Category Archives: Oxford

Fr Nicholas Gibbes: The First English Disciple of Tsar Nicholas II and the First English Priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

A Talk given at Barton Manor near Osborne House on the Isle of Wight on 7 July 2018.

In this centenary year of the martyrdom of Tsar Nicholas II, his August Family, their servants and the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, it would be well to recall their first English disciple and the first ever English Russian Orthodox priest, Fr Nicholas Gibbes.

Charles Sydney Gibbes, for short Sydney Gibbes, was born 142 years ago, on 19 January 1876. In the 19th century this was for all Orthodox the feast day of St John the Baptist, the voice that cried in the wilderness. His parents were called John and Mary – more English than that you cannot find. His father was a bank manager in Rotherham, just outside Sheffield, in Yorkshire. Amusingly, this would later be recorded by a Russian civil servant on Sydney’s residence papers in Russia as ‘Rotterdam’.

With no fewer than ten siblings, Sydney grew into a stereotypical, Victorian, Protestant young man of the educated classes. He received his education at Cambridge, where he changed the spelling of his surname to Gibbes, from Gibbs, as the adopted form is the older, historical one. This change was typical of his love of historical detail and accuracy. Sydney is described as: severe, stiff, self-restrained, imperturbable, quiet, gentlemanly, cultured, pleasant, practical, simple, brave, loyal, lucid, witty, crisp, vigorous, honourable, reliable, impeccably clean, with high character, of good sense and with agreeable manners. He seems the perfect Victorian English Yorkshire gentleman – not a man with such an unusual destiny.

However, as we know from history, underneath Victorian gentlemen lurked other sides – repressed, but still present. For example, we know that Sydney could be stubborn, that he used corporal punishment freely, that he could be very awkward with others, and he is recorded as having quite a temper, though these traits mellowed greatly with the years. My good friend from Oxford days long ago, Dmitri Kornhardt, recalled how in later life tears would stream down Fr Nicholas’ face when celebrating services in memory of the Imperial Martyrs, but how also he would very rapidly recover himself after such unEnglish betrayals of emotion.

Underneath the Victorian reserve there was indeed a hidden man, one with spiritual sensitivity, who was interested in theatre and theatricals, spiritualism, fortune-telling and palmistry, and one who was much prone to recording his dreams. Perhaps this is why, when after University he had been thinking of the Anglican priesthood as a career, he found it ‘stuffy’ and abandoned that path. Talking to those who knew him and reading his biographies, and there are three of them, we cannot help feeling that as a young man Sydney was searching for something – but he knew not what. The real man would eventually come out from beneath his Victorian conditioning.

Perhaps this is why in 1901, aged 25, he found himself teaching English in Russia – a country with which he had no connection. Here he was to spend over 17 years. The key moment came in autumn 1908 when he went to the Imperial Palace in Tsarskoe Selo and became the English tutor of the Imperial children. In particular, he became close to the Tsarevich Alexis, with whom he identified very closely. Why? We can only speculate that there was a sympathy or else complementarity of characters; together with Sydney’s bachelordom, this may have been enough for the friendship to develop. In any case, he became almost a member of the Imperial Family and a profound and lifelong admirer of what he called, as an eyewitness, their exemplary Christian Faith, close family life and kindness. His meeting with this Family changed his life forever and he only ever spoke of them with profound admiration.

In August 1917 Sydney found himself following the Family to Tobolsk. Utterly loyal to the Family, in July 1918 he found himself in Ekaterinburg, the city in the Urals between Asia and Europe, East and West, after their unspeakable murder in the Ipatiev House. He helped identify objects, returning again and again to the House, picking up mementoes, which he was to cling on to until the end, and still reluctant to believe that the crime had taken place. Coming almost half way through his life when he was aged 42, this was without doubt the crucial event in that life, the turning point, the spark that made him seek out his destiny in all seriousness. With the murder of the Family, the bottom had fallen out of his life, his raison d’etre had gone. Where could he go from here?

