Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Some Personal Experiences From My Contact With Father Paisios

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

I had a lot of contact with the blessed Father Paisios. I do not recall details of many of his words, but some incidents, and mostly his saintly personality, remain in my memory. It forms the picture of a holy ascetic, an anchorite of the 4th century AD. I did not try to save his phrases because his whole existence had stayed in my heart, and thus for me Father Paisios was a saint, beyond his words and deeds.

Many times when I met him I was content just to see him, to feel him, to let him express himself freely. I did not keep notes, because I viewed him as an open book which gradually entered my heart. A book without many letters, without any footnotes. This is the feeling I still have until today. I have known a blessed person, a transparent person, a person of God. I felt the quality of spiritual life expressed as spiritual energy and spiritual relationship.

Nevertheless I will write down some characteristic incidents that have remained strongly engraved in my memory. I have already written in a different work how I viewed his whole personality.

1. I would hear about Father Paisios during my years as a university student, because I was born and raised in Ioannina and there were people who knew him and talked about him there.

In 1967, after the enthronement of Sevastianos as Metropolitan of Dryinoupolis, Pogoniani and Konitsa, I followed him in Konitsa and stayed with him for a while, because he was my spiritual father in Ioannina. There I met Father Paisios’ brother, Loukas Eznepides, a very modest person, a man who lived in devoutness, who spoke very enthusiastically about his brother and said that, besides his modesty, Father Paisios was a very brave man. On his part, Father Paisios would tell me that Loukas was better than him but too timid for great braveries.

At that time I visited the Holy Monastery of Stomio in Konitsa, where Father Paisios had lived a few years before. The residents talked about him with great enthusiasm, they would tell many stories about his piety, especially his company with bears. All these I have seen published in a recent book titled “The Life of Elder Paisios the Hagiorite”.

Later on, when I was ordained in Edessa and visited my home in Ioannina, a friend of my mother who was a close acquaintance of Father Paisios, Mrs. Ketty Patera from Konitsa, would come to see me. She would tell me a lot about her close contact with Father Paisios, many stories from his life, and all these increased my desire to meet him.

2. My first indirect contact with Father Paisios took place in 1974, when I visited his Cell, the Holy Cross, close to the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita and came across the presence of his absence! That is, I had planned a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain with boys of the Sunday School of Edessa.

When we reached the Cell, we found it closed. Outside the fence door we saw the well-known label asking us to write down our names and he would pray for us and this way we would benefit more than by his “verbiage”. We enjoyed the Turkish delight he had left for us, and we spent a lot of time discussing a phrase written by chalk on a rock. It said something like: “Please excuse my absence, but I go to calm myself and then will return to my zoo”. We concluded that most of the visitors went there out of curiosity, like visitors to a zoo. Perhaps there was also a sense of self-reproach, which is a great virtue of the saints. This was what impressed us more out of the whole visit to the Holy Mountain.

3. The first personal meeting took place in the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita. We met the blessed Father Paisios with some other clerics and asked him to give us advice for our pastoral ministry in the world, because we were at the beginning of our clerical life. He led us to the Cemetery of the Holy Monastery, close to an open grave a monk had prepared for himself, and he started teaching us how to work in the Church. I do not remember much of his advice. However, I was impressed by the cheerfulness of his face, his meekness, his humbleness – he would not look us in the eyes – and his love for people. One of his phrases remained in my memory. He discussed something sincere, but harsh, that Pentzikis once said to a woman. He said: “The blessed one did not know that a piece of gold has great value but we can kill a man with it. On the other hand, cotton has no value, but cleans the wounds”. He meant that it is not enough to say something true and sincere, but the way of saying it has to be the proper one.

4. In another visit to the Holy Mountain I met him in the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita. The bells had rung for the all-night vigil. I was going down from my cell to the main church (“Katholikon”), through the interior staircase. I met Father Paisios who was also going to the church for the vigil. As we were walking in the corridors there was an oil lamp with strong light. Father Paisios said: “Let’s humble it a little” and he lowered the fuse. I was impressed by the phrase itself and the ethos of the phrase. It showed a humble man.

During that vigil on the occasion of the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the tonsure of a monk took place. I saw Father Paisios sitting in his pew humbly and piously, praying all night. I will never forget the moment they asked him to chant the psalm “give thanks to the Lord…” (Psalm 135). I still have in my ears his way of chanting, in the fourth mode, as they chanted in Farassa [his birthplace in Cappadocia], with his pitched and devout voice, a voice coming not out of his mouth but rather out of his heart. At that moment there was absolute silence and an atmosphere of compunction all over the main church of the Holy Monastery.

5. Once I visited him in the Cell of the Holy Cross and I found him preparing to visit the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita for a vigil. He took me with him and we discussed various matters of spiritual life on the way there. I asked him about the relationship between God and the creation. After he told me a few things, he went to the edge of the trail, he took a green leave out of a plant tenderly and softly and without cutting it he leaned and kissed it. He said: “We kiss St. Nektarios’ cassock which belonged to the Saint and has energy by him. We should even more kiss the leaves and creation which has God’s energy within it". In a simple way he showed me the theology of the “essence of beings”, the essence-giving and life-giving energy of God which exists in all nature.

