Orthodox America


  "Most Wise” – Metropolitan Anastassy


IN REMEMBRANCE

 Fr. Alexey Young

  When I look on that throne, deserted and bereft of our teacher, I rejoice and weep at the same time... -- St. John Chrysostom

 

     This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the repose of Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovskv . First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, from 1936 to 1965. The life and work of this hierarch began in old, HoIy Russia, bridled the abyss of the Revolution, and ended in the New World, in deep old agae, after insuring the survival of true and free Orthodoxy in the West.

     It has often happened in the history of local Churches that the lives and indeed the personalities of certain hierarchs have set a definite "tone" for that Church. In ecclesiastical history, this has not always been a positive tone, but in the case of Metropolitan Anastassy, whose episcopacy began in 1906 in Moscow--and thus he was in the hierarchal rank for nearly 60 years--it was, in the words of Blessed Archbishop John (Maximovitch), the tone of "calmness and spiritual courage," which earned him the title from the other bishops of "Most Wise".

    Born in 1873 on the Feast of Transfiguration, bearing throughout most of his life the monastic name of Anastassy, which comes from the Greek for Resurrection, (and indeed, he entered eternity during the bright Paschal season), this future great leader completely surrendered him self to God at the age of fifteen when, in his own words, "I felt especially the insignificance of all that is earthy, began to avoid people, became pensive and cool toward not only all the joys of life, but also toward life itself, considering that all was as nothing compared to eternity." Such sobriety, unusual even for those times, ultimately drew him into monastic life where he served for a time as a hieromonk and instructor and, later, as Rector of the Moscow Seminary.

    The Holy Spirit gave him the gift of interpreting the signs of the times. This is especially evident in his address on the occasion of his consecration as bishop. At that time more than ten years; still remained before the horrors of the Revolution, and the Church appeared to stand forever firm in Russia. Yet Vladika Anastassy prophesied: "The times of persecution for the servants of the Church have not passed .... The days are coming when we will again see insults, threats, looting, requisitioning of property, blood bespattered churches becoming graveyards and even. possibly, the public execution of priests and bishops."

    Vladika Anastassy took an active part in the All-Russian Council which assembled shortly after the 1917 Revolution; he was chosen to research and arrange the ceremony for the enthroning of the new Patriarch in the Uspensky Cathedral of the Kremlin. (The Patriarchate of Moscow had been abolished by Tsar Peter I more than two hundred years before, thus making of the Russian Church what is called a "widow Church,") So meticulously did Vladika follow the precedents of tradition that he managed to employ in this ceremony the white, rounded klobuk and blue velvet mantle of Patriarch Nikon from the 17th century, the ancient staff of Metropolitan Peter of Moscow, and the old patriarchal throne. Vladika's thoroughness was rooted not in any sentimental attachment to externals, but in an appreciation of their significance as symbolic carriers of Holy Tradition, recalling the unchanging unity of the Church throughout the centuries.

     Not long after the restoration of the Patriarchate the outright martyrdom of the Church began and Archbishop Anastassy found himself, with many of the clergy and faithful, out side Russia. With removal of the exiled Higher Church Authority to Serbia in 1921, Vladika Anastassy remained in Constantinople as representative of the Russian Church Abroad and managed somehow to also stay in touch with Patriarch Tikhon through secret contacts in Finland. But when the Patriarch of Constantinople recognized the heretical "Living Church" in the Soviet Union and Pressured him to adopt the New Calendar reforms, Vladika chose to settle in Jerusalem, where he worked closely with Patriarch Damian. Together with the Patriarch of Jerusalem he consecrated several bishops, among whom was the future Patriarch Timothy of the Holy City. Vladika also protected the shrines in the care of the Russian Church, and said of them: "If the entire Mount of Olives was to be covered with pure gold, then even for such a quantity of gold it would not be possible to let it go to anyone."

      At the Council of 1934 Vladika Anastassy was chosen as substitute to the ailing First Hierarch, Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), and then succeeded him as First Hierarch in 1936. The most frightening and heroic years yet lay ahead for the free Russian Orthodox Church--years, according to Archbishop John, of "great events and shocks," when the whole of Europe was laid waste by war and .there was much confusion among the faithful. With church headquarters in Belgrade under constant bombardment, and facing the rapid advance of Soviet troops, Metropolitan Anastassy fled, almost entirely alone, taking with him the protecting icon of the Church Abroad, the Kursk Mother if God. It was only after the end of the war that he was able to re-establish contact with the rest of the Church in the diaspora and bring together once again the Synod of Bishops Abroad.

      During the postwar years a great temptation came: should the faithful living in exile now recognize the patriarchate of Moscow (Patriarch Tikhon had died a martyr's death in 1925 and a puppet patriarch was installed by Stalin in the early 1940's) and be united with it, or should they remain separate and free? It was of course Stalin's wish to trick the exiled Church into submitting to his puppet church and even, if possible, persuade the clergy and faithful to return home, to certain death. This was a turning point in history and should not be overlooked by the younger generation of clergy and faithful in the Church today. It was a turning point-not just for the Russian Church, but for all of the Orthodox Church (for Orthodox Christians behind the Iron Curtain number nine tenths of all the Orthodox in the world). According to one writer: "If at that time Metropolitan Anastassy had wavered and doubted, then the horrible, would have occurred..,: the entire Orthodox Church could have been accused of surrendering to God's enemies. (But instead) Metropolitan Anastassy saved human history" and preserved the Church in freedom.

