Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, Essential Writings (REVIEW)

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, Essential Writings: Selected and Introduced by Gillian Crow (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010), 189 pp. Published Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, Vol. 52 (2011) Nos. 1-2, pp. 173-174.

Gillian Crow is author of four books, two of which were reviewed in previous issues of this journal: This Holy Man: Impressions of Metropolitan Anthony and Orthodoxy for Today. In the present book, Crow continues to promote the thought of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (Anthony Bloom), the well-known leader of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain for over fifty years.

Bloom was famous through his sermons, talks, broadcasts and books, especially Living Prayer, Beginning to Pray, God and Man, and Courage to Pray. His bibliography in several languages has over 300 titles and counting. Twelve seminars and two international conferences have sought to analyze Bloom’s contribution to the contemporary world. Since August
2011 we have an archive of Bloom’s writings at; this has over 2,000 text files, 800 photographs, 1,600 audio files, and 200 videos in nearly a dozen languages.

This book is divided into six chapters. All chosen texts are carefully organized into themes and the reader benefits from a smooth presentation. Crow begins with a biographical sketch that points out the main influences that shaped Bloom’s mind. The main turning point in his life was the moment of en­ counter with Christ when he was on the verge of suicide. This experience dramatically changed Bloom’s life and “left him in no doubt as to God’s existence and God’s love” (12).

In the first chapter, Crow chose passages highlighting Bloom’s personal experience of the encounter with Christ while reading the Gospel of Saint Mark. Metropolitan Anthony insisted on the experience of God rather than listening to end­ less sennons. I would agree with Crow that this experiential preference ensured that “in many ways he felt closer to Evan­ gelicals than to Catholics or Anglicans” (22).

In the third chapter, we can read his practical advice on prayer both private and liturgical, which he understood as the encounter with God. Most of the text is devoted to the question of the absence of God. Bloom stressed that it always has a sub­ jective character, because God never abandons us- though we cannot say the same of our treatment of Him: “we have no right to complain of the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than he ever is” (95).

Metropolitan Anthony understood spirituality essentially
as “the expression of the mysterious effect of the Holy Spirit” (121) upon us. He stressed the sobriety of Orthodox spiritua­ lity, wherein the entire accent is not on human feelings, but on God (133).

Bloom’s ecclesiology comes out in the fifth chapter where we encounter his image of a reversed pyramid with the sharp end down, which is the crucified Christ. The image was not his but came from Sophrony Sakharov. Bloom lived according to an understanding of the Church as a servant. He downplayed the role of a cleric, even calling himself “a layman in clerical order” (146). On the question of the ordination of women, he was one of a very few Orthodox who did not object to it. He promoted women to administrative posts in his diocese.

The last chapter of the book overlaps the first and brings the reader to focus on the death and resurrection of Christ, a theme in all of Bloom’s thought. Death, in Bloom’s under­ standing, is the moment of descending into Hades, the place where God is not. Christ entered into this god-less state and experienced abandonment by the Father. He remained faithful in His love in this experience both to His Father and to people who abandoned Him. Christ was risen from dead and the dark­ ness of Good Friday is overcome.

A few critical comments are in order. There are typos on p.52 (Living Orthdoxy should be Living Orthodoxy) and on the flyleaf (Metropolitan Anthony). But these are minor issues, and do not detract from the attraction Bloom’s thought continues to exercise over so many people today. His language was simple, personal, humane and always focused on Christ. This made him one of the masters of spiritual life in the twentieth century.

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