woodcutter, how many carts of firewood have you brought in your life?’
‘Thousands and thousands’.
‘And tell me, how many cartloads of flames were needed to burn all this firewood?’
The woodcutter stood still in astonishment: ‘I thought that you were a great teacher, but you are simply an ignoramus! Just one spark!’
‘There!’ said Buddha, ‘this is also the case with the Truth – just one spark is needed.’ And we have to search for this Divine Spark -persistently, until it is revealed to us.’
And this search for the Divine Light is the whole path of Metropolitan Anthony.
Do such stories make Metropolitan Anthony ‘less Orthodox’ (and more Buddhist)? No, not at all. Other confessions of faith and religions still further confirm Metropolitan Anthony in his Orthodoxy. This is respect and love for others, for the ‘marginal’, and not fear of ‘infection’ from them. Orthodoxy is not judging others, but showing them the way.
Metropolitan Anthony often told me things which I found strange, and at first I thought that he was simply posing; ‘I am in no way a metropolitan. I am simply a parish priest’ or ‘My sins are like the sands on the seashore…’
Many years were needed for me to understand that, or course, Metropolitan Anthony was and is a metropolitan and governing bishop, but for each of us – not only his parishioners, but also a large number of people of all kinds, who did not even see him, but only read his books or received letters (and he wrote thousands and thousands of letters), he was a good priest, who consoled, directed and lightened the path. Only when I, to some degree, understood the extent of my sins, did I realise how open Metropolitan Anthony was to Christ, how clearly he saw his transgressions, those which we did not notice in ourselves.
When he said: ‘I am no kind of theologian…’ that was true. He did not know ‘all about God’ – he knew God, and wanted to pass on this knowledge – the thirst for an encounter – to us. Indeed he was not a theologian, in spite of his unusual education and knowledge of texts. His was a living relationship and not the knowledge of the scribes. ‘Do not ascribe ‘qualities’ to God – this only narrows Him down, underestimates Him, makes Him ‘comprehensible’, and He is incomprehensible. One can draw closer to Him, but not reach Him.’
Metropolitan Anthony had a remarkable sensitivity towards the Name of God. I once told him that people use the names of God and Christ all over the place. What should one call Him in order to avoid pronouncing the name? ‘In Siberia there lived a group of Christians, who, escaping persecution, went to such an out-of-the-way place, that for decades there was no kind of contact with the outside world. When they spoke of God they lifted up their gaze or silently pointed to heaven – but did not pronounce the word God.’
I once asked Metropolitan Anthony: ‘How can you trust people – they often deceive you?’ ‘There are two ways of living: trusting, and living surrounded by honest people. And the other is: not trusting, and living surrounded by rogues. So choose.’
He lived with love and trust towards people. This was not without paying for it. Once somebody seriously deceived him, and I asked: ‘How is this possible, since this man confessed before you?’ He said: ‘Yes, he confessed before me … But obviously at a different level…’ What choice are we to make? …
Honesty and trust in God were his ‘keys’ to prayer. I once asked him why God often ‘does not hear’ our prayers. ‘He always listens, but our noise does not permit Him to catch what we say. And He has ‘absolute hearing’ – any falsity is heard. Like a tuning fork – He hears the purity of the sound. When you speak to Him, purify your spirit of any extraneous thoughts. Speak absolutely truthfully – without compromises. If you have doubts – say so. If you do not believe – do not conceal it. If you do not speak absolutely truthfully to your Friend, then what is a friend for?’
A remarkable example of this is the story of how he got rid of mice and cockroaches in parish house in Upper Addison Gardens. Metropolitan Anthony recited the prayer of St John Chrysostom, which is intended to help, but before reciting it he said: ‘Saint John, I do not believe this, but, all the same, help.’ And it helped…
Faith and trust in God were for him inseparable. And he believed in us. I once told him that I did not have genuine faith – I could not trust in God like a genuine believer trusts. He said: ‘No one knows what they are capable of. When the time of temptation comes, people are capable of great feats.’ And he added: ‘And look for the light in the other person, even when it seems that there is no chance of finding it. When you find it, you can help the person heal himself, get closer to him.’
When I pray, I never ask for material things, and therefore, with some degree of censure, I once asked Metropolitan Anthony whether it was a good thing that one woman parishioner asked him to pray for a new flat. ‘If there is no roof over your head, my child – how are you going to turn to the Lord?’
But on the other hand, he proposed that to begin with one had to make use of your ‘worldly’ means. He told me about a high-ranking priest. They told him that they were preparing to demolish an orthodox church in the town, he went away to his cell and fasted and prayed for three days. When he came out, the church was demolished. But he could have telephoned… Everyone must know the strength of his prayer.’
