His ‘Silent’ Assemblies

Father Symeon Kragiopoulos, the Jesus Prayer and his ‘Silent’ Assemblies

As well as the liturgy and other services, Fr. Symeon also held ‘silent’ assemblies. No-one spoke. Or rather, no-one heard because everybody was speaking mystically to God, using a prayer-rope and saying the Jesus Prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me’. The church of Saint Athanasios was completely full. Everyone seated, heads bowed, holding a prayer-rope and seeking God’s mercy. These assemblies also lasted an hour. [Ed. In this, Elder Sophrony’s influence, fruit of Elder Symeon’s frequent visits to Essex Monastery and meetings with its abbot, cannot be exaggerated.]

Fr. Symeon laid great stress on sermons. He considered it as importance as a service, as indeed it is. The Word of God must first be received through the hearing, as the proclamation of the Gospel, so that people will believe and then receive Him as Holy Communion. The Elder spoke not only at the liturgy but on many other occasions as well. His discourse was always original. I asked him once: ‘How do you manage it? You’ve spoken for so many years and yet you don’t repeat yourself’. He laughed and I don’t remember his reply, but Fr. Symeon certainly spoke from his overflowing heart. His heart must have been overflowing, because he wouldn’t otherwise have been able to say new things all the time or he’d have addressed the brain rather than the heart. The Elder’s heart was always filled to overflowing because he nourished it continually with study, prayer and spiritual experiences. He told me once that, in confession, he heard problems that bothered a lot of people, but he didn’t have time to go into them in detail with each person. He spoke about them in his sermons. In the end, however, he always left the final word with God. ‘Let’s see what God will enlighten us to say today’, careful always that what he said was not his own words, but those of God.

Fr. Symeon’s sermons weren’t oratory. There were no well-turned phrases, rhetorical figures, great eloquence or any of the things that people admire in a fine speaker. His manner was simple, though he could be intense when the subject moved him to be. Fr. Symeon loved preaching. He went to great effort to get across to his audience not ideas but his very soul. A profound anatomist of the human soul, he analyzed issues clearly, as if he were holding a scalpel, cutting to the bone. He helped his listeners to understand the depths of their soul and brought them from there to repentance. Under his stole, they felt the love of God. And these souls multiplied when, on the initiative of the nuns of the monastery of The Birth of the Mother of God, in collaboration with other spiritual children of Fr. Symeon’s, his sermons began to be circulated more widely, first as recordings and then as a long series of volumes.

After services and preaching, the third main thrust of Fr. Symeon’s work was confession. What started with a few, later became a great number. How many days, and how many hours a day, do you need to confess a thousand, a thousand five hundred people? Where would they even have room to wait? The Elder found a solution. He gave out numbers.  He reckoned on seeing fifty a day. So, depending on the number they were given, each person knew which day, and roughly what time, the Elder would see them. Fr Symeon, closed all day within the confessional, would forget to eat, listening to the pain and shouldering the burden of the penitents. He gave remission, advice, directions, courage for the struggle and strength so that people could, by God’s grace, kill off their old self, so that new person could arise, walking in ‘the newness of life’.

In confession, he wasn’t a harsh judge. Nor was he a chastiser or punisher. You weren’t afraid, you didn’t despair. You felt he put himself in your position and understood you completely, was deeply empathetic and suffered with you. He was the doctor who cured you, the father who loved you, the friend who accompanied you. Confession wasn’t depressing, formal or legalistic. It happened once that we were together at a conference for confessors in the Monastery of the Comforter in Attica. Most of the time he listened without speaking. One spiritual guide asked him: ‘How is it, Father Symeon, that you have such success at confession?’. ‘I try to make sure’, he replied, ‘to be as low as possible, so that, however low people fall, I’ll be even lower and I’ll be there to catch them’. Wise words which embrace the whole meaning, the whole practice of the sacrament.

