A blog by the Founding Principal of IOCS

“Reaping with Joy”: IOCS at 25

The Very Revd Dr John Jillions is one of the founders and the first Principal of IOCS (1997-2003). He now serves as a Visiting Professor and a member of the Board of Directors. He has degrees from McGill University (BA), St Vladimir’s Seminary (MDiv, DMin), and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (PhD). From 2003 to 2012 he taught at the Sheptytsky Institute for Eastern Christian Studies, Saint Paul University, and the University of Ottawa. Subsequently he was Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America (2011-2018), taught at St Vladimir’s Seminary as Associate Professor of Religion and Culture, and as an adjunct at Fordham University. He is the author of Divine Guidance: Lessons for Today from the World of Early Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2020).  Fr John has been a priest for forty years, serving communities in Australia, Greece, England, Canada, and the US. He is Vice-President of the Orthodox Theological Society in America.


Friday, October 22, 1999

We’ve had the Institute’s first study weekend (October 15-17, 1999), led by Fr John Breck teaching on the New Testament. 40+ students! Happy and successful. Friday-Sunday, five lectures (in Wesley House hall). Vespers on Saturday evening and Liturgy on Sunday morning at St Peter’s—the tiny stone church built in 1087, only a few years after the Great Schism.  But the only time I have these days for writing in my journal is on the train and plane. It’s just before 8 pm on the train from Paddington to Oxford for the Sourozh clergy meeting overnight. I didn’t leave Cambridge until 6 pm. All of us at the Institute worked hard all day to get everything ready: the minutes, agenda, and financial report for the Working Group meeting on Monday. A letter to all the students who came to the first study weekend. Another letter to each Orthodox parish in the UK asking for support of the “challenge grant” set up by our generous “anonymous donor.” And I was also steaming through the paperwork buildup of the last two weeks. 

It’s such an indispensable help to have competent people working for the Institute. I was happy to have Samantha Goode helping with the library, bookstore, and other projects. We put up the large icon poster in the office today. The mood is still effervescent and satisfying, with Deni coming in with cups of coffee and jelly donuts. So much has been happening. A trip to Lincoln on Wednesday to pick up books for our infant library from the late Canon Peter Hammond’s collection. Yesterday I led my first New Testament Seminar for the Cambridge Theological Federation (on Galatians 3:1-14).

But I haven’t seen a lot of our boys except for getting home late and watching TV with them. Daily vespers have been restful in these busy days, but in the mornings it’s only fitfully that I find (make?) time for quiet, reading, and praying. Fr John Breck warned me that prayer “is the first thing to go.” We had an important conversation the morning he left to return to Paris. His advice on how to keep the Institute sane:

  1. Pray.
  2. Take time off each week: Sunday afternoons and another day completely away.
  3. Schedule time with the children, with Deni (include weekends or days away at the monastery of St John the Baptist or elsewhere)
  4. Summers: take time—“sacred, and away”

He said that one of his saddest moments of his academic career was at the start of his second year of seminary teaching. He met one of the longtime faculty walking down the driveway coming toward him and looking downcast, just having returned from summer vacation. Fr John gave him a big hug, but his colleague shook his head and said, “Here we go again.” The next nine months were just to be gotten through until next summer. Fr John said that if I don’t insist on a better balance now—and insist on it for everyone—then we’ll all end up like this and the Institute’s mood will be awful. Chris Hancock (vicar of Holy Trinity, Cambridge) had similar things to say when we met for lunch on Tuesday.

  • He’s learned to cut out any meeting that doesn’t add value to his work and life
  • 2-3 days times a year he take a couple days to plan, to get control of your life rather than allow it to pull you in every direction
  • Be part of a support group
  • Any free time he finds unexpectedly he uses to schedule something enjoyable with his wife (dinner, movie, etc.)

The study weekend was very successful, but I was still anxious. I felt the weight and fear of the demands (real and imagined) of our new students, many of whom want and need direction in their work and lives. A part of me just wanted to pack up and go home. Help, Lord. Keep me “in the springing of the year.” It’s an amazing life we’ve been thrown into. Even the money is trickling in.

A Prayer in Spring

Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.


Tuesday, September 28, 1999

Yesterday afternoon Bp Basil called to say that the Directors had agreed to hire Denise as the “development consultant.” Seraphim Alton-Honeywell (legal counsel) had some reservations about not publicizing the job, but Bishop Basil, Bishop Kallistos, Graham Dixon, and Howard Fitzpatrick felt this was unnecessary given the Institute’s meagre finances. So, we are both employed by the Institute. All our eggs are in this one basket. Help Lord!

Today we move from our temporary office to the new quarters on the other side of Wesley House. Yesterday our newly hired administrator, Graham Howard, had his first day. Mother Joanna has been here just two weeks to assist with students and the study weekends. Fr Nicholas Loudovikos and his family arrive next week. The phone lines and cable for the computer system goes in today. Desks arrived from Office World. Three new computers are coming this week. Dave Goode has been invaluable with this setting up, and Samantha too. They patiently and cheerfully painted the whole place. The money is trickling in, but we had a big boost last Friday with 5,000 pounds from one of Fr Samir’s parishioners at the Antiochian church in London. Meanwhile, Alex and Andrew are home with the flu. Anthony has his first football match today. And Deni finally gets to put in her notice at Tyndale House. They’ve been very good to us. From the epistle today: “Give thanks always and for everything…” (Eph 5:20).

Wednesday, September 29, 1999

A few moments of quiet sitting in the new seminar room at our Wesley House premises. Graham has just left. Mother Joanna came in for a few minutes and has now gone to her first meeting for CTF international students (we have three doing the MA). Graham and I spent the morning finishing off the move from the temporary office and pulling up carpets to reveal the wooden floors. Boxes and computers everywhere. The phone lines are in, and Dave will be coming by this afternoon to finish installing the computer cables. He worked here late last night on the office and didn’t get home until 1:30 am.

With Mother Joanna, Sr Makaria, Dave and Sam Goode we had a memorable dinner at Howard and Laurie’s. They leave tomorrow for a new life in Venice, and I’m really going to miss the daily give and take with Howard as we worked together setting up the Institute this past year.

Anthony had a good football match yesterday as goalie. He only let one goal in, and that one was high into the corner of the net. He’s not afraid of going after the ball or knocking someone over. Alex is still home with the flu. Andrew went back to school today.

Monday, October 11, 1999

On the train from London to Cambridge. Just finished a morning at Premier Radio for a live interview (9:30-10:00) with John Pantry (a musician and C of E priest),  a live phone call-in, followed by an interview with John Buckridge, editor of Christianity. But the day there began with a “chance” elevator meeting with Peter Kerridge, the station’s managing director, who studied patristics at Oxford with Bishop Kallistos and has long wanted to get the Orthodox into mainstream radio and their internet project “On Prayer.” He will arrange a meeting to see how the Orthodox could be involved. He led a quick staff meeting before the interview began on air and asked me to pray. I used “O heavenly king” and St Philaret’s prayer for the start of the day (“Lord, grant that we may greet the coming day in peace”), as often happens people were moved by these simple words from the Orthodox tradition. Once again, open doors.

The last few days have been amazing. Howard and Laurie are gone but the Institute is moving forward. Deni finished working at Tyndale House (Bishop Basil and Bishop Kallistos gave her the go-ahead), the computers are in, the bookshelves were built on Saturday by Andrew and Dave (and his friend Mike). Samantha is varnishing. Yesterday—Sunday—the offices were humming with conversation as we came through the offices for coffee hour after the St Ephraim’s parish liturgy with the 30 people who were there. Last week Bishop Basil and Fr Gregory Woolfenden came up from Oxford for the opening of CTF worship followed by a reception. There was a farewell to Joy Tetley and a welcome to the new Orthodox Institute. Zoe Bennet Moore gave us a very warm welcome and Bishop Basil gave just the right response, grateful to the CTF for getting us off the ground.

I’ve had an education in media lately. Today there’s an interview on the BBC’s Cambridge affiliate. Tomorrow a phone interview. And our press release was sent all over the world.

The first study weekend is quickly approaching. There’s still too much to do and I need to stay focused. But I also need to remember I’m human. Went to hit some golf balls with Andrew last night. Friday night I played squash with Anthony. I was happy to see Alex walk over to the Institute after basketball tryouts at the Leys. I love to see the boys relaxed at the Institute and—I think—proud of what’s being done.


Monday, August 30, 1999

Tired. On the way to Oxford to meet Bishop Basil and Bishop Kallistos after getting off the all-night plane from Newark to Gatwick. George and Elizabeth Theokritoff drove me to Newark Airport and along the way we talked about the OCA’s All-American Council [July 25-30. I was there with Stewart Armour and Fr John Breck. Bishop Kallistos was the keynote speaker—he made a quick plug for the Institute—and we made a presentation at one of the Council’s side-sessions.] We also spoke about my trip to Wichita to see Bishop Basil Essey, Eric Namee, and the Farah Foundation, and funding proposals, including the idea of Denise potentially being hired as a development consultant. Bishop Basil, Fr Anthony Scott, and Eric Namee all agree that no project like this can thrive long-term without having someone focused on development.

I got to Oxford just after 11 am and Bishop Basil came to the door in a crumpled white shirt with grass stains on his back. He’d been resting on the lawn in the garden after picking plums. It’s always restful to see him, especially when I’m feeling so perpetually pressured and rushed. He shooed the cat off the table, and we sat down for tea to catch up, though he was interrupted now and then by phone calls. On one longer call he had to leave the room, so I walked out into the old and peaceful garden. I can see such care devoted to it. I brought him up to date on everything and broached the idea of hiring Deni as a development consultant. We went over the points to discuss with Bishop Kallistos. It’s a genuine pleasure and privilege to work with him so closely. He too likes this joint effort and reminded me of what I’d told him a couple years ago after attending the conference in Villemov about lay academies: “It was all started by one person and a bishop.” He thought we should hold on to the Working Group as long as possible, until we are certain of the right Board.

Glorious weather. The door was open at 15 Staverton Road. Bishop Basil knocked, Bishop Kallistos came to the door in good humor and ushered us inside just as Rebecca White, the Warden of St Gregory and Macrina House (and one of his students) was getting up to go. I’d never been in his study before, but it was exactly as I’d imagined. Walls covered in bookshelves. Extra tables piled high with more books and manuscripts. Two large armchairs, well worn. A couple of little coffee tables. (He brought in tea and ginger snaps). A desk facing the garden with a tilted writing board. Pictures here and there. I noticed one lying on its side, of Fr Pavel Florensky. A very modern ergonomic desk chair. He brought another armchair from the next room. What a pleasant afternoon, a combination of the main business—they were interviewing me to finalize the Principal position—and talking about various issues concerning the Institute.

Bishop Kallistos had looked at my CV and said there were a few pleasant surprises. He didn’t realize Denise was of Greek background, and this put her in a new light. He asked about the Doctor of Ministry I had started at St Vladimir’s Seminary and was pleased to know it could be completed and I would then have two doctorates. He asked me to fill in a few gaps: where I was born and when, the ages of my boys, but otherwise he seemed quite satisfied, and noted that I’d had financial and management experience. He reiterated the importance of the CTF’s approval for my teaching and thought this was obviously important. We then went over the job description for the Principal’s position. He wanted to see the academic responsibilities placed first, keeping in mind that IOCS is a college. The description should reflect the post not just as it is now but as it will become. Though Bishop Basil sees that for now reality dictates that management and strategic planning must be at the forefront.

I asked Bishop Kallistos about the possibility of a trip to the Phanar to seek the blessing and support of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Bishop Kallistos had already been thinking about this and will ask Archbishop Gregorios to let him do this, perhaps in early October. Bishop Basil and I emphasized to him that he is the only one who can pull this off, and he knows this too. As he said, “We may need to be like the importunate widow and keep pressing.”

Bishop Kallistos’s next appointment had arrived. We took some pictures in the garden (which was also immaculate). One of each, both the bishops, and the three of us, taken by the parishioner who’d come to see him. We took our leave of the very happy afternoon, and Bishop Basil drove me to the train station.


Wednesday, June 30, 1999. The synaxis of the Apostles.

Sitting in my little temporary office I’ve been given in Wesley House, on the Jesus Lane side of the campus, I am much relieved that my interview by the CTF Faculty Committee is over. I was worried, but it was very genial. I still need to submit a reference (they suggested Bruce Winter). A few minutes after the interview was over John Proctor announced, “It’s white smoke!”

During the interview John, Janet Henderson, Graham Davies, and Eamon Duffy each took a turn asking questions. I had mental images of my failed SVS Faculty Seminar three years ago as I walked in—and was asking God to block them out—but in the end it was all quite relaxed. They weren’t being too picky, and were instead seeking to find a broadbasis to welcome me in. John Proctor asked how I might handle teaching New Testament, the Synoptics in particular, given western scholarly interest in historical context and where the text comes from. For me, while it’s an issue, it’s secondary to the theological meaning and importance of the text. I told him my stress would be on the unity and diversity within the New Testament. He told me later that they assume students know the text well but that they don’t know the context or the historical issues. One needs to be prepared to handle questions put to the text.

Janet Henderson was interested in how I would approach liturgy, the influence of Alexander Schmemann, and supervising students who came from a “free liturgy” school of thought. Graham Davies was interested in my training, how I got from parish priest to New Testament scholar, and my level of Greek (John Proctor also asked about the teaching of Greek at SVS). He asked about my review essay in the St Vladimir’s Quarterly on the text of the New Testament, about the sources for my dissertation, and who was supervising me here in Cambridge. Eamon Duffy wanted to know how Orthodox students would fit into the setup in Cambridge. I felt that the example of the Institute’s staff would be key here, by insisting that student essays take into consideration other points of view.

I was anxious, of course, before I went in. Just beforehand I’d seen Eamon Duffy walking up the stairs. He smiled and said, “You must be sweating profusely! I have another one of these at 10:15, so I’ll have blood on my hands all morning.” When it was over I went out to get a cappuccino and a French pastry to celebrate the end of this, and when I returned John Proctor was coming in. The committee (and I) recognize that I’ll have great responsibility for the Institute as it gets set up, but gradually more teaching could be added. I admitted in the interview that I had little teaching experience, and they knew that could be addressed. But it was clear that they were willing to work with me and saw this as a process.


It has been incredibly busy, and much I should have written about at length I can only note:

  • Developments with the Center for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies [CARTS], detailed meeting with Prof David Thompson yesterday and links with the Cambridge University Development Office
  • Preaching at London Cathedral
  • Deni, Alex and Anthony were at the Sourozh choir conference
  • Faux pas with Archbishop Gregorios. I was inspired to write directly to Patriarch Bartholomew about blessing the Institute. But protocol dictates that I should have talked to the archbishop first and gone through him. Perils of divine guidance!
  • In the middle of all this Andrew finished his GCSEs, started work experience at Lloyd’s Bank, and is going to Greece for two weeks with his friends Matt, Dmitri, and Rupert on Friday (to Katerini, where Dmitri’s family has a flat).

I’ve tried to squeeze in a few days of academic work but only managed a half-day—an afternoon when Fr Stephen and Lois Plumlee were visiting. That morning, I spent two hours with Andrew helping him prepare for his Divinity GCSE. I’ve been working from 6:30 am to 10 pm every day lately, and still the demands from other people and for articles etc. keep piling up. Howard has been great, and I will sadly miss him when he and Laurie move to Venice. Brochures, courses, budget, fundraising, the Working Group meeting, and reception coming up on July 15th. God help me. Now I’m off to the station to meet Tim Grass (Evangelical Alliance) and to go over his paper on “Evangelical and Orthodox Spirituality.”

Friday, July 16, 1999

The big meeting and reception marking the official beginning of IOCS was yesterday.  I’m sitting in the office at Wesley House. It’s a complete wreck. Boxes of wineglasses and IOCS mugs, brochures (20,000 of them?), big plastic bags with Mother Joanna’s curtains for her office, and on one desk a stack of dirty serving plates. On another desk the remains of yesterday’s legal proceedings: the bound copies of the “Memorandum and Articles of Association,” the official letter of incorporation and the charter of registration (both framed), and the official corporate seal. Coffee cups, the icon of St Vladimir (July 15th), the hum of the computer, the flashing answering machine. I finished-off the last prosphora from yesterday’s liturgy.

It was peculiar that this happened to be St Vladimir’s day. Deni too thought this was an odd coincidence, given all the past associations. The liturgy at 8:30 am was beautiful, and the morning sun was streaming through the stained glass (smashed during the Reformation then patched together) of the chapel in St Michael’s. Most people had not yet arrived for the day’s events, so we had a small congregation of Mother Joanna, Niki Tait, Howard and Laurie, Dave Goode, Basil Bush, Seraphim Alton Honeywell, and Jeanne Harper. Fr Michael Harper and I served together. Deni led the choir. The Gospel reading was John 10:1-9: “I am the door, if anyone comes through me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Jesus is the door. This reminded me once again not to put your trust in “princes and sons of men.”

What a day. Not entirely satisfying, but there we go. The Institute is legal, and the Working Group will soon become the Board of Directors. (Well, for the moment Bishop Kallistos, Bishop Basil, and I are still the directors, pending formal ratification by the Members).  I was formally appointed and given the title of “Principal.” But they took so long in the meeting to decide my fate—Deni and I were asked to wait outside during their deliberations—that I lost a lot of confidence. Not confidence, really, but I was surprised in a deflated way. Bishop Kallistos and Bishop Basil told me later the appointment itself was not in question, only the manner of appointment. In the end they agreed that Bishop Kallistos and Bishop Basil should go over my CV, interview, and tighten the principal’s job description. I am appointed for three years, subject to review after the first year. And as an employee, I suppose I won’t be able to continue as a director.

But the general tone of it all puzzles me. I felt a critical spirit. Yes, there’s much to point out as still incomplete: I haven’t finished my doctorate, and the plans for the Institute are still evolving. Some of the criticism just left me grasping for words. And I was disappointed by the lack of gratitude toward those who have been on the ground in Cambridge preparing these past two years. Fr Michael Harper too noticed this perplexing downbeat air. He’s usually so enthusiastic, but he remarked to me on the “soporific” feel of the meeting. When I spoke later with Bishop Kallistos about this, he told me he’d learned something from his nanny. “Before you say anything, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it kind?
  3. Is it necessary?

We could use that rule to run our meetings. If something critical can be quietly said in private, do that instead. Perhaps this was just the normal temptation that assails new ventures. On the other hand,  Joy Tetley has been a grace-filled presence. She told me confidentially that she will be taking a big step up as Archdeacon of Gloucester. But she wants to “covenant” to IOCS—give a monthly gift. She had to leave during the second half of the meeting but said she was praying for me all the while, and I believe it.

After the meeting, for the inaugural reception with other guests from the Federation, Bishop Kallistos celebrated the Thanksgiving Service, and I felt very keenly the words, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 117/118: 22-23). I was the reader, Deni led our little choir, and it was beautiful. Bishop Basil led “Many Years” for Ivor Jones, whose last day in the CTF coincided with our first (a moving van had been outside all day).

So much to do now to get ready for the Syndesmos Assembly in Finland. Tomorrow morning, I leave on the 4 am bus for the airport.


Friday, February 12, 1999

Went to Fr Hilarion Alfeyev’s lecture at the Faculty of Divinity on St Isaac the Syrian (Prof David Ford had invited him to spend a term in Cambridge). Just a handful of people, but the listeners included Janet Martin Soskice, David Ford, and John Binns. I was struck by some persistent themes as he spoke. Wonder, universal salvation (after a period of purification for some). And everything for Isaac is seen in light of the most essential: God is love. The two of us went for lunch afterwards at “The Mitre Pub.” Dave Goode was sitting at the corner table, so we joined him. Fr Hilarion is being encouraged to apply for the patristics position that will be open after Lionel Wickham’s retirement this year. He is very keen. He is tired of the ecclesiastical work that could be done by others, tired of the frustration of not being able to make a more significant scholarly contribution in Russia, of being raked over the coals as a “liberal” every two weeks in the pages of Radonezh, tired of being a whipping boy for ecumenism, especially when he doesn’t see participation in the ecumenical movement as institutionally valuable for the Russian Orthodox Church. Being in Cambridge he would miss Russia, but he could always go back during holidays. And he would bring his mother with him to England. He has David Ford’s support. St Vladimir’s Seminary would welcome him he says, but he prefers a university. He’s such a natural for this. I pray that a way will be found to overcome the objections of Metropolitan Kirill [Gundyaev] of Smolensk [then head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, and in 2009 elected Patriarch of Moscow] and bring him here.

