Memories are Made of This: Fifty Years of Moments of Destiny

North Essex village, late August 1971

After a summer storm in the late afternoon, a rainbow appears in the sky over the fields. I hear a voice telling me: ‘You will be a Russian Orthodox priest’. I have no idea why. It all seems so highly unlikely. Fifty years later, perhaps to the day, in a train passing through the fields of Northern France returning from Paris, I  remember this.

Oxford, October 1973.

This is my first visit to an Orthodox church. The chapel is in a room in a Victorian house and the Vigil is attended by a few elderly émigrés and one or two others. As soon as I enter that chapel, I feel perfectly at home, feeling as though I had always been there.

Krasnodar, Southern Russia, July 1976.

I have been to Sts Peter and Paul’s Day at the Cathedral. At the end of the service a priest is holding a cross for the people to kiss. His face is shining like the sun and expresses an unbreakable strength. Going back to the University, I see an old lady on the bus, whom I have already seen at the church. Her face is shining like the sun too and she seems incredibly young and beautiful.

Karyes, Mt Athos, May 1979.

I meet Fr Vasily, a very elderly Ukrainian monk, who tells me about all the details of recent demonic attacks in Northern Greece. I take him for a fool for Christ or prophet. He is.

Paris suburb, March 1989.

Here I meet Count Komstadius. His father was the estate manager of the Imperial Palace at Tsarskoe Selo. He was the playmate of the Tsarevich Alexis before the Revolution. Now he lives in a Russian old people’s home in this north-western suburb. Before us burns an icon-lamp in front of an icon of the Imperial Martyrs. He says what a good likeness the icon is, it really portrays the Imperial Family as he knew them.

Geneva, September 1994.

It is the funeral of the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva. Fifteen priests of many nationalities take turns to carry the heavy, zinc-lined coffin around the Cathedral. It is the end of an era.

San Francisco, May 2006

In the early afternoon of the Wednesday of the week-long Fourth Council, we reach a turning-point. Are we going to sign for unity with the Patriarch and the rest of the Russian Orthodox Church or not? There is great tension in the air. We sign, almost unanimously. It is a miracle. The tension dissolves.

Moscow, May 2007

The rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the sign of victory over Napoleon and his atheist hordes and over Stalin and his atheist hordes. His Holiness Patriarch Alexiy II and the saintly Carpathian boy, now an elderly man, Metropolitan Laurus, sign the Act of canonical Communion, while I confess repentant, ex-Soviet generals.

Suffolk, May 2008

The phone rings and a voice says: ‘The Church is yours your offer has been accepted’. An unexpected miracle, against all the odds, worked by St John of Shanghai.

Saint Petersburg, October 2012

My first visit to Tsarskoe Selo and the very clear impression that I have been waiting to come here all my life.

Paris, late August 2021

Fifty years on. At noon on Friday in the late summer, I have come to St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on Rue Daru, which holds so many memories for me. And now, miraculously, it is part of the Russian Orthodox Church again, as I had fought for during over thirty years. Its return has changed everything. Having travelled by train from London, I am meeting His Eminence Metropolitan Jean of the Archdiocese of Western Europe to collect from him antimensia and myrrh for all our clergy and parishes in England. It is the first time I have seen him in 42 years. It is remarkable how many things we have in common despite obvious differences: French and English. Single and married. Older and younger. And yet both of us have served for 37 years in a parish. We have the same values, the same thoughts, the same pastoral and missionary vision of the Church, Faithful to the Tradition and yet Local. What a happy and sunny day.