Saint Sophrony the Hesychast and the Name ‘I AM.’

Wisdom hallows the Name of God in Holy Trinity by ascribing all glory to God’s Name ‘I AM.’  The Name ‘I AM’ reveals God, not an objectified concept of God as a divine subject or a reified notion of God as a divine object.  God in his Name ‘I’ is pure uncreated awareness ever present, and his Name ‘AM’ is pure uncreated presence ever aware, transcending every kind of dualistic subject and every sort of dualistic object, and so transcending as Holy Trinity all kinds of subjective monism and every sort of reifying dualism.  The Name saves because it is God’s own health imparting his wholesome healing, communicating sound salvation as wholesome Trinity, releasing every kind of diseased reification of God into healthy glorification of God.  This initiates a culture of wholesome glorification in Hesychast Orthodoxy which frees elders to impart the Holy Name ‘I AM,’ wisdom lived as spiritual therapy of hallowing glorification, transcending all conditioned therapies which fall short of glory in the midst.  

Saint Sophrony the Hesychast came to Essex in 1959 with this therapeutic legacy of the Holy Name resounding in his heart, arriving in England at a time when many secular therapies were warring among themselves, each trying to attract the attention of their followers.  But he saw straight through them all and cut through to ‘I AM’ by leaping over mountains of psychological separation that obscured the way.   Saint Sophrony was an elder from the Athonite desert who found himself surrounded in Essex with many varieties of secular psychologism, therapies that he actually took the trouble to look into rather than just ignore.  When, in 1965, he first pointed out the glory of ‘I AM’ to a twenty year old student of theology, he said he was aware of his father’s work known as ‘Clinical Theology,’ shortly to be published as a very large tome complete with charts in 1966, but went on to speak of the Holy Name of God.  This was fifty-four years ago and inspired in that student of theology a monastic calling to Name hallowing glorification, although resistance and prevarication were that student’s peculiar contribution until grace gradually overcame them and glory gently dawned.

Over half a century later, the Orthodox Church now ponders what it was that Saint Sophrony left as his holy legacy to the world, unless perhaps he left many legacies, because we are persons not automata with binary exclusions determining their narrow blue-print.  At a time when Holy Orthodoxy is experiencing great tension on the edge of a divisive schism which only increases her confusion, the canonisation of Elder Sophrony on November 27th 2019 opens to wisdom that cuts through confusion and heals division.  Saint Sophrony was a Russian who lived on Athos like Saint Silouan under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople, but that was not the decisive heart of his legacy.   The Holy Name begins at the end with glory in the beginning, dispelling confusion to heal division.  ‘I AM,’ expresses not only spiritual wisdom but psychological and political wisdom too.  The Name imparts healing with social and economic ramifications that have not yet become visible because radical repentance has hardly even begun.  Russians and Americans may jostle for power in Ukraine, dragging Constantinople into conflict with the Moscow Patriarchate, but ‘I AM’ in the midst overpowers warring fallen powers, revealing glory to God in his saints.

When an elder such as Archimandrite Sophrony is formally received among recognised canonical saints, new opportunities to listen with the ears of the heart begin to arise.  Athonite saints each have their own legacy because they are persons who receive the mysteries of glory personally, not individuals who tear apart the tradition separately.  Saint Sophrony thought ecclesially because for him Christ and his body the Church are indivisible.  So for him, the wisdom of the Name was not self-obsessed solipsism but the key to ecclesial mysteries of union and communion, communion that sustains the mysteries of deified first-personhood that underlie each individual.  The remembrance of God is not self-centred reification but recognition of God in his Name, releasing warring powers through hallowing glorification.  Hallowing the Holy Name of God is God’s revelation of God in Holy Trinity, revealing the glory of the Holy Name, which is the luminous heart of Holy Orthodoxy.  

Saint Sophrony no doubt bequeathed many holy mysteries of glory to his disciples, but to this grateful monk he pointed to the Holy Name, not of course to him alone, but to many, because he loved to write about the Name ‘I AM,’ sharing its mysteries with all.  But since that meeting in 1965 actually went to all the trouble of happening, and since fifty-four years later, the wider implications are just beginning to dawn among broken souls, despite all short-fall from glory, the question arises, what is this Holy Name and how is its hallowing glory now unravelling confusion and healing division in our time?  What are the implications for Holy Orthodoxy of this newly canonised saint, this Athonite Archimandrite with his brethren and sisters, eating nettle soup from wild nettles gathered in a rambling rectory garden in Essex?  In 1965, holy poverty and humble simplicity belonged together with radiance of heart, veiling mysteries of glory that gently soften hardened hearts.  In 1965, the Athonite monasteries of the Holy Mountain seemed on the point of collapse, but in 1966 a renewal, begun by others, began to turn the tide.

Since those days, Saint Sophrony’s monastery in Essex has not only grown in numbers and buildings but has published many books that Saint Sophrony wrote about Saint Silouan and books that impart the desert wisdom of the Holy Name, inspiring Hesychast Orthodoxy for generations to come.  The saving Name remains hidden with Christ in God, waiting to be received again not only by most Orthodox Christians but as wisdom unveiling glory to all.  The hallowing reception of the Name is the illumination of the heart, leading to the glorification of saints in every generation.  Indeed, there is no end to the radiance of this glory nor limit to the scope of wisdom as glory is revealed.  

This mystery of glorification is true of all saints because they open heaven, not for themselves on their own, but to God to the glory of God in all.  Their self-emptying is God’s glorification, which God shares with all.  So Holy Orthodoxy is not renewed by continuing self-obsession with itself but by a hallowing self-emptying of itself into the mysteries of the Name, to the greater glory of God.  A complex game of thrones is transformed into throne vision of God in the heart, curing confusion and division so that impending schism transfigures.  Divisions heal when self-obsession releases into glorification, taught by the Holy Name of God to his saints.  Elders impart mysteries of glory to the saints so that hearts are illumined.  Confusion begins to dissolve and hardened divisions to heal.  Transfiguration is the name of this game of thrones transfigured, just as glory is the radiance of God’s Name in his saints.