Saint Silouan the Athonite was born in 1866 in the Russian Empire to a peasant family. Near village where Saint Silouan was born, there was another settlement, in which Ivan Bykov lived – a man, who was canonized by the Church as the Blessed. His example of a true Christian life influenced the life of the future Athonite Saint and fostered his love for monasticism.
At the age of 19, Saint Silouan decided to enter the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, but his father insisted that the young man should go through military service first. As a result Saint Silouan served in the engineering battalion. In 1892 he came to Mount Athos and entered the Monastery of St. Panteleimon. In 1911 he was tonsured a schemamonk under the name Silouan. In the monastery father Silouan’s obedience was in the role of a provisor, which demanded not only diligence, but also such qualities as sociability, patience in communication with brothers and mercy. This obedience taught him to look at a person in the likeness of God and to accept his neighbor as the child of God, as everyone who carries a part of the Father’s image inside them. “If a person can see the Holy Spirit in his brother, then he is blessed himself as well”. These words were the main principle of his life. Saint Silouan considered love towards others bring a person closer to God, His Mysteries and slavation. If a person does not tend to this, then all other aspcets become meaningless and have no value.
During that period of his life, Saint Silouan wrote his well-known notes, which were published in 1952 by his apprentice, schema-archimandrite Saphrony, which tell about his spiritual experience in Christ. Schema-archimandrite Saphrony made several comments on that book: “I mulled over sometimes, who Saint Silouan could become, if he had chosen another path and recieved higher education in science and theology. It would be easy to imagine him as someone who could greatly contirbute to society on a global scale”. Saint Silouan the Athonite passed away on September 24, 1938 after a brief illness.
“My soul misses God and tearfully tries to find Him” – these are the first words in the Saint’s notes. Saint Silouan wrote that God is looking for a person even before this person finds Him. This resonates with the thought of Aphanasios the Great: God is always open for people, waiting for us just like the father, who was waiting for his prodigal son. God’s love will save all of us, but this path leads through sacrifice. Saint Silouan marvels at the grace of God, as He never forces people to do anything, “He is just standing near our heart and waiting untill this very heart will open and accept Him”. However, he warns, that our personal freedom must not be considered as permissiveness. The true spiritual freedom is the “resurrection in Christ”, “a resurrection before the resurrection”, which is identified as an innner transfiguration of a person, according to Saint Symeon the New Theologian. Ultimately, freedom from sin is the base for any other freedom.
“The grace of the Holy Spirit can make any person resemble Christ even in this world” – says Saint Silouan. These are the fruits of our fight against our own sins. And these fruits will bring salvation not only for us, but also for people around us. Saint Isaac the Syrian wrote: “What is a merciful heart? It is a heart which cares about everything created by God, about people, animals, about any other creature and even about demons… A person should pray with great compassion, a prayer which rises in his heart and makes his more in the likeness of God in this instance.” Silouan the Athonite says, that God teaches us not just to care about our close ones, but about any creature, and to be empathetic for any cruelty towards the wordless creatures.
However, the Saint reminds us, that a person is the greatest creation of God. Transfiguration of a human being is the key to the world transfiguration. And that is why Saint Silouan appeals in one of his sermons: “Dear Lord, bless the peoples of this world, and let them find You and know You… I pray to You, dear God, let them know you through the Holy Spirit.” Saint Silouan prayed for universal salvation through the Church – the Body of Christ. This Living Organism is united in the sacrament of Eucharist.
Untill his last days Saint Silouan the Athonite prayed for all the people living in this world and for those, who have passed away, for those whom he knew and those whom he had never seen, for friends and foes, for the whole world.