September 24, 2013

Saint Silouan the Athonite as a Model for our Lives

St. Silouan the Athonite (Feast Day - September 24)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Several years have passed since I heard, during a certain vigil, the words of the venerable Silouan read about love. I remember that it caused a great impression on me. It made me feel a sweetness in my heart and an unforgettable inner jubilation. Such homilies I have not had much of an opportunity to hear and I admit that I was amazed. Then I found and studied the book of his life and writings, which exude the fragrance of the Holy Spirit and spiritually nourish and quench, because they are words of God. Let us note here that there is a difference between the words of God and words about God. It is one thing to speak about Christ after seeing Him, and another thing to imagine Him. Philosophical speculation is one thing and empirical theology another, which is the result of the vision of God (theoria). The words of the saints are "words of eternal life", which is why they help in the therapy of the passions and in inner regeneration. The Gerontikon refers to people approaching the great Elders and begging them for a word of salvation: "Abba, say a word that I may be saved."

Saint Silouan was from Russia, who grew and matured spiritually in the Russian Monastery of Saint Panteleimon at Mount Athos.

In the wonderful book of the late Archimandrite Sophrony titled Saint Silouan the Athonite, which was published by the Sacred Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner in Essex of England, the reader can find a connection with the divine life of the Venerable One, as well as his wonderful writings. In the limited space of this article I want to mention, telegraphically, only three points about his divine life.

First, the family environment in which he grew up helped him in his later development. It is known that it played an important role in shaping his character and the overall personality of the children in the atmosphere of the family. His parents were simple peasants, with a deep faith in God. He himself would say of his father: "I have not reached the measure of my father. He was completely illiterate, even saying the 'Our Father' wrong, which he learned by listening in church, but he was a gentle and wise man." Indeed, he would recount incidents from his life in the family home. We will mention one in particular. Once they were harvesting the field and it was the turn of the young Symeon (his name in the world) to cook. He forgot it was Friday and boiled pork, which everyone ate. Six months later, on a certain feast day, his father told him: "Remember my child, that you gave me pork to eat out in the field? Believe me, I ate it as if it was a corpse." And when Symeon asked him why he didn't tell him, his father responded: "I didn't want to upset you, my son." When he would narrate this incident, the Venerable One added: "That is the sort of elder I would like to have: He never got angry, was always even-tempered and humble. Just think – he waited six months for the right moment to correct me without upsetting me!"

Second, his simple and unpretentious way of behaving was a scandal for most and an obstacle to the greatness of his personality, which is why few understood him. He was a peasant that was little educated, yet he was gentle with delicate manners, who spoke few words and not quarrelsome. This way of expression and behavior was not meretricious, external, but it gushed from within his heart, which was full of meekness and humility. He persistently and painfully asked from God for the forgiveness of his sins, night and day. He learned selfless love and gentleness and was taught true humility from Christ Himself, with the advice: "Keep your mind in hades and despair not."

He was full of compassion for the world and prayed fervently. During the day he would leave his hard work for a little at the mill of the Monastery and he would go to his cell, where he prayed for the poor laborers and even each one individually by his name.

Third, his writings reveal not a speculative theologian, but a Saint of divine vision. In these he constantly speaks about the Holy Spirit and true love. He saw Christ alive in the Holy Spirit and was an actual God-taught theologian. He knew very few letters, but his words flowed like gurgling water and so quietly and gently penetrated deeply and quenched the soul which thirsts for the words of God. Another contemporary Athonite Saint writes: "When one purifies the senses through obedience and stillness and calms the nous and purifies the heart, then they receive grace and the knowledge of illumination and become all light, all nous, all clarity; they flow theology, where if three were to write they would not catch up to the flow of grace which flows waves that scatter peace and complete inactivity to the passions throughout the body. The heart is inflamed by divine love and cries out: Hold back, my Jesus, the waves of Your grace, which dissolves me like wax. And indeed dissolution does not take hold. The nous is grabbed by the vision of God and becomes restrained, and the person is denatured and becomes one with God, so that they cannot recognize or separate themselves, like iron in the fire when it is kindled and assimilated into the fire" (The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast).

In his writings he recounts several miracles, which if they were done by him, he reports them in the third person as if they were done by someone else. But we believe the greatest miracles of the Venerable One were not so much physical healings, but rather the spiritual regeneration caused by the study of his life and his inspired writings. This test will convince - "Taste and see."

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΣ ΣΙΛΟΥΑΝΟΣ Ο ΑΘΩΝΙΤΗΣ", September 1999. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.