Archimandrite Kyprian Kern (1899-1960), formerly a hieromonk of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, left the Russian Church in 1936 for the Paris Jurisdiction, then under the Patriarchate of Constantinople. An academic and intellectual, Fr Kyprian had difficulty living inside the Russian Church, rather he wanted to write about it and its heights of holiness from outside.
Fr Kyprian wrote as an imaginative religious thinker about ‘creativity’ in the best Parisian style. As an academic, he was very conscious of footnotes and textual criticism. In general, he represented the pro-ecumenical, pro-Catholic and pro-Phanar ‘theology’ of the Paris School and even supported the Phanar’s pretensions over the whole Diaspora. He was also involved with the church of the highly controversial Mother Maria (Skobtsova).
However, Fr Kyprian also wrote on Patristics, especially on St Gregory Palamas, an excellent and practical book called ‘Orthodox Pastoral Ministry’, and a learned and interesting, if sometimes modernising, book on the Eucharist. Here we are interested in his biographical notice on Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev (1863-1936). This was written in a small town in Brittany at the other end of Europe from Russia, years after the repose of the great Metropolitan.
First Impressions: The Church
As a young student of law and then theology in Belgrade, Constantine, then Fr Kyprian, Kern had known the elderly Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev very well. He found confessions with him profound and felt the immense compassionate love of the pastoral and forgiving heart of the Metropolitan. He was astounded that the Metropolitan knew the whole Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, virtually by heart and could always quote chapter and verse. However, this knowledge was not of the external, academic sort, for the Metropolitan knew the Bible not with his mind, in the Western sense, but with his soul. This was because he lived it.
It was the same with the Church services, the typikon. The Metropolitan loved the services and lived them from inside his praying heart, not like an academic liturgical specialist or a sentimental spiritual tourist. That is why he detested ‘concert’ style music in church, to which we cannot pray, and Italian ‘icons’, so beloved of sentimental, Frenchified aristocratic Russian women, for whom he had no time. Similarly attractive to him was the profound moral sense with which the Metropolitan understood the great dogmas of the Church.
The academic in Fr Kyprian wrote of the great Metropolitan through Parisian eyes and criticised him for his generalising opinions and even abrupt statements. These displeased Fr Kyprian who always looked at the footnotes and subtle details. And yet even he could write very much in praise of the Metropolitan and left this valuable biographical notice behind him. When Fr Kyprian criticised what he saw as the ‘inconsistency’ of the Metropolitan, this was in fact Fr Kyprian’s own inconsistency. In his academic’s logical head, he could not reconcile the strictness of the Metropolitan’s Orthodoxy, his ‘Churchness’, with the mercifulness of the Metropolitan’s loving heart. The Metropolitan was above all a ‘Church-man’ and the values and beliefs which he lived and incarnated were the Church’s: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
Neither Left nor Right, but Incarnate: One
Politically, the Metropolitan was always accused by right-wingers of being ’a dangerous liberal’ – because he wanted the freedom of the Church and the restoration of the Russian Patriarchate. And they knew that he could not stand the atheistic or indifferent aristocrats who ‘did not know the difference between a Metropolitan and a censer’ and who were behind the Paris schism. This is not by hearsay. In my own family, there was a princely relative, the last Tsarist ambassador to Washington, who was an open atheist.
However, by left-wingers, for example decadent liberal professors, the Metropolitan was seen as a ’dangerous reactionary’ and absurdly he was even accused by socialists and anarchists of ‘anti-semitism’. This was even though he valiantly and successfully defended and protected Jews and their property against the pagan and anti-Orthodox pogroms of the Uniatised regions of the Russian Empire. In reality, the Metropolitan was not a monarchist in the areligious, conservative or reactionary sense. Thus he opposed masonic conservatives, just as he opposed masonic liberals, for he opposed the monarchism (as all other isms) of self-interested right-wing politics. Indeed, as regards constitutional monarchy, ‘of the Belgian type’, he said that he ‘disliked all words ending in ‘ution’: revolution, constitution, prostitution’. Such constitutional monarchists were often the self-interested who, though calling themselves ‘Whites’, were not really ‘White’ at all and so lost the anti-Boshevik war.
