A Conversation with Elder Sophrony — Part 3

A Conversation with Elder Sophrony — Part 3


Read part 2 here

E.S.: Silouan would say, of course he was without passion, “If a thought upsets us, we are free to discard this thought and to focus our attention on something else.” He was able to do this; other people, however, are like slaves to passionate thoughts.

A.E.: Many times, a passionate thought makes our life a living hell.

E.S.: Yes, and it turns our whole being upside down…

A.E.: And it’s at a high price that the Fathers lend us their wisdom, Elder.

E.S.: Yes…Silouan says that we are free to focus our attention on something else, so that captivity to the passionate thought, for him, is not a real problem. The bad thought comes and he thinks of other things. Theoretically, as Silouan says, this is simple. In action, however, and for us untrained ones, it is very difficult. Truly, the passionate thought sticks and torments, such that the combat is as if fighting hand to hand with Satan. I am very grateful to God that He saw me fit to become a monk on the Holy Mountain. I was there for twenty-two years.

A.E.: And we are very grateful to God that we were able to meet you today. [Elder Sophrony does not answer. Some monk asked, “Did you not hear, or did you not want to hear?”]

E.S.: I didn’t hear…. Unfortunately, the West in this respect is undeveloped. They study theology from books.

A.E.: With the intellect…

E.S.: Yes. But the only study that enables us to sense what God is like, is the ascetic life according to the commandments of the Gospel. When our life is lived according to the will of God, then we understand that there cannot be a difference between the commandments and the mind of God Himself. When we think according to the commandments, then our mind gets used to thinking as God Himself thinks. And regarding theosis, they say: but what is theosis? With obedience to the abbot from the beginning, one’s will is cut off, then in obedience to the Gospel commandments one reaches this state. We do small things but the results must become great. Through obedience we enter into the life of divine Being. We have good descriptions of this in the writings of St. Nicodemus the Athonite.

A.E.: He was a great Saint. St. Nicodemus described the ascetic, neptic life in detail.

E.S.: Yes…you know that we have the official proclamation of Silouan’s canonization framed, in the same kind of frame that they use in the Holy Community of the Holy Mountain.

A.E.: When the official Patriarchal proclamation came to the Community, for St. Silouan’s inclusion in the official list of Saints of the Orthodox Church, they sent us a copy for our archives, and they sent one to all of the monasteries of the Holy Mountain. Because the Saint was an Athonite…

E.S.: And I’m a Vatopedinos…and I’m a Vatopedinos!

A.E.: Idiorhythmic, however. You’re an idiorhythmic Vatopedinos!

E.S.: Not idiorhythmic, because I was at St. Andrew’s Skete, which was a coenobium. [At this point, the fathers begin to laugh.] They’re laughing…

A.E.: They’re happy. They’re not laughing, Elder, they’re happy!

E.S.: Yes, and I love them. To think and to live the way they do, in the present state of Europe, is a great thing. While in Greece, the whole atmosphere is full of faith, of theology, of asceticism.

A.E.: Greece is also going through a crisis right now. The European, rationalistic way of life has been introduced to Greece, and it’s going through a spiritual crisis.

E.S.: We’ll see. Because recently, great ascetics have reposed…no one can say that Greece is dead. It is very much alive.

A.E.: It is alive, in one sense, but it is in danger from the secular and rationalistic spirit of the West, and we are greatly distressed. We are concerned for Greece.

E.S.: Fair enough, but don’t you think we’ll be victorious?

A.E.: Yes, we believe that. But you know, Elder, we are also concerned about the Holy Mountain.

E.S.: In what way?

A.E.: Because, you see, the young monks that come are used to comfortable living and do not acclimatize easily to the ascetic tradition of the place.

E.S.: If that’s the case, then you will arrange their asceticism according to their capabilities, in particular the study of the past so that they can be freed of their secular ideas, and rather study the lives of the holy Fathers and the Apostles. You understand what I’m trying to say…if that is where their thoughts are, they will not spend time with the passions. Remember the example from the Gerontikon. There was a grace-filled ascetic who had a secular education and had been very wealthy. When another ascetic visited him, a person that had been a poor shepherd in the world, he saw the bed of the grace-filled ascetic and how he lived comfortably, and he was scandalized. When, however, he learned that in the world he had lived a luxurious life, with great wealth, he accused himself and confessed that the wealthy man was now living ascetically, while he himself was living comfortably.

A.E.: Yes, yes I remember that story.

E.S.: When I was a spiritual father at Simonopetra, the older monks would complain about the younger monks, and the younger monks complained about the older monks. I would say to the older monks, “From where did you receive these children?” “From the world.” “What did they learn there? How did they live?”

A.E.: That’s the way it is.

E.S.: Don’t expect them to become perfect right away. I have told others, as well, that when they learn things from the world, they are living in sin. They need to free themselves through asceticism. This is how I tried to make them understand the need for patience. Now, holy abbot, let’s wrap this up, because the service will begin. We were very glad that you wanted to come, and that I had the chance to see my abbot.

A.E.: Let it be blessed, Elder. I bring to you the respects of my Elder, who asks that you remember him and pray for him.

[Another monk asks Elder Sophrony]: Do you remember Elder Joseph, who came here two years ago?

E.S.: Yes, yes of course…. We need to finish, though…tomorrow we’re celebrating the consecration. You know, for some Saints and great teachers of the Church, there is no service, but for Silouan, on the Holy Mountain there are four.

A.E.: Silouan is a great Saint.

E.S.: For me, I have written about it…for me he is truly great.

A.E.: For you, he is the greatest.

E.S.: For me, he is great…

A.E.: Which Saints have you included in the consecration? Which relics?

[Another monk responds]: We included the two Theodores (the martyrs) and the venerable Silouan.

A.E.: Through the prayers of our holy Father, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.

[All together]: Amen!

A.E.: Thank you, Elder.

E.S.: God seldom allows ascetics to meet, and that’s the way it happened. This was precisely the reason…now…how did you know it?

A.E.: I didn’t understand your last sentence. How did I know what, Elder?

E.S.: That ours would be a meeting in the Holy Spirit.

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+

About author

Pemptousia Partnership

Pemptousia and OCN have entered a strategic partnership to bring Orthodoxy Worldwide. Greek philosophers from Ionia considered held that there were four elements or essences (ousies) in nature: earth, water, fire and air. Aristotle added ether to this foursome, which would make it the fifth (pempto) essence, pemptousia, or quintessence. The incarnation of God the Word found fertile ground in man’s proclivity to beauty, to goodness, to truth and to the eternal. Orthodoxy has not functioned as some religion or sect. It was not the movement of the human spirit towards God but the revelation of the true God, Jesus Christ, to man. A basic precept of Orthodoxy is that of the person ­– the personhood of God and of man. Orthodoxy is not a religious philosophy or way of thinking but revelation and life standing on the foundations of divine experience; it is the transcendence of the created and the intimacy of the Uncreated. Orthodox theology is drawn to genuine beauty; it is the theology of the One “fairer than the sons of men”. So in "Pemptousia", we just want to declare this "fifth essence", the divine beaut in our life. Please note, not all Pemptousia articles have bylines. If the author is known, he or she is listed in the article above.