Starec Siluan. By Yeromonah Sofrony. First edition 1948; second 1952. Paris. In Russian, Pp. 207.
The book has two parts, the first written by the author and the second, by Father (Starec) Siluan himself. The author describes little known facts about Father Siluan before and after his arrival at Mount Athos. But he also enlarges on a spiritual life generally, as contrary to a life of the worldly people and worldly philosophers, both in concept and practice. He writes very ably and with a deep insight and understanding of both ways of thinking and living; for Sofrony was an Agiorite and disciple of Siluan. He is now living in Paris.
Siluan was born in 1866 in Tambov Gubernia as a son of a muzik. As a young man and soldier he lived an unbridled life, and yet he was a God-seeker, (Bogo-iskatel) as many in Russia have been. But whatever he heard of God, it seemed to him only a guess that there is a God. His passionate soul could not be satisfied with a mere guess, he wanted to know God. Driven by this thirst for God he left his village in Russia for Mount Athos in 1892, took the monastic garb in 1896 and the schyma in 1911. He died in the monastery of St. Panteleimon on September 11, 1938.
Should one visit Mt. Athos and look at the meek monks, he might think they live a dull and aimless life. It seems so externally, because few can guess what a terrible unceasing struggle is going on within their souls. What a supernatural invisible battle, a “nevidimaya bran,” not only against principalities... against the rulers of the darkness, but also—at least for the beginners—against flesh and blood, against bodily desires and passions.
In the second part of the book, Father Siluan writes how this struggle brought him to despair, and almost to suicide. The Theotokos “Bogorodica” appeared to him in his agony and cleansed him from unclean desires of flesh and blood. Christ appeared to him and gave him power to conquer earthly thoughts and evil spirits. And so after a quarter of a century of a hard inner struggle, the warrior became victor the God seeker, God-knower; the apprentice, teacher.
Starec Siluan was also my teacher. Once I asked him: “Father Siluan. I suppose that you are disturbed in your mental prayer by so many people coming to your shop to buy icons, crosses, and other items. Would it not be better for you to go to the Karulja desert and live there in peace like Father Theodosios, Prince Partheny, Dorothy Kalinik; or to live in a cave like Father Gorgonios?”
“I am already living in a cave,” answered Siluan, “My body is a cave for my soul, and my soul a cave for the Holy Spirit. And I love and serve God’s people without going cut of my cave.”
With all his readiness to serve everyone, and with all his marvelous humility and loving ‘kindness, he spoke with authority on things divine. He spoke of God with an amazing intimacy, as a friend would speak of a friend. “I know God, He Is lovable and meek and serviceable,” Starec Siluan would say. Father Trofim, a monk, was frightened at bearing that, and thought that Siluan had lost the fear of God. But later on while reading Siluan’s writings Trofim changed his mind and said: “Father Siluan has grown to the stature of the Fathers of the Church.”
I myself think, that the writings of Father Siluan could be put in “Philokalia,” if for nothing more than a confirmation, by experience of a XXth century spiritual warrior, of all that the celebrated Church Fathers taught and wrote. Yet, there is something new in the sayings and experiences of Father Siluan. For instance, the warning of Christ which he heard: “Keep thy mind in the hell. and do not despair.” A wholesome warning against pride.
Personally, I had never heard these words before. Another expression: the, love “beyond understanding” was the usual and fundamental teaching of Siluan. His love, with tearful prayers, covered the sins of the sinners, corrected the evildoers, encouraged the downhearted, healed the sick, and stilled the storms. The testimony for all this can be found in this book.
It is a book that our generation needs very badly, for there are nowadays many books written on religion by persons without any religious and spiritual experience. These books are cold and unimpressive, often misleading and harmful. But here is a book about a simple man with authentic spiritual experience, warm and very impressive.
It would be advisable for the author to publish Siluan’s writings separately, in a 3rd edition. In any case this book will never be as popular as Father John of Cronstadt’s “My Life In Christ,” which was written about experiences having pastoral appeal, for people who live in the world; while Siluan’s writings are about one who went through a deep spiritual struggle, and it may be difficult for those to understand who did not go through the same experience.
St. Tlkhon’s Monastery South Canaan. Pa.
Bishop Nicholai (Velimirovich), formerly of Ochrida and Zitcha, Yugoslavia
St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 1954.