Elder Sophrony of Essex
Saint Sophrony, was best known as the disciple and biographer of St Silouan the Athonite and compiler of St Silouan's works, and as the founder of the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Maldon, Essex, England
In 1896, Sergei Symeonovich Sakharov was born to Orthodox parents in Russia. As a child, Sergei would pray daily, later recalling that he would pray for 45 minutes without stress. Even as a child, Sergei experienced the Uncreated Light. He read widely, including such Russian greats as Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Pushkin. Due to great artistic talent, Sergei studied at the Academy of Arts between 1915 and 1917 and then at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture between 1920 and 1921. It was around the time of his study at the Moscow School that Sergei would see Christianity's focus on personal love as being necessarily finite; he fell away from the Orthodoxy of his youth and delved into Indian mystical religions based on the impersonal Absolute. However, he was growing increasingly frustrated by the inability of art to express purity, and however much he tried he couldn't escape this reality. He also grew to see that rational knowledge was entirely unable to provide an answer to the problem of death. In 1924, Sergei came to the realization that Christ's precept to love God with all of one's being was not merely a psychological thing, but ontological; that this total love was the only way to relate to God; and that love had to be a personal thing by definitional necessity. On Holy and Great Saturday of that year, he returned to Christianity. He experienced the Uncreated Light in a strength unmatched to the end of his life and, as a result, distanced himself from his artwork. In 1925, finding formal theological study to be inherently unfulfilling, Sergei left the Institute and Paris to become a monk on Mount Athos. where he entered the Russian Orthodox Monastery of St. Panteleimon with the intent of learning how to pray and to have the right attitude towards God. He was tonsured with the name of Sophrony. In 1930, Fr Sophrony was ordained to the diaconate by St Nicolai (Velimirovic) of Zicha, and he became a disciple of St Silouan the Athonite, who would prove to be Fr Sophrony's greatest and life-long influence. On 24 September 1938, St. Silouan reposed in the Lord. Following his spiritual father’s instructions, Father Sophrony left the monastery grounds to reside in the Athonite desert. Following the Second World War, Father Sophrony left Athos for France. By 1958, Elder Sophrony had a number of people living near him, seeking the monastic life. A property at Tolleshunt Knights, Maldon, Essex, England was inspected, and the next year the Community of St John the Baptist was formed at this site, where it continues to this day to be populated by both monks and nuns. The monastery had been informed that the only way that it could bury people on its property was to build an underground crypt, which it proceeded to build, and to which Elder Sophrony said that he would not repose until the crypt was ready. Then, having been told of the expected completion date of July 12, Elder Sophrony stated that he "would be ready" and on the 11th, he reposed; on the 14th was his funeral and burial, attended by monastics from around the world.