Metropolitan  Anthony  of  Sourozh

Each year at the end of May the Diocese of Sourozh holds its annual 'Effingham Conference', using the facilities generously put at its disposal by Saint Theresa's Convent School, Effingham, Surrey. More than one hundred people come together from all parts of Great Britain to meet each other, to listen, to reflect and speak about some central theme. Among the themes during the past ten years have been 'Orthodoxy', 'Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist', 'Reconciliation', 'The Church in which we Live', and 'The Royal Priesthood of the Laity'. In 1985 the topic was 'Orthodoxy in a Non-Orthodox Land', and the main speakers were Metropolitan Anthony and Father Cyrille Argenti, priest of the French-language parish in Marseilles, France. Their talks were recorded, and a lightly edited version is given below. There were other talks as well, and much discussion, so that it would be very difficult indeed to present fully the content of the conference as a whole.


We are here to speak - or to think together - about the Orthodox past of the West because there was a time when the Church was undivided, when Orthodoxy extended throughout both East and West. We are deeply aware that we are in continuity with the undivided Church of the first three centuries and of the fact that the Western denominations have, from our point of view, erred both in doctrine and in their spirituality. And therefore we must reflect on this subject because we are here as people sent by providence into the West to call out from the depth of the Christian Churches their inherent Orthodoxy, what is Orthodox in each denomination. But at the same time we must remain intensely aware that we carry the precious things which we must bring back to the West in earthen vessels, vessels which very often hinder others from discovering what we have to say and to bring. We cannot be proud of ourselves, although we may rejoice in the Orthodoxy which God has given us. I do not believe that there has ever been, either in the East or in the West, a truly Christian society; or that, apart from our proclamation of the faith and what God has been doing both in the East and in the West, we can speak of being Christian: we have yet to become what we are called to be. And so, when we speak of Orthodoxy in the West, of our meeting with other Churches, of our role today, of the fact that we feel we belong to a past, we must realise that we cannot resurrect that past; we cannot go back through the centuries to the time when there was no separation. We must instead love the West in which we live, love it deeply, look at it with understanding, with the eyes of love, and discern in it all that is precious - and indeed all that we ourselves must learn from the West, because we are not here to teach, but to grow together into something great, something that could be Christ's own Church on earth. So let us start this conference with a double awareness of both the incredible beauty and the precious quality of Orthodoxy and of the fact that we are so unworthy of the faith which God has given us. And, at the same time, let us try to understand - as deeply as we can, as lovingly as we can, with an insight which nothing but love and God can give us - the beauty that can be found in what surrounds us. And let us make our contribution, not polemically, but in a spirit of sharing and of love. I will now ask Father Cyrille to speak to us and to prepare us for his main talk tomorrow.


At the end of the conference, on Monday, Metropolitan Anthony spoke again, this time developing certain things which Father Cyrille had said and placing the meeting of Orthodoxy with the West in the context of personal encounter.

