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'This Holy Man':
Impressions of Metropolitan Anthony

by Gillian Crow

'This Holy Man':  Impressions of Metropolitan Anthony
By Gillian Crow. Darton, Longman and Todd, Ltd.  Pp. 251. 
ISBN 0-232-52568-4

He was Russian, not English, and Orthodox, not Anglican, but Metropolitan Anthony Bloom's long ministry in England (54 years), his public speaking, his books, and his spiritual counsel and direction had a deep and lasting impact on the spiritual lives of many English speaking Christians--some of whom converted to Orthodoxy, but by no means all.  When he first arrived in England, he found something of a kindred spirit in Anglicanism.  In later years, as

troublesome issues came to the fore in the Church of England, that impression began to change, but his influence was already deeply rooted and the respect and high regard in which he was, and is, held by Anglicans was evident in the tributes which were given at his death in 2003.

Anthony Bloom was the son of a Russian diplomat, born before the Bolshevik revolution. He lived most of his life in exile from Russia. His parents were nominal Christians who had him baptized but otherwise imparted so little of the Christian faith to their son that he grew up as a virtual atheist.  As a teenager he had a remarkable conversion experience at a point when he was not sure that life was worth living.  Needless to say, the course of his life was changed radically by that experience. 

He was trained as a medical doctor but in 1939, before going off to serve as a surgeon in the French army, he secretly took monastic vows.  After the war, he was ordained a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church and sent to London where he lived for the remainder of his life, as a priest, then bishop, living next to, and eventually in, his cathedral where, in spite of the ecclesiastical honors and prerogatives which were bestowed on him over the years, he never entirely gave up the identity of a parish priest.  To many of his parishioners he remained "Fr. Anthony" to the end.

As he built up his parish and his diocese, he was in great demand, not only in Britain, but in his motherland.  He broadcast talks to Russia regularly during the Soviet era and made many visits.  Transcriptions of his talks there were circulated widely in the underground network which spread news and literature and hope.  When Patriarch Pimen died in 1990, Metropolitan Anthony's name was put forward as a candidate to succeed him, though his candidacy was disallowed because of his age and foreign citizenship.

His first book, Living Prayer, was published in 1966.  Like subsequent books, it was a compilation of some of his talks.  As he always spoke without notes, the talks were transcribed and edited by a parishioner for publication.  His second book, School for Prayer, described his own conversion experience, something he had previously been reticent about.  Its reception was enormous and it is generally regarded as the most influential of all of his books.

Gillian Crow's "impressions" of her spiritual father are not intended to be the last word on the bishop who was described as "this holy man" by the Greek Archbishop Methodios when he visited the Russian cathedral in London in 1986.  Nor, she insists, is the book a hagiography.  She knew him well enough to know his shortcomings--failings which he was always the first to point out--and she does not hesitate to describe them in proper context.  Perhaps this is why the book ends up being a hagiography after all. Metropolitan Anthony was no plaster of paris saint.  Rather, his down to earth spirituality and his pastoral discernment were forged in a lifetime that knew personal hardship, doubt, and periods of severe depression.  His greatness was because of, not in spite of, his genuine humanity.  Crow has provided a portrait that incarnates the man behind the books by which he is so well known and makes him truly, as he was once described, an icon in whom the image of God can be discerned.


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