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October 4, 2021

The Unity of Saint Silouan and Saint Sophrony (4 of 5)

...continued from part three.

6. Words of Life

This book was originally published in French in 1992, the year before Saint Sophrony died, and was published in Greek in 1995. It is not a book written by Saint Sophrony, but brief extracts from his oral talks.

As Maxime Egger writes in his introductory note to the Greek translation, in 1990 he remained for a long time in the Holy Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner in Essex, England, where he attended some oral homilies of Saint Sophrony to the brotherhood, and he also had heard about 40 previous homilies that were recorded and he collected some excerpts from them and published them, in the manner of the chapters of various saints recorded in the "Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics". These homilies were later published in their entirety in three volumes titled "Hearken, my Beloved Brethren".

These excerpts of these homilies were set by Maxime Egger as "a whole with continuity and consistency", which was given to Saint Sophrony who "recognized in them his own self" and gave it to him to be published. The same collector gave the title "On Spirit and Life" from the words of Christ "the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63). Indeed, in these "spiritual chapters" one can see the "Spirit" and the "Life" spring forth, it is an expression of a great struggle, of about ninety years, and they offer a sense of eternal life in the Spirit.

The collector placed the 247 small and concise "spiritual chapters" in a seemingly unique thematic unit, if they are read carefully, but by reading these small texts I discerned an inner unity centered on inspiration. Saint Sophrony, an artist and a man who touched and saw eternal life, is inspired, and then writes about inspiration, but even these small excerpts express his inspired heart and his inspired words. I will quote three indicative chapters from the beginning, the middle and the end.

In the first chapter he says: “My beloved brothers and sisters, open your hearts so that the Holy Spirit may engrave the image of Christ there. Then you will gradually be able to have in you joy and mourning, death and resurrection” (ch. 1).

Indeed, the Holy Spirit engraves the image of Christ within us, thus our union with Christ takes place, a "little incarnation", that is, Christ in the Holy Spirit is born in us and then we live all the events of the divine economy in our heart.

In another chapter from the middle of the book it is written: "In the small things, in the simple deeds, let us try to observe the following inner attitude: I deny the will of my 'fallen' blood; I want flowing through my veins the life of God Himself."

It is a very bold speech that shows a person who has known eternal life and then everything else is considered "the will of my 'fallen' blood".

The last two "spiritual chapters" are important.

"Keep all this in your conscience, and your life will be full of inspiration, not only every day, but every moment" (ch. 246).

"Do not forget these words. God gave you time to build your eternal salvation. Do not waste it" (ch. 247).

The whole book is refreshing, full of "spirit and life". The only thing I did not understand is why the collector recorded 247 chapters and not 250 chapters, since he had at his disposal plenty of material from all these homilies. 

7. The Mystery of the Christian Life

This book was first published in 2010 translated from Russian. Already in Russian were published two books titled "The Mystery of the Christian Life" and the second volume "Birth in the Invincible Kingdom", which consisted of a selection of excerpts found in the remnants of Saint Sophrony after his repose, of his observations and notes. A section of the two books constituted the present book in the Greek edition titled: "The Mystery of the Spiritual Life".

The book is divided into two sections, the first section (Book A) titled "The Mystery of the Christian Life", and the second section (Book B) titled "Birth in the Invincible Kingdom". This whole book expresses the vision of Saint Sophrony and his worldview, that is, it presents his spiritual experience and views on ecclesiastical and social issues through the empirical theology that he acquired by the Grace of God.

It is notable that through the great theological experience he gained, during which he did not understand nor treat the issues rationalistically, but in the intermediate between theoria and prayer, in the climate however of noetic prayer, he wrote his views on various issues, such as monastic life, prayer, repentance, the Christian life, the person, marriage, motherhood, the history of humanity, etc.

It is a great concentrated experience of a theological mind and a sensitive heart that sees as a "spiritual satellite" the pre-fallen, the post-fallen and the resurrected man in Christ in all aspects of his life. The whole book is not merely the experience of its author, but the valuable experience of the Church, which is headed by Christ and its members are His friends.

In this book, among other things, there is talk of empirical and academic theology, of Christ as the measure of everything, of the Orthodox Church and the heresies, of Orthodox anthropology, of the Christian life as a mystery, of monasticism and marriage, of the history of humanity with wars and revolutions, with social systems and persecutions, with nationalisms and universality.

The book shows that we must experience the Church as the mystery of God on earth, and through this perspective we will face all the events of our lives. The post-fallen man is full of passions and is called to become pre-fallen and eschatological, to experience the Kingdom of God in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the "communion of theosis".