He did not, like most, return to England. We know that he, like Tsar Nicholas, had been particularly shocked by what he saw as the British betrayal of the Imperial Family. Indeed, we know that it was George Buchanan, the British ambassador to St Petersburg, who had in part been behind the February 1917 deposition of the Tsar by treacherous aristocrats, politicians and generals. This coup d’etat was greeted by Lloyd George in the House of Commons as the ‘achievement of one of our war aims’. (We now also know from the book by Andrew Cook that it was British spies who had assassinated Gregory Rasputin and also that the Tsar’s own cousin, George V, had refused to help the Tsar and His Family escape).

In fact, disaffected by Britain’s politics, from Ekaterinburg Sydney went not west, but east – to Siberian Omsk and then further east, to Beijing and then Harbin in Manchuria. Off and on he would spend another 17 years here, in Russian China. In about 1922 he suffered a serious illness. His religiosity seems to have grown further and after this he would go to study for the Anglican priesthood at St Stephen’s House in Oxford. However, for someone with the world-changing experience that he had had, that was not his way; perhaps he still found Anglicanism ‘stuffy’, I think he would have found almost anything stuffy after what he had been through – seeing his adopted Family wiped out. Finally, in 1934, in Harbin, Sydney joined the Far Eastern Metropolia of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

There is no doubt that he did this as a direct result of the example of the Imperial Family, for he took the Orthodox name of Alexis – the name of the Tsarevich, whom he naturally saw as a martyr. He was to describe this act as ‘getting home after a long journey’, words which perhaps describe the reception into the Orthodox Church of any Western person. Thus, from England, to Russia and then to China, he had found his way. In December 1934, aged almost 59, he became successively monk, deacon and priest. He was now to be known as Fr Nicholas – a name deliberately taken in honour of the martyred Tsar Nicholas. In 1935 he was made Abbot by Metr Antony of Kiev, the head of our multinational Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and later received the title of Archimandrite.

Wishing to establish some ‘Anglo-Orthodox organisation’, in 1937 Fr Nicholas Gibbes came back to live in England permanently. He was aged 61. Of this move he wrote: ‘It is my earnest hope that the Anglican Church should put itself right with the Holy Orthodox Church’. He went to live in London in the hope of setting up an English-language parish within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. In this he did not succeed and in 1940 he moved to Oxford. In this last part of his life in Oxford he became the founder of the first Russian Orthodox church in Oxford at 4, Marston Street, where he lived in humble and modest circumstances. In recalling the address of that first church, dedicated to St Nicholas, we cannot help recalling that today’s Russian Orthodox St Nicholas church in Oxford is not very far away from it.

Not an organiser, sometimes rather erratic, even eccentric, Fr Nicholas was not perhaps an ideal parish priest, but he was sincere and well-respected. In Oxford he cherished his mementoes of the Imperial Family to the end. Before he departed this life, on 24 March 1963, an icon given to him by the Imperial Family, was miraculously renewed and began to shine. One who knew him at the time confirmed this and after Fr Nicholas’ death, commented that now at last Fr Nicholas was seeing the Imperial Family again – for he had been waiting for this moment for 45 years. He was going to meet once more those who had shaped his destiny in this world.

In the 1980s in an old people’s home outside Paris I met a parishioner of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, Count Nikolai Komstadius. He had met Fr Nicholas in 1954, in connection with the false Anastasia, but perhaps had seen him before, since his father had been in charge of the Tsarskoe Selo estate and he himself had been a childhood friend of the Tsarevich. I remember in the 1980s visiting him. In the corner of his room in front of an icon of the martyred Tsarevich there burned an icon-lamp. He turned to me and said: ‘That is such a good likeness, it is just like him and yet also it is an icon’. Not many of us lives to see a childhood playfriend become a saint and have his icon painted. Yet as a young man in his thirties Fr Nicholas had known a whole family, whom he considered to be saints. Indeed, he had been converted by their example.

There are those who have life-changing experiences. They are fortunate, because they stop living superficially, stop drifting through life and stop wasting God-sent opportunities and so find their destiny. Such life-changing experiences can become a blessing if we allow them to become so. Fr Nicholas was one such person, only his life-changing experience was also one that had changed the history of the whole world. For a provincial Victorian Yorkshire bank manager’s son, who had grown up with his parents John and Mary, he had come very far. And yet surely the seeds had been there from the beginning. To be converted we first of all need spiritual sensitivity, a seeking spirit, but secondly we also need an example. Fr Nicholas had had both, the example being the Imperial Martyrs. As that late and wonderful gentlewoman Princess Koutaissova, whom many of us knew, said of his priesthood: ‘He was following his faithfulness to the Imperial Family’.

