Through Dark to Light, St. Sophrony

From his book, HiLife is Mine, chapter #10

Sophrony makes clear in his very title that to get to the light, one must traverse the darkness. Yet he probes beyond that, starting with the question of why desire light in the first place. Why is it worthwhile to devote our lives to the hard and perilous journey toward light?

It is because we are the pinnacle of God’s creation, he explains—”more precious than all the rest of the cosmos.” We were intended to be perfect so that, unless we strive toward the light of perfection, we will never know our true, authentic selves. Man, in fact, “is more than a microcosm—he is a microtheos.”

Yet man is not simply the crown of creation in the sense of a created object that, once made, is independent of the creator. Instead, there is what Sophrony calls, commensurability—complete synergy between creator and his creation of man.  

If man by the nature of his spirit is not “like unto God,” then neither could God have been made man.

We can only grasp our likeness to God, and understand our proper relationship with Him, when we have abandoned darkness for light:

In prayer we glimpse into ourselves divine infinity, not yet actualized but foreknown.

As we ascend toward the light, all becomes clear and “the image of Man eternal is revealed to us as we become more sharply aware of our benighted state.”

Darkness, on the contrary, obscures not only goodness but our own, true identity.

Instead of clarity and stability in our relationship with God, we experience “perpetual instability,” which Sophrony sees as the “tragedy of creation.”

We are torn by internal conflicts, anguish and uncertainty and often feel “fake” as our “narrative” does not match reality. We rise and fall based on external factors, such as career success and others admiration, and keep changing directions in search of the right one. St. Paul aptly describes this state of instability:

15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. (Romans 7:15-20).

Sophrony considers pride as the gateway to darkness and the “root of every sin.”

Somehow what are considered “sins” in Christian thought, define normalcy in our world:” pride in our wealth, appearance and achievements; control and domination that allow us “wins;” competition, self-promotion, prioritization of work, material ease and admiration of others over love, spiritual progress and humility—all these are considered the norm and denote strength.

If you think about it, Christianity proclaims a radical departure from “business as usual.” Humility, far from being a weakness, is our greatest strength and a prerequisite to reaching the light while external shows of strength and achievement are weaknesses and indications of loss of one’s true self and direction. As Sophrony puts it:

Christ began by preaching on earth by a call to repentance—to a radical alteration in our approach to life.

This is why, Sophrony tells us, Christ “is the one and only solution of the apparent insoluble conflict.”

Christian “radicalism” embraces suffering rather than devoting an enormous amount of effort to prevent it and make our lives as comfortable as possible.

In fact, our “pilgrimage” from darkness to light “must start with a descent into the pit of hell.” This was the course of Christ’s journey from life to death to eternal life. Sophrony has made clear in other chapters that it is through suffering that we hone our faith and character, acquire empathy for others, humility, patience and the resourcefulness of transforming suffering into joy.

By embracing suffering, the early Fathers of the church did not mean apathy, resignation or despair. Quite the opposite. Unlike resignation, we are filled with hope and faith that allow us patience. We know that a disaster or hardship may hide somewhere a blessing, though we do not know what it is and when it will manifest itself.

However, in Christianity’s radical approach to life, we do not need to exert our will and live lives of anxiety and anguish to reach the light.

The light that follows darkness comes mysteriously, unexpectedly and independently of our will.

This divine light, hidden, mysterious by natura, imparts new life to the soul…

This Light is the Light of Divinity. Ineffably tender, one is unaware of its approach. It may come in the night watch. Or at bright noonday As even light, entire, it is the breath of love, It brings peace, It brings and experience of resurrection, The spirit of man enters the realm where death is no more. Time is at a standstill. The world   hitherto devoured by death, comes to life.

This is another manifestation of the synergistic relationship between God and man. It is the Holy Spirit that allows us to cross from darkness to light, but it is our efforts at patience, the shedding of passions, humility and hope that enable the Holy Spirit to act within us. ‘’

Sophrony, explores the psychology of human soul and anthropology of Christianity to make his thesis applicable to all—Christians and non-Christians, faithful and atheists. We all struggle with darkness and long for the light.

But his message is clear and irrefutable:

Christ is the light of the world.

……………………………..

Before Christ’s coming the whole world, all the people of the earth walked in darkness, ignorant of the way which leads to the kingdom of God and our Father.   

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