Later I had a conversation with Demetrios Bathrellos about the Institute and his doctoral studies at King’s College London. As I was talking about our family spending a year in Thessaloniki 1994-95, I discovered that Fr Nicholas from St George’s Church in Panorama is his uncle. What a surprise it was for both of us. He was pleased to hear that we have such good memories of Fr Nicholas.

Thursday, March 11, 1999

Over the last couple of days Howard Fitzpatrick has been getting cold feet about the Institute’s projected start in October. Stewart Armour also. But this is a work of faith and has been from the beginning. We’ve never been certain about where the money would come from. They need to understand this. Faith first, then the money. Not the other way around. Gideon: God insists on less troops, not more. Moses: when did the waters of the Red Sea part for the people of Israel? According to the rabbis, when the waters were up to their nostrils.

Friday, April 30, 1999

Deni reminded me of something I need to keep in front of my eyes hourly with this Institute project: joy. “You have to figure this one out. If you get constantly overwhelmed by how much there is to do and look depressed, that won’t help anybody. You need to look like you have joy in this.” Fr Stephen Headley said something similar: “Let the cross of Christ be the way. Yes, get organized, do whatever is necessary to address the issues, but at all times, ‘Rejoice, and again I say rejoice!’ Let others sense that amid everything else at the Institute there is calm, joy, peace, delight.” The key is having the regular prayer life which doesn’t get shoved aside by other demands. And not be ruffled by the anxieties of nay-sayers.

Spoke the last hour and a half with Andrew Louth about the programme for next year. Very stimulating. The need to address core areas each year and then deepened each subsequent year. Music and art need to be included, perhaps under the broad rubric of the “Philocalic Tradition,” which would embrace everything from prayer, to asceticism, to music, to family life. Everything through which a person responds to God, through which a person’s response is molded. He immediately thought of Evagrius. “Do you know how Evagrius advised responding to anger? He thought anger was the worst temptation. All other temptations merely interfere with prayer, but anger makes prayer impossible. To overcome anger, he said we need to sing. Evagrius had in mind singing the Psalms, but singing any soothing music dissipates not only anger, but despair and the sense of being overwhelmed. Creating and appreciating any art forces us to slow down, to keep the rushing from taking over, to be in the present. As Robert Frost says of poetry, it is “a momentary stay against confusion.” One of Fr Paul Lazor’s favorite prayers: “O Lord, let none of us who stand about Thy altar be put to confusion” (Presanctified Liturgy).

I’m on the train now to London to meet with Metropolitan Anthony and Bishop Basil.

Tuesday, May 4, 1999

Last Friday was a very long day. Bishop Basil and I met with Metropolitan Anthony, and he agreed to all our requests. He will write a letter to potential donors. We can attach his name to a fund for the Institute. He will write a general letter of support and will encourage some major donors to send their funds to the Institute rather than the Diocese. He agreed to have potential donors visit him. He even suggested that a new diocesan fund of 1500 pounds named for Patriarch Aleksy be donated in the Patriarch’s honor to the Institute. But Metropolitan Anthony still seems distant. I think the project is more than he can take an interest in right now.

But on another matter, he was more animated. I asked him about the draft of the diocesan statutes, and he thought that some of the diocesan council members ought to be appointed rather than elected. Why? “Voting ensures that the candidates most acceptable to everyone are elected. That means that a safe middle-of-the-road council is elected rather than a group that reflects the full range of views within the diocese.” I’d never thought of this before, but he’s right. Democracy of this sort flattens out the differences. Metropolitan Anthony is more revolutionary. He wants to keep voices of dissent from being silenced, and the church from being comfortable in a false sense of unanimity.

Friday, May 7, 1999

From Alex (13) this morning: he remembered that I used to bring him a cup of tea to start the day, back in New Jersey and in Thessaloniki for a bit. “But now you’re a businessman, not a father.” He wasn’t angry, just matter-of-fact. And it’s true. I get too preoccupied with everything that needs to be done to get the Institute up and running.

I was reminded yesterday that I owe a short paper for the Evangelical-Orthodox Dialogue: “What is an Orthodox Christian?” It’s supposed to be a plain basic overview, but I’m tempted to take a poetic route. I’m tired of prose religion. I want to hear of the mystery that lifts us from the cut-and-dried, the mundane, the uninspiring, the safe and risk-free. But I need time. This is what poetry requires, even if it’s in bursts. This is what Alex, Andrew, and Anthony need. And this is what our school should convey. Like Robert Frost talking with students until 3 a.m. In a world that’s always rushed, this may be the most precious witness of Orthodox Christianity.

Bishop Basil told me he’d received a letter from John Binns saying that the post of Institute Director should not be widely advertised since this gives the impression of instability. I was grateful for this. Whatever the outcome I feel better about it now. Bishop Basil will talk with Bishop Kallistos to see if Archbishop Gregorios would agree to the Working Group making an appointment.

Tuesday, May 18, 1999

Official word from Richard Higginson (CTF president) that the Institute is accepted as a full member.


Tuesday, November 17, 1998

With John Binns in Oxford at the meeting of the St Alban and St Sergius Fellowship Grants Committee. It was very humbling to walk away when all was done. I didn’t speak at all except for my very brief presentation about the grant request for CISOC (6,000 pounds per year for 3 years), among many other requests. I was there as all the proposals were considered. One after another their applications were thrown out: “doesn’t fit the remit,” “could get money from elsewhere,” “too flashy,” “we don’t do PhD funding,” “we don’t fund building projects,” etc. So with only a handful of projects left to consider (the Institute was the last) it was, as I said, very humbling to get complete support, and to hear that they considered this to be one of the Fellowship’s “core projects.” I walked away very grateful. The grant they gave us represents half of the grants they give each year. As Deacon Stephen said, “Knowing how many have been turned down should be a salutary reminder to keep the Institute on the straight and narrow.” I believe this is crucial for us, not so much because of the amount, but because it gives an important signal that the Fellowship supports this new venture. This can only encourage others.

Friday, December 11, 1998

Preparing for tomorrow’s Conference at St Edmund’s College on Orthodox theology in the 21st century, with Elisabeth Behr-Sigel as keynote speaker.  Life has been moving too quickly to sit down and write. My desk has returned to complete disorder, and I waste half my time just looking for lost notes on bits of paper. Now I’m at Gatwick airport waiting for Elisabeth.

I had a few minutes and opened to the next psalm in my reading, 107/108: “My heart is ready, O God…Who will guide me?… Give me help out of trouble, for vain is the help (salvation) of man…In God we shall do valiantly.” Very fitting for today and tomorrow.

[Below is the program for the consultation on Orthodox Theological Education, held in Cambridge on December 12, 1998]

Monday, December 14, 1998

I was especially struck by Bishop Kallistos’ concluding comments at the conference at St Edmund’s College with Elisabeth Behr-Sigel. He connected the theme of the conference – theological education in the 21st century—to the emergence of the new Institute.

We will have people coming to the school with many different needs and expectations and perhaps we have to be quite flexible. Perhaps once more we have to build bridges. I would like to end with one last thought, and this is my own. We spoke about the 21st century. Elisabeth offered us a profound reflection on some of the things that should guide us, but we always have to also think of this: will there in fact be a 21st century? I do not say that as a joke. I think the whole of what we do has to be open to the age to come, that we have to allow for the breaking in of eternity into time. And I think therefore that in all our planning there has to be also that eschatological element—the sense that the Last Things are always imminent. We don’t know from the point of view of time exactly how things are going to be. It may be that Antichrist is already at work in a hidden way which will be revealed. We don’t know. But I think in all our plans we ought to think also of the age to come. Everything we do is done in that context. Now those were my thoughts.

It was quite a weekend and leaves me with a sense of awe—and fear—since so much is expected, so many hopes.

Tuesday, January 26, 1999

Last Wednesday-Friday we had Metropolitan Leo of Helsinki staying with us at home. This was part of his visit to the UK to see for himself something about how ministry in the Church of England functions “on the ground.”  He also wanted to learn about plans for the Institute. It was a busy week providing hospitality and accompanying the bishop.

Wednesday: meetings at Great St Mary’s; evensong at King’s College and conversation with the dean, George Pattison; dinner at our home.

Thursday: tour of King’s College, St Michael’s, Westminster College (CTF), Tyndale House and tea with Bruce Winter; lunch at The Mitre Pub.”

Friday: Visit to homeless shelter (“Jimmy’s Night Shelter”); lunch with Fr Theonas, Fr Gregory Woolfenden, and Fr Michael Harper.

Metropolitan Leo left at 1:00 pm, then I had a meeting with the CTF. Richard Higginson (the new president) said the principals met earlier in the week and remained enthusiastic about the Institute’s application. Finances remained a concern, but they felt that membership in the CTF would help with fundraising efforts.


Friday, July 24, 1998

Went with John Binns yesterday to Oxford for a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, expecting a proposal for substantial support for CISOC. But I was disappointed. Maybe this will take a little longer.

John is preoccupied, tired, pressured. I too get tired of church politics and church talk and told him so. He mentioned that the Archbishop of Canterbury (George Carey) had been at his church last week for a wedding and had given an excellent sermon. “In the church,” he said, “like in a swimming pool, the most noise comes from the shallow end. Go into the deep end for more peace.”

In Oxford I went over the draft letter to Archbishop Gregorios with Bishop Kallistos and Bishop Basil and they made a few minor changes. I really like being part of a team—whether with the Fellowship, the Monastery, or with Bishop Basil.

Monday, August 17, 1998

Bishop Basil came for lunch, and Deni joined us too coming home from work. We talked about liturgical services and he agreed that if we can do it, daily vespers would be a good thing, at least during term time. Also, he was rethinking Sunday liturgy. “Perhaps you need to wear three hats,” he told me. “The Institute, rector of St Ephraim’s, and offering chapel services during the week—with the permission of Metropolitan Anthony.”

Bishop Basil and I then met with Joy Tetley about the next steps with the Cambridge Theological Federation. She walked us through the various degrees and certificates so we could better see how we might be integrated into the system and eventually offer our own courses while also teaching pieces within existing courses.

Friday, August 21, 1998

Stewart and Carolyn Armour came for dinner and vespers last night. Stewart agrees that we welcome faculty from around the world to teach. Open the doors. Besides giving us the teachers we need this offers Orthodox scholars (especially younger ones) an opportunity to teach. It also gives us the chance to offer a wider variety of courses than just “the basics,” and to explore new areas. Keep opening doors, keep throwing open the shutters. Let in the fresh air, and don’t turn inwards to protect “my precious.”

Tuesday, August 25, 1998

Fr Michael and Mariamna Fortounatto stayed with us overnight for the first time. Mariamna’s father [Michael Ivanovich Theokritoff, 1888-1969] was choir director in Wiesbaden. He lost his job when Hitler handed over control of all the Russian churches the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile. “That was 1934,” she said, “and no one yet really knew what Hitler was like.” But her father had the audacity to take Hitler to court, arguing that he had no right to usurp the legitimate church authority of Metropolitan Evlogy [Georgievsky, 1868-1946]. He lost, and when the war broke out their door was bashed in and the Gestapo arrested him. A friendly Nazi—there were many, she said—interceded for him. He was released but remained under watch. He had no church to attend for the six years of the war, and the children were sent to the German Evangelical Church. Later, while she was still a child, she experienced being shot at by British planes. “The pilots were flying close to the ground and they could see their target was a child. But it was near the end of the war, and they had a policy of terrorizing the locals to ensure total non-resistance.”

Their advice on theological education: communicate experience from teacher to student, “like a staretz and disciple.” Stress the importance of the person of the teacher, and hence the need for face-to-face contact. Fr Michael and Mariamna said that they’d had many disagreements with bishops and clergy over the years. But they keep on going. As Fr Michael told me two years ago, “At the bottom of the crisis I found Christ.” He could see things in long-term perspective, and that gave him a certain fearlessness.

Wednesday, September 9, 1998

Saw John Binns yesterday. We talked about using St Peter’s Church and the chapel in St Michael’s, for the Institute, St Ephraim’s parish, or both. He had good advice and said to let Bishop Basil and Bishop Kallistos work out the issue of serving. He said his book proposal was accepted by Cambridge University Press [An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches, 2002]. Also, Archbishop Robert Runcie called him to say he was planning to go to Mount Athos. Patriarch Bartholomew had called Archbishop Gregorios to drop everything and be Runcie’s guide on the Holy Mountain. John spoke to Archbishop Runcie about the Institute, sent him materials, and suggested he quietly encourage Archbishop Gregorios’ support over a glass of ouzo on Athos!

Wednesday, September 30, 1998

I was in Oxford yesterday to meet with Fr Stephen Platt and to pick up the iconostasis that the Fellowship was loaning to the Institute (originally from St Basil’s House in London).

It has been very busy lately. The meeting of the Working Group was on Monday. Lots of people were away, Bishop Kallistos broke his tooth. But there was still a good spirit, and we did piles of work. Took a major step in basic direction of the entire program. Go for the highest route, don’t stand apart from the University and CTF but work with them. Get students for degrees from the start. Fr Samir Gholam added a great deal. He and others felt that what we develop as our programme will take time to emerge in a process that will become clearer as we get to work. Joy Tetley was very clear that the CTF also wants us to help shape the overall mission of the CTF. Not unlike what I heard Tony Blair say yesterday to the Labour Party about the UK’s role in Europe: “We can’t be leaders if we’re not partners.”

I was disappointed that the chapel remains an issue, even after Bishop Basil and Bishop Kallistos spoke by phone and agreed to a plan to keep the chapel under the Institute rather than any one bishop. But they didn’t resolve the issue of starting services. Too many seem to feel that this will look too much like the start of a Sourozh parish, and if the pan-Orthodox approach of the Institute is to be safeguarded, then better to hold off. But I’m not sure they grasp that the families and lay people who would be part of the worshipping community are essential to the teaching role of the Institute’s chapel. How can the community life we’re trying to nurture and teach be in any sense real without that? I’m left with real people here in Cambridge who need to go to church. So, my latest thinking is just to extend St Ephraim’s, but in another location not associated with the Institute (in other words, not at St Michael’s or St Peter’s).

Tuesday, October 13, 1998

Met with deans and chaplains of the colleges for one of their regular meetings, and Bishop Simon Barrington Ward was there, from Magdalene College (now retired as Bishop of Coventry). He was glad that our little conversation had resulted in a warm meeting at the Monastery.

Lunch with Constance Babington-Smith. She was pleased to hear about CISOC. She has flashes of clarity but admits that her recent stroke has taken a toll. She was genuinely moved to have a little service of prayer in her front room. She automatically—for all her frailty—went to her knees the whole time.

In the evening, around 8:30 pm, Dave Goode, Laurie [Graham] and Howard [Fitzpatrick] came over to our house for an informal chat about the meeting this coming Saturday [October 17, 1998] at St Edmund’s College about the future of St Ephraim’s parish. They’re a big help, and it’s such a pleasure not to be doing things by myself. They stressed the importance of having a place to meet each other after Liturgy, wherever that may be. They also said it would be important to let the people (and not me) talk at the meeting on Saturday. Our meeting didn’t end until just before 11 pm. And in the meantime, we have been neglectful parents: the kids begged to watch TV and we let them. It seemed like an awful movie they had on upstairs, but we didn’t have the will to fight with them. So, there we were downstairs, the adults, praying, establishing a parish, and there they were above us watching “Die Hard.”

Thursday, October 22, 1998

Last Saturday after liturgy at St Edmund’s College we had the parish meeting to discuss starting regular services. Mixed reactions. Some wanted to leave the Saturday schedule as it is, so that those who have Sunday commitments elsewhere (either Anglican or Orthodox—such as at the Sourozh Cathedral in London) could keep going to both. Others were very much in favor. I spoke about developments with the Institute and possibilities of using St Peter’s Church or St Michael’s. And continuing to use our living room as a house church on Sundays for the time being.

Monday, October 26, 1998

The first meeting of the CISOC/CTF “working party” was held at Ridley Hall and it went well. The Orthodox members met for coffee afterwards at “The Granta.”


Wednesday July 15, 1998

It’s about 8 pm, looking out the window from a hostel in Exford where I’m staying with the boys after driving through Exmor and stopping by Stonehenge. Deni is at home resting (I hope) after the big meeting on Monday (13 July). The Working Group met at Westminster College. It was a beautiful day, broken by violent storms around noon and clearing in time for dinner. We met at the big round table in the “Senatus.” Seraphim Alton Honeywell was there as legal counsel to present the governing documents. Andrew Louth had prepared materials for discussion of theological education. Bishop Kallistos was in fine form. He reported on developments with the Greek seminary. But for the first time he said that he would need the blessing of the archbishop to continue with our Cambridge Working Group since developments are becoming more concrete.

We had a surprisingly long discussion about the appropriateness of having liturgical services, especially on Sundays. I didn’t expect this, since I thought it was obvious that liturgical life should be woven into the program. But the tide was definitely in favor of patience, given the potential for misunderstanding. It needs to be clear that we are not setting up a parish. But I felt—rightly or wrongly—that the hope we’d had for integrating services into the life of the Institute was slipping away. There is currently no regular Orthodox parish life in English in Cambridge. I protested that I and my familyalso need to be ministered to, and we need a place to go to church regularly. St Ephraim’s meets only once a month on a Saturday. I bristled at the idea that an all-Greek parish “is fine,” and that an Institute chapel will be viewed as competition. How absurd. At any rate, I seemed to be alone on this. Someone—I don’t know who—said, “We know your capacity for endurance, Fr John.” But Deni and the children? All is in God’s hands.

Thursday, July 23, 1998

I woke this morning to blue skies, the sun just dawning at 5:00 am, and prepared to leave for the Monastery in Essex with the thought, “a day of many blessings.” And it has been that. I’ve been there and back. It’s only 2:00 pm, and in a little while I’ll go on my bike to meet the boys at school. But I wanted to get down some of those monastery impressions.

I wish I’d had a camera as I was leaving the monastery and pulled out of the parking lot. Fr Simeon, Fr Kyrill, Fr Silouan, and Fr Zachariah were smiling, waving goodbye in their long beards and black cassocks and hats. Such warmth, a collective “yes” to all that’s being done here in Cambridge. The way had clearly been prepared by Prof Karavidopoulos and others who had spoken well of the project. I left with a deep sense of blessing, and then saw a nun walking along the road back toward the monastery. She was still a long way off, so I turned around and offered her a lift. Sister Seraphima, from Moscow. She had just completed the St Serge correspondence course and agreed to sit with me on one of the long benches to tell me her impressions. All but Fr Zachariah were still standing in the parking lot talking about our earlier conversation. After an hour of helpful conversation with Sr Seraphima, I only then realized that she is Anya Platt’s sister, about whom I’d heard from Fr Stephen Platt. I was struck by her balance and openness. I liked especially her phrase, “We can maintain our integrity without having to maintain our ignorance.” Fear of books and other people (“the non-Orthodox and the West”) must be combatted.

