A photograph survives from 1933 of Saint Silouan the Athonite seated on the left with Father Sophrony standing behind him to his right. It was taken when both were monks of the Holy Monastery of Saint Panteleimon on Mount Athos. Monk Basil Krivocheine stands behind another monk on the right and a Monastery guest stands in between. This precious image, available on the internet, reminds us of the catalytic spiritual relationship between Staretz Silouan and the young Hierodeacon Sophrony, a relationship that has born lasting fruit on Mount Athos, in the Monastery in Essex and elsewhere. The monasticism that it inspires has been called Apostolic and Prophetic by the Patriarch of Constantinople, for it seeks to live from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as witnessed by Saint Silouan and his disciple Archimandrite Sophrony. Day to day affairs may be quite ordinary but the inspiration that springs from these two Athonite seers is witness to the wisdom that discerns the glory of unselfish love.
There are diocesan monasteries that exist to serve ethnic orthodoxy in the diaspora, and there are monasteries that are Apostolic in the Patristic sense of the term, for they are sent out into the world to communicate the Orthodox mysteries of love’s glory to the world. In his Synodical Decree Protocol No 823 dated November 27th 1987, Patriarch Demetrius called Saint Silouan the Athonite an Apostolic and Prophetic teacher of the Orthodox Church. Archimandrite Sophrony founded the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex in 1959 with this Apostolic and Prophetic teaching of Saint Silouan at its heart. His witness to love of enemies and prayer for the whole world transformed Russian and Greek theological monastic traditions as they were lived on Mount Athos in the first half of the twentieth century.
In his Spiritual Testament delivered to us on the Feast of Saint Antony in 1991, Archimandrite Sophrony pointed to the fact that humankind is one being in many persons in the image of God who is one God in three persons. In God’s Name, each of us is the centre of all and everyone and everything is for us. In the Name, we surrender ourselves in self-emptying kenosis to all those whom we love as our very life. This antinomic vision of monastic life sees it as an outpouring of love of brethren and sisters, answering God’s love for us. It is not an institutional, impersonal way of life but is radically person-centred, springing from divine love which is personal, healing and radically liberating. This hypostatic or person-centred monastic legacy envisions everything from within the mystery of the Holy Name. It is not personalist in a secular or existentialist sense, which hates human nature. It lives within the Patristic balance of wholesome nature and sound personhood. Monastic life is lived from within the truth of the Name as an ineffable mystery, transfigured by the uncreated light of deifying glory.