(Neil again). I would like to present one more excerpt from the Very Reverend John Breck’s translations of Archimandrite Lev Gillet’s Amour Sans Limites, originally published in 1971 by “A Monk of the Eastern Church.” You can find the earlier excerpts here: 1, 2, 3, and 4. But, before I do so, I would also like to reflect on Lev Gillet himself. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will begin on January 18. Lev Gillet – like the late Brother Roger – presents to us an example of how, in Thomas Merton’s words, “We must contain all divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ,” even at the cost of marginalization.
Fr Michael Plekon, an Orthodox priest and scholar, writes in an article in Jacob’s Well:
After a long life … Fr. Lev was buried from the Greek Orthodox cathedral in London by his friend and younger colleague, Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of the Russian Patriarchal diocese of Sourozh. In addition to all the prayers of the Orthodox funeral service, one from the Roman Missal was also read by Metropolitan Anthony. Even in death, Fr. Lev kept trying to live in an undivided Church. He understood himself to be a priest of the Orthodox Church, but this did not prevent him from ministering to Christians all across the spectrum, preaching in Hyde Park as well as Protestant churches in London and elsewhere, giving retreats to Orthodox, Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Protestants as well, in short serving all of the people of God like his friend Paul Evdokimov, as if there had never been schisms.
It is perfectly characteristic of the enigmatic chacter of Fr. Lev that after his death, a longtime colleague at St. Basil’s House, Helle Giorgiadias would claim, in print, that he had never left the Catholic Church and had, as some detractors had thought much earlier, “infiltrated” the Orthodox Church almost as a spy. This was her reading of an impassioned exchange when interviewed in his 80s about people and events in the effort to build bridges between East and West in the 1920s, efforts such as the establishment of a Benedictine monastery at Amay in Belgium, whose vocation was to be outreach to the East Fr. Lev was really one of the co-founders, along with Dom Lambert Beauduin and Dom Olivier Rousseau, although he never was to live in this community which still exists today, Chevetogne, internationally known for having both Eastern and Western monastic communities and churches. Fr. Lev exclaimed, in this exchange, that he had always considered himself to be “a catholic priest in full communion with the Slavic Orthodox Church.” This was hardly the revelation of some deep, dark, secret of ecclesiastical espionage, although the actions of several in the 1920s, particularly Bishop Michel d’Herbigny, with special “faculties” for work in Russia and points East might suggest this.
In his singular personality, bordering at times on the eccentric, Fr. Lev’s own statements could, with some effort, be stretched into almost this interpretation, for in letters to his family and former colleagues in the 1920s and even toward the end of his life, he spoke in the idealistic terms of one who recognized the schisms of the churches but believed that the consequent walls of separation could be overcome in many ways, in prayer, in holiness, in the living out of a fully ecclesial life. It is important to note that such a vision of catholicity, of unity despite division, was hardly unique or for that matter peculiar to Fr. Lev. It clearly was the perspective of his longtime friends Paul Evdokimov and Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, friends who dearly loved Fr. Lev but who differed profoundly among themselves in other important respects. It was a vision as well as goal for others being profiled here, others of the remarkable Russian “religious renaissance,” such as Frs. Bulgakov, Afanasiev, Meyendorff, Schmemann and Men.
It is also likely the case that Fr. Lev consistently fell between the ecclesiastical cracks himself. Thoroughly a Westerner, a Frenchman, and formed in the Roman Catholic Church, though he became fluent in Russian, completely assimilated in Orthodox theology and liturgy and something of a cultural cosmopolitan, he really could not be taken as “one of our own” by any of the jurisdictions to which he was attached, whether that of the Lviv diocese and Uniov monastery of Metropolitan Andrei Szeptyky, the Western European Exarchate of Metropolitan Evlogy, the patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople to which he was later connected. He was never formally excommunicated by Metropolitan Andrei and was never asked to formally renounce anything when received into the Orthodox church by concelebrating the liturgy and during it confessing the Creed.
Perhaps despite all the small details of his personality and disappointments of his ecclesiastical activity, Fr. Lev is nevertheless a kind of sign of both the schism and its healing. There is a well-known statement, attributed both to Metropolitan Platon of Kiev and Metropolitan Filaret of Moscow, cited by none other than Fr Lev’s own bishop, Metropolitan Evlogy of Paris:
Men like St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. Francis of Assisi and many others have in their lives accomplished the union of the churches. Are they not citizens of the same holy and universal Church? At the level of their spiritual life they have gone beyond the walls which divide us, but which, in the fine expression of Metropolitan Platon of Kiev, do not reach up to heaven.
Now, here is a fifth installment of Amour Sans Limites. You can read further in John Breck’s column. This excerpt is about the “Doorway of Hope” -Lev Gillet continues to imagine God speaking:
“My child, as soon as you speak these words, ‘Love without limits,’ as soon as you give this supreme reality a place in your heart, you open a door. This is the doorway that leads into the Kingdom of freedom and light.
“This is the doorway of Hope, the threshold that leads to the infinite expansion of your being. Hope: awaiting what is to come, awaiting the One who is to come. Such waiting is filled with love. It is founded on love. For we never hope for what we do not love.
“Do not confuse your ‘hopes,’ in the plural, with ‘hope’ in the singular. Your hopes are those particular, limited things you want to see realized and which often correspond only to a selfish desire. For example, some special success, or a particular healing. These are hopes. They are not Hope.
“Hope in the true sense is a wish, a desire, an expectation that refers not only to a particular object. It refers to your total destiny. It does not refer to some portion of a curve, but to the curve in its entirety.
“If you consider only a portion of the curve of your life, you can easily have the impression that is a meaningless failure, a tragic loss. Look, rather, at the entire line of your life with a confidence inspired by love. In this perspective, death itself, however great its importance, is only a moment, only a point on the curve. Love never dies. Nothing truly marked by love is ever lost.
“The doorway of Hope is open before you, and no one can ever close it. What is this doorway like? It is the doorway of possibility that Love offers you at every moment. You trouble yourself over the missed opportunities of your life. At times you say to yourself, “Oh, if only I had known! Oh, if only I had done this or that differently. If only I could do it all over again!” We cannot redo what is already done. Yes, of course there have been missed opportunities. They are gone for good. But those lost possibilities are nothing in comparison with what is before you right now: the possibilities that I offer you, that are offered to you in this very moment.
“The door of present possibility, which is also the door of Hope, is open before you at every instant. It is different with each one of us. Don’t just sit in front of the door, waiting for someone to come open it because you think it is closed. You only have to push against it gently, and it will open wide before you.
“The moment you cross the threshold, Love without limits will come to you. Since it is of me, it is more than promised Love; it is Love already given. Nevertheless, in this world, as long as you are in this life, you can always break communion with Me. Here, that union remains imperfect. For the time being, ours is only an engagement, not a full marriage. It is Hope rather than possession. But move ahead with the Hope which is yours, that youthful, spring-like Hope you already possess. Hope in your Lord of Love, even when you feel you may be crushed to death. The greatest Hope is to hope against all Hope.
“Hope knows no limits, because it flows forth from Love without limits and leads back to that Love. I ask you this question: Has Love without limits already placed on your finger the engagement ring that is Hope without limits?”