But to return to the early morning. I made it to the monastery around 7:30 am, in time for the last half-hour of the morning service. Stepping into the nave it was pitch black except for the faintest lampadas in front of the main icons. I felt my way very gingerly hoping not to step on anyone. A nun was just finishing the Jesus Prayer in Slavonic and then started again in French: “Seigneur, Jésus Christ, Fils de Dieu, aie pitié de nous.” It took a few moments to find the rhythm of the prayer—about as long as it took for my eyes to adapt to the church and settle down. And then the chandelier light very, very dimly came on as the Great Doxology began in Greek, mostly with women’s voices. It was so penetrating. No, that sounds harsh, and this was gentle, yet firm. The service came to an end with “Krestu tvoemu” (“Before Thy Cross,” sung three times in Slavonic). I went outside into the sunlight and was immediately greeted by Fr Zachariah who led me into the refectory where I met the others, including Bishop Simon Barrington Ward of Coventry, there on retreat for ten days. Fr Zachariah had just returned from Thessaloniki, where he defended his doctoral dissertation.

After breakfast Fr Kyrill, Fr Simeon, Fr Zachariah, and Fr Silouan took me to the study, and we sat around the table—but Fr Sophrony’s chair was left empty. The huge mural of the Mother of God which he had painted looked down on us. As we talked, I felt such a spirit of warmth, of embracing, of balance that stays with me. “Whatever is true…” [Phil 4:8]. There’s a willingness to bless all that is good. And there’s none of that terrible “fear where there is no fear” [Psalm 53:5, cf. 1 John 4:18]. I feel that we are on the same wavelength, we and the Working Group, and the paper written by Andrew Louth. Theological education and formation without fragmentation. Enable students to “stand on their own two feet.”

Fr Simeon began with two thoughts. They later joked about Albert Einstein who was once asked, “How do you keep all your ideas in your head?” He replied: “It’s easy, I have only one idea.” That was like the monastic single-mindedness of the Jesus Prayer. But Fr Simeon had two thoughts.

  1. Keep the curriculum broad. Don’t specialize too quickly but enable students to foster the full range of the Church’s life and thought through a broad curriculum.
  2. Put liturgical life at the center, not just of worship, but as the source of theology. Liturgy as the mysticism of the Church’s thinking, of patristic thought. Get away from mere liturgical history or even patristic commentary on liturgy, and instead see liturgy as the source of theological reflection. I’ve been thinking of this for several years, so I was grateful to hear Fr Simeon put this so succinctly.

Fr Silouan was especially keen to get away from the “strange” atmosphere of western theological colleges, where clericalism and professionalism combine to form a kind of “superior” Christian with subtle disdain for the Church and the holy, forgetting that “we are sinners.” What kind of pastor can be produced by such a system?

They didn’t think ecumenical education was a frightening prospect, though perhaps shared worship should be kept as optional. Indeed, people are more important than the programme. If good people are involved even a bad programme will bear good fruit (but not vice versa).


Wednesday, July 8, 1998. Kazan Icon of the Mother of God.

Drove boys to school and Deni to work yesterday morning and then stopped in at Great St Mary’s for morning prayers and to see John Binns. (The bells didn’t ring for some reason, so we sat for an unusually long time in silence: very helpful, that silence, for slowing down.) He says it’s OK for us to start using the chapel in St Michael’s for regular services starting on the weekend of 5-6 September.  Deni took a message yesterday: I’m invited to a reception at the home of Bishop Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London—he’s aware of the Institute—with Bp Basil, Fr Hilarion (Alfeyev), Fr Economstev, and others. I also had a letter of support for the Institute from Colin Davey of the Council of Churches. The ball is rolling faster and faster. Keep holding on to be a servant of Christ. The 15,000 pounds anonymous gift for IOCS is coming in mid-July.

Friday, July 10, 1998

I went to London for the unveiling of the ten 20th century martyrs’ statues on the façade of Westminster Abbey and then dinner at the home of the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres. Well, it wasn’t the unveiling itself by the Queen, which was by invitation, but I went to evensong at the end of the day and bought the commemorative book. But perhaps that simple evensong was just as meaningful, maybe more so, without the hoopla, to just consider those 10 lives of people who stood up for Christ. Including our own St Elizabeth the Grand Duchess and New Martyr [the remains of Princess Alice—Prince Philip’s mother—lie alongside the remains of St Elizabeth in the chapel of the Russian Orthodox convent in Jerusalem]. 

  • Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)
  • Manche Masemola (ca 1913-1928)
  • Archbishop Janani Luwum (ca 1922-1977)
  • Grand Duchess Elizabeth (1864-1918)
  • Martin Luther King (1929-1968)
  • Óscar Romero (1917-1980)
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
  • Esther John (1929-1960)
  • Lucian Tapiedi (1921-1942)
  • Wang Zhiming (1907-1973)

The readings at evensong were especially poignant for me. Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” 1 Cor 15:58: “In the Lord, your labour is not in vain.”

I was discouraged and needed this.  Fr Theonas called yesterday to say the archbishop had phoned to tell him to take his name off the list of IOCS bank signatories. Fr Theonas was upset but resigned. He wondered, “why this opposition to doing good?” I keep hearing too (from Stewart, Elizabeth and George, Fr Michael Harper) that Fr Ephrem Lash is constantly speaking against the project. So, the beauty of Evensong, the example of the martyrs, and these readings left me feeling uplifted and refocused. I’m getting anti-institutional, or rather, it’s the focus on Christ that is more and more important to me, and I am increasingly impatient with the gap between revelation and reality in the life of the Orthodox Church. For example, John Binns just returned from Mt Athos. He was well-received at St Paul monastery, but at a little Greek monastery where he had to stay because the better-known ones were full, being an Anglican priest he wasn’t allowed to stand in church for vespers, and—to the dismay of the Greek pilgrims there—he wasn’t even allowed to eat with the Orthodox guests.

I arrived early at St Paul’s Cathedral for the dinner with the Bishop of London, and found Bishop Basil sitting on a bench in the cathedral grounds reading a book—The Joy of Being Wrong (James Allison). As Deni said later, Bishop Basil is a genuine intellectual, one who delights—that’s the best word, delights—in thought, making connections from one field to another, considering implications. The message of this book is that God identifies with the outcast, because he is the scapegoat, the one expelled by the powerful. This makes him and his followers—the martyrs I saw today—revolutionary and subversive of all human culture. The Romans saw this and recognized the threat.

We walked to the Dean’s Court around the side of St Paul’s and found the unmarked Old Deanery. The Deans used to live there but now it’s the home of the Bishop of London. Bishop Chartres opened the door, greeted us, and we were quickly followed by most of the other guests. Metropolitan Vladimir of St Petersburgh, Archbishop Gregorios, Ambassador Fokine, Fr John Ekonomtsev, Irina Kirillova, Fr Hilarion Alfeyev (I sat next to him), Fr Alex Fostiropoulos, and others.

At coffee I spoke with Archbishop Gregorios. He is unfailingly charming. I asked him directly about Fr Theonas, saying I knew the archbishop had certain objections. And I said too that I’d heard of Fr Ephrem’s objections. He said yes, he had originally given his blessing for exploration. But now it seems that actions are being taken. I reiterated the need to have the people involved keep meeting. He agreed but did not get too specific, though he did say he would be sending a letter asking for clarification. He still insisted that his interest is in whatever is good for the whole church. And he agreed that given the small pool of people we’re dealing with in the UK, it would be good to work together and not in conflict. We should be able to divide the work so there’s not too much overlap. In fact, I could foresee several sites in the UK working under one umbrella. I also thought that others would support us if they saw us working together on a joint effort.

The archbishop had been sitting next to Bishop Chartres during the dinner, in close conversation. I wondered if he was saying much about his seminary plans. But Bishop Basil is sure we have a friend in the Bishop of London, who was very encouraging to him and to me about Cambridge. When Bishop Basil hinted obliquely at the “inter-Orthodox situation,” Bishop Chartres just smiled. He knows what goes on.

Bishop Basil called last night to find out how my conversation with Archbshop Gregorios had gone since he had to leave while I was talking with the archbishop. He’s sure we need to just keep at it. I recalled Bishop Kallistos saying we should not just set up a “shell,” but should get into teaching and serving ASAP. I can see that this organizational stuff could become a preoccupation with “the shell,” while shunting real students into the background as we play these games. So, keep the focus on the students, on serving, on actions, on CHRIST.  The rest can stamp their feet, and huff and puff, but let the building go on. Get the distance learning underway. Put efforts into Cambridge, building a solid presence in the University and the CTF. Have more conversations here, in Cambridge. We need the local base of strength from which to work. Then the other conversations will follow. The “political issues” are classic temptations thrown into the road to keep us from making progress. As Bishop Basil said, “talk alone will just kill the whole thing.” We keep moving, keep including, keep inviting participation, but stay focused on the real needs and real people who will not be served if we just dither.

Regarding Fr Ephrem: Bishop Basil felt it best if others deal with him, rather than me trying to go head-to-head with him. That’s probably wise, given his passionate pen! Take the high road with him. What about inviting Metropolitan John Zizioulas to Monday’s meeting, as Fr Hilarion had suggested? Bishop Basil said, “If it could be just a cup of coffee and conversation you might get something out of him, but the meeting is sufficiently formal that he will be unable to contribute primarily as theologian.  Instead, his role as loyal son of Constantinople will dominate.” And Bishop Basil mentioned an interesting fact: Metropolitan John never serves anywhere in the UK except the Monastery of St John the Baptist, because it’s directly under the Ecumenical Patriarch.


Wednesday, June 3, 1998

Last Sunday Metropolitan Anthony was serving at the Cathedral. I didn’t expect to see him since he’s been out of communication lately and the Sourozh conference last week was a rare foray. But he had given an amazing talk and I wanted him to know how much I appreciated it. Especially his image of the walled garden. He had spoken about his youth and conversion, and how he faced a choice. “Do I to keep this precious faith to myself, like a walled garden, or do I break down the walls and share it with others?” This analogy became a theme throughout the conference, with reflection on the need to first build a walled garden to grow for a time, but then to open up to others. He told me how terrifying it was at first to speak in the first person about his own experience. He wanted me to tell Deni how much he appreciated her organization of the Conference, admitting that he was a poor correspondent (“as you know”). We agreed to meet again with Bishop Basil to talk about the next steps with the Institute.

As always, his celebration of the Liturgy is one of utter peace in the presence of God. There is not a note of anxiety or grandstanding or public display. As Kelsey [Cheshire] said to me later (she is extraordinarily—and disconcertingly—intuitive), “he used to [she put it in the past] carry the Liturgy with him into the congregation, after it was over, and he’d sit down on a bench in the nave while people would come up to him and bring their concerns. I had the impression of his carrying a light, or being enfolded in light, as a peace that went with him, much like the very first time I saw him at the entrance during the pontifical liturgy during the feast of All Saints.”  I’ve heard there is a cranky side to him lately, and he’s difficult with the administration of the cathedral, but I am far removed from that and I can’t forget his celebration of the liturgy.

Thursday, June 4, 1998

I’m again in the little French coffee shop across the street from the Royal Bank of Scotland, about to put in the first deposit for the Institute, checks from Holy Transfiguration parish in Walsingham, and Fr Philip and Philippa Steer.

Thursday, July 2, 1998. Wells Next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

[Rewarded myself for finishing my PhD dissertation by taking a train and bike excursion to King’s Lynn and then Wells].

The biking was harder than I expected. Every little rise began to take its toll. But the countryside was beautiful. Sandringham, Dersingham, Sherbourne, Docking, Burnham Market. I stopped there for a half-pint of Norfolk bitter and cherry pie at a 17th c. hotel, “the best pub, 1996.” Then made the rest of the five miles to Wells, to stay overnight with the Armours. It was just Stewart and Nicholas since Carolyn was in Barbados at a family reunion. I was not feeling very sparkly and needed a rest. But Stewart had some good advice about the Institute:

  • Be cautious about how we integrate the Orthodox and non-Orthodox dimensions of the education, look at it as an experiment. See how it can be worked out in practice. Try it. Don’t be frightened off in advance. Anything we do will be criticized, so it’s best to just seek to do good. God’s will. Remember that the Orthodox students will have a chance to debrief about their non-Orthodox teaching/experiences. And they will have the Orthodox services to participate in to help shape them. We as Orthodox may be able to help the CTF as well.
  • Success with fundraising at SVS had brought a different spirit: “Be careful.”
  • Don’t be discouraged by the small beginning. The Cambridge project is needed: stay focused on that and on the real people it will serve.

I have to say that I’m very tired of “Orthodox talk” or even “church talk” of any kind. It’s all so disconnected from life. “God is the interesting thing” (Evelynn Underhill). And so with the Institute: keep communion with God as the focus of prayer, study and worship. All of this is to make communion and service in his name possible. If we keep God at the center of our work, we won’t need to afraid of the “non-Orthodox”.

Saturday, July 4, 1998

Yesterday was the next meeting of the Working Group in London at the Sourozh cathedral. Must keep going despite the archbishop’s attempts to start something as well (he even called Fr Samir Gholam!). Fr Ephrem is getting fairly exercised about this—according to Andrew Louth and Elizabeth Theokritoff. He thinks that the archbishop’s project won’t get off the ground if the Cambridge project goes ahead, but I think Fr Ephrem underestimates the archbishop’s resolve. I asked at lunch whether we should just offer the entire Cambridge project to Archbishop Gregorios and ask him to be the chair. Bishop Basil didn’t see this as a bad idea, but like the SCOBA model in the USA thought the chair should still be elected. It shouldn’t automatically go to the EP representative. But as Andrew Louth said, the one thing the archbishop’s seminary task force had agreed on was that the location should be London. So, we keep going, and these concerns were barely touched upon until lunch. We spent two hours in the morning speaking seriously and fruitfully about the basic principles that should guide the Institute, using Andrew Louth’s short paper as a jumping off point. We agreed that personal formation must be at the root of the education. This would enable students who go through the course to stand on their own two feet, giving them the resources to do so, knowing that they will not be going into situations where they will have ready-made church life. They will have to be the church in that place as missionaries and witnesses. As Bishop Basil pointed out, the very first place they could learn this is in the CTF, where they will be with others, challenged, questioned. We agreed that while giving an Orthodox formation we need not be afraid of others. Indeed, in this Orthodox formation, if we give students the sense that the weight of the whole church is behind them—the communion of saints, and God himself (hence Andrew Louth’s emphasis on the Philokalia)—then this experience of the church will enable them to discern what’s best elsewhere and to “despoil the Egyptians.”

We agreed to invite the Monastery of St John the Baptist to send a representative to the next meeting (they were keen to be involved according to reports), and to hold two conferences. The first to bring together Orthodox from around the UK. And the second to bring in Orthodox from around the world with expertise in theological education (like John Behr, John Chryssavgis, and others). 


Saturday, May 30, 1998

Deni and I had an important conversation with George and Elizabeth Theokritoff about the Institute’s general approach. We agreed that there needs to be a balance between passive absorption of healthy Orthodox teaching in an environment and by teachers that can be trusted (like SVS), and the development of critical thinking and the skill of discernment in an environment that keeps challenging assumptions (like Cambridge-Oxford). The first priority is to nurture and cocoon our students and give them the basics in a healthy Orthodox “home.” But then there needs to be an “un-cocooning,” not unlike what Fr Florovsky did early on at St Vladimir’s by bringing in speakers from the wider world. The students need to be stirred, to realize that other peoples’ convictions are not as ridiculous or as easily dismissed as they may seem on paper or in a class of like-minded Orthodox. The Institute needs to:

  1. provide solid Orthodox teaching
  2. enable students to examine their own assumptions, often brought in from their non-Orthodox past and still at work, but without dismissing everything from their past as bad or “non-Orthodox”
  3. discern true from false in whatever they receive elsewhere, whether that’s the Theological Federation or the culture at large.

We agreed that studying with others who do not share all their Orthodox assumptions could be the humbling element that keeps the academic programme from producing graduates who think they have all the answers. The aim is to help them grow as followers of Christ, with Christ being the criterion of truth (John 14:10-21, as I read today). Our part is to keep Christ’s words and follow his commandments. And then Christ will do his part: he will ask the Father to send us the Spirit of truth to reveal himself: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth” ( John 14:15-17; cf. Rev 3:20).

Tuesday, June 2, 1998

Today I will meet for the first time with the CTF Executive. In today’s readings Paul is violently pressed by the crowd (Acts 21:26-32) and Jesus warns the disciples that “the time is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God” (John 16:2-13). This is even more meaningful given the message Deni received from Jim Forest’s email group that there was a public burning in Ekaterinburg of books by Fr Alexander Schmemann, Fr John Meyendorff, and Fr Alexander Men. The local bishop ordered their books to be removed from the ecclesiastical school and burned, without comment. The priests who were “sympathizers” of these banned writers were turned in and told to recant. Two did, but one refused and is now deposed. I was told that a TV programme in Kosovo featured Serbian Orthodox priests blessing the meetings of nationalists and leading hostile protest marches through Muslim districts. There is a collision course for the Orthodox. We just need to stay faithful to the truth, the spirit of truth who guides us (John 16:13).


I continue this now at 3:50 in the afternoon, just having returned from a meeting at Wesley House with the CTF Executive Committee. There was interest and encouragement, but also British reserve. It lacked the sparkle I’m used to with the Working Group. John Proctor, the Federation president (from Westminster College), has always been warm with me, but I can see that he needs to be much more reserved when obliged to go over the “fine print” of the conditions and obligations of our potential membership in the Federation. He was at pains that we not “feel hustled” (his words). The CTF wants to take all the right steps, “but on the other hand we don’t want to delay the process unnecessarily either.” The questions they put to me, and my answers:

  • How can the Federation help us? (Familiarize us with the CTF, give practical advice)
  • What do we foresee as the stumbling blocks? (Keeping it pan-Orthodox, pulling the administration and funding together, preparing an Orthodox/ecumenical academic programme)
  • Where are Orthodox (especially clergy) now being trained in the UK? (Outside the country or by the local bishop)
  • Are there any Roman Catholics on the Working Group? Would we be willing to work with Roman Catholics, especially given the Pope’s hope for union with the Orthodox?  But they are conscious of the “sensitivity” of this issue. (I didn’t see this as a problem).
  • When should they appoint a 2-3 person “negotiating team” for the CTF? I felt we should wait until the next meeting of the CTF Exec, and at least until our legal status is clear and we have a better sense of our own identity and academic programme. I also felt the need—even more—for a permanent representative from the University of Cambridge Faculty of Divinity. Although I didn’t say this baldly, I felt that without this the Institute might be in danger of being sidelined from the main theological conversations to which Orthodox might contribute.


Wednesday, May 20, 1998

There is so much to write about yesterday’s meeting of the Working Group. Remarkable people, remarkable day. There’s a lifetime’s worth of reflection here on what’s happening. But I have very little time now. It’s almost 7 am and I’ll need to get everyone up (Fr Sergei Hackel is sleeping in the living room). “You have only to be still” was borne out. I worked very hard before the meeting and felt hopelessly disorganized—no plan—still writing it up early yesterday morning. Felt very confused. Deni helped set it out quickly: she’s so clear-thinking. But after that there was little to do except go to the meeting and see what unfolded. God is faithful but I keep needing reassurance.

The boys were at the margins of all this later at dinner, but I think they enjoyed the hoopla in our back yard. As Bishop Kallistos was leaving Anthony was handing out chocolates, and the bishop said, “One for the road!” as he took another gold-wrapped Ferrero Rocher. Alex said later that the bishop immediately unwrapped the chocolate and ate it then and there. “Huh—’One for the road!’ He’s cool.”

Thursday May 21, 1998

I’m still catching up on the Working Group meeting earlier this week, sitting in a coffee shop across the street from the Royal Bank of Scotland. Fr Theonas and I will go there tomorrow to open the Institute’s account (it’s pan-Orthodox, with me, Fr Theonas and Fr Michael Harper as signatories—MP, EP and AP). But today I want to make sure of the arrangements and also to deposit into our personal account the much needed cheque from the EAMTC weekend. Then home again to keep following up on the Working Group meeting before we all leave for Oxford and the Sourozh Diocesan Conference on Friday afternoon.

