Memories of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Konstantin
by Father Constantine Litvinenko
MEETING WITH BISHOP ANTHONY (Oxford 2000)
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh plays a very important role in my life. And that's how I met him...I was about 20 years old. I studied at the university and was quite pleased with myself. It seemed that my whole life was still ahead of me, and I could do anything. At that time, I sincerely thought that achieving Christian perfection was almost as easy as solving a Theoretical Physics assignment. Work hard and you will succeed. Having read in the New Testament that Love is the pinnacle of virtues and the totality of perfections, I decided to take up love right away so as not to waste time in vain. And, as befits an exemplary student, before practical classes I decided to thoroughly familiarise myself with this issue theoretically. I read a lot of books on this topic, I began to distinguish between different types of love, I could hold discussions on this topic for a long time... And over time, it began to seem to me that I know almost everything about love, well, almost everything. However, there was no sense of wholeness from this knowledge, I could not feel the joy, fullness and delight that I could talk about for hours. Thus, my self-education has reached a dead end.
What to do next was not clear. It was about in this state of mild surprise from my powerlessness, in the subway crossing, that I accidentally stumbled upon a thin green book called "The Sacrament of Love". I didn’t know the author and I didn’t have much hope for the content — the book was thin, the publisher was questionable. And I bought it just automatically. Another book, another view, another useless brick in the wall of knowledge. But, fortunately, I was wrong. I felt, exactly felt, the warmth of love in each line. The book was so simple, clear, transparent, filled with light and extraordinary power of love generated by personal experience of communion with God. It seemed to me then that this book was reprinted from the works of the Holy Fathers, that it was some new, modern translation of one of the classics of theology. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh was our contemporary, that he was alive and serving in distant London. This book has changed my attitude to the world around me. I finally felt that love exists, that it is not just a beautiful image or a successful symbol, but a true reality, which is possible even in our "last" times. And Metropolitan Anthony has always remained for me an example of a man who achieved this love.
When I think of Metropolitan Anthony, I think of love, and my heart immediately becomes warm. After that, I read many of his wonderful books and learned that Metropolitan Anthony is an Honorary Doctor of Theology of the faculties of Cambridge (1996), the Moscow Theological Academy (1983 — for a set of scientific and theological preaching works), the Kiev Theological Academy (Doctor of Theology honoris causa); he has received many civil and ecclesiastical awards from various countries worldwide. Without a doubt, Metropolitan Anthony can be considered a classic of modern religious literature. Therefore, when my family had the opportunity to attend the religious annual conference held in Oxford by the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in England, and at which Metropolitan Anthony was one of the speakers, I simply did not believe that I would be able to meet the Legend. There was a second surprise waiting for me at the conference. (Reference. Reprinted from the Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh webpage (www.mitras.ru ): On May 26-29, 2000, the annual congress of the Diocese of Sourozh was held near Oxford. Such congresses have been held in the diocese since 1975, each one devoted to a specific topic. Reports, working groups, joint worship and prayer, casual communication held during four days allow members of different parishes of the diocese to develop prayer and personal communication, deepen the conciliar understanding of life in the Church. The topic of 2000 Congress was "The Sacrament of Repentance". If you have ever been to a bishop's service, you will probably agree with me that our bishops look majestic, that there is strength and depth in them. Apostolic succession, rich vestments, the deepest sense of the divine service - this cannot fail to impress. Metropolitan Anthony’s appearance struck me by a completely different trait — simplicity. Simplicity is very difficult to describe. But I think that if you saw him somewhere in a crowd of people, for example, in a queue at the canteen, and at the same time didn’t know exactly what Metropolitan Anthony looked like, you probably, just like me, would not recognize him right away until you met his gaze. Only his eyes give him away, only they show that he is not an ordinary person. We were lucky to communicate with Metropolitan Anthony personally. During this communication, I did not feel any distance between us at all. It seemed to me that we had known each other for a very long time, that, at least, we were distant relatives, and we were connected by a huge number of common memories. I felt that he was glad to see me, I felt his care, his love. I didn't admire or adore him, I just forgot about my existence. His love melted the fence behind which my true “me” was hidden. I was breathing deeply, and I was not at all afraid that he, as a person with deep insight, would see how spoiled I was and angrily condemn me or drive me away. No, it was impossible. He accepted me for who I was. From my personal experience I once again felt that one of the most important features of love is to accept a person for who he is. Each person, as a bearer of the image of God, is beautiful in his depth. You just need to learn to see this beauty. Of course, no one is immune from sins, as from the corruption of personality. But true love allows you to look deep, through all these defects. This is how Metropolitan Anthony himself says about it in his book "The Sacrament of Love": "When I am face to face with a person whom I see through the eyes of love, ... then I join this person, we begin to have something in common, a common life. The perception of a person occurs at a depth that is beyond words, beyond emotions.
A believer would say: when I see a person in this light, in the light of pure love, I see in him the image of God, an icon. You know, each of us is an icon, an image of God, but we do not know how to remember this and do not know how to treat each other accordingly. If only we could remember that we have an icon in front of us, a shrine!.. This does not mean at all that such an icon is beautiful in every way. We all know what sometimes happens to a painting of a great master, or an icon, or any work of art, with any form of beauty: any beauty can be disfigured — negligence, circumstances, malice can disfigure the most beautiful object. But when we have before us the work of a great master, a painting that has been partially mutilated, desecrated, we can see in it either corruption or preserved beauty. If we look at this picture, at any work of art through the eyes of amazed love, we see the beautiful, but for the rest, we can grieve, cry. And we can decide, sometimes, to give our whole life to restore everything damaged in this image, in this painting, in this work of art. "The beauty of the image of God in us is hidden under a thick veil of selfishness and self-love. Sometimes this veil so strongly masks the basis of our individuality — the image of God, that we begin to treat ourselves completely carelessly. "What's the difference? A sin more, a sin less. There are only ruins left of me anyway." But in the eyes of a loving person, we see that deep down we are beautiful. And feeling this beauty in myself, I want to save it, I want to be better. In order to see your reflection, you need a mirror; in order to see how beautiful we are, you need a person who loves us. True love gives us the opportunity to see what we really are. I don't remember exactly what we talked about with Metropolitan Anthony, but I will never forget the feeling I experienced while communicating with him. "From the fact that you love each other, let everyone know that you are my disciples."
English translation by Tatiana Carscala