Monday, September 24, 2012

St. Silouan the Athonite (+1938)

On this day we keep the memorial of our sacred father Silouan whom God inspired, who lived the monastic life upon the Holy Mountain in the Russian Monastery of the Holy and Great Martyr Panteleimon, and who died godly in the Lord on the twenty-fourth day of September in the year of our salvation 1938.
Photograph of St. Silouan the Athonite (
Once, in this life, thou didst see Christ, O Saint;
And now thou beholdest Him face to face,
Not darkly as in a glass.
Thine earthly country delights that thou wast born in her;
Athos rejoices in the Spirit; for in thee she nurtured a saint;
And from that sylvan mountain heaven has now received thee.

St. Silouan the Athonite, with scenes from his life (
Saint Silouan, that citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, was born of pious parents in the land of Russia in the village of Shovsk in the diocese of the Metropolitan of Tambov. He came into the world in the year of our Lord 1866, and from a young man was called to repentance by the All-Praised Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary.
[Simeon [the Saint's baptismal name] was a normal human being. He lived a normal life full of gaiety, temptations and sin [in his youth]. He loved drinking, eating, playing concertina and showing off before girls. He had almost killed one young man, as he was showing off before the girls of the village. While the words of the woman let Simeon found his faith and clung to the thought of God, and made him adopt an unusual frame of mind that is suitable for monastic life, the normal life made him lose his zeal after only three months...One day, Simeon woke up disgusted from dreaming that a snake was crawling down his throat, and he was troubled from hearing a sweet voice saying: “Just as you find it loathsome to swallow a snake in your dream, so I find your ways ugly to look upon."...the simple minded Simeon attributed it to his unworthiness and his sins. He said: “Now I see how sorry the Lord and His Mother are for people. Imagine – the Mother of God appearing from the skies to show a young man like me his sins.” The simplicity and humility of Simeon made him aware that he did hear only a sweet voice, but he did not see the speaker – the Mother of God – in his dream. He attributed this to his impurity, and since then he started to repent, and his resolve to enter a monastery, once he [is] released from the army, returned with double force.(]
The Theotokos leading the young Simeon to repentance, and his receiving the blessing of St. John of Kronstadt (
When he had reached his twenty-seventh year, he renounced the things of this life, and, with the prayers of Saint John of Kronstadt to speed him on his way, he set forth for Greece and the illustrious Holy Mountain. Here, in the cloister of the Holy Great Martyr and Physician Panteleimon, he took upon him the yoke of the monastic life.
Thus he gave himself to God with all his soul, and in a brief while he not only received the gift of unceasing prayer from the Most Holy Mother of God, but was also granted ineffably to see the living Christ in the chapel of the Holy Prophet Elijah that was next to the monastery’s flour mill.
[Some months after arriving at Mt. Athos and beginning his monastic life, St. Silouan - then the novice Simeon - had a dramatic experience of Christ in prayer (from St. Silouan the Athonite, pages 14-15):
Sitting in his cell before vespers, he thought, 'God will not hear me!' He felt utterly forsaken, his soul plunged in the darkness of despondency. Sick at heart, he remained in this black hell for about an hour.
St. Silouan working at the mill, and feeling that "God will not hear me" (
That same day, during vespers in the Church of the Holy Prophet Elijah (adjoining the mill), to the right of the Royal Doors, by the ikon of the Saviour, he beheld the living Christ.
In a manner passing all understanding the Lord appeared to the young novice whose whole being was filled with the fire of the grace of the Holy Spirit - that fire which the Lord brought down to earth with His coming.
The vision drained Simeon of all his strength, and the Lord vanished. (]
Christ appearing to St. Silouan (
But this first grace was taken away, and the saint was constrained by anguish and great grief, and with God’s permission for fifteen years he was given over to manifold temptations of spiritual foes, and so he followed in the footsteps of Christ, having offered up prayers and strong supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save him from death (Heb. 5:7), being taught by God through a voice from above that gave him this commandment: "Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not."
[After 15 years of ascetic struggles and spiritual efforts, St. Silouan received another important insight from God (from St. Silouan the Athonite, pages 42):
It was fifteen years after the Lord had appeared to him, and Silouan was engaged in one of these nocturnal struggles with devils which so tormented him. No matter how he tried, he could not pray with a pure mind. At last he rose from his stool, intending to bow down and worship, when he saw a gigantic devil standing in front of the ikon, waiting to be worshipped. Meanwhile, the cell filled with other evil spirits, Father Silouan sat down again, and with bowed head and aching heart he prayed,
'Lord, Thou seest that I desire to pray to Thee with a pure mind but the devils will not let me. Instruct me, what must I do to stop them hindering me?'
And in his soul he heard,
'The proud always suffer from devils.'
'Lord,' said Silouan, 'teach me what I must do that my soul may become humble.'
Once more, his heart heard God's answer,
'Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.' (]