The week began (Mon. May 18) with dinner with Fr John Breck and the group from Paris (plus Jeanne Knights), whom I then deposited at “Antonio’s Guest House.” I came home around 11 pm to put the last touches on preparations for the meeting (somewhere in there I picked up Deni from work, and Anthony from his piano lesson and brought them home). I still had the agenda to finalize and had to come up with a draft “Plan and Timetable,” including a budget, job description for the Institute director, and an outline for the initial phase of the project. I sat there at the computer, surrounded by papers lying everywhere, music CDs the kids had been playing, mail, and a general mess. The CISOC papers were jumbled together in a box, mixed in with other bits of information. At first, I couldn’t even find the planning notes I’d written for the last meeting. I felt confused, in a daze, numb, with no handle on the direction except for the brief conversation I’d had with Deni two nights earlier, in which she had laid out so clearly the pieces to include. I felt, in retrospect, like I did before the physics final exam at McGill in 1974: I was trying to memorize formulas, but couldn’t grasp the whole picture. The one thing I knew was that we need a draft plan. Even getting up at 5 am didn’t help and I wasn’t getting anywhere. But after talking it through with Deni I finally got something down on paper and felt better. The image of Gideon kept coming back to me, and the thought, “You have only to be still.” Trust that God is at work in the hearts of others.

Deni was off that day, so while she took the kids to school (Andrew rode his bike and wouldn’t be home till late, after the “talent night” concert at school) I rode my bike to Staples to make last minute copies of the agenda, and then up to the guest house to meet Fr John Breck et al. By then, by God’s grace, I was ready to enjoy the day. That thought too keeps coming to me at stressful moments like this: “Enjoy it!” It was one of those glorious Cambridge mornings as we were walking down Castle Street, past St Peter’s and through the town on our way to meet Albert Lavigne, the French cultural attaché who was joining us because of the St Serge-Paris connection. We stopped at Great St Mary’s, bought a few souvenirs for the Parisians, and saw John Binns, who was just finishing morning prayers.  I’ll continue this later. But for now, I want to remember that I woke up with the recurring thought of a motto for the Institute: “Welcome one another (accept one another) as Christ has welcomed you” (Rom 15:7).

Wednesday, May 27, 1998

I still have not caught up with the events of last week—the meeting on the 19th with the Working Group, the Sourozh conference in Oxford—but there’s too much going on. The boys are home from school on midterm break, Deni’s off to work, and we still have our suitcases from the conference sitting in the kitchen. There are papers, bills, mail in every room, and loose ends everywhere. But yesterday I went to the men’s group at Tyndale House and—although it’s hard for me to ask—I asked them to pray about the financial needs for my family and the new Institute.  A few hours later I was talking with Bishop Basil. He told me that A and B were giving 10,000 pounds to the Institute. “O Lord, how manifold are thy works…!” Each time something like this happens I just shake my head. As Stewart Armour is fond of saying with his wry sense of humor, “It’s enough to make you believe!”

Thursday, May 28, 1998

I still haven’t written much about the Working Group meeting on May 19th but must try before the details fade.

We met at the offices of the EAMTC and everyone was there except Fr Ephrem Lash. Again, the highlight was the collaboration of Bishop Basil and Bishop Kallistos. Especially Bishop Kallistos’  handling of the governing documents. For more than an hour he went through the draft section by section. I saw Deni looking at him with such delight, smiling, her note-taking suspended. And I felt the same way. He is making this his own. My meeting with Archbishop Gregorios had obviously provoked him to get moving on his own project.

It was very funny. After I reported on my meeting with Archbishop Gregorios, Bishop Kallistos smiled, piped up and said, “As a matter of fact, the archbishop also called me…” It turned out that the archbishop had also called Fr Christos Christakis, and then Andrew Louth. It was all in such good humor. We agreed that we need to move together on this. Fr Christos was less optimistic about the archbishop’s intentions, his willingness to collaborate, and its impact on us. Elizabeth Theokritoff was also less willing to be so sympathetic to the archbishop and was very upset by the tendency she’s seen before. “If there’s something good, then they have to have their own.” At any rate, I’ve written to Archbishop Gregorios, and we hope he’ll agree to have his planning group meet with us so that we can then somehow coordinate our development.

But until we have money we won’t be taken seriously. Professor Karavidopoulos reported that he had been at the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex last Sunday where he met Metropolitan John Zizioulas. When Karavidopoulos told him about the Cambridge project he merely sniffed: “Have they got any money?” When the answer was “No, not yet,” the Metropolitan just waved his hand in a dismissive way and had no interest. Karavidopoulos found this very dispiriting. “Especially after two hours of liturgy and prayer there should be a deeper response than money.” Early this morning I had read Psalm 9: “The Lord hears the prayer of the poor and will judge for the orphan and the meek, so that the haughtiness of man will be brought down” (9:38-39; see also Ps 13:6-7).

The meeting also addressed the issues of title and salary for the director. John Binns thought that 13,000 pounds—an incumbent’s salary—was a good idea, and my heart sank as everyone nodded. It wouldn’t do for me to speak up that this was lower than the standard in the CTF. So, I was very grateful that Joy Tetley stepped in quietly and mentioned the “Lichfield Scale,” which would be 15,000 pounds. The room was quiet for a few moments, and then Fr Sergei Hackel good humoredly added, “Any advances on 15?” And the matter was settled. Phew.

The presence of Fr John Breck, Fr Nicolas Cernokrak, and Sophie Deicha from Paris, and Prof Karavidopoulos from Thessaloniki was very much appreciated. It was remarkable to have part of the meeting conducted in French. Before the meeting we’d been to see Dr Albert Lavigne, the head of the French Cultural Delegation in Cambridge (we’d met at John Binns’s two years ago). He was very receptive and helpful, offering the names of people in the French Embassy, and the Papal Nuncio, who could be helpful. He was also willing to fund speakers from France and conferences jointly sponsored by Cambridge and Paris. And once again I was amazed by the weight of support from the Cambridge University Faculty of Divinity. It was a glorious Spring day, and after everything was over we went for a quick look at St Peter’s Church (founded 1087) as a possible venue for Institute liturgical services with Bishop Basil, Fr John Breck, and Graham Dixon. Bishop Basil and I then went into town to pick up Bishop Kallistos for an early dinner at our home. He was sitting on the bench in front of Great St Mary’s after visiting Constance Babington Smith. In his cassock, beard, and dark sunglasses he looked like all he needed was a tin cup. Dinner at home had the usual happy bustle. It was wonderful. Everyone helping, and we were able to use the back yard so even with twenty or more people it never felt crowded. Stewart Armour and Nicholas came along too, as did Liza Christakos and her brother Michael, visiting from Cincinnati. Fr Sergei stayed overnight.


Monday, May 11, 1998. Acts 10:1-16, John 6:56-69.

I’m on the train after meeting with Archbishop Gregorios. We met for an hour (11-12) and he was warm and gracious as always. But I left with the clear impression that his main educational effort will not be in Cambridge. He is especially concerned about two things. First, the continuing education of priests in the UK—more particularly those who have come from Greece or Cyprus and have little appreciation for life in the West where there is a healthy encounter between faith and the modern world, and he mentioned the physicist-priest John Polkinghorne as a good example, integrating science and faith [he later lectured at IOCS]. Second, he is most immediately concerned with training new clergy. The need for educated clergy in the UK is important to him, though he does not see particular value in training laity, except perhaps as catechists. Yet he also told me there’s need for a “magazine” that could be devoted just to “spiritual things,” as a bridge between life in the church and the life people in the parishes experience in the world.

He has been thinking about clergy education for some time and has started raising funds (he places top priority on a solid financial base). His main problem, he said, is finding a person to head this up. He has written a draft constitution that he will submit to the Patriarch when he visits Constantinople later this year. He will also be talking to people in Cyprus who might contribute in various ways to the programme, which he envisions as a complete education for clergy. But he thought cooperation between his seminary and our Institute would be possible. And he saw no problem with the people who are now involved in the Cambridge project remaining involved. He was also interested in the St Serge connection, and asked if the tutors were all Orthodox. Although he didn’t say this openly, I suspect that one of the cautionary factors for him is that the teachers in the Cambridge Theological Federation are not all Orthodox. And although the correspondence course was intriguing, he has in mind a proper school with a building. He was thinking of pieces of property to build upon and wondered about the availability of property in Cambridge.

He asked about Metropolitan Anthony (“How is Antonios?”). He was a little puzzled that Metropolitan Anthony had not responded to his invitation to come to the Archdiocese. And he was more than a little irritated by his recent writings critical of the Ecumenical Patriarch. He said, “The Ecumenical Patriarch is fighting for survival. We need to support him in the face of tremendous pressures from the Turks.” He sees this as a critical time in the history of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. When I told him that Metropolitan Anthony wasn’t well and hadn’t celebrated on Pascha, he said “He should go on a vacation. Someone should take him. Doctors like him are always afraid of sickness!”

He asked what I was doing—dissertation, plans, serving, the subject of the dissertation, who ordained me. Acquaintances in common: Professors Antonios Tachiaos (1931-2018), John Karavidopoulos, Metropolitan Panteleimon (Rodopoulos). He had a brother who lived in Brisbane [where I served as a priest 1984-87 at Annunciation Church]. At St George’s Greek Orthodox Church the archbishop had met several times with Fr Gregory Sakkelariou, who had been so welcoming to me in my first years as a priest.  

He hinted at the danger of trying to convert the English. “This is a Christian country. We can’t upbraid them for proselytizing our people in Russia and elsewhere if we do the same thing here. We’ll have problems. Although of course it’s a free country and anyone who wants to become Orthodox should be free to do so.”

I left with the sense that he was willing to cooperate with whatever develops in Cambridge, but this is not his focus. During the conversation I felt at moments that the original idea of one institution was slipping away, along with Greek financial support. But I do feel that the Institute, if developed along the lines we’ve set out, will attract students and support. The archbishop’s plan also frees us to do precisely this and not be confined by the pastoral demands of a large Greek archdiocese. Yes, as he said, it is God’s will that we are here to fulfil for the benefit of all. Cooperation is part of our Christian obligation (I thought of Fr Tom Hopko, “the cross of collaboration”). But perhaps this helps clarify our own task in Cambridge. The ground is being cleared.

It struck me that today’s reading about Cornelius (Acts 10:1-16) was also the subject of yesterday’s sermon by Joy Tetley at the “East Anglia Ministerial Training Course.” She urged the men and women training for ministry to reach out to people who live on the margins of society and bring them into the mainstream of the church. I felt—in all humility—how much we, as Orthodox, are needed by these good people of the EAMTC and the other colleges of the Cambridge Theological Federation. These “non-Orthodox,” “heterodox” people are viewed by many Orthodox much like the gentile Cornelius would have been viewed by pious Jews. What a revolution in thinking, to see him as equally called by God. So perhaps our little effort in Cambridge will be of special benefit not only to the Orthodox, but to those we Orthodox regard as theological and ecclesial outsiders and “margin dwellers.” And just as Peter’s efforts were at first suspect and resisted, so perhaps—no, inevitably—will ours be. But those we train will—I hope—acquire a sense of care for those who are “outside.” As Prof. Veselin Kesich told me earlier this year, that is a goal worth fighting for.


Wednesday, May 6, 1998. Paris.

I am sitting on my bed at the Hotel Rhin et Danube in Paris after a day traveling with Stewart Armour. We had a remarkable meeting at L’Institut St Serge with Fr John Breck, Fr Nicolas Cernokrak, Sophie Deicha, and later Joost van Rossum. Their enthusiasm and support for the Cambridge project is almost scary. No, it is scary. I keep wanting to climb back into the shadows. But here they are wanting and willing to come to Cambridge (at the expense of St Serge) for the next meeting of the working group. They report that the Dean, Fr Boris Bobrinskoy, who is also very keen. They were all very disappointed not to be there at the first meeting. Indeed, the main compensation for the use of their correspondence program is just to have a formal connection with us and the possibility of exchanges. Fr John Breck has offered to see how US students could be linked to this as well. Again, I felt the hopes of others being pinned on this, and the new blood it seems to infuse into the old institution of St Serge. But it’s good for us to have the infusion of their “old” blood. A few main points:

  1. The key is to have a solid programme with tutors in place.
  2. The Orthodox identity of the Institute must be very firmly established. In addition to an orientation period for the students and continuous debriefing (vis a vis the non-Orthodox part of the programme) they felt that perhaps a preparation year (“propaedeutic”) would be useful. This would allow Orthodox students to acquire a vision of Orthodox church life and theology before they join with everybody else in the Cambridge Theological Federation.
  3. They suggested that the curriculum in that introductory year could be scripture, patristics, dogmatics, liturgy—all taught by Orthodox—and subsequently priests (with doctorates preferably) could come in as tutors to periodically oversee students and be a sounding board for their programmes in the CTF.
  4. Fr John Breck felt that the whole notion of studying with non-Orthodox students—in order to better prepare Orthodox students for life in the West—needed to be carefully considered by everyone. For too long the idea of an entirely separate education has held sway, and it’s time for everyone to look at this. Even the idea of varying Orthodox approaches to a given subject is difficult in most seminary settings and has yet to be addressed.

Thursday, May 7, 1998. Paris.

A long day of important conversations.

Stewart and I were too dog-tired after the last few days to get to St Serge for matins at 7:15 am, so we got up and went instead to the little “Café Parisienne” across the street from the hotel for a coffee and croissant (the waiter was thrilled to show us the photo of his trip to New York at New Year’s to visit his sister). After a walkabout through the Parc des Buttes Chaumont on Rue de Crimee, we had coffee with Fr John Breck, then went to Fr Boris Bobrinskoy’s office for a meeting with him, Fr John, Fr Nicola, Sophie, and (later) Hildo Bos.

  1. Fr Boris immediately said he had been seriously considering and discussing the idea of collaboration and proposed two specific areas. First, through exchanges between faculty and students and second, through the correspondence course. He said their programme wasn’t perfect and had gaps to fill. But the key was faculty. They could help us, he said, with their own anglophone faculty. Especially in the beginning support from other Orthodox academic institutions could be critical (lecturers, tutors, examiners).
  2. Fr John stressed the need for faculty communication. He also emphasized the importance of faculty communication with students not only about their own programmes, but about the whole life of the community, a point Hildo Bos stressed in our conversation later. Fr John felt that communication needs to be institutionalized and built into the structure from the start, otherwise it’s too easily lost when other pressures build up. Build in social time together between faculty. Build a community that’s not just always working, working, working, and never seeing each other for anything but work. Build an atmosphere of trust.
  3. Make provision for programmes that meet the needs and interests of scholars (such as specialized courses of university standard) as well as for pastoral generalists.
  4. Hildo underlined the importance of exposing students to the issues of modern life and parishes.
  5. About starting a journal, Fr John advised going slow. “Working on the SVS Quarterly took 50% of my time,” he said. But if it happens he recommended some clear conditions:
  6. Publish in-house, with someone responsible for editorial and admin
  7. Style sheet; submission only electronically; if the material is too poor and needs too much editing, send it back
  8. Once the professors and programmes are in place (let’s say with a schedule of intensive courses for Fall 1999 onwards) take time to review, prioritize and assess the demand and aims. Fr John suspects that no one right now is thinking about the basic aim of theological education, and what kind of person ought to be turned out. All programmes have developed ad hoc. We ought to use this unique opportunity to think carefully about the design

I asked Stewart just now his impressions of the visit. What struck him was the great warmth, hospitality, and time given to us. “This must always remain a priority. Visitors, and in general the needs of people, hospitality. The medium is the message.” Elsewhere he had experienced a perplexing lack of hospitality, mainly due to constant work pressures felt by faculty, staff and students. “One could die of neglect in such places of perpetual Marthas.” 


Sunday, March 29, 1998.

Another train ride, this time on the way to London for Liturgy at the Cathedral and the discussion group. Seems these train rides have been the only extended quiet moments I’ve been able to have lately.

[Below is the agenda for the Working Group meeting on March 26, 1998]

What a remarkable few days. The tone was set by Annunciation and the Vivaldi “Gloria” of March 25th: Glory to God in the Highest. I have a jumble of impressions from the meeting at Ridley Hall on the 26th, but above all, I felt a sense of being carried over the waves. As Bishop Basil told me in confession last week often it’s a hard slog, but there are times when God just carries us along. The good will was evident, and the potential for criticism and stumbling blocks evaporated. Everyone seemed to be taken up with the obvious good of the proposed Institute. The prayer before we began played a role in this. And, as Bishop Basil said, so did Joy Tetley’s sheer goodness. These broke through the natural cynicism. A few impressions from these crucial, busy days:

  1. Liturgy of the Annunciation on March 25th at St Athanasius with Fr Theonas. I asked for a “word” from the Lord and received two. First, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.” And then, second, receiving communion and looking at the cross behind the altar, what came to me was, “I will be with you as long as you are my servant.” I thought of Saul, who began as God’s servant but ended up serving himself and losing God’s grace.
  2. The evening of March 25th we had the long-awaited performance of Vivaldi’s “Gloria in D Major” in Queen’s College Chapel, sung by St Faith’s Singers. I was one of the basses in the chorus [the school where Alex and Anthony were pupils]. Deni brought the boys and Fr Stelian Tofana, our Romanian Orthodox scholar-friend from Tyndale House. Peter Burge, the music director, had said “black and white” dress code, so I had my black suit, white shirt, and bought a black bow tie. But I suspected that I might not have got the signals exactly right. Sure enough, all the men had tuxedos and formal shirts. That’s the kind of town this is. But the boys loved seeing me in a suit instead of clergy clothes. I couldn’t think of a better, more glorious preparation for the meeting the next day. All descriptions of music and concerts fall flat, so I won’t even bother. All I know is that I need to get a recording of Gloria to listen to regularly, to bring back the sense of God’s presence and “bigness.” One of the thoughts that kept recurring to me: “You have only to be still, I will fight for you.” Like the meeting the next day, this was a night of being carried.
  3. We came home around 9:30 pm. The house was still in complete disarray, none of the food was prepared for the 15 people we were to have (including two overnight guests–Graham Dixon and Fr Alex Fostiropoulos). The revised agenda had not yet been written out, nor my own remarks. But the kids went to bed and Deni and I got to work. She went to bed around 2 am, and I didn’t join her until 4:30 am. Four hours later I was up to finish it off, wash the floors etc. Deni let me sleep in and she took the boys to school.
  4. Joy Tetley and the staff at Ridley had arranged meeting rooms and meals brilliantly. It all looked so professional, especially with the full packets of materials everyone received, and with Deni sitting at the side table efficiently typing the comments as they were made. Eamon Duffy, Mike Booker, and Joy could not have been more welcoming. It was a pleasure to see Bishop Basil and Bishop Kallistos at work. Bishp Kallistos would nod in agreement, or disagree, but at key moments he summarized the main points about the need, the benefits of Cambridge, and the way forward in such a way that it felt obvious that the project must move ahead. Bishop Basil would do the same at other moments, asking if there was common agreement, usually turning first to Fr Ephrem Lash to see how he felt. It was remarkable to see the transformation in Fr Ephrem. He had softened considerably, even at the start, from the time I’d spoken to him earlier in the week. But he still had a bombshell: the archbishop does have concrete plans for a seminary. But neither Bishop Kallistos nor Fr Christakos knew about any of this. Deni felt especially badly for Bishop Kallistos at that moment and sensed how on the sidelines he must feel. At any rate, Fr Ephrem was “in like a lion and out like a lamb.” Bishop Kallistos defused the potential conflict and saw the Institute in Cambridge as either compatible with a Greek seminary or pastoral training program, or at least not duplicating what it would be doing, and he saw no reason to stop the momentum. His support and confidence at that moment were decisive.
  5. I was overwhelmed by the personal support for me. I still have not taken this on board. God is at work here, but I’m incapable of saying exactly what that means. I feel that I know nothing and have such lack of faith and piety. But the readings for the day (the 4th Thursday in Lent) struck me. At first, when I looked up the readings last week, I thought it was a resounding rebuke: the Tower of Babel. I was hoping that the meeting’s participants might not be aware of the coincidence, since Babel didn’t seem like the most auspicious sign. But then the other two readings also alluded to buildings:
  • “Wisdom builds her house but folly with her own hands tears it down” (Proverbs 14:1).
  • “Behold, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone of a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16)

Babel was a warning about how to build—not “to make a name for ourselves”—but to serve God’s purposes and God’s people. And to do this without lies (Is 28:17) or deviousness (Pv 14:2), “walking with wise men” (Pv 13:20). I was so grateful to be “walking with wise men” (and women). The pride of Babel (“nothing will be impossible for them”) can be transformed into the promise of the Annunciation: “With God, nothing will be impossible.” Today’s gospel reading: “All things are possible to him who believes.”Immediately the father of the child cried outand said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24).


