Saint Sophrony the Hesychast

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Saint Sophrony is called ‘the Hesychast’ because he bore witness to the uncreated light of glory shining at the heart of Orthodox Hesychast wisdom.  He is called ‘the Athonite’ because he spent about twenty years as a monk on Mount Athos and ‘Saint Sophrony of Essex’ because he lived the last thirty-five years of his life in his monastery in Essex. The last two names accurately describe two different periods of his life, but the first describes his spiritual function as elder, as an Orthodox staretz.   Which name best describes him will depend on how he will be seen in the Orthodox world over the coming centuries, a story that is yet to unfold.

Three Anglicans, Father Gilbert Shaw, Mother Mary Clare and Dr Martin Israel, each personally pointed me toward Archimandrite Sophrony in 1965, encouraging me to consult the elder in his monastery, which led to a meeting there before a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain with my father.  Nine years later, there was a decisive encounter which led to a life-time’s living practice of Orthodox Hesychast wisdom.  Monastic tonsure in his Monastery in 1990 led to ten years monastic life inspired by Saint Sophrony’s love of Saint Silouan the Athonite, before withdrawal into a desert monastery on the Stiperstones in South-West Shropshire.

When the majority of trustees decided to give that Monastery to a priest of another diocese, to become a diocesan rather than a hesychast monastery, a small hermitage was eventually offered in Saint Davids, Wales, enabling a further exploration of Orthodox Christian Hesychast wisdom, beginning in 2019.  This eremitical life continues to be inspired by Saint Sophrony, who handed on Christ’s love of the Holy Name ‘I AM,’ together with the Hesychast wisdom of turning, metanoia, and seeing, theoria, opening to the Hesychast way of deification, theosis.  For those who were embraced by this Hesychast legacy, Saint Sophrony was before everything else, a beloved Hesychast elder, who renewed the Orthodox Hesychast Tradition for our time and perhaps for many centuries to come.