*

The Myrrhbearing Women approach the Lord with the logic of the heart

Father Symeon Kragiopoulos, the Jesus Prayer and his ‘Silent’ Assemblies

The Myrrhbearing women, despite knowing they were unable to roll the stone from the tomb, they decided to.  And as a result of this, they were first both to see and to learn of the Resurrection of the Lord. Moved by love (the logic of the heart, as Pascal says) they desired with great boldness to go again to the tomb, to anoint Christ’s lifeless body with myrrh. And just like that, they neither thought of what would happen next, nor whether they’d be able to enter or not. Along the way, they said only this: “Who will roll away the stone for us?” Despite all this, they did not stop, nor did they turn back, but instead kept going. This wealth of the emotional world, the all-consuming love belonging to the female nature, is a good characteristic. However, one must not rely on this alone.

It is not enough for the inside of an automobile to have only the steering wheel: what is needed is the driving force. It is necessary, therefore, for man to reach that point where the world of his heart, that sentimental treasure, becomes one with his nous. And this, as the Fathers say, is something achieved by the Jesus prayer.With the Jesus prayer, the nous descends into the heart and man’s powers are made one (just as sin has brought the division of his powers). For this reason, a saint moves simply, as he has only a conscious mind –not a subconscious nor an unconscious.

Therefore, the Myrrhbearing Women were animated by a simple, humble method. Putting their nous in their hearts –burning with the love of God– they succeeded in approaching the Risen Christ, and naturally were made holy.

*

Neptic ‘Psychotherapy’

The three levels of the soul

Father Symeon Kragiopoulos, the Jesus Prayer and his ‘Silent’ Assemblies

Conscious, subconscious, unconscious

The three levels of the soulAccording to what the expert scientists, the psychologists, say, our soul is divided into three levels. It is somewhat like an edifice which is filled with much unknown material.

The topmost part of the mind is the conscious, namely the part with which we understand ourselves.  This is where we become aware of our thoughts, our feelings, our entire disposition, and where we control and know these things. Beneath this level is the subconscious. The content of our subconscious is unknown. However, on occasion, because it is close to the conscious mind, it allows us to sense what it might contain.  Now and then, something springs from the subconscious and enters our conscious mind.

Even lower, in the deepest regions, or what we might call the basement of our soul, is the unconscious. The content of the unconscious is terra incognita, unknown land, and it is entirely unknowable to us. And so it is there, deep within us, that exist our personal experiences, our personal conditions. However, because these exist in the unconscious –in this dark basement- we neither know what exactly exists there nor can we control this content. According to the language of psychology, these experiences are repressed emotions and impulses that are pushed into the depths of the unconscious mind. According to the psychologists, this content of the unconscious gains autonomy and does whatever it wants. It doesn’t consider, nor does it ask, us.

That this is autonomic, all of us know. The moment you want to do the right thing, another power comes over you and forces you to do something else, something you don’t want to do, but which you do anyway.

Certainly these things were known to the fathers of the Church, and in particular the neptic fathers. For this reason, they preferred first that they themselves  –and later also advised others to –stay in the silence of the desert, and say the Jesus prayer (noetic prayer), trying to plummet the deepest depths of their souls, and in this way to start to know the content of the subconscious, and the unconscious,  in order to control it, and not allow it be autonomic and to do whatever it desired.

Because of this, a saint does not have a conscious, a subconscious, and an unconscious. The whole content of his soul is conscious. The saint controls it, and is not at the beck and call of repressed emotions and impulses.

We will see how man can become simple, and not be led blindly by the content which exists in the basement of his soul.

Holy Hesychasterion “The Nativity of Theotokos” Publications.

