Bishop Anthony Grabbe

Exiled Russian Orthodox priest
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The Independent Online

Few lives illustrate more fully the tortured fate of the Russian Orthodox in exile since the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 than that of Bishop Anthony Grabbe. Born in exile and forced to migrate ever westwards to escape widening Communist power, he was committed to authentic Russian Orthodox spiritual traditions, but was to be overcome by the acrimonious infighting that constantly imperilled a church that existed at the ecclesiastical margins. When religious freedom returned to Russia - a land he never visited - he joined a new-founded jurisdiction that failed to gain the impetus he believed it might achieve.

Grabbe was born in Serbian exile into a Russian noble family of Swedish origin which was also prominent in the Russian Orthodox Church. His father, Yuri Grabbe, was for many years right-hand man to the three earliest bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (Rocor). Taking the name Grigory, Yuri would later become a priest and bishop, a path his son would follow.

The young Grabbe attended a Russian cadet school in the Serbian town of Bela Crkva until it was closed by the Nazis. After transferring to a Russian grammar school in Belgrade he was conscripted in 1943 into the Vlasov army, a pro-Nazi and anti-Bolshevik force made up of Russians and former Soviet citizens, where he served in Andrei Vlasov's bodyguard.

As war ended he was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp, but was rescued by his younger brother Dmitry before he could suffer deportation by the Western powers into Stalin's clutches and imprisonment or execution. The two made their way to Munich, then under American control, to where their father had transferred the Church's headquarters and archives to escape Tito's Communist takeover of Yugoslavia.

Grabbe joined the newly founded St Job's monastery in Munich and it was there, in December 1948 - still only 22 - he was tonsured a monk, taking the name Anthony. Like so many exiled Russians, he emigrated to the United States, where Russian Orthodoxy was long established. From 1949 to 1954 he studied at the Holy Trinity seminary in Jordanville, a major centre for the émigré Russian church and was ordained a priest-monk at the end of his studies.

Fr Anthony took on a variety of roles over the years, as secretary to Rocor's leader, Archbishop Vitaly Maksimenko, head of the Jordanville monastery chancellery and priest of the diocesan cathedral in New York. There he founded the St Sergius College, which he headed for nearly three decades.

In 1968 he was appointed head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem and the Orthodox Society of Palestine. For the next 15 years he was in charge of the key properties in the Holy Land in the care of the mission, which was founded during the Tsarist era. A fierce opponent of the Soviet-controlled Moscow Patriarchate, he managed to disrupt Patriarch Pimen's visit to the Holy Land in 1972.

Grabbe faced a bruising challenge trying to hold on to property in the face of encroachments by the Israeli and Soviet governments, often working in cohort. He even won a court case against the Israeli government which had illegally transferred ownership of the St Mary Magdalene convent on the Mount of Olives and other property to the Moscow Patriarchate. The Israeli state was forced to pay compensation of $7m.

He became involved in the DNA analysis of the purported bones of the family of the last Tsar, executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. In 1982, the coffin of Grand Duchess Elisabeth - sister of Tsarina Alexandra, one of the victims - was opened in Jerusalem. Grabbe took a relic of part of her finger back to New York when he returned in 1983, later making it available to researchers, who determined that there was no DNA link.

Soon after his return to the United States, Grabbe was forced out of his position as church secretary after rumours of financial scandal. After a disagreement with the Rocor leadership and failed attempts to reforge links with the Serbian Orthodox Church, he joined a Greek True Orthodox jurisdiction, which consecrated him bishop in New York in 1996.

However, he soon retired and was scarcely active as a bishop. In 2001 he joined the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, led from the Russian town of Suzdal by Bishop Valentin. It had broken away from Rocor after complaining of pro-Fascist sympathies among Rocor's followers and moves to rejoin the Moscow Patriarchate. Valentin's church recognised the validity of Anthony's consecration and at his death he was the oldest of the Church's bishops.

Felix Corley

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