True Man: Kallistos of Oxford as Orthodoxy’s First Universal Teacher of the Global Age

by Brandon Gallaher | български | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

“Meeting him I sensed immediately a quality of authenticity,
of integrity, of completeness; here I felt was a true man.
He was marked by a serenity, by a transparent and luminous joy”
(Kallistos Ware, “Mount Athos Today” [1976])

A Moment of Pan-Orthodox Unity

In a time when the Orthodox Christian world is broken by schism—the schism over Ukraine being merely the most ulcerous—the recent death of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia (1934-2022) is perhaps one of only a few events that has managed to briefly unite the Orthodox world in a “bright sadness.” Memorial services were held by both Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar and at his death bed by prominent figures in the Russian Church (Moscow Patriarchate [MP]) who were his former students (Metropolitan Hilarion [Alfeyev] of Budapest and Hungary [MP] and Bishop Irenei [Steenberg] of London [ROCOR-MP]). Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain, the Exarch or Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the United Kingdom, followed Metropolitan Kallistos’ sickness closely and visited him repeatedly in his last years. With great pastoral discernment, Archbishop Nikitas quietly cooperated over a long period with local representatives of the Oxford Russian Parish and his own Oxford Greek Orthodox parish in planning the logistics of the memorials, liturgy, funeral, and interment in Oxford with the intention of emphasizing the Pan-Orthodoxy of the Metropolitan.

Two immensely moving memorials were served in the presence of Metropolitan Kallistos’ body at St. Nicholas the Wonderworker Russian Orthodox Church by its rector, Fr. Stephen Platt, and others followed by an all-night vigil where clergy of all churches and faithful read the Gospels with the Metropolitan lying in state. The next day, a memorial liturgy with Metropolitan Kallistos lying in state was celebrated by Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium (EP) at the joint Greek and Russian tradition parish, the Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity and the Annunciation (EP), pastored by Frs. Ian Graham and Seraphim Vänttinen-Newton, with Ecumenical Patriarchate clergy concelebrating, the nuns of the Community of St. John the Baptist of Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (founded by St. Sophrony [Sakharov] of Essex [1896-1993]) singing and attended by a large crowd of faithful and clergy from all jurisdictions (including the Moscow Patriarchate) as well as ecumenical representatives (e.g. Archbishop Rowan Williams). Finally, the funeral, with hundreds coming from all Christian traditions, was held at the large Oxford Catholic Oratory Church of St. Aloysius Gonzaga led by Archbishop Nikitas serving with multiple Orthodox bishops and clergy from all jurisdictions, including a single bold priest of the Moscow Patriarchate. The final “last kiss” of the faithful to the beloved Metropolitan took almost half an hour with the whole church coming to say goodbye and receive his last blessing. Just before Metropolitan Kallistos’ coffin was closed, Archbishop Nikitas, in a traditional ceremony, but with enormous pastoral intuition, gifted the various symbols of Metropolitan Kallistos’ office as a bishop to clergy and monastics of all jurisdictions in attendance, with the mitre going to Metropolitan Athenagoras (EP), the episcopal staff to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist (EP), the encolpium or pectoral cross of the Metropolitan to Fr. Stephen Platt (MP), and the Panaghia to be sent to Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) (MP). The day closed with the Metropolitan’s interment in the “Orthodox section” of the local Oxford Wolvercote Cemetery (where J. R. R. Tolkien is buried) by Metropolitan Athenagoras, who led the faithful of many traditions in music from Pascha. Archbishop Nikitas was quite explicit in inviting all canonical Orthodox clergy to serve at the funeral service in witnessing to the unity of Orthodoxy, though sadly the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate ordered their clergy not to concelebrate at any service led by an Ecumenical Patriarchate hierarch. The wake was organized by leading members of the local Russian Parish who were the loving carers of the Metropolitan and now the executors of his estate.

