March 31, 2012

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Remembers Elder Paisios

By Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

According to Orthodox practice, we cannot come to know our deeper passions or console the inner heart without the presence of another person. A spiritual guide, an elder or confessor, is mandatory for the nurturing of the virtues and the development of the soul. There is simply no other way. The elder can take your soul into his soul and lighten the burden that you carry. We all need such an advisor, a confessor, before whom we can share our inner thoughts and reveal our deepest concerns. For spiritual direction is not some oriental status or eccentric luxury. While people sometimes identify the spiritual director with the role of a "guru", it is not exactly the same, because the spiritual elder is part of a larger tradition and community in the Church. In the Orthodox Church, spiritual direction is a fundamental necessity for spiritual balance and health. It is required not only of lay aspirants to the treasures of the heart but of every person - male and female, young and old, lay and ordained, deacon and priest and bishop alike. This means that while the monks and the abbots of the Holy Mountain sought to hear a word of advice from me, I, too, was and am - like every Orthodox priest and bishop - obliged to turn to seek a word of comfort from a spiritual father.

One of the elders was Father Paisios (1924-1994), a simple yet profound monk. Born of pious parents in Cappadocia of Asia Minor, Father Paisios was one of those responsible for the rebirth of monasticism on Mount Athos, which was clearly waning - perhaps not spiritually, but certainly from the standpoint of physical resources and monastic population - when we celebrated its millennial anniversary in 1963. After a period of retreat on Mount Sinai, Father Paisios returned to the Holy Mountain, from where he directed numerous souls throughout the world. He would visit my predecessor, Patriarch Demetrios, when I served as his personal secretary; I was most impressed by his silence.

Anyone blessed to know a living saint knows the unique sense of stillness that characterizes such a person; a saint appears to live at once in this world and in the age to come. What was most surprising about Father Paisios was that he was utterly human, filled with spontaneity and far from any pretense. God's light seemed to shine through the veil of his soul in a splendor, which made his visitor feel totally at ease and warmly welcomed. Later, I recall visiting him in his cell, just as so many others have done over the years. He would offer spiritual counsel as he shared an apple or an orange that he had peeled. He was a genuine missionary and professor of the desert. An unordained monk hearing the inner life of an Ecumenical Patriarch! And he did so without the least self-consciousness. Spontaneity and sincerity are, sometimes, the humble context within which the Church functions most authentically.

From Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today By Bartholomew I (Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople), pp. 64-66.