Wallis, Paul. My Dinner with Anton. OakTara, Waterford. 2012.
My Dinner with Anton is the delightful, at times mesmerizing, fictional account of the dinner conversation between the author, Paul, and Anton. Anton – a fictional character – is a contemporary of the all too real Russian monk St Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833).
The reason given for this dinner date is Paul’s lack of inspiration. He is the main speaker on an upcoming retreat. He goes along hoping that by conversing with one who knew Seraphim he might be better equipped for his upcoming task: to communicate to the contemporary world something of what it is to live a life given over to God.
Anton agrees to come and the book, presented as a play, is an account of the ensuing dialogue.
Their communion takes place over three courses and is presented in six parts. As the book progresses the reader learns something of both the broad and specific story of the life of Seraphim. Readers glimpse his practices and priorities. On the surface Seraphim lived very differently to much of the contemporary world. He spent years in voluntary solitude, often took vows of silence, and followed closely his order’s life of prayer. But here he learned what it was to pray, work, and live a life dedicated to hearing and following the voice of God. His life became uniquely open to the Spirit.
But this book is much more than a history lesson. In setting the meal in a contemporary restaurant, Wallis has created a space where this secluded life can genuinely interact with the challenges of the modern world. The account quickly becomes an invitation to take the discoveries of Seraphim and manifest them in our own time. And as we get to know him the centuries are swept aside and we come to see a man who grew into holiness.
It would seem that Wallis has found a way to enable this saint to do exactly what saints are intended to do – inspire, teach, and point people to all that God hopes and imagines for each of us. Here is a life that will help you believe, and move closer to, God.
For those who might be interested in reading My Dinner with Anton with others, Wallis has provided discussion questions after each chapter. His suggestion of a weekly gathering around a simple meal to discuss each chapter has the potential to ensure that this fictional encounter permeates reality.
Paul and Anton’s conversation around Seraphim just may inspire many more. It is my hope that it does.
Paul Wallis is an Anglican priest currently based in Canberra, Australia. He is the Archdeacon to North Canberra and has recently undertaken the planting of a church among the city’s diplomatic community.