6. At various difficult times of my life, I would always visit Father Paisios to ask for his enlightened advices. My blessed Elder, Metropolitan of Edessa, Pella and Almopia Kallinikos, would urge me to do so: “Go my child to Father Paisios to ask his opinion” he would say. When I returned from the Holy Mountain he would ask me in order to be helped too. On his behalf, Father Paisios had tremendous respect for the blessed Kallinikos. This shows the spiritual relationship between a saintly Bishop and a saintly Monk. I remember that Father Paisios sent one of his spiritual children to the blessed Kallinikos to ask for his opinion on an important issue and Bishop Kallinikos essentially advised him what Father Paisios wanted and helped him this way.

I never asked him about theological, social, political, church or scientific topics. I always asked about matters of spiritual life, related to myself and my pastoral care. Nor did I ask him out of curiosity. I respected his time and his way of life. And he always talked to me with simplicity and with examples. He was a very spiritual person, experienced in spiritual life, he was discerning and had a great humbleness. A lot of what he had told me I have seen published in the book “The Life of the Elder Paisios the Hagiorite”, so I confirm the authenticity of this book.

Once he told me that we should not only not criticize people, we should also love them. He narrated an incident which, as he said, he would tell only to a few spiritual people who would not misinterpret it, namely the incident on “the martyr’s dealing with temptation” (p.135 of the book) where it is mentioned that in order to fight carnal temptation he cut seven pieces of flesh of his leg. He added, however, as he told me, that he wrapped his wounded leg with various cloths and some people from Konitsa found him in this state and took him to the hospital for cure. When they asked him what exactly had happened he told them that bears had eaten him, in order not to disclose the incident. What is important is that while recounting this incident he lifted in a discerning way part of his pants and showed me the scars in his leg. “The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true” (John 19:35).

In talking about the devil’s temptations, he revealed to me an incident in Mount Sinai with the alarm clock, which is described in the above-mentioned book (pp.169-170).

Once I asked him how we should live in the Church, and he said in a simple and unpretentious way: “By feeling the saints and the angels close to us”. And then he said: “I very often see my guardian angel beside me and I kiss him”.

7. He respected my Elder, the Metropolitan of Edessa Kallinikos. Once I visited Father Paisios and told him about the slanders written against him, and I saw tears running from his eyes and he told me: “Those who are wronged are very much loved by God. They are God’s children. Woe to those spiritual people who do not take part and do not support him. They will find this in front of them on the Day of Judgement”. He loved very much those who were slandered and treated unjustly but endured the injustice.

8. In a visit to the Holy Mountain (November 1979) I looked for him intensively in order to discuss some issue. I learned that he was in the Holy Monastery of Gregoriou, because he had been called by the Abbot to see the monks. So I went to the Holy Monastery of Gregoriou, and at some interval I told him that I wanted to see him. He said: “I will not see you here in the Monastery, but tomorrow we will go the Holy Monastery of Simonopetra and there we will find some time to talk”. For me it was an opportunity to be with him for more days.

Two days later we ascended together to the Holy Monastery of Simonopetra. It was on that night that the incident with the demons described in the book “Life of the Elder Paisios the Hagiorite” (p.580) took place. There were demons kicking the door of his cell during the night, he heard voices from outside, etc. He recounted it with a lot of humour and grace the following day. However, he did not find the time to see me there either. He told me: “I will take you with me to the Panagouda Cell”.

Two days later I had the blessing and the joy to walk with him and some others, such as the blessed Father Isaac, for about four hours from the Holy Monastery of Simonopetra to his cell in Panagouda. On the road he would repeat continuously, in his own way, “Glory to God”. He forced me to ride the horse, despite my objections, while he walked on foot. I obeyed for a little while, but then I got off. Whenever we came to a cell, he would knock on the door, he would call with his pitched and discerning voice the Elder of the Cell, and would talk to him with a lot of kindness. He was also very instructive to us.

When we reached Panagouda it was already dark and he kept me in his cell for sleep. Someone else from our group went to the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousiou. He gave me the dessert they had given him at the Holy Monastery of Simonopetra. He did not eat from that, instead he ate just an onion with a little bread. I was certainly very shy, because I was aware about where I was. After prayer he showed me a wooden bed where I would sleep at night, his “living room”. He told me: “Sleep here, take these blankets and at three o' clock in the morning I will wake you up so we can both pray, each one in his Cell with the prayer rope”.

Being aware that Father Paisios was in the same place, I could not sleep, because I felt that he was seeing me with his gift. I lay in bed, trying to do the Jesus Prayer all night, with my nous concentrated, because I told myself that Father Paisios is watching me. In some respect this was also out of egoism. All night I heard Father Paisios’ steps in his room and outside. Most of the time I felt he was doing a “major repentance” (ground prostration) or was walking. At three o’ clock, without having slept at all, and without realizing how time had passed, I heard his pitched voice calling me to get up and do the prayer rope in my cell. Indeed, I continued the Jesus Prayer I had already been doing, with greater intensity.