In this brief talk I have not mentioned many aspects of Fr Nicholas’ life, such as his possible engagement, his adopted son, his hopes in Oxford. This is because they do not interest me much here. I have tried to focus on the essentials, on the spiritual meaning of his life, his destiny. Those essentials are, I believe, to be found in his haunted and haunting gaze. Looking at his so expressive face, we see a man staring into the distance, focusing on some vision, both of the past and of the future. This vision was surely of the past life he had shared with the martyred Imperial Family and also of the future – his long hoped-for meeting with them once more, his ‘sense of completion’.

 

From Recent Correspondence (September 2017)

Q: What is the Russian Orthodox view of patriotism?

A: As President Putin has put it: ‘For Russians […] patriotic sentiment, the sense of national belonging that is now, to their sorrow, being eroded in certain European countries, is very important’. In today’s Europe, the attention of those who seek to preserve their national identity, those who are patriots and nationalists in the best sense of the word, is fixed on Moscow. Conversely, those who yell the loudest about a ‘Russian threat’ and ‘European unity in the face of Russian aggression’ are precisely those who want to destroy European faces and borders and reviving identities, like that of Catalonia, as they are oriented towards the EU headquarters in Brussels and the White House.

Russia is the Motherland of patriotism in Europe and in defiance of the artificial denationalisation imposed by Western-imposed Soviet Communism, it is returning to the old mission of keeping the flame of national identity in Europe alight, preserving it as a Europe of homelands and not a public thoroughfare. Although the State-run media like the BBC try to slander all moderate patriots as ‘Neo-Nazis’ and ‘the far right’, in reality there are very few ‘Neo-Nazis’ and ordinary people, both on the normal right and the normal left, are patriots. 52% of British people voted for Brexit, surely even more would vote for Brexit today, given Juncker’s recent speech on the abolition of Europe (‘Eurofederalism’) in Brussels.

Q: Why is the West so aggressive?

A: The West is far more aggressive than many people even realize. Its wars of aggression are always camouflaged by code-names. For example, the multinational Western invasions and Western wars of aggression against Russia are variously known as ‘The Teutonic Crusades’, ‘The Napoleonic Campaign’, ‘The Crimean War’, ‘World War One’, ‘World War Two’ etc. In the same way, today the USA has a ‘Department of Defense’, and yet no-one has ever tried to invade the USA and that Department is notorious for its Offense.

Britain’s ‘Ministry of Defence’ has similarly always spent its time invading and bombing countries far away, all in the name of ‘national security’. Apparently Britain has invaded some 150 foreign countries in its history! This British Establishment aggressiveness goes back to its founders, in their so-called ‘Battle of Hastings’, which did not take place in Hastings and should actually be called ‘The Norman Invasion and Occupation’ or ‘The Defeat and Rape of England’.

The roots of this Westernwide aggression go back even further than 1066, to the anti-Christian Charlemagne, who revived the dead pagan Roman Empire – the model for all aggressive, asset-stripping and war-based systems – under the code-name of a ‘classical revival’. He told his people that they were superior to Christians (‘Greeks’) and also to anyone else, because the Holy Spirit came from their leader, the Pope of Rome, whom Charlemagne had made infallible with his filioque ideology. Later this mythical superiority was spread downwards to anyone who agreed with the Western Establishment and anyone who was ‘Western’ was thus considered superior. ‘Black, brown, red and yellow peoples’ were inferior and therefore could be enslaved and massacred by ‘White’ Western people. Here is the fruit of the filioque, from the Crusades to Iraq.

Yet another example: On 25 September the BBC programme ‘Beyond Belief’ (Radio 4, 4.30), the programme I spoke on twice after the Pussy Riot blasphemy, the subject was ‘The Persecution of Atheism in Russia’! I could hardly believe what the BBC has come to. It really is Beyond Belief! Not content with supporting the US installation of lesbian politicians and Zionist atheists as leaders in Eastern Europe, from Serbia to the Baltics and the Ukraine, the BBC are now directly plugging Western atheism in Russia, where a few decades ago Western Marxist atheists martyred 600 bishops and 120,000 clergy, under the pretext of ‘freedom of speech’.