After the deep and penetrating talk of Father Cyrille, it will be very difficult for me to say anything worthwhile, and yet I feel I must try, even if it will not be a very remarkable production. The first thing I want to take up is a remark that was made more than once, that the dispersion of the Orthodox throughout the world, whether for political or economic reasons or because people felt enterprising and went elsewhere, is certainly, from the point of view of the believer, an act of God. It is not just a chance, it is not just history in the everyday sense of the word. It is an act of God by which the Orthodox have been sown like a seed - and have fallen on a variety of grounds. We must accept this complex vocation which is given us without our choosing, complex because of the variety of soils on which we have fallen, but also because of the generation to which we belong. Our problems now are quite different from those of first immigration adults, their immediate descendants, or even the children of their children. There is not only the problem of adjustment to a country or culture, but differences in attitude as well. There is the agony of the political émigré who clings desperately to the country he had to leave and therefore holds on passionately to everything that was - and a great deal that was not; who sees the country of origin as a paradise lost, though while he lived there he probably never thought of it as paradise and may have spent much of his time travelling abroad. Then there is a first generation of people who were either brought up in the same spirit of romantic belonging to a lost country, a lost paradise, or, on the contrary, were made to become as perfectly as possible citizens of their new country, even at the expense of forgetting their language, losing their religion, and losing their roots - because in the end, whatever one does, there is something that remains for several generations in the make-up of the descendants of emigrants. And then there are all those who follow, who either hanker passionately for a past that was never theirs, or adjust and integrate themselves. The problems are very different in their case. Nevertheless, their presence abroad still remains an act of God, though in each of these generations there is a different vocation because there is a different situation. The witness offered by the early emigration can not simply be continued for three or four generations. Each generation must rethink the problem and ask itself: 'What is my unique contribution to this providential act'. Perhaps the best formulation which I have heard of the way in which we must accept this vocation was given in New Delhi at the Conference of the World Council of Churches, the first to which the Russian Church was invited. Bishop John (Wendland) said to the delegates: 'You have just voted us in. We have not come to bring you a new gospel. What we bring you is the faith of the undivided Church; it belongs to you; we are giving it back to you; take it from us, it is your own roots. And bring forth the fruits which we proved unable to bring forth'. I think there was a great firmness in that statement, but at the same time a great openness. It was not a new gospel; it was a call to all the Churches present to look into their own past, beyond the years and events of separation, and to recapture it in order to rethink the subsequent events. Now this is very much what is happening in fact. As has been pointed out in the course of the last two days, there is a remarkable openness towards Orthodoxy in the West, not because we teach something new and particularly interesting, but because Westerners recognise themselves in what the Orthodox say. If we had to speak of something unrecognisable we could not be accepted. This leads me to my next point, which was also spoken of, the necessity for us to learn to discern Orthodoxy everywhere. This is one instance of a principle which is applicable in all human relations. Unless we look at a person and see the beauty there is in this person, we can contribute nothing to him. One does not help a person by discerning what is wrong, what is ugly, what is distorted. Christ looked at everyone he met, at the prostitute, at the thief, and saw the beauty hidden there. Perhaps it was distorted, perhaps damaged, but it was beauty none the less, and what he did was to call out this beauty. In France one speaks of 'la ville d'Ys', the city of Ys, which, because of the simpleness of the surrounding world, disappeared in the depth of a lake. Only people with a pure heart can see this city through the waters of the lake and hear the sound of its bells. This is what we must learn to do with regard to others. But to do so we must first have a purity of heart, a purity of intention, an openness which is not always there - certainly not in me - so that we can listen, can look, and can see the beauty which is hidden. Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also - and this is not always as easy - with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of this group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live. This requires from us a great deal. It requires from us more courage than we have at times; more detachment also than we have at times. More courage because to look deeply at a person, or a group of people, in order to see whatever may appear - or to listen so intently as to hear whatever may reach us - requires courage because we do not know what we will see or hear. We do not know how we will be challenged. And we know only too well that if we accept the risk, and see and hear, we will be involved once and for all. We will never be able to escape this first moment of vision or of hearing, even if we do not meet this person, or this group of people ever again: they will remain with us, and we will never be able to escape what we have seen. A French writer once said: 'Suffering passes, but to have suffered never passes'. It remains with us. Not to meet a person is a problem because we have no right to be cowardly and escape meeting the person who is in front of us. But when we have met a person, even if we run away afterwards, we take this person with us. This requires a determination, courage and openness that must be acquired, because we do not always possess them. Certainly not to the same degree with regard to people whom we like and people whom we dislike, for instance, or with regard to people who are alien to us in one way or another. It may be language, it may be faith, it may be all sorts of things; but we are selectively open and selectively closed, and must learn to be open without this kind of selection. Of course we will inevitably be more perceptive in one direction or another. We have within ourselves a limited number of strings, as it were, that are capable of sounding in response to other strings. But we must be prepared to allow all the strings within us to resound, and to acquire new ones at times, so as to be able to respond to what is new in other people or groups. This is a first thing we must do. The second thing is that we must train ourselves to listen in order to hear, and to look in order to see. We do not always do this. Very often we listen, not in order to hear but in order to answer. You know what conversations are so often like: a person speaks and you or perhaps I listen, already preparing what we will say, instead of receiving the message in all its complexity and unexpectedness without choosing, instead of keeping quiet long enough to respond to what has been heard, without trying to prove ourselves right. In other words, we listen in order to contradict the person, to better his statement, or simply to dismiss what we hear. The same is true about looking and seeing. How often this happens when a person meets a friend, or when people visit the sick in hospital. How often it happens that we see in the face of a person fear, or suffering, or expectation or, on the contrary, hopelessness - and ask in a guarded way: 'How are you?'. And in the tone of our voice the person can already hear that the expected answer is. 'Well, thank you'. Because we are determined not to be involved, not to be drawn in, we are told, 'I'm alright, thank you', and are dismissed. We are dismissed, set free - set free from what? From having responded to a need. If we have a conscience, however insensitive, we will feel uneasy about it. If we like the person, more uneasy; if we dislike the person, less; but we will have escaped and betrayed something essential. So often it is necessary to be able to ask a question in such a way as to elicit a true answer, an answer which at times may be truer than the person knows, an answer that breaks through barriers. This requires of us a readiness to receive that answer, to respond to it and to take responsibility for what will happen next. And this is something which we can school ourselves in everyday life, since we are constantly meeting people whom we either receive, or dismiss, or keep at arm's length - for our own safety's sake. Where denominations or whole churches are concerned, the problem is even more difficult because there are so many barriers of prejudice, barriers which are within us because of our own past, because we have been hurt, because we are afraid of aggression, because we want to protect ourselves. Therefore we are unable to look at other denominations with an open heart, without selection, ready to see as deeply as possible, to find the image of God, the beauty that is there. At times we are afraid that if we see beauty it will challenge us in a way in which we are not ready to be challenged. If I am not very sure of my Orthodoxy, to discover great beauty in another denomination might raise for me very serious problems. Am I right in being an Orthodox at all? It is only if we are mature and solidly established in our faith and experience that we can fearlessly look at the beauty of another denomination, accept it, and still remain happy and convinced of our own faith. Then we can be challenged indeed in one way or another, but not be defeated or terrified of being found condemned. Another thing I believe is very important is to meet people, or groups of people, with an awareness that they have a complex and very often tragic history, both individually and collectively, and that there is often pain hiding behind the apparent assertiveness and definiteness of a particular message or style of behaviour. We need to be aware of this so as to treat a person, or group of people, not only with reverence, but with the care which we would apply to touching a limb which is tender and sore. One of the things which I believe is prominent in Orthodoxy is the sense of joy, the joy of knowing God as we know him. The joy of knowing that that God is beauty and joy and fullness, and that he is a God who gives himself without reservation, who calls us not to be slaves, or servants, or hirelings in his Kingdom, but to be sons and daughters with abundance of life. And this, as I think Father Cyrille pointed out, is something which we must share. People in the world in which we live need joy, need hope - more, perhaps, than anything else. We must be aware both of the beauty and of the tragedy which is found in an individual or group, whether denominational or other. Only then can we play our role, which is, to