In 1989 Metropolitan Anthony told me that I have to go to Russia. It is 24 years ago, I never thought I would have the opportunity. I am Annicka received in the Russian Orthodox Church on the day of Saint Olga in 1979 in London by Metropolitan Anthony. It was after six years of struggle and study and a discovery of the great vision of God in the Orthodox tradition. About me: I have studied theology and history at the university of Lund and then most of my life being a teacher for teens, age 13-16. I live in the countryside in the very south of Sweden. My parish is 86 km away and is a small multi-cultural congregation with a parish priest, former monk of New Valaam in Finland. The parish consists of immigrants from Greece, Eritrea, Serbia, Rumania, USA, Finland and some Swedes. We worship mostly in Swedish with some ektenias in Church Slavonic and in Greek.
I have been a believer in Christ all my life, when life became hard and challenging, I was judged by myself and others and I felt lost, at that time I met Metropolitan Anthony in Uppsala, Sweden. I was seen, he looked straight into my heart, I was seen through – I was found. I was seen, not just by Metropolitan Anthony but by God and little by little life became endurable again.
The first thing we all need from being newly born to the last day of our life is to be seen, accepted and loved. And that is also our vocation to see, to love, and Christ wants to act through us, for us to be Christ for others.
Metropolitan Anthony had that gift of seeing, being present totally for the person he talked to.
There is a saying of two very famous bishops: one of them greeting someone, always looked over the shoulder for who comes next, the other was absolutely present if only for half a minute for the person in front of him, that person was the only that matters. Vladika was like that. So many times in the cathedral at Ennismore Gardens after Liturgy I noticed him kneeling in front of a child to be on the same level, meeting the child face to face.
How do we learn to see – I believe first by being seen. To discover God through creation, beauty, words and worship, yes, but I think God wants to meet us also through a person and through us meet other people.
We need also to be more human to become more Christian. It is easy to think if I follow all the rules and commandments in Church I am on my way to become a real saint. That is not true. It is by learning to see God, to recognize His love and compassion and stay where He wants us to be. We grow by falling and rising up again, not by looking at all our fallings, but by turning to God again and again. Life is a school, we may learn as long as we live. We understand as a child, when we are children, as young we think we know it all, but later in life we discover there is more to see and to learn.
Learning to see with God´s eyes.
It is very difficult to do that re our nearest, our own family. We live with our own resentments, memories of our and their shortcomings. Someone is not just my dad, he is also a child of God as created being and through baptism. As adults we still look at parents as parents, with all our old good and bad relations to them. If we try to step back and look at them as human beings, try to see them as God sees them, we are entrusted to them as their child and as adults to honor, respect and love them. To do that we must take away the resentments which shadow our sight, forgive and let go of old pains. Pray for them.
The same in a way with friends and all people around us, at work, school, neighbours and people we meet. Do try to step back, look at them as God´s beloved, even if some of them are far astray. If God loves them how can we hate? Sometimes we feel disgusted, angry, we have to say “no” to their behavior, their way of living and acting, but we should never say no to them. If we try not to criticize them, but take a stand, we could use “I-words” – I don´t like this or that, but never say, I don´t like you! Or, – I hate you! Metropolitan Anthony said when people in church complained about this or that persons behaviour, “Well, you have to endure that person and I have to endure all of you and God has to endure us all.”
Young people long very much to be seen, it is so strong that it may take strange ways in dressing, interests and music, for example. Too many of them have not even been seen in early childhood, parents have been occupied with work, being absent or too self-centered. Every child need at least one who really sees it, someone who acknowledge: yes, you are, you are loved, you have a right to be, to live and be cared for. We are all called to be that someone who sees and cares and loves especially those unseen. I had for many years opportunity to be a mentor for teacher trainees, which gave me a chance to notice even more what was going on in the classroom. Give a little more attention to one pupil at a time, trying to convince him or her; you matters to me. It is so difficult in a group or a class to give attention to one, many want us at once and at the same time. Metropolitan Anthony once wrote this in a letter to me: “Teaching is a pastoral responsibility, treat every child as a living soul whom you can fashion and enrich with intellectual integrity, openness, understanding and true knowledge.”
In school corridors you may now and then observe a pupil standing alone, you stop to say a word and the answer almost always is, “It is ok, I like to be on my own.” Looking into his/her eyes you will see that it is not true and you learn to stay and talk and at least to see him. During written exams and tests it is an excellent time to bring them all one after another up to God, intercession makes the boring time of just being there changed into something beautiful, you are there with God. But it is not easy. In another letter MA wrote, “Do not try to be perfect. God loves us as we are and it is because He loves us that we can become even better as we trust Him and can grew unafraid. But God´s love is never weak, it is both strong and severe. Be like him with the children whom God has committed to your charge; they need love, but a love that will force them to be great and harmonious, strong, disciplined, capable of possessing their souls-lives, to be masters of themselves. Demand from them that they be worthy of themselves.”
