Saint Sophrony the Hesychast

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Saint Sophrony the Hesychast is sometimes called Saint Sophrony the Athonite because he was a monk on Most Athos between 1926 and !947 and sometimes Saint Sophrony of Essex since he was the revered elder of his monastery in Essex between 1959 and his death in 1993.  Both titles reflect important periods of his life on Mount Athos and in Essex, but both Athonite monks and monks of his Essex Monastery agree that it was the Hesychast legacy of Saint Silouan, as handed on by Saint Sophrony, that was decisive for them, not temporary, geographical biography.  This explains why Saint Sophrony is also called the Hesychast, not from prejudice against Mount Athos or Essex, but because he is remembered and loved for the Hesychast wisdom he passed on from Saint Silouan the Athonite.  He met Saint Silouan on Mount Athos and published many books about him in Essex, but he himself valued, above all, the Hesychast wisdom he received from Saint Silouan, wisdom that bore witness to love and the glory of the Holy Name.

In the Introduction to ‘Wisdom, Glory and the Name’ 2015, it is stated that Saint Sophrony, like Saint Silouan, was never entangled in the contentions that condemned what were perceived as the heresies of Name veneration and Sophiology, avoiding both extremes, Onomoclasm and Sophiaclasm, whilst revering the Holy Orthodoxy of the Hesychast tradition of the holiness and wisdom of the Name.  Both saints managed to negotiate the turbulent waters of contemporary extremism without drowning in divisive extremes.  Their witness was costly in many ways, drawing attention to love rather than contention, to wisdom rather than sophistry, to the glory of the Name rather than shallow nominalism.  At the same time, their wisdom was unquestionably wholly Orthodox, despite the occasional attacks of those who saw them in a contentious light.  What was decisive for both Hesychast saints was the Holy Orthodoxy of Hesychast wisdom, which is why Saint Sophrony has also been called ‘the Hesychast,’ since his canonisation on November 27th 2019.

Orthodox Hesychast wisdom is one of the greatest glories of Christendom that still survives in a so-called post-christian world.  Its wisdom voice is still heard despite the contemporary ravages of nihilism and narcissism, relativism and materialism.  Indeed, it handles the so-called death of God in ways that discern what it is that dies and what it is that never dies, being the deathless wisdom of God.  Extremism is still rife, even in an age of relativism, because nihilism and materialism spawn their own divisive extremes, driven by the perversions of narcissism to fresh extremes of both relativism and nihilism.  Saint Silouan sung wisdom songs of love, inspiring Saint Sophrony to sing wisdom songs of the Name ‘I AM,’ wisdom songs that have inspired Hesychast wisdom to return to the ancient genre of the gnomic century, wisdom chapters from the millennium 380 to 1380, since gathered, as wisdom centuries, into the Philokalia and still spiritually transformative.  Hesychast wisdom was still very much alive in Saint Silouan and Saint Sophrony, as was the Orthodox glorification of the Holy Name, inspiring endless renewal of the sacred tradition that generates fresh patristic consensus, curing extremism by hallowing extremes.