These services, which were a brief but imperfect moment of Pan-Orthodox unity, were the capstone of the last years of Metropolitan Kallistos’ life which involved his daily care by a rota of devoted spiritual children led by members of the local Russian parish working synergistically with members from the Greek parish he founded, transcending the divisions of their respective jurisdictions. Such was the mark of “Kallistos of Oxford” that he has managed both in life and death to serve both as a point of unity (as is ideally the calling of the episcopate), as well as what he saw as his purpose: an Orthodox teacher dedicated to expounding the truth of Christ freely to unify all Christians that they might grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ.

Orthodoxy’s first Universal Teacher of the Global Age

Metropolitan Kallistos’ significance will take many years to unpick by historians of modern Orthodoxy. Yet it does not seem absurd now to say that he was the first universal Orthodox teacher of the global age, a figure akin, in terms of vocation and symbolism, to the Three Hierarchs and Sts. Cyril and Methodius but for a new Orthodox Church conscious of itself as a Pan-Orthodox international body. I first met him in the early 2000’s after I came to Oxford to do my doctorate. Like so many before me, I had read his Orthodox Way (1979), which was crucial in my conversion from Anglicanism in the early 1990’s. Indeed, when I first read him, in the days before the internet, I assumed he was from a traditionally Orthodox background and for years called him “Kallistos Wahreh” as I could not believe someone so learned on Orthodoxy could be culturally English and an ex-Anglican like myself.

He later emphasized to me many times that in 1958 when, as “Timothy” (he became “Kallistos” after his tonsure as a monk in 1966), he was received into Orthodoxy on Bright Friday through Chrismation by Bishop Iakovos (Virvos) of Apamaea at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in London, he felt he had “come home.” He had not left his ancestral Anglican Church but returned to its origins, for in “embracing Orthodoxy…I am convinced, I have become not less English but more genuinely so.” He believed that in Orthodoxy, he had rediscovered the “ancient roots of [his] Englishness” in the unbroken millennium of communion between East and West to which one could trace the history of England. This vision of Orthodoxy as a universal and trans-national and trans-ethnic reality (“Pan-Orthodoxy”) was characteristic of Metropolitan Kallistos’ teaching throughout his life. It is a wisdom that the Orthodox Church must take to heart in a time of clashing national Orthodoxies if Orthodoxy is to ever transcend its narrow “Easternness,” and to fulfill its self-identity evangelically as the “fullness of the faith.”

By the time I arrived in Oxford, Metropolitan Kallistos was already retired from his university post as Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies. I met him at services of the local joint Russian-Greek parish, of which he was a co-founder and I a member of the Moscow Patriarchate church community. Eventually, we began to meet about once a month so I could read him my writing or for dinner, and I ended up helping a local “team” of “friends of the bishop” from both parishes with occasional secretarial assistance and care work during the bishop’s many periods of ill health, including after my move to Exeter. During the approximately twenty years of our friendship, he repeatedly emphasized to me in conversation two basic things about himself which I want to elaborate briefly.

A Theological Teacher

The first basic element about himself that the Metropolitan highlighted repeatedly was that he saw his primary vocation and contribution in life as being that of a theological teacher of the history, doctrine, and spirituality of Orthodox Christianity understood as a universal tradition, global in character. When Metropolitan Kallistos came to Orthodoxy in the 1950’s, Orthodoxy was still very much an unknown reality to most mainstream Western Christians, with only a few books on it in Western European languages and most of its key liturgical texts and spiritual writings still untranslated. The services of most churches were either in Greek or Church Slavonic, and there were few if any Western converts to the various émigré-dominated churches, let alone any clergy or monastics. Indeed, he was dissuaded several times from becoming Orthodox and told he should remain part of the Church of England. On top of this inaccessibility of Orthodoxy in the West, there were then few if any centers for the study of Orthodoxy outside traditionally Orthodox countries except for a handful of mostly ethnic seminaries in France and North America. At the local level, the individual Orthodox parishes often had little conception of themselves as a universal communion. Much of the Orthodox world was then still under the tyranny of different forms of atheistic communism, and Orthodoxy was haunted by the ghosts of the then fairly recently dissolved Ottoman and Russian Empires.

