Saint Sophrony the Hesychast unveiled the holiness of glory with humour that made the flame of the Name bearable, concealing uncreated fire beneath dancing laughter that conventional correctness could not repress. He unveiled uncreated holiness veiled for a secular age to handle, a grace that hid regenerative glory beneath an aged human exterior, overcoming contemporary ambivalence without compromise. His precision of speech and thick Russian accent said far more than words could ever say, communicating uncreated holiness beyond the rules and regulations of conformity. His unpredictable freedom cultivated a holy anarchy that no-one could pin down, communicating the Holy Name by dancing on the tip of its exterior with talk of PERSONA or HYPOSTASIS, piercing ordinary meanings with vision of uncreated light. Old, oak panelling and venerable icons lent a solemn tone to a sense of holiness that communicated ineffable speech beneath a homely impression, imparting ineffable wisdom beneath talk of Patristic scholarship, or French personalism, or existential angst. The point was not on the surface but in the wisdom of the heart, which harboured a gaze through exteriors to God’s vision of God, hidden with Christ in God.
In 1965, a theological student, twenty years old, came from Nottingham to the Old Rectory in Tolleshunt Knights, forgetting oblivious forgetfulness for a moment and a lifetime. ‘Di Prayerr’ went home and left an indelible impression, an image of uncreated holiness. Whether this forgetting forgot anything was not the point. It was the image of remembrance that pierced the heart, regenerating hallowing turning that saw as it was seen, knowing as it was known, God’s vision of God, hidden in God. It was not the Staretz alone, but the Holy Spirit alight in him, that spoke with ineffable words to the heart, with a life-time’s clarity. A disciple left the old library where a seeker had entered an hour before, a disciple whose encounter with love and humour was in fact a revelation of the Name. Was this what Pentecost was when it occurred on the evening of Pascha in the Gospel of John? Was this the original Pentecost that a Beloved Disciple remembered before Saint Luke set to work? Or was this an English or even Essex version of Saint Seraphim’s conversation with Motovilov? All such analogies dissolved when the Name spoke with ineffable words. All images turned inside out and outside in, here, in the Name’s revelation of glory in the midst of uncreated holiness.
Well over fifty years later, such impressions leave a few, free brush strokes, not a snapshot of what occurred, opening to clear light that turns the heart right round into hallowing glory. The Holy Spirit cleared away centuries of venerable icons to communicate simple holiness, but the holiness was uncreated everywhere, not confined to the memory of someone encountered for a moment in 1965. The heart of the Spirit that abides in the Name is not in fact confined at all, but wondrously open, not a memory but remembrance itself, not someone back then but the person of the begotten Son himself, bearing witness to the unbegotten Father, whispering, ‘Abba, Father,’ before time ever began to close in. Was this ever a memory, or was it revelation of the Name? Impressions and images release as the Name severs through them, alighting upstream from them all. Nearer than near, there was no space to get a glimpse, or time to retain an impression of anything except uncreated awareness, that seers called wisdom, and uncreated presence, that saints called glory, together unveiling the Name. Sophrony was indeed ‘Saint Sophrony,’ years before canonisation, because nothing intervened between him and God, leaving nothing intervening between creation and God. For this is what ‘Saints’ are, created but imposing nothing created in the way of the uncreated light of holiness, created yet emptying everything but the uncreated grace of genuine humanity, humanly accessible yet inaccessibly divine in person. What else but this could ever be? What else is there, when all is said and done?