I am collecting records of Metropolitan Anthony’s work and I recently saw a film, taken during the Pasha service. Hundreds of people came to him, and for each he found a warm word, a separate special smile. And this was always the case. Even when Metropolitan Anthony was quite ill, he came out and blessed us – not as a crowd, but separately. He took care of and cherished his parish. Once in Russia, when I told someone that Metropolitan Anthony was ‘my priest’, he answered: ‘No, he is the priest of the whole world. The whole world is his parish.’ And he tried to guide us in such a way that we might care for, respect and love one another, look for the light in one another.
Many years ago in his sermon during Lent Metropolitan Anthony asked: ‘In that crowd around the Cross – who are we, each of us, – HIs mother or a disciple, a man hoping and waiting, a curious onlooker, a traitor, a crucifier?’ And every year in Holy Week (and not just then) I ask myself: ‘Where am I? Did I not betray someone by deed, word or silence?’ This thought, in particular, has often tormented me in the last few years – did I do everything to protect my parish, my priests and bishops? And not only this – always, everyday we must protect the people around us – our neighbours – known and unknown. And particularly protect our priests, who serve us. It is a pity we did not protect Metropolitan Anthony.
Metropolitan Anthony dressed very simply. Everyone surely remembers his army belt slightly torn in one place, brown sleeveless padded jacket with the fur of an unknown animal. Supplementing the padded jacket were his glasses and a permanently broken support. No attempts to dress him in ‘something decent’ were successful – cashmere jackets disappeared on to someone else’s shoulders. The same thing, by the way, happened with money – it quickly moved on into someone else’s pocket. One could not even call him ‘generous’ – that was just a part of his nature. And he did it not ‘as a duty’, but ‘with joy’, out of love.
A soft and unmannered voice, ‘sympathetic’ but lively and unhurried speech, as though he waited until the words came together. His language was quite contemporary, but pure, without even a trace of vulgarity. It was not the language of the ‘first’ or the ‘second’ emigration, but a pure soft Russian language. In his speech there were slight irregularities, but they gave his speech such a unique quality – a heart to heart tone. For this reason it is desired that in the publication of his talks and sermons this living aroma should be preserved, not edited speech produced.
Another thing that was remarkable in his speech was its tightness. If you try to fit a word into his text, you will see it is superfluous, ad if you try to take a word out, something is missing. We need to learn a lot – not only in order to speak so precisely and tightly, but also to write like that. It is a hard and essential lesson to know how to speak and write without hesitation.
When Metropolitan Anthony served, he pronounced every word separately and ponderously. He never served hurriedly, never made a hash of the text, never shortened or stretched it. And along with it the service was for him a prayer, both aloud and inwardly. His voice and movements were for him an inevitable and essential part of this full prayer.
Published in: Sourozh, July/August 2004
I often asked Metropolitan Anthony about church ceremonies, the rules of church services. These questions were naïve and often ridiculous. They are explained by the fact that I was a “recent” orthodox and it was important for me to establish a relationship between Faith and religion, i.e. between faith in Christ and the ceremonial means of its expression. Metropolitan Anthony talked to me about the “rules” (instructions on how one must pray and behave during the service) and the traditions of divine service.
In prayer, as also in speech, he did not have “introductory words”. “Think what trepidation you experience, when you say: ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’. You are speaking in the name of the Holy Trinity! Can these words be said ‘in passing’ or ‘by the way’?” Such an approach to prayer is not hasty, but with heart and mind, and I think explains why his ordinary speech did not contain any waste. When he spoke to me (and certainly also to everyone) he was praying for us. And this was not the ‘muttering’ of some text, but a state of prayer, standing up for us.
Concerning daily prayer rules. “Try not so much to ‘learn by heart’ all the prayers, as to tell just one of them to the Lord with all possible faith… If you do not have your own words, say the prayers of the saints, but know that these prayers are the fruit of their deep faith and experience. Do not be a hypocrite! Sometimes one is in such a condition that prayer does not come. Do not gabble the texts; that does not help. Then think of the people who love you, remember them and pray that they may pray for you.”
