Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Synesthetic Sermonizing

Another unusual and fascinating passage from Gillian Crow's 'This Holy Man' Impressions of Metropolitan Anthony:
The new Father Anthony began to develop skills as a preacher of sermons, in which he initially employed an idiosyncratic technique possibly linked to his synaesthesia. He would close his eyes when he began speaking and would then 'see' in his head what he termed arabesques: a line of blue curves and squiggles on which he could focus his attention. Starting from one end of the line he would follow the marks in his mind's eye, talking as he did so almost as if spellbound, until he reached the far end, when he would stop. The technique seemed to work, in that he became a popular speaker.

There was another reason he was popular. He was able to celebrate in French as well as the traditional Church Slavonic. The younger generation of Russians, born in France, found the Slavonic difficult to follow, and a priest who celebrated in French was soon in demand elsewhere. One Sunday he was invited to another parish specifically so that the congregation could hear a French sermon.

He read the Gospel in both languages, first French and then Slavonic, and proceeded straight into the sermon, using his customary technique. It was only after he had climbed into bed that night that he was disturbed by the thought that he was not aware of anything he had said. Concerned, he telephoned the parish priest to ask him what he had preached on.
'I don't know,' came the disgruntled reply.
'What do you mean, you don't know? Why not?'
'You preached in Russian!'
It was an abrupt end to his contact with that particular parish; they never asked him back.

Nevertheless, he continued to preach according to his strange techniques, at first accepting it in wonder as a gift. It was only some time later that he spoke about it to Father Sophrony, the revered founder of the Orthodox monastery at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex, who said to him, 'You know, this is very immature.'

In giving this counsel Father Sophrony was following the Fathers, who were always quick to i mpress upon their disciples that such mystical occurrences were for beginners, to be left behind with growing spiritual maturity. That the Father Anthony took this to heart could be seen in the outcome. The arabesques disappeared, immediately and for good.

Here one can find video and audio files of Metropolitan Anthony's talks and sermons in Russian; here you can read the texts of his sermons and talks in English. You can also watch a news piece (in Russian, but with English subtitles) on the Cathedral of the Dormition and All Saints in London with an interview with Metropoltian Anthony.

The above photograph of Metropolitan Anthony was taken at the Moscow Theological Academy in 1966.

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