Saturday, August 27, 2022

Saint Sophrony’s touch.
Metropolitan Athanasius of Limassol.

 Elder Sophrony: a man who was perfect in Christ

Elder Sophrony with various pilgrims to his Monastery,
 including Elder Joseph of Vatopedi, Metropolitan Athanasios of Lemesou, Elder Zacharias of Essex, and Elder Kirill

        It took place in winter, right before Christmas under the Julian calendar, somewhere around 1970. I had already read the book by St. Sophrony of Essex, We Shall See Him as He Is. It belonged to Geronda Dionysius of Dionysiou monastery, a spiritual and holy man who lived not far from elder Sophrony. I took the book from him and gave it to our Geronda Joseph, and we read it together. When we finished reading it, Geronda Joseph said: “He is a great saint!” He was impressed by the profound depth of the theological narratives, spiritual but not academic, and St. Sophrony’s unbelievable experience. Taking advantage of this state of “spiritual exaltation,” I said, “Geronda, why don’t we go and take a blessing from Elder Sophrony while he is still alive?” Geronda Joseph replied, “Well, but how can we get to England? Do you think, my child, it’s so easy?” I suggested: “Give me your blessing and I’ll take care of it.” He agreed. I was younger and livelier at the time than I am now, so I arranged our trip to England. And so, we, Geronda Joseph and I, made a short trip to England, arranging through one of our friends to meet with Elder Sophrony.

We went to the monastery straight from the airport and arrived there in the evening, about 11 pm. It was awfully cold. St. Sophrony was waiting for us at the gates, next to the monastery fence. He waited for us in this bitter cold, along with a few other brethren. As soon as Geronda Joseph got out of the cab, Elder Sophrony began to bow. He was crossing himself and bowing. He would bow down as low as his strength allowed—he was already advanced in years. We felt awkward. He hugged and kissed us, and said: “Welcome to England! Let’s go to church and pray.” We went to church and prayed. He commemorated our names in a very heartwarming way.

We remained in the monastery for two days and two nights. Throughout this time, we had meetings and conversations with Elder Sophrony. He shared his memories of the Holy Mountain, of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, St. Silouan, and spoke about his experience of concelebrating Divine Liturgy with him. We held conversations on various spiritual topics. What greatly impressed us was our very perception of the elder Sophrony. He was a man who was perfect in Christ. Geronda Joseph said of him, “If you desire to see a perfect man, look at this elder. If you wish to know how the Gospel transforms a man, look at him—he is indeed a man perfect in Christ.” Such was our impression. Afterwards, the elder Sophrony blessed us in all his goodness, both spiritual and human, talking to us in all seriousness and sublimity, welcoming us with all humility and love. The image of his holiness will always remain with us!


Father Paisius of Dionysiou: the “mother” of Christ

Monastery Dionisiou.

          A man of deeply inner life... He lived at Dionysiou.

A Cypriot, he grew up in South Africa and resided in England. He was very successful in his economic and commercial endeavors. At some point, he met St. Sophrony of Essex and turned to God. He arrived at the monastery of Dionysiou on Mount Athos and became a monk. He lived there in strict asceticism.

This monk’s life was a stellar example of monasticism. Scrupulous, inconspicuous, humble, replete with obedience and truly inscrutable. He never went anywhere and no one knew about him. He was bestowed with many gifts of the Holy Spirit. He was a man of unceasing prayer, a man of great love, a man enlightened by the Lord Who revealed to him His all-holy will about the people who saw him.