Archimandrite Symeon Kragiopoulos

For The Portrait of a Spiritual Father – I, The Theologian and the ‘Liturgical’ Being (his famous church services and vigils), go to here

 (To be continued)

A Man of God

The Portrait of a Spiritual Father

A Man of God, Father Symeon Kragiopoulos, The Theologian and the 'Liturgical' Being

In Memoriam

+ Father Symeon Kragiopoulos

“It is with some trepidation that I set pen to paper to record -what? What can one write about a personality whose holiness and spiritual wisdom stretched over many decades, who was shepherd to thousands of souls, saving them from destruction and bringing them into ‘a place of verdure’? About the comforter, the advisor, the father, the refuge of every soul in pain and every confused thought? About the last person who walked and strove in the ascetic life with the holy fathers whom God was pleased to give our generation, those who died to live, because, in living they were dead to the world. ‘so that the world may live’ through Christ, to Whom he brought it through his way of life, his teaching and his prayers? What can one say about a man who rivalled Saint Païsios in his humility, Saint Porfyrios in his discernment, Father Sophrony in his wisdom and Elder Iakovos in his love?

Considering all the above, when I was asked by the spiritual children and heirs to the holy legacy of Elder Symeon to write something In Memoriam, I initially declined for fear that I would not be able to paint a proper picture of him in words, that I would diminish his spiritual stature by not being able to render, even faintly, what the late father really was. What only made me agree to write was the fact that I’d known him for almost half a century and that our relationship was not merely one of spiritual fatherhood, but also one of close friendship. So, with the proviso that I will mention only my personal experiences,  let me begin. (*)

A Man of God

In September of 1969, I’d just taken up a position at the University of Thessaloniki. I visited the Pournaras bookshop, which was at that time not merely a place for selling books but somewhere where colleagues could meet. It was a reference point, you might say. Browsing through the new books spread out on the counter, I heard someone ask Panayiotis Pournaras. ‘I’ve heard that there’s a new professor at the university. A Mister Galitis. Do you know him?’ I turned and saw a pleasant-looking figure, a priest with a red beard, a tranquil look about him, kindly eyes and a bright smile, just at the moment when Panayiotis was pointing to me, ready to make introductions. We chatted for a while and I was impressed by his interest in the new books and also by how well he was up in theological matters. He was following the current theological situation, which was hardly common among priests dedicated to their pastoral work.

I saw Fr. Symeon shortly afterwards at the headquarters of the Metropolis. He’d been appointed a member of the Supervisory Committee of the Seminary, where he’d been Director. The Chairman of the Supervisory Committee, a highly placed cleric, with all the exuberance he could command behaved towards Fr. Symeon with excessive familiarity, with his teasing and slightly ironic and disdainful manner, which made me, at least, feel awkward.  But Fr. Symeon was undisturbed and behaved like an ‘altar-boy’. He made an obeisance and remained silent. My discomfort then became admiration for the wonder of humility.

The Theologian and the ‘Liturgical’ Being

Fr. Symeon’s office in Saint Theodora’s was in the right wing, on the first floor. He asked me to visit him there, which I often did, most gladly. He came to my office, too, but not so often because he couldn’t leave the School much. I recall with nostalgia our long discussions on spiritual, theological and ecclesiastical matters. He was a profound anatomist of the soul and, at the same time, an erudite theologian with rare learning, which he was always trying to increase. He discussed well, had a clear mind, breadth of spirit and a particular sharpness. He would grasp a subject quickly and was comfortable even talking about secular education.

Later, he began vigils at Saint Theodora’s. At one of these he had the joy of tonsuring one of his spiritual children. Fr. Symeon was the person who introduced this new form of vigil, which did not last all night, but covered two or three hours before midnight, and about an hour after, with a half-hour homily. In this way, people who were working and couldn’t get to a liturgy in the morning and for whom an all-night vigil would have been too much had the chance to participate in liturgical life. This practice found many admirers and is now popular in many parts of Greece and abroad.

Every liturgy Fr. Symeon served was a real and literal initiation into the sacrament. It was solemn, neither drawn out nor hurried, without highlights, but not monotonous. At first, he didn’t have chanters. Anybody who could would do their bit. Even I chanted on occasion. These first impromptu chanters usually sang poorly and this created the impression that Fr. Symeon actually wanted this: low profile, no special effects. This would encourage contrition. A friend of mine told me off once when I departed from this ‘rule’.  But soon proper chanters began to appear and the cultivation of music became part of the whole training the people acquired by being close to the blessed Elder.

