WHEN “LIGHT ILLUMINES OUR HEART,” ST. SOPHRONY

Elder Sophrony

From his book: Your Life is Mine, chapter 1: Knowledge of God

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For Sophrony, God’s presence was ever present in humankind. If worship differed in various parts of the world and communities, it was only because people did not have full knowledge of Him.

Our fathers and forefathers reverenced Him in different ways because they did not know him “as He is…”

Sophrony thus begins to establish the importance of the knowledge of God to which he devotes his very first chapter.

Since Christ is “the focal point of the universe and the ultimate meaning of the entire history of the world,” if we lack knowledge of Him, we are disoriented, lost, disconnected floundering through lives without meaning.

While we are not born with knowledge of God, Sophrony makes it clear that we do not come into the world as blank slates. This because we are given capabilities that can be employed to gain spiritual knowledge and participate in God’s essence.

“There can never be any factors or circumstance,” Sophrony remarks, “that would make it impossible to observe the commandments.

Not only are we gifted with the ability to know God, but we share a hunger for such knowledge.

The human spirit hungers for knowledge- for entire, integral knowledge

Knowledge of God is revealed little by little through history and through an individual’s life. Even the manifestation of God to Moses, considered by Sophrony to be a watershed moment in human history, was not complete.

Moses realized the incompleteness of the revelation as… “he continued to pray for better knowledge of God …for Moses could not contain the whole revelation.”

Sophrony goes on to consider the true essence of the knowledge of God.

To know God is to understand, first of all, that He is a personal God.

God was not some general entity, some cosmic process or supra-personal, all transcending “Non-being.” …. This Being had a personal character and was a living and life-giving God.

Even the Holy Spirit,” he tells us “needs a dwelling place of a tangible nature.” Hence the necessity of a tangible church whose “function is to lead the faithful to the luminous sphere of Divine Being.”  

Sophrony draws a comparison between Moses and Jesus.

Moses needed the authority and stature given by God, to persuade and lead. Christ, on the other hand, has no such need. He came in meekness and humility. He saved Adam, not as a superior being willing down grace from a position of power, but by becoming man. “He saved Adam through Adam,” as Fr. David says.

Because our God is personal, Sophrony implies that true knowledge of God is also personal and experiential rather than only theoretical. Rational understanding cannot by itself advanced to true knowledge of God which can only be achieved through participation in Him.

Even in our day we are continuously made aware that reason per se cannot advance us over to the threshold of the “Unknown.”

Ultimately, spiritual knowledge departs from factual and historical understanding and is manifested in the love of God that now lives within us. Love is the fulfillment of the knowledge of God.

Now the divine sphere was reflected in the searchless grandeur of the love and humility of God, our Father.

We have all read about the differences between the Old and New Testament as if one replaced the other. Sophrony creates a continuum between the two.

So for us Christians is the coming of Jesus Christ who did not repudiate the archetypes of the Old Testament but vindicated then, unfolding to us their real significance and bringing new dimensions to all things—infinite, eternal dimensions

This transition is significant.

Instead of linear replacement, Sophrony talks of transformation as an important dimension of the knowledge of God. True spiritual knowledge allows us to see the world transformed though its appearance may remain the same. This is because we no longer know God through theological concepts but through our experience of love in our hearts as we partake of His essence.  

We sense His divine presence both within us and without…

He opens our eyes that we may behold and delight in the beauty of his creation. He fills our hearts with love toward all mankind. His indescribably gentle touch pierces our heart. And in the hours when his imperishable Light illumines our heart we know that we shall not die. We know this with a knowledge impossible to prove in the ordinary way but which for us requires no proof, since the Spirit itself bears witness within us.

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