Father Sophrony from Essex: two gifts from a saint

On Friday I went to the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex for Fr Sophrony Sakharov’s memorial service. What a beautiful place the monastery is! This is the first time I’ve returned to Essex in over two years, and I’d almost forgotten how gentle and loving everybody is. Beyond the buildings of the monastery, beyond the thousands of pilgrims who find their peace there every year, this welcoming love on every monastic’s face is perhaps Fr Sophrony’s most personal heritage.

It was a deeply moving service for me, because there, in his Crypt, is where it all started, where our monastery was born. Four years ago, in 2010, I was in the same Crypt, asking Fr Sophrony to help me understand what is God’s will for my life. Less than five minutes after coming out of the Crypt, I received a phone call from the parish priest in Glasgow, telling me about Kilninian – and this is how it all began, with Fr Sophrony’s first gift to me.

The second gift came a few weeks ago, when I celebrated in Oxford (one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches I have seen in the UK, with some amazing icons). While there, I found out from Fr Stephen that Fr Sophrony’s initial plan when he came to the UK had been to found his monastery on one of the Scottish isles. He eventually had to give up that idea and came closer to London, most probably because he felt there was a greater need to minister to the Orthodox people living in the capital.

And here I am, with his terrifyingly beautiful thought in my heart, that Fr Sophrony has given us what he himself could not have. It is such a beautiful gift, such a personal gesture of love, the sort only a saint can offer.

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