Soon after he converted, Metropolitan Kallistos took an interest in all forms of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which he always referred to as simply, “Orthodoxy” or “Orthodox Christianity”, and not just the Greek Orthodox tradition of his own church or even Russian Orthodoxy, which he had first encountered as a teenager and whose spirituality and saints remained close to his heart until his death. He saw all forms of Eastern Orthodoxy as instances of a universal Christian tradition that–whether they be Romanian, Russian, or Serbian—had its own history, doctrine and spirituality distinct from Western Christianity, and yet transcended its “Easternness” and was “not something exotic and oriental, but simply Christianity.” Yet Metropolitan Kallistos very much took an ecclesial perspective—Eastern Orthodoxy is Orthodox Christianity proper for him. It was only an accident of history that it was limited to certain geographical areas, and he regarded it (as indeed is the Orthodox claim) “as nothing less than the Church of Christ on earth.”

His The Orthodox Church (1st ed. 1963; 3rd ed. 2015) and The Orthodox Way (1979) are books about what scholars now call Chalcedonian Orthodoxy, though he also had warm relations with and took a lively academic interest in the various forms of Oriental Orthodoxy, which he hoped would be reunited with their Eastern Orthodox brethren. We now take this universal sense of Orthodoxy as a tradition for granted, but Metropolitan Kallistos helped to foreground it in Western consciousness and to make it much more central to world Orthodoxy’s emerging global sense of itself.

If we look at the work of his predecessor as the Spalding Lecturer, the Russian historian and ecumenist, Nicolas Zernov (1898-1980), most of his works are on Russian Christianity. Zernov’s main text on Orthodox doctrine and history (Eastern Christendom: a Study of the Origin and Development of the Eastern Orthodox Church [1961]) focuses on Eastern Orthodoxy as a tradition of “Eastern churches” or the “Christian East” rather than as a universal reality making claims on Western Christianity as “mere Christianity” called the “Orthodox Church.”

In some ways, Metropolitan Kallistos helped to create the formal academic area of Orthodox Christian Studies. He created this new academic area through his extensive ecumenical work in Orthodox-Anglican, Orthodox-Catholic, and Orthodox-Evangelical dialogues. He was building on the foundations laid by earlier figures—Sergii Bulgakov, Georges Florovsky, Nicolas Zernov, Alexander Schmemann, and John Meyendorff—forging a sense of Orthodox Christianity as a global universal tradition that could be studied with the same sort of multi-disciplinary approach as seen in Catholic Studies. In this service, he wrote not only his basic guides to Orthodoxy but translated (with Mother Mary of the Monastery of the Veil in Bussey-en-Othe in France) two of Orthodoxy’s most important liturgical texts, The Festal Menaion (1977) and The Lenten Tridion (1978). With Gerald Palmer and Philip Sherrard, he also translated the five volumes of the Philokalia (1979-) (the fifth volume is now in press and was Metropolitan Kallistos’ last project). The Philokalia volumes, as I learned from the bishop, were very much a cooperate undertaking with different translators taking on different texts for a first rough translation then passing them back to their co-translators for revision and discussion. I think the fifth and last volume took Met. Kallistos so long to complete—I remember him working on multiple revisions of the text a decade ago at his kitchen table, which was his desk—because he associated the process of translation with his close friendship with so many different people, above all Philip Sherrard, and working on the text reminded him of the great pain of their absence and ultimately his own death itself. To this must be added his many studies of patristic theology and spirituality, mostly published in numerous journals and books, as well as his participation in other translation projects of the lives of favorite saints such, as that of St. Seraphim of Sarov (Chronicles of Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery [2018]), whose icons always surrounded him.

