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In Memory of a Great Pastor of the 20th Century

On October 19 at STOU, as part of the exhibition titled “Life for Me is Christ” on the 20th anniversary of the death of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, an international round table “The Pastorship of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh and its Specific Traits” was held.

The round table was organized by the Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Spiritual Heritage Foundation and the Faculty of Theology [ru] of STOU. It was attended by Archpriest Pavel Khondzinsky (Dean of the Faculty of Theology of STOU), Archpriest Stephen Platt (Rector of St Nicholas Church, Oxford, and Secretary General of the Fellowship of Ss Alban and Sergius, England), Archpriest Vladimir Zelinskii (theologian, ecclesiastical author, rector of the parish of Our Lady Joy of All Who Sorrow, Brescia, Italy), Priest Aleksei Chernyi (STOU), and P. B. Mikhailov (STOU). The round table was led by Foundation President E. Y. Agafonov.

Uliana Kazakova and Anna Yarovaia, fourth-year students from the Department of Romance and Germanic Languages of the Faculty of History and Philology [ru] took part in the round table as interpreters. They provided translation from Russian to English for Fr. Stephen Platt, and from English to Russian for the other participants.

Metropolitan Anthony’s pastoral ministry undoubtedly demands our attention and reflection. It is not a question of copying or literally reproducing it in completely different conditions, but it is extremely important to try to emphasize the essential core of it, which is addressed to the heart of every pastor and anyone who comes to a priest for help. Therefore, we should not only gratefully remember the works of Metropolitan Anthony in the year of the anniversary of his death, but also try to comprehend the particular traits associated with them, the presenter suggested. In his remarks, Fr. Pavel Khondzinsky emphasized that Vladyka Anthony was partly a “non-Gutenbergian” man, who wrote almost nothing, but always expressed his experience in the living word of a sermon or conversation. In this connection, in part, it is difficult to speak of any “system” of his pastoral ministry; it is not quite clear whether one can speak of a “school” of Metropolitan Anthony. His pastoral experience consisted first of all in lively involvement in the fate of each person who came to him, an total immersion in his request for spiritual help.

Very Rev. Stephen Platt, who was ordained by Metr. Anthony and served as a deacon in the Diocese of Sourozh for six years under his direct guidance, shared his opinion that the most significant features of Vladyka Anthony’s pastorate were his call and appeal to an encounter with God, which the pastor must facilitate; a missionary focus of in the church’s work; and the understanding of the role of the pastor – both priest and bishop – as a servant of his flock, not as their ruler.

Very Rev. Vladimir Zelinskii, briefly recalling his meetings with St. Anthony, said that “he was always and only himself – a free, bright Christian, so bright that Christ seemed to shine in him, and this, in fact, was his pastoral ministry. There was a triumphant simplicity and looseness in him, to which we, brought up in the authoritarian and hierarchical Soviet Union, were not at all accustomed, and all wanted to move higher, to raise him to the status of an authority, a prince of the Church, somewhere at an inaccessible height. Could such a pastor as Metropolitan Anthony have been formed in the conditions of Soviet Russia, in a Church under servitude? Obviously not: Fr. Vladimir expressed the conviction that “it was a mutual gift of the West to the East, promising something ahead. From such a feat, for which no effort was required, it grew as if by itself out of human nature and the grace of God, a new image of pastoral ministry emerged, and this image, along with the experience of the new martyrs, will remain in our Church. It will remain and will certainly return”.

Rev. Aleksei Chernyi, who once compared the pastoral methods of Metropolitan Anthony and Archpriest Alexander Schmemann in a piece of research, shared the results of his reflections. In particular, he emphasized the important role of the authoritative voice of Metr. Anthony in the late 1990s, when the problem of “young eldership” (mladostarchestvo) was acute in the Russian Church. “Beware, my brothers, priests!” – he urged, warning pastors against arrogance and the desire for spiritual subordination of their flock.

An absent “participant” in the roundtable was Georgii Velikanov, a graduate of STOU and church publicist who tragically died in 2018 while saving a man from an approaching train. In his archive, an unfinished and unpublished article was found on “Liturgical and Pastoral Theology of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh and Archim. Sophrony (Sakharov): a Comparative Analysis,” which the moderator read out to the audience. In the article, Georgii Velikanov makes an interesting comparison between the types of pastoral ministry of two remarkable ascetics, relying on a thought once expressed by Fr. Sergius Mechev about the difference between pastoral ministry and asceticism: “The pastor turns to the people and then (together with them) to God, the ascetic to God and then to the people,” he said. “The ‘pastoral’ and ‘ascetic’ attitudes are indeed very different. All the attention of the ascetic is focused on his inner self, on letting Christ into that secret chamber of the soul, letting in the grace of the Holy Spirit, and ‘retaining’ it there. This struggle absorbs all of the attention, strength and energy of the ascetic. He does not think about preaching… The pastor, on the contrary, is called to open himself to people and give them his inner self… All the labors of a pastor must come from the same inner life that the ‘ascetic’ also lives. But while the latter jealously guards the life of his spirit from outside eyes, the priest/pastor willingly or unwillingly opens up his prayer life with God and even lets others into it”.

Petr Borisovich Mikhailov, Professor of the Department of Systematic Theology and Patrology at STOU, also took part in the discussion. In particular, he raised an important question about the special ethos of Metropolitan Anthony’s pastoral ministry and the Sourozh Diocese he created, which ultimately proved difficult to accept for many immigrants from Russia, who had internalized a different model of ecclesiology. In particular, he recalled Metropolitan Anthony’s sharp denial of any priestly authority over his flock and his call to build relationships solely on love: “The priest has no authority, no rights, but only the truly divine privilege to love – to love unto death, even the death of the cross.”

It is impossible now, speaking about the pastoral ministry of Metropolitan Anthony, to summarize or give definite answers, said the moderator after the discussion. Our task is rather to raise questions and to try to listen to his legacy. But it is worth remembering that two things that were always of the utmost importance for Metropolitan Anthony as a pastor, were boundless reverence for human freedom, and the aspiration to nurture in man the image of God distorted by sin and pain, which Metropolitan Anthony often compared to a damaged and defaced icon, yet one that retained its holiness.