ENGLISH VERSION: The Greatest Theologian of the Twentieth Century. Homily by Bishop Gregory (Lourie) of Petrograd and Gdov on the Feast Day of the Venerable Martyr Anthony (Bulatovich)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Today we celebrate the memory of the Venerable Martyr Anthony Bulatovich. Bulatovich is his family name. Otherwise, of course, it would have been better to name him by the places where he struggled. Then we would most naturally have called him the Athonite, because it was there that he spent the short years – it is true – of his monastic life. That was where his struggle for the confession of the Name of God began. But it continued already not there, but in Petersburg. Later he lived (and was killed) on the property of his mother in Ukraine near the city of Sumy. Therefore it is unimportant what we call him geographically; what is important is what kind of person he was, and why he is so especially important for us today.
It is very often said, and rightly, that in the nineteenth century (and even in the eighteenth) Orthodox theology reached a kind of degeneration. Sometimes it is called the Western captivity. And in any case, it can be definitely said (and this can be proved very easily by textbooks) that in the theological academies, where Orthodox theology was studied in depth, that in fact it was not Orthodox theology that was being studied, but some other. Namely, some mix of Protestantism and Catholicism in all the important questions, where Orthodoxy differed from Protestantism or Catholicism. And it of course differs in all questions if they are in any way deeply considered. This concerns not simply the procession of the Holy Spirit, but also the Incarnation of Christ and the understanding of the Church and salvation. In all these questions, instead of Orthodox doctrine was some kind of mix of all kinds of disgrace: both Catholic and Protestant.
Therefore those saints who were in the nineteenth century often did not study in these Academies – as, for example, Ignatius Brianchaninov, who spoke about them extremely sharply and poorly, and studied independently; he was self-taught, learning from the Holy Fathers. True, he studied well, because he read them in Greek and Latin. Nevertheless, he studied by himself. Simply he had a secular education, and this helped him be formed spiritually. The main thing that helped him get an education was that he spiritually learned how to pray from the saints. And when you learn how to pray, then you also learn how to study theology.
If you study theology as the Holy Fathers said, and not like they were studied in the theological academies, then you will become Orthodox. And some were simply completely outside this education, and others studied there even well, such as, for example, John of Kronstadt. He studied, perhaps, not brilliantly, but not at all badly in the theological academy. But in his writings he gives the impression that he did not at all know what it was, and never studied there, because on all disputed questions he always wrote everything correctly. And yet, it might happen that someone might “take a turn” with the wrong wording, which is associated with what he had to be taught, probably, in the theological academy.
But, of course, critics of the then-saints very often made use of this: that you are ignorant, that you have not studied in the theological academies, and therefore you do not understand anything. Of course, this was used against Anthony constantly. He also, of course, studied nowhere. He had a good education (not theological academy, which is only a minus for an Orthodox person). First there was the Alexander Lyceum, this was general education. And then he had a military higher education. He had a higher military education, which in those times was nothing like it is now: it was even a good humanitarian and even scientific education. But the most important thing was not that, of course, but rather that he was a man of faith. And at some point in his life he understood that this life of a believing soldier – moreover, one who really considers his Orthodoxy to be the most important thing – is not enough for him, but that he needs entirely to dedicate himself to the Christian life. In this way, he decides to leave behind his brilliant military carrier, which ran only from peak to peak, so that it was all for the best account with his superiors. But he left and became a monk. And he ended up on Athos. This was done with the blessing of John of Kronstadt, whom he regarded as his spiritual father.
Soon (after a couple of years) after Anthony arrived on Athos, John of Kronstadt, quite shortly before his death, signed and sent him his photograph as a present: To the Athonite monks – crowns of martyrdom. That was the inscription. The photograph has been reproduced, it has been preserved, at least if not the original, then a photocopy of it, and there is this inscription made by the hand of John of Kronstadt. This was some sort of prophecy, obviously, of what awaited Anthony and some other Athonite monks.
John of Kronstadt died in 1908, and it seems that nothing had yet happened that was supposed to. But we know that later everything came true. Already not long after this, after four years, in 1912 on Athos there began turmoil because certain monks (who happened to be educated, from the academy, and enjoyed the patronage of the highest ecclesiastical authorities then in Russia) expressed un-Orthodox theological views and an un-Orthodox understanding of prayer. And the simpletons, the uneducated monks, began to object to this. Anthony at first knew nothing about these arguments. But later, when these simpletons needed some kind of explanation, and so that an educated person would have something to say with regard to this dispute, he got involved. Moreover, at first he was prejudiced against these simpletons. He thought that they really had made a mess of things due to their ignorance. He began to pay careful attention. He understood that they were completely right. And so he became a complete defender of their positions, and their main theologian. And here it happened that theology still resurrected.
Generally speaking, Orthodox theology (if we call theology not simply seeing God and discoursing with God – and this is, of course, the main meaning of the word theology) in the sense that it is commonly called – statements of ecclesial teaching in some tracts – it all gives birth to conflicts. For instance, a serious ambiguity arises. The seriousness of this ambiguity is determined by the fact because of it there arise ecclesial troubles, ecclesial divisions, and conflicts, that normally do not simply threaten to breach, but do in fact violate, the unity of the Church. And then you need to present the Orthodox teaching. Then theologians appear who talk about this subject as is needed, and connect it with all the rest of church doctrine.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Anthony Bulatovich was such a theologian. One cannot say that he knew very many Holy Fathers, but he knew not a few. Above all, he knew them through the Orthodox divine services, which he knew well and very many of which he knew by heart. And if one attentively listens to and understands Orthodox divine services, then you will know all of Orthodox theology only from the divine services, even if you do not read anything more. And if you read something more, then it is all the more so.
Despite the fact that he had very poor vision, and was already blind and could hardly read anything, monks brought him certain quotations, and he compiled his books. Then he had to leave Athos for Petersburg. And when name-glorifying was routed, when the Synod began making the most awful decisions, he would not put up with this. If he had been brought up in some sort of divinity school, i.e., a seminary or academy, he might have humbled himself, because there they teach such humility with regards to the authorities, no matter what nonsense they may be speaking. But he, of course, was brought up on the Holy Fathers to fight for the truth. Therefore he tried to rally those who understood Orthodoxy. This was Michael Novoselov, and our Elizabeth Feodorovna, who supported name-glorifying,