Question 28: Was St. Sophrony familiar with Nietzsche and other Intellectuals of his times?


Was St. Sophrony familiar with Nietzsche and other Intellectuals of his times?

Was St. Sophrony of Essex familiar with the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and to what degree does he reference or react to him indirectly or directly? For example, is the quote of St. Sophrony: “Stand at the brink of the abyss of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little and have a cup of tea” essentially an Orthodox twist and reworking of Nietzsche's aphorism: "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you" as found in Beyond Good and Evil? If so, are there other examples?


As an educated, bright and talented young artist living in Paris, St. Sophrony became acquainted with many of the philosophical and intellectual trends of his day, not to mention religious ones as well. To what degree he studied this or that figure, I am not aware. Although I am sure that the book, I Love Therefore I Am, by Fr. Nicolai Sakharov, St. Sophrony’s great-grandnephew, would address this question is more detail.

Furthermore, I believe that, when examined more closely, one grows increasingly aware of the fact that St. Sophorony’s spiritual advice, to an Orthodox hermit, is not an intellectual reworking or corrective of Nietzsche’s aphorism, even if it is the perfect “antidote” to it, so to speak. 

St. Sophrony’s general approach was non-polemic and irenic. He would not take on this or that intellectual or religious thinker by name, but simply to pray for direct inspiration from on High so as to speak of Christ; and then allow the light of Christ to illumine one’s understanding.