*

At church … twice as healed

At church, man is freed from the demonic influence

and the traps the devil sets.

At church, man is healed.

These are not just words. It’s the truth.

The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick

is for the healing of our illnesses.

If we are not healed,

we don’t need to be healed,

that’s why we aren’t.

If you take it this way, you are already healed.

You know very well that an illness which lingers

and doesn’t go is precious.

Whatever needs to go, God will take away.

Whatever doesn’t need to stay, God will take away

be it an illness or demonic influence.

And for whatever stays on and hurts us

we pray to God.

We should pray many a time,

time and again should we beg,

not only for deliverance from soul illnesses

and the demonic influence

but also for deliverance from body illnesses, as well.

Let us pray to God for everything time and again.

Not because God needs us to pray to him again and again.

We need to do this again and again,

because, precisely, God wants to see our faith.

Man, especially today,

gets used to something by repeating it,

learns something by reapeating it.

If you pray time and again

–you need to do this–

and God doesn’t relieve you of your illness, know that:

either you have not shown

as much faith as He wants and expects from you,

or that the illness should not go

because it is necessary.

If you take your illness issue according to God,

then, by it remaining,

you feel twice healed.

If He heals you, you are healed once.

If the illness lingers,

you feel healed twice.

Because both when time comes

 will you be healed from your illness

and until the right time comes to be healed

will your soul be healed, too.

Your inner person will be healed,

this person who suffers from illness,

from the leprosis of sin.

The same goes for all mental illness

and whatever else hurts us.

If man sees all his issues

within the providence of God,

he will feel such a relief,

as if all his problems are solved.

Because in God

all is resolved!

Holy Hesychasterion “The Nativity of Theotokos” Publications.

Archimandrite Symeon Kragiopoulos

 

 (*) This tribute was written by Professor Georgios Ant. Galitis and offered to the faithful in the Holy Trinity Monastery, Panorama, at the end of the 6 months Memorial Service for Fr. Symeon. The poetry/homilies excerpts are from orthodox path.org

(To be continued)

 

Christians of Comfort

 

fr-symeon1

Annual Memorial Service of Father Symeon Kragiopoulos

Last month in Greece, I had the blessing to attend Church services at both the women’s Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos  and at its twin ‘brother’, the men’s Monastery of the Holy Trinity, at Panorama, the suburbs of my hometown, Thessaloniki.  Elder Symeon Kragiopoulos was their spiritual father and abbot. He  passed away last year, at 6:00 a.m. on September 30, 2015, but even after a year, his presence is still felt everywhere in both monasteries.

He was known throughout as a true elder and teacher. I would like to acknowledge here his zeal, patience, kindness and loving example. He has been in so many ways a spiritual signpost of the faith for my own journey through the desert. What an authentic, uncompromising, and yet gentle, loving, kind, compassionate contemporary Elder, what a  heaven-endowed, grace-filled rock of Faith and consolation, a true voice in the wilderness in our times of apostasy! Oh I have been so blessed to hear him preach in my youth, probe into the Niptic Fathers and the Bible, and have attended for years his church services, especially ‘his’ vigils, and his famous silent assemblies, dedicated to the Jesus Prayer, when I was not studying or working abroad.  I even had the blessing to spend invaluable, private time with him as a spiritual father, helping me prepare for my postgraduate studies, work and life at the U.S.A.

In recent years he largely kept silence due to his failing health but he was known throughout as a God-bearing elder and teacher of the true faith. Throughout his life-long ministry, culminating in the prayerful silence of his final, ‘hermit’ years, Elder Symeon has been a rare gift of God, especially for us Thessalonians. In so many respects, Thessaloniki will never be the same after his humble, God-fearing ministry, and we can never thank enough God for the blessing of walking along the Way with such a venerable Elder by our side. His tomb is already a pilgrimage site, and his spiritual children kneel and pray there for hours for his guidance, fully aware that now he is closer to us in the Holy Spirit. Whenever I read his books, or listen to his recorded homilies, the joy and jubilation of Resurrection warms my heart and tears are streaming from my eyes, for the Venerable Elder who was our staff, for the Man of God whom we knew and loved and in whom we placed, after God, so many of  our hopes. We felt so loved and so safe in his presence!

