Wednesday, October 6, 2021

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


 ...continued from part four.

8. On Prayer

It is an amazing book, which includes what is most selectively written about the theology of prayer and its practice. In Russian (original) it was published in 1991, in English it was published in 1985 and in Greek it was published in 1993 first in the puristic language and then in 2009 in the demotic.

It is divided into three parts. In the first part, a theological analysis of prayer is made, that is, "Prayer as an Endless Creation", "Prayer as the Way to Knowledge", "Prayer Overcomes the Impasse of Tragedy", regarding prayer made with effort in which man is regenerated, for eternity. In the second part there is a special discourse about the Prayer of Jesus, the well-known "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me" and specifically called "The Jesus Prayer", "The Jesus Prayer: Method", "The Jesus Prayer for All Times and Occasions". The third part talks about the "Spiritual Life" and "The Role of the Father-Confessor". At the end are published the morning prayer "When Awakening From Sleep", and the "liturgical prayers" compiled by Saint Sophrony to be read in the Divine Liturgy after the Gospel and before the beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful, to prepare those who are in attendance for their participation in the Divine Liturgy and the Divine Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. Also, the prayers "For the Reposed", "For the Reposed Priests" and "Prayer for Unity" are also published.

This is an amazing book, which includes the concentrated experience of prayer of both its author and the Church in its most authentic and highest form. I have characterized it as a "Gospel of prayer and spiritual fatherhood", because he who has become entirely a prayer, and the prayer emerges as a kind of incense from all over his being, his soul and body, can become an authentic spiritual father, who would inspire his spiritual flock, would light the flame of prayer for him and prepare him for his entry into the "unshakeable Kingdom" of God.

In this book, which is eminently experiential, prayer is connected with peace, the definition of prayer is given, the difference between the Prayer of Jesus from other traditions is made, the way of prayer is analyzed, the stages of prayer, the union of nous and heart, the ceaselessness of prayer, its effects, the vision of the divine Light, the relation of noetic prayer and the Divine Liturgy, the connection of noetic prayer with the practice of spiritual fatherhood.

I said at the beginning that this book is the "Gospel of prayer and spiritual fatherhood". Now I can add that it is similar to the "Ladder" of Saint John of Sinai on the subject of prayer and spiritual fatherhood. It is a valuable spiritual treasure that has the fragrance of the monastic life that Saint Sophrony lived on Mount Athos, especially in Karoulia of Mount Athos.

When one reads it carefully one feels as if one is walking in the wilderness of Mount Athos and one feels a subtle and intoxicating fragrance coming out of it. Thus, he feels in his heart that Saint Sophrony is a genuine hesychast monk, an experienced theologian, a God-seeing liturgist and an authentic spiritual father.


9. His Life is Mine

This book was first published in English in 1977 under the title "His Life is Mine". A year before this (in 1976) I went to the Monastery in Essex for the first time and met Saint Sophrony, and the second time I went in 1978, when he had just published this book and he told me that it was written especially for the English-speaking public, to turn their attention to the Orthodox Church, and it is not so much for the Orthodox, for whom another book will be published, and he meant the book that was published later titled "We Shall See Him as He Is". He was also disturbed by his published biography and the praises that Rosemary Edmonds wrote about him at the beginning of the book.

This book was translated into Greek and published in 1983 by Panagiotis Pournaras. Saint Sophrony did not like the title "Ἡ ζωή Του ζωή μου" and also did not like the translation in some points. In general, he was never satisfied with translating his books into the demotic, and preferred the puristic.

It seems that the content of this book was developed in his other books, and those related to the Prayer of Jesus were included in the book "On Prayer" and this was observed, perhaps, because there was no other translation and publication from the Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner in Essex, England.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part refers to the theological basis of prayer, which is the knowledge of God, the creation and tragedy of man, repentance, prayer, spiritual warfare, liturgical prayer as the prayer of Gethsemane, the vision of God, experiencing eternity with prayer and so on. The second part developes the issues related to the Prayer of Jesus, the method of this prayer and its universal character, which were finally included in the book "On Prayer".

Of particular importance in this book is the analysis of the revelation of God to Moses and the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, the theological interpretation of "I Am He Who Is", an analysis of the name of God as being His energy, the creation of man with his fall and his new calling by Christ, and more generally the connection of the Old with the New Testament, which show the revelations of God in the Old Testament and the incarnation of the Son and Word of God in the New Testament.

It is a concise book, in which Saint Sophrony generally presents his teaching, without revealing himself, and is offered mainly to Western man, and even to heterodox Christians, so that they may read it, be impressed by it, and so that they will study the other books of Saint Sophrony which refer to Orthodox Christians.


10. Hearken, my Beloved Brethren

This is a three-volume work, which was the last published by the Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner of Essex, England, the first two volumes in 2013, and the third volume in 2014. The original work was published in Russian and then published in 2003 in the Greek language. The first two volumes were translated from the Russian language and the homilies of the third volume were translated from the French language. A prelude to these three volumes was, as we have seen before, the book "Words of Life".

This three-volume work includes homilies given by Saint Sophrony to the brotherhood of his Monastery towards the end of his life, in order to deliver his spiritual testament to them, and through them to all who seek to know him in their journey towards eternity. There are 115 homilies beginning on April 29, 1988 and ending three months before his death, on April 8, 1993.

The title of this three-volume work "Building the Temple of God Within Us and Our Brothers" was given by the Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner of Essex, England, who published the work and was drawn from the contents of the book. This phrase "Building the Temple of God Within Us and Our Brothers" is often referred to in these homilies, and identifies how each one should build the Temple of God within himself, but also how we can all build it together. That is, everyone with the Holy Spirit to be united with Christ and to become a Temple of God, and then all the Spiritual Temples to live in the Temple of the Church. This clearly refers to the teaching of the Apostle Paul that our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:9), and to the teaching of the Apostle Peter, "Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). It is about the authentic monastic and Christian life, which aims at the transformation of man into a Temple of the Holy Spirit, into a "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9).

These homilies are authentic and a spiritual treasure. The mature spiritual experience of a great empiricist and theologian is recorded in them and constitutes his "spiritual testament". At the same time, it is the genuine and authentic key, with which everything he has written in the past on theological and spiritual issues is interpreted and leaves them as a genuine apostolic and patristic spiritual testament to his spiritual children and to all Christians. He himself fought against the wicked spirits, ascended to the third heaven and was taken to Paradise, he passed through the three stages of the spiritual life, from the coming of divine Grace, to its removal and to its new coming, and he submits all these to the Church.

He himself describes the three periods of his life. The first period is connected with the revelation of the life and the teachings of Saint Silouan to the world with the book "Elder Silouan the Athonite". The second period is his "confession" before the whole Church, with the book "We Shall See Him as He Is". And the third period is connected with his attempt to live out the words of Saint Silouan in his Sacred Monastery, and to those who would look for him there, in this particular place, and this is done mainly with the homilies that are included in it.

The great value of these three volumes, which are read with inspiration from Christians and monks, theologians and ordinary people, is obvious. It is the spiritual distillation of a whole life of Saint Sophrony, it is the pure theological wine.

Conclusion

Having made a small presentation of the books of Saint Sophrony the Athonite, which until now are published by the Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner of Essex in England before and after his repose, in which he records the spiritual experiences granted to him by God, but they also express the empirical theology he received from Saint Silouan, as an obedient spiritual son from his God-seeing Elder. What was written here does not exhaust the content of the books, but gives the reader the opportunity to study them, where he will find a great treasure.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
 
 
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