METROPOLITAN Anthony of Sourozh was one of this country’s great spiritual leaders, with eyes that pierced to the very core of a person, a truly charismatic human being who embodied Orthodoxy’s understanding that only someone who has direct experience of God can be called a theologian. A theologian, however, he never claimed to be, and yet his talks had a greater effect on his listeners than the reading of many a weighty theological tome.
Avril Pyman’s biography is a welcome new record based on much unexplored archival material. The diocese of Sourozh, formed and guided by Metropolitan Anthony, became an example for many Russian Orthodox believers, particularly in post-perestroika Russia, of an open kind of Orthodoxy — unafraid of dialogue with other faiths and denominations, appreciative of lay participation and responsibility — as opposed to a closed form nurtured within Russia by an overly authoritarian ecclesiastical structure. This important part played by Orthodoxy in Great Britain, for Russia, is not fully acknowledged in this biography.
Metropolitan Anthony’s relationship with the Moscow Patriarchate illustrates the complexity for a Christian of belonging to a Church within a Communist-run society: should one oppose or accept the policies of an atheist regime? The Moscow Patriarchate, as established by Stalin during the Second World War, was a pliant body that did not resist or condemn the Communist Party’s religious policies, and was criticised by its more courageous members.
UPPMetropolitan Anthony, a charismatic figure in British Christianity, in January 1973
Metropolitan Anthony, according to Pyman, chose not to resist or confront the Patriarchate and refused to join forces with vocal Orthodox dissidents, although she records that he did defend Solzhenitsyn in a letter to The Times when the latter was attacked by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1974. “Loving fealty to the Mother Church . . . was part of the very fabric of Anthony’s nature,” she writes.
This apparent uncritical position was not the whole story: Metropolitan Anthony, particularly towards the latter part of his life, was very concerned at the direction in which the Patriarchate was heading, and personally asked the Patriarch to remove a Russian bishop sent to help the diocese of Sourozh during the influx of Russians after the perestroika period. The shocking treatment of Metropolitan Anthony’s flock and his successor, Bishop Basil Osborne, by the Moscow Patriarchate after his death, when it staged a takeover of the Orthodox parish in London, falls outside the period covered by this biography, but more analysis of the gathering storm that broke in 2006 would have added a valuable dimension.
Pyman does not have a good word to say for an organisation like Keston College, which publicised the heroism of religious dissidents, and claims that Metropolitan Anthony accused Keston of taking up “a scathingly anti-Orthodox stance”. The only source cited for this claim is the Guardian obituary of Metropolitan Anthony by Keston’s founder, Canon Michael Bourdeaux, which says nothing of the sort.
To correct the record, anti-Orthodox Keston certainly was not, either then or now. The source of this accusation was the KGB.
Xenia Dennen is a Russian specialist, and chairman of Keston Institute, Oxford.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh: A life
The Lutterworth Press £17.50