    By 1950 it became obvious that a majority of the flock had moved to North and South America, and so it was decided to transfer the headquarters of the Church Abroad to New York where, also in that year, for the first time outside Russia the preparing and consecration of Holy Chrism was accomplished.

     Friends of the Metropolitan obtained a large and stately mansion in New York City to serve as headquarters for the Synod of Bishops. This building also housed a cathedral, a house church, two schools, and a residence for the Metropolitan and other officials. From here the Metropolitan, in the words of one writer, having already "led the dispersed Russian flock like a Moses," lived the sunset years of his long episcopacy in faithfulness to Holy Orthodoxy.

     Some interesting observations have been made about his personality by those who knew him well. He was considered a fine conversationalist and a cordial and hospitable host who had many friends, but, in the words of the late Archbishop Nikon, "he remained a bishop not only in church or in public or while receiving guests, but always and everywhere .... It was as if he did not have a personal life apart from his bishopric." Such constancy followed from years of having practiced what he later wrote in definition of a kind pastor: "When his day is not filled with the performance of his straightforward duties, then his inner work begins, consisting of secret prayer, moral self-absorption, the reading of corresponding spiritual literature and an examination of His spiritual frame of mind."

      He was a remarkably effective preacher and a lifelong student of the Holy Fathers, particularly St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian. But in his last years he especially loved to read and re-read St. John of Kronstadt's diary, “My Life in Christ”. According to Vladika Nikon, "He loved church beauty, church splendor, in everything. He never interrupted the harmony of the services, even when the clergy erred in something...(and) would give instructions only in extreme cases, and then only in whispers."

     Another writer tells us that the "key" to Vladika Anastassy's life "lies in his simple rule, available to all, yet, alas, observed by so few: never, under any circumstances, did Vladika Anastassy act contrary to the voice of his conscience, that voice of God within us." It was this "firm and unbending loyalty to the dictates of God's inner voice" that gained for him "such enormous moral authority, that often even his enemies had to bow before it."

     In a portrait essay drawn after the Metropolitan's repose, Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) recalls: "In the whole course of his life he was distinguished from his surroundings, not because he himself aspired to this, but because he was too bright a lamp of Orthodoxy to remain hidden. However modestly he conducted himself, he always became the center of attention. The slightest acquaintance with him also left a huge impression with the heterodox. I remember how, at the end of his visit to Cardinal Cushing in Boston, the Cardinal knelt and asked for his blessing."

    Early in 1964, already having reached the age of 9l, Metropolitan Anastassy decided to retire in order to prepare himself for death. Shortly after Pascha of that year the Council of Bishops chose the present First Hierarch, Metropolitan Philaret. After this, in the words of Archbishop John, "he lived in complete seclusion. Unable to attend services every day, he listened to them...by means of a special amplifier connected to his room; and several times a week he received Holy Communion. His hearing and sight declined a great deal." He now entered "completely into his inner life," finally giving his soul to the lord God on the night of May 22(o.s.), 1965. "Such a long service in the rank of bishop ," wrote Archbishop John, "is unknown in the whole thousand-year history of the Russian Church!"

     Vladika Anastassy's successor, Metropolitan Philaret, called him, in his funeral oration, an aged Staretz (Elder), who had been "afflicted by labor and sorrow in his lifetime," but bore everything "patiently and cheerfully, without falling into despondency as another would have done from far lesser trials." He also said that if one were to ask who was the "most remarkable, greatest and illustrious in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church during all these years and decades of our sorrowful and evil times," three names would immediately come remind: first, the martyred pastor of all Russia, the last legitimate patriarch, Tikhon, who had preserved the Church's freedom; secondly, "that unforgettable Father, the blessed Metropolitan Antony," the first Chief Hierarch of the Church Abroad. "And behold," Metropolitan Philaret continued, a third name...that of our beloved father...head leader and chief representative, Vladika Metropolitan Anastassy."

    His last will and testament, written several years before his death, made clear the legacy he wished to leave his brethren: "I bequeath them to stand steadfast upon the rock of Holy and saving Orthodoxy, to reverently maintain apostolic tradition (and) abide in brotherly unity, peace and love among themselves..." Metropolitan Anastassy could make such a bequest only because he himself possessed, this priceless treasure of true and apostolic Orthodoxy: you cannot bequeath that which you do not possess. This is why, on the occasion of Vladika Anastassy's jubilee as a bishop in 1956, an unparalleled tribute was paid to a living hierarch: "Let us bow down to the ground before our Primate Metropolitan Anastassy for choosing between the difficult truth, abandoned by all. Let us bow down before him for having achieved this so worthily and truthfully, without wavering in the least, unafraid, bravely, and at the same time without giving in to any passion, even in his very condemnation of The Lie..." 

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them. (Rev. 14:13) 

(Information for this article was taken from Orthodox Life, #93, 94 and 162, and The Orthodox Word, Vol. I, #4.)

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