Sermon given at Evensong on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity 2022

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

The Reverend David Stanton Canon in Residence

Sunday, 4th September 2022 at 3.00 PM

At Evensong this month I shall be speaking about two internationally important spiritual leaders who were educated here at Westminster School (right next door to the Abbey) and all of whom regularly attended divine worship here in Westminster Abbey.

This afternoon I shall be saying something about the very recently departed Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, of the Orthodox church, and later in the month about George Herbert.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, who has just died aged 87, was one of the best-known and best-loved figures in world Orthodoxy.

He was born Timothy Richard Ware in 1934 to an Anglican family in Bath arriving at Westminster School just after the war as a King’s Scholar.

As a pupil he had a penchant for going for walks around London and as an impressionable 17 year old he stumbled across an apparently abandoned Anglican church one Saturday evening to discover an Orthodox service of Vespers in progress and he was immediately entranced by its mystical beauty.

This was to be a pivotal moment in both the development of his faith and the shaping of his life.

After leaving Westminster he went up to Oxford as an undergraduate at Magdalen College, where he read Classics and Theology and was awarded a double First. At the age of 24, having been raised an Anglican, he joined the Orthodox Christian community.

In the eight years that followed he spent time travelling through Greece and the Middle East, staying for some time at the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Patmos.

In 1966 he was ordained to the priesthood within the Ecumenical Patriarchate and was tonsured as a monk, receiving the name ‘Kállistos’.The same year, he was appointed Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford.

Bishop Kallistos was a distinguished member of the Faculty of Theology for 35 years until his retirement in 2002, during which time he devoted himself to teaching patristics.

In 1982 he was ordained an auxiliary bishop with the title of Bishop of Diokleia in the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In 2007, five years after his retirement, he was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan.

Archbishop Kallistos’ contributions to the church and to understanding of Orthodoxy in Britain have been immense.

His writing and lectures have fed understanding and appreciation of the theological and spiritual riches of the Orthodox Church and he participated generously in numerous ecumenical meetings and dialogues with the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Pentecostal Churches.

He was the Orthodox observer at the Lambeth Conference in 2008; and he co-chaired the Anglican-Orthodox International Theological Dialogue between 2009 and 2016. In many ways he was a ‘Gandolf’ figure of the Christian world.                                      

He was profoundly inspiring in terms of ecological responsibility, a fresh thinker about the place of women in Christian ministry, and generous in his inclusion of all.

Metropolitan Kallistos is widely understood to have guided ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue with wisdom, generosity and commitment.                                                    

Through his books, especially The Orthodox Church in 1963, and The Orthodox Way in 1979, (a beautiful little book that has not a little truth and wisdom to impart to us of the West) he helped to bring Orthodox theology onto the central stage of theological thinking.

He often talked about the Christian faith as being a Journey into the infinite and so the opening words from our New Testament reading this afternoon (from St John’s Gospel) are entirely appropriate:

Jesus said to the Jews, 'I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

In other words - Jesus not only said that He did not do anything on His own initiative, but that He could not.

This goes back to the theme of this entire chapter, His unity with the Father in all things.

These words of Christ underpin much of Ware’s writings especially when he talks of God as Eternity and his powerful and absorbing focus upon the power of Resurrection.

Concerning the Resurrection he was absolutely clear: We will all die and our soul will be separated from our body, and our body will go into the ground.

And then at the Second Coming of Christ, our bodies will be resurrected, just like Jesus’ body was resurrected on Easter Sunday, and our souls will be reunited with our bodies.

At that point there will be the Last Judgment, with Christ as the judge, when – as he says: “all our acts of choice stand revealed to us in their full implications, when we realize with absolute clarity who we are and what has been the deep meaning and aim of our life” 

Indeed he goes on to say that at the future resurrection, our resurrection bodies will be “freed from the grossness of the fallen flesh” and will “share in the qualities of Christ’s human body at the Transfiguration and after the Resurrection”.

What that means isn’t that we will leave our flesh behind, but rather it will be transformed into immortal flesh, like that of Christ’s.

As Ware states, we are not saved from our body, but in it; not saved from the material world but with it.

Because we are each a microcosm and mediator of the creation, our own salvation involves also the reconciliation and transfiguration of the whole animate and inanimate creation around us.

Simply put, the teaching of the Resurrection of the Body is the teaching of the redemption and transfiguration of the entire created order.

For Creation, from the very beginning, was declared to be “very good.”

At the Second Coming, creation - will be transformed into incorruptibility. The material will be taken up into the eternal.

Obviously, we, on this side of eternity, have no way of fully understanding that, but the resurrection of Christ on Easter morning back in AD 30 is the evidence of that future resurrection, where we will become as he is.

As we reflect on Ware’s recent death (and a life lived well) we give thanks to God for his witness to the Christian faith.

We give thanks for his commitment to ecumenism and we give thanks for his provocative combination of scholarship and spirituality.

As a Priest he was just as comfortable at the Altar as he was researching in the Bodleian Library and chairing the faculty of theology.

He will be remembered for his strong faith, for his powerful mind and for his distinctive and ingenious wit.