Elder Sophrony and Appalachia


Why are the consequences of Adam’s disobedience so disastrous? Why does spiritual life in Christ take, in this world, the tragic form of a hand-to-hand battle against death? Why is God’s creation linked to this negation, to death, to this struggle full of pain? Why must I struggle against things which kill me without having the strength for it? I do not understand. To the degree that Christ and the Holy Spirit are, for me, the solution to all the problems which are beyond me, I can live in ignorance of many things. Christ is the foundation of my life. His way of acting attracts me. I do not understand what He said, but what He said is enough for me. I will understand when I pass from this world to the beyond.

Elder Sophrony in Words of Life


I am reminded of the Appalachian hymn: Farther Along

Tempted and tried, we’re made oft to wander,
Why it should be thus all the day long,
While there are others, living about us,
Never molested, though in the wrong.

Farther along we’ll know all about it,
Farther along we’ll understand why,
Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine,
We’ll understand it all by and by.

Sometimes things are simply universal among faithful Christians. I have found much faith among the people of Appalachia.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





13 responses to “Elder Sophrony and Appalachia”

  1. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Fr. Stephen, These words of Elder Sophrony are amazing. There is nothing sugar coated here. I have had these same thoughts many times verbatim. The only difference is that I have not been able to say “I do not understand what He said, but what He said is enough for me. I will understand when I pass from this world to the beyond”. There is life or despair in these words. Although true, I wish that Elder Sophrony’s words were more encouraging. There are moments during the Divine Liturgy where I catch a small, fleeting glimpse and it “is” enough.

  2. Brandon Avatar

    Bless, Father.

    Being a young former southern Baptist who converted to Orthodoxy. I’ve latterly gotten over my bitter/backlash phase, and have grown to appreciate the kindredness of some aspects of traditional southern religiosity and Orthodoxy. The old song that comes to my mind is “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” (or at least one of the numerous versions of it).

    “I’ll soon be free from every trial, this body will rest in the old church yard. I’ll drop this cross of self-denial, and enter in that home with God.”

  3. Katia Avatar

    Father Bless,

    “… In this description of the collapse of man and the cosmos to the power
    of Satan by the human sin of turning from the Divine path set out for men
    and women by God to that trail of tribulations which, in exercising free will,
    men and women embraced when they succumbed to the wiles of Satan, it is
    essential that we understand that mankind and the world were not made vic-
    tims of Divine wrath and have not been abandoned by God. Such ideas are
    foreign to the Greek Patristic consensus; rather, that consensus holds that
    human beings were infected by sin and made slaves to a demonic power
    which challenges and works against Divine Providence. Humankind and the
    world were reduced, through the Fall, to dwelling in illness and imperfection
    (and this, again, by man’s free choice); but they were still subject to God’s
    Grace and were not wholly separated from Him. While they were debased to
    an abnormal, unhealthy state, man and the universe were not deprived of the
    potential for perfection and a return to normality. Moreover, before the Fall,
    as Bishop Kallistos writes, in the teachings of the Greek Fathers, “[h]umans
    . . . were perfect, not so much in an actual as in a potential sense.” That is,
    “[e]ndowed with the image [of God] from the start”—namely, as “icons” of
    God and His “offspring”—, “they were called to acquire the likeness [of
    God] by their own efforts (assisted of course by the grace of God).”39 This
    striving for perfection, then, was not erased by sin; rather, in many ways it
    took on an even greater significance, once man had deviated from the path
    towards ensured perfection appointed for him by God. Not only are these
    points important to keep in mind, but they stand in sharp contrast to human
    sin and degradation as they are often understood in Western Christianity. ”

    A Guide to Orthodox Psychotherapy – by Archbishop Chrysostomos

  4. Damian Avatar

    I have to say I recently heard the Appalachian hymn “I wonder as I wander”, and I’ve fallen in love with their simple faithful lyrics. Do you know of any books or collections (or websites for that matter) collecting Appalachian hymns? I’m in Australia, you understand, not close at all to Appalachia.

