Bishop Anthony Grabbe
- 2004.11.05 Independent:
from The Independent & The Independent on Sunday
Bishop Anthony Grabbe
Exiled Russian Orthodox priest
Published: 05 November 2005
Aleksei Georgievich Grabbe, priest: born Belgrade 22 June 1926;
clothed a monk 1948, taking the name Anthony; ordained priest 1954;
consecrated bishop 1996; died New York 12 September 2005.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.