September 24 & 25: St Silouan, St Sergius and the anniversary of my catechism

Today marks two years to the day from when Metropolitan Jonah received me as a catechumen at St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral on Sunday, September 25, 2011. The New Calendar that day commemorated the feast of the 1392 repose of St Sergius of Radonezh, founder of the beloved Holy Trinity Lavra (Троице-Сергиева Лавра), and one of Russia’s greatest wonder-working saints.


This historic painting, “Vision of Young Bartholomew”, by M.V. Nesterov (1862-1942) shows the scene in St Sergius’ hagiography in which an angelic elder endows the devout boy Bartholomew, the future St Sergius of Radonezh, with the divine blessings of literacy and chant. See “A Miracle of Knowledge: St Sergius of Radonezh”.

Yesterday, September 24 marked the celebration of my patron saint, the extraordinary elder Silouan the Athonite. Because he reposed on this date in 1938, after the introduction of the Revised Julian (New) Calendar in several of the local Churches, his feast day is one which is celebrated on the same day (but different ecclesiastical dates) according to both calendars.



 A photograph from September 1933 of St Silouan (1866-1938) with his disciple, Elder Sophrony (1896-1993).


In honor of my beloved patron, I humbly offer this wonderful piece about St Silouan from John Sanidopoulos’s excellent blog Mystagogy.

I will also provide this link, courtesy of Mr. Sanidopoulos, to a superb talk which Fr. Zacharias Zacharou of Essex gave on St Silouan and his disciple and hagiographer, the late and venerable Elder Sophrony (Sakharov), himself the mentor of Fr. Zacharias and the founder of the Stravropegial Patriarchal Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex.


The holy and venerable Elder Sophrony (Sophronius) Sakharov (1896-1993). Hagiographer and disciple of St Silouan, and founding abbot of the Monastery of St John the Baptist, many revere him as a Saint.


An icon of St Silouan which is very dear to me.

Metropolitan Jonah and my godmother are currently in England as I write this, spending time at the Monastery at the invitation of Fr. Zacharias, and visiting with His Excellency Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia. I ask your prayers for my spiritual father and godmother in their travels, and lastly, for myself.

Archimandrite Fr. Zacharias on “Human Relationships in the Light of Christ”


Published on Dec 4, 2012 (the one year anniversary of my reception into the Orthodox Church), here is a beautiful video of a spiritual talk, “Human Relationships in the Light of Christ”, given by Archimandrite Zacharias on the 8th of November 2012 at the house church of the St Andrew’s Orthodox Christian community in Edinburgh. I was greatly blessed to have been able to worship with this wonderful community during my extraordinary semester studying at the University of Edinburgh.

Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou) is a spiritual father at the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, UK. He is a disciple of Elder Sophrony Sakharov, founder of this monastery and one of the most significant Orthodox elders of our times, himself a disciple and biographer of my patron St Silouan the Athonite. Based upon the authentic spiritual legacy of his own spiritual father, Fr Zacharias has written some of the most important books on Christian spirituality available today.

On Ecumenism

“We should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, recognize that we have at least our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families. St. Innocent’s attitude to the Roman Catholics in California is a good example for us. A harsh, polemical attitude is called for only when the non-Orthodox are trying to take away our flocks or change our teaching.”
– Fr. Seraphim Rose (1934-82)

“God is love, and therefore the preaching of His word must always proceed from love. Then both preacher and listener will profit. But if you do nothing but condemn, the soul of the people will not heed you, and no good will come of it.”
– St Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938)


This evening, I received an update that someone had commented on one of my recent blog pieces. The person, using the name “Orthodoxy or Death”, commented the following:

“Another friend who attended the banquet described to me his shock to hear Fr. Leonid praise Metropolitan Tikhon in his introduction with these words, again a thinly veiled attack on Metropolitan Jonah: ‘This one is no Lone Ranger!’ I respect Father Leonid for his many years of engagement with various ecumenical bodies, such as the World Council of Churches, but I find it difficult to view him as a man of integrity given that he engaged in such derisive remarks about a former Primate of his whom he seems to delight in insulting, regarding as almost an enemy. This just doesn’t seem to me like a Christian way of thinking — or speaking — especially from someone with so many years of active service in the Church.”

Why would you respect anyone for “engagement with various ecumenical bodes, such as the World Council of Churches”? Has he upon every appearance and interaction with that body told it repeatedly that they are all in schism and heresy and that Orthodoxy alone is the Church, and no real Christianity exists outside of us, and that Orthodox shouldn’t even be members of such false “ecumenical” groups?

Here is my reply: 
  • You misconstrued the meaning of my respect for Fr. Leonid– which, I must say, I’m afraid is not very deep since he took a leading role in the uncanonical conspiracy to force Metropolitan Jonah to resign. As the name you use is “Orthodoxy or Death”, it is clear that you are quite anti-ecumenical in your sentiments.

