Other relevant keywords: Emigration, Existentialism, Hope, Psychology, Secularism, Self-knowledge
Anthony Bloom (Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh) (1914–2003)
Expatriate theology made an important contribution to Russian intellectual history of the second half of the twentieth century, in that it demonstrated that Orthodoxy is not an outdated and purely formal system of dogma. Indeed, Orthodoxy has been subject to criticism for its strict conformity to the letter of tradition, its ostensible incapacity for spiritual renovation, and its isolation from the social and cultural world. The Orthodox thinkers of the twentieth century, though immersed in dogmatic and liturgical studies, provide a framework of linkages between the formal elements of ritual and its spiritual meanings, thus giving impetus to the religious renaissance that slowly took place in Russia in the 1970s and 1980s as the ideology of atheism waned.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (secular name: Andrei Blum), commonly known as Anthony Bloom, was the son of a Russian diplomat who remained abroad after the October Revolution. An atheist in his early youth, he pursued a medical career that was not halted by his sudden conversion to Christianity. Ordained as a priest in 1948, he served for decades as the head of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchal Church in Great Britain. In 1957 he was consecrated as bishop, and then as archbishop and metropolitan bishop in charge of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain and Ireland. A magnificent preacher and one of the spiritual leaders of the Russian Orthodox intelligentsia, he was for many years one of the few bridges between the Moscow Patriarchate and Orthodoxy abroad (see Pyman).
Of all major Orthodox thinkers, Anthony of Sourozh places the least emphasis on Church tradition, focusing instead on the complexities of the personal encounter between man and God. His theology is anthropologically oriented toward the existential circumstances of modernity: the psychological anxieties of contemporary humanity, its feelings of alienation, loneliness, and obsession with materialistic pursuits. Anthony does not seek to refute materialism from some “super-spiritual” or purely idealistic point of view, but argues, rather, that Christianity serves the glorification of the material world better than does atheistic materialism. “Christianity is the only perfect materialism in the sense that a materialist regards matter as a constructing material, whereas for us matter acquires an absolute significance; it is sacred because of the embodiment of Christ, in Whom the fullness of Divinity dwelled corporeally” (Antonii, “Otvety na voprosy” 122). Though materialists claim to glorify man as the creator of all values, the image of man is actually denigrated, devoid as it is of those potentials for sanctification that man enjoys in Christianity. Thus, communication between believers and nonbelievers might proceed not through polemics, but on the assumption that while nonbelievers’ ideals and hopes are justified, they are best served by Christianity.
Metropolitan Anthony takes a similarly tolerant and conciliatory attitude toward the issue of pluralism, a phenomenon typically decried by Orthodox and conservative thinkers (Solzhenitsyn among them) as incompatible with Christian convictions. In his view, pluralism is entirely understandable: it calls into question not Christianity but Christians themselves, whose example is not compelling enough to keep others from adopting alternative value systems. Thus, if one is aware of Christian beliefs but does not accept them, this is not one’s own failing, but that of the Christians one knows, who do not adequately embody the truth of Christianity in such a way as to make it undeniable. Tolerance is also characteristic of Anthony’s attitude toward other religions; he treats them as stages in the search for God, referring to Pascal’s revelation from the Pensées: “Comfort yourself, you would not seek Me if you had not already found Me.” This means that Christians must be attentive to how people of other religions experience God, even if their piety is expressed in forms that Christians find “exotic” or “distorted.”
The basic concept of the metropolitan’s theology is the personal and immediate encounter between an individual and God, which is attained through prayer. Anthony of Sourozh authored several books on the subject of prayer, the influence of which spread well beyond the bounds of Orthodoxy. He argues that mere ritual cannot provide a true sense of God unless one knows to whom such worship is addressed. “Encounter is central to prayer. It is the basic category of revelation, because revelation itself is an encounter with God who gives us a new vision of the world” (Anthony of Sourozh 26). One must feel God with the same certitude with which one knows a neighbor, so that prayer becomes a kind of dialogue.
