October 1, 2015

An Interview With Elder Sophrony About Saint Silouan the Athonite (2 of 4)

Until now, the simplicity and humility of Silouan concealed his holiness from the eyes of most. But some, like you did for a few years, had contact with him, and went and visited him. Did he have a certain reputation since the time he was alive?

Elder Sophrony: Not very much. There were many monks among the Serbs in Hilandari and others, theologians, even bishops who liked to talk with him. He maintained a correspondence, he had several letters. I describe one or two cases in my book. And also about his insight, which is mentioned in the Act of his canonization among the saints. I want to add even that Bishop Nikolai (Velimirovich) the Serb wrote concerning him in his obituary.

This Bishop Nikolai was the initiator of a large movement of spiritual reawakening in the Serbian Church, which via Fr. Justin (Popovich) still continues today with people like Bishop Amfilohije and Fr. Atanasije. So, did Saint Silouan have regular contacts with Bishop Nikolai?

Elder Sophrony: I do not know for sure what there was between them. But the Bishop liked to come quite often to Mount Athos, and each time he went to visit Elder Silouan. You know, Bishop Nikolai is the one who ordained me to the diaconate in 1930 at the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon, and Elder Silouan was present. When I came to England, to London, for the first time in 1952, Bishop Nikolai was there. I went to get his blessing. I told him that Archimandrite Justin Popovich wrote about the book on Elder Silouan and he compared him with Saint Symeon the New Theologian. And the reaction of Bishop Nikolai was really impressive. He sat in an armchair, and as I told him that Fr. Justin made the comparison, he hit his fist on the desk, saying: "No! No! No! Silouan was greater than everyone in his love! When you read others, a certain despair surrounds you, and this never happens with what Silouan wrote." And I remained silent, listening to him.

Today Silouan is well known, and I have no need for referral. Florovsky wrote the Foreword to the first edition of the book in English. He indicated that Silouan spoke of familiar things but in a different way. People tell me: speak with a new language for the modern world. Well, it is a new language! Many people have expressed their joy; even the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote that this Act of the canonization of Elder Silouan among the saints is a joyous event not only for the Orthodox Church, not only for our Monastery, but generally for the whole Christian world.

It is true that thanks to your books, but undoubtedly also because it is the plan of God, devotion to Saint Silouan has already exceeded the "limits" of the Orthodox Church. His influence is very great. He touches many hearts.

Elder Sophrony: Here is an example: Last century there was a famous painter in Russia, a creator of the frescoes in the Cathedral of Saint Vladmir in Kiev. His son, a scientific mathematician, had emigrated to Czechoslovakia. When he became a priest, he wrote me to send him, if possible, books. But it is very difficult, unless someone brings them. So there were found two or three copies of my book on Elder Silouan in Czechoslovakia. And this priest wrote me: "Father Sophrony, I must express to you my gratitude. For five years I read the Philokalia with great care and I could not understand it, how to apply these things to my life, but your book made me understand it in a special way. In this book there is only the Philokalia, and it truly is life."

And in Russia, is Saint Siloan known? How have they accepted him?

Elder Sophrony: There has never been expressed any doubt towards him. Devotion to Elder Silouan is very great, stable. For years my book was given as a prize to the students of the Theological Academy - we didn't have many books. When I went to Russia for the first time, in 1957, I looked for my relatives, my brothers and sisters, and I found a copy of my book at my sisters written on a typewriter! And at the Theological Academy, in Leningrad, one of the students approached me and said: "Fr. Sophrony, I have a copy of your book!" What was he saying by this? Later I understood that he was speaking of the book published in Paris and not the copy written on the typewriter like that of my sister. They told me that hundreds of copies were written on a typewriter. The name of the Elder was known widely in Russia in 1957. He was known and recognized as a saint. The feeling was deep everywhere. In Mount Athos also they received my book with much confidence.

Later, in 1980, I spoke at the Department of External Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, with Metropolitan Philaret of Minsk and Archbishop Pitirim (who was in charge of publishing the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate). They promoted the idea of canonizing Elder Silouan among the saints. I responded that this was very important for us, but we did not want to interfere, and our position does not allow us to exert influence. Towards the end of the 1970's - in 1977 or 1979 - Metropolitan Nikodim of Kharkov had issued a complete Service to Saint Silouan as well as an Akathist Hymn. When he became Archbishop of Lvov and with this title he received the Ecumenical Patriarch in Lvov last year, he offered him an icon of the Elder and they proposed together to proceed with the common practice to number the Elder among the saints. But Fr. Silouan, being a monk of Mount Athos, was under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, and thus only the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Sacred Synod of the Great Church would have the right to carry out this solemn act.

Part Three

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.