Archpriest John Lee

God in Man

I shall begin by saying that if anyone saw the presence of God in the human person it was most certainly Met. Anthony. This showed in every word he wrote and most certainly  was apparent in his interaction with others. I think that it was made easier because he truly believed in man and in his high calling… and to be called “a real human being” was one of Vladyka Anthony’s highest term of praise about people. He had little or no time for “spiritual automatons” and one of his most common admonitions to his priests and deacons was that it was better to break a rule than to break a person. He told me several times,  “know the rules, they are the best guide, but they are not always the solution.” He had no love of priests or ordinary Christians for that matter who lived their spiritual lives on ‘auto-pilot’.

What are these rules he advised should be kept handy but not necessarily adhered to? Let me say first of all he was not a guru — he was a staunch believer in Christ — the rules he believed above all others were firstly the Commandments of Almighty God and the words of His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He admired and appreciated other teachers, many in fact, he was a great admirer of Rudolph Steiner for example, who also recognised the God in man. Truth for Met. Anthony was revealed in many ways — when it was “good truth” it came from God — if any fault could be detected then it was not from God. His first allegiance was always to the Orthodox Church — he expected much from it but alas was sometimes disappointed. Another of his notable attributes was his ability and willingness to forgive and again at times this forgiveness had to be extended to the church itself. There were sometimes people who expected too much of him — his daily schedule was often packed and people had to wait to see him. Sometimes in their impatience and anger they spoke against him — I never knew him  to be angry with them but rather  always understanding and apologetic for his own shortcomings. In my opinion there are people still around who should have asked his forgiveness before he died but to my knowledge they did not!

If he were here with us now we could pose the question, “Vladyka, you believe strongly in the promise that God is in man — how do we understand this — what are your thoughts about this?”

Well, he would never answer “read my books” but of course much of the answer is there… so in a way I will say  it for him, and I’m sure that you have indeed read his books.

Most of  the great religions of the world will make some reference to God, the power of God for example being present in every human being. Met. Anthony’s views were, in my opinion, always down to earth  and practical. He loved, par example, the reference to Zen practice: “Zen spirituality is not ‘thinking about God whilst you peel  the potatoes; Zen spirituality is just peeling the potatoes.” This appealed to him greatly — just getting on with being a Christian! I asked him twice, as most of you know, to be my spiritual father and both times he refused saying that he didn’t want that kind of relationship with me. I has a bit hurt so I asked him if it was because he had no confidence in the whole  spiritual father relationship. He took some time to answer me on this… in fact it came up on a number of occasions, perhaps because he felt bad for refusing me? Whatever the reason I certainly remember the conversation and would like to share some of it now with you.

The first sentence he said to me struck very hard — he made the statement that the spiritual father, spiritual child relationship can result in a pronounced isolationism — bad isolation, from family, from friends, from others who could be people who brought one spiritual good. He thought this had been true in many situations where other priests could have helped someone but that person was isolated in this one to one relationship. He also said, speaking of his own experience as a popular spiritual father, that it was often detrimental to the spiritual father’s own prayer life to be  a spiritual father.

He was not of course dismissive of the tradition. No, in fact he endorsed it but believed firmly that it was not a relationship one entered into lightly. Many times in fact  the “dark night of the soul” can best be assuaged by meeting the right spiritual father… and many of us actually pray for this to happen to us.

And although Fr. Anthony was indeed officially a “spiritual father” to hundreds of people, for many others in the non-Orthodox British Isles he was a Russian Orthodox churchman, known for his ability to preach and inspire people of all religions. A number of us in the old Sourozh Diocese used to drive him places to take part in various religious gatherings — he could actually drive — I have seen him drive a tractor — but for most of his priestly life a few others of us would take him to his engagements. On a personal note I took care never to turn these rides into a personal, individual appointment and I think it was appreciated — I left it to him to speak or not to speak about the Parish.


One of the reasons he was so popular with audience was that they sensed that he valued their feelings, their experiences and as he once said “99% of them are believers or would to be.” Our one point of personal disagreement was always the same — the Roman Catholic Church. When I was trained in the pre-Vatican II seminary everything was in Latin — the services, the lectures, the text book as well as the examinations and as many of you know Met. Anthony loved the language and in fast supported himself through university by tutoring pupils. We used to leave one another notes in Latin, an enjoyable exercise for us both.