Concerning the reading of the psalms. I undertook an unsuccessful attempt at reading the Book of Psalms. Some passed by somewhat superficially, did not catch on. And many even frightened me, when the Psalmist called down terrible punishments on the heads of his enemies. Metropolitan Anthony said: “Try various psalms, until you hit upon one that speaks to you. Stay with it and read it until you get used to it. You are not the first person to have this problem. A simple peasant once came to St Anthon the Great and said: ‘Teacher, how can I get to know the scriptures?’ ‘Read the Psalms’, replied Anthony. ‘But I am unlettered,’ ‘All right, then repeat after me the First Psalm – ‘Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.’ ‘Stop!’ said the peasant. ‘I have to think about it and understand it.’ He went away and came back again after 30 years. ‘What happened to you?’ asked St Anthony. ‘You were preparing to learn.’ ‘I tried to understand these words and live by them’ answered the peasant”… I can read, but I have only very little real spiritual literacy. That is what Metropolitan Anthony taught – not to learn the text by heart, but to try to live by it.
I complained to Metropolitan Anthony that I was not keeping up with the texts during the service – it was to quick for me. He gave me an unexpected piece of advice. “And do not try, do not keep up. Try as it were to slip into the wave, do not lose the rhythm of the service.” – and then as though in passing, he added: “Before the Liturgy I pray it entirely alone, in silence, for two or three hours…” This obviously also helps.
Metropolitan Anthony conducted the divine service in this state of full prayer – the words, movements and silence. I once told him that the air in our church was sky blue. “Yes,” he said, “a church that has been prayed in.” I often stood and thought of the people waiting for communion. These were quite different people than an hour previously – there was peace and silence in them. It was only a pity that we could not retain that silence and take it away with us into the “outer darkness”, and it was precisely this that Metropolitan Anthony taught us – conservation of inner silence and communion with God.
Concerning the language of divine service. “Church Slavonic is my language of prayer, although for many the Russian language is more understandable, it enables one to avoid lack of clarity, misunderstanding and sometimes also absurdity in understanding the text. If you go to the original language of the service, you have to use Greek. It is however not appropriate to ‘change’ the language of the service administratively – that must take place naturally, according to the needs of the parishioners”.
Concerning clothes. Sacramental significance is often indeed given to the length of skirt. In the church one often sees parishioners improperly dressed. “There is no need to turn them out – if they stay, they themselves will gradually learn how one should dress. One should not begin with the skirt. It is easy to antagonise … “ And he told me a story about a Egyptian elder, who went along the streets of Alexandria with a group of disciples. An unusually beautiful prostitute came towards them. The disciples covered their faces with their hands, but the elder walked on, looking straight at her. The disciples asked why he did not turn aside. “You see her sin, but you must behold the beauty of God’s creation.”
Concerning confession. Metropolitan Anthony regarded confession both as repentance and reconciliation with God and healing. He was my confessor. I prepared myself for a long time, eliminated trifles and nonsense – things that I could deal with myself. Only the most serious things remained. I drew up a list, so as not to forget anything, and sent it to him in advance. “Metropolitan Anthony heard the confession and began to deal with it point by point. He strove not to judge, but to console and put right. Taking confession as he did was not a science or an art, but a gift of God. And not seldom he said: “No, I do not know. Let us pray together.” In the cathedral there is still a paper icon of the Saviour in a black frame before which people confess. He told me: “This icon has given consolation to many. It is miraculous.” I seek consolation and support at this icon.
A good acquaintance of mine from St Petersburg, who was recently baptised, told me that she can no longer go to confession. The newly appointed young priest questioned her about intimate circumstances of her life. He did not at all need confessions – he was interested in ‘titbits’ – she said. Metropolitan Anthony became sad when I asked his advice. “Many young priests are now produced as though in a factory. And this is the result. Priests must be cultivated like valuable plants and not produced ‘in series’. Priesthood is not a specialisation, for which a man learns the rules and is ready, but a search, in which the Lord acts as a guide. And tell your acquaintance to look for another confessor. That is not at all simple…”
The question of the relationship between confession and communion troubles me a great deal, and I several times asked Metropolitan Anthony whether it was correct for me to go up for communion without necessarily confessing beforehand. In the end one day he got annoyed (as sometimes happened) and said: “I will tell you when you do not have to go up for communion!” In this case it is not ‘rules’ that decide, but your spiritual father. And he told me a story: Gregory Skovoroda during one of his many pilgrimages went past a village church at the time of the liturgy. He went inside. The priest stood with the chalice in his hands, waiting for the parishioners to take communion. But no one went up. ‘Is it possible to refuse God’s offering?’ – said Gregory and, as they say ‘boldly approached’ – as he was, dusty from the toad. Because his heart was pure.”