As I left the train it occurred to me that this project—like any project—can be either Babel or Pentecost. Either a confusion of tongues that prevents further building, or an unexpected oneness of mind that makes building possible.

When the most High came down and confused the tongues / He divided the nations / But when he distributed the tongues of fir / He called all to unity. / Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-holy Spirit! (Kontakion of Pentecost).


We did manage to feed everyone at our house after the meeting. I picked up Bishop Kallistos from his visit with Constance Babington-Smith—he was so affectionate in his leave-taking of Constance—a warm, big, slightly awkward three-fold kiss, after finishing the last of a glass of wine he had been having with her. He was genuinely happy as he surveyed the beautiful view from her window: the flowering trees in the church yard of Little St Mary’s across the street). Others at the dinner: Bishop Basil, Fr Christos Christakis, John Binns, Patience Burne, Fr Michael and Jeanne Harper, Irina Kirillova (Fr Ephrem, Joy Tetley and Fr Sergei Hackel couldn’t stay). It was a very warm group, and the boys were helpful serving drinks, dessert, clearing dishes, and just being present. At one point Alex and Anthony were on the living room floor playing Gameboys at the feet of Bishop Kallistos.

Bishop Basil and Bishop Kallistos had to get going before coffee and dessert for their two-hour drive back to Oxford, but as Bishop Kallistos passed the kitchen he saw the “wild berry strudel” being set out on plates and exclaimed delightedly, “Oh! Pudding! I like pudding!” And without ceremony went to the counter, found a spoon—two spoons actually—and ate the dessert standing up, already in his coat and skufia. We managed a picture of our family and the two of them as they were leaving.

Graham Dixon and Fr Alex Fostiropoulos stayed overnight after the meeting. Deni and I spoke at length with Graham about the meeting and plans. With Fr Alex we also talked about the “kind of person” who should be the “product” of Orthodox education. They should be able to “swim” in many kinds of waters. “All things to all men.” Confident but not cocky. Knowledgeable about the “stuff” of liturgical and pastoral practice without narrowing church life to shopkeeping. I thought of Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles (1987).

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns—how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

The Institute’s graduates ought to be open, looking out on the world from the church’s perspective, but without veiling their eyes to look just at the church. They ought to be serving the needs of those “in the market” for our services while keeping an eye on those who have no interest in our “goods.” This all comes back to a sane, spiritually healthy human being, and Metropolitan Anthony’s Zen quote is apropos: “the one who shoots an arrow must have it pierce his own heart if he wishes to have the arrow strike the target elsewhere.” Deni joined us for a walk around Cambridge, and we had sandwiches sitting on the low wall in front of King’s College. That evening (Friday), with all the guests gone, we all needed to veg out as a family, so we had pizza and leftover shrimp creole and watched “Men in Black.”


Thursday, March 19, 1998

I just came from the Greek Orthodox parish house at 5 Mill Rd., where I had a good conversation with Fr Theonas. His home (he’s turned it into that) and his person are both restful. In all my recent “Martha-ing” it’s gratifying to know of this “Mary.” He’s settled, peaceful, steady, even though he’s fully taken-up with the parish, visiting the hospitals, and life in the Archdiocese. And he’s unfailingly warm. On the Institute: he said it needs to communicate a spirit of warmth and friendship, of good behavior, such that people want to be there and are happy at the prospect of being there. A community.  He reminded me gently—and then apologized for doing so—of the need to do all things in humility. “But I was thinking of myself. I’ve known people who changed after some success, and it was sad.” I immediately thought of the Robert Frost poem I came across last night before bed.

“The Fear of God” (in Steeple Bush, 1947)

If you should rise from Nowhere up to Somewhere,
From being No one up to being Someone,
Be sure to keep repeating to yourself
You owe it to an arbitrary god
Whose mercy to you rather than to others
Won’t bear too critical examination.
Stay unassuming. If for lack of license
To wear the uniform of who you are,
You should be tempted to make up for it
In a subordinating look or tone,
Beware of coming too much to the surface
And using for apparel that was meant
To be the curtain of the inmost soul.

Fr Theonas thought the Institute could be pan-Orthodox at its core if we all go about it in the right spirit of Orthodoxy. We had been thinking of names for the school, and “Annunciation” had come up (our first meeting is the day after March 25th), and Fr Theonas immediately liked that idea. “Evangelismos of the West,” he said, and I could see him thinking about it.


Returning now to Cambridge and waiting for the train at King’s Cross. Metropolitan Anthony, Bishop Basil, and I met for almost two hours. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Metropolitan Anthony, and he began by asking me where the Cambridge project stood. I told him that the externals were in place for the meeting of the Working Group on March 26th, but my lingering question concerned the involvement of the bishops. How are we to include them such that each feels this is his school, addressing his needs as a bishop of a diocese, yet structured so that bishop(s) and ecclesiastical politics can’t highjack the enterprise? He fully agreed. His next question was to what extent other bishops were involved—the Serbian bishop in Sweden, the Romanian bishop in France? The involvement of the Moscow Patriarchate is an internal question. Bishop Basil later said he’s heard from Fr Hilarion on this score: Metropolitan Kirill is willing to support such a venture. Also, Metropolitan Anthony has known Patriarch Ignatius since the Patriarch was a deacon and they are on very good terms. He wants me to write to the Serbian and Romanian bishops to let them know what is happening and that we’ll be in touch after the exploratory meeting (he felt it was “unreasonable” for them to come for the meeting at such a distance). He fully endorsed the notion of a board of governors in which bishops might members, but in their own right, not as representatives of a church. He also endorsed the idea of a parallel episcopal or church advisory board to review the work of the school.

Metropolitan Anthony was also concerned about the “Orthodoxy” of the new Antiochians [Fr Michael Harper et al] but felt they should be fully included, otherwise they might develop idiosyncrasies as a group in France had done. Over time, by experience with other Orthodox of longstanding, the new Antiochians would have their rough edges worn off.

He was concerned that we should be educating laity as well as clergy. And he wanted to be sure that the clergy we educate would be able to function inthe world of the West, not isolated, and could speak its language. He cited his own bitter experience of speaking too refined a language: a pious Russian woman came up to him at the Fellowship Conference in 1947 with tears in her eyes, took him by the hand and said, “Oh, when you spoke it was such beautiful Russian, I just cried—because I couldn’t understand a word of it.” The Institute’s teaching should include how to communicate. And it should be teaching that reaches the heart as well as the mind. Metropolitan Anthony likes this Zen saying: “The arrow does not hit the target unless it also goes through your own heart.” He also likes the name “Annunciation.” I mentioned Fr Theonas’ reaction because Metropolitan Anthony was speaking about the particular role he saw Orthodox diaspora could have for the “old countries” as well as for the new. Seed, “diaspora,” spreading, planting seeds of Orthodoxy in a purer form, nurtured by faith rather than by culture alone. Teaching at the Institute needs to have a pastoral dimension, directed towards the needs of people.

He asked how much money we would need, and he didn’t blanch when I said 600,000 pounds. Bishop Basil mentioned Fr Michael Harper’s estimate of 1 million pounds. I emphasized that his support—as with all the bishops—was crucial, and would be “make or break.” He was very thoughtful, said he would see who he could approach individually, who as a group. And he agreed that perhaps an issue of the diocesan journal Sourozh could be devoted to theological education.

We had been sitting on wooden folding chairs in the kitchen, drinking cups of black coffee. But Metropolitan Anthony was tired, so Bishop Basil and I went into the altar so I could go to confession. I was a confused, dry, preoccupied mess, with little feeling at the moment. Bishop Basil said there are two ways of serving God:

  1. Moments we are given, that we recognize as gifts, when we step into and are carried along by events, and
  2. The “hard slog.”

The priesthood is an obvious and blessed form of service, but marriage and fatherhood no less, and is perhaps more enduring than the former. “Don’t neglect it,” he said. Pray for that openness to the future that is Christ’s gift. I had the image of standing with arms outstretched toward an unknown future and welcoming it. Because at the end it all moves toward Christ. We know where it leads, and therefore everything in between is acceptable and can be seen in that light.

We walked to his car, parked in a bay belonging to Holy Trinity-Brompton. I had a few minor concerns about the approaching meeting, the introduction, the molieben. But my main concern was Bishop Kallistos. Unless he’s fully on board the project makes little sense and will seem strange to most people in England and around the world. What will it take? Bishop Basil had also been thinking of this. Offering him to be chairman of the Board would probably make him happy. He said, “Bishop Kallistos is actually very sensitive—we all are.” They’d spoken in the past about what Bishop Kallistos would do after retirement, and this is the kind of thing he thought he might like. It’s sad that it couldn’t develop in Oxford, but as Bishop Basil told him, it’s precisely because Bishop Kallistos was there and such a presence that no one feels more is much needed. “They have you,” he told Bp Kallistos. So, any new proposed Orthodox institution in Oxford is from the outset a victim of Orthodoxy’s success there. The freshness, the absence of Orthodoxy in Cambridge is precisely what makes the venture possible here. He thought Bishop Kallistos would be very happy to come up regularly to teach.

But all of that leaves Bishop Basil hanging. He said he probably wouldn’t get to Cambridge that often anyway. “And besides, I’m not an academic.” I could feel him retreating already and quickly told him how often I’d said this project was not like that—strictly academic—nor was the Federation. But it’s clear that in the shadow of Metropolitan Anthony and Bishop Kallistos he retreats. “We’re all sensitive.” I felt a bit bad, that having given him a bit of hope about a life, I was now dashing it. He has no proprietary interest here; all is for the good of people and the Church. There is much he can do and teach, and I will keep pressing this with him. Everyone needs their gifts recognized, affirmed, and given a place to blossom.

He dropped me off at South Kensington tube station and I went to King’s Cross. I started writing these notes but broke them off after a bit because Keith Riglin from St Columba’s URC Church sat down in front of me. We talked a bit about the Institute, the Federation, his church (“gay friendly”), his move away from Baptist to URC in 1996, missionary work in Jamaica. But in the last 5 minutes of the ride, I asked why he had been in London. He’s a trustee of an educational trust that gives away 2 million pounds every year. They’d just been deliberating about a BBC request for 100,000 pounds for a millennium program about Jesus Christ. He couldn’t do more than give me the name of the trust, otherwise he’d need to declare an interest. Divine guidance? This is a very strange world I don’t begin to understand.

We got off the train and rode our bikes home (he lives not far away). I intended to pick up the car and go to rehearsal for the Vivaldi Gloria with the St Faith’s Singers. But Deni wasn’t home, so I ended up biking all the way back to the Leys for rehearsal in the chapel. After this day “Gloria in excelsis Deo” seemed exactly the right words to end with. I came home with Deni and Andrew. Alex and Anthony were doing homework, and we had a quiet going to bed for all.

Monday, March 23, 1998

On the train again. This time returning from London where I gave a short talk on “Orthodox Spirituality” to an ecumenical group in Kensington. It’s a terrible time to be doing anything “extra” but this was arranged at a time when I was still hoping the Cathedral choir would come to the conference in Cambridge, and I was willing to say “yes” to anything). It took me forever walking the streets to find the Abbey Students Centre, but it all worked out, and the people (about 20) seemed interested. One Orthodox woman from Lebanon was there for the first time. She was lamenting that she had never been told she could read the Bible, and was so frustrated when she came to England and found Christians here who did read it. Her husband is Maronite, and her children were raised Catholic, but she was very put off by the Lebanese Orthodox priest who called her “a great sinner” for her non-Orthodox sympathies. “I just want to follow Christ,” she said. Hearing this kind of story repeatedly over the last 15 years, I find myself less and less tolerant of the door-closers. What this world needs is the simple message of the Gospel—“the curtain is rent in two” –and not these continual ecclesiastical battles. These are so tiresome and have lost the veneer of genuine pastoral care they once might have had. I’m sick of it.

I began the week with a stumbling block: Fr Ephrem Lash. I called to see if he would be coming to the first meeting of the Working Group. “Yes.” Any reaction to the proposed Institute? “Yes. All negative. There are lots of problems. Lots of problems. If there’s a chapel, who is it going to be under? What kind of English will it use? And it makes no sense at all in Cambridge. Oxford is the obvious place. And this is all just off the top of my head. There are lots of problems.” He was in no doubt that “this is a bad idea that my archbishop will not support.” But forewarned is forearmed, as I told Bishop Basil, and he agreed. And as for English, Bishop Basil gently noted that Bishop Kallistos refuses to use the “official” Thyateira translation (Fr Ephrem’s).

The barrage of “no’s” made me think immediately of what some have said about the British attitude toward entrepreneurial projects. But then I thought also of Fr Alexander Schmemann, who said that at first the reaction to anything new in the church will always be “no,” but if you keep saying it they eventually get used to the idea and wonder why it wasn’t done years ago. I must stay steady and upbeat. But I’m also aware that Fr Ephrem is perceived as a bully (especially when he writes devastating book reviews).  He can’t be allowed to derail the goal for all the good people who want this to happen despite church politics. I thought of Prof David Ford’s sharp rebuttal to his fellow faculty members at last year’s New Testament seminar: “If you as scholars aren’t giving the public anything they desire, don’t complain that you aren’t getting their interest and support.” I mustn’t allow Fr Ephrem to start a snow-balling effect. If he jumps in too quickly on Cambridge as a location, keep remembering that at the meeting on the 26th the morning session is about the need for theological education. The mode of addressing the need is in the afternoon. Give time for others to speak. But if they are too shell-shocked and unprepared for his critical method, then be ready to jump in, although it’s best if others, especially Cambridge people, do that to convince the rest. On the other hand, maybe it’s better to raise the Cambridge issue right up front and take away his thunder. I need guidance Lord. I must say that just after my conversation with Fr Ephrem I thought of the canon from Holy Week we were practicing on Saturday with the Armours: “…a grave for those in full array.” Perhaps this will result in the victory of the “weak and despised” over those in “full array.” God chooses “even what is not” to shame the wise.


Wednesday, November 19, 1997

I’m waiting to hear what the CTF Council decided last evening about the CISOC project. Yesterday, at the Tyndale chapel service, I was struck by the reading, Phil 4, exactly what the proposal was built around. Today’s gospel (Luke 14:25-38) makes it clear that there are to be no half measures or remnants of self-dependence. All is to go on the altar, and we are to put all confidence in Christ. No holding back for “my own.”

Saturday, November 22, 1997. Vilemov, Czech Republic.

I’m sitting in my room at a conference center in Vilemov. I’m here for a small European  conference on lay academies but I have a chance now to catch up on Institute developments.

I was still in Cambridge yesterday working at Tyndale House. I called John Proctor, president of the CTF, to find out the results of their meeting: “gladly welcoming” was the news. They’re appointing Canon Joy Tetley as consultant to our Working Group. As I left Tyndale after the phone call to go and buy a present for Alex’s birthday (a rugby ball), the sky was a sunshiny grey surrounded by edges of blue, with a magnificent rainbow covering the whole sky over Selwyn College. I was happy, and so was Bishop Basil when I called him. It’s funny to hear his enthusiasm. He immediately wanted to know when I would be calling a meeting of the Working Group!

Saturday, December 13, 1997. St Herman of Alaska and repose of Fr Alexander Schmemann.

I am so grateful that I will always be able to remember this day—St Herman, Fr Alexander—the day that the first announcement of the Working Group was sent out. Or rather, the eve. Last night I stayed late at Tyndale House—keeping Anthony waiting to be picked up at St Faith’s—just to finish it all off, the dozen or so letters with their Santa Claus stamp! What a gift all of this has been. And after last night’s dinner at Irina Kirillova’s I feel this especially. A life tailor-made for Deni and me. People: interesting, students, deep people we have the privilege of encountering, like Mary Berry last night at Irina’s. Gregorian chant expert, whose keen sense of the connection between words and music reveals possibilities for a liturgical theology that melds the two. Seeing how ancient chant’s emphases of the different words reveals the theology of the church in a way text alone cannot. She feels her task is one of restoring what has been lost in church life.

Monday, March 9, 1998.

I’m on the train en route to Dunblane, Scotland to lead a retreat. Much to catch up on.

Two weeks ago, on Monday,John Binns and I drove Fr Hilarion (Alfeyev) to Oxford for various appointments. In the meantime, we saw Stephen Platt and had a good conversation with Bishop Basil about the agenda for the meeting of the Working Group on March 26th. Then I talked to him alone. Later John and I went to the anthropology museum, where I spent a long time looking at the shrunken heads Dn Stephen recommended. We got back in time for a dinner meeting at John’s with Irina Levinskaya (Russian biblical scholar at Tyndale House), Irina Kirillova, and leaders from the Faculty of Divinity: David Ford (Regius Professor), David Thompson (Professor of Modern Church History and Director of the Centre for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies), Eamon Duffy (chairman) and Dan Hardy. There was strong support for the Institute, and a personal vote of confidence from David Ford who said how important it would be for me to remain in Cambridge and to commit to the next five years. John Binns was very pleased with the evening, judging by fact that the crowd didn’t leave till 11. Points to note:

  1. It will take time to develop a cadre of Orthodox who are prepared to engage theologically with western theology, and to enable Orthodox to be seen as not entirely sui generis and put reflexively into the “exotic,” “historical,” “patristic,” or “liturgical” baskets.
  2. We will need a local base of Orthodox people.

With Fr Hilarion it became clear that links with Cambridge University must go through the Russian Church if they are to bear fruit. This is the main way that the University will be able to acquire credibility in the eyes of the Russian Church. Without that link, the University will be viewed as “liberal” and the long-term result will be to further marginalize the value of western theological education.

I spent rest of that week [Feb 25 and following] preparing for the talk/service at St Demetrius Church in Edmonton, London, where Fr Christos Christakis is the priest. He had heard of the CISOC project and insisted that if it is to have a chance at being pan-Orthodox and of genuine benefit to all Orthodox, then it needs to get the Greek clergy on board. Bishop Kallistos and Fr Ephrem Lash are fine people but marginal to the life of the Greek Archdiocese. I agreed, and after talking with Bishop Basil invited him to be part of the Working Group pending the archbishop’s blessing. There’s no answer on that yet. I was surprised to find that I was staying overnight at the home of Graham and Helen Dixon, who go there to church. Graham had some important comments to make.

  • The “Cambridge” name means that the Institute intends to have a wider message than narrowly Orthodox, and a voice to the UK and wider world.
  • There needs to be a strong Greek and European voice in the Institute.
  • There’s a danger of UK perceptions already seeing the Institute as too dominated by Americans/Sourozh.

Graham emailed me the next Monday and offered his services, and I’m sure he will be very helpful, knowing as he does the UK and European scenes so well. He is also chairman of the BBC’s committee reviewing its policy on religious programming. Bishop Basil saw this as very important and welcomed his participation.


Wednesday, October 29, 1997

I am sitting on the train at Liverpool Street Station waiting to head home from London. It has been a day to remember. I’ve just come from Thyateira House at 5 Craven Hill Road, where I met with Archbishop Gregorios. I was 5 hours late for my 11 am appointment at 11 am. Despite the events of the day, the archbishop has blessed the project in Cambridge.