When I once asked him why he had not produced more monographs (he only wrote one: Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church under Turkish Rule [1964, 2013]) he replied, with a characteristic twinkle, that this was because he spent all his time meeting with people like me. He went on to elaborate that so much of his life had been dedicated to translation and teaching, in which he also included spiritual direction. Thus, being confessed by him could be a life-changing learning experience, and being taught by him often raised spiritual issues with which one was struggling. It is not an accident that many of his past “pupils” (as he invariably called them) were also his spiritual children whom he often married as well as sometimes baptizing their children. Over the years, I remember discussing with him often quite abstract theological issues with which I was struggling like the o/Orthodoxy of sophiology, the monarchy and the hiddenness of the Father, whether the essence/energies distinction undermines the finality of revelation in Christ, primacy and synodality and the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as “first among equals,” and the issue of committed same sex relationships and Orthodox tradition. He never dismissed my questions as merely intellectual distractions and patiently discussed everything with me, but he always managed to bring the subject at hand back to my life, who I was, who I could be in working out my salvation with fear and trembling, the concrete—the one thing needful—our experience of God in prayer in lovingly sitting and looking at God and God sitting and looking at us.

The primary form of the Metropolitan’s teaching was his long years of teaching at the University of Oxford (1966-2001) and at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS) in Cambridge (1999-2019), which included the supervision of research students (MAs and DPhils/PhDs), lecturing and, above all, undergraduate tutoring. At Pembroke College, he would prepare three to six undergraduate “theologians” each year in tutorials to write their first-year exams (Prelims) and third-year final exams (Finals) on all manner of subjects, not just patristics, Christian spirituality, and Church history, but modern theology, the New Testament, and ancient languages. He also gave multiple termly courses of lectures in his areas of special academic expertise (e.g. the development of monasticism) at the Examination Schools on the Oxford High Street. The pedagogical practice of the undergraduate tutor never left him: when I would later meet with him to discuss some piece of writing, he would have me read the whole text aloud to him, and periodically he would interrupt and comment or query me, as if it was an undergraduate essay written in preparation of an examination paper with set questions. His formal students now count in the thousands, and they include many of the best-known Orthodox theologians and church leaders, including Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Hungary (MP), Fr. John Behr, Prof. Peter Bouteneff, Fr. John Chryssavgis, Archbishop Alexander (Golitzin) of Dallas (Orthodox Church in America), Dr. Tamara Grdzelidze, Sr. Nonna Verna (Harrison) (1953-2022), Fr. Stephen Platt, Prof. Marcus Plested, Fr. Nikolai (Sakharov), Bishop Irenai (Steenberg) of London (ROCOR-MP), Dr. Elizabeth Theokritoff, Archbishop Makarios (Tillyrides) of Kenya (Patriarchate of Alexandria), Metropolitan Panteleimon (Kalpakidis) of Veria (Church of Greece), and Metropolitan Savas (Zembillas) of Pittsburgh (EP). He also taught generations of non-Orthodox scholars, some of whom became noted experts in Orthodoxy, such as Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP.

Yet Metropolitan Kallistos is perhaps best known for his public and guest lectures, as well as numerous retreats and guest visits to churches and monasteries throughout the world. He lectured routinely not only to Orthodox auditors but also taught widely to Catholic, Protestant, and secular academic audiences. The Metropolitan loved to travel, and his last days were spent reading travelogues, particularly nineteenth century accounts of travelers in what are now Turkey and Greece and the Russian Empire. Although not one to use a computer without a secretary (I remember how he would direct web searches at arm’s length: “Click, please!”), he now exists eternally online in hundreds of YouTube videos of his lectures and talks from his travels around the world. It is deeply ironic that someone sometimes suspicious of technology and who did not own a television has become a perennial talking head on the internet. In this way, he has become a sort of universal one-stop educational focal point for learning anything about Orthodoxy. Translations of his work into many languages have multiplied his influence to churches well beyond the West.