Naturally, when someone is accused of being left-wing by the right-wing and right-wing by the left-wing, we know that he stands above politics. This does not mean that the Metropolitan was apolitical (which is a political stance in itself), like the gnostic Parisian schismatics with their ‘theology’ of disincarnation. The Metropolitan was for the Tsar, for the Monarchy, but only as the Tsar was the Anointed of God, the source of national unity. For Metropolitan Antony the Church always came first, not the State, not race, not secular culture and prejudices, called ‘progress’. Since Metropolitan Antony was for the Monarchy, he was therefore often opposed to individual monarchs, especially Peter I. This instinct is Orthodox, part of the Tradition, a result of our Chalcedonian theology of the Incarnation. Thus, the Metropolitan stood neither for right, nor for left, but for the Church, for he saw all things through the prism of the Church and Her Oneness.
The Metropolitan’s sense of the Incarnation also explains why he was ‘anti-mystical’. Hence, his rejection of the pseudo-mysticism of the self-exalted, delusional and ‘self-deified’ (to which Fr Kyprian later developed inclinations). His profound sense of the Church fostered in him the sense of spiritual sobriety, that essential Orthodox quality, found so little in neophytes. He even said that he feared two things most of all: ‘a rabid dog’ and ‘a holy man’. Of course, by ‘holy man’, he did not mean an authentic holy man or saint, but one of those deluded, hysterical individuals who imagines that he is holy and leads the uninitiated into spiritual illusion, after which follows spiritual disillusion.
We should not forget the fatal weakness of the decadent aristocrats of his age for the theosophy of Blavatsky, Swedenborgianism, masonry, ‘mystical anarchism’, occultism, Hinduism etc. These people never fully recovered from such fatal attachments and amusements. This is why the Metropolitan was reserved with regard to the reading of St Isaac the Syrian, St Symeon the New Theologian and St Gregory Palamas, the great saints whose work is on such a high level that beginners should not read them, for fear that they will fall (as some, even whole sketes, have) into spiritual delusion. Similarly, he was reserved with regard to what is now called the ‘Jesus Prayer’, (in Patristic terminology ‘the Prayer of the Heart’), knowing also that the self-exalted easily fall into spiritual illusion, not because of it (it is pure), but because they undertake it with pride and spiritual impurity, with lack of self-knowledge and lack of basic repentance.
He who does not know how to watch over the movements of his heart should not undertake such feats. The Metropolitan could not stand pretentiousness and the self-exaltation of the pseudo-mystical, with their ‘theosis’. Sobriety and great care with the ‘Jesus Prayer’, through the abuse of which some have fallen into spiritual delusion, were great characteristics of his. Those who read about the heights reached by genuine ascetics, St Isaac the Syrian, St Symeon the New Theologian and St Gregory Palamas, from the comfortable armchairs of their studies and then think that they have been deified are in danger. The Metropolitan sought the genuinely Holy and not the fakery of the charlatans, who were so widespread in the Paris Russian emigration.
The Church – Free and Universal: Catholic
Fr Kyprian noted that Metropolitan Antony’s lifelong battle was for the freedom and independence of the Church, for Patriarchal ways. He detested the bureaucratic ritualism and formalism of the Synodal period of the Russian Church. He detested the dry as dust, museum-style scholasticism and rationalism and the stale, Protestant academicism and bookwormery of the ‘positivist’ Synodal past. This was when the Church’s administration had been institutionalised by the Protestant-style Russian State. The Metropolitan fought for the authentic Christianity of the Orthodox Tradition, inspired and renewed by the life, grace and saints of the Holy Spirit. For this, the brilliant young churchman Fr and then Bishop Antony had been exiled before the Revolution to provincial Kazan, Ufa and then Zhitomir.
The Metropolitan had at once seen through the modernising reformism of the new generation of Protestant imitators, who wanted an artificial and not spiritual renewal. These reformers were once more merely copying the fundamentally irreligious West. Conversely, the Metropolitan’s Church was the Church of the canons. Not the canons as understood in the Western sense as dry and dead rules, but the canons as revelations of the Holy Spirit, of Church Truth. The Metropolitan obeyed the canons, not because they were rules, but because they are spiritually fulfilling and anything else would be unnecessary, boring and spiritually empty.
Since the administrative apparatus of the Russian Church had been held captive by the Russian State since 1700, Metropolitan Antony helped revive understanding of the spiritual teaching of the Church, her spiritual being. For the Metropolitan, Orthodoxy was universal and language was never a barrier. It was he who had invited his friend Patriarch Gregory of Antioch to Russia in 1913, so that the spiritually deprived and provincial Russians could at last see a Patriarch. It was of course through the Metropolitan’s unceasing efforts that the Patriarchate in Russia was finally revived, even if this did not take place till after the Revolution. The Metropolitan often found Russians provincialist and he loved to celebrate in Greek whenever he could. Indeed, in services he would use Slavonic, Greek and Latin, which languages he knew perfectly. Although fully Orthodox with regard to the heterodox, he would say of the salvation of those outside the Church, that they were ‘like the Chinese’, that ‘with God all is possible’. The Metropolitan was indeed Universal, ‘Catholic’.