  5. Katia Avatar


    Blessed is he who with Holy Faith
    Raises, inspires his spirit,
    And strengthens his heart as with steel armour
    From the storms of life.
    For him trials are not terrible,
    Nor is remoteness, nor the depth of the sea;
    Grief and sufferings are not terrible,

    Nor is the power of death terrible.

    A. Ushakov

    Oh, my God! I give thanks
    For Thine having given my eyes
    To see the world – Thine eternal temple –
    And the earth, the sky and the dawn. . .
    Let torments threaten me, –
    I give thanks for this moment,
    For everything which I understood with my heart,
    Of which the stars speak to me. . .
    Everywhere I sense, everywhere
    Thee, Lord: in the night silence,
    And in the most remote star,
    And in the depth of my soul.
    I wish my life to be
    Unceasing praise to Thee;
    Thee for midnight and the dawn!

    For life and death – I thank!

    D. S. Merezhkovsky (1866-1941)

    Orthodox poetry is as beautiful as the Appalachian

  6. Lord Peter Avatar

    Oh, indeed, a huge portion of the old mountain hymns are full of completely orthodox expression. Still waters run deep.

  7. Marsha Avatar

    Jim Hendricks is a prolific performer of Appalachian Gospel Music. I’m sure if you google him, you will find plenty of CDs of this type of music. I didn’t check, but it might be possible, even, to find some on YouTube. I don’t know of a specific written collection, but I’ll keep my eyes out for one.


  8. Mark the Zealot Avatar
    Mark the Zealot

    Let me also recommend Ricky Scaggs and the Whites CD, “Salt of the Earth. ” I has a lovely version of “Farther Along” and other Southern Gospel Songs. Some of them make me cry every time I hear them.

    Raised a Southern Baptist, I’m now Orthodox, but my parish in Franklin, TN is very Southern. I joke that in our own way, we are more ethnic than any other Orthodox parish.

    While I appreciate Fr. Sophrony’s thoughts, and can accept that much will be revealed after death (1 Corinthians 13:12), I am somewhat wary of the “pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by” theology represented by many of the old Southern Hymns (love them though I do). Should not we work towards the Kingdom of God now, rather than waiting for death to become divine?

  9. Damaris Avatar


    The two great collections of American folk Gospel songs are called The Sacred Harp and Southern Harmony. The music in these books looks different, since it is “shape music.” That was an American sort of shorthand for untrained singers to sightread music. You can just ignore the shapes and read the music conventionally. The hymns range from magnificent to very odd. I especially love one called “Bozrah,” and “The Last Words of Copernicus” is one of my all-time favorites:

    Ye golden lamps of Heaven, farewell,
    With all your feeble light.
    Farewell, thou ever-changing moon,
    Pale empress of the night.
    And thou refulgent orb of day,
    In brighter flames arrayed —
    My soul, which springs beyond thy sphere,
    No more demands thy aid.

    I imagine you can find the books online, and Smithsonian recordings have Appalachian singers from the 50s performing them very roughly but authentically. If you prefer a more classical rendition, Boston Camerata’s production “An American Christmas” is really great.

    I hope this isn’t more than you wanted! I love this stuff.

  10. Damaris Avatar

    Oh, and I like Ricky Scaggs, too. His “Soldiers of the Cross” (I think that’s the disc — it might just be a song) is also worth listening to.

  11. Damian Avatar

    Marsha, Mark, Damaris – thankyou very much. It’s not too much, although I’ll have to pick a place to start – if you were to send me to one place to begin with, what would it be?

  12. The Pilgrim Avatar
    The Pilgrim

    Hello Damian,
    I would also look for a CD by Emmy Lou Harris called “Angel Band.” Wonderful Sunday front porch music. Her voice is angelic, and her faith is real. You can tell that she is not singing just to do the songs, she is singing them because she believes they are true.

  13. Damaris Avatar


    I’d probably start with the Boston Camerata CD “An American Christmas.” We listen to it all year around, and we’ve learned to sing and play a lot of the songs on it.

    Best of luck —


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