I was supposed to go together with Bishop Basil, but he called early in the morning to say he was bedridden with the flu and insisted I go on my own “not to lose momentum.” I was to ask Archbishop Gregorios to bless this project of “a house of study,” or at least to give his go-ahead for the working group to explore it. In the morning, I was at the men’s prayer group at Tyndale House and told them about this impending meeting. They prayed that God would “open the doors that needed opening and close the doors that needed closing.” I thought of that when the train stopped 15 minutes north of London. A fire on the track ahead had destroyed part of the station and we waited almost 4 hours before another train towed us into Kings Cross Station. The passengers were amazingly good humored (“the British in their element,” as someone said).

When I got to the Archdiocese the Archbishop was having a meeting with other bishops, but he knew about the fire and delay and was expecting me. In the meantime, his assistant Fr Isaiah took me downstairs where a kindly yiayia made me a lunch of bean soup, cucumbers, Greek coffee, and cake. By the time I finished, the archbishop was ready to see me.

Archbishop Gregorios asked questions, was thoughtful and positive, and seemed almost as awkward as I felt. But he wasn’t chatty. He spoke quickly and in short sentences. I felt that if anything comes of all this it will be a miracle. I felt it is already. I quickly outlined what we had in mind and told him of the working group. He is cool and collected and takes everything in. He wanted to add Fr Theonas to the committee, saying, “He is young, has time on his hands and can work, and it would be good for him ‘in himself.’”

On working together as Orthodox—is it possible? “Yes, if it’s sound and with the university, and if the churches can keep ‘politics’ out of the way, politics that might put stumbling blocks on the path.” He approved the list of the working group members, but right away asked who the chairman would be. He wanted to be sure that all the churches could send representatives (he mentioned the Serbs specifically). He wanted to know what the university would provide for this venture and emphasized the value of making a small start.

On working with the non-Orthodox: he said this has good and negative features, and he’s not sure which carries the heavier weight. But the distinguishing feature that makes Orthodoxy what it is, he said, is its liturgy, pastoral approach, art as God-bearing, and the commemoration of the saints, the feasts as “alive,” as communion. “The West has lost this living connection with the saints.” I felt like I was talking with a man who had “been there.” I noticed when I walked into his office, he was preparing a letter or a sermon, and had the menaion open on his desk.

He said that the study of languages (Greek, Russian, Arabic) will not only help connect students to the texts of Orthodoxy but will give them a link to the tradition. It also gives students who come from these backgrounds a sense of wholesome pride, and assurance that they are not being neglected. It’s valuable for students to be aware too of the various Orthodox liturgical rubrics. Their training should be together while also having separate specific training to address their own particular situations. He is keen to have people trained as catechists and youth workers. Even if these are not to degree level, some certificate could be given. The important thing is that the real needs of the churches and the bishops could be addressed immediately. He feels very deeply the need to bring the Gospel to people in a language they understand, and for this, trained catechists are needed. He agreed wholeheartedly with Metropolitan Anthony’s conviction that church education must not be strictly academic. “There should be no chasm between church life and education.” He also sees the possibility of a connection with the Oriental Orthodox as worth exploring.

When I asked him about Cambridge—if he had served there, as John Binns had heard—he told me he had founded the Greek Orthodox parish community in Cambridge, in the days when Bishop High Montefiore was the rector of Great St Mary’s. [To my surprise, as I learned later, he had also lived and studied in Cambridge at Wesley House.] He asked about seminaries in the USA and how the Russian churches there were organized. I had been warned that if the archbishop were to say, “I need to check with the Phanar,” then I would know that the meeting had been a failure. But the Phanar never came up. God is at work in all these strange events, this “adventure” as he called it. He wanted to invite Metropolitan Anthony to lunch and was very pleased to find out from me that his 40th anniversary of consecration as a bishop is coming up on November 30th, so that an invitation would be just right.

Next steps, after reporting to Bishop Basil and Metropolitan Anthony (with regards to both from Archbishop Gregorios):

  • Write to the prospective working group, inviting them to be members
  • Respond to the Cambridge Theological Federation
  • Send an update to all who responded to the proposal
  • Send the proposal to others along with an invitation to comment

[An early summary of the proposal is pictured below. It was circulated in the process of forming a working group to explore development.]


Wednesday, October 15, 1997

Yesterday (Protection, Old Calendar) I delivered the formal letter to John Proctor requesting that the Cambridge Theological Federation appoint a consultant for the Orthodox Working Group. I had met with him the day before to bring him up to date on developments. Bishop Basil and I will meet with Archbishop Gregorios in a couple weeks at Metropolitan Anthony’s request.

Tuesday, October 21, 1997

Yesterday I gave a lecture at Ridley Hall as part of their 3-year series on spirituality. Students and staff, about 60 people. They were enthusiastic about what was clearly opening a new world for them—Orthodox spirituality—and yet at the same time it was a familiar world they could recognize. One student made this very perceptive comment: “It seems that for the Orthodox, one has to make a conscious decision to step out of spirituality, whereas for the West we decide to step in.” There seemed to be a genuine pleasure in learning about the very basic things of Orthodox prayers, like making the sign of the cross.  

Graham Cray, the Principal of Ridley, had been at the CTF Executive Committee Meeting with John Proctor earlier in the week and told me that the Orthodox project was greeted with enthusiasm, especially by those who were hearing about it for the first time: the principal of Westcott House, Michael Roberts and Brigid Tighe, Principal of the Margaret Beaufort Institute. They realize there will be many small steps but feel it’s the right moment. Again, seeing the group at Ridley I can only agree.

Finally, I wrote a letter yesterday to Metropolitan Herman [Orthodox Church in America] asking for release to Metropolitan Anthony and the Diocese of Sourozh.

Wednesday, October 22, 1997

Deacon Joseph [Skinner] came up to Cambridge yesterday. I took him to Tyndale House for the worship service, then came back for lunch and a long conversation at home. He would not want to see a seminary model of education if what this means is a “hot house” of Orthodoxy taught in isolation from other churches and theology. Students need to know and be exposed to real expressions of other churches, while then being able to evaluate all expressions in the home context of Orthodox church life with their tutors, spiritual fathers, sacramental life. The danger is that among Orthodox there is already too much isolation, unease with people who are different, inability to talk to them, misinformation, suspicion. He rejects the paternalistic seminary model rightly as a sin  of total control —”a western sin,” he said. I feel too that this model places too little trust in the students and in the power of God in their lives. Most of them, after all, will be older converts who’ve made hard choices already. It is not as if the Institute will be able—or ought to—control their thinking in toto.

One of his saddest experiences was hearing of an Orthodox woman in Russia who had become Baptist. She said, “We are told ‘to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.’  But the Orthodox Church will not allow you to love with your mind.” This principle of Orthodox theological education—to be able to use all of ones God given faculties—is “a battle for the soul of Orthodoxy,” he said, “for preserving a view of the world that opens up, rather than shuts down.” Of course there are dangers, but we are living in a pluralistic world and can’t retreat to the ghetto model of Christianity or to the state model with its assumption of the universality of Orthodoxy. It may well be universal, but Orthodoxy must convince people of this not by isolation but by its presence.

As Georges Florovsky said, Orthodox theology needs to become familiar with the theological debates of the West and enter into them with an Orthodox frame of mind. I feel that my education at SVS lacked this exposure. It was too much of a “hot house.” Students at the Institute who come through this exposure will be much stronger in their Orthodox faith and will be much readier to speak of it confidently in the religious marketplace that refuses to go away. Equally, however, Orthodox exposure to other Christians in their day-to-day theological education may also help them learn to recognize what is genuinely good and “of God” out there in the wider world.

Still, we can’t have any illusions. This approach will likely draw fire given the general isolationism of the Orthodox world. But it’s worth defending. Anything less reduces Orthodoxy to just another denomination it claims to transcend. Some will be attracted, others repelled, but no one should be able to easily dismiss this open-ended fulness.

Friday, October 24, 1997. Oxford, two-day meeting of clergy in the Diocese of Sourozh. I had a conversation with Fr Sergei Hackel and Dn Peter Scorer about the situation in Russia. They are not optimistic, especially concerning the right wing, the lack of civilized discussion and debate, and the heavy-handed methods of both state and church.


Tuesday, September 16, 1997

Yesterday Deni and I were both in London: I in the morning with Metropolitan Anthony and she in the evening for a meeting of the Sourozh Diocesan Conference Committee with Bishop Basil and others (Metropolitan Anthony was there at the beginning). Metropolitan Anthony had said when we were last in London meeting with him and Bishop Basil that he wanted to get to know me better, and could I come to London.

The church was buzzing with activity. Monday is cleaning day at the Cathedral. Metropolitan Anthony came out from his apartment behind the altar, and we went upstairs to the office. It was just the two of us, and for the first time I was struck by his shabbiness, his age. He is still brisk and lively, but he could easily be mistaken for a bum on Skid Row. A polyester (it looked like) black cassock, a worn shirt and sweater underneath with frayed collars. He’s missing several front teeth. He reminded me of St Paul, whose letters were “weighty” but whose presence “was of no account.” I think he might be the first to agree with that. He has no pretense in the least.

He wanted to know first if I was happy in England. He recalled his own “temporary assignment” to England—it was supposed to be two years—and only a few months after he had been ordained in France. He was to be the interim chaplain for the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, but he fell in love with England and stayed. Russia was also in his heart, though it wasn’t until the time of Khrushchev that he could go there for the first time.

I think he was concerned that I get a feel for what he and Diocese of Sourozh have been trying to do. However, he doesn’t like to pressure and insist. I asked him what he wanted most—and least—regarding the training of priests. “What I want least is the merely academic. Priests who cannot translate the life of the Church into language people understand.”  He began speaking of confession. This is the central task to which he has devoted much attention. He said “there’s plenty of material” and cited books on confession by Fr Kyprian Kern, Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky and others, but these can’t be used slavishly. He stressed the need for reality. And no formal lists. “I’m not interested in Dmitry Donskoy’s list of sins, but yours.” Sometimes he has refused absolution, because he wants to get under peoples’ skin and undo their formality. “It’s not enough to say, ‘Ya greshna Batioushka’ [I’m a sinner, Father] and then move on. The priest needs to see that they believe and know how they are sinful.” He has found general confession very beneficial—using his own confession, without scandalizing people—both for the training of the people and for his own opportunity to confess before all (it takes about 30-40 minutes, he said).

He recalled a very personal confession when he was a teenager in Paris. Their very good priest had been taken away by the Germans and the only one who remained was the perpetually drunk Fr Mikhail. “He was the kind of priest who usually had to be propped up in the corner to hear confessions so he wouldn’t fall over. But he stopped drinking when responsibility for the entire parish fell on him.” Metropolitan Anthony was in his teens, and when he went to confession, “Fr Mikhail just wept and wept. ‘You know what I am’ he told me. ‘Don’t become that. You’re still young.’” That left a deep impression, and this absolute commitment to reality stamps all Metropolitan Anthony’s pastoral approach.

He taught pastoral theology for a time in a seminary the Patriarchate of Moscow set up in Paris. “It was a joke! They paid for students to be there.” He focused on confession, preaching, and the celebration of the services. “The services should be celebrated as if you are having a conversation with God.” (And that is precisely the impression I have of his serving, especially at the prayer during the Cherubic Hymn, “No one who is bound with the desires and pleasures of the flesh is worthy…”) Feelings are not be artificially stirred up, he said. “All we need to do is celebrate slowly enough so that the words strike us, so we can say inwardly, ‘Yes, I believe this.’” If God wishes then this can also bring about the feeling of His presence, but that’s not required. “Whatever we’re doing—hearing confession, preaching, celebrating—the aim is to be absolutely real, present, and honest.”

It’s a pity, he said, that students in seminary often do not experience the reality of the words they learn. Hunger, for example. “Most people here [in the Russian Cathedral] have known real hunger.” He did too at one point in his medical studies. “I had to walk 50 yards and then stop. It was either buy required medical books or food.” Yet, after being once to India and coming back to Europe to speak about the distress and poverty he’d seen, a woman came up to him after the lecture and thanked him for his entertaining presentation. “Entertaining?  I hope you put more than 10 shillings in the collection!” He is unwilling to let people remain happily comfortable with their pieties if these are screens to evade reality.

He asked if I would come to the Cathedral twice a month to help out. They have a big need for Russian speaking priests. I asked about the project in Cambridge. Bishop Basil had again insisted last night that it couldn’t go forward without the blessing of Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira. Metropolitan Anthony said he’s hoping to see Archbishop Gregorios soon.


Sunday August 31, 1997

Alla [my sister] called from New York. Daria Drillock and her husband Stephen Loposky are in England, were hoping to visit Cambridge, and need a place to stay, so they came up and stayed with us overnight. We had a wonderful visit. I was in Walsingham during the day on Saturday meeting with Bishop Basil and the clergy of East Anglia and spoke publicly for the first time with them about the Cambridge project, the good response it has received, and the offers of help. I saw Stewart and Carolyn Armour for a cup of coffee, then they came down to Cambridge and we had dinner together with Daria and Steve. On Sunday we went for a bike tour of Cambridge before heading up to Ely Cathedral for the service, and were all stunned by the news—which we first heard as the preacher gave his sermon—of Princess Diana’s death.

Saturday, Sept 6, 1997

Princess Diana will be buried today. I have not taken on board the incredible outpouring of feeling in response to her death. And now the news last night that Mother Teresa has died [I met her—with son Andrew who was 11 at the time—at a quiet early morning Mass in the Bronx with just a few of her nuns and some others in April 1994]. As Deni said, the two most important women in the world, both admirers of each other for their work. Mother Teresa was to have a special Mass today for Diana, and there was no judgement about her “lifestyle.” All Mother Teresa saw in Diana was the good fruit of her care for the poor, the sick, the aged, those who suffered because of war. “By their fruits you shall know them.”

My reading today from St John of Kronstadt:

‘A true shepherd and father of his flock will live in their grateful memory even after his death. They will extol him; and the less he cares to be extolled here on earth on account of his zealous labors for their salvation, the more his glory will shine after his death. Even when he is dead, he will make them speak of him. Such is the glory of those who labor for the common good.

May God grant that I keep these examples of working selflessly for the common good always before me. Just keep holding on, forgiving, asking forgiveness, always conscious of our weakness yet of God’s faith and his ability to work among and with us. I woke this morning thinking of the words Fr Sergious [Gerken] gave me before I left the US: “Everything has to go on the altar.” Those came back to me as Deni, Alex, Anthony, and I were at Great St Mary’s for the “Service of Thanksgiving and Sorrow” in memory of Princess Diana.

‘Love that stands the test,

That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best.’


Thursday, August 21, 1997. Oxford.

It has been a memorable week in Oxford at the summer school. A full week with Bishop Kallistos and Andrew Louth team-teaching Saint Basil’s On the Holy Spirit. I’d like to write a lot about the people and events but for now all I have time for is an update about Institute plans.

Bishop Basil met with Bishop Kallistos last Tuesday (Old Calendar Transfiguration) to discuss with him “in general terms” the proposal for Cambridge. Yesterday I gave Bishop Kallistos a copy of the proposal and he right away said in a vigorous way, “Yes, I’m in favour. I’m supportive.” I saw Bishop Basil today and he reported that they had a very good meeting together. Bishop Kallistos admitted that he feels most at home with individual students, not setting up an institution. Of course, he’d thought for years of starting a house of study here in Oxford in connection with the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, but after serving its own purposes for so many years the Fellowship responsible for the buildings here has lost its freshness and pizzaz. Perhaps the best move is to make a new start somewhere else. A recent suggestion to get something like a study center going in Oxford didn’t get much response. Also, Bishop Kallistos recognizes that he’s marginal to the life of the Greek Archdiocese. For example, he really has no idea what’s going on regarding plans to collect funds for establishing a theological college at the 75th anniversary dinner for the Archdiocese in October. There’s a poster in the church—in Greek—announcing that all “omogeneis” (all Greeks) are invited. It’s probably difficult for Archbishop Gregorios (whom Bishop Basil sees as a warm, venerated figure) to relate to Bishop Kallistos, given the vast differences between them culturally and educationally. The archbishop might genuinely prefer the “neutral” ground of Cambridge. But it’s unlikely that he has a concrete plan of any kind. We agreed that the best approach is for Metropolitan Anthony to write to Archbishop Gregorios inviting him to appoint Bishop Kallistos and Andrew Louth to a working group.

Later I had 20 minutes with Bishop Kallistos. He had not yet read the proposal but was positive. His thought is to begin small, and not with a traditional residential seminary. Pan-Orthodox. And yes, Cambridge is OK. The theological climate there might be better there for such a project to get off the ground. This is a great relief to me. I had been worried about his possible negative reactions.

I had been to confession on Transfiguration. Bishop Basil spoke of Metropolitan Anthony’s analogy of the fish, the ancient “ichthys.” It stands for Christ, but also for us: a willingness to swim anywhere, to be with people as fully as possible. Be willing to swim in different kinds of environments, with different people. Keep swimming, turning, swimming in the current God provides.

Thursday, Aug 28, 1997 [Old Calendar Dormition]

Yesterday Denise and I went to London to meet with Metropolitan Anthony and Bishop Basil regarding plans for the Diocesan Conference and Cambridge. We had dinner afterwards with Bishop Basil at the Polish restaurant next to the South Kensington tube station.

Metropolitan Anthony gave his blessing to the theological college. He will speak with Patriarch Aleksy, Archbishop Gregorios with whom he’s been friends for many years, and said, “I can work with him.” He will also write to Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch, whom he’s known since the patriarch was a young deacon. “He was coming to see me, but he arrived at 3:55 pm for an appointment that had been set for 3:00. When I told him he was late, he said, ‘It’s 3 until 4 pm. As long as it’s not yet 4, it’s still 3!’”

Earlier, as we were entering the church to meet with Metropolitan Anthony, there was a retired Anglican bishop (from Atlanta) and his wife just leaving. The Metropolitan had been telling them how it was that the small Russian community in London had been able to purchase the cathedral in Knightsbridge, one of the most expensive sections of the city. They had been renting up until then, and then the church authorities had decided they needed to sell the property. One of the alternatives was to sell the building for repurposing as a Chinese restaurant and dance hall. But the Russian church community rallied, and Metropolitan Anthony received widespread support in small and large amounts. One man sent his wedding ring, after his wife had just died. Another woman sent her gold teeth (“she had just had false teeth put in”). And he felt that people would support the Cambridge project as well.


Friday, July 11, 1997. Cambridge.

Yesterday we met with John Binns. I had just finished writing to the President of the Cambridge Theological Federation, John Proctor, about concretely taking forward the Institute’s plans. Graham Cray (Principal of Ridley Hall) had urged him to pursue this “sooner rather than later” when I spoke with Graham unexpectedly over lunch at Tyndale. Meanwhile, John Binns had seen David Ford the day before, and Ford had obviously been pleased with the CISOC proposal. He felt it could move rather quickly, and he was serious about having the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius purchase a house and find a way to recover the investment, perhaps by renting rooms when there were no guests, similar to the arrangement they have with Stephen Platt in Oxford. He thought a house could be found for 100,000 pounds. As I left and was unlocking my bike I realized what had happened. I’d just been offered 100,000 pounds for the project. It was serious. Sounds like it will get off the ground. I was unsure of Bishop Kallistos’ support, but John was sure that if the Cambridge Faculty of Divinity, the Diocese of Sourozh, the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, and the Cambridge Theological Federation are behind it—and about this he has no doubts—then others would get behind it as well.

I’m more cautious, and at Denise’s suggestion I called Bishop Basil to have him think about the best way to approach Bishop Kallistos. Bishop Basil was incredibly enthusiastic and didn’t back away when I suggested that things might develop quickly. He sounded quite excited and wondered If I didn’t feel strange being thrust into all this. I do. All of us who are involved feel a bit like it’s out of our hands, and that we’re being carried along. My prayer is that Bishop Kallistos will get behind it too. Bishop Basil thought that he should be made aware soon, perhaps not by me in person, but by a letter from Bishop Basil with a copy of the proposal. Since there is as yet no forum for the Orthodox bishops in the UK to meet, he thought Sourozh could take the lead initially with Cambridge until such time as Thyateira (or rather a joint pan-Orthodox synod) could take charge. In the meantime, appoint representatives of all the dioceses to the Board, on the SVS model. How Bishop Kallistos would be involved will depend on how the organization will look and how Archbishop Gregorios will react. I realized last night that money could also be coming into this, and we need to be ready for that.