The difficulty, according to Anthony, is that not only may our image of God be false, but also that our image of ourselves may be falsified by our social existence. Each individual presents himself as a succession of social masks, thereby becoming unrecognizable to others and even to himself. Before he can have a real relationship with God, he must first discover his true self. Without self-knowledge, true dialogue with God is impossible, and many prayers go unanswered that are founded upon an incomplete understanding of the self. Anthony emphasizes the importance of silence as a mode of communication with God: “Inner silence is absence of any sort of inward stirring of thought or emotion, but it is complete alertness, openness to God” (Anthony of Sourozh 76). True communication entails both speaking and listening, and it is often easy to forget that prayer involves listening too, and is not just a catalogue of requests and adorations. One should attain such a repose of soul and body that one may become aware of even the faintest whispering of God’s replies. For Anthony, prayer is not only a habitual element of worship, but a continual mode of existence, of remaining open to the divine word and remaining answerable to it.
For Anthony of Sourozh, the main aspect of the relationship between man and God is mutuality. Traditionally, faith and hope have been viewed as modes of the human attitude toward God, transient modes that will fall away when God reveals himself fully. However, Anthony is convinced that faith and hope are also modes of God’s existence inasmuch as He is personally involved in the creation and life of each individual. “[E]very time that a man enters the world, it is an act of Divine faith in him…. God believes in us, God hopes for everything from us” (Antonii, “Otvety na voprosy” 125). Further:
We must bring to the world a faith not only in God, but in man … and must trust that God did not create people in vain, that He believes in every person, that He trusts in everyone, that He loves each person until His very death on the cross; and therefore there is no man, no matter how far he is from God in his own eyes, who would not be infinitely close to God. (Antonii, “My dolzhni prinesti”)
This creed of Christian humanism is addressed not only to each individual but to the entire world, as it was created by God and is studied by the natural sciences. “I graduated from the science faculty; I was a doctor, and I experienced the study of physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine as part of theology, that is, as part of the knowledge of what God created, of what He reveals, of what He loves—because God created nothing by power, but created by love” Antonii, “My dolzhni prinesti”). We have to love the world in its materiality because it was created not only with love, but “by love.” Thus, theology should not isolate itself from the natural sciences, but incorporate them as an inquiry into God’s creation.
Furthermore, non-Orthodox denominations and even non-Christian religions, according to Metropolitan Anthony, contain a certain truth about God. “As for non-Christian religions, I think that no one can invent God, and therefore any religion that speaks of God speaks from within some direct experience of the Divine. This experience may be very incomplete, but it is real” (Antonii, “My dolzhni prinesti”). Metropolitan Anthony acknowledges that he learned a great deal about Christianity and the Orthodox faith from reading and communicating with non-Christians—with secularized people, nonbelievers who were capable of love, sacrifice, compassion, and mercy. Believers have only themselves to blame for the fact that nonbelievers, meeting them, do not meet Christ in their person and therefore become alienated from faith.
As a high-ranking member in the Church hierarchy, Metropolitan Anthony represented an inclusive and existentially profound view on faith as a complete openness to the world. “Orthodoxy is as spacious as God Himself. If it is not the size of God, then it is just another religion, it is not an experience of God” (Antonii, “My dolzhni prinesti”).
Mikhail Epstein, August 2021
Anthony of Sourozh. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. A Selection of His Writing. Ed. and with an introduction by Hugh Wybrew. Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1988.
Antonii, Mitropolit Surozhskii. “My dolzhny prinesti v mir veru – ne tol’ko v Boga, no v cheloveka.” Predaine.ru, https://predanie.ru/book/70592-o-vstreche/#/toc6. [Originally published as: Mitropolit Antonii Surozhskii. “My dolzhny prinesti v mir veru—ne tol’ko v Boga, no v cheloveka.” An interview with Anthony of Sourozh by Mikhail Epstein (London, April 1989), in Mitropolit Antonii Surozhskii, O vstreche. St. Petersburg: Satis, 1994, pp. 79–93.]
—. “Otvety na voprosy zhurnala ‘Zvezda,’” Zvezda, no. 1, 1991, pp. 122–128.
Bloom, Anthony. Beginning to Pray. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1970.
—. God and Man. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.
—. Living Prayer. Springfield, IL: Templegate Pub., 1974.
—. Meditations on a Theme. NY: Continuum, 2003.
Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom). Courage to Pray. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.
Pyman, Avril. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. A Life. Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 2016. [One of the most trustworthy and authentic biographical accounts of Metropolitan Anthony, written by his longtime friend and distinguished scholar of Russian culture Avril Pyman.]