Christ, Our Way and Our Life–
1. About the Author
A member of the Patriarchial Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, England, founded by his spiritual father and translator of Elder Sophrony’s writing from Russian into Greek, Father Zacharias Zacharou holds degrees in Theology from the Institute of St Sergius in Paris, France, and the University of Thessalonika, Greece, also receiving the degree of Doctor of Theology from the latter institution for his work on the Theology of Elder Sophrony.
Apart from his extensive theological qualifications and studies, Father Zacharias was blessed to become a disciple of Elder Sophrony who was the spiritual child of St Silouan the Athonite. Consequently, Father Zacharias inherited the rare and precious spiritual gift of teaching the Word of God, an authentic word, inspired by those contemporary spiritual giants.
Through God’s grace, and the counsels and prayers of his sainted spiritual father, and his own ascetical labours, Father Zacharias has himself adorned the hidden man of his heart with the spiritual knowledge and wisdom which is incorruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, and his teachings will be easily discerned to be living, fruit-bearing branches firmly attached to the True Vine rather than the dry-withered branches of mere theoretical speculation.
2. About Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov
Born in Moscow in 1896, he left Paris in 1925 and first settled in the Monastery of St Panteleimon on Mt Athos where he formed a close bond with St Silouan (1866 – 1938), in whose person he saw clearly portrayed the authentic dimensions of Christian life.
In 1947 he left Athos to return to France, and in 1948 he published in Russian the manuscripts entrusted to him by St Silouan before his death, having added some biographical information and an extensive analysis of the saint’s teaching.
In 1959 he founded, in Essex, England, the community which was to become the Patriarchial Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist where he fell asleep in the Lord on 11 July 1993. Father Sophrony was endowed with many gifts of the Holy Spirit. The most impressive was the living Word of God which he grasped through prayer and carried on his heart.
3. About this Book
Those who have not read many or any works of the Holy Fathers may find sections of this book difficult to understand because of the choice of theological words and language. However, Father Zacharias’ explanation of Elder Sophrony’s theology is relatively straight forward if the reader is not frightened away by words such as:- Hypostatic Principle, “Perichoresis”, “Kenosis”, etc.
Briefly, Father Zacharias interprets the Sophronic theology as follows:-
(i) Hypostatic Principle:-
This simply means that when man has increased spiritually through ascetic labour to the point where he becomes Christ-like, he becomes a real person, a “hypostasis” (in Greek meaning person). This “likeness” is accomplished by choice. The power of free choice is innate in us, but we, ourselves put it into practice. The hypostatic principle in man develops and is perfected by this struggle to be united with Christ and to restore the divine image which was corrupted and lost by the fall. Father Zacharias writes, “By this union with Christ, the power of Christ’s Resurrection is transmitted to man, and his heart radiates the light of the glory of the knowledge in the person of Jesus Christ.” That is, he becomes one spirit with Christ, and as spirit, he is shown forth as fit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
(ii) Knowledge of God: -
He writes that man can never attain knowledge of God unless he lives according to the perspective of God’s will. When man abides in the spirit of God’s commandments and does God’s will, the existential union between God and man is brought about. The divine form of being is transmitted to him as his own state. He becomes God-like, which is the whole purpose of his existence. That is, to achieve theosis by God’s grace.
(iii) Kenosis :-
Kenosis means “self-emptying”. Christ, who is God, emptied Himself (Kenosis) by bowing down the heavens and taking on the human form of a servant for the salvation of mankind. He also manifested the perfect and free submission of His human will to the will of His Heavenly Father, and commands us to do the same. Why? Because he who humbles himself in this manner attains to the measure of the fullness of the stature of Christ. He becomes the “perfect man”, the “perfect hypostasis”. He becomes God-like. The love of God takes hold of the heart of man who has emptied himself of everything of his own will. It opens his eyes to a new vision – the vision of God.
(iv) Love to the point of self-hatred: -
Christ is humility beyond description. He was “led as a sheep to the slaughter”, without resisting evil, suffering for our sins. This love of Christ does not discriminate between enemies and friends, it embraces everyone. When divine love inflames the heart like a fire, and when this fire touches a man’s heart, it effects a wondrous change of all his being and conveys to him a new understanding of life. He also discovers how terribly distorted God’s primacy idea for us has become. Man then directs the shafts of accusation against his own abomination and is shameful for his sins having offended God. Only man is guilty of all evil throughout history and he reaches the point of self-hatred. Man then becomes aware of his separation from his beloved God and prays with bitter tears of repentance to be re-united with him.
(v) Mindfulness of death:-
Father Zacharias says that it is good to be mindful of death. Remembrance of death reveals the futility of the world and all earthly acquisitions. Whatever does not remain for all eternity has no value. Man finds rest and support only when he is in communion with God.
(vi) Righteous Despair:-
Although it is sinful to despair, righteous despair over one’s fallen state inspires weeping for one’s sins and predisposes his spirit to humbly embark on sorrowful repentance.
(vii) The Mystery of the Ways of Salvation:-
Father Zacharias discusses the importance of love, humility and gratitude to God, the need for obedience to God’s will and His Commandments, the guarding of the mind from intrusive thoughts, the struggle against imagination and fantasy, the absolute necessity of Prayer – The Jesus Prayer, inner prayer, prayer for the whole world and one’s enemies and repentance.
He warns us of the dangers of self-will and logical reasoning, the pleasure of the senses, the possession of material goods. There are many other golden words of wisdom, too many to mention. This book teaches us that the Christ-like, all-embracing love for God and all mankind is a sign that bears witness to the restoration of the primordial “image” of God in man. That is, the very life, the uncreated energy of God unites with human beings. This wondrous union of created with uncreated was accomplished in a perfect manner in the person of Christ.