I woke up this morning with the refrain: “Do not accept the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor 6:1). So, I looked up the passage and read further. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return—I speak as to children—widen your hearts also” (6:12-13).

Last year at this time I was getting ready for my faculty presentation at SVS. How much has changed since then! Is there a better scriptural passage to keep coming back to as the foundation for any work in Christ’s Church? A continuous opening to others, a widening of the heart…

With all these exalted plans, it was nice to see the very human side of our life (one I dip into occasionally!) like picking tiles for the new house. We finally settled on the tile for the new bathroom yesterday at lunchtime.

Wednesday, Aug 13, 1997

The Fellowship Conference in St Albans went by very quickly. Donald Allchin was there and is enthusiastic about CISOC (he and Bishop Kallistos as boys were students together at Westminster School and have been lifelong friends). He thought that Cambridge was certainly a better place to make a go, although he admits that he himself is thoroughly bound up with Oxford. He has become friends with David Ford over the last few years, and he appreciates the freshness and openness of Cambridge, and the well-organized Theological Federation.

Bishop Kallistos: I had been in fear and trembling having to approach him and prayed desperately every morning about this. And then at lunch, after liturgy on Friday I was able to talk with him informally. It all came out so naturally. And we agreed to talk in Oxford next month.

Archbishop Gregorios: I hadn’t spoken to him yet about the Institute, and I had a heart-stopping moment when Donald Allchin at lunch remarked to the archbishop, “Of course, you know of plans in Cambridge.” But Donald said to me later, “I don’t think the archbishop took it in.” At any rate, John Binns told me he had been talking with Archbishop Gregorios before lunch and out of the blue the archbishop said, “You know, we don’t have a seminary. Cambridge would be the ideal place.” When John Binns told me this, I immediately imagined a team of archimandrites and a vicar bishop moving in with Greek shipping money to setup shop independently of our efforts.


Wednesday, June 25, 1997. Thessaloniki, Greece.

Yesterday I flew from London to Athens to Thessaloniki. Went straight from the airport to St Haralampos Church, received communion. Fr Athanasios [Gikas] was in his office finalizing work on an academic paper, while Fr Gregory, a friend of Fr Theonas’ from Simonopetra, was serving. I felt so at home, or at least relative to the first time I came there in 1994, at the agrypnia [vigil service] on the Elevation of the Cross on September 13th. Afterwards, at the University, things were the same. Everyone was frantic during the last few days of the term, and I was only able to nab Petros Vassiliadis for a few moments. But the evening meeting we had at his home was like gold—2 hours on the dissertation, plans in Cambridge, SVS, his hopes. He knew about SVS, was concerned, and wanted to intervene. But after we spoke, he was reassured and even saw Cambridge developments as better, and hoped for a connection with the University of Thessaloniki. I can foresee new connections with seminaries and universities all over Eastern Europe and the Balkans, sending students (maybe with the help of EU funding?) to Cambridge for a term or a year.

Friday, June 27, 1997. Veria [Beroea], Greece.

I’m here for a conference on St Paul—Bruce Winter is also participating. Yesterday I was sitting on the bus next to Archbishop Onuphry [Berezovsky] of the Diocese of Chernivtsi in Ukraine [he is the current Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, elected in 2014]. We spoke in Russian. Or rather, I asked questions, and he spoke very openly with me. What is most important for a priest? “To be a personal example. Everything else may be missing—education, ability to preach, a good voice and a good ear—but if he is a good example then nothing is lost.” How do people come to God? He mentioned one woman—a pilgrim to the Lavra of St Sergius, where he was assigned at that time to see pilgrims. He asked her why she came, and she said, “It’s because when I was a girl a priest came by and patted my head.” That was 40 years ago, she said. “But somehow in that touch the grace of God was not lost.” As he said, “What responsibility priests have, how we will answer for every action.”

Fr Nicholas Loudovikos was here too. He didn’t expect to see me yesterday. He came to Veria expecting to find someone who—it turned out—was not here and found me instead. I told him he should get better known by translating his works into English. He said that Metropolitan John Zizioulas had given him the same advice. He feels terribly stifled and isolated in Greece. He said that Metropolitan John also feels very isolated. The Orthodox Church here and its theologians are not ready for a real encounter with the world’s thought. The Church is closed in upon itself, introverted. I can see how constrained he is. It’s obvious that he is simply not understood. He’s too advanced. But he is just the sort of person whom David Ford in Cambridge would appreciate. There must be a way to get his work translated. Can we get him to England for a year? A house and salary, maybe from the Greek Archdiocese? We need a house in Cambridge that could serve as the home of visiting lecturers. Then we’d only have to find funds for visiting scholars. Could we establish an annual visiting lectureship in Cambridge?

I sat with Archbishop Onuphry again on the bus on the way home and asked how he became a monk. “I myself don’t know,” he said. “I was a civilian and then one day the thought came into my mind: ‘Go to seminary.’ I sat down on a bench for three hours and thought about this. And then decided to go. That was 1969. That first year was very difficult. There was much turmoil in my soul. It was hard, and there was a big gap between civilian life and spiritual life. The spiritual fathers at the monastery helped me, and I became a monk in 1970. My father was a priest, but he was a very simple man with no education. He knew prayer and work. Nothing else. He farmed his garden; he had a cow. No politics. And he never said, ‘You should be a priest,’ or even, ‘You should sing in the choir or read.’ Maybe he wanted to, but he never did. But when I went to the seminary, he was glad. He never had given me any money before (he said I might be a ’bad boy’ if I had money) but when I went to seminary I lost my job, and my father gave me money, and with his stipend, being at the monastery I had more than enough.”

As a child in the Soviet Union, he recalled kids smirking about his church connection. “I wasn’t in the Young Pioneers or in the Komsomol, and some children laughed at me. But I was a fighter in those days, and if anyone laughed…”—he smiled; he still has big hands and strong arms. As a youth and young man his main interests were physics, mathematics, mechanics, “and here I am now, a priest!”

Archbishop Onuphry had always been an excellent student, but when he decided to go to seminary, his university teachers suddenly changed their opinion. One wrote a report that said, “he has steely eyes and is mentally unstable.” And it was hard to get recommendations from priests when he was applying to seminary. They were all afraid. Finally, the only priest’s recommendation he could get was from his own father. Even the local bishop was afraid. The government was giving the bishop a hard time about why he had approved his application and allowed him to go to seminary. The bishop backed off and told the authorities, “Ask his father, since he is the son of a priest.”


Tuesday, June 10, 1997

Went to London yesterday to see Fr John Lee at the Cathedral. He was raised Roman Catholic on a farm overlooking the Allegheny River, went to Roman Catholic seminary (St Mary’s in Baltimore). His grandmother was probably Uniate from Austro-Hungary. When he wasn’t ordained, he was sent to teach school in Manitoba, and “by chance” a Ukrainian woman at the school, hearing his singing voice, asked him to help her choir in a Ukrainian Orthodox church. After two years he converted.

When I asked him about Metropolitan Anthony, he recounted a story about a French woman who came to London ten years ago to “sit at the feet” of Metropolitan Anthony. “When I asked her, what she had learned after all those years—and she was about to return to France—she said, ‘Il n’y a pas de maîtres.’ There aren’t any masters.”  Fr John introduced me quite bluntly to the faults of the Diocese, thus strengthening my conviction that there is no kingdom of God on earth. There is a tiredness among the clergy, and it seems to me that any sparks will have to be fanned not by them but by the laity. “But there is money,” he said, despite protestations to the contrary. This surprised me. Fr John is the executor of 12 wills, each of which is giving a house to the Diocese. One of them alone will be worth 500,000 pounds. So, if desired, there is money to do an institutional, long-lasting project.

Fr John has been hoping for years to find a better way to train priests. In fact, the Russian Church has said they will not recognize the Statute of the Diocese until they have their administrative house in order, and that includes establishing a program for the training of clergy. We spoke of the need for the Diocese to take responsibility for itself, to stand up, even in terms of its relations with the Church of England. There had been some handwringing about receiving an Anglican parish in Nottingham, but as Fr John said, “Until we show our willingness to accept that there are cows in the road, we won’t be taken seriously.” Meaning, we can’t worry about how the C of E will react. Unfortunately, up to now the C of E attitude is often cynical, observing that the only converts the Orthodox Church gets are people the C of E is happy to see leave: “haters of homosexuals and women.”

Fr John was genuinely heartened by the enthusiasm Denise and I have for staying in England. There had been a sense of hope a long while ago, ten years, but that had dissipated. Metropolitan Anthony went for three or four years in the mid-1980’s rarely serving, closeted away, and this brought people down. “It’s all been too closely tied to him.” When I told him about our own sense that life is percolating here, and that Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” keeps running through my brain as an image of its momentum, he said I should tell Met Anthony [sadly, I never did].  He asked me who I thought could fire up the people with a sense of excitement again. I think that’s one of our tasks—mine and Denise’s—though I didn’t tell him this. I did say that this spirit would spread among the people, and that there would be no one main leader. All would be taking responsibility and recognizing that we can do something in Christ. And this awareness is in itself empowering. We don’t need to keep waiting for someone else “to do something.”  

Fr John said that Metropolitan Anthony used to ask every new priest as they were being ordained and coming through the Royal Doors, “We need missionaries. Are you prepared to be a missionary?” He also told each priest something quietly for them alone. He told Fr John, “There are two kinds of priest. The active kind, who take the church forward and are creative. And there is the kind who are protectors and conservers. I’m ordering you to be the second type, to hold the line.” Fr John is very blunt. He admitted that at first, “out of jealousy,” he hated me. But he now feels that I am liked in the Diocese and should not feel shy about contributing.

Saturday, June 14, 1997. 16th anniversary of ordination to diaconate.

As Deni just said, the last 16 years have been preparation for the next 16 years of service. And the day began by illustrating both sides of that service—church and academic. On the academic side: the last respondent to the CISOC proposal came through. David Ford called yesterday afternoon.  He was writing a letter to Bishop Basil and was very pleased with the proposal. He felt it was “so worthwhile,” and said it was “very well rounded and nuanced.” He suggested that the next step should be a wide-ranging discussion with the President of the Cambridge Theological Federation (at Westminster College) and that full membership as a training body should be the goal. I was so happy when I got off the phone. Bishop Basil, when I spoke to him, felt that we need to continue to let Cambridge guide us, and to keep being aware that we are responding to their need and their request. And on the church side: Deni and I went to pick up Alex (age 11) from his Midlands camping trip, and he was glowing. He’d bought me a brass candlesnuffer for our new church life, saying, “You might be needing this…”


Wednesday, May 28, 1997

I arrived, tired, in Paris but pulled myself together and got on the Metro, following the penciled instructions from Fr John Breck I’d scribbled last evening on the back of an envelope. After going upRue de Crimee instead of down I finally found L’Institut St Serge [ISS]. It’s tucked slightly away from the livelier neighborhood along Laumiere. It has seen better days, though it was protected from a recent fire at the photo lab next door. By right it should have caught fire since the building closest to the fire was the dilapidated ISS candle factory. There was paraffin everywhere that should have gone up in flames. As Fr John said, this was a miracle of St Sergius. Fr John later told me that St Sergius had been chosen as the patron of the Institute in 1924 because it was on his feast day (18 July Old Calendar) that John Mott of the YMCA came up with the decisive money to purchase the property. A picture of him hangs on one of the walls.

There are some newer offices and classrooms, but the heart of the school is an older version of the St Vladimir’s Old Building. Rickety steps leading up to Fr John’s little flat in the eaves; steps worn away by generations of faculty and students: Fr Bulgakov, Fr Florovsky, Fr Alexander Schmemann, Fr John Meyendorff. Fr Boris Bobrinskoy spent 18 years or so up there with his family, stooping perpetually because he’s so tall and the ceilings are so low. The chapel is a holy Russian church that takes me back to growing up in Montreal at Saints Peter and Paul and to the old chapel at St Vladimir’s, though it’s even darker. The ceiling is peeling, and new white plaster shows where leaks have appeared and been repaired. It is “namolennaya” as my Baba [grandmother] would say—imbued with the prayers of generations. But it also feels closed in. I can imagine Fr Alexander [Schmemann] and Fr John [Meyendorff] feeling oppressed here. The students sang beautifully, again reminding me so much of the Russian spirit of the church in Montreal, but as someone said, “it’s the closed kind of Orthodoxy, mystical but not accessible.” Why can’t things be kept up, repaired, and painted? Is it only lack of money? I see the same ethos at the London Cathedral. What a contrast to the attention to detail I saw in Fr Alexander Schmemann and Fr John Meyendorff.

But everyone was very warm and welcoming. Among others I met Simeon [Froyshov] from Norway, whom I’d spoken with at St Vladimir’s, now doing his PhD in liturgy. He was disappointed here with the lack of “St Vladimir’s” vision for church and liturgy. Also met Fr Job Getcha, who is doing his Masters and had been a parishioner of Fr Ihor Kutash at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Montreal [Fr Ihor had been influential in my own life as a student at McGill University in the mid 1970’s—we would often have weekday matins together in a university chapel, where we would be on our own as he served and I was the reader/singer].

Fr John took me to meet Fr Boris Bobrinskoy. He was leaving to attend a conference in Zagreb in a few minutes but had time for an introduction and “agreement in principle” about forming an alliance regarding correspondence courses. His main question was why I had joined Sourozh and not the Greek Archdiocese of Thyateira. I told him I was “looking for a church with a vision beyond its own people.” This was the answer he expected.

Long discussion with Fr John and Sophie Deicha regarding the correspondence program. The secret to its success is flexibility, fitting into people’s needs, and not rigidly establishing a fixed and narrow format. And then it was lunch with an effusive Fr Nicolas Ozoline, an old world Russian priest. He and others can’t understand the ecumenical bent of people in Thessaloniki like Petros Vassiliadis and Savvas Agouridis.

Tuesday, June 3, 1997

I dreamt that Bishop Kallistos came to stay overnight. We were rushing about getting the house tidied before he came down to breakfast. Later he and I had a pleasant lunch in a Greek restaurant, where the lady in charge gave us a break on the price. An altogether peaceful visit. In contrast with this dream-story Deni told me of her real-life meeting with him in Oxford at Pascha. Not that he wasn’t cordial, but he was perplexed at our decision to come to Cambridge. “Why? Why Cambridge?”


Tuesday, May 13, 1997

Last Saturday: first pan-Orthodox conference on religious education, at the Serbian Center in London. Metropolitan Anthony, Bishop Kallistos, Archbishop Gregorios, and others. Also, a surprise visitor: Owen Jones, the founder of Rose Hill College. His advice about starting the Institute, based on what he learned in starting Rose Hill: “It’s humbling, you need to ask others for help. And you won’t get help unless you ask. And faith. Hebrews 11 has meant a lot to us.” He stressed 1) the need for education to cost (“Orthodoxy often sells itself short”) and 2) the need to be visionary (“this is what gives power”).

There was enthusiasm at the conference for thinking—or at least hinting—big. Not only were the possibilities of Orthodox secondary schools considered, but an Orthodox Open University, a seminary, and training for teachers and clergy. Another confirmation that this is the right moment to get the Institute off the ground.

Wednesday, May 14, 1997

Revised the plan for CISOC to send it out more widely for reactions.

Saw David Ford at the New Testament Seminar on the future of NT scholarship. Markus Bockmuehl was the presenter, and although he is pessimistic about the current state of NT scholarship, he is hopeful about the NT itself when grounded in reading and interpretations that are ecclesial, spiritual, Christian. He is brilliant and courageous.

David Ford tapped me on the shoulder as he came in and said he’d had a good meeting with Hilarion [Alfeyev] and wanted to tell me about it.  It’s likely that he will come to Cambridge in 1998-99, through the new Center for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies (CARTS), though the exact teaching and format are open. Ford was in support of an Orthodox presence, the need for a center, and a church to which people like Fr Hilarion could be attached and for Orthodoxy to be embodied. I told him of the proposal I would be sending him, and he was enthusiastic. I mentioned that I’d also seen Chris Wright, who sees a possible connection with the Cambridge Theological Federation, perhaps associate membership to start with. The ball keeps rolling.

Went to Tyndale House at 6 pm to pick up Chris Seitz for dinner. He has been teaching at Yale for several years, is a protégé of Brevard Childs, has spoken several times with Fr Paul Tarazi at St Vladimir’s, and goes regularly to Fr Michael Westerberg’s church in New Haven and is now a visiting scholar at Tyndale House. He was very supportive about plans for the Institute and had some good recommendations. With him and others at Tyndale House I feel that Evangelicals and Orthodox are much more deeply allied than others might imagine at first glance.

Thursday, May 22, 1997

Jim Forest was staying overnight with us Monday and Tuesday night for his presentation on icons at Great St Mary’s, based on his new book, Praying with Icons. About 25 people came, which was much more than the SPCK bookstore manager expected for a book about icons. The talk and slides were just right—real families, church scenes, putting icons within the real spiritual lives of people. We had lunch on Tuesday with John Binns at “The Mitre” pub. I asked Jim about the idea of a center for research here, and he was very excited about the possibility. “There’s nothing like it.” That same day, at the Tuesday morning chapel service at Tyndale House, I met Graham Cray, the Principal of Ridley Hall. And when I mentioned the idea of an Orthodox institute he said, “I would have thought this is exactly the right timing.” [Graham Cray later became a bishop. His frequently quoted motto was “Walls down, roots down.”]

Several people had recommended that I talk with Prof Dan Hardy about prospects for an Orthodox Institute, and yesterday when I was at a presentation on Jewish Studies by Prof Nicholas de Lange, it turned out that he was there too. Jeanne Knights introduced us. He said that one of the “major lacunae” in English theology is liturgical. “Orthodoxy could help with that.” More confirmation of genuine support here in Cambridge.

Friday, May 23, 1997

It’s Friday already. The Sourozh Diocesan conference begins today in Oxford, and I still don’t have my talk ready. With this and with the plans for the Institute “out there,” I feel so little, of no account, and would just like to retreat. Scared. I have no interest in “big.” Just a small parish, a secure salary, serving, preaching, visiting. Only that would be a betrayal of all the hopes here, wouldn’t it? But it is scary, and I can’t pray with that weight. Psalm 70 should be mine.

O God, attend to my help
    O Lord, make haste to help me. (Ps 70:1)

Tuesday, May 27, 1997

On the way home from the conference Deni and I spoke seriously about the idea of correspondence courses and putting the most effort into that first. Fr Stephen Headley had also spoken about this when we asked him. Incredibly, today I got a letter from Fr John Breck suggesting the same idea was brewing at St Serge and would I be interested in a possible connection between Cambridge and Paris? Yes, of course. So, I’m already on the train tonight bound for London and will take a bus to Paris to meet Fr Boris Bobrinskoy and others before he leaves for a conference in Zagreb. This is the only way to get there early. I only managed to speak with Fr John after 6:15 this evening. The bus/boat will get me to Paris by 7 am. Deni packed me a dinner, I quickly changed clothes and packed, and she drove me to the train station. I’m now on my way to France.

Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, 90 this year, was present throughout the Sourozh conference and I managed to have a few words with her. She was very pleased to see the growth of the Diocese, which she had known from its birth. She had known Metropolitan Anthony as a layman in Paris [Andrei Bloom]. She was only sad that there was as yet no consciousness of being a local church as was now happening in France.


Sunday, April 20, 1997, Palm Sunday. Short Hills, New Jersey.

