On 27 November 2019, Elder Sophrony Sakharov of Essex (Archimandrite from Mount Athos and Founder of St Jonh’s Monastery, Essex, England) was officially canonised by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Saint Sophrony (Sacharov), was born in 1896 in Moscow. He studied at the State School of Fine Arts and devoted himself to painting. His artistic ambitions led him to Italy, Germany and France. He found, however, that art neither fulfilled nor enlightened him.
After a short period, he studied at the Saint Sergius Theological Institute in Paris to find and learn. He would later say, ‘At Saint Sergius everyone spoke about God but I didn’t see Him. When I went to the Holy Mountain, though, nobody spoke about God, everything pointed to Him.’
He left in 1925 to go to the Holy Mountain, where he settled in the Holy Monastery of Saint Panteleimon. There he met and became closely associated with Saint Silouan. The relationship between Elder Sophrony and Saint Silouan was fundamental to the course of his spiritual life. He stayed with the saint until the latter’s death and then, with the blessing of the Abbot and Elders of the monastery withdrew into the desert of the Holy Mountain. From sundown to the break of day he repeated the Prayer of the Heart ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’, with his arms raised in prayer. From there he served as spiritual father to the Athonite monasteries of St Pauls, St Gregory, Simonos Petras and Xenofontos, as well as to many hermitages and sketes. In 1947 he left for Paris, and one year later published the manuscripts left to him by Saint Silouan, attaching a lengthy analysis of the saint’s teaching and some biographical details.
By 1958, Elder Sophrony had a number of people living near him, seeking the monastic life. In 1959 Elder Sophrony becomes the founder, builder and spiritual father of the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of the Honourable Forerunner, Essex. He fell asleep in the Lord on 11 July 1993.
First miracle after his repose
Two days after his repose the following miraculous event witnessed to his holiness. Elder Zacharias recalls, ‘a family with a thirteen-year-old child with a brain tumour visited the monastery. Fr. Tychon, from Simonopetra, came to me, and said, “These people are very sad, they came and did not find Fr. Sophrony. Why don’t you read some prayers for the child?” I agreed. After, Fr. Tychon said, “You know, why don’t you make the child go under the coffin of Fr. Sophrony? He will be healed. We are wasting our time reading prayers.” I told him that I could not do that, because the people would say that he has only just died and we are already trying to promote his canonization, “So, you do it! You are an Athonite monk; nobody can say anything.” He took the child by the hand and made him pass under the coffin. The next day they operated on the child and found nothing. They closed his skull and said, “Wrong diagnosis. It was probably an inflammation.” It happened that the child was accompanied by a doctor from Greece, who had the X-ray plate, showing the tumour, and who told them, “We know very well what this ‘wrong diagnosis’ means.” The next week, the whole family of that child, who were from Thessalonica, came to the monastery to give thanks at the tomb of Fr. Sophrony.
His memory is celebrated on July 11. May we have his blessing.