Q: What worries you most about the situation of the contemporary Russian Orthodox Church? Ecumenism?

A: Definitely not ecumenism. That is a bedtime fairy-tale for old people. It was abandoned as a failure long ago. No, it is something else. Let us try and understand the context in which we live.

We live in the fourth century. We in the Russian Church have come out of persecution and are being recognized, moving forward into the rest of the fourth century. (Unlike the West, where the heterodox have been in the fourth century and are now heading backwards towards the third century and persecution by various atheist emperors). What was the problem in the fourth century? There were no outward enemies, but there were inward enemies, all those who swam with the tide, the ‘fairweather Christians’ who joined the Church for their careers, for worldly advantage. Martyrdom is largely over for us: the ‘easy way’ to salvation has gone: all we had to do was to be killed. For a believing Orthodox that is not a problem. This is why in the fourth century, there was a huge growth in monasticism. Opportunities for martyrdom were mainly over, but the faithful still needed the real thing.

In times of peace we face not outward enemies, but inward enemies, as we in the Church Outside Russia, know only too well. We in our part of the Russian Church did not face martyrdom, what we have faced for nearly 100 years is inward enemies. We faced multiple schisms, by modernists (in the Paris Jurisdiction and in the USA), then by old calendarists (in the USA, France, South America and Great Britain), we faced racism and nationalism (the policy of excluding certain people from the Church because they had ‘the wrong blood’), we faced careerism, false brethren and slanders, backed by certain bishops. This type of persecution is insidious and calls on us to be confessors and not martyrs. That is much more subtle.

We have a great example in St John of Shanghai, who was put on trial in a secular court by so-called ‘ROCOR’ bishops, clergy and people. Shame on them! But who came out of this affair a saint? It is the insignificant and derided little man on the court bench who prayed: the others are, at best, forgotten. Something similar happened to Fr Seraphim (Rose), who faced persecution from inside. Our greatest enemies have always come from inside the Church. Our enemies confess not the Orthodox Faith, they confess ‘religion’, the outward ritualistic system of phariseeism, spiritual dryness and literalism, together with a systemic personality cult and academicism, sometimes homosexual, all of which persecute, mock and despise any authentic, living spiritual experience.

The souls of these go dry at Pentecost, they feel nothing, not the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit, not new green life, but they rattle off the prayers to the Holy Spirit without feeling, looking at their watches. These people have no Love, no Theology, no Knowledge of the Living God (St Alban), no compassion, all they have is their ill psychology, which they use for self-justification and persecution of the righteous.

Today we can see such tendencies inside Russia (and among some of its representatives outside Russia). Careerism, the interest in ‘awards’, rationalism, knowledge only of the outward, Spirit-free academicism, the rush for ‘degrees’, the salt that has lost its savour. It does not matter whether the tendency is new calendarist and modernist or old calendarist and traditionalist, it is the same anti-spiritual tendency.

Q: Was the Russian emigration a good thing?

A: Its causes were of course bad and émigrés suffered. But the spiritual life of the emigration itself was very mixed, both pure and impure. In the 1930s St John of Shanghai reckoned that only 10% of the emigration was Churchly. This corresponds to my own experience. Many Russians were ‘White’ only inasmuch as they were greedy for money and property and had no time, either for the Faith or for the Tsar, whom so many of them had actively betrayed. Many were racist and nationalistic, opposed to multinational Rus, so denying the words and commandments of the apostles to go out into all the world and teach and baptise ‘all men’.

There are still parts of the Russian emigration which have not returned to the Russian Church and, incredibly, are still on the Catholic calendar, which was introduced by the masonic Anglicans into Constantinople for a fee of £100,000 in the early 1920s. Still no repentance for such unspeakable spiritual decadence! In years to come we shall be amazed that any of this was possible, let alone justified by ‘theologians’, ‘the great and good!’

And yet the emigration also produced saints. As ever, I will say to you: Follow the Saints! Yes, the rest existed and exists. Ignore them, let the spiritually dead bury the spiritually dead. There can be no nostalgia for them. Follow the Chains of Love and you will set your soul free. The Russian emigration was caused by evil, but God’s Providence can always make good from evil.

Q: Is it true that ROCOR has never had a scandal?

