Saint Silouan the Athonite

Who would think that the inconspicuous life of a simple monk, carrying out his monastic duties, would bring such a great spiritual fruit. He was praying and making small notes, barely communicating with anyone. His heart became great by doing small things. Such small things are the personal work, prayer, keeping one's mind, obedience and striving to do the commandments of God. What is small for the world becomes great in the eyes of God. This is already an example of true Christianity for a modern man. It is imperceptible to an external observer, but it bears spiritual fruits.

This applies to monastic life, when a monk works and prays for years, and his work remains unnoticed. Sometimes this can even lead to despondency and doubts about whether one is needed at all. But this also applies to worldly life. In the world the spiritual work and the bearing of one's cross remain even more imperceptible. They can be hidden by the hustle and bustle of days. The example of Saint Silouan the Athonite shows us that both work and patience are important. But it is necessary to remain true to one's work and strive for life with Christ. The fruit itself may not be seen during one's life and may even remain completely unknown in history.
But by God's providence, the spiritual fruits of Saint Silouan were revealed in temporal history. His spiritual son, Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), published a book with the saint's notes. It happened in 1952, 14 years after Saint Silouan's death. What kind of spiritual experience does Saint Silouan reveal to us? What image of repentance can be seen in his life and in the memory of him, which led to his glorification among the saints? Of course, no one told better about Saint Silouan than Father Sophrony. Indeed, one can say that the quiet, imperceptible spirit of Silouan expressed itself in the theology of Father Sophrony. All his books became well known due to their sincerity and revelation of the spiritual depths of Christianity and the human soul. But in many ways they are the fruit of Saint Silouan's spirit. He passed it on to Father Sophrony, just as the prophet Elijah passed on his mantle to Elisha. This is how spiritual experience is transmitted from the father to the son, from the elder to the novice.

A crucial moment in the life of Saint Silouan was to meet with the living Christ. In temporary being, that Father Sophrony calls "presence", this meeting lasted for only a few moments. But in these few moments the soul of Silouan received the experience of timeless Eternity. Later he lived by it, he was returning to this experience of communion with God and was receiving it again. He was growing in spirit and yearned for this experience when grace was leaving him. His heart also grieved for the world forgets its Creator...

Once again, this experience of communion with God and meeting Christ, confirms the Orthodox tradition. It teaches that man can know God on earth, without any intermediaries. Here we see the confirmation of hesychasm, which is, in fact, the genuine Christianity. Saint Gregory Palamas formulated and preached this teaching in the 14th century. The West rejected the hesychasm at the dogmatic level. But Saint Silouan's experience convinces us that a person can know the Lord by the Holy Spirit while still on earth. It is with this knowledge and vision of the Lord one can recognize Him even after death. Already here the soul receives the experience of eternal life. "Presence" passes into Being, which begins in time and has no end in eternity.

The example of Silouan's life shows us that the Kingdom of God begins not somewhere after death, but here, inside the human heart. This Kingdom can be known not by science, but by simplicity. "Both in heaven and on earth the Lord is known only by the Holy Spirit, and not by science. Even children, who never studied, can know the Lord by the Holy Spirit". We read this in the notes of Saint Silouan, as if hearing again Christ's words in the Gospel. "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt. 18:3). Thus, Silouan teaches simplicity, which, apparently, is the only way to see the Lord. This simplicity is wise in God, but remains mad for the world. Silouan does not reject science, but he sets spiritual guidelines. It is as if he tells us: "Do not rely on knowledge, on academic theology and culture. The Lord looks in the heart and sees whether it is simple, whether it is bright, whether it is pure". Knowledge is only a cane on the path. Orthodoxy is the path. The effort of the traveler is a feat. Humble simplicity leading up to God is the goal. The nourishment of the soul is the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Saint Silouan wrote a lot about this nourishment, the grace of the Spirit, "without which the soul is dead". He wrote that "we must keep this grace well so as not to lose it". The post-Christian world offers many simulacra and substitutions as food for the soul. These are surrogates in a beautiful shell, the low-quality spiritual fast food. A person eats them, but cannot get enough. But a person returns to them again and again, while passing by the "precious pearls", the grace of the Holy Spirit.

святая гора Афон, святой Силуан Афонский, святой Силуансвятая гора Афон, святой Силуан Афонский, святой Силуансвятая гора Афон, святой Силуан Афонский, святой Силуан
A dispersed mind seeks much knowledge and entertainment, hoping to nourish the soul. But this way it can nourish only the consciousness and the flesh. The Holy Spirit "teaches us all good things," says Silouan. "When the soul knows the Lord by the Holy Spirit, it forgets the whole world out of joy and stops caring for earthly knowledge". That is, the true food of the soul is the grace of the Spirit. Grace alone can elevate a person to true knowledge of the essence of things and communion with God. "The elder's soul aspired to such a way of knowledge through prayer. He never lost a healthy sense of the reality of this world. But until the end of his life he remained far from worldly affairs. He was alien to curiosity and attachments. His spirit was always occupied only by God and man". Thus Father Sophrony describes Saint Silouan.

God gives His grace to everyone who seeks it, to each according to their own measure. The task of a person is to keep this grace, to grow in it and not to lose it, "for without grace a person is blind in spirit." We, modern people, are used to the ocean of constantly changing information. It is hard for our mind to remain in the "narrow gates" leading to the Kingdom. Even those minds and hearts who have received the grace continue to collect the imaginary riches of the world. They are distracted and waste the gifts of the Spirit. They drown out God's "gentle whisper" (1 Kings 19:12) with the background noise of thoughts. They lose the thread leading to the knowledge of God and communion with God. Silouan writes a lot about this. He mourns for a man imprisoned by the earth. Uniting his heart with the multi-hypostatic gathering of mankind, he prays for all Adam. Silouan mourns and "misses the Heavenly and seeks the Lord in tears." He seeks the One whom man loses again and again. Silouan's notes are full of both his joy in the Holy Spirit and of sorrow for His loss. This feeling of joyful sadness, so close to true Christianity, is there in all the thoughts of Silouan.

святая гора Афон, святой Силуан Афонский, святой Силуан
This is probably the main image of prayer and repentance that Saint Silouan gives us. We should not waste ourselves on the images of the world, but have the yearning for God. We should enter through the narrow gates of attention to the knowledge of God and find peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). This work and burden, this search for peace in God, the sorrow for Him, leading to joy - these are some of the main themes in the notes of Saint Silouan. This is the longing of the soul that has known the grace of the Spirit. The soul is in sorrow when it loses grace. It is also in sorrow for the whole toiling and burdened world, mired in the transient images of the illusion of its "presence". Thus the Saint gives a clear example of prayerful concentration, hesychia and the desire for heaven. This desire is strong-willed, it is given to each person as a potential. But a person must develop it themselves with God's help. This is how concentrated work is born in spite of the countless dispersing phenomena, types, forms and ideas. This work, based on the desire and thirst for the Heavenly Kingdom, to which a person is called, gives rise to yearning for God. It directs the human mind into the heart and rejects unnecessary information and the temptations of the world. And it is in prayer, already in the heart, that a person can find Heaven, which "is in your midst" (Luke 17:21). Today it is even more relevant than during the life of Saint Silouan. Today a human mind is fornicating even more with the flow of information. The mind cannot live a day without it and it deprives a person of his destiny.
But in spiritual life desire and thirst are impossible without sacrifice. "Give blood and receive the Spirit," the Church Fathers say. Saint Silouan shows that for us patience can be this sacrifice and blood. Patience is perhaps the most important, but also the most difficult thing for modern man. We live at tremendous speeds on all levels, but we lose touch with the deeper processes of the cosmos and spiritual life. Saint Silouan yearned for God. One can say that he yearned together with all Adam, who loses touch with Heaven more and more. But still he stood firm in the prayer of the heart, "keeping his mind in hell". This is the hell of transient illusions of temporary existence that try to deceive a person with their significance. Saint Silouan "did not despair", trusting God and working for His sake. Such patient work educates the soul, disciplines it, teaches faith and concentration. The patient soul must wage war for attention, not wasting itself on external things and keeping grace. Sometimes it is very difficult to enter through the narrow gates of intelligent attention to spiritual freedom. It is only possible for the one with heartfelt devotion, faith and longing for God. This freedom in the Spirit can only be achieved through slavery to God and the struggle to free oneself from slavery to the world. Saint Silouan walked the path of patience and attention, in which he found humility. This path was the work and sorrow of his soul. In fact it is often sorrow, not so much even in the circumstances of life, but namely sorrow of the soul, that a person undergoes to develop patience. This patience is the spiritual sacrifice, giving birth to humility. And where there is humility, there is no longer greed for one's own, there is no egoism, conceit, vanity, self-significance. In humility, the ego, flesh, passions, authorities and opinions do not reign. It is Christ who reigns in humility, leading the soul into the Kingdom of freedom and the grace of the Spirit. No wonder Saint Silouan wrote that, in fact, all our struggle is for humility.

Saint Silouan showed us the way of spiritual work and the image of prayer and repentance. This is the narrow way of self-changing and liberating the mind to know and see God here on earth. This is the path of true freedom and communion with the Kingdom of grace through humility and simplicity. They are the basis of any prayer and all spiritual life.

Text by Dmitry Ostroumov
All quotes are taken from the book "Saint Silouan the Athonite" by Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov).
+7 925 905 37 08 (WhatsApp)
+375 29 327 29 95 (Viber)