Son of Famous British Nobility Became Orthodox After Talk With Russian Monk in 1932

Originally appeared at: Global Orthodox

Lord David Balfour was the third son in his family and, in the tradition of aristocratic English families, was chosen for a spiritual career. He was trained as a child in the Catholic Church, graduated from a Jesuit college, and then received a higher theological education. Then he took the monastic vows in Paris; many women wept at the young lord's tonsure as he was very handsome.

After the tonsure, his family allocated a part of his inheritance to him, and he went to Rome to present himself to the pope. The pope received him affectionately and appointed him, despite his youth, abbot of a monastery organized in Denmark to study and fight against Orthodoxy. At the monastery they studied Russian and Church Slavonic, collected a library of Orthodox fathers, and wrote polemical articles and books. Lord David studied Russian and Church Slavonic (he already knew Greek and Latin to perfection) and decided to go to Athos to learn about Orthodox monasticism.

He first stopped at one Greek monastery, then went to another, but he discovered nothing special there. Finally, he decided to visit the Russian St. Panteleimon Monastery. He was told that he could only get there riding a donkey, and the trip would take him two and a half hours. Arriving at the monastery, he knocked on the gate. A window opened, and the head of an old man with a magnificent beard appeared. The elder asked what the wanderer wanted. Balfour explained that he wanted to work in the monastery library, to look through old books and manuscripts. The elder said he would ask the abbot for his blessing. Then he returned, opened the gate, and led Balfour into the library through narrow corridors and stairs. Approaching one of the doors, the elder said: "When you have finished, come to my cell, and we will talk." Balfour wondered: what would he have to talk about with a low-literate, plain-looking monk? He thought about not going through the door of the cell, but eventually he did go in, either overcome by curiosity or prompted by inspiration.

The elder welcomed him lovingly, invited him to sit down, sat opposite him, and began to tell Lord David Balfour about his life, starting from his birth to his visit to Mount Athos and its purpose. He told him the details that only Balfour would have known; even recalling events that David himself had forgotten. Balfour was stunned. At the end, the elder answered the questions that had long tormented David, and resolved his basic doubts. The young monk was not allowed to stay at the monastery, so he returned the next day on the same donkey and again had a long talk with the elder.

In the end, Balfour converted to Orthodoxy and became a spiritual child of the elder. The elder blessed the lord to study at the Orthodox Academy, and he left for Athens. The name of this elder is now known throughout the world as Elder Silouan.

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