Intellectual Freedom

The second thing that marked out the bishop in his own estimation was his high value of intellectual freedom, which sometimes caused tensions with his own church. Shortly before my own ordination to the diaconate, I visited a friend of Metropolitan Kallistos on Mt. Athos, who instructed me to follow the example of Metropolitan Kallistos in always being true to my conscience and not being an Orthodox “partisan,” unthinkingly following the official position of one’s local church. In my conversations with Metropolitan Kallistos, he emphasized he had always strived to be a “true man”, true to his intellectual integrity and thereby filled with serenity and joy because he knew he was true to himself. He did much to maintain his academic freedom, including taking no salary from the church. This was both so he would not be an unnecessary financial burden on his parish community (plus he already was paid a salary by the university) but also to maintain freedom before his ecclesiastical superiors to hold theological positions he felt true, even if this clashed with the official position of his local church. Moreover, when there was a conflict in terms of commitments between the church and the academy, he had the freedom to choose to take up the ecclesial duty or not. It must be admitted—and he was aware of the tension, and struggled with it his whole life—that his high regard for intellectual freedom and his academic vocation were often at odds with the fact that he was a monk (of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on Patmos), the rector of the Greek Orthodox Community of the Holy Trinity in Oxford, and an auxiliary bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Archdiocese of Thyateira (from 1982). All of these roles issued a decisive command upon his life, attention, and time and could clash with what he regarded as his basic calling and identity as a teacher and a scholar. This may explain his numerous writings on the subjects of obedience, freedom, the role of the spiritual father, and episcopal primacy, where I think he may have been attempting to understand his many obligations and identities.

He identified and referenced, in regard to the subject of intellectual freedom, St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890), who wrote that conscience was the “voice of God” implanted “in the nature and heart of man” as a “messenger from Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil…the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.” It was the inner law of our conduct, so to go against our conscience would be to lose one’s soul. Here Newman, and Metropolitan Kallistos followed him, was not merely talking about moral judgements but when a free man struggles to determine the truth and acts in accordance with what he believes sincerely it to be. This in no way need necessarily to lead to subjectivism, because “conscience has rights because it has duties,” and this above all was to orient oneself to the truths revealed in Scripture and then rightly taught by the Church, which for Metropolitan Kallistos were expressed in the writings of the Fathers. For Metropolitan Kallistos, like Newman, the free conscience was grounded in the fact that “As God is free, so likewise man is free”; the human being, made in God’s image, was a great mystery, both unrepeatable and incoercible. His insistence on intellectual freedom for an Orthodox scholar, founded on the mystery of the human being made in God’s image, with God speaking to men and women from the depths of their conscience, can be seen in his returning again and again to the mystery of the human person and freedom of the human being before God. Indeed, he claimed that in the twenty-first century that theological anthropology would be the most important topic that Orthodoxy had to face.

Intellectual Tensions

Yet Metropolitan Kallistos’ insistence on the open and free quest for theological truth, and remaining true to his conscience, were sometimes at odds with what the majority of Orthodox considered to be settled teaching. Famously in 2000, he held that he was not convinced by the arguments in favor of women’s ordination to the priesthood and that the arguments against it he previously accepted now seemed less conclusive; he pleaded that “we Orthodox should regard the matter as an essentially open question.” He also noted that there was no pan-Orthodox statement on the subject that had definitive ecumenical authority and felt that statements in favor of women’s ordination were “prophetic”. In the same vein, he was a strong proponent of the revival of the ancient Order of Deaconesses but with new and different functions, including helping with church teaching.