The elder leaves behind many soul-profiting words, and the faithful invariably testify to a presence in Holy Spirit of the Elder, even while ‘simply’ reading or listening to his homilies:

Like the deep sea…

Spiritual work happens secretly in the heart. Externally, let everything else threaten us, like the sea: the wind blows, waves rise. But deep down it’s all quiet, peaceful, serene.

This is how a man who trusts in God lives. There might be a wild rage out there, but deep down nothing hinders the soul from having mystical communion with God, mystical love for God. Quietly and mystically, in a special way that the heart perceives, the Lord is whispering: “Don’t be afraid. I am here. Keep walking this path. Keep loving Me, keep believing in Me, keep following Me.”

It’s not enough to suffer myriad things in life. When, though, you believe in God and accept all these—whatever it is that happens to you—accept all these gladly, for the love of God, God will make a saint out of you.

Man will find all, but after he has lost all, after he has deprived himself of all. It matters greatly for a man to deprive himself of the most beautiful, the best, the most innocent, the purest things, which the Lord Himself has deprived himself of.

It matters greatly for man to deprive himself of things because he loves God.

 

 

 

 

We run to the Lord with pain 

However, we know that we have a Saviour, we know that Christ came to earth. Then we start to understand what it means that he came to save us, and we run to the Saviour. We run to the Lord with pain, with prayer, with a cry, with faith, with hope and a firm conviction that the Lord will accept us and will save us. The Lord wants us to approach things exactly like this. This is not our own daring or our own boldness. He wants us to act just like that, to entrust ourselves in this way, and for this reason he gave us promises. So someone does this work, and little by little the decay of his soul, that lies in the subconscious and the unconscious, emerges.

* * *

Self-worship lives and reigns …

For us to have right communion with Christ, it is necessary that our entire soul becomes conscious, that it comes into the light, into the grace of God, and that nothing remains in darkness. However, no matter how much someone believes, no matter how much he, every day, makes a new start in the true life and struggles to give himself and devote himself to God, he must realize this vital point: that within him, the ego, pride, and selfishness, live and rule. This self-love, this self-worship, lives and reigns. Therefore, man must become humble: every day, he must increase in humility. We have many things, many realities from our everyday life that help us with this work.

He who truly loves humility, and desires to become humble, begs God for this. In this way, in the beginning, and imperceptibly –later perhaps more truly—he starts, little by little, to feel this, the emptying of the soul from the ego, from selfishness, from the idol which we have installed within us. And so if one is completely humbled, he surrenders himself to God and is devoted to him—meaning that every day he makes a new beginning, from which the whole object of his soul will finally come into the light of God—in truth, man will arrive at this state which the Lord promises to us.

           But what is this state?

The Lord didn’t come simply to die Himself. Rather, He said that we will also die with Him. And in the same way that He Himself resurrected, we will also be resurrected. Whatever Christ is after the resurrection, this man also becomes when he is united to Christ. He is not simply a good man who thought up some good things. Christian means little Christ. In the end, Christ will make each one of us whatever He is himself. He does not simply advise us from the outside, but enters into us and takes us into Himself. We are united and become like unto Him. Even from this life we become like unto Christ, but this will become complete in the next life.

I pray this for all of us.

 

 

 

Christians of comfort

We are Christians of comfort. That’s why the Lord will let us struggle a lot.

Don’t expect salvation with certainty, unless all comforts are abolished in you.

Our whole Christian mentality functions wrongly.  On the one hand, we want to avoid suffering. On the other, we take great care not to lose or deprive ourselves of anything. And we “walk” in the wrong manner.

