Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | January 31, 2010

Presence & Change: Met. Anthony of Sourozh

In the presence, we are changed. Maybe it’s only for an instant, maybe it’s not what we would wish changed, maybe we don’t stay changed… and maybe the change is on a level and in a form beyond our knowledge though certainly  not beyond our awareness – at least on a cumulative basis.   But there is something in our encounter(s) with God that finds something that is real and this reality is tangible and witnessed by those around us. I think it is this that we see whenever it is that we “Come and See”… as we do each week or more frequently… and it is in all these ways that are so many and so different and yet in so many ways touched by the Sameness that touches all and each of us as if we were the only beloved… and touches us in such a way that we understand that it is okay to not be the one and only beloved… and so we in fact become eager to share this encounter.  And yet to anyone who has little in common and certainly outside the communion of the church… this degenerates into no more than a babble  of mumbo jumbo as if they were eavesdropping on the sweet nothings between couples… and coming to the conclusion that something weird is going on. As readily recognizable as it is, and as immediate as it understood, this is the way of  any description of an encounter of God to someone for whom this remains unknown. And yet this is Orthodoxy… an Orthodoxy that balances this intimate encounter so that it is the same God that each of us so uniquely different from each other can come into communion with and  share in common… the same God whom we hold in fear… at a respectful distance. It is why we work so hard at this faith… to assure ourselves that we have in fact encountered the same God, the God of Jacob, the God of Moses, and the God of the first Adam and the New Adam.

This evening I was asked, “What is it that the Orthodox Church is about… I’ve never heard of it.” And not knowing the level of interest, I offered simply that we are church that tries to have the same encounter of God that was had at the start. We seek to be a people who encounter God with all things in balance. I could have added a lot more… that we seek to hold all things in balance out of love for God and in gratitude for his love for us… but that’s the beginning of something dangerous to the conversation… and a level of danger uninvited is never welcome. And so I let that sink in without adding a follow-on. Sometimes a dance waits for the next lead step… and the partner has to know the other and their “right distance” to sense whether more is wanted… now or in the future. So I sense there will be another time to follow up, but not now… for sometimes merely putting footprint to the ground is enough. And in truth, at this point, it’s probably me… I’m the one who’s not ready to lead another to the next step. I don’t trust myself. Maybe there’s a Hippocratic Oath for evangelism (“Do no harm”), but if there isn’t, I think I’d subscribe to one if there were.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh speaks of so many things so well. Let me give you his own observation on a similar note:

“And we have something else to learn: we have to learn to grow to the stature of our Christian humanity which we have not achieved. We remain at our personal level, in spite of the colossal gifts which we receive. For when we receive the Holy Mysteries in Communion, the Body of Christ merges with our humanity – and we do not notice it, we do not change because of it. It passes through us and goes somewhere else. And at the same time it happens that even without the Mysteries, the presence of God reaches a man. I want to give you an example. About fifteen to twenty years ago an Englishman came to our church in London. He was simply an unbeliever, but he had been asked to bring a parcel for one of the congregation. He took great care to time his arrival so as to be late for the service – to come after it was over and everybody would be leaving. But God decided otherwise, and he arrived at the church while the service was still on. He was upset and sat down at the back to wait for the end. And this is what he later told me. He sat down and began to wait for “all this” to end. At first he was impatient, but then he began to calm down and suddenly he felt that in this church there was some richness, the presence of some thing. He began to explain it to himself: that he was intoxicated by the incense, that it was the effect of the melodious singing, that it was caused by the flickering of the candles, that it was from the collective hysteria of the faithful – he understood it all, of course, and still he became curious, and he asked my permission to come to the church when there was nobody there, to see what would happen then.

He came, sat for two hours in the empty church and then said to me, “You know this Presence is still here. There is no singing, no incense, no flickering candles, no faithful, but the Presence is here.” He began to come to church, both when there was nobody there and when a service was taking place, and after a while he said to me, “You know, I have been coming quite a long time, because I thought, “All right, let us suppose that it is God, but what do I need of your God if He simply lives in this church and nobody is any the better for it. If this is a passive God, who does not change people, I do not need Him.”” And then it appeared that when he looked at the faithful praying and especially at those who were taking communion, he saw on their faces, just for a second, some kind of glow which he had never seen anywhere before. He said to me, “I do not know whether they become better people, but they are changed, as if they were, so to speak, a different form of creation. And I have to become different. I would like you to teach me and baptise me.” I prepared him and eventually baptised him.” – from Encounter pp. 44-45


  1. I appreciate what you have said about “doing no harm.” It is so hard to know when to keep one’s mouth shut. But, it is equally hard to have the right words at the right time.

    I loved the quote from Met. Anthony.

  2. Whoooo. Yeah. There is so much more I should have said, or said better. And there’s so much more I wanted to say.

  3. That is the most excellent synopsis I’ve ever heard. Seriously. And yes, may we have the wisdom to dance gracefully and not step on toes.

  4. Met. Anthony was a great gift to the Church. Opening his works is like finding the Mother Lode.

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