28 July 2011

Visiting a monastic community in rural Essex

Inside the first chapel in the old rectory at the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

We had an early start this morning [Thursday, 28 July], leaving Sidney Sussex College at 6 a.m. to catch a bus from Jesus Lane, Cambridge, to visit the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights, near Maldon in Essex.

We arrived in time for the Divine Liturgy at 8 a.m., served by a Finnish monk, Father Melchisedec, followed by breakfast with the Hegumen or Abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Kyrill, who is originally from Australia, and the monastic community. The monastery is a monastic community of both men and women, directly under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and is the oldest Orthodox religious community in Britain.

The community was founded in an old Anglican rectory in 1958 by Elder Sophrony, under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, who was then the ruling Russian bishop in England, with six founding members of the monastic community drawn from different nations. The monastery was brought under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1965.

When he was founding the monastery, Elder Sophrony wanted to be sure his community would not just have outward conformity, but also focus on inner asceticism. The typikon of the monastery consists of the repetition of the Jesus Prayer about four hours a day and the serving of the Divine Liturgy three or four times a week. This found inspiration in Elder Sophrony’s experience as an Athonite monk, and in the example of Athonite skete practices and the lives of Saint Nicodemus and Saint Paisius Velichkovsky.

The community consists of men and women living the monastic tradition of a Christ-centred prayer life. At present, there are over 40 members of the community – the majority are nuns, with a smaller number of monks, and they come from many countries including Australia, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Greece, Romania, Russia and Sweden.

After breakfast, Sister Thecla, originally from Romania, brought us on a tour of the monastery, including a visit to the first chapel built here in the former rectory by the founder, Father Sophrony, when he arrived from Paris, and told us of the life of his spiritual father, Saint Silouan the Athonite.

A walk in the Essex countryside before lunch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

There was time before lunch for a walk through some of the beautiful countryside surrounding the monastery, and through the monastery orchards, which look out onto the sea and across to Bradwell.

The monastery rectory where we shared lunch with community (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

After lunch, Father Nikolai Sakharov spoke to us about ‘Monasticism and the World Today.’ Father Nikolai was a student of Metropolitan Kallistos, who spoke to us at the summer school on Tuesday, and received a D.Div. from the University of Oxford for his thesis: “I Love Therefore I am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony.” It has been published as: I Love Therefore I am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony (SVS 2003).

Later this evening, there is a special Summer School dinner in the Old Library of Sidney Sussex College.

The Revd Gunnlaugur Garðarsson (Glerárkirkja, Iceland), Father Nikolai Sakharov and Patrick Comerford in the monastery grounds this afternoon (Photograph: Christoph Schneider)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin


Mark Downham said...

Does Nikolai Sakharov really understand his own book that he wrote about his great uncle - Sergei Sakharov - "I Love therefore I am". It is actually a Jemeriad lament for a great uncle at its deepest level....similar to the way godly men mourned Stephen.

Mark Downham said...

What you have to understand about Sergei Sakharov is that he struggled with "Godforsakenness" - that was how he came to understand Silouan on "keep your mind in hell and despair not" - it became such a burden that he actually fell facedown at the Cross and experienced all his burdens being lifted....it was then that he entered his eremetic phase and in that cave his mind finally descended into his heart - afterwards he experienced his mind being drawn back out his heart again and the rest of his life was a struggle to reach that moment of descent, that moment of pure Kenosis again when he first entered his heart with Christ (Revelation 3:20)..

Mark Downham said...

One last thing. The next great Revival is coming and as a company we were beginning to advance towards the Jordan to take Canaan. God said Stop! Zacharias Zacharou is to go with you. You are to take him with you...I think it is because he understands and has experienced the Authority of Love. It seems we will carry him on a shoulders as we cross over.