In the long run, whether we like it or not, we will have suffering. And indeed, when we have a fake impression that we are enjoying the goods of this world, our life is often like hell.

***

These words, and many more can be found here.

 

Memory Eternal, dearest pappouli! May we meet you in Heaven!

*  *  *

In the following days, I am going to present a tribute to Father Symeon, together with excerpts from his homilies and a few recordings, for those of you who are hearing about this venerable elder here for the first time. Even if the recordings are in Greek, I trust the spirit of this man of God can be felt through and richly bless us all.

 

 

 

 

Keep Your Mind in Hell

 

icon_st_silouan_athonite.jpg

… and Despair Not

Not for the faint-hearted!

“No one on this earth can avoid affliction; and although the afflictions which the Lord sends are not great, men imagine them beyond their strength and are crushed by them. This is because they will not humble their souls and commit themselves to the will of God.”

 

These words seem to sum up soberingly D. Balfour’s tumultuous life, and indeed in so many respects ours…

 

SPEECHLESS! “It seems ludicrous to rate a book like this according to a certain amount of stars…I searched for it after reading the book I Know a Man in Christ — a great book about our holy and blessed Elder Sophrony, which mentions this correspondence with the amazing Englishman David Balfour. I imagine that the only reason why anyone would be interested in this book would be to learn about this incredible spiritual friendship. (No! There are so many more reasons to want to study this book) And this book does allow for that — and much more besides. I’ve read letters of spiritual direction before. These letters go way beyond that. They give insights to the Elder and to St. Silouan which are simply impossible to convey otherwise. And this David Balfour — he went from Catholic hieromonk to Orthodox hieromonk to British Army major and intelligence officer to diplomatic interpreter to midlife husband and father to Oxford Byzantine scholar in old age. A biography of him wouldn’t go amiss, although I don’t think we’ll see one. And underlying his whole life is the gaining and the losing and the eventual regaining of that inestimable treasure, the Holy Orthodox Christian faith and Holy Grace. Not for the faint of heart.” (D. Kovacs )

 

 

Not for the faint of heart.” Most certainly!

 

What an intense book which can be read on so many levels! A heart-rending spiritual biography of a brother in Christ struggling for his faith and the salvation of his soul amidst staggering trials, temptations and tribulations! A sobering warning too to all of us to be deadly serious with our faith and never forsake our obedience to our spiritual father at any cost! Hell indeed broke loose when Balfour decided to disobey St. Silouan and use his own mind instead for his life-decisions! To give you just one example: After converting to Orthodoxy and becoming an Orthodox hieromonk, Balfour disobeyed St Silouan’s ‘suggestion’ to move to France, and then to England, and went to Greece instead. Things went well at first, but with the outbreak of the Second World War, Balfour was forced to flee Greece and started wandering all over Europe, while undergoing a very dark period of disobedience, disillusionment, doubt and eventual loss of his faith, to the extent that he decided to shave his beard and defrock himself in Cairo, Egypt! I cannot even begin to imagine how traumatic all this experiences must have been for him!

elder-sophrony

 

What a most sobering book! “For Whom the Bells Toll” indeed. How often have I betrayed the Lord and disobeyed my spiritual father in the past! How dire the consequences of my disobedience have always been! Indeed, how fragile our faith is, how precarious our decision to follow the Lord at any cost like a true disciple, how unpredictable our falls and how uncertain our salvation until the very last moment of our life!

 

Striving for Knowledge of God: Correspondence with David Balfour is a treasury of wisdom distilled from Fr. Sophrony’s reading of the Fathers of the Church, from his conversations with St. Silouan, and from his own experience. Since most of these letters were written to someone new to the Orthodox Church and to Orthodox monasticism, they are of greatest interest to anyone contemplating converting to Orthodoxy.

