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The monastic life according to elder Sophrony

Nicholas Sakharov, The monastic life according to elder Sophrony
The purpose of this presentation is to highlight the theologi¬cal originality in Fr Sophrony’s perception of monasticism. Pit¬ted against the negative views of monasticism in the twentieth century, Fr Sophrony theology highlights the richness of monasti¬cism as the “fullness of life” brought to mankind by Christ’s Gos¬pel. The chief method of Fr Sophrony’s approach to monastic life is to see how it reveals the divine Image in man. As the fathers highlighted the Christological dimension of image, Fr Sophrony, continuing their line of thought, particularly dwells on the tria- dological aspect of the image. In the Trinity we are given a prime model of love, which we are to follow. The Son loves the Father, just as the Father loves the Son. Man, like God, is a relational be¬ing, and relations to other hypostases (persons) constitute the fun¬damental principal of Divine and human beings: I love therefore I am. It is reflected in St Silouan’s understanding of monasticism: “Our brother is our life”. Monastic community is set forth as a supreme opportunity to realise the image of the trinitarian love. “The monastic community sets out to achieve unity... in the image of the oneness of the Holy Trinity”. Prayer for the whole world is set forth as a final achievement. All the monastic vows: poverty, chastity and obedience are seen as subsumed to this aim. That is why for Fr. Sophrony everything in his ascetic vision acquires a personal, hypostatic dimension.
“The deviation from this theology would lead to the ‘supra- personal’, with the result that the ‘general’ will prevail over the ‘personal’. Obedience in this case will be required not in relation to the human person, but as a subjection to the ‘law’, ‘rule’, ‘func¬tion’, ‘institution’ etc.” Fr. Sophrony makes a distinction between gospel-type obedience and discipline. Obedience is an expression
of love, wheraswhereas discipline is an expression of power. When discipline prevails over gospel-type obedience, ‘there is a possibil¬ity,’ as he says, ‘of the ultimate loss of the very aim of Christianity and the sense of life’.

Keywords: elder Sophrony, the monastic life, ascetic vision, obedience discipline