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.