October 27, 2009

Stories on the Value of Simplicity by Elder Paisios the Athonite

A simple, child-like elder told me: "Monks in the past were simple men, guileless and with no evil; they were God's little lambs."


There was an ascetic in Karoulia, the Holy Mountain's most austere desert, who had a little kitten to comfort him and to protect him from snakes and mice. One day a vulture was flying over and from the solitary sky spotted its prey, dived down, and snatched the kitten up in its claws.

The ascetic was upset and, not knowing what to do, immediately entered his chapel to lodge a complaint to the hermitage's saintly protector. He went up to the oil lamp hanging before the protector's icon and blew out the flame to emphasize the point he was going to make. He had always considered this saint his friend, so he told him about the sad incident and demanded his help. "Why, my saint, did you not protect the kitten?" he complained.

At that very moment he heard the kitten crying outside the door. It had been freed from the attacker's talons.


An elder once told me a similar story about a monk who had gone to Karyes for some errand and had left the door of his cell open, trusting in the protection of St. Nicholas, its patron. When he returned he found that thieves had stripped the cell of everything. He then went to the church and with courage and in a friendly tone of voice said to St. Nicholas, "Why did you not protect the cell from robbers, my Saint? Starting today unless you reveal the robbers, I will not light your lampada (oil lamp)." And he did just as he had threatened.

A few days later the thieves were caught, an evidence of the elder's faith, confidence, and simplicity, as well as of St. Nicholas' real presence there. In fact, the robbers humbled themselves and repented, and returned everything they had taken to the elder.


A very simple monk named Ermolaos lived in Great Lavra where his obedience was to herd the monastery's rams. He wore tattered clothes and carried his prayer rope in his hand always. He was completely guileless, with a primitive, innocent soul which was filled with divine grace. It is said that he once saw Panagia in Lavra walking around. He did not realize who she was and said, "What is a woman doing in Lavra?" One of the workmen was abusive to Ermolaos: he would swear at him and put him out in the snow, but the simple one endured all of it calmly and with kindness. It was the hermit Damaskinos from St. Basil's desert who told us many things about this Ermolaos.


Although he is now bedridden, the simple elder Methodios still lives in St. Neilos' cell. This is his prayer: "Lord, on the day you take this poor one, place him among your servants. I do not expect to be among either bishops or priests, but just to get a spot in a corner."


An elder said: "Prayer does not tire one but gives rest, the way a child feels in his mother's arms. If one were to observe some monks praying, he might think that they are like children. Indeed, seeing them making all kinds of motions, he might even think they had gone crazy. Some of them are like the little child who runs to his father, pulling his coat, and saying 'I don't know how, but you must do this for me . . . .'

From a certain perspective, such people as I am talking about could be seen as 'useless.' Why? Because they cannot work: their bodies become as if paralyzed, and their bones are stiffened like candles. They are unable to move. When God's love falls upon a person in abundance, it dissolves him.


An elder said: "A natural simplicity becomes sanctification in a natural way. A simple but holy man, when he once had to take care of a poor sick person, went down to the seashore to the Church of the Ascension and lifted up his arms and prayed: 'My Holy Ascension, give me a little fish for my sick charge.' And what a miracle — a fish came into his hands! He cooked it and thanked God and the Holy Ascension.


A simple holy man, lacking a certain sharpness of mind, might see a misled person as holy. A clever holy man, however, uses discernment to know if someone is misled. Having intelligence is a gift from God like bodily strength. We must use whatever gifts God gives us, for sanctification and salvation.

Those whom we see as being deprived (orphans, the crippled, the dull-witted, and so forth) — God helps them and graces them with gifts. God is just.


In Karyes, Father Kyrillos had a monk in obedience, Hieromonk Pavlos, who celebrated the liturgy with great reverence. In particular, he would not reprimand anyone for his mistakes during the services. If he had to correct someone, he would do it by motioning to him very diserectly.


The hermit father Philaretos from Karoulia was taken to Thessaloniki to appear in court, where he was unjustly accused of taking an ancient book which had been stolen by a tourist. He had no money to pay the fine.

"Either you pay, Father, or you go to jail," the judge said to him.

"I prefer to go to prison. I have no money. Besides this way, I will remember the eternal prison," he replied. When finally some of the faithful paid the fine, he said: "I have been freed from the earthly prison. I wonder if I will be set free from the eternal one ?"

Some asked him, "How was it in Thessaloniki, Elder Philaretos, how were the people?" He had not been there for fifty years, and he replied, "What can I say, Fathers? They were all rushing about for their salvation. I am the only negligent and lazy one."


At one time Elder Artemios, very simple of soul and manners, was in Piraeus harbour for some business of the monastery. He was approached and invited by a prostitute to her house and he, being naive, accepted. "Praise be to God," he said, "that among this multitude of people a person was found to extend me hospitality."

The woman showed him to a room, gave him some food, and left. He began to pray using his prayer rope. Shortly after, the woman knocked at the door. But Artemios expected to hear "Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers" along with the knock, as is done on the Holy Mountain.

Since she continued to knock, he cried out "Say 'Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers.' Say it, or I am not going to open."

Because she did not say it, he figured it must be a demonic spirit at the door and kept on praying.


I was once acquainted with two monks whose faces were a true picture of simplicity and forbearance. They had simple, unaffected souls with no evil or hypocrisy in them. They were lambs of Christ, meek and humble like Him. They were Elder A. from St. Anne's Skete and Elder P. from New Skete. They have since departed to the Lord.


Ιn the recent past, in the Holy Mountain's capital of Karyes, had lived a very simple non-monastic, old man Giannis. He was called "the ancient" because he was always dressed in a very old-fashioned way and held in his right hand a shepherd's staff. One day he went to the Iosaphite fathers and said to Father B., "I would like you to make me a little icon of Panagia in a cloud and in white." That was the way he had seen her in a vision.

"We will make you one, old man Giannis, but it will cost you a lot," the monk said.

"You ask for a lot, but I will give you a little bit," the old man replied.

Another time he saw a wolf roaming around near Father Agathangelos' house. Giannis crossed himself and said, "My Panagia, save me from the wolf and I will bring you a container of oil." And indeed the next morning he brought oil to the icon of Axion Esti.


In one of Xeropotamou's cells lived another simple but meek monk, elderly Antonios Tskoukas. A brother who was passing by one time met him and asked: "What are you doing, old man?"

"What else can I do but wait for Pascha?" he said.

"Pascha? It has past! We are now in Pentecost."

"Pentecost? When did it pass? I am still fasting. I haven't broken my fast yet," the elderly man said wondering, and with an unusually simple manner.

He was spending most of his time in Diako-Firfirin. He did not like it when any of the visitors were smoking in the courtyard of the Protaton. He would murmur, "Anyone who smokes is ungrateful. The Church does not need cigarettes. It needs incense, matches, and candles."