Saturday, March 10, 2018

Father Sophrony Zakharov… Love to the point of self-hatred.
Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou).

God revealed Himself as the One who Is, initially to Moses in the Person of His Son. Subsequently, during His sojourn in the flesh, He showed that the content of His Hypostasis is love, and what is more, love “unto the end” [john 13:1; d. also 15:10-15]. This revelation is, according to the Apostle’s word, “the great mystery of our faith” [1 Tim. 3: 16].
The incarnation of the Son of God “explains” to us the person­-hypostasis. In the flesh He assumed, the Son and Word of God manifested the true dimensions of His Person and of His selfless love. “He first loved us” [1 John. 4:19], and first saved the impious man freely by what He wrought as a servant. “As a servant, because He did not want to frighten guilty mankind and therefore violate man's freedom. He showed that His love is absolute, yet also humble beyond description. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us” [Rom.5:8].
Man was created in God’s image and after His likeness. Hence, man is a person and reflects his prototype, God. However, to attain to the final perfection of the hypostatic principle for which God destined him, man has to reach the fullness of divine love. He too is expected to express by his work, as a servant - by repentance and humility,  his gratitude for the saving work of Christ, to respond with love to His love and to be fulfilled as a person by emulating His example and His life.
Referring to Christ’s discourse on the evening of the Last Supper, Fr. Sophrony remarks that Christ’s love had “reached its absolute fullness” both as regards God the Father and as regards fallen mankind. Christ set as an example for man’s life the road that He took to its end in the feat of His kenosis. Fr. Sophrony is especially “touched and drawn” by “the face of Christ as He ascends to Golgotha, […] bearing in Himself the whole Adam, all peoples of all epochs, [...] to lay down His life, and, accepting the death which had wounded all men, to give them life”.Fr. Sophrony was so captivated by the ethos of “Christ, the Lamb without blemish or spot” as He makes this fearful ascent, that in his writings he defines repeatedly and with dogmatic conviction that “God is humility.” In this He is following the spirit of his great teacher St. Silouan, who with the same authentic voice testifies that “the humility of Christ is beyond description”. 
The picture of Christ, who “was led as a sheep to the slaughter” [Is. 53:7]without “resisting evil” [d. Matt. 5:39], suffering for the sins of all Adam, takes a central place in the consciousness of Fr. Sophrony. Like St. Silouan, he does not cease to admire God’s immeasurable love and humbleness”. This love of Christ is infinite and lowly, because it embraces everyone and does not discriminate between enemies and friends, between small and great, between “near and far” [d. Eph. 2:17]. Fr. Sophrony’s empirical knowledge of this humble love led him to an original formulation: the theory of the “overturned pyramid”. This metaphor explains in the best possible way the mystery of Christ’s love, and how it works and suffers in this world, which “lies in the power of the evil one” [1John 5:19]. 
Fresco of the Crucifiction
in the Church of Saint John the Baptist's monastery. Lebanon
Using this imagery, Fr. Sophrony presents all human existence as built up like a pyramid. The hierarchical structure, with higher and lower orders of people, as well as all the divisions and inequalities within them, is a consequence of the Fall of the first humans. Those who are situated at the top of the pyramid “exercise authority” and “lord it” over those lower down [d. Matt. 20:25], and there is none of the fairness which the spirit of man, made God’s image, demands. Christ, in order to heal all mankind, to break the deadlock of human injustice and to raise up high all those who are “of low degree” upon earth, overturns this pyramid of human existence, placing the apex at the base, and thus “establishes the ultimate perfection”. The summit of the pyramid of being, now situated at the base, is of course Christ Himself, as the head of the body of the “new creation” [d. Gal. 6: 15]. 
This concept of the upturned pyramid is inspired by Christ’s words: “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life as a ransom for many” [Matt.20:28]. He took upon Himself all the weight of the pyramid and as the Apostle says, “became a curse for our sake” [d. Gal. 3:13]. God “for our sake made Him to be sin who knew no sin” [2 Cor. 5:21], and “spared not His own Son but gave Him up for us all” [Rom. 8:32]. The motivation for all this is of course that “Jesus [...] having loved His own who were in the world, loved them unto the end” [john 13:1]. 
At the bottom of the upturned pyramid reigns the lowly and saving spirit of the crucified Christ, for it was, indeed, “expedient” that He perish “for the people” [john 18:14]. There, according to the eye-opening expression of Fr.Sophrony, “we remark a quite especial life, a quite especial light, an especial fragrance.” The author and minister of the selfless and indescribable love is Christ. His love is absolute and perfect in its every manifestation. It is shown as perfect love towards the Heavenly Father by His obedience and His assumption of the subservient form of man; and equally, as perfect love towards man by His humility and His acceptance of the Cross. In the garden of Gethsemane He gave up His will to the Heavenly father. On the cross He offered His body, and His holy soul went down to hell for the salvation of all. He Himself affirmed that “no man has greater love than this” [john 15:13]. 
The majesty and perfection of Christ’s holiness, as revealed in His divine self-emptying and His self-abasing love, took hold of Fr. Sophrony to such degree that he could write, in humble awe, “To live a Christian life is impossible. All one can do as a Christian is to die daily”. This death, though, takes place mainly on the level of the thinking and the activity of the “old man”. It is a downward descent, towards the apex of the overturned pyramid, following “daily” after Christ [Lk. 9:23; 1 Cor. 15:31]. 

