10/25/2019, 09.11
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The patriarch of Constantinople canonizes a Russian saint

by Stefano Caprio

Bartholomew recognized the sanctity of a 20th century Russian ascetic, the archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), a disciple of Silouan of Mount Athos. The gesture of the patriarch recalls that ecclesiastical disputes do not hold up to the signs of divine grace. Sophrony produced a synthesis between Eastern mysticism and Western pastoral action.

Rome (AsiaNews) - In times of disagreement and disdain among the great patriarchs of Orthodoxy, news "of another level" illuminates the shadows of human contradictions: the patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew (Archontonis) proclaimed the sanctity of one of the most illustrious twentieth-century Russian ascetics, the archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), himself a disciple of a great Russian starets, Silvanus of Mount Athos.

The patriarch gave news of the canonization on October 22 last, during his visit to the monasteries of the Holy Mountain, where even in these days there are opposing visits of "competing" exponents of Kiev and Moscow, who try to pull the austere Athonite monks to their own side. The gesture of the patriarch recalled that ecclesiastical disputes do not hold up against the signs of divine grace, distributed without calculation to all the churches and Christian communities of every latitude.

Sergej Semenovich Sakharov, the future skhiarkhimandrit (monk at the highest professional level), was born on 22 September 1896 in Moscow. During the First World War he served as an army engineer, and in 1915 he entered the Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied until 1917. The revolution forced him into exile, along with many intellectuals and exponents of culture unwelcome to the new regime, and just over 20 years old is in Paris, where he studied at the theological institute of St. Sergius, founded by Russian emigrants. Today this institute is at the center of disputes between Moscow and Constantinople for the destiny of the legacy of European Russians.

Sakharov then moved to Yugoslavia, and finally arrived at Mount Athos, where in 1925 he entered the Panteleimon monastery, also called "Rossikon", made up of Russian monks. In 1927 he made his first profession, receiving the name of Sophrony. In those years he met the famous starets Silouan, of whom he became a favorite spiritual son, and of whom he later wrote a biography very  popular throughout the Christian world of East and West.

After Silouan's death, his disciple went "into the desert", living as a hermit in the skities of Athos, and in 1941 he was ordained a priest ("hieromonk") by a Serbian bishop. In 1959 he went to Great Britain, where he began one of the most successful experiences of "Orthodoxy in the West", founding the monastery of St. John the Precursor in the county of Essex. His disciples still today show pilgrims an extraordinary harmony of eastern asceticism and western pastoral care, with great participation of the laity together with the clergy and monks, without ever trying to gain notoriety, but multiplying the fruits of spiritual grace for so many people and many needy .

The archimandrite Sophrony is known for having also completed a particular liturgical reform in his monastery, replacing the canonical Liturgy of the Hours with the "prayer of the heart", the incessant repetition of the prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner ! "That characterizes the experience of the" Russian pilgrim ". This is a radical spirituality of overcoming all formalisms, which originated precisely from the Russian spiritual fathers of Mount Athos since the 18th century. The Essex monks gather, even with the laity,  for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, to concentrate on the prayer of Jesus, which everyone is then invited to continue along the day "in rhythm with our breath".

Father Sophrony died in his Essex monastery on 11 June 1993. With him, Patriarch Bartholomew canonized four other Greek monks, ascetics of Mount Athos: Hieronymus of Simonos Petra (+ 1957), Daniel of Katunakis (+ 1929), Joseph Esicasta (+ 1959) and Ephrem of Katunakis (+1998). Thus the hope of the unity of the Church of East and West is entrusted to the holy monks.

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