Crow Gillian

‘In the Eye of the Storm’ Conference in Memory of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

We were once again very grateful to return to St Sava’s Church hall for this year’s conference. Around 100 people attended; and with four talks, three short films and a Round Table discussion, as well as a Panikhida in Metropolitan Anthony’s memory, it was an intense day. This brief report mentions some of the highlights; in time the talks will be published.

Deacon Peter Scorer, Chairman of the Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Foundation, opened proceedings with prayers and a warm welcome.  The first speaker, Father Ivan Moody, the composer, musicologist and priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s parish in Estoril, Portugal, talked on ‘East of Eden: Hesychasm and Violence’. He described the murderer Cain as the first hesychast – in order to find God’s mercy he would need to find stillness and inner silence. He quoted, as following speakers also did, Metropolitan Anthony’s thoughts on the Gospel episode when Peter walks to Christ on the water but begins to sink once he allows the storm to enter his consciousness.

But Metropolitan Anthony had reminded us that finding inner peace involved struggle, a very real spiritual warfare. We could accept or refuse God’s help; our ‘no’ was as strong as God’s ‘yes’. We were called to be saints, which meant never excluding anyone from divine love. Yet God could save the sinners we are, but not the saints we were not. The only way forward was to allow Christ into our lives.

In the following question time, Peter Scorer reminded us that there always was, and still is, violence towards Christ and the Church, but that the battle could only be won though inner peace.

Our second speaker, Father Demetrios Bathrellos from Athens, continued this theme with a talk entitled ‘As Sheep in the Midst of Wolves: Christianity and the Challenge of Violence’. He spoke of the experience of being the outcast, of not belonging to the world: from the Jewish Exile in Babylon, to Christ’s own life, and ultimately to our own experience as Christians. But, he said, we were the ‘soul of the world’, with a duty to live and act in this violent world – quoting present examples such as Syria, Greece, the political tension rising in Western Europe and the USA, and terrorist attacks on Christians in the Middle East.

How are we supposed to change the world? Metropolitan Anthony’s legacy, he said, gave us clues. Christ’s politics were peaceful, unlike the Zealots’. Metropolitan Anthony spoke highly of the martyrs. But there was a point, Metropolitan Anthony said, when it was our duty to restrain evil. The Church should not withdraw from the conflict. Indeed, his theology was of the city, not withdrawal.

Father Demetrios posed the question: what message does the dividedness of the Church bring to the world? Metropolitan Anthony was a pioneer in Church unity, understanding that we could not simply be onlookers. First, we should pray; then we must denounce evil in all its forms, taking the side of the oppressed. Silence was complicity. Third, we should help and support victims of this violent world; and fourth, we should work for reconciliation and love.

Evil must be checked – and Metropolitan Anthony was aware the war was also against our sinful self. In response to questions, Father Demetrios said in Greece the Church had helped the poor and the refugees more than anyone else had.

After lunch Anna Conomos showed a film in which she told a moving story illustrating the pain of the Greek and Turkish exchange of populations in 1923. She spoke of Metropolitan Anthony’s childhood in exile, suffering homelessness and rejection, and then of her recent experience of working with Syrian refugees in Lesbos.  She described the heroic work being done there by the local priest and people in the ‘Embrace’ organisation, who were giving out of their own poverty to help. We all needed to learn how to love as Christ loved us.

A short film of one of Metropolitan Anthony’s sermons followed, in which he spoke of the Balkans crisis and the need to pray for everyone on all sides of a conflict.

Costa Carras, from Athens, a former Chairman of Metropolitan Anthony’s Diocesan Assembly and one of the architects of the Diocesan Statutes drawn up at that time, spoke of ‘Taking Responsibility in Society; Taking Responsibility for the World’. He described Metropolitan Anthony as an existential, rather than a philosophical, theologian, whose preaching had the power to resonate with so many. Combining ascetical and liturgical commitment with his responsibility to people, he had three simultaneous missions: to Russia; to bringing the Orthodox Tradition to Britain; and to building up the Orthodox parishes and church life he found here. He understood Christianity not in terms of an ideology but as a Way, in which people should take responsibility for our common humanity. We were sent into the world to make it the Kingdom of God, and our place as Christians was to be where things were wrong and tragic. He was particularly sensitive to issues of the environment and the human desire to exploit nature.

Metropolitan Anthony saw no easy pacifism in Christianity – he had served in WWII as a soldier and resistance fighter – but there was a necessity to put oneself in the eye of the storm, which could entail ascetic endeavour in both private life and the public sphere.

Costa ended his talk with an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, leading us from the adoration of God who is creator, king and judge to our response – and the Golden Rule of treating others how we wished to be treated ourselves.

Before the Round Table discussion, where the speakers were joined by Mary Cunningham, Peter Scorer described the immense work being undertaken to gather and digitise the vast archive of Metropolitan Anthony’s writings. The Foundation desperately needs volunteers to help in this important task.

Mary opened the Round Table by noting the recurrent themes in the talks: that in our fallen world we must be there to spread peace and bring light into the darkness. She recalled how central to Metropolitan Anthony’s teaching was the Mother of God, who is at the eye of the storm; and, he reminded us, that it was a place where discernment was needed. Mary made the plea that in honouring Metropolitan Anthony’s memory we should not codify his thought.

Peter added that like the Mother of God we must stand at the foot of the Cross, and be absolutely transparent to the person of Christ.

Costa urged us to take to heart Metropolitan Anthony’s insistence that each one of us has a mission. We have to find our own way, using the ascetics of the Church to make our public and private witness. That should not be a mouthing of moralities and ideologies; and we should leave behind ethnicity and nationalism.

On a practical level, Father Ivan spoke briefly of the temptations of the Internet; clergy should use it wisely.

Contributions from the floor followed, as time would allow.

Peter thanked Kelsey Cheshire, the conference’s valiant organiser, and she in turn thanked her helpers.

The conference closed with a film of one of Metropolitan Anthony’s last talks, followed by a panikhida in his memory, and a final opportunity to socialise over a glass of wine.

Do visit the website for more information on the Metropolitan Anthony Foundation.


Gillian Crow