Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist

The Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist is a monastic community for both men and women, directly under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is located in Tolleshunt Knights, near Maldon, Essex, in England.
The religious community was founded in 1958 by Elder Sophrony, under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Anthony, Metropolitan of Sourozh and ruling Russian bishop in England, with six monastics from a number of nations; soon after, in 1965, the Monastery moved under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The community consists of men and women living the monastic tradition of a Christ-centred prayer life, it is, therefore, a double monastery, a rare, but not unique reality within the Orthodox world.
When founding the monastery, Elder Sophrony wanted to be sure that his community would not just have outward conformity, but have its focus on inner asceticism. The typikon of the monastery, consisting of repetition of the Jesus Prayer.
The Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist had its beginnings largely in the person of Elder Sophrony. After his departure from Mt Athos, where he had been a disciple of Saint Silouan the Athonite, and his subsequent move to Paris, he was to live in a Russian old-people's home, assisting the priest there. Soon, two men would seek out Elder Sophrony, desiring the monastic life. They were allowed to live at the old-people's home, using the repetition of the Jesus Prayer in lieu of liturgical books and eating the food that the old-age inhabitants didn't eat. There were also a few nuns living at the home at this time.

By 1958, Elder Sophrony had six people living around him, seeking the monastic life. Realising that such a situation could not continue, he went to Tolleshunt Knights, to inspect a property. In the spring of 1959, the new Community of St John the Baptist was formed at the same property, under Metropolitan Anthony. The monastery, from its beginnings, had both monks and nuns, due to Elder Sophrony being unable to oversee two separate communities.
The Monastery of St John the Baptist moved under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1959, becoming Patriarchal; later, the monastery would also be titled 'Stavropegic'.

Currently, the Katholikon of the monastery, i.e. the main Church building, is dedicated to St Silouan, who had guided and taught Archimandrite, during his years on Mount Athos. The interior of the Church follows the Russian iconographic tradition. Despite not following the Byzantine iconographic tradition, in regards to the positioning of the themes and saints in an Orthodox Church, it does show the beauty and the glory of the Orthodox iconographic tradition, emphasising the unity of the Orthodox faithful together with Jesus Christ and the Saints.  

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