use Father Cyrille's example, to be donkeys carrying relics. Or, if we can make the grade, to become like Balaam's ass, who could at least bray while the prophet was unable to do the right thing. Let us, then, at least carry the holy things. Let them be in earthen vessels, in cracked vessels, but let us carry them, without imagining that we can be identified with the message we bring or with the beauty we convey. In fact, because it is beyond us we are carried by it, we do not carry it. Now I would like to say a few things about culture - though I am hardly qualified for the task. The first is that modern culture has evolved from early Christianity, developing differently in each country and gradually losing its roots in the original soil. Very often, too, it developed in a wild and inappropriate manner. But if we truly believe in the undivided Church, if we believe what Bishop John Wendland said, then we can go back to that period of the Western world, to that point in the history of each denomination, when they were different from us and yet at one with us. And if we cannot recapture our sense of unity with them at this present moment because we have become too different in too many ways, we can at least go back to the time when we were one although different. Here I am thinking, for instance, of the Western Liturgies of the centuries before the separation, those Liturgies which were shared by pilgrims from all over the world. People coming from Byzantium to Rome or to Brega or to Milan or other places, entered into the Liturgy of that particular place, knowing that it was different and yet totally Orthodox. We must, I think, learn to discern and understand the Orthodoxy of these ancient Christian Liturgies of the West, very different from our Byzantine Liturgy, and then begin to discover their influence or the influence of the experience they were born of on the culture of the West. But something else also deserves to be mentioned. Everywhere there are survivals of pagan thought and pagan experience. When a Christian speaks of this, he tends to speak of it disparagingly or as though it must be outlived, annihilated, as if there should be nothing left of it. I disagree. I think that in the ancient world there was a degree of intuition, of perception which is perfectly genuine and real. If I may put it this way, no one could have discovered God, the idea of God, the experience of God, if God had not revealed himself to the degree to which people were capable of perceiving him within the limitations of that time. The Holy Spirit was, is and shall be at work in the whole world from the start to the finish of it. There is no knowledge of God in pagan religions, or elsewhere, in which God has not participated. God was not invented, he was experienced. Of course our understanding and knowledge of God is - in our conviction, at least - truer, more complete, more perfect. But we cannot say that there is no knowledge there. There are intuitions and images which, I believe, are so close to our own as to suggest that we should look into this, and not dismiss it. I am thinking at the moment of the death of Hercules. You probably remember the story. Hercules had wounded to death the centaur. Now the centaur was half man and half beast, so that in our terms he was an image of fallen man. The only true man is the Lord Jesus Christ, and we ourselves are all centaurs to a greater or lesser degree. The centaur, then, to avenge himself and kill Hercules, dipped his tunic into his own blood, which had been poisoned by Hercules' arrow, and sent it to him as a gift. 'It is yours, put it on', he said. Hercules did so, and this tunic, soaked in the blood of one who was half beast, half human being, clung to Hercules' body and burnt him in such a way that he tore it off his body together with his own life. Is this not an image of Christ? Putting on man and dying of it? I think one could go into many more of the myths of pagan religion and find in them an intuition, a momentary vision that is valid and can open for us an understanding of the soul of the people who have seen the truth, however dimly. We do not need to dismiss them as just impious legends. And the same approach could apply to the attitude of, say, ancient Russia to the earth, the Mother Earth, and to the pagan's vision of the surrounding cosmos. As a result of pseudo-asceticism, as a result of a very great narrowing of our perception of the Gospel, we have in Christianity a tendency to ignore the created world ??? as a framework for our existence. We exist, humans exist, and the rest is here to serve us. The earth is here for us to walk on and, as one French author wrote, melons were created with ribs so that we can cut them easily at family meals. This is very much the attitude of many people to all that is created. I once asked a young theologian, 'What is a tree', and was told 'building material'. Well, this is the typical answer of modern man, but it is a blasphemy against what God has created. God has not created trees simply for making bath brushes. This means that at present the movement which we find in the secularised world towards recapturing the ecological significance of what surrounds us is nearer Christ's approach to things - remember his saying about the lilies of the field - than is this kind of materialistic approach. For the Christian the whole world is linked with God. God has brought every single creature into existence by calling it out of nothingness into being. And the first thing that happens to every human being - indeed to every atom of the world - is that he is confronted in total newness, freshness and beauty with the beauty of God and the beauty