When I first came to the Dionysiou sometime in October or November of 1976, I was overcome with many thoughts about whether or not I should stay on the Holy Mountain. Once, in the evening I walked from the Monastery of St. Paul to Dionysiou, as they were having the Compline service there. I sat down in the side chapel. I knew no one (as an eighteen-year-old student) and certainly no one knew me either. So, I sat there, in my stasidia, in the side chapel of the Laudation of the Most Holy Mother of God, contemplating my life and watching the elders of the Dionysiou; they also sat deep in their stasidia immersed in the darkness of the cathedral and reading the Compline so simply, humbly, and quietly... I was seized with despair and frustration—so I sat there, awash with thoughts: What am I doing on this Holy Mountain? All they have are these elderly monks! They look like living corpses. I am going to leave this place at once! I had a feeling that I was visiting the kingdom of the dead in this monastery. As soon as I thought that, a monk came up to me—he was lighting the oil lamps in the cathedral—and said, “You shouldn’t think this way! The monks you see aren’t dead. They are not. These fathers are filled with life—life in Christ. But when man lives in Christ, it is truly life.” I thanked him and said nothing else. I didn’t know him, nor did I know anyone else there. However, as soon as I left, I realized that it was the answer to my thoughts.

I met this monk again later. His name was Father Paisios. He maintained order in the church, and since he was also a Cypriot, we got to know each other and became friends. Elder Gabriel of Dionysiou once said of him: “This monk is like the one described by St. Simeon the New Theologian—‘he is akin to the ‘mother’ of Christ.’” I asked: “What does that mean, the ‘mother’ of Christ?” Geronda replied, “Like a mother who carries a child in her womb, is aware of him, gives birth and becomes his mother, so does a man who strives in Christ. He “conceives” Christ in his being, in his heart, and becomes a God-bearing man. This monk is a ‘mother’ of Christ, because he has Christ in his heart.”

Of course, I stayed on Mount Athos. I also often visited Dionysiou. We held conversations with this holy elder, filled with sweetness, humility, love and obedience. He always comforted us with his appearance and the gentle and comforting words.

A man of unceasing prayer, he received the monastery’s blessing at the end of his life and went into the wilderness to the remote St. James Kathisma, remaining there almost to the end of his life, enjoying the life of a recluse, in silence and prayer.






Saturday, August 20, 2022

Anecdotes about Saint Joseph the Hesychast.
Hieromonk Ephraim, St. Nilus Skete, Alaska.


Saint Joseph the hesychast.
(painted by Camille Rahal).
    One night when Fr. Anatolios [i.e., Fr. Arsenios] was still in Jerusalem, he had a dream that a heavenly messenger brought him a letter supposedly from his mother, but it was really from the Panagia. The letter said: "My child, if you want to be saved, come to my garden at the Holy Mountain."

Years would pass before Fr. Arsenios was overshadowed by grace. It took so long because he first had to wipe out the passions stemming from his bad habits. Then one night after eight years, Fr. Arsenios fell at Geronda's feet with tears saying, "Oh, Geronda! What was that that you gave me tonight through your prayers? I was filled with light, inside and outside. Christ came and smiled at me." Geronda also wept for joy hearing this and said, "Yes, that is it, Arsenios."

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Theology as a state of being.
Saint Sophrony the Athonite.


Saint Sophrony the Athonite.
How can one accomplish the transition from the canons of formal logic to the antinomies of real fact? The way out is mapped by Christ: Jesus said . . . “He who loves me will keep my word and my Father shall love him and we will come and dwell in him” (Jn 14:23). This commandment is at the basis of our gnoseology. Only the dwelling in us of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will give us authentic knowledge of God.

From this passage we see that knowledge is both a result of and equivalent to living communion. This communion is realized through love : love is thus the uniting principle. This “gnoseology” derives from trinitarian theology—absolute love between the divine hypostases ensures their absolute unity. This absolute unity/communion of the triune being results in the absolute mutual knowledge of each hypostasis. Great significance is attributed to the perichoresis (coinherence) between the divine persons—their absolute mutual coinherence. Fr Sophrony builds up a model of divine love within the trinitarian being: “The absolute perfection of love in the bosom of the Trinity reveals to us the perfect reciprocity of the ‘interpenetration’ of the three persons.”

