Thank you so much for this invitation. I am honoured and humbled to be able to share memories of someone who has been a steadfast and joyous presence throughout my adult life. The parish where Peter served is my home parish, where I would always go when staying with family and friends in Devon. Trips to Devon invariably included a visit to Peter and Irina’s house, and latterly we would usually stay with them.
Let me start with an image that has stayed with me for more than forty years. Metropolitan Anthony was on a visit to North Devon, to the church in the house of Fr John Marks, where Peter was then serving. After the Vigil, everyone gathers at the dinner table, though the children (and the dogs) tend to wander in and out and under the table. The bishop sits at the head, like a father surrounded by his children – as one of Peter’s young sons pointed out. Metropolitan Anthony and Peter swapping amusing anecdotes. And Peter telling tall stories about birthday plans (90th, perhaps?) for his formidable grandmother, Tatiana Sergeyevna Frank, whom he took care of for several years at the end of her life. I think Metropolitan Anthony really valued rare occasions like that when he could relax in an informal atmosphere, with old friends who did not put him on a pedestal.
As deacon and in his brief time as priest, Peter also exemplified Metropolitan Anthony’s vision of what the orders in the Church are and are not. Any hint of clericalism was foreign to him, or any hint of pomposity, either in the way he celebrated or in the way he related to people. I doubt he ever caused anyone to feel that they had to be on their best behaviour because they were in the presence of the clergy. In the diocese, we tended to think of Peter as the archetype of the diaconate – after all, he had been deacon as long as most of us could remember! But it was more than that: the deacon images Christ among us as one who serves [Lk 22:27] ( os o diakonon in Greek ), and that really seemed to sum up who Peter was. There was a seamless continuity between his liturgical role, bringing to God the people’s prayers, and his tireless, unobtrusive, humble service in so many practical ways. It seems to me that sometimes as Christians we are so overawed by the demanding ideal of love for our neighbour that we don’t even notice the opportunities to serve someone who does not need us to lay down our life, just to offer a cup of tea and half an hour of cheerful company. Peter did not make this mistake: he seemed to recognise – I don’t know how consciously – how God’s love is conveyed in simple expressions of friendship. Even something really trivial: often I smile as I come in to Exeter station, remembering an occasion when Peter had taken us to the station, and sorting out tickets took longer than expected. As we ran onto the platform with seconds to spare, there was Peter looking over his shoulder with his impish smile as he stood with one foot in the train doorway, daring it to leave without us.
Peter was adept at creating an atmosphere of a sort of reverent informality. An important ingredient of this was precisely his readiness – as others have mentioned – to do whatever was needed, from serving as the Bishop’s Protodeacon to preparing vast pots of food at Camp. I am reminded of this looking at one of our wedding photographs from St Anne’s church in Exeter in 1990: Peter is in the corner, looking on with happy attentiveness as he stood at the back amidst a choir consisting mainly of his family. As we were slowly disentangling ourselves from guests after the end of the service, he was still waiting at the back by the little set of bells. ‘Let me know when you’re about to go out, and I’ll ring the bells’, he said. It was a weekday, and after tidying things up in church I think he had to rush off to teach in the afternoon.
Almost every Sunday afternoon would find Peter very literally ‘serving at tables’ [cf Acts 6:2] in his house, or in the garden under the spreading birch tree which Irina and Peter had planted as soon as they moved in. With so many people (and dogs) coming and going, I never saw him ruffled: he was always good-humoured, gracious, attentive to everyone. Peter had a rare gift for enlivening any gathering; he was a great story-teller and mimic, but his mischievous wit was tempered with compassion. And often one would come away from a long afternoon or evening, a time of eating and drinking and laughter and not particularly pious conversation, and realise that it was also an event of communion, an echo of God’s love.
This brings me to Peter’s immeasurable contribution to the Devon parish. He was ordained deacon to help and support Fr John Marks, and this wonderful partnership and friendship over fifty years was what made it possible to sustain a parish with two churches 80 km apart and no full-time clergy. But it also provided the nucleus for the parish as a sort of extended family. Peter brought to the newly-formed parish an understanding that holding services and teaching the faith is not enough. Especially in a very secular society, it is very hard for children or adults to mature into a firmly rooted Orthodox faith without a community, a space in which that faith is a norm, a common currency. I never heard Peter talk about ‘churching of life’, by that was certainly what he practised. In a community where so many church members had not themselves grown up in the Orthodox faith, Peter and his family gave an unparalleled example of how to integrate faith and life. Of the way in which cultural traditions – such as the way we celebrate church feasts – can represent the joy of salvation spilling over into every aspect of home life. Peter was completely at home in both Russian and English culture. The church culture he had grown up with was of course Russian; but because for him there was nothing forced – much less nationalistic – about this, it inspired people round him to rediscover the cultures most familiar to them as expressions of their faith. Especially, of course, reclaiming aspects of the surrounding English culture that are fast dissolving into mere folklore, whether it be the memory of local saints or customs originally connected to the church year.
At Fr Peter’s funeral, his 90-year-old colleague Fr Nicanor spoke for so many of us when he said simply, ‘I’ve lost a beautiful friend’. Speaking for myself, I am only beginning to process all that this beautiful friendship has taught me.