A: I do not know who told you such a fairy tale. Sadly, very sadly, just think about the Antony Grabbe scandal in Jerusalem, about the consecration of Valentin of Suzdal (I remember how Archbishop Antony of Geneva prayed for a snowstorm so that his plane could not take off and he would not have to take part in his consecration under obedience), about Grabbe’s bishop-father who ended up in a right-wing sect outside the Church and banned anyone from attending his funeral, about the defrocked….

Q: What would you like to see the Orthodox Church do as a whole?

A: Publish statistics and facts! For example, I reckon that there are about 800 Orthodox bishops, 80,000 priests and 217 million Orthodox. However, these are merely informed guesstimates and I do not know the truth. I have no idea how many deacons, monks and nuns there are in the Church and in each Local Church. I would be very grateful to see some central statistical Orthodox authority issuing such information. (If any readers can correct my estimates, please will they contact me).

Q: In the light of what happened in Crete in 2016, what should be done about the state of the Orthodox episcopate, where there are so many who are clearly unprincipled?

A: That is of course a question for the episcopate, not for me. However, my suggestion would be something like deposing all bishops who do not confess that:

1. The Orthodox Church alone is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

2. The application of the canons which state that if they have been appointed by secular authorities (e. g. the State Department in Washington), they must be deposed.

3. The application of the canons which state that if they practise simony, they must be deposed.

4. The application of the canons which state that if they practise homosexuality, they must be deposed.

5. That if they are freemasons, they must be deposed.

Q: You are educated, how can you believe in heaven and hell?

A: We know from the unique revelation of the New Testament that God is Love. Therefore, it is clear that heaven is the presence of Love and hell is the absence of Love. It is very simple. It is even clear from this that heaven and hell, although in undeveloped forms, already exist on earth. People create their own heaven and hell. Please forget the primitive notions of atheists about heaven and hell that you seem to have. It reminds me of the incredibly primitive peasant Khrushchev who said that Gargarin had proved that God did not exist because he had been in space and had not seen Him! The only thing that this proved was Khrushchev’s own primitive ignorance and spiritual blindness.

Q: Why does the Church have rituals? Surely they are unnecessary?

A: The angels do not have rituals. So why do we? Obviously, because we are not angels, that is, we have bodies, a material nature. All people have rituals. Protestants have rituals (sit down, stand up, prayer, hymn, guilt-making sermon, collection of money to pay for the guilt, which is merely a copy of Catholic indulgences), secularists have rituals, parades, processions, the opening of Parliament, both military and civilian etc. Let us therefore make sure that our Church rituals are beautiful and meaningful.

People will always make rituals to worship something higher and greater than themselves, whether the True God or an invented one – drink, football, the sun on the beach, a human ideology…As we know that we are inferior and need to worship something, so let us worship the True God and not such false gods.

A: What is the situation in the Ukraine now?

A: I have not been there for a year now, but with the persecution of most of the people (‘ethnic minorities, of whom over 50% are Russian’), the continuing civil war, the fleeing of millions abroad (especially to Poland and Russia) and the fact that the government is propped up only by US money and money from US organizations like the IMF, I think the future is grim. It seems probable to me that in a few years from now, the country, which is an artificial conglomerate founded by Lenin and Stalin, will split between Russia, Poland, Hungary and Romania, leaving a possible Little Russian rump around Kiev.

Q: What are we to make of the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean and the earthquakes in Mexico?

A: There have always been such events. When you hear ‘the most powerful hurricane for 100 years’, it means that there have already been others at least as powerful in recorded history. None of this is the first time, it is just that the media are here to report these events. But the Caribbean and Florida are well known as places of crime, gambling, prostitution, drug-dealing and money-laundering. It is clear that only Faith can avert such catastrophes, not vice. Nearly 70 years ago on Tubabao St John of Shanghai protected that island from a typhoon through his prayers, going around the island with the cross and praying. This is what needs to be done here. But is anyone doing this?

In the USA some fear a great eruption in Yellowstone that could almost wipe out life in North America, or an earthquake in San Francisco. But what do people do in these places? Do they pray, do they repent? Some of course yes, but it seems that most just have more and more hubris. Just like Pompeii of old. Just like the Tower of Siloam. Little wonder that people speak of ‘Eurosodom and Gomorrhica’.