    I don’t know why you ask a question to which you obviously know the answer. Fr. Leonid certainly does not do as you described, since none of these bodies would respect him if he did. No one embraces a faith if they are made to despise and feel ashamed of their own. Instead they become defensive and become less receptive to hearing about the other faith. Would anyone convert to Orthodoxy just because they are made to despise the faith of their childhood, rather than love Orthodoxy for its incomparable fullness? I have never met such a person.


    Fr. Hiermonk Seraphim (Rose), 1934-1982

    Even the most prominent anti-ecumenists of our day, such as the late Fr. Seraphim Rose, wrote that non-Orthodox peoples must be treated not with polemics and derision, but as fellow icons of Christ, even if they do not worship the same God we do or recognize Christ or the Theotokos the way we do. If we do not treat them with basic kindness and respect as human beings, fellow children of God, we will not be in a position to communicate to them anything about Orthodoxy. False prophets who seek to convert people to their heretical faiths, such as the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon/LDS Church), The Episcopal Church, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, and most if not all evangelical pastors must be condemned as such, as heretics or even as non-Christians, but we much reach out to their ordinary members with love and kindness to begin to bring them away from these heterodox churches or religious groups. Here is a wonderful link which goes into more detail, quoting from Fr. Seraphim Rose and St Silouan the Athonite, my patron saint:


    Starets Silouan of the Holy Mountain (1866-1938), my patron saint and one of the most brilliant, illumined Orthodox hiermonks and ascetics.

    I wrote what you quoted above in the interest of basic Christian charity- I wanted to find something to respect in Fr. Leonid. I do not presume to know what exactly he talks about in these dialogues, but I imagine he, in a more polite way, communicates some of the points you mentioned above.

    Engagement in these bodies, generally in the form of lengthy meetings and the writing of many statements of agreement and intent between different hierarchs and various non-Orthodox religious leaders, is often rather vapid in content but generally serves a purpose in that it makes various often extremely heterodox bodies aware of our existence. They become acquainted with our theology, many witness the incomparable beauty, richness, and theological fullness of our Liturgies and other divine services, and I imagine some have been moved to convert to Orthodoxy, inspired by their engagement with our Faith.

    Think of all the tiny Protestant churches which have embraced completely heterodox [usually Calvinist] theology. I imagine sometimes, in areas dominated by more insular, communities of cradle Orthodox which do not reach out beyond their own parish, Orthodoxy has little to no witness or presence outside these small ethnic communities. This itself is an abdication of the Gospel mandate in Matthew 28:19.

    I do not support the kind of involvement in these ecumenical groups which has led to some Orthodox abandoning their obligation to share the Gospel in an organic way.

    Your comment raises an important point- how do we best spread the Gospel? I firmly believe that we should offer to bring our friends to church, and better educate ourselves about our theology and the lives of the saints and the details of the Liturgy, so that, if put in such a scenario, we may talk truthfully and accurately about our faith. This is an area where I have found many predominantly cradle Orthodox parishes to be impoverished, especially those which adapt a generally negative view toward converts, or who presuppose that all converts bring with them significant evangelical, Roman Catholic, or other theological ‘baggage’. These parishes often have almost no faith outreach and do not see the need for the laity to serve as Christian witnesses at all.

    However, those converts who seek too overtly to change what they see as problems in their parishes, or who presume themselves somehow as being more knowledgeable and therefore “more Orthodox” than many of their fellow parishioners, only end up hurting and alienating the cradle Orthodox in their community rather than lovingly and carefully convincing them, for instance, to refrain from putting in pews, or the priceless wisdom found in not abbreviating the Liturgy. The root problem here is a profound failure in catechism and a lot of either overt or latent secularizing/modernizing influences which have crept into many parishes.

    I am in support of ecumenism insofar as it involves engagement with those outside the Orthodox Church for the purposes of 1) teaching them about our beliefs and not simply pretending we all believe the same thing, which we obviously don’t or there would be no need to engage as separate bodies in these dialogues, 2) attempting to show to those in other Christian communions that our Church holds to the original, apostolic Christian Faith, and 3) working toward collaborative solutions to end problems afflicting all of humanity, from the horrific reality of abortion, to child mortality in developing nations, to cyclic poverty and endemic violence in many poorer communities.

“. . . chosen by the Holy Spirit to pray for the whole world.”


“The Saints grieve to see people living on earth and not knowing that if they were to love one another the world would know freedom from sin; and where sin is absent there is joy and gladness of the Holy Spirit. The Saints in heaven though the Holy Spirit behold the glory of God and the beauty of the Lord’s countenance. But in this same Holy Spirit they see our lives too, and our deeds. They know our sorrows and hear our burning prayers. When they were living on earth they learned of the love of God from the Holy Spirit; and he who knows love on earth takes it with him into eternal life, where love grows and becomes perfect. The souls of the Saints know the Lord and His goodness toward man, wherefore their spirits burn with love for the peoples. They were chosen by the Holy Spirit to pray for the whole world.”

-St Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938), my patron saint.

A beautiful description of the invisible links which hold together heaven and earth, this world and the next, through the prayers of the faithful to the saints and the saints’ active prayer and unceasing love for us.