There was one area in which he deeply admired the Western Church and that was the period that that produced the great mystics. He was a firm believer that the mystical experience was a definite possibility for every Christian believer. He himself has experienced the physical presence of Christ and he believed that part of the God-in-man theology allowed for this… not allowed for it but encouraged it. His manner of taking the liturgical services gives a real clue with regard to this mystical possibility — the absolute concentration, the stillness, the silence — all of which he insisted upon rigorously, prepared the soul for touching the mystical — or as Met. Anthony would have said “to allow the God in oneself to grow, mature and purify the soul.” He felt very deeply the importance of the human experience — in many fields — but above all in the area of faith. This is why his preaching was so earnest and sincere. He longed for every soul to experience Christ.

But for all this warmth and intensity he was nevertheless an isolated man. He had a deep seated feeling of humility but it was not religious humility — it was far more serious and came from an ingrained feeling that he was in truth a failure and no one could convince him otherwise. The friends from whom he accepted love were very very few because he was firmly and authentically convinced that he was unlovable. He did not believe that he had any special revelation nor any special gifts nor that he was superior to other men — but what he did have and he knew he had it was the God within! If you truly believe this then your whole life is affected by it and you are different!

The message Fr. Anthony gave to people was in fact the message of Jesus Himself. It was direct, it was simple — it was not mysterious nor intellectual. He had no reason to invent anything because what could be greater than the Gospel story? For Met. Anthony there were no contradictions in them because they all pointed to God and the Kingdom of Heaven.

I, like his other drivers over the years took him to many different places to speak — churches, colleges, hospitals, convents, schools. One of his favorite places to go was Sandhurst, the most prestigious British college for the Armed Forces. He loved speaking there and they loved hearing him — after one of the sessions some of the young soldiers talking to me said that Metr. Anthony reminded them of their military commanders and I could see exactly what they meant… the aggression of the soldier was there but it was disciplined and it was there to increase the Kingdom of God upon earth. It I had asked him why he put so much into talks to soldiers — and once I did just that — and I was not surprised at his answer: he looked over at me, smiled and said, “John, I was just following orders.” And in fact the one career he said he would have loved had he not become a doctor (and then a priest) was the Army.  He always gravitated towards people whom you would probably describe  as self-disciplined and in keeping with this he hated to be late for anything.

As he proceeded from priest to bishop to archbishop and finally metropolitan there was no sign that power corrupted him. He could be authoritarian and harsh at times but he was always sensitive to the needs of others, not only spiritual needs but physical ones. I was often sent with money to give to someone who needed it — one occasion being after the vigil on a Saturday night with Ј 2000.00 in my pocket directed to an address in the worst area of East London to an old Russian couple who were afraid to open the door!

He was particularly comforting and skillful with people suffering from depression and had a real capacity to listen and improve their feelings of self-worth… and again as a prison visitor. I especially remember this as I was unhappy as a young priest to  visit a prisoner. Met. Anthony was curious and asked me why? When I told him that I felt embarrassed  to be free whilst the man I was talking to was not  free he didn’t laugh nor even smile but suggested we go that very afternoon to see someone in prison. I’ve often thought about that visit and analysed it and I think that the thing which stands out was the immediate intensity which Fr. Anthony established upon his arrival. It was basically the same as this advice to me about how to visit the sick in hospital — I remember his very words… “John, he said, when you go to visit someone who is sick, do not say ‘what lovely flowers you have, or what lovely fruit’ — no, go up to them and let your first words be ‘I’m sorry you are so unwell’.” I have found it to be excellent advice because your purpose for being there is immediately established — always a good thing — and it applies to much else besides hospital visiting.

Another area which may be surprising about Met. Anthony in his fairly laid-back attitude to obedience. Most religious superiors set great store by obedience but it wasn’t the case with Anthony. He realised that swearing complete obedience to some other human being could be very seductive — not only seductive but destructive… and again he often referred to the military type damage done by people who say “I was only obeying orders.”

Sometimes he was subject to what I’ve heard people describe as “mood swings” — in my experience this was never the case. He was a poor eater and often his blood sugar was too low and this produced what could be called a mood swing but he was not a man of moods. His temperament was mainly positive and well adjusted. He was not easily upset or disappointed about things… and he had no delusions about himself or others.

He last two weeks of his life were no different than all the years I’d known him — that is o say that as long as he remained physically conscious he was courteous and caring. He mentioned many people whom he was sorry to leave and his concern for the diocese remained uppermost. On the day that he asked to make his last confession, to be anointed and to receive Holy Communion, he finally lay down his burden and lapsed into unconsciousness — until he died a few days later.

Every time I was asked to write or speak about him I tell myself it will be the last — I like to use the phrase “I’ve said all I’ve got to say about Anthony” — but I think this is really an indication of my own laziness. Those of you who knew him and especially the clergy have an obligation to continue to make  known the very special gifts that Met. Anthony brought to the Church — and one of those most important gifts was his obvious conviction that God was, is in every man.