A couple of years ago I often saw a nice young woman in the cathedral who was expecting a baby. She went to all the services, earnestly prayed, but did not go up for communion. After communion I offered her a small piece of blessed bread and asked why she did not go up for communion. “I drink tea before the service – without that is would not be the right thing to do – the baby needs it.” “But he needs communion more”. “But it is not possible…” “Go to Metropolitan Anthony and ask him.” “It would be awkward to trouble him. I will ask the priest.” The priest however forbad her to take communion. When I told Metropolitan Anthony about it, he was concerned and said: “This means he instructed her wrongly.” The service, rules and fasting – the idea of all this was love and not rejection.
Once during Lent he was invited to dine with parishioners of modest means – and served chicken – the cheapest food. “What was I to do? Refuse? The people offered me their best. You remember that Christ said – not that which goes into the mouth defiles a man, but that which comes out of the mouth. Isaiah said that fasting is sharing your bread with the hungry, giving shelter to the wayfarer, loosening the fetters of falsehood, but not when you choose fasting food on the menu. Orthodoxy is not a ‘dietary religion’. It is love and forgiveness.”
Metropolitan Anthony also permitted himself the same “liberties” during the liturgy. He said secret prayers aloud, as long as he had the strength to do so. “They are so fine – why deprive the believers of them? These prayers are not to be secret from those praying.”
Once a visiting bishop served the liturgy with unusual splendour – sub-deacons rushed around, round eagle rugs flew from one place to another. I then asked Metropolitan Anthony whether it was right to conduct the service with such a fuss. “One can serve in various ways. The main thing to remember that only Christ himself can complete the liturgy. Do not forget, for example, that the vestments of the priest or bishop during the liturgy are a reminder of Christ’s sufferings and not a masquerade.”
Did all this mean that Metropolitan Anthony manipulated rules, canons and regulations? On the contrary. He himself very strictly observed all the rules. He was concerned about something else – the scribal approach to the Church and its traditions. The danger was the same as that of the Gospel scribes and pharisees – they precisely knew everything required and gave to those rules a definitive character of unalterable dogma, replacing the dogma and form of thinking of the living Church, forgetting that church dogma is not in how many bows you make or what clothes you wear.
Everything I have written here is approximate, it does not at all include that miraculous quality that Metropolitan Anthony possessed. I venture to describe here three happenings that specially touched my heart.
Once, on Bright Monday Anna Garrett, our church warden, asked me towards the end of the service to collect money. I took a small basket and went to the altar. Until that time I had never been to the altar and was even afraid to cross the threshold. On that day Metropolitan Anthony was not serving. I went to the side door and stood waiting for the blessing of one of the priests. At the other side of the altar table by the door stood Metropolitan Anthony – upright, leaning on his staff, with closed eyes absorbed in silence and prayer. He was like a pillar of fire. And that was not a hallucination – it was a transparent flame surrounding him.
Another time, during the service of anointment on Wednesday of Holy Week. In his monastic cassock he stood bare-headed and performed the prayer for the blessing of the holy oil. He was alone, quite alone, surrounded by silence, going somewhere far away, where he is probably now. He did not want to come back…
And a last, very sad memory. About our last meeting. Two days before that he conducted his last Paschal service on earth on 27 April 2003. Proclaiming “Christ is risen”, he proceeded to the altar, distributing light to the congregation from his candle – until the end he brought us Light. It was difficult for him to speak and move about. All those days he walked with a stick. He told me that he would like to talk a little and would come to the office at one o’clock on Bright Tuesday. At about one o’clock I heard some hurried steps on the stairs. “Who is this?” I thought. But it was Metropolitan Anthony – without sticks, quick and alert. We talked for an hour and a half and I was the first to get tired. We talked about various things, in particular about his health, a subject which he usually avoided. When the conversation was coming to an end he suddenly said: “When I die, there will be no need for anyone to pray for me.” I told him about a Greek from Atlanta, who wanted to touch me when they told him that I had met Metropolitan Anthony, about people in the train to Vologda, where people came together for the whole carriage, when the learned from my traveling companion that my church was in London and I may have seen Metropolitan Anthony; about my Moscow friend, who came to believe after hearing a story about Metropolitan Anthony.
But it was about something else. How we, his parishioners had changed him – both by action and inaction, by words and silences.
Please remember : we must support, love and value our bishops and priests – they give up their lives for us, live and die with us, meet us in the word and accompany us when we leave it. Metropolitan Anthony gave himself completely to us, until the last minute – they “retired” him, when he had five days still to live. Christ said: “The poor will always be with you, but I shall not”. And also with regard to everyone of us – look upon the other person as an image of God. He will not always be with us. Do not lose one single minute that you can devote to another person, that you can give to love.
And pray for Metropolitan Anthony – our shepherd and friend.
Published in: Sourozh, September 2004.
Translated by John Philips