This trinitarian model allows Fr Sophrony to make the connection between love and knowledge more explicit: “God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and He knows Himself and us absolutely; and everything in Him is one.” Fr Sophrony transfers the principle love=knowledge onto the human plane. The objects of knowledge here are both God and other humans. Fr Sophrony mentions knowledge of God in this context in his Ascetic Discourses : “The highest aim, according to Silouan is ‘the more a person loves God, the more he knows Him’ . . . love unites the very being. When we have repulsion toward others, barriers and so on—this deprives us of life. When we have prayer, love and tears, this brings us closer to the highest ‘science’—knowledge of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

On the basis of his maximalist anthropology Fr Sophrony transfers the intratrinitarian principle of being to the level of multihypostatic human existence. As in the Trinity, in which the hypostases know each other through perichoretic love, so also humans come to know each other through love. This connection between knowledge and love on the human level is clearly expressed in Letters to Russia : “If I will love my brother and my neighbor as my own life,and will not egoistically separate myself from him, then, clearly, I will come to know him more, and know him more deeply, in all his suffering, thoughts, and quests.”

Fr Sophrony inherits the idea of the living dimension of the knowledge of God from his elder Silouan. The golden thread of Silouan’s ascetic theology is the idea that living knowledge of God is actualized in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Fr Sophrony himself points out his dependence on Silouan in this respect. In Silouan, the knowledge of God is always based on revelatory experience of some kind and therefore comes “from above.” The faculty of the knowledge of God is placed not in man’s rational faculty alone but in “the whole man”: “The soul suddenly sees the Lord and knows that it is He . . . The Lord is made known in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit pervades the entire man—soul, mind and body .”

Empirical/scientific knowledge can be enclosed in the form of thoughts, objective ideas, and concepts, but these are insufficient for the perception of divine reality. Here we come to a crucial question: How and in what form then can nonconceptual and subjective knowledge of God be communicated to the human being?

To answer this question Fr Sophrony introduces a new concept: theology as a state of being. He writes that in the moment of divine revelation (as in contemplation of the divine light, for example) “profound knowledge descends on us, not as a thought, but as sostoianie [state] of our spirit.” These states usually occur during prayer. Fr Sophrony describes how in the moment of such prayer “our mind-spirit is included in the mind of God and receives an understanding of things which escapes any adequate expression in our daily language.” He explains this communion in knowledge through the state of our spirit in the following example: “All things are created by His will, His thought. He conceives the world, and His creative thinking becomes created being. Not matter but the thinking of God the Creator is the initial factor. Thus we live this world not only through the prism of experiential knowledge, but in the Spirit also behold it in another fashion (cf Heb 11:1-3).”

The problem with the term “state” is that it can be easily confused with the common use of the word, which has a very strong association with psychological conditions, or even with “feelings.” The temptation to fall for this conclusion is strong indeed, especially when Fr Sophrony describes these states in terms of their psychological effect, as joy, or pain. However, Fr Sophrony anticipates such misunderstanding and gives a clear definition of his technical term state in contrast to the usual use of the word in the context of psychology or human emotions:

“ State ” is the fact of being, which prompts our thought, operating after its own fashion, to understand truth. Such understanding is not achieved by demonstrative reasoning but through an intuitive penetration or an establishment of fact as knowledge of Divine Being, descending on us from God.


I love Therefore I am. The Theological legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony. Nicholas Sakharov. 2012.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

l'humilité de Dieu.
Saint Sophrony l’Athonite.

Christ, par Saint Sophrony. Chapel de Saint Silouan.
Monastère Saint Jean-Baptiste. Essex.

          Contempler la sainteté et l'humilité de Dieu frappe l'âme. Avec une grande dévotion et avec amour, elle se prosterne intérieurement devant Lui. Une pareille prière se transforme parfois en vision de la Lumière incréée.

      Pour que nous reconnaissions les dons qui procèdent de Lui, Dieu nous abandonne pour un temps après nous avoir visités. L'abandon de Dieu produit une impression étrange. Dans ma jeunesse, j'étais peintre - je crains que, jusqu'à présent, le peintre ne soit pas tout à fait mort en moi. Ce don naturel était présent en moi. Je pouvais être épuisé, ne plus avoir de forces pour travailler, ne pas être inspiré, je savais cependant que ce don faisait partie de ma nature. En revanche, lorsque Dieu se retire, nous ressentons un certain effondrement dans notre être même; l’âme ne sait pas si celui qui est parti reviendra un jour.