Saint Sophrony the Athonite (+July 11, 1993) is one of the most beloved Orthodox Christian elders of our times. In this rare audio recording he recalls a wonderful moment when he met a hermit on the seashore. In this meeting it was revealed to him the power of prayer for the whole world.
Essex Monastery, December 28th, 1992
English translation adapted after the Romanian version of Fr. Rafail Noica, Cuvantari Duhovnicesti I (27).
I remember a wonderful moment that is forever imprinted in my mind. It was at the very beginning of my monastic life, in 1925 or 1926. I was walking on the seashore, and there I saw an old man with a long prayer rope of 300 knots. I approached him with the fear of a beginner and I stood silently, watching him pray. And he was sitting on a large stone, moving from knot to knot [with his thumb]. In the end, I dared to ask him, “Father, pray for me!” I asked for it because when I left France in 1925, I was overwhelmed by the spirit of “despair,” although in a less heavy form than now. And so, crushed by that despair, I asked him, “Father, pray for me!” He looked at me and said, “Do you see this prayer rope? I say it for the whole world. I pray for the whole world. And you are there, in my prayer.” It is hard to explain why, and how much time we need for a certain reaction, yet I did not leave after the first word. And after a while, living in myself the despair of those days, I said to him again: “Father, pray for me!” He says, “I have already told you that I am praying for the whole world. And you are here, in this prayer.” After a few moments, I repeated my request again, because my grief was deep, and again, the third time, I said timidly, “Father, pray for me!” He looked at me kindly and said, “But I told you that you are here,” pointing to the prayer rope, “what do you need more? You are here in this prayer of mine for the whole world.” I departed, struck by the state of mind of this elder. “I pray for the whole world; you are there so that we do not ‘split’ into pieces for insignificant things.”
Having just reached Athos, and encountering such a form of prayer, of course I was impressed. I kept thinking, “What does this elder think when he prays for the whole world — does he think in time, in space, about the whole mankind from Adam to the present day? Or was his thought even deeper and more comprehensive?”