For the first time, the Orthodox world will be celebrating 11 July as the memorial day of Archimandrite Sophrony, the founder of the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, who passed away on this day in 1993. In November 2019, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople canonised Fr. Sophrony, naming him St. Sophrony the Athonite.
Fr. Sophrony (1896–1993) was an artist from Russia, who settled on the island of Athos as a young monk. There, he met Elder Silouan, who was later canonised and now considered to be one of the greatest Orthodox theologians of the 20th century. Fr. Sophrony became a spiritual student of Elder Silouan, but also his biographer and translator. It is thanks to him that the teachings of St. Silouan have reached a wider audience through books and many translations. St. Sophrony is also the author of many esteemed books and a respected theologian.
The teachings of St. Silouan have been very dear to Arvo Pärt for decades: these simple and at the same time, profound thoughts about the love of God and man’s relationship with God, have been his “nourishment and educator”, as he loves to say. Arvo Pärt also had personal contact and a close relationship with Fr. Sophrony, so it can be said that the teachings of Elder Silouan reached the composer not only through the written word, but also via a living example. In his work, Pärt was inspired by texts written by both of these saints: Silouan’s Song (1991) and Adam’s Lament (2010) are based on the words of St. Silouan and dedicated to Fr. Sophrony, while a prayer by St. Sophrony is one of the texts used in Für Lennart in memoriam (2006). Also, Nyne k vam (1989, Ode IX from Kanon pokajanen) is dedicated to Archimandrite Sophrony.
The Saint’s memorial day of 11 July is also significant for the Arvo Pärt Centre, as the small chapel of the Centre is dedicated to St. Silouan and St. Sophrony. The eastern wall of the chapel has a painting depicting both saints with Christ and Mary, the Mother of God (icon painter Nikita Andrejev), with Adam (“the father of all mankind”, as St. Silouan calls him) depicted on the chapel’s opposite wall. The story of Adam, his bitter remorse and relentless longing for God, is central to the teachings of St. Silouan and Sophrony as well as the works of Arvo Pärt, and key to understanding many other topics. In the Saints’ view, every one of us is Adam: all of humanity together as well as each person individually. St. Silouan also identified with Adam and wrote the following in his text “Adam’s Lament”: “I, too, have lost grace and call with Adam: “Be merciful unto me, O Lord! Bestow on me the spirit of humility and love.” These words, which have also been painted next to Adam in the Centre’s chapel, are heard in the final bars of Arvo Pärt’s composition Adam’s Lament.