The following conversation between Fr. Paisios with a pious young man, who had been deceived by the falsehoods of Protestantism, was published in the annual publication O Hosios Gregorios of the Holy Monastery of Gregoriou in Mount Athos in the year 1995.
The late elder with seemingly simplistic answers to the existential questions of the young man, saved that soul from being lost and restored him to the embrace of the Orthodox Church. The Abbot of the Sacred Monastery of Gregoriou, Archimandrite George, gave us permission to republish the text of this conversation.
A Severe Illness Requires a Big Hospital
Eventually I decided to go to the Orthodox Church. I confessed and began to receive communion regularly. Yet I had many serious questions to which I could not find answers. I sought the answers by meeting with theologians and clergy, but still to no avail.
"Kosta, no matter how much I try I cannot satisfy you with anything. You want to understand the mysteries of God with your reason. This isn't Orthodox. Only one thing will save you: let's go to the Holy Mountain. Will you come?"
This was the opinion of an Archimandrite to whom God led me, I believe. After I agreed, he informed me of a great surgeon (my own characterization) who is there, so we went. His name was Fr. Paisios. Another blessed elder from Pyrgos, I later learned, said the following about me: "If Fr. Paisios receives him, there is hope, if not, he will be lost in his pride." He had a point. Fortunately Christ shed His blood for our sins. Glory to His holy name.
I will try to convey as accurately as possible the conversation I had with Fr. Paisios.
Question: Holy Scripture teaches that only Jesus Christ saves. In the Orthodox Church we ask the Virgin Mary to save us. Is this correct?
Answer: Jesus is the only Savior. He offered Himself for us. Now listen. If you were someone with great power and went to the city with your mother, everyone waiting there for you would greet both you and your mother. They would even say the best words about her, even if they knew nothing about her. And when you heard them, you would rejoice, and would be proud for your mother. So also does Christ rejoice and is proud for his mother, when He hears our good words about her. Look, if a poor woman went to your mother and begged her to ask you to appoint her to a position and you did this favor of your mother, then that poor woman would say your mother saved her, even though you appointed her. Well, so we also say that the Virgin Mary saves us, and her Son who as the One in power, yet is humble, rejoices to hear good words being spoken by us about His mother.
Question: The Lord taught us to pray to God the Father. The Orthodox Church prays to the Theotokos and the Saints who are people. Is this correct?
Answer: Listen. All prayers go to God. We pray to the Virgin Mary and the Saints, that is, we ask that they pray to the Lord for us, and their prayers have great power.
Question: Yes, but (I interrupted) the Virgin Mary and the Saints were people and they died. They do not hear us, nor are they present everywhere. Perhaps God is angered over the fact that we pray to them?
(Here it is my great obligation to stress with emphasis what happened to me. At the moment I said the word "but", I felt a spear pinning me down to the earth without hurting me and without me making a noise, but something opened up within me and "sucked" in whatever the elder said to me.)
Answer: My child, to God no one dies. When someone dies, they die to us who are left here on earth. They do not die to God. And if that person has boldness before God, they learn from Christ that we are asking them to pray for us, and so they pray for us, and Christ hears and rejoices. The prayer of the righteous has great power.
Question: The Lord says: "I am the Lord your God. You shall have no idols nor images, to venerate them. Nor shall you worship them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God." The Orthodox Church venerates icons. Is this correct?
Answer: Listen. A mother whose child is at war, fears for him day and night. She has much suspense for him. Suddenly she receives a letter from her child with a photograph of him inside. When she sees it, what does she do? She takes it in her hands and kisses it, then puts it to her bosom to touch it to her heart. Well, what do you think? This mother with such fiery passion for her child, does she believe she is kissing the photograph? She believes she is kissing her child. The same is believed by those who have a fiery passion for the Virgin Mary or the Saint depicted in an icon that they venerate. We do not venerate the icons because of the icons, but because of the Saints, and these not for them in themselves, but because they strove for Christ. It is true that God is jealous. However not for His own, but for the devil. A father is not jealous of his own children. Don't worry, for the Lord rejoices when He sees us revering and loving His Mother and the Saints.
Question: What about the Protestants, the Evangelicals, the Pentecostals?
Answer: Luther had a complaint with the Pope, and for this he was justified. If he was sincere, then why didn't he go to the Orthodox Church about which he had no complaint? Instead, he made another "church" of his own. Leave them be. Do not go there again. Go to church, you and your wife should confess to the same spiritual father, and everything will be well.
Question: Father Paisios, I don't know how to pray. How should I pray?
Answer: You should feel as if you are a small child and God is your Father. Then seek Him. If you seek Him and not stupid things, do not be upset, He will not be angry. He sees your heart and will give what is best for you. It is like a child that asks his father to buy him a motorcycle, because he believes he is old enough, and because the father is afraid something bad will happen to his child, he may be slow to grant the child what he wants, but in the end he buys the child a car.
Question: When we pray is it good to wait in our prayers until we feel joy? I do this often and it happens.
Answer: No. Then it is like a child who asks its father for something, not to buy him something, but only to caress him.
I thank and glorify God that He made me worthy to know a holy man while he was alive on earth, to be counseled by him and for him to pray for me and my family.
Truly how wonderful God is. How all-benevolent and all-merciful! Glory to His holy name. This is how I became - not I became, but the Lord made me - an Orthodox Christian, without of course forgetting something else Fr. Paisios told me, how at every moment we are under examination.
Source: From the periodical Dialogos. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.