Thank you for inviting me to speak.
I am an English convert to Orthodoxy. I first met Metropolitan Anthony in 1982. I had read his book ‘School for Prayer’ and had been struck by his account of how he had met Christ when he was a young man. I wrote to him, asking to meet him, and after a long wait I went to see him at his Cathedral. At a time when I was in danger of losing my faith – I was an Anglican – I wanted to see whether I could believe someone who had had a direct experience of the Risen Christ. Was it really true? Could I believe this man? Could I catch his faith?
The door opened and he greeted me. He was bare-headed, wearing a simple cassock tied up with a shoelace. He grabbed my arm and led me to a clearing on the balcony, surrounded by rubbish – which came to symbolise the rubbish that had accumulated in my life.
And yes, I saw his great faith, and felt I could believe what he said. But more than that, I was struck by the way he showed God’s love to me, centred on the name ‘Jesus’. He was not judgmental. He did not preach at me. He listened, attentively; and I felt here was someone who was on my side, who understood my thoughts, who was truly a channel for the Holy Spirit.
Following a second meeting I began attending the Liturgy, and reading books like Metropolitan Kallistos’ ‘The Orthodox Church’ and Father Alexander Schmemann’s ‘The World as Sacrament’. After a while I had 6 monthly informal meetings with Metropolitan Anthony, at which he answered my questions and gave me wise counsel. But it was not organised instruction, no formal catechesis. He expected people to read, and to become immersed in the services. He said to me once, ‘Orthodoxy begins in the legs, as you learn to stand during our long services; then it reaches the stomach, as you experience fasting; finally it reaches the heart’. Then he added, with a mischievous grin, ‘And in some people it even reaches the brain!’
He received me by Chrismation in April 1983. The previous week he had read through the service with me, explaining it. But I had never seen an adult chrismated. I knew he would anoint my feet, and I imagined that he would expect me to lift my feet up. So I was taken aback when he dropped to his knees and knelt down at my feet. It was a very humbling moment, to have this great man kneeling in front of me.
My Chrismation took place at one of our Family Liturgies in our Parish House: a normal London house which had a small chapel on the ground floor, living accommodation for our priest Father Michael Fortounatto and his wife upstairs, and a communal meeting room and kitchen in the basement. After these Family Liturgies there was an informal lunch; then Metropolitan Anthony would give a talk to parents while Father Michael held a Sunday school for the children. On one occasion none of the parents was keen to miss his talk to do the washing up; so Metropolitan Anthony offered to do it! Of course we shooed him out of the kitchen. In the same way, when there were talks at the Cathedral and people went home leaving the chairs out of place, he would go round afterwards, putting them back.
So you see he was a very humble man. He lived in a small flat in the back of the Cathedral and acted as its caretaker. He had no car.
His congregation at the Cathedral was multinational. There were many English converts; Russians from families who had come to England after the 1917 Revolution; and eventually newly-arrived Russians. We were all one in Christ. He liked to describe how we were like the Early Church: ‘neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free’ as St. Paul says – or in our case Russian or English or any other nationality.
Metropolitan Anthony encouraged lay people, both men and women, to fulfill any role that was not sacramental in nature. He encouraged me to write: articles for the national and religious press, and books. He had set up two bodies, the Diocesan Assembly and Diocesan Council, where elected lay people represented their parishes from all over the Diocese. I was elected and served for many years as Diocesan Secretary. We were all volunteers. There were no paid employees and he had no personal secretary. He typed all his letters himself.
Because Metropolitan Anthony trained as a medical doctor, he always considered the whole person, body, mind and spirit, when he spoke to you. On one occasion I went to see him because a personal problem was giving me great anxiety. I asked him whether I should see my doctor.
‘No,’ he said. ‘If you go to your doctor he will give you tranquilisers. If someone comes to you with a nail in his foot, you don’t give him codeine; you take the nail out.’ He then proceeded to take the ‘nail’ out of my personal problem, thereby removing my anxiety.
There were other occasions when he could see that a person’s anguish was caused by a physical illness, and then he told them to seek medical help. And he applied that to himself, too.
Metropolitan Anthony often spoke of the beauty of Orthodoxy. The beauty of the church building, the beauty of our services, the beauty of our theology, the beauty of God’s creation – all beauty was important to him. One morning when I had been to see him, the sun was shining through a window, on to the icons. ‘Doesn’t the church look beautiful today?’ he said. On another occasion he commented on an article I had written about ecology. ‘What you wrote was so beautiful!’ Above all, he always aimed to see the beauty in people, and encouraged us to see it, too. Just as an old icon can become dirty and damaged but still bears the image of Christ, he saw through our faults and failings to the image of God deep in every one of us.
It is now nearly 20 years since Metropolitan Anthony left us. It is important for us to keep alive his vision of Orthodoxy as the true and beautiful expression of Christianity, and to carry it forward for future generations.