In the morning, when I asked him about his moves, his steps, etc., he told me that he had stomach troubles. I can neither believe it nor deny it.

Those days, and especially that night, I felt what St. John the Evangelist writes about the two Disciples (Andrew and Peter) who asked Christ: “Rabbi, where are you staying?”. And He told them: “Come, and you will see.” And as the Evangelist writes: “So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him; it was about four in the afternoon” (John 1:38-39). According to the Fathers, the fact that they stayed in the house with Christ means that they lived in theoria (the vision of God) all that day. This is why they remembered the incident vividly. By analogy, those days and that night when I stayed in the house of a holy person and felt his energy, it has remained deeply engraved in my heart memory. It was the 19th of November 1979.

9. Once I visited Father Paisios with a student of the Theological School who was at a crucial age. He asked him about his studies. The student naively replied about a paper he was writing on the creation of man. At some point he said to Father Paisios: “God did not know what to do and created Adam and Eve to spend His time”. Right away Father Paisios raised his hand and slapped him hard. The student was at a loss, he was stunned, remained with bulging eyes for a while trying to realize what had happened, and then started crying like a little child. Father Paisios watched him without saying anything and let him cry. After a lot of crying he said to him: “My blessed one, what is this you said? Come with me”. He took him by the hand, like a mother with her little child, led him to the washbasin and told him: “Wash your face”. Then he gave him a towel to wipe his face from the tears, and brought him to the previous position, and started with cheerfulness, tenderness and a lot of love to indicate his mistake to him and tell him that we should not speak improperly about God and His work. He also wrote him a cute dedication on one of his books and gave it to him. Needless to say I watched this whole scene speechless and in shock.

10. Whenever I visited him, after asking for advice on matters of my personal life, I asked him also about things relating to my spiritual children. I told him about a boy who was very naughty and reactionary and asked his opinion on how to deal with him. He gave me a disarming reply: “Do as the mule driver with the animal. Keep the reigns firmly and stay away so as not to be kicked by him”.

11. At one period in my life I had a strong desire to be a monk in a Holy Monastery close to Edessa with a small brotherhood of young monks, and asked his opinion in a letter. He did not write to me. When I learned that he was in the Holy Monastery of St. John the Theologian in Souroti, I called and asked to visit him. The sister who answered the phone said to me: “Tomorrow his program is to go to Edessa”. I was startled. Indeed, the following day I saw Father Paisios in Edessa. He came to the Holy Diocese building and kneeled to the ground in front of the blessed Metropolitan of Edessa Kallinikos. Then we went to the Holy Monastery I wanted to move to. We were together all day. He was very instructive and his advice helped me a lot. Eventually, my wish never materialized, because a nun who stayed at the Monastery then did not want to move out to a Kathisma outside the Monastery.

12. After the repose of my blessed Elder Kallinikos, there were problems by the new Metropolitan. In difficult moments of my life I would ask Father Paisios, so at that period I had a lot of contact with him, either orally or written. His advice was very important. He would not reply to my letters, but I sensed his prayer. For example, once I sent him a letter asking agonizingly for his help, and he did not reply in writing; however, a few days later that difficult situation was resolved. A lot of dramatic events happened at that time, so suddenly and decidedly I left Edessa to go to Livadia and then to Athens, and I viewed this as a response by the Elder’s prayer.

13. I remember emotionally a specific example: I had to definitely get his advice on a very important matter bothering me. I went to his cell in Panagouda and knocked the bell, waiting for almost an hour outside the door of the fence. But “there was no voice, no sound”. I knew that during that time the Elder left his cell in the morning and returned in the evening. So I wrote a note, I left it in the special place he had for this purpose and informed him that I would visit him the following day at eight in the morning.

The following day I descended the path from the Stavronikita-Karyes crossroad towards Panagouda. Before reaching Panagouda, I heard a voice from the hill: “Eeeh, Eeeh! Father Hierotheos here I am, come by the narrow road in front of you and you will find me”. In the beginning I did not recognize who was calling me, but then I realized he was Father Paisios. I took the narrow road and went up. He watched me and guided me to the right direction. When I went up I saw him sitting in a glade. I sat beside him, told him my problem, and he gave me very important advice and solutions for a long time. That was the last meeting with Father Paisios and it was very substantial. His advice was so discerning and wise, that even a sanctified Hieromonk admired it. In general he gave enlightened answers, without imposing them on the person asking and without negating the advice of other Spiritual Fathers. It was a discernment of high spiritual standards.

In general, Father Paisios’ figure and my contact with him, along with some other deified persons God blessed me to meet in my life, was and is a very important presence in my life. He was a man illumined by God, an ascetic-anchorite of the 4th century who lived in our century. At the same time he was a father and a brother, with discernment, prudence and humour. He would say high truths in a very smart and cute way and give simple examples with very deep content. He did not pretend to be a teacher or a monk, though he was a true teacher and a real monk, a true man, a man of God, who taught with prayer, silence, humour, love, self-reproach and with discerning and clever advice, without insulting anyone.

Whenever I bring this sanctified figure to my memory, I become emotional, I weep and pray.

May we have his holy blessing.

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