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Archimandrite Anastassy (Newcomb)
A solis ortu usque ad occasum...
T was raining that day in San Francisco. I was concerned we were not going to be able to park close enough to the Old Cathedral on Fulton St. in order to get to our appointment with Fr. Anastassy on time. He was expecting us for tea, and I was eager that my young friend J. meet him. Fortunately, we found parking close enough and we were twenty minutes early for our meeting.
I had first met the archimandrite when he visited the retreat center I was then living in. He had come just to meet the followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who he considered a saint. He had even sent his spiritual daughter, a nun who took care of him in his old age, to make a retreat with us. It was an odd encounter, but I would later find out his real reasons for his friendship with us.
He was an astounding sight for a twenty-one-year-old: long black robe, long snow-white hair, a trim snow-white beard, and a small chotki with a gold tassel around his wrist symbolizing his rank of hegumen (abbot). (When I die, he told me, I will be buried with one that is all black.) My friend says that he looked like he had just fallen off of the boat. There are certain people in life you meet that just dont make an impression; they exude something. They are more a glow than a presence. This Russian Orthodox monk is one of the only people I have met who has done this for me.
Officially, he held the rank of mitred archimandrite, hegumen, and dean of the Old Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in San Francisco. Later he told me his story: he was Irish by blood from a wealthy family. He had been a Roman Catholic seminarian and somehow befriended a retired Russian bishop. He became Orthodox and went to Mt. Athos to become a monk. He was a novice in the Monastery of St. Panteleimon when political turmoil forced him to flee Greece. He had been a student of Georges Florovsky, a parish priest, and a collaborator with Fr. Seraphim Rose. (He showed me with great pride the spot where Eugene Rose was received into the Orthodox Church.) All this time, however, [Roman] Catholicism was still in him. Its funny that the most Orthodox person I ever met turned out to be one of the most Catholic as well.
He invited both of us into his monastic living space, where he had a small kitchen and a rather nice table set up for tea. On the walls, there were the usual icons of Orthodox saints, but there were also pictures of St. Teresa of Avila, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and a statue of the Immaculate Conception. Later on in the conversation, he showed us a wood carving of St. Therese of Liseux that he said was carved in Russia in the 1920s.