More controversial still, in 2018, in an issue of The Wheel, he called for pastoral compassion towards homosexual persons while he acknowledged and elaborated traditional Orthodox teaching that sexual relations are to be within marriage between a man and a woman. But what really led to controversy, with some declaring he was a “heretic,” was his pointing out that a greater moral weight was placed on homosexual persons. They were obliged to not express their sexual orientation and had to remain celibate but yet could never express that sexuality in marriage whereas heterosexual persons who struggled with sexual desire had the option to get married. Furthermore, he pointed out that in confession committed same-sex individuals who express their love genitally were treated more harshly than a homosexual individual who acted out in a vicious cycle of promiscuity, repentance in confession, and then promiscuity and confession once again. He acknowledged that “Orthodox tradition teaches clearly that sexual acts between persons of the same sex are not permitted” but wanted simultaneously to acknowledge authentic spiritual value in the “deep…even passionate friendships” that existed between same-sex persons. He told me privately (without divulging any particular details under the seal of the confessional) that in guiding members of some same-sex couples over many years, he would not automatically excommunicate them if their relationship was sexual but he would ask the person in question to consider whether sexual expression was essential to their relationship or not and would walk the long and hard road with them as they struggled with traditional Orthodox teaching. In some cases, after many years, he told me that he had observed that sexual relations in certain same-sex committed relationships would cease and the spiritual bond would remain. Orthodox, he argued, need to listen to one another on such difficult questions with creative courage and the willingness to experiment and “try on” new ideas with mutual respect and loving compassion, acknowledging that there was no one-size-fits-all Christian path that God calls us to follow. He stood by this witness and participated, listening and contributing wisely, sparingly, and judiciously, defending traditional Orthodox moral teaching in a compassionate manner, in the 2019 Oxford Fordham-Exeter Bridging Voices Conference on “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which I helped co-organize.

Lastly, the insistence on the theologian as being free in his conscience to search for the truth led to repeated, often painful and public tensions with his own jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This was particularly notable during the run up to and aftermath of the Pan-Orthodox Council of Crete in 2016. Metropolitan Kallistos initially supported the position of the Moscow Patriarchate in urging that the Pan-Orthodox Council be postponed to a better moment. He argued that it would not be pan-Orthodox without the participation of churches like the Moscow Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Antioch. In the end, he attended that Council, albeit it with considerable reluctance. He relented to the calls of numerous people including myself to come and help make this event the very best it could be. Once he arrived at the Council, he sadly mostly remained silent throughout the numerous sessions even when prominent figures in the episcopate (as I witnessed) privately urged him to be more active in the Council sessions. He told me that he sat through many of the Council sessions and felt disillusioned. He said that the final conciliar texts were simply rather trite expressions of what was uncontroversial, even blatantly obvious in Orthodoxy, as all the truly “burning questions” had been removed from the agenda years before (e.g., ecclesial autocephaly and the way of deciding it). Yet he did little to push the Council in any of the directions he felt it should take and did not seriously consider that some of the reasons the contentious issues had been removed was the destructive and oppositional attitude of the Moscow Patriarchate and its satellite churches, which were dedicated to dethroning the Ecumenical Patriarch as “primus inter pares.” He had high ideals for Councils, and the body he saw did not live up to them, arguably thereby making the perfect the enemy of the good, the Council in his mind silencing the Council that might have emerged had he participated in a decisive manner.

Met. Kallistos at Council

In 2018 and afterwards, he was critical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for forming a new Orthodox Church of Ukraine from “schismatic” bishops and said that Ukraine had been part of the Russian Church for 330 years and this could not be undone. Moscow’s canonical rights in Ukraine were a “fact of history,” and even God, he said, quoting Aristotle, could not change history. If a solution was to be found to the church problems in Ukraine then it should be through Pan-Orthodox discussions, even a new Holy and Great Council. However, it is entirely unclear why he did not do more at Crete to raise the issue of the divided Orthodox Church in Ukraine when he had the opportunity either privately (as it was then being widely privately discussed amongst Council fathers) or in a Council session. Yet he was equally clear, though it got less attention in the Orthodox media, that the breaking of communion by Moscow with Constantinople was troubling as it weaponized the Eucharist, and he was privately horrified by Moscow’s establishment of an Exarchate in Africa as “punishment” of the Church of Alexandria for its support of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

It should be noted that I never heard Metropolitan Kallistos reject the universal Orthodox primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarch, as is now done routinely by the Moscow Patriarchate, which falsely alleges that Constantinople is teaching a new heresy of an Eastern papacy “without equals”, standing above other Orthodox churches. Indeed, Metropolitan Kallistos elaborated Constantinople’s primacy through his work on the Orthodox-Catholic Ravenna Document (2007), which the Russian Church rejected (and with whom Metropolitan Kallistos disagreed on this matter), and through numerous academic writings. Where he did disagree with his own church was in the cogence of particular modern canonical arguments used to ground the unique role of the Ecumenical Patriarch and its jurisdiction and privileges (e.g., the interpretation of Chalcedon Canon 28).

