East-West: In memory of Sergei Hackel, a Russian
priest and English scholar: Commemorative essays
Faina Ianova, editor
Christians Aware £8 & £3 p&p*
ARCHPRIEST Sergei Hackel and I, at the time of his death in
2005, went back more than 50 years, to Cambridge in 1953, when his
wonderful mother, Alexandra, a tutor at the Joint Services School
for Linguists, taught me most of the Russian grammar I ever learnt.
Fr Sergei soon became a friend, and was a valued adviser over many
decades. I therefore extend a welcome to this modest book.
I wish, though, that it could have been longer than its 95 pages
and contained more analytical essays. A man of many parts, he comes
across strongly as a dedicated priest in the tribute by Roger
Homan; as a teacher at the University of Sussex in its "glory
days", before it abolished Russian studies in 2003, in the essay by
his student Teresa Cherfas; and as a broadcaster for the BBC
Russian Service in the essay by Peter Udell, formerly head of the
BBC's East European services.
A perceptive tribute by Masha Karp, who chairs the Pushkin Club
in London, raises a key issue. What was Fr Sergei's relationship to
the Moscow Patriarchate and to Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, under
which dual authority he exercised his priesthood? Karp says he was
fiercely critical of the Russian priests who blessed the guns that
would devastate the people of Chechnya.
I know from the many conversations I had with him over the years
that he abhorred the Soviet persecution of religion, though he
could not always say so in public. He walked a diplomatic
tightrope, but never compromised his integrity. This is the point
at which the book raises unanswered questions, briefly indicated by
Fr Georgii Edelshtein, a priest resident in Russia, who quotes Fr
Sergei as saying: "There are many points on which I can't agree
with Metropolitan Anthony, and still there is hardly anyone I
respect so much."
What were these points? John Reardon, as quoted by the late
Canon Colin Davey, claims that Fr Sergei, in discussions at the
British Council of Churches, was a consistent voice of moderation,
as indeed he was. But Reardon implies that Keston (with not a word
of explanation about this research body, which I founded) was a
voice in the Cold War which indulged in "sometimes simplistic
criticism of the Soviet stance". Such a statement revives attitudes
during those fraught years when Keston was often demonised by
people who simply did not read its documentation. If you want to
know about the religious revival in the Soviet Union of 40 years
ago, it is to our sources that you have to turn. Karp's essay, by
implication, puts the reader right on this.
There are deficiencies in the editing. Why, for example, are 11
pages devoted to an excursus on Syriac Christianity? I stopped
counting the number of times that contributors mentioned that Fr
Sergei was editor of the theological journal
It is strange, too, that - other than listing their names -
there is no reference to his wife and four children. As the Very
Revd Dr John Arnold hints, his married status precluded him,
according to the canons of the Orthodox Church, from becoming a
bishop, a deprivation that the Church could ill afford.
Canon Michael Bourdeaux is the President of Keston
*Copies can be obtained from www.christiansaware.co.uk