Q: Whose side are you on in the Brexit conflict between the Chancellor Philip Hammond and the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson?

A: That is a political question. All I can say is that I support neither of them. The Anglo-Turkish Old Etonian Boris Johnson is, despite his Russian Christian name, a fanatical Russophobe who supports a new Cold War. As regards the multi-millionaire Philip Hammond, I knew him personally, as he was in the same year in the same college in Oxford and also born in Essex (though at the wrong end). Even then, as a teenager, he was quite a ruthless careerist. True, he has done very well for himself in this respect, but has not yet got the top job, which is what he wants. However, regardless of that, both of these politicians are pro-British, i.e., anti-English, which is because they are pro-UK Establishment. The last pro-English politician I can think of is the long ago-retired Sir Richard Body. I am not sure that there is a single pro-English politician left in Parliament today.

Q: Should we be worried about the conflict between the USA and North Korea?

A: For the moment there is no conflict, just mutual insults. What worries me is that both leaders have terrible inferiority complexes that produce paranoia. One wants to be taken seriously as a President, instead of as a horse-trading businessman of limited intelligence, the other is a shy man who is trying to live up to his father and grandfather in cruelty, bluster and everything else. And his country is surrounded by aggressive US ships and planes (the USA is not surrounded by North Korean ships and planes), which only deepens national paranoia.

They both remind me of Kaiser Wilhelm who also had a terrible inferiority complex, caused by his deformed arm and his profound jealousy of Great Britain, and so started the Great War, with all its appalling consequences. ‘Inferiority complexes’ (= the sins of jealousy, vanity, selfishness and pride) cause many problems in world history. They are dangerous. As for these leaders, you should give children toys to play with, not guns, missiles and nuclear bombs. That is worrying.

An Interview: University College, Oxford and Russian Orthodoxy in Oxford (1974-77)

Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed!

What made you choose Oxford to study over forty years ago?

I did not choose to go to Oxford, Oxford chose me. Had I known what it would be like, I would have chosen to study at the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies in London. But I was given no advice and so knew no better.

What did you make of Oxford University in general?

At that time it was a University of public school snobs, a clique who froze out anyone unlike themselves. Those who did not come from public schools and rich families either, as Establishment careerists, conformed and pretended to be public school elitists, or else, like myself, as free spirits, effectively had as little as possible to do with the University. Thus, I spent my time at the Russian Orthodox church in Oxford and reading about Orthodox theology and history, Russian literature and history and the history of England – my three great interests.

Which college did you study at?

University College, the oldest in the University.

What did you make of University College?

University College was and is famous for Alfred the Great and infamous for the decadent Prince Felix Yusupov. The first is said to be its founder. Of course, this is a myth, but with my lifelong veneration for King Alfred and later as the compiler of the Church service to him, it was pleasant to think of this while I was there. As for the transvestite occultist Yusupov, a graduate of the College, his room was still there and he is infamous as the sadistic torturer and mutilator of the holy monk Gregory Rasputin-Novy. Called Gregory the New, he was the first martyr of the British-orchestrated Russian Revolution and was murdered by a British spy, whom Yusupov had met in Oxford.

Did you meet anyone well-known at the College?

Two of my contemporaries became government ministers. Lord Moynihan and Philip Hammond, but I had and have nothing in common with them. Others are millionaires, academics, judges, barristers, businessmen, civil servants, writers and so on. There were other famous/infamous people at the University then, such as the assassinated President Benazir Bhutto and a couple of BBC correspondents who are very well-known in the UK. But they were Establishment types, without independent personalities, just tide-swimmers, and I had little to do with them.

What did you think of your tutors?

They were very clever people and I profited from listening to their knowledge. But I also saw their severe limitations and they helped me to understand once and for all that the aim of human life is not to collect knowledge and that the source of knowledge is not in books, but in a clean soul.

What did you specialize in as part of your course?

Russian religious thought. The tutor was an Anglican vicar and the course was very disappointing, as it referred only to the thought of intellectuals and philosophers of the Parisian type, whereas I was interested in real Russian Church thought, which is totally different, as it is the thought of saints, gathered from a clean soul.

What did you learn from Oxford?

I learned about the arrogance and elitism of the Establishment and learned distrust for its inherent corruption and decadence.