The Slanders: Apostolic
In Fr Kyprian’s notice there is naturally no mention of stavroclasm (‘cross-fighting’), the absurd claims by enemies of the Russian Church that the Metropolitan was a ‘heretic’ (sic!) who denied the importance of the Cross in our Redemption. In reality, what the Metropolitan did deny was the Western, feudal ‘satisfaction theory’, first developed by the arch-heretic and filioquist Anselm of Canterbury after the Western schism and taught in polonised Russia from the seventeenth century on. Of course, it can be said that the Metropolitan did express himself badly in his work ‘The Dogma of the Redemption’, he did put wrong emphases in his work, carried out while he was a prisoner in a Uniat monastery. But he himself was quite happy to withdraw the work when it was found to be divisive – as it was, by the proponents of the Western satisfaction theory, who had been educated in the Westernised Theological Academies of nineteenth-century Russia.
For the Metropolitan’s critics his work was premature, too advanced. They were not ready for the great and authentic Patristic revival which the Metropolitan had begun. Later, disciples of Metropolitan Antony such as St John of Shanghai, in his brilliant article, ‘What Christ prayed about in the Garden of Gethsemane’, and St Justin of Chelije, in his Dogmatics, put the Metropolitan’s insights into their rightful context. No-one, not even latter-day Californian schismatics who have their own personal, anti-Russian axe to grind, objects to these writings. The Parisian academic, Fr Kyprian, had not a word to say about ‘stavroclasm’ and the later distortions of the Metropolitan’s reflections.
The other common slander was that the Metropolitan used bad language and vulgarity. In his biographical notice Fr Kyprian says that he never heard this. Quite simply, in true honest and down-to-earth Slav style, the Metropolitan was not diplomatic, he was frank, he called spades spades. There was none of the artifice of the aristocrat who could not call things by their names. And it was the de-Churched aristocrats who accused him of such things. It was as simple as that and though it displeased the worldly and artificial, that was his character. Simply, he hated pretentiousness and affectations and denounced them. In this way he was Apostolic, not fearing slanders and the truth, however upsetting that is for this world.
Fr Kyprian summed up Metropolitan Antony’s character and life in one word: ‘Churchness’ (‘tserkovnost’). In other words, the Metropolitan did not write about the Church, it was not a hobby for him, seen from outside. He lived the Church, it was a way of life, he lived in Church culture. The Metropolitan, highly intelligent and highly educated, prioritised the Church in everything. He was totally logical and consistent, unlike Fr Kyprian, who followed Parisian ‘apolitical’ politics, the politics of gnostic disincarnation. At the end of his life the Metropolitan, this latter-day Church Father, was granted the gift of tears and a child-like innocence. Fr Kyprian wrote that he was like an Old Testament Prophet. He had indeed been sent into exile, as the Metropolitan had himself prophesied as early as 1906 - a prophet not accepted in his own country
It is in the light of this biographical notice, though written through critical eyes, that we ask the question: When will the earthly remains of the Metropolitan be moved back from Belgrade to Russia? When will the destiny of Metropolitan Antony be fulfilled and when will he be honoured in his own country? However, if the earthly remains of the Metropolitan were to be brought back to their homeland, where would they be taken? Some might propose Novgorod, the Metropolitan’s birthplace. However, Novgorod is small and provincial. It is surely not the fitting destination for this Universal Metropolitan. Some might propose Kiev, his last see before he was forced into exile. However, in today’s political climate of provincial Ukrainian politics, Kiev is no longer the centre that it once was. Where then?
Others, perhaps more logically, would suggest Moscow, the Russian Capital. Apart from the fact that this was not the Capital in the Metropolitan’s time, this would seem a good choice. However, there is a serious argument against it. Metropolitan Antony fought all his life for the freedom of the Church from the State and detested political interference in Church life. It is inevitable that in any political Capital someone will try to interfere in the life of the Church. It is therefore our suggestion, once the present restoration work there is completed, that the Metropolitan’s earthly remains be taken not to the Third Rome, but to the monastic complex of New Jerusalem outside Moscow. There in the monastery built by Patriarch Nikon, whom the Metropolitan so venerated, side by side with the latter’s relics, his remains should also be laid in honour, awaiting the great day when we shall all rise from our tombs.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
22 June / 5 July
The Holy Martyr Alban, Protomartyr of the British Isles