As a prerequisite for the acquisition of the spirit of this love, one must fulfill the indispensable condition set by the Lord: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” [Matt. 20:26-27]. He expressed the same condition in the commandment which He gave to those who wish to follow Him and become His disciples: “Whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it” [Lk. 9:24]. This becomes the law of life for those who are inspired by the idea of going downward, to be alongside the wondrous apex of the upturned pyramid, to be united with the Spirit of love, and, strengthened by the grace of the Lord, to be able to “bear the weaknesses of [his] weak” brethren.33 In an ineffable fashion, his descent makes man like the Son of God, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” [see John 1:29]. 
This love is not a natural property of the “psychological” man; it is the ontological content of the blessed Life of the divine Hypostases. It is not a given thing, inherent in man. Christ calls him through His commandments of love to be elevated into the light or that love which is proper to the divine Persons, love which “is not of the earth but of heaven”. This calling from the Lord, is addressed to the heart, “the spiritual centre of the persona”, which has the capacity to assume eternity and to “recognize [its] Prototype- the Living God”. 
The commandments of the Lord, and indeed His every word, contain within them the mystery of the Cross, the Energy of holy Love of God. When the word of God comes to man and accepts it, this mystery becomes active and divine love inflames his heart like a “fire”. This is the “fire that [Christ] came to cast upon the earth” [cf.Lk.12:49], and Fr.Sophrony identifies it with the sweating of blood which accompanied Jesus’ prayer for the world in Gethsemane. When this fire touches man’s heart, it effects a wondrous change of all his being and conveys to him a new understanding of life. The spotless love of Christ uplifts his soul and reveals by a wealth of spiritual feelings what a true man should be, how he was initially created, and how he is manifested in Christ. Then before our spirit “the inexpressibly splendid image of Primordial Man is revealed more and more”." In the light of this revelation we also discover “how terribly distorted the Creator’s primary idea for us has become”. This double revelation and contemplation, although it is “tyrannical” in its initial stages, will nevertheless become man’s spiritual cornerstone, and the source of energy and inspiration to collaborate with God in his full re­creation.

Archimandrite Zacharia Zacharou: is a disciple of Elder Sophrony (of blessed memory), who was a disciple of St. Silouan of Mount Athos. Presently, Fr. Zacharias is a monk in the Monastery founded by Elder Sophrony: The Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England.
Fr. Zacharias has translated Father Sophrony’s books from Russian into Greek.

Christ, Our Way and Our Life, Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou,(2003).