How did Oxford shape you?

I am not sure that it shaped me, as I already knew what I wanted and where I was going in life, that my place was in the Russian Orthodox Church, beyond all sectional labels. The essentials of my world view had already been formed. But in Oxford I was able to work out details and to verify what I knew by instinct.

What was the most memorable phrase you heard in your time there?

I think it was when a typically elitist Oxford Orthodox priest (now defrocked) told me in 1975 that ‘there is no such thing as ordinary people’. He was effectively saying that the vast bulk of humanity, myself included, had no existence or reality for him. At that point I became interested in the real Russian Orthodox Church elsewhere, outside the limited confines of academic intellectualism, in the real world, where I had come from.

What can you say about Russian Orthodoxy in Oxford of that time?

What was interesting here is that all the different trends, both good and bad, were present. This was because the University had attracted Russian academics.

For example, there were a mother and daughter who were very right-wing, sectarian and nationalistic and would only attend the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) Cathedral in London and like several there had probably worked for the British secret services. Anti-Communism seemed to be far above Orthodoxy for them. They were also so nationalistic, not to say racist, that they were opposed, like most of the ROCOR emigration in London, to the use of a single word of English in services. At the other extreme there were the Patriarchal Lamperts, equally nationalistic and racist, but in the Soviet sense. They were convinced that Communism, Lenin and Stalin, were wonderful and that there had never been any persecution of the Church in the Soviet Union. Their nationalism had also made them completely blind to reality. Extraordinary!

Inbetween, there was the third extreme, equally blind, the extreme of him who had chosen to be my godfather Nicholas Zernov (which was the extreme of most of the others in Oxford). He was Parisian to the core and preached a sort of Anglican Orthodoxy, in which he saw no contradiction between conservative High Anglicanism and the very bourgeois Parisian Orthodoxy of liberal intellectuals and freemasons. Among such people there was the Anglican convert, Fr Kallistos, a public-school gentleman of the old type, who had made a liberal, ecumenical compromise between Establishment High Anglicanism and Paris Orthodoxy under the US-run (formerly Anglican-run) Patriarchate of Constantinople. He was beloved by Anglicans and ex-Anglicans, but did not appeal to those of other cultural backgrounds and never became a diocesan bishop.

Where did you fit into this panorama?

I would say that there were three people whom I admired in Oxford. One was an elderly Russian peasant woman from Latvia called Ala. She had settled in Oxford after 1945 and was very simple and lived in a council flat in the poorest part of the town, well outside the elitist and wealthy University. She was a granny with a heart of gold and had nothing to do with Parisian professors, who ignored her anyway as a result of their academic snobbery. As for her, she had no understanding of their prejudices and ideologies and also little understanding of English. To me she was a beacon of real Orthodoxy.

Then there was the elderly Countess Elizabeth Kutaisova, from a famous aristocratic family. She was the epitome of the best of White Russia, a real gentlewoman, noble, traditional, elegant, tasteful and patriotic. I will always remember her sitting on a bench in front of a flowering shrub in the Oxford park after church, reading the Russian emigre newspaper Russkaya Mysl.

And finally there was Sir Dimitri Obolensky, whose lectures on King Arthur I attended. A distinguished scholar, he was both a Russian prince and a courteous English gentleman. I discovered more about him in the 1990s through a parishioner and his childhood friend, Baroness Olga von Uxkull, who so fondly referred to him simply as ‘Dima’ and gave me a 1930s photograph of him, which I still have. Dimitri had fallen neither into émigré right-wingery, which put anti-Communism above the Church, nor into the illusions of Soviet patriotism, which put the Soviet Establishment (and personality cults) above the Church, nor into bourgeois Parisian Orthodoxy which so despised Russia that it put the West above it, but had remained faithful to the eternal Russian Orthodox Church, where I too belonged and belong.

In other words, unlike the vast majority, the above did not put their secular prejudices higher than the Church. I think all three of them represented the real Church beyond man-made jurisdictionalism and narrow sectionalism, which had so divided the Church in the emigration. They were all waiting for the great restoration, which has been under way in Russia for the last 25 years, but which still has so far to go. They were what the Church outside Russia should really be about, instead of various sorts of sectarianism.

Thank you.