March 22, 2013

Elder Paisios and the Boiled Milk During Lent

By George Skambardonis

At Panagouda, the Cell of Elder Paisios, there are two visitors from Thessaloniki. They stand, leaning on the chestnut tree. Both in their fifties, they are pale and cantankerous. They seem to be from an ecclesiastical organization, because they are looking reproachfully at the Elder, and making comments to each other quietly. The children are playing, making a fuss - at which Paisios turns and says quietly:

"Do not make noise, because beside here, beneath the earth, Americans are hidden and we will wake them, and they will come to interrupt our silence."

The children stop, and are silently puzzled. At the opposite end, John leans sideways against the rock atop his sack. He lights a cigarette. The two visitors, who appear to be harsh pietists, continue to look at the Elder with disapproval as he boils milk and oversees that it does not spill over. One of them can't stand it anymore and tells the monk:

"Elder Paisios, we are in the first days of Lent, we have a strict fast, and you are boiling milk to drink?"

The Elder is silent. He does not respond. He grabs the pot and lowers it, since the milk is boiled.

He then goes into his Cell, bringing six small, old china cups, he puts them next to each other, and carefully pours the milk into each one. He waits a bit for it to cool off, while everyone looks at him with amazement and silence. The two pietists observe this with disgust, thinking that since there are six visitors and six cups, perhaps the monk will offer them milk during these strict days of the fast.

Elder Paisios takes the full cups one by one, places them on a wooden tray, and carries them seven meters away, where he places them down on the dirt, at the edge of a bush.

He places them there in order, then he comes, sits next to us, and begins to do something with his mouth silently, an eery whistling, while looking towards the bushes. Not a few moments pass, and over there, from the bushes, comes out a viper with five small snakes very carefully - her children. I hold my breath.

The snakes are coming, all of them approaching, one by one, slithering, passing right next to us, and they go slowly-slowly to the cups, and begin drinking calmly, slurping their morning milk.

From Επί ψύλλου κρεμάμενος (Κέδρος 2003). Translated by John Sanidopoulos.