November 18, 2013

Saint Paisius Velichkovsky: A Great Hesychast Father (3 of 8)

Continued from part two...

2. The Search for the Texts of the Hesychast Fathers and their Translation

The venerable Paisius, through God's enlightenment, understood the great worth of Holy Scripture and the neptic and hesychastic texts of the Holy Fathers which he studied as a young child, and by reading these his zeal was increased to gain communion with God.

Already as a novice monk in the Monastery of Liubetz a certain monk had given him to read the book titled The Ladder by Saint John of Sinai, which had filled him with great joy. In order to always have it with him he copied it all night, using a torch that would fill his room with smoke. Saint Paisius himself tells us that he acquired such love for Patristic books because, lacking a suitable spiritual guide, he wanted for himself and for the monks he assumed over time to not deviate from "the correct mindset of the Holy Catholic Orthodox Church". Thus, he began to acquire various Patristic books in the "Slavic" language, "which taught about obedience, attention, watchfulness and prayer", restricting food and enduring poverty. Reading the already translated books in Slavonic he found that there were serious errors which resulted in him not receiving a clear understanding. At first he tried to correct them by using other books that were translated into Slavonic, but he found this work very difficult and impossible.

However, after "staying for many years" on Mount Athos he "learned to some extent the Greek language", so he sought to find the neptic books in their original language, in order that with these he could correct the Slavonic texts. He found this task to also be difficult and impossible. He would visit the various Sketes of Mount Athos, such as Saint Anna's and Saint Demetrios of Vatopaidi Monastery, as well as the various Monasteries and experienced Elders in order to find books referring to the hesychastic and neptic life, such as that of Saints Philotheos of Sinai and Hesychios the Presbyter, but no one knew of their existence. This saddened him very much.

He tells