Yesterday arrived with Anthony at JFK airport in New York. Liturgy for Palm Sunday at our old parish in Rahway, New Jersey. Alongside the “distress and anguish” of the 1st Antiphon of Palm Sunday I felt the gratitude of Lazarus: “What shall I render to the Lord for all that he has given me?” (Ps 116). And today’s epistle reading from Philippians is the theme of the Institute: “Rejoice in the Lord, again I say rejoice…Whatever is good…think about these things.” I was so glad to see George and Elizabeth [Theokritoff]. Both support the idea of an Orthodox presence in Cambridge. Elizabeth said the idea of being a “bridge” between East and West was exactly the original impetus for the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius in Oxford [she was Executive Director for a time], but now its older, Anglo-Catholic membership is less inclined to be attractive to a broad range of other Christians. She thought Cambridge is an obvious spot for something new to begin.

I called Fr Paul Lazor and arranged for confession after Bridegroom matins tonight. I keep coming back to Fr John Turkevich’s words to John Shimchick and me when we spoke with him a few years ago: “God deals in big numbers.” The bigness of God, the impossibility of capturing him, his effect, his ways. Like the Greeks always say, “O Theos mas einai megalos”:  Our God is Big (or Great). I was grateful for all I have just received at St Vladimir’s. The Bridegroom matins was so beautiful. The sense that we are all in this together—all, professors, students—all bowing down before the same God, everyone conscious of their own cares, own sins, each needing salvation. As everyone bowed during the Prayer of St Ephraim the soft rustling of the cassocks was the sound of quiet waves lapping at a calm seashore, unruffled, no anxiety. I confessed all my resentment, faithlessness, despair, and anger of the last few months, but now want to put all that behind me. My enmity left when the decision was made to stay in England, but the “lapping” helped seal this.

Fr Paul told me a story that he said very few know. When he and Fr Tom went to anoint Fr Alexander [Schmemann] for the last time before his passing in December 1983, Matushka Juliana was there, they had their final conversation, and others made a record of his very last words: “Amen, amen, amen.” But there was something he said earlier. All along Fr Alexander had been responding to questions clearly with either a word, or a nod or a squeeze of his hand. Then Fr Paul asked him, “Do you bless us to continue your work?” He refused to respond. His hand was limp. It was a pivotal moment in Fr Paul’s life. Here was Fr Alexander saying in effect, “It isn’t in my power to give it to anyone. It doesn’t belong to me. It is God who raises up people.” My going to England reminded Fr Paul of God’s presence and sovereignty. God is the one who is in charge. Fr Paul had so wanted me to be at SVS. “But it wasn’t mine to give.”

Fr Paul told me that his mother is in her last days and when he visits her, he asks for “a word.” Last time she said, “If something you are called to do is of God you will always be called upon to give more, and there will always be enough.” But fear persists: “Will there be enough? Can I do it?” We need to use this fear to rely on God. “Sometimes,” he said, “I think the only thing I have to offer to God is my fear.” Fr Paul also confirmed the need to stay free, free to go anywhere, no matter what resentments and fears may seek to prevent us from being at peace. Stay open, and don’t shut people off.


Monday, March 24, 1997

“Anxious and troubled about many things” [Luke 10:41]. Everything comes back to faith in God, his presence, and his promises. I’ve been reading the Russian Chronicles of Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery and am struck by how everything St Seraphim of Sarov did was through the direction or confirmation of the Theotokos. Once I know the project is blessed, I can learn to be peaceful (likewise if it’s not). In the meantime, work, take initiative, and as doors open enter in. And keep knocking.

Monday, March 31, 1997

It has been a dramatic few days, yet the feeling of drama has yet to reach me. The pace has prevented that. It’s just after 1 am, and Denise and I just finished editing and finalizing the proposal for “The Cambridge Institute for the Study of Orthodox Christianity” to send to Bishop Basil [CISOC was the working title of IOCS until it was formally incorporated in 1999]. It was signed just before midnight. I remembered Fr Alexander Schmemann’s insistence that the agreement about the OCA’s autocephaly be signed on March 31st, not April 1st!

Wednesday, April 2, 1997

Yesterday I mailed the CISOC proposal to Bishop Basil. We also signed the agreement for the building of our new house at 10 College Fields and spoke with bankers about a mortgage, and family members willing to help with a down payment. It was April Fool’s Day—and yet it was all real. As one of the saints said, “You can do nothing without God, but God will give you nothing unless you work with all your heart.” Lord, help us to be completely open.  “Strike me down, raise me up, I worship in silence Thy holy will.”

Today I heard from John Binns that Great St Mary’s is looking to reopen St Michael’s chapel, and he wants us to think about the possibility using it for an Orthodox presence in Cambridge. When I saw Fr John Lee at the Cathedral in London, he too had mentioned the hope of starting regular services in Cambridge. But he warned that some of the Orthodox in England might be troubled by too close a relationship with the Church of England. John Binns likewise volunteered that this was a sensitive point, since the Diocese of Sourozh is viewed by some as getting too liberal. Our association with Great St Mary’s might confirm this impression and undermine whatever good we were trying to accomplish. Nor had he yet spoken with his own people about this. I was noncommittal but did say that if the project gets a blessing and a working group is put together to take it forward, then it would be natural to include him and explore this further. But we do need to be careful. The Orthodox must have complete trust in this venture.

Tuesday, April 8, 1997

Sunday, I met in London with Fr Michael and Jeanne Harper. Denise and I spoke the other day about the need for a “Cambridge man” to be part of these plans, and when I called Fr Michael Harper last night, lo and behold, he was a student at Emmanuel College and has a great desire to do something for his old town and university. What was most memorable about the day was not our picnic and conversation in Regent’s Park, though that was all positive, and they have much interest and enthusiasm for developing something Orthodox in Cambridge. What was more astonishing was seeing for the first time little girls serving in the altar at the liturgy at the Antiochian Cathedral of St George. How absolutely refreshing and delightful to see “Carol,” “Nadine,” “Samira,” and another Lebanese girl, plus two boys being typical altar servers (including their quiet kibbitzing with each other). The girls were definitely the most competent of the lot. I was told that girls serve here and elsewhere in Western Europe with the blessing of Bishop Gabriel and the Patriarch. At coffee Samira’s mother explained that not allowing girls to serve was a “Jewish or Muslim custom, but it’s not our way.” She did admit that this is still relatively recent, and people needed some convincing.

Thursday, April 10, 1997

“Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation’” (Ps 35:3). This is a good verse for today, since last night Bishop Basil gave us Metropolitan Anthony’s blessing to stay in England to pursue the Cambridge project. Bishop Basil was uncharacteristically effusive in his support and left me feeling that we have the backing of both bishops—at least moral support, since “the Diocese has no money.” He had spoken with Metropolitan Anthony about the proposal after sending a copy to him the day he received it. The Metropolitan was taken aback by its ambition and scope, but Bishop Basil pointed out that this was a seed being planted. Metropolitan Anthony liked the oak tree analogy that Prof David Ford had offered: “Oak trees come from acorns.” But Metropolitan Anthony was also concerned that we know the financial hard facts, and Bishop Basil assured him that we did. Another crucial factor for Bishop Basil, which he seems to have underlined with the Metropolitan, is the positive conversations I’ve had with others in Cambridge and elsewhere. I wanted to make no mistakes here, and needed to be convinced this is not just a “John and Denise Jillions thing.” So, I asked Bishop Basil his owncandid view, not just the repeated positive opinion of Metropolitan Anthony. With unusual feeling and force he said, “It would be a sin not to attempt this. This is the way we should live. With a sense of dependence on God, of risk, of holy adventure, going into the unknown.” He felt that this is the sort of project that Metropolitan Anthony would be “constitutionally incapable” of starting himself, “given that it is a plan.” Bishop Basil also felt that if anything like this is to happen in England it will be in Cambridge. Oxford doesn’t have the right spirit in the Divinity School. He said that the newly appointed patristics professor, for example, has no personal commitment at all to the Fathers of the Church. The openness and freshness of the Cambridge Divinity Faculty (David Ford in particular) is a crucial difference. He reiterated that pan-Orthodox involvement is important, but some structure—like the Cambridge Theological Federation—which includes non-Orthodox could prevent the project from falling apart or being dominated by any one Orthodox group with its own agenda.

Bishop Basil advised that I wait to talk to Bishop Kallistos and others later in the process, after it becomes clearer that there’s solid interest from Cambridge University in setting up the project seriously.

As it happens, this was the same day that Fr Paul Lazor called from St Vladimir’s Seminary and left a blessing for me on the answerphone. I hadn’t spoken to him since September of last year. He called to say he was thinking of us. “God be with you.” But at that point early in the day, neither of us knew exactly what the blessing was for.

[The Cambridge Theological Federation (CTF) with now twelve houses of study would come to provide the critical ecumenical and institutional context for IOCS. Its “Statement of Purpose”: 

Shaped by a common life of prayer and study, the Cambridge Theological Federation is an ecumenical collaboration of educational institutes engaged in the formation of Christian leaders. Individually and together we teach theology for ministry; reflect on the local and global, ecumenical and inter-faith context for Christian mission; foster encounter between people of different ecclesial and faith traditions; and undertake research in theology and religious studies.]


Sunday, February 2, 1997

I preached on “A Sign that is Spoken Against: the witness of the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe” at Great St Mary’s, the University Church in Cambridge, as part of their 5-part series on the churches of Europe. I wanted the story of the new martyrs and confessors to be told. Their message as a legacy of single-minded holding on to faith was what I distilled from conversations with Fr Leonid Kishkovsky and others recently. When all can be taken away, this is what remains. Scorched earth all around, but the one stubborn tree that refuses to die or be cut down is faith.

Friday, March 7, 1997

Met today with David Ford [Regius Professor of Divinity] in his office at the Faculty of Divinity. Looks like the time is ripe for an Institute for the Study of Orthodox Christianity, started by me or someone else, here in Cambridge. There’s an empty space for this in Cambridge, largely because the Orthodox Church has been viewed as “an Oxford thing.” He is especially interested in Orthodoxy’s role in contemporary theology. He was warm and enthusiastic. This means a lot coming from him as the senior faculty member. As he said, “Oak trees come from acorns.”

Thursday, March 13, 1997

Last night Denise and I were at the home of John and Sue Binns for dinner. [The Revd Dr John Binns was the vicar of Great St Mary’s, the University Church in Cambridge. He was a founding director of IOCS and has continued to serve on the Board these 25 years]. John was very supportive of a possible stay in Cambridge and spoke of Metropolitan Anthony’s influence in his life. In the past Metropolitan Anthony was invited to Cambridge several times a term to preach in various colleges and churches, especially at Great St Mary’s. While John was a student at St Catharine’s College Metropolitan Anthony preached daily for a week-long mission, and John went along just out of curiosity. “But by Wednesday I was hooked.” He said that was a pivotal moment in his decision to become a priest.

Monday, March 17, 1997

I was in Oxford on Saturday and spoke with Bishop Basil about our hopes, asking for his blessing. He supports us, but knows it will be difficult and therefore, in good conscience, how can he easily rejoice? He says the next step is to put a proposal in writing for Metropolitan Anthony. On Sunday I went to the London Cathedral with Nicholas Sagovsky [Anglican chaplain at Clare College] and we had wide-ranging conversations in the car there and back. But in speaking with him I realized how many gaps there are in my knowledge—current research in New Testament, classics, Old Testament, philosophy, current thought in theology, western theological developments. I feel most at home meditating on the text of Scripture, preaching.

Tuesday, March 18, 1997

St Patrick’s Day yesterday, and it looks like Denise may have a job. One fell through, but at that very moment Bruce Winter offered her a job to do editing and to support the administrator at Tyndale House. They would basically run Tyndale’s day-to-day operations, explore grants and development, and keep everything on track. Just the kind of work/training she needs to run something similar for an Orthodox institute in Cambridge. The “dropping in her lap” of this opportunity is not lost on her. So many such incidents lately. A conversation yesterday with John Binns about possibly using the Westcott House chapel. And today we were walking by Wesley House, saw a sign for “The Cambridge Theological Federation” (CTF) and had an unexpected meeting with Chris Wright, the administrator. This would provide the ideal ecumenical setting for our institute. Even if I’m notthe right person, this is the right moment.


Dec 6, 1996. St Nicholas.

Eric called yesterday [Eric Wheeler, CFO of the OCA 1988-1999, and my brother-in-law, married to my sister Alla]. He was calling on behalf of Fr Bob [Fr Robert Kondratick, OCA Chancellor 1988-2006] and Fr Alexander Golubov [Academic Dean, St Tikhon’s Seminary 1995-2010] to ask if I would be interested in teaching dogmatics at St Tikhon’s.

The hardest thing for me would be to stay here in England. It frightens me—the wide openness of the possibilities and unknowns. Yet here is where, it appears at the moment, there is more to be offered, more need. I keep thinking of what Fr Alexander [Schmemann] told me when I called him in 1983 from a payphone on a break from work at Banker’s Trust. I wanted his advice about being ordained a priest and going to a tough Brooklyn neighborhood. “John, we know where the easy way comes from. If the way is knowingly difficult, the Lord will bless it.” I’m not sure the Lord ever presses anyone to do what’s knowingly difficult. Perhaps this accounts for Bishop Basil’s reluctance to come right out and say, “Stay in England.” He knows it would be difficult. And that’s why we need to take the initiative, to willingly see the need, choose the difficult, and pick up the cross, knowing that if we do, we will—in the end—have help.

Dec 9, 1996

With Fr Michael Fortounatto in London. I told him that we were unsettled, and as if he knew how deep that was, he asked, “Fr John, have you ever been in a crisis? I have, and I found God at the bottom of it.” Today is the feast of the Conception of the Theotokos: Joachim accepts the rebuke of the priest as God’s judgment. His response is to ask forgiveness, to repent, and to ask God to remove his humiliation. Likewise, Anna. They both feel the rejection so deeply, but there is no blaming of priests or God. And when their prayer is heard they dedicate their child to Godwith thanksgiving. But it’s also striking that they never simply say, “It’s OK, we don’t need a child, we can do without that.” No, they repent and pray for what they most desire.

Dec 11. 1996

Fr John Breck left a message a few days ago and I called back. He was very saddened but felt perhaps that I had been spared unbelievable pressure. “Workaholism, living on the edge of exhaustion, and expected to do so.” His advice is to seek the Lord’s will through 1) insistent banging on the gates of heaven to ask for clarity and 2) silence: “listen in the Lord’s presence.”

Fr Tom’s advice on seeking the will of God: if we truly will to seek God’s will, we will find it. In the meantime, be faithful to whatever calling we now have, in its details. “Faithful over little…” For me that means focusing on finishing the PhD, to see this as God’s calling. Fr John Breck’s insistence: “this needs to get done.” Bishop Kallistos keeps asking, “How’s your research?” And just seeing Bruce Winter at Tyndale House reminds me to keep working. The temptation is to let other worries intervene. Like this morning, I had waves of anxiety waking me up. The dissertation (all the Old Testament material to review), the children, the prospects of staying here, money—and the lack of it right now, with Christmas coming. I am “anxious and troubled about many things.” But it does ease when sitting before God: “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.” I thought of Elijah in his depression, treated so gently by the angel of the Lord. “Arise, eat, you need strength for the journey, else the journey will be too great for you” (1 Kgs 19:7).


November 28, 1996

Our celebration of American Thanksgiving tomorrow will be in Oxford with other American ex-pats: Bishop Basil (Osborne), Fr Stephen and Anne Headley and their children, Fr John Lee and his family, and Kelsey Cheshire and her daughter. Right now, I still find it impossible to pray, though reading psalms is a big help (except that they also stir up self-pitying thoughts of being persecuted). I say the words, but they barely come out. I feel such a crushing weight on my chest.  “He is full of heaviness; thy rebuke has broken his heart.” I still find myself going over the ground of my rejection again and again. What did I do wrong? Where can I go? How to distinguish between what is really my problem—and correctible—and what is the result of other factors? Or should I consider whether God has some other plan? I’m not bitter, although part of me admits wanting to do well out of spite. Is this the weight that keeps me from praying? I just don’t know. Perhaps it’s best to:

  1. Accept this as an opportunity for repentance; consider what in me needs correction (the “log in my own eye”).
  2. Look for opportunities—eventually—to remain connected with SVS and do good.
  3. Refuse to speak out of anger, bitterness, envy.
  4. Immerse myself in productive work.
  5. “Look to the interests of others.” Do good. Find opportunities to serve.
  6. Pray for others. St John of Kronstadt: “The prayer of a priest for men has great power with God, if only the priest calls on the Lord with his whole heart, with faith and love.”

November 30, 1996. St Andrew.

Andrew and I are staying with the Headleys, in the old house of  Nicholas and Militza Zernov in Oxford. Andrew is still sleeping, and I write here under a huge old print of Moscow. Last evening we were all at Bishop Basil’s for Thanksgiving dinner. As Anthony walked into the home he whispered to Denise, “This is my dreamhouse!” The fire in the grate, the walls filled with paintings, portraits, art of all kinds, little tables here and there with overflowing potted plants and artistic additions and sculptures, the high ceiling, a long table and two elaborate Victorian silver candelabras, the old and comfortable furniture, very worn. All this made an atmosphere of welcoming and warmth.

Bishop Basil, predictably reserved, had no immediate reaction to my news from Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. However, Fr Stephen Headley (SVS ’69) has been living in France for many years and was counselling me to stay in Europe. “You can do so much more here than if you go back to the US.” Later, when I simply asked about having a seminary in England, he said, “You should run with that. It needs an American kind of push to get it going. Bishop Kallistos and everyone has been talking about this for years.” He said it would need a strong correspondence component. “St Serge Institute in Paris has a successful correspondence program with 300 students. And it provides a fulltime salary for the priest who runs it.” As he sees it, something like this could be run from Cambridge. At the same time this would give Cambridge the fulltime priest it needs (right now Bishop Basil serves liturgy there on a Saturday once a month at St Edmund’s College). This might be needed, but I’m not convinced it’s for me.


In September 1999, after more than two years of preparation IOCS began with a wonderful sense of promise and purpose. Like any institution it has seen its share of challenges, but by the grace of God IOCS has continued serving students and scholars from the UK and around the world for twenty-five years. It has had some remarkable founders, teachers, and benefactors, most notably the late Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, who was the guiding force and chairman for most of its history.  I offered to write a series of posts for this anniversary year about that critical founding period from late 1996 to the opening in 1999.  I kept a personal journal all through that time which I have excerpted for this series.

As the Institute was first conceived, began taking shape, and then was born there was a consistent thread of wonder as doors opened unexpectedly to make this venture possible. I often thought of Psalm 104:24, “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all…” Another thread was Psalm 126:5, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy,”  because the first seeds of IOCS came out of personal crisis, and—as Fr Michael Fortounatto told me at the time—that’s where God is found.

First some background. I had been a priest for ten years, and in the summer of 1994 my wife Denise and I moved from Rahway, New Jersey to Thessaloniki, Greece with our three sons (Andrew, Alex, and Anthony) so I could start doctoral studies in New Testament with Professor Petros Vassiliadis. The assumption had been that after finishing my PhD I would return to teach at St Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. I spent a year in Greece, and then moved to Cambridge, England to do research at Tyndale House, a wonderful biblical research library, where I could work under the supervision of its director, Dr Bruce Winter. He was acquainted with the biblical faculty in Thessaloniki through Professor John Karavidopoulos who had spent a sabbatical year at Tyndale House. It was an extraordinary time in our lives, and I made the most of the resources in Cambridge, including attending the lectures of Professor Morna Hooker on the letters of St Paul.

Then in September 1996—sooner than expected, and before I had finished my dissertation—Fr Thomas Hopko (the dean at that the time) invited me to apply for a position at StVladimir’s and to come for faculty interviews, give a lecture, participate in the liturgical services, and preach. It all seemed to go well, and I returned to Cambridge with great anticipation. However, on November 7th, I had a mournful but decisive call from Fr Tom: he couldn’t offer me a position. Clearly, it hadn’t gone as well as we both had thought at the time. I was devastated and honestly didn’t know what to do. In November 1996, living in Cambridge, everything seemed to have fallen apart. And that’s where the Institute begins.