Like many of you I live in a purely secularized surrounding, people in Sweden are occupied with job, money, health and pleasures. There are strong influences from society for equality, human rights, environment, but little time for reflection, for God, the meaning of life and no interest in church. How can we as Christians be witnesses among those who are our friends, relatives, those people whom we meet in daily life. Taking about God is difficult, because their view of God disturbs what we try to say. Again friendship, intercession, listening to them, being together is to bring Christ to them and to see Christ in them.
To see those who are against us, enemies, those whose beliefs and ideas and opinions seem wrong and a threat against Christian values, what can we do – but love, love our enemies, love the wrongdoers, pray for them and see Christ in them, behind their words and behavior, – even if you have to stand away from their evil doings – never judge the man, judgment belongs to God, we are all sinners.
There is a movie about an anxious phobia-ridden man who in spite of all his difficulties plays a piano and sings: “Always look at the bright side of life.” I believe that God wants us to always look at the bright side of man. The smallest spark of divine light hidden behind cruelty, evil and sin, should awake in us the same tenderness and love that we all of us get from God. He is the good shepherd who try to find every lost sheep, we are all lost, if not for His closeness and mercy.
We have fellow Christians who are not Orthodox. Without giving up our faith we must look at them as friends, we share the same love for God, even if they as we see it, have only chosen a part of the faith, than do not know or rejected the rest. Let us start with what we share when we meet them. Have you heard of Valaam monks, when they in the 18th century came to Alaska – at that time a Russian colony, – how they learnt the language, listen to the mythology of the natives and – then said, “We can tell you more about the Great Spirit,” and so they told them about God. Never a word – you are wrong, you believe in false gods and demons, – but they listened, they learnt and the saw the people and they shared what they had found – the Christ.
We can continue this in meeting with non-christian believers of different religions. Some of them are like us, sons and daughters of Abraham and believe in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth. We have a fellow ground. Then in other religions there are honest, praying, loving people who, like the people at the Areopagus, worship an unknown god (Acts 17:22,23). We worship what we know – so many people around the globe do not know Christ, but they are the children of God, the Creator of all. So we dare to meet them, to love them and not to blame, but as friends one day listen to them and dare to say: may I tell you more about my faith. Metropolitan Anthony said about other religions, “You can experience a presence in a dark room, why say it is not God,” and “If my Christianity is not strong enough to confront other religions it is not worth having.”
Learn to see God´s creation.
Today we hear a lot about the earth being at risk, polluted, unbalanced, destroyed in parts and most of it because of us. None of us can change it all, but we have a duty to do something. There was an old lady who complained to her parish priest, I am good for nothing, what can I do? The priest looked at her and around her home and noticed the window plants and said: “Look at your plants – you care for them every day, give them water and you love them dearly, these are also God´s creation.”
We have all our “plants” big and small. Where I live people who don´t want their cats any more, drive out and dump them somewhere, just to get rid of them. During 18 years I have never got a cat, they find me, at present there are four – they have chosen to be mine. Driving, walking along fields and forests you can worship God for all the beauty and pray for animals wild and tame. “God looks at us as we see from an airplane, even high mountains are small, but he sees it all with tenderness and love. We see the world with all the evil we have brought into it, but He has taken his full responsibility for his creation, by himself entering it and totally take the consequences of the evil we have brought and by suffering and death because of that conquered it.”
Learn to see that in Christ lives all.
We continue to love those who have departed this life and here have been dear to us. We pray for them in church, remember their names day. But even small items at home may be a reminder, we look at a photo, lift up a book – we once got from one of them, anything that makes them present in our thoughts, and we thank God for them, ask for their forgiveness and pray eternal life. “Do not speak about the departed in past tense but in the present,” said Metropolitan Anthony.
Learn to see with awe.
The word God in Sanskrit means someone to worship and give sacrifice. To come near to God is always a discovery both of love of God and the distance between Him and us. “It is not the always thinking of sin but the vision of God´s holiness that makes the Saints conscious of their own sinfulness,” said metropolitan Anthony. These two sides we need to remember when we take part in Liturgy and pray, the glory of God, the closeness of God our Creator and savior, but also God is greater, His mystery in the Trinity, incomprehensible and invisible holiness, where we can only fall down and give Him glory and adoration.
I was asked to tell what I have learnt from Metropolitan Anthony, – I am still learning. But I met him almost yearly for 30 years, he is my spiritual father and I love him dearly. He taught me about reality and sincerity, that life is precious and he met me with unconditional love. I was unmasked and yet loved. I learnt that even the smallest candle can´t be destroyed by darkness. That this is God who loves us, each of us so much and that we are saved by his love.
Metropolitan Anthony´s greatest gift to me, is that he saw me, believed in me and gave me freedom and love, he taught me that God is love and that I am loved. We are all loved by God and we give thanks and praise to Him who gave us our beloved father, Metropolitan Anthony .