May 29, 2012

Olet, the Beloved Bird of Elder Paisios

The following is a letter written by Elder Paisios the Athonite to the nuns of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian in Souroti sent in the Spring of 1975. At the time he lived in the Kalyva of the Holy Cross.

In your last letter you sent me an icon of Adam and the animals in Paradise. So I thought I would send in my turn the drawing of a bird, my closest friend, because if I sent you the drawing of a snake, I think you would be captured by fright. I have named him Olet, which in Arabic means "child". He lives in a hill five hundred meters from my kalyva. Every afternoon I bring him goodies and treats. As soon as I give him something to eat, he takes a little and leaves. I call for him to come, but he leaves and after a little while he comes secretly from behind and hides under my jacket. When I go to leave he walks behind me at a distance of about one hundred meters and I, so that he will not continue coming behind me and get tired, leave him a crumb so that he may occupy himself, and I leave quickly so he will lose me.

Lately he has abandoned his asceticism and seeks good times! He neither eats broken rice or soaked dry bread, but only worms, which he wants me to put on a "plate" - the palm of my hands - and he climbs up there and eats. Progress!

There are days when I celebrate with Olet and his partner. One can say: "Why do you make exceptions for Olet? Why don't you do the same for other birds?" I respond: "When I call for Olet to come, he brings with him other birds, friends of his, who run right to the food, but Olet comes out of obedience and love. Even when he is hungry, he sits a while with me and forgets food; I remind him. And now that the weather has turned beautiful and he finds bugs to eat, when I call he still comes out of obedience, even though he is full and not bothered by hunger. Well, how can you not rejoice more for this philotimo bird than the other birds?

Many times I am moved by such great love that I want to squeeze him in my clutch, but I fear that I will be like the monkey which out of love squeezes its child and in the end suffocates them. So I clench my heart, and I rejoice for him from afar, so I will not harm him.

One day I was late to go to the hill and Olet, because he was chirping a lot, had relaxed early. I left his food and departed without seeing him. The next day I left to go very early, because I was worried that a hawk had eaten him. When he saw the food that I had left overnight, his "thoughts bothered him" and he went halfway and waited for me. When he saw me he was like a crazy person because of his joy. I gave him to eat, but he wanted company more than food. I marvel at his asceticism and the love he has, as well as his gratitude. Pray that I may imitate his virtues.

I believe you will not complain, since I told you everything, that I did not receive the consent of Olet. I hope I will not upset him, even though these things will not be known to the outside. You have the greetings of his and mine, the many.

At my kalyvi I not only have birds of the air, but all the animals come here - jackals, hares, ferrets, turtles, lizards, snakes - they get their full from the overflow of my love, and I am satisfied myself when they are satisfied, and all of us together, "the beasts, the cattle, the birds and the reptiles", "praise, bless, and worship the Lord."

Translated by John Sanidopoulos