What Kind of People Are We?

From Fr. Sophrony’s book On Prayer:

[The author recounts his arrival in France from the Holy Mountain.]

In france, having arrive from Greece, I met with the sort of people I had become unfamiliar with during my twenty-two years on the Holy Mountain-especially during the latter period when I was spiritual confessor to several hundred monks representing every aspect of the ascetic life on Mt. Athos. I make no secret of the fact that I was completely disoriented. The psychology of the monks, their patience and stamina, so far excelled all and everything that I encountered in Europe that I simply could not find either words or outward forms for contact. What monks accept gratefully, in Europe shattered people. Many of them spurned me, considering me abnormally hard-hearted, a distortion, even, of the Gospel spirit of love. And I concluded that  the ‘norms’ of monastic ascetics and those of people of Western culture differed profoundly. There can be no doubt that the most ‘abnormal’ of all, both for the world of the ‘Grand Inquisitor’ and of our own contemporaries, would be Christ. Who can hear Christ, or even more follow Him? What monks acquired after decades of weeping, our contemporaries think to receive after a brief interval – sometimes even in a few hours of pleasant ‘theological’ discussion. Christ’s words – His every word – came to this world from on High. They belong to a sphere of other dimensions and can be assimilated only by means of prolonged prayer with much weeping. Otherwise, they will continue incomprehensible to man, however ‘educated’ he be, even theologically. Someone once said to me: ‘Weighed down by the incomprehensible, one suffocates.’ Yes, we are all, every one of us, stricken when we try our utmost to understand Christ’s word. The Lord Himself said: ‘Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.’ Encountering this constituent of Christ’s word, we gradually comprehend that it opens up to us the eternal spheres of the unoriginate Spirit. And then everything in us that resists Christ’s word, we sense like the presence of death in us. And so, we carry on in a state of profound dichotomy – on the one hand, gratitude like a sweet pain pierces us to the heart; on the other, we feel unbearable shame for ourselves, and are appalled at the remoteness of our goal.


  1. Catechumen says

    Fr Stephen,

    As a question, I wonder if monastics are capable of sustaining a more demanding ascetic struggle because they know that their fellow monastic Brothers and Sisters are enduring the same struggle. How can parishes communally commit to the ascetic struggle?

  2. says


    I understood. Don’t feel hopeless. Rather, If I may suggest, just rejoice in God for where you are and what He will do in you. It doesn’t hurt us to have good knowledge of where we are and where we are not. But our hope must always be in Christ is does amazing things in us.

  3. Karen C says