TABOR - Tradition and Contemporaneity in the Romanian Orthodox Church
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Suffering in spiritual life and teaching of Elder Sophrony
The topic of suffering plays a preeminent role in the writings of Elder Sophrony. Suffering accompa- nied his whole spiritual life (it was, he says, its leitmotiv), but especially some of its aspects. Suffering first seems to be connected with the ascetic life as a spiritual fight against passions and an effort of detachment from the world and from oneself. Suffering seems more particularly connected with a repentance related not only to peculiar sins but also to the general condition of fallen man, as well as the alienation from God strongly suffered in oneself, both being feit as an “inner hell”. Suffering appears also to be connected with dereliction, that is to say to the feeling of having lost divine grace and being abandoned by God. Finally, it is connected with compassion; that is to say, with the reality of suffering in oneself, in a state of charity, the pain of all other men. Suffering in general is for Elder Sophrony an indispensable means of following Christ (whose self-emp- tying has a fundamentally painful nature and whose life is full of suffering) and of being saved by Him. According to Elder Sophrony, the suffering experienced in the spiritual life has a specific character which distinguishes it from physical and psychic suffering. For this very reason it contributes, through its compensations, to the spiritual edification of man rather than to his destruction. Yet, the compensations of spiritual suffering are hardly ever mentioned in the testimony and the teaching of Elder Sophrony, which generally maintain a tragic character. On this point, one may regret that the presentation of spirituality as it may be found in Elder Sophrony’s works give more importance to the weaknesses of man than to the means given by Christ to overcome them. This presentation can hardly be considered as a universal pattem for Christian life, but must rather be seen as a testimony of the individual experience of Elder Sophrony himself, which is confirmed by the fact that he expresses himself, regarding this point, in the first person, an uncommon way of expression among the Fathers. This testimony is above all aimed at helping those who, in their spiritual lives, meet the same dif- ficulties. It is a further manifestation of what was one of the major virtues of Elder Sophrony, which has been felt by all those who have known him: an immense compassion for all suffering men.