of all God's other creations. This is not a fantasy of mine. There is a sermon of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow in which he says that the whole world is glittering, shining with the grace of God, but we cannot see it because we have become blind. This is something which we must recapture. The fact that the Word became flesh, that the Son of God could unite himself to the physical material of this world, tells us that the whole of this material world is capable of becoming one day pervaded by the divine energies and by the divine presence. The world of creation is 'waiting for the manifestation of the children of God', as Paul puts it (Rom. 8.19). The world itself has not sinned; we have put our mark on the world and made it a prisoner, a victim, a martyr of our sinful condition. And so we must be very careful not simply to dismiss as pagan and therefore wrong the perceptions of the created world which have been held and still are held by pagans and non-Christians of all types: they may have something to say to us about the world that surrounds them, about their bodies, about bodily and mental relationships. Then there is another side of things. Very often I have an impression that in certain quarters, not so much in our own milieu, but in certain more cramped quarters of Christianity, it is believed that we should not prostitute ourselves by entering into relationship with things that might easily soil us. But I think there is a story about St Nicholas which can teach us something about this. As you know, the Russians have a passion for St Nicholas, and it is partly linked with this story. St Nicholas and St John Cassian came one day for a stroll on earth. Unaccountably, they had chosen the autumn to go to Russia and the whole of the country was a sea of mud. But being disincarnate souls they floated a yard or so above the ground in their white robes until they came to a road and found a cart deep in the mud. There were horses trying to drag it forward, and men were trying to push them and it out of the mire. St Nicholas said to St Cassian, 'Brother Cassian, let us give them a hand'. But Cassian looked down at his white robe and said, 'Oh, I couldn't possibly get into the mud'. So St Nicholas plunged in, pushed out both cart and horses, and emerged, of course, covered in mud. And that is the way in which he re-entered paradise! The Lord looked at him and said, 'Nicholas, what has happened to you'. St Nicholas explained. Then the Lord said, 'How is it that St Cassian is so clean?' 'Oh,' said St Cassian, 'I thought of paradise and did not want to spoil my robes'. 'I see,' said the Lord. 'So you, Nicholas, are deeply concerned with the earth, while you, Cassian, are only concerned with heaven?' 'Yes,' said St Cassian. 'In that case, Nicholas will be remembered twice a year on earth, while your day, Cassian, will fall on to the 29 February'. I think this is a very Russian perception of things. Get into the mud, get into the mud because you can always wash your robes, and the Lord will perhaps be more pleased with your dirty robes and dirty hands than with some sort of sterile purity. I think we must be prepared to take risks. I do not mean to say that we should prostitute our convictions, our way of life and so forth. But we should not be afraid to be with the kind of people who need, not our presence because our presence is not very much, but what we can convey from God to them. While Christ was on earth the problem was very simple. When Peter met Philip he said, 'Come and see', because what was to be seen was the Lord Jesus Christ. This was the answer to all the doubts and problems. But we cannot do this in the same way, because we cannot direct people to a visible, tangible Christ. But we can bring people to something that may be an approximation of this vision. I think it was Tertullian who said in his Apologia for the Christian faith that the pagans say of the Christians, 'Look how they love one another'. If we could be a community of that kind, if we could say, 'I am what I can be, but come into our community and see what God can do, the miracles he can work, the community he can create', people could then 'come and see'. Individual saints are convincing because, to use language I have already used, people can see the shining of eternal life in their eyes, in their faces, can see the outpouring of divine love in all that they are. But if each of us individually cannot do this, we can still do a great deal collectively by the way in which we relate to one another. For example, never gossip at one another. Never use that form of hypocrisy in which people say to someone else, because they are unwilling to gossip openly; 'You know, I'm terrible sorry about Peter or Ann. I will tell you something about him/her, so that you can pray'. And then comes a flood of dirt, under the guise of sharing a concern. Well, it probably would be more helpful if one kept the dirt inside and did not make of other people a dustbin, did not soil them. It is enough just to say, 'So and so needs prayer. Pray'. And if God chooses to reveal to this other person, somewhere in the depth of his heart, more about the need, leave this to God. But do not make another person partake of the ugliness which is within you. It would be so easy to start on this simple level by treating one another with courtesy, with reverence, with respect. And yet this is not prevalent in Christian surroundings. So let us begin by creating a community of mutual love - not of sentimental love, not of emotions, but a community based on solid love relationships. Sourozh 1980. N. 23. P. 22-33

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