The Lord guided blessed elder Sofronios to establish an orthodox monastery, the Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Essex in the United Kingdom, a place where, as the heart of Europe, there is unrestrained rationalism, capitalism and the doctrine of “each one for himself” . This monastery beams out the warmth of the East and spreads the fragrance of the Ecumenical Orthodoxy: of love and brotherhood in the midst of the frostiness of the western world.
In this blessed place live almost thirty people from sixteen countries, their souls totally devoted to the Lord. Their sole task is prayer, devotion to the True God, testimony to Orthodoxy and the promotion of a hitherto unknown way of life to the western communities. They carry out this duty in sincere humility, willing poverty and selfless philanthropy to everybody.
-“We have been given this rule by our blessed Elder Sofronios: To receive everyone in the spirit of love and respect them indiscriminately whether they are poor or rich, famous or laymen, significant or insignificant. We offer them what we have; we present to them what we have been given. We do not demand anything from anyone, we do not keep anyone here by force, we do not send anyone away”.
*The Most Holy Archimandrite Kyrillos, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Essex, England, with Oikonomos Evelthon Charalambous, priest at the Saint Demetrios Chruch in Paralimni.
Elder Sofronios was born in 1896 in Russia during the Tsar’s rule. He began at a young age and never ended his pursuit of the truth, either through his experience of painting, yoga or meditation. Nevertheless, nothing could quench his thirst for the Absolute, until the day, overwhelmed by the Spirit, he abandoned everyone and went to live for many years at Holy Mount Athos as a monk at the Saint Panteleimon monastery, as a hermit at Karoulia and as a spiritual guide to many monasteries. Prayer becomes his garment and his breath. Remaining steadfast to the Holy Contemplation and to the task entrusted to him by his spiritual father, Saint Silouan, whose writings he published, he established the monastic Orthodox community in England, Essex in 1959.
The order at the monastery emphasizing three things: The Holy Liturgy, Jesus prayer and religious instruction, katihisis. Every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Saturday, as well as during all the significant feast days, there is the Holy Liturgy, so that both people and nature are sanctified. During the rest of the time, all liturgies are carried out individually with the Jesus prayer. This lasts for hours… In every language inside katholikon, in the dimmed light, one can hear the Jesus prayer being pleadingly repeated . Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us- Seigneur Jesus Christ, Fits de Dieu, at pitie de nous…. Most Holy Mother of God intercede for us… Tres sainte Mere de Dieu sauve-nous… Such adulation! An exaltation which leads to a welcome transformation…And the religious instruction… Even though the monks speak louder through their silent example, the monastery holds weekly meetings where the fathers hand out rich spiritual feast to the pilgrims. The monastery also publishes unique books which promote the patristic spirit unaltered.
At the monastery, they do not talk about love. They act lovingly. They do not advertise anything. They live in freedom. From the Abbot, Archimandrite Kyrillos to the youngest monk, everyone serves patiently and offers plenty. They live in poverty, yet they hand out in abundance. “They have nothing, yet they own everything”.
-“When I used to live in the world, money would chase after me. I arrived here for the first time, to try out my new Rover. I had everything, yet my heart was empty. I came here and I was mesmerized. Christ took me by the hand. Now, absolutely nothing belongs to me, yet my heart is brimming with joy and happiness. I have Christ, I have everything”.
This was the third time that I had visited the monastery of blessed Elder Sofronios. The first time, I was blessed enough to see him and receive his blessing. Now I kissed his tomb and felt his presence, as though he is alive and his presence is everywhere. In Heaven next to his spiritual father, Saint Silouan the Athonite, he blesses and supports his monastery and his faithful worshipers. It is as if you still hear him repeat the saying which is so fitting in our times:” Hold your mind down to Hell and do not despair”.
Source: “By the Pond” magazine, published by the Saint Demetrios Church in Paralimni, Cyprus.
Transleted from Greek by: Olga Kokkinos, journalist.