September 27, 2021

The Unity of Saint Silouan and Saint Sophrony (2 of 5)

 ...continued from part one.

1. Striving for Knowledge of God

This book consists of the letters that Saint Sophrony sent to Father David, later known as Demetrios Balfour, and published in the appendix of the book are excerpts from his letters, as well as letters of Balfour to Saint Sophrony.

Most of the letters of Elder Sophrony to Balfour were written at the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon on the Holy Mountain, when he was a hierodeacon and very close to Saint Silouan, while some of them were written in the wilderness of the Holy Mountain, one in France and two in England.

These letters express the whole fire of repentance and the light of divine vision that occupied him at that time, as well as his close communication with Saint Silouan, since he was seen as a mediator between them.

Even though these letters were published in 2004, after the death of those who wrote to each other, namely Father Sophrony and Balfour, nonetheless it can be considered the first book of Elder Sophrony, because they are the first texts of Saint Sophrony.

These are authentic letters, written by a newly inflamed monk and hieromonk, who out of love for Balfour reveals to him the internal state of his soul, since at that time he also had a strong flame of repentance, the struggles of monastic life and the vision of the glory of God. He was also close to a mature professor of charismatic theology, Saint Silouan.

On the other hand, they show the zeal, but also the backsliding of Balfour, who had a great fall, but finally returned to the Orthodox faith, with the prayer and love of Elder Sophrony.

This book clearly shows the difference between Orthodox theology, as it was lived on Mount Athos by Saint Silouan and Saint Sophrony, and the western mentality and theology that permeated Balfour. Thus, what Saint Sophrony writes later in his books on intellectual and charismatic theology, but also on Western theology, comes from this correspondence. When Saint Sophrony wrote about intellectual theology, he certainly had Balfour in mind.

Shortly before his death, Balfour made a confession: "I, like a reckless donkey, thought of running behind two strong horses, Elder Silouan and Father Sophrony." This shows the greatness of Orthodox theology and the tragedy of the human intellect.

This book has the aroma of the the atmosphere of the Sacred Monastery of Saint Panteleimon on the Holy Mountain and is a sample of pastoral guidance of a theologian father to a learned intellectual, whom he leads, inspires and eventually saves. It is an expression of an Orthodox pastoral ministry of the highest possible degree practiced by a charismatic father and theologian.

2. Saint Silouan the Athonite

This book was first published in Russian in 1948, when Saint Sophrony went from Mount Athos to Paris to publish the writings of Saint Silouan. Later it was translated into many languages, among which was Greek for the first time in 1973, and it caused a great impression. It is indeed a theological synaxarion of Saint Silouan and a theological testimony of Saint Sophrony for the Orthodox spiritual life. It is an example of a written biography of a holy ascetic.

It is divided into two parts, namely "the life and teachings of Saint Silouan" and "the writings of Saint Silouan".

This book reveals the secret life of Elder Silouan and his divinely inspired writings, but diligently conceals the life of its author. However, whoever had a spiritual sense of understanding, understood from the beginning the height of both the biographied monk Silouan and the biographer Hieromonk-Archimandrite Sophrony.

Books like this are written once every century. This can be seen from the theological height of both the biographied and the biographer, and from the depth of the words, both of the writings of Saint Silouan and of the theological explanations of Saint Sophrony.

The first part of the book is an extensive and penetrating summary of the "Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics", the second part is a prophetic apostolic text, in our time, but with the style of the prayer. Saint Silouan was a spiritual transmitter who lived in a small cell of Mount Athos, who spoke from there to people in order to give them peace, consolation and to lead them without error, and he prayed to God for all of Adam. And Saint Sophrony was a submissive theologian and father, who transferred the life of Mount Athos to France and England and generally to the heart of Europe and all over the world.

It is a book borne of pure theology, it is a spiritual theological alcohol, a pure theological wine that shows what Orthodox life is and what genuine Orthodox monasticism is. I cannot give a brief summary of the contents of this book, but I will quote a paragraph in which Saint Sophrony describes Saint Silouan.

"The words of the Elder, unusually high towards his spiritual perfection, is a testimony to the supernatural life that was given to him to live. For many it remains incomprehensible and inaccessible despite its purity and simplicity. Experience has shown that it is partly incomprehensible precisely because of his simplicity and the Elder's style of thought and expression, which is foreign to the modern intellectual. This motivated me to accompany him and even to be able to make declarations in a language more accessible to the educated people of our time, in the hope that he would serve as a support for a better understanding of the way of holiness. And if the reader takes into account how he needs to pay close attention to the simple and calm words of the Elder, which touch on deep problems of human existence, describe the internal war, and speak only of the actions of grace, then every need ceases and only the pure words of the blessed father remain."