[The phrase 'keep thy mind in hell and despair not' may sound strange or discouraging. Archimandrite Sophrony explains how it instead is an important part of the normal spiritual progression in which pride must be overcome. We also see that knowledge of God, our salvation, is not a purely rational or intellectual process but is instead one of true relationship (from St. Silouan the Athonite, pages 143-144).
Whatever the means he employs, the proud man will never attain to genuine union with God. Just by wishing it, man cannot unite the mind with the deep heart, and even if the mind does somehow penetrate into the heart, it will see only itself, its own created beauty - splendid, undoubtedly, having been created in the Divine image - but God Himself will not be found.
This is why the Blessed Staretz in his striving after humility seized on the fiery weapon given him by God: 'Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.' Here was no subtle intellectual talking, but a 'simple', and 'ignorant' man who many a time was found worthy of pure contemplation of God, and had, indeed, grounds for saying, 'If you pray purely, you are a theologian.' Or, 'There are many on earth who believe but very few who know God.' By 'knowing God' he meant, not gnostic theories, not theological speculations, but the experience of lively communion, of real union with the Divine Light. Knowledge is co-existence - that is, a sharing of being. (]
[The passage from Archimandrite Sophrony also clarifies the phrase 'keep thy mind in hell and despair not', showing how the struggle against pride is difficult, though an important part of the spiritual life (from St. Silouan the Athonite, page 210).
Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not. What does it mean - to 'keep the mind in hell'? Can it be that we are to use our imagination to conjure up circumstances for ourselves similar to those figured in some primitive painting? In this instance, no. Father Silouan, like certain great Fathers - St. Antony, St. Sisoƫ, St. Makarios, St. Pimen - during his lifetime actually descended into the darkness and torments of hell They did this not once but over and over again until their hearts were so permeated that they were able to repeat the movement at will. They took refuge in it when passion - especially that most subtle of passions, pride - reared its head.
The struggle against pride is, in fact, the final stage in the battle against the passions. To begin with, the ascetic must wrestle with the greater passions of the flesh, then with irritability and, finally, pride. This last combat is undoubtedly the most painful of all. Taught by long experience that pride leads to loss of grace, the ascetic consciously descends into hell where every passion is 'seared with a hot iron'. (]
This he observed as an infallible rule, and so ran the way of Anthony, Makarios, Poemen and Sisoes, and the other celebrated preceptors and fathers of the desert, to whose measure and spiritual gifts he also attained, and was manifested an apostolic and inspired teacher both living and after death.
The saint was wondrously meek and lowly in heart, a fervent advocate before God for the salvation of all, and unequaled among teachers: For he says that there is no surer proof that the divine Spirit dwells within us than that we love our enemies.

This blessed Saint Silouan passed over from death to life, full of spiritual days on the twenty-fourth day of September in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1938: To Whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.

Through his prayers and those of all Thy Saints, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
The Dormition of St. Silouan the Athonite (
For the service to St. Silouan in English, see:
By prayer didst thou receive Christ for thy teacher in the way of humility; and the Spirit bare witness to salvation in thy heart; wherefore all peoples called unto hope rejoice this day of thy memorial. O sacred Father Silouan, pray unto Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.

In thine earthly life thou didst serve Christ, following in His steps; and now in heaven thou seest Him Whom thou didst love, and abidest with Him according to the promise. Wherefore, O Father Silouan, teach us the path wherein thou didst walk.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

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