During the three days of 19-21 October 2007, the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopaidi, in cooperation with the Centre of Greek and Orthodox Culture, hosted the Pan-Orthodox Conference at the Athens War Museum with the topic “Elder Sophrony, the Theologian of the Uncreated Light”.
The purpose of the conference was to introduce and set forth the life and teaching of this great theologian of our Church. Elder Sophrony, an Athonite monk and later founder of the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in Essex, England, graced the greater part of the twentieth century with his presence and became an important waypoint for Orthodox theology. In his representative works Saint Silouan the Athonite, We Shall See Him as He Is and On Prayer, the experiential character of his theology is clearly made manifest. Elder Sophrony ventured to speak in a way rarely encountered in the history of the Church; but this he did only towards the end of his life and with great hesitance. By this time he had fully been crucified to the world and wished to offer the witness of his faith to our troubled times.
The introductory remarks of the Abbot of the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopaidi, Archimandrite Ephraim, and of the President of the Centre of Greek and Orthodox Culture, Mr. Foivos Christodoulidis, were followed by the greetings from representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Senior Patriarchates, and Autocephalous Orthodox Churches. The Very Reverend Metropolitan of Pergamum, Ioannis, representative of His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos, announced the program of the conference. This was followed by the commencement speech pertaining to the person and the theology of Elder Sophrony given by one of his spiritual children, Archimandrite Zacharias of the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in Essex. Ten sessions were then held and thirty-five presentations given. During these presentations, distinguished presenters (metropolitans, abbots of monasteries, university professors, and other experts from Greece, Russia, England, France, Belgium, Serbia, Romania and Kenya) gave their talks. A central place in the general theme of the conference, as would be expected, was given to the meaning of the person or, as Elder Sophrony preferred to call it, the hypostasis.
Elder Sophrony, who was characterized as a theologian of the “hypostatic principle”, saw this principle as the innermost primary and ultimate principle, which constitutes the ontological core of the divine Being. The hypostatic principle was given “in power” as a charisma to man as well. The perfection of man, which may be identified with his deification, is realized with his emergence as a hypostasis in accordance with the prototype of Christ. Man as a person-hypostasis embraces in his existence all it means to be a human being, and all it means to be a divine-human being. In order to arrive there, however, he needs to empty himself completely of his egoism, become humble, and keep to the greatest degree possible the dual commandment of love towards God and towards his neighbor.
The entire ascetic life aims toward this goal, which is the perfect fulfillment of man as being created “in the image and likeness” of God. One particular occurrence that makes the teaching of Elder Sophrony timely is his encounter with the mysticism of the Eastern religions, which seeks man’s salvation though his immersion in an imagined impersonal absolute. He himself turned to this sort of seeking for eight years, which he also regarded as his greatest sin. Though he did not reject Christ, he deemed this deportment of his as a fearsome deception. By general admission, the conference was an absolute success and it surpassed the expectations of its organizers. The content of the presentations, the interest in the discussions and the number of people who had to follow the proceedings standing on their feet because of the crowd were impressive.