Saint Sophrony's Life
On the eleventh day of the month of the July is the celebration of our venerable, God-bearing Father Sophrony the Athonite, founder of the Holy Stavropegial Monastery of the blessed, most honorable prophet St John the Baptist, in Essex, United Kingdom, where he reposed in the Lord in the year 1993.
Our Father Sophrony was born in 1897 in Moscow, Russia – a land that brought forth many saints – where he spent the years of his youth. As the offspring of a pious family, he was raised in the knowledge and presence of God and he experienced the Uncreated Light while still being an infant. He studied at the Superior Art School of Moscow, where he learned painting.
Unsatisfied with a Christian teaching lacking in the depth of faith, as a young man he searched with great longing for the knowledge of the Absolute being in the mysticism of the oriental religions. Not finding solace in their delusion, he came to discover the wonderous, evangelical law of love which is the communion with the personal God of the Christians. It is He who he knew in the Holy Spirit through the biblical word of the revelation on Mount Sinai, “I am that I am”.
In this monastery the all-merciful God gave him a faithful guide and guardian angel, the gentle and meek of heart Silouan the Athonite, fervent interceder before God for the salvation of all men and preacher of love for one’s enemies. The Blessed Staretz perceived the encounter with Saint Silouan as the greatest gift that God ever bestowed upon him. The Blessed Silouan became a “living witness”, reassuring him with the spirit of repentance that dwelled within him and became a model for a perfect life. As such, the Holy servant of God Sophrony stood unwavering on the path of spiritual trials and followed the Lord, dying with Him. He became alike to Him through his passions and he was resurrected together with Him, receiving “so much light, life and wisdom” as only the Spring of light and life for all mankind can provide.
After the dormition of the Staretz Silouan, with the blessing of the Monastery where he entered into monastic life, he went in the desert of Mount Athos to live in unceasing and unrelenting repentance, where, guided by God, he reached the passionless, peaceful state of the Holy Spirit.
The proverbial place of Athos, named also “the frightening Karoulia” received the athlete of Christ and “became frightened” of the cry that gripped his entire being, who walked the path of pain, experiencing many trials and patiently overcoming them, just as Job had done. In the fire of his deep repentance he experienced, through grace, the flames of hell and cried together with the Prophet King, “The pangs of death surrounded me… and my life unto hades hath drawn nigh” (Psalms 17:5, 87:4). Blessed by God, he was found worthy of the divine vision, of the grace of the Uncreated Light within the Divine Body of the Word, for whom he descended in the deepest chasm of humility and he became a heavenly sign for the people of this age, offering to all, through the mercy of God, solutions to life’s problems.
Although the Staretz wanted to live in the Holy Mountain of Athos until the end of his life, the unexpected plan of God carried him back to the West, where he was meant to shine not as a mere candle, but as an illuminating star, guiding to the heavenly light a great many desperate people, seekers of God.
Taking refuge in the Isle of Britannia, today’s England, he truly created “a new city a new pavilion of the Pentecost”, becoming the founder and spiritual father of the Holy Stavropegial Monastery of the Holy Forerunner, where, through many efforts, trials and untold poverty he gave himself to the building up in Christ of the many souls entrusted to him as well as of the pilgrims, whose number increased day by day and who ran to him like unto an ever-flowing spring. He thus made himself the rich chamber of the Heavenly Groom Christ, in word, in deed, in love and in many teachings and unceasing prayer.
The Bloodless Sacrifice, brought by the Staretz in a contrition of the heart unknown until then, shook all those who took part in it. With great spiritual resolve and deep longing, angelically he performed the Divine Liturgy and so the sweetness of the spiritual life increased even more. By serving the Liturgy, he also brought Sacrifice, at the same time offering himself as atonement for the sins of the world.
His theology, abounded in grace, through which he was greatly glorified, sprung forth from a heart enlightened through the shining of the Uncreated Light; that is why his writings impart philocalic aroma and resolve from one who has made himself teacher, living example, vessel of knowledge, confirmation of grace and hope, gifted through the Divine Grace.
Having the gift of the discernment of thoughts, he embodied the word of St. John of Sinai, because “he illuminated with his light what is dark in others” (St. John Climacus, The Ladder, Step 26:1). Being full of holy wisdom, with great discernment and deep love toward all men, he was found worthy of the Grace of wonderworking and foresight, working and fortifying without rest people’s faith in God. Being meek in spirit, he was given all the blessing of the divine gift. Throughout his entire life he suffered the supplication of many illnesses until his old age. Until the very end, his demeanor was pleasant and peaceful, living within the wisdom of God.
For this, being like a mighty oak, like a vessel full of divine virtues, he reposed in peace in the Lord and his Father, relinquishing his soul in the morning of the Lord’s day, on the eleventh day of July, 1993. Full of days and grace, foreseeing the hour of his end, he was made worthy of a holy dormition. He left the Church the priceless treasure of the spiritual teachings contained in his books. Buried in the crypt of the Monastery, he continues to bestow charity through signs and wonders to all those who approach him with faith and invoke his intercession before God.
With his holy prayers, Christ o Lord, have mercy and save us! Amen.