Striving for Knowledge of God

Correspondence with David Balfour

…A long time ago I reached the conviction that God is love; that with insatiable thirst He seeks each one of us; that He YEARNS for us; that in His love for us He does not change, however often we are disloyal to Him; that He is always trying to shower us with blessings. And I am so deeply persuaded of all this that with boldness and hope I beseech Him to vouchsafe you to know as fully as possible the happiness of the simple human life which you have been striving for during recent years…


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Foreword to the English Translation

Letters of Archimandrite Sophrony
Letter 1
On the necessity of enduring tribulations in order to receive gifts from God. On doubts about the faith. On warfare against bad thoughts. Spiritual progress and strengthening oneself for spiritual effort. On correspondence with Roman Catholic acquaintances. On guidance from an elder.
Letter 2
On spiritual unity. On the Cross. On martyrdom in spirit. On mindfulness of God and of death. How God’s grace acts. Repentance is the beginning of spiritual life.
Letter 3
On victory over temptations. On the hardness’ of the written word.
Letter 4
On teal communion with divine grace. On human nobility. On the gift of faith. On the quest for an elder.
Letter 5
On joy in tribulations. On the crucifixion endured by the Orthodox Church. Tribulations are the seal of election by God. On spiritual and psychological tears. On silent prayer and prayer at the services. On mourning.
Letter 6
On the activity’ of inner life. On spiritual and carnal gratification. ‘Stand in the faith.’ On true greatness. On the Cross. On spiritual effort. The beginning of spiritual life is the struggle against the passions. On acquiring knowledge of the truth.
Letter 7
Stumbling-blocks to faith. How to find an elder and how to accept his word. The fulfilment of a prophetic word. The certitude of the Orthodox faith. On the three kinds of Cross. Keep thy mind in hell! On receiving a great measure of grace.
Letter 8
The advantages of communication by letter. The counsel of Staretz Silouan about pure prayer. On the practice of mental prayer. Advice of St Silouan about DBs speaking with his mother.
Letter 9
On the wounds of a mothers heart. On how to speak with her. On following the Bishops decision.
Letter 10
On monastic tonsure. On obedience to the Bishop.
Letter 11
On the mystery of spiritual life. How to act in conversation. On contemporary culture. On ecumenism. On the will of God. On Staretz Silouan. On keeping our experience of grace hidden from others. On humility, obedience, tribulations. On weakening faith. On intrusive thoughts. On errors in Roman Catholic teaching. On love and justice. On the fear of God. On the paradox of Christianity.
Letter 12
On the greatness of the Orthodox path. On St John of the Cross. Repentance is the only path to adoption as a son of God. On a Rule of prayer. On the change in DB’s appearance.
Letter 13
On pure prayer; books about mental prayer. On the stages of spiritual development. On spiritual guides. On humbling oneself down to hell. On the fleshly and spiritual heart. On double-mindedness. The danger of striving towards high spiritual states.
Letter 14
Care for D.B.’s mother. The aim of ascetic effort is love. Serving our brethren. Pay less attention to the world. Living on Mount Athos.
Letter 15
On coinage in tribulations, which are a blessing from God. Gratitude in afflictions, the path to deification.
Letter 16
‘Those of his own household’. On translating ascetic literature. On the danger of carnal gratification.
Letter 17
Congratulations on DB’s monastic tonsure.
Letter 18
To acquire the love of Christ one has to struggle. On mutual prayer. On self-blame. On material and spiritual poverty. Discretion about correspondence.
Letter 19
Trials are inevitable for the acquisition of grace. We are only seeking salvation. Accepting our Cross. The battle against concupiscence. Christians must be ascetic strugglers.
Letter 20
The decision of Staretz Silouan about Paris.
Letter 21
On receiving the Great Schema. How to live at peace with others. The love of Christ is eternal life. On time and eternity.
Letter 22
On approaching death and eternal life. On a Paschal experience of divine grace.
Letter 23
The Zoe Brotherhood. On separation from the world. The essence of Christian obedience. Conversation with Staretz Silouan on an elder’s guidance. Advice of Staretz Silouan.
Letter 24
D.B. becomes an Archimandrite. Finding out the will of God. The teaching of John of the Cross.
Letter 25
On monastic vocation. Fr John Shahovskoy. How repentance leads to love for the whole world. On John of the Cross. On purgatory.
Letter 26
The suffering of the Christian soul in this world. On prayer for peace. Learning from wartime deprivations. Alternations between light and darkness are the lot of the monk. On ‘invincible ignorance’.
Letter 27
On the bonds of priesthood and monasticism. Monasticism is not always respected even in the Church. On freedom in Christ. Christian life is within the Church. On the heritage of the saints. The link between spiritual life and dogmatic understanding.
Letter 28
The tragic character of human life. The struggle for inner freedom. On fighting’ with God in prayer for the world. On the imitation of Christ. On the impossibility of faith without dogma. The Church, its dogma and its asceticism are inseparable. On the positive and negative forms of asceticism. On the hierarchy of spiritual values. What is Orthodox culture?
Letter 29
On the link between personal life and the life of all humanity. The Cross of Christ is Gods ‘answer’.
Letter 30
Prayers for the newly-married D.B. Human love. The goal of monastic life.
Appendix A
Letter A1
On obedience. On accepting ones assigned place. On pure prayer as the fruit of obedience. On cutting off ones own will. The goal of obedience is knowledge of God. Guidance from a Staretz. Guiding oneself by reading the Fathers.
Letter A2
How grace comes ‘without observation’. On celebrating the Divine Liturgy. The difference between ‘psychological’ and ‘spiritual’.
Letter A3
The collaboration between grace and free will. The absence of dogmatic formulation on some dogmatic questions. Correct ascetic teaching and Orthodox doctrine go together.
Letter A4
Repentance is the foundation of spiritual life. Repentance in the Prayers before Holy Communion. Defects in John of the Cross.
Letter A5
On the heart. On silence of the mind. On false forms of mysticism.
Letter A6
On a healing through prayer. Returning to the ‘the world’ after a miraculous cure. On bereavement. On those who refuse to meet God.
Letter A7
God incarnate for us men and for our salvation. On contemporary theologians. The secularisation of theology.
Appendix B
Letter B1
On the Zoe Brotherhood. On the possibility of living and studying in Greece. On cutting ties of obedience to Staretz Silouan.
Letter B2
Quandaries about advice received. Life in Athens.
Letter B3
Words of encouragement in suffering. Texts from John of the Cross
Letter B4
The ‘dark night of the soul’. On Father Gerasim (Menagias). Words of encouragement. Spiritual guidance in Athens. Lack of faith. Question about the toll-houses.
Letter B5
Experiences of wartime Greece. Poems about Athos.
Letter B6
Losing his vocation. The death of his brother. The memory of death.
Letter B7
On his secularised life. On his return to belief. On escaping confessional frameworks. ‘I cannot return to Orthodox priesthood or monasticism. On striving for eternity.
Letter B8
Misunderstanding Fr Sophrony’s theological apologetics. Signs of a renewal of faith. On the Providence of God.

Index of Biblical References

Saint Sophrony, started his monastic life on Mount Athos. His acquaintance with Saint Silouan became the landmark of his life. He lived as a cenobitic monk at St Panteleimon’s monastery and later as a hermit in the caves of Karoulia. After twenty two years on the Holy Mountain, he travelled to Paris for medical treatment, where he served as a parish priest. In 1959, he founded our monastery in Essex, England, where he served as the abbot and spiritual father. Towards the end of his life he withdrew to live once more as a recluse.

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