 

In particular, the correspondence touches and elaborates on the difference between Eastern Orthodox and Western thought, in both Christian and philosophical writings. Thus Fr.Sophrony mentions Schleiermacher, Spinoza and Kant, and St John of the Cross (The Dark Night of the Soul). He dedicates a few pages to the concepts of the heart and prayer. In Eastern Christianity, he argues, the spiritual heart is not an abstract notion but is linked with our material heart and has its physical location. In opposition to the Western search for some visionary mystical experience, Fr.Sophrony advocates the prayer of repentance, which is the basis of all spiritual life.

 

As a reply to Balfour’s doubt over the importance of specifically Eastern ascetic and dogmatic traditions, Fr.Sophrony asserts the organic integrity and integrality of ascetic life, dogma and the Church. Criticising Schleiermacher in connexion with this issue, he writes:

 

“There are three things I cannot take in: nondogmatic faith, nonecclesiological Christianity and nonascetic Christianity. These three – the church, dogma, and asceticism – constitute one single life for me.” – Letter to D. Balfour, August 21, 1945.

 

“If one rejects the Orthodox creed and the eastern ascetic experience of life in Christ, which has been acquired throughout the centuries, then Orthodox culture would be left with nothing but the Greek minor [key] and Russian tetraphony.” – Letter to D. Balfour.

 

Fr.Sophrony also warns against attributing to intellectual reasoning the status of being the sole basis for religious search:

 

Historical experience has demonstrated that natural intellectual reasoning, left to its own devices, fatally arrives at pantheistic mysticism with its particular perception of reality. If this takes place in the soul of the Christian who does not want to reject Christ (as in the case of Leo Tolstoy), he arrives at Protestant rationalism or at spiritualism, which stands mystically close to pantheism… I am convinced that the rejection of the Church will lead to the rejection of the Apostolic message about Сthat which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes… and our hands have handled (1Jn.1:1) [148].

 

 

On a more general level, these letters are full with profound theological and spiritual insights. What a most blessed golden ‘chain’ of Grace and Sainthood! Elder Sophrony, already under consideration for glorification, was ordained to the diaconate by St Nicolai (Velimirovic) of Zicha and became a disciple of St Silouan the Athonite. Can you imagine? All these Saints were also ‘connected’ with the greatest probably Saint of our century, St. John Maximovitch! St. Nikolai Velimirovich is often referred to as Serbia’s New Chrysostom. St. John Maximovitch, who had been a young instructor at a seminary in Bishop Nikolai’s diocese of Ohrid, called him “a great saint and Chrysostom of our day [whose] significance for Orthodoxy in our time can be compared only with that of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). … They were both universal teachers of the Orthodox Church.”

 

Coming back to the book, of all theological concepts touched upon in this book, the one which most interests me  is the concept of Godforsakenness, as outlined by Fr.Sophrony, who worked out a distinction between two types:The first one is when man deserts God: To the extent that we live in this world, to that same extent we are dead in God. The second one is when God hides from man: a horrific state of Godforsakenness. When man has no more life in this world, i.e. cannot live by this world, the memory of the divine world draws him there, yet despite all this darkness encompasses his soul. He explains: these fluctuations of the presence and absence of grace are our destiny until the end of our earthly life. Fr.Sophrony saw suffering as a necessary stage in ascetic development: Divine grace comes only in the soul which has undergone suffering.

 

“We must have the determination to overcome temptations comparable to the sorrows of the first Christians. All the witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection were martyred. We should be ready to endure any hardship.”

 

“The most important thing in the spiritual life is to strive to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. It changes our lives (above all inwardly, not outwardly). We will live in the same house, in the same circumstances, and with the same people, but our life will already be different. But this is possible only under certain conditions: if we find the time to pray fervently, with tears in our eyes. From the morning to ask for God’s blessing, that a prayerful attitude may define our entire day.”

 

“Whoever gives up his cross cannot be worthy of the Lord and become His disciple. The depths of the Divine Being are revealed to the Christian when he is crucified for our Savior. The Cross is the foundation of authentic theology.”

 

Not for the faint of heart, indeed!