Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Unity of Saint Silouan and Saint Sophrony (3 of 5)


 ...continued from part two.

3. Asceticism and Theoria

This book was first published in Greek from Russian and French in 1996, that is, after the repose of Elder Sophrony. This comes third in the series, because the chapters of the book were written after the letters that constituted the book "Striving for Knowledge of God" and the book "Saint Silouan the Athonite", in France after the return of the Elder to Mount Athos.

The book consists of six texts written in different times, namely "The Basis of Orthodox Asceticism", "The Necessity of the Three Renunciations", "Christian Perfection and Monasticism", "The Unity of the Image of the Holy Trinity", "Discourse on the Transfiguration of the Lord", "Last Words".

Its title "Asceticism and Theoria" is consistent with the entire content of the book, because Saint Sophrony writes about Christian asceticism and theoria, with the meaning of the vision of God and the vision of the uncreated Light.

As we pointed out, the main texts of the book were written after the departure of Elder Sophrony from Mount Athos, when he returned to Paris to publish the writings of Elder Silouan, and after the publication of the book, as well as after an incident with his health which did not allow him to return to Mount Athos.

Thus, after he spent time in the deepest repentance and lamentation on Mount Athos, both in the Sacred Monastery of Saint Panteleimon and in the wilderness of Mount Athos, but also after the rare experiences-revelations of God, as a mature theologian, he wrote about Christian and monastic asceticism, as well as the vision of the uncreated Light, and he interpreted admirably and in an original way the Transfiguration of Christ and presented the Church as a partaker of the glory of the Holy Trinity.

These are important theological studies that move within the patristic context. The special terminology observed in some points does not provoke, because the experienced and objective reader feels the spirit of patristic theology that emerges from them, when, in fact, he connects this book with his other books. I think that the interpretive key of this book is the "Discourse on the Transfiguration of the Lord", which is an example of a patristic discourse.


4. Letters To His Family

This book was published in Greek with its first edition in 2009, from the second Russian edition, and after the introduction it is divided into two distinct parts. The first is a recorded "conversation with his family", his relatives, which took place in Moscow in 1975, and the second part includes 77 letters to his two sisters, Maria and Alexandra.

The conversation with his family, on the one hand, has many autobiographical elements, is a summary of his entire biological and spiritual life, though he does not have very strong theological thoughts.

Ending the conversation he says:

"When I remember how I lived in the wilderness of Athos, I think that no one can describe the poverty of this life. Nevertheless, man is in such freedom of spirit, that he would not change it with anything. And those who gather treasures and even kill their brothers so that these treasures may increase, seem insane, obscure. Until now they did not accept Christ. Even those people who claim Christian titles, in the course of history were ashamed, because until the previous years the most dangerous were always considered those people who called themselves Christians. The less enlightened people could not create such means of extermination as the people enlightened by the spirit of Christ. This, however, did not happen because Christ is the father of evil, but, as we have said, the great gift of freedom was realized in these people with a negative perspective."

The subjects of the letters that are published are various, namely the course of his life, his writings, the construction of his Monastery, the trips he made to the Holy Land, theological issues, contemporary issues, old age, death etc. These are subjects which are usually written in letters, which have a personal character.

I have always liked to read the letters of various saints, such as those of the Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, etc., because in them the man usually expresses himself with sensitivity and freedom, and is distinguished with a particular grace. This is observed in the letters of Saint Sophrony to his sisters.

Saint Sophrony's letters to his sisters express his love and tenderness for his relatives, his comforting way of life, his pain for society.

The whole book reveals a hesychast and theologian, but also a learned monk who loves life, yet also feels death as a festive event.

In the meeting he had with his relatives, he began as follows: "It has been almost more than half a century since I left, and so we have lived under completely different conditions, yet there is something in the blood, in the kinship, that makes our encounter take place with trust from the first moment. I am now about 80 years old and I cannot do programs for many years. "I cannot predict if I will see you again at least once or not, even for a short time."

He felt the power of the "blood", but he felt more the energy of the "spirit". He loved his biological family, but much more he loved his spiritual family, and above all he had an impulse for God and eternal life. He says:

“When we read in the Bible about the fall of Adam, what did he observe? The natural tendency of man appears as an attraction to the absolute, to knowledge without limit. No matter how majestic this world may seem, no matter how long the time of millions and billions of years is, it is constrictive for the spirit of man."


5. We Shall See Him As He Is

This book was published in Greek in the puristic language in 1992 and in 2009 in the demotic. The original was written in Russian and in 1985 was translated into English.

It is a classic book of its kind which is a "public confession" of Elder Sophrony towards the end of his life. When he was about 90 years old, he decided to write clearly what God revealed to him in his life, and in fact it was published in the Greek language a year before his death, when he was 96 years old.

This whole book is written in an amazing and special way. He himself writes that it is his "confession" and his "spiritual autobiography", and in fact he writes that "the Lord knows with what fear and terror many of these pages of my confession were written."

He was, as we said, at the end of his life and kept all the revelations of God hidden in his heart, and he decided to write them down because, as he says, he was "in deep old age, and while in much pain day and night with physical illnesses, I continue to be less vulnerable to human crises. That is why I decided to confess even more, and in fact in front of many, that which I zealously guarded from foreign gazes until today." In this perspective he writes: "I, therefore, surrender myself with confidence to every reader, with the hope that they will continually mention me in their prayers to our Father in the heavens."

In this book he writes in a beautiful and theological way, but also with intense self-denial and humility about his "early experience", his "struggle with God", his "memory of death", his "fall", his "revelation of God as being", "mourning", "striving for God", "the vision of the uncreated Light", "the arrival and withdrawal of the divine Light", the confirmation he received from Saint Silouan for the rest of his life.

This is a rare description of the experiences and revelations given to him by God, which do not exist in the books of the Fathers of the Church. After Saint Symeon the New Theologian, who recorded his revelations in the 11th century, another nine centuries had to pass before a similar theologian could appear, who has the most specific details of aspects that were not considered known, such as the difference between created and uncreated light, the "dark night of the soul", the way in which the fire of Hades is transformed into the light of Paradise, etc.

Reading this book reveals heavenly states of being, how the First-Formed Man lived in Paradise, what the experiences of the Apostle Paul were, and how man would live in the Kingdom of Heaven. These are rare theological descriptions and that is why it is a wonderful patristic book.

PART FOUR
 
 
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