The Piety of a Hierarch:
On the 15th Anniversary of the Repose of Archbishop Anthony
Reader Vladimir Krassovsky, San Francisco.
One of the remarkable traits of Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) of blessed memory, without a doubt, was his profound piety, his attitude towards everything holy, everything relating to the Holy Church of Christ, to divine services, both daily and festive, to personal requests for services of need, to the items of the church: vestments, the cross, divine service books, cotton swabs from miracle working icons... I stress: he always, always had an attitude toward divine services, holy relics and icons that was filled with trepidation and the fear of God. This attitude accompanied his sobriety and a simple but very deep logic.
The piety of Archbishop Anthony could fill a book. I wish to share with the readers a few instances from the life of Vladyka Anthony which illustrate this piety.
When I was an administrator of the Chancery of the Western American Diocese, I once needed to take delivery of 5 or 6 boxes of newly published Gospels prepared by Archimandrite Mitrophan in Church Slavonic. This Gospel was intended for free distribution by Father Mitrophan. I told the postal worker to place the books on the floor in the hallway near the entrance to the Chancery. Sometime later, Archbishop Anthony, who lived in an apartment above the Chancery, descended and, seeing the boxes of Gospels, told me to move them to a different place, while he went to a back room to find some documents in the diocesan archives. I started moving them, but instead of taking each box individually I decided to shove the boxes all together with my foot. When Vladyka emerged from the archives and saw how I was moving the boxes with my foot, his face turned anxious. Anyone who knew Vladyka Anthony well, knew by this expression that something was wrong.
He approached me, troubled, and asked “what are you doing?” I replied that I was following his instructions and moving the boxes. “But these are the Holy Gospel in these boxes!” Bewildered I answered “So what?” Then Archbishop Anthony softly clarified for me “We do not dare move boxes with such holy books with our feet.” I then carefully carried the boxes one by one by hands to the new spot.
One time, I was driving Archbishop Anthony and Protopresbyter Elias Wen to the hospital to administer Holy Communion to someone. Father Elias was in the back with the Holy Gifts. I knew him well, since he christened me in Hong Kong, having been the rector of the Church of the Resurrection there. I often called him yeye, which in Chinese means grandpa, since my relationship with him, and with Vladyka Anthony, was that of a son. (This year, in November, father Elias celebrated his 109th birthday.) So as we drove to the hospital I tried to strike up a conversation with Fr Elias, but he did not respond with much enthusiasm. I was puzzled, thinking that maybe I had insulted him in some way. Was he mad at me, I asked? Archbishop Anthony, who sat beside me, turned to me quietly and softly and lovingly said, Vova, Father is holding the Holy Gifts, try not to talk to him unless necessary, better yet in the presence of the Holy Gifts observe a pious silence.” We continued to the hospital in complete silence. I have to say, that thanks to this I sense such things very differently now.
It was Great Friday. On this holy day, every believer goes to church for divine services with special trepidation; for me as a choir director, and for the choir, the divine services of Passion Week are already well known and are sung with a quiet subdued ceremony. The Holy Church prepares us for the great Feast of Feasts, holy Pascha. Archbishop Anthony came to church and prepared for the services, donned his vestments. Physically, especially in his last years, he was feeble, but one sensed that he was given wings by an incredible spiritual strength, and energy that lifted him up. His eyes were focused, his expression was one of concentration. Vespers of Great Friday were coming to an end. The church was filled with worshipers. The choir sang Egda ot dreva, then the sticheron Tebe odeyushchagosya in the Bulgarian chant, then the trisagion was read, followed by the singing of Blagochestivy Iosif. Slowly, surrounded by clergymen and altar boys, an ancient Russian plashchanitsa was brought out of the altar.
Four priests held the burial shroud high above the head of Vladyka Anthony. He held a small Gospel upon his head. With the help of subdeacons, Vladyka struggled to sink to his knees before the plashchanitsa. His head bowed low. The holy plashchanitsa was then laid upon the funeral bier, “into the tomb.” Vladyka, on his knees at the foot of the tomb, dares not lift his gaze upon it, and, gazing at the floor, piously extends his hands towards the plashchanitsa and tenderly places the Gospel upon the body of the Divine Sacrifice. Only after this does Vladyka dare to rise to his feet. He rises, places the wreath upon the tomb, and slowly, without haste, anoints the Body with aromatic oil. It is impossible to express the feeling that gripped me every year during this blessed moment.
Archbishop Anthony’s piety was visible in every aspect of his life. It protected him from the fuss of daily life, from “arrows flying by day.” The Lord God often allowed me, a sinner, to witness this pious trepidation, the spiritual staunchness of Vladyka Anthony, who breathed this trepidation, who lived by it.
May the Lord grant peace to the bright soul of Archbishop Anthony. Eternal memory to our dear Vladyka, and may we all likewise suffuse ourselves with his pious example.