The spiritual struggle according to elder Sophrony
This paper addresses the subject of spiritual struggle as dealt with in the works of Elder Sophrony.
The scope is limited to the Elder’s written works because he hid his spiritual struggles and did not
allow those close to him to speak of them. It was only near the end of his life, when he was certain
that he would not be in jured by the judgments and praise of people, that he decided to write down
his experiences for the edifi cation of the Church. The written accounts of the Elder’s experiences are
mostly found in his book We Shall See Him as He Is.
Father Sophrony recognizes the diffi culties and the hardships of the spiritual struggle, while at the
same time affi rming the im portance of this struggle. The fi rst stage of the spiritual struggle is man’s
recognition of his salvation and of his need to overcome spiritual carelessness. This is particularly
important because all of humanity, except for a few exceptions, lives in a state of spiritual carelessness,
as people have become indifferent regarding their salvation. God created us from nothing, „in
the image” of the Ab solute and “according to the Hkeness” of God. If we accept this truth, then we
should realize that absence of care for our salvation is nothing more than the death of the person.
The Elder’s experience taught him that it is a painful struggle to overcome the passions that prohibit
the approach of the Light and the presence of God in us. He also notes that an important aspect of
the spiritual struggle is the preservation of the grace that accompanies God’s call, which is directed
towards all people who were given the honour, gift, and the possibility of resembling God. Just as
man’s whole being is a gift of God’s goodness, in the same way the visitation of His grace is a gift of
His consent, while man’s synergistic response to this grace is expressed through one’s dif fi cult and
drawn out struggle.
Because pride is the main obstacle to man’s illumination through the Holy Spirit, the struggle for
humility and self-emptying, against pride and egoism, is the essence and centre of the spiritual life.
Father Sophrony stressed that “we need to enter into deeper self emptying through [spiritual] struggle,
to drink the cup to the very end, just as He [Christ] drank it.” He also stresses that selfl essness
is a necessary presupposition for the daily struggle for humility, while the goal of the spiritual life
cannot be other than the acquisi tion of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The grace of God comes when
we consider ourselves unworthy of it.
Because sin is always a sin against the love of God and is ex pressed as a distancing from Him, and
a turning of our will to wards the passions, repentance must be the Christian’s continu ous struggle.
For, as long as awareness of the deeper essence of sin is absent, of pride that is, and as long as
the root of evil remains indomitable, man’s tragedy continues and grows. For this reason, what is
important in the spiritual struggle is for man to keep his relationship and communication with God
alive. This will guide him to a widening of his heart in love and prayer for all people, for the whole
Finally, our struggle as Christians is to learn to live the eternal life of God Himself. In the fi nal
analysis this is theosis, to live as Christ lived, especially during the fi nal moments of His earthly life.
In this way, we follow the path of the Lord. This needs to take place freely, for man’s theosis presupposes
that he is freely placed before eternity. This was how Elder Sophrony himself lived, “free in
this martyric struggle and at the same time full of inspiration.” This is witnessed through his texts,
as well as from his life, which was full of spiritual gifts.
KEYWORD: Elder Sophrony, Christ, God, Holy Spirit, The spiritual struggle
ANESTIS G. KISELOPOULOS