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Elder Sophrony: On Eastern Religions

Elder Sofrony of Essex

– For a Muslim to become a Christian, he must wait until he receives great Grace, so that he is prepared to be martyred for Christ. If he does not receive this Grace, let him wait.

– Someone passed sequentially through Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and black magic. In all these religions at the same time he did magic. As soon as he became Orthodox, he wanted to practice along with this magic, but he was unable to do it. From this he realized that magic is the foundation of all religions and that religions are dead, their leaders are dead, but Christ is the living God.

– For many years exorcisms must be read for those who came from doing magic. This is what the early Church did.

– Buddhism has some truths, but it has one human truth, which reaches to “zero”, that is, with concentration-meditation man reaches the non-being from which we came from. It is an existential suicide. Christ [alone] leads us to theosis, to communion with the Triune God.

Some say that Buddhism has nothing to do with demonism. However, those who speak thus know Buddhism only from books and speak theoretically. Action is different.

– Some say that meditation brings them a certain peace. Externally this appears good, but these people are possessed by conceit and this results in carnal warfare. Even if they leave Buddhism, they again have carnal warfare. This shows the satanism of this method.

– There is a difference between Buddhist and Orthodox asceticism. In Buddhism they try to make a disclaimer and they reach nirvana. They confuse a reflection with mystical vision. They see created light with their mind. This was best done with Plotinus, in Neo-Platonism. The Fathers know this, and we can call it the “cloud of unknowing”, but the holy Fathers went [go] beyond this and reached the vision of the uncreated Light. Then they experience that the Light comes from a Person and not from an idea, and they feel a personal relationship with God and, at the same time, there develops a great love for God and the whole world until martyrdom and “self-hatred“.

—From I Knew A Man In Christ: The Life and Times of Elder Sophrony, the Hesychast and Theologian (Οίδα άνθρωπον εν Χριστώ: Βίος και πολιτεία του Γέροντος Σωφρονίου του ησυχαστού και θεολόγου) by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou. Translation by John Sanidopoulos.

Saint-Silouan-the-Athonite-†1938-diaken-Sophrony-Sakharov-†1993-photo-sept-1933With the publication of the new book by His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St Vlasios, I know a man in Christ, the author has kept his promise (mentioned from time to time in spoken addresses and in one of his books) to publish in due course an analysis of what he was taught by Elder Sophrony.

His Eminence refers in many of his books to the figure of Elder Sophrony Sakharov, founder of the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, England, and what he terms the Elder’s living theology.  He regards his contact with the Elder as a great blessing from God.  This book is an expression of heartfelt gratitude to God and to Elder Sophrony.  It is a mature work, a personal testimony to the writer’s long association (17 years) with the Elder.  Readers will find concentrated in the person of Elder Sophrony the qualities of a great Father of the Church, who lived in our time.  They will become acquainted with another model for the ascetic life and realise that there are witnesses in every age to the vision of the Light of divine glory.

In the first part of the book, ‘Spiritual Autobiography’, His Eminence sketches a spiritual portrait of Elder Sophrony, mainly from his books, which are published in many languages.  The works of Elder Sophrony, like the written testimonies of “those initiated by experience”, show us how to live the spiritual life and are a great consolation and heritage for our time.

The second part, ‘Everyday Life – Pastoral Ministry’, describes what the author learned and experienced close to Elder Sophrony during his visits to the Monastery in Essex.  He passes on to us “what he heard from him”, in the hope, as he writes, of sharing with readers the “riches” that he “unworthily” received.

There is also an ‘Appendix’ containing references to, and summaries of, texts that His Eminence has written at various times in the past, in previously published books, referring to the person and theology of Elder Sophrony.

The spiritual biography of the Elder unfolds authoritatively through the pages of the book.  His teaching and revelational experiences are presented, together with his own words, written down by the author following encounters with him.  There are brief descriptions of various scenes and his impressions of the blessed life he lived when visiting the Monastery of St John the Baptist.  He conveys to us the atmosphere in which his discussions with the Elder took place. We see the Elder in Church during the Divine Liturgy, in the daily services, in the refectory of the Monastery and in his contact with pilgrims.

His asceticism and his whole life, as described in his books and as the author heard personally, transcended human limits.  His writings show his unquenchable thirst for knowledge of God, the flame of profound repentance, through which a person is born again, and the revelational interpretation of the phrase “Keep your mind [nous] in Hell and do not despair”, which he regards as the fundamental principle of life in Christ.

The attentive reader will understand how the writer analyses the Elder’s teaching on the freedom of the Spirit of God; the purity of the nous; the way of obedience, which is essential in daily life; ceaseless momentum towards God; the gift of the remembrance of death; mourning; the person; the hypostasis; service to our neighbour and love for our enemies; spiritual valour; dealing with temptations; the divine gift of freedom; the attitude of the nous and heart before God; the unity between us in the Holy Spirit; spiritual issues that form the essence and basis of Christian life; the distinction between the nous and reason; the difference between theology and philosophy; monasticism; the education of children.

The reader will recognise the worthy disciple of St Silouan the Athonite; the divinely-inspired theologian; the great hesychast; the discerning spiritual father; the teacher of prayer and theoria of the uncreated Light; the authoritative and inspired interpreter of the Scriptures.  He will come to know the man in Christ.  He will benefit from his teachings concerning the spiritual life.  He will discern the Elder’s simplicity; his sensitive heart and his abundant love; his self-emptying in the Divine Liturgy and his spiritual inspiration.  Anyone who reads the analysis of Elder Sophrony’s correspondence with David Balfour will admire the experienced spiritual father and the way in which he guides those who trust him.  The Elder’s freedom and self-emptying love for every person, while profoundly respecting their freedom, may be considered beyond the comprehension of human reasoning.

The writer sets out the basic reasons for the loss of divine grace, in accordance with the Elder’s teaching.  He explains the difference between created light and uncreated Light, and helps the reader to understand how the energy of the Triune God is beheld as Light by those who have been purified.

Often the author allows Elder Sophrony to speak for himself, in the belief that “It is difficult for someone to describe the life and conduct of a saint”.  The words of the Elder, whether spoken or written, come from above.  They are always theological; they bring new life and convey inspiration and grace.

It is clear from reading this book that Elder Sophrony’s theology is “a theology born of repentance”.  A person can only be united with God and speak about Him when he has passed through profound repentance. The primary aim of human beings is communion with God and their deification by grace, which “does not come from studying but from purity”, according to St Gregory Palamas.

The book also shows that participation in grace is linked with Christian asceticism and the state of the nous.  The path to deification and experience in Christ involves spiritual struggles and many sacrifices.  The Metropolitan has written in many of his books about the correct orientation of the nous, which plays an important role in man’s journey towards deification and sanctification. He does not just describe for us the vision of God, but also sets out the prerequisites, as he heard them from Elder Sophrony himself, for reaching this height of the spiritual life.  As St Kosmas the Hymnographer writes, “Those who are eminent in the virtues will also be found worthy of divine glory.”

We believe that the book I know a man in Christ will give those who read it cause to glorify God, because Elder Sophrony is a priceless gift bestowed by God on His people.  It will convey sublime and essential messages about the spiritual life to readers, and help them to understand the books written by the Elder.

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Also see: Buddhism and Eastern Asceticism Compared to Orthodox Christian Asceticism: An Excerpt from The Hidden Man of the Heart

by Archimandrite Zacharias http://goo.gl/bpq2B

Elder_Sofrony

 

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