As a close and keen observer of his statements over many years, I think that the bishop was far more vocal in his critiques of his own Ecumenical Patriarchate than of the actions of the Moscow Patriarchate. Perhaps this discrepancy of the critique of the two churches was because he felt free to criticize the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a member of that communion. His public statements on the Moscow Patriarchate, especially its slavish dependence on the Russian state and its ever-increasing ethno-phyletism, were very mild though he knew and had heard me read to him essays on Russkii mir’ (the Russian world teaching) since at least 2011. Indeed, in his public statements, he found it difficult to see any parallel between the Russian Church’s support of Putin and its previous support of the Soviet regime, largely because one was nominally a Christian regime and the other atheistic; he was an admirer of enlightened Christian monarchy and Christian states and empires. Yet privately he expressed to me numerous times before I moved to Exeter in 2015 disquiet at the financial and moral corruption of the Moscow Patriarchate and the nationalism of many Russian bishops, even those publicly “close” to him.

By the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he was very ill and, as I learned from very brief conversations, thought that Patriarch Kirill’s statements were either misreported, misunderstood, or were simply anomalous and not reflective of the broader Russian Church. And here he was not far off from many in the Russian Church in the diaspora with such profound rationalizations. His blind-spot in this regard—and I think it only increased in his last decade—stemmed partially from a deep encounter with Russian spirituality from his youth, when he came to know some of its greatest theologians and saints; his enduring relationships with Russian students and members of the Russian Church; the loving and constant care of his local Russian Orthodox community in the last decade of his life (and through which he was communed and confessed until his last breath); and his gratitude for the resurrection of the Russian Church post-1991 after the horrors of Stalinism. It also seems to me that he felt that the Russian Church had unfailingly acknowledged his contribution to Orthodoxy, unlike his own jurisdiction, which he felt disapproved of him (“They feel I am too close to the Russians,” he said repeatedly to me over the years) despite the honor of being elevated to “Metropolitan” in 2007, never properly utilized his theological gifts as, for example, in the preparations for Crete, and never really would fully accept him because he was not Greek.

The Legacy and Vocation of Pan-Orthodoxy

Whatever the case may be, those who now are the stewards of his legacy, must follow Metropolitan Kallistos’ life-long witness of Pan-Orthodoxy and their own words extolling Orthodox unity, in not elevating Paul over Apollos, belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate over membership in the Ecumenical Patriarchate (and vice versa!), but that what is crucial is our belonging to no other foundation than Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:4-11). Any new foundation or endeavor dedicated to the Metropolitan’s legacy, and all those following in his footsteps, must be intentionally Pan-Orthodox, including representation from all churches and avoid the temptations of parochialism for the message of Orthodoxy is universal in character. As Sergii Bulgakov put it, we must run along “the broad highway of an oecumenical Orthodoxy freed from all provincialism.”

Met. Kallistos was a wholly unique pan-Orthodox educational figure who helped shape modern Orthodoxy’s sense of itself as a universal global church. He was crucial in articulating his tradition to the modern West through his accessible but still profound and faithful Orthodox teaching. Above all, he educated us about Orthodoxy through his fearlessness and spiritual daring in trying to articulate Orthodox answers to the new questions of Western secular modernity that were true to the Gospel and true to the Fathers’ understanding of that Gospel. These attempts to respond to the questions of the age—while not always successful and marked sometimes by blind-spots where he was reticent to be critical—should stand as a model for Orthodoxy as it faces the challenge of forging a traditional, creative, and compassionate alternate modernity that is in harmony with the history, doctrine, and spirituality of Orthodox Christianity.


Brandon Gallaher is Associate Professor of Orthodox Christian Studies at the University of Exeter and a Deacon of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.