Elder Sophrony of St. John the Baptist in Essex
monasticism is not human, but is a call from God. it is not monks who choose this path by human means, but it is a call from God.
Even on the Holy Mountain, where Silouan lived for nearly half a century, few understood the spiritual height of the Elder. They had such fear…but also such boldness for the love of God! He did not speak openly about his spiritual condition, but hid.
The writing of his biography was not a human work. It was his own work…
Let me tell you, the story of this boldness. On the second day of Pascha [Monday of Bright Week], in either 1930 or 1931, an educated Russian hermit monk, he was an engineer, came to visit me in my cell at the Monastery of St. Panteleimon’s. “Fr. Sophrony, how will we be saved?” I loved this person. He was a very gentle and sweet person, but also very clever. I prepared him a cup of tea, gave it to him, and told him, “Stand on the edge of the abyss and when you feel that it is beyond your strength, break off and have a cup of tea.”
The next day, I ran into Elder Silouan, with whom I had not yet had personal contact, but I could sense his spiritual strength. And he said to me,
“Was Fr. Vladimir with you yesterday?”
I didn’t answer him, that is, I didn’t say, “yes, he was,” rather I said,
“Perhaps I said something wrong?”
Silouan answered, “No, but what you told him was beyond his strength, beyond his measure. Come and let’s talk.”
That’s how he called me to speak with him. And because of this phrase, “Stand on the edge of the abyss and when you don’t have any more strength, rest a little and have a cup of tea,” our relationship began, our spiritual connection. Afterwards, I went to the Elder and he taught me regarding, “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”
What did the Lord mean with the phrase, “Keep your mind in hell,” which was for Silouan the pronounced removal of grace for a whole hour before the appearance of Christ? He clearly saw his eternal destruction and after this the Lord appears without any word, He didn’t say anything…for a moment. And when this happened, without any word, without words, he began to pray for all humanity and it became a state of being, not a thought, but a state of being. And when the Lord said, “Keep your mind,” Silouan saw Him. This is why it was only Silouan who understood the depths of the word regarding this state. For us self-reproach is appropriate, but not this state. And the conversation, his talk with Christ, was very, how to say it…very brief. This is what he said:
“I see demons.”
“The proud suffer from this.”
“But how can I become humble, Lord?”
“Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”
And then He left.
The abbot of Monastery of Vatopedi, Archimandrite Ephraim, spoke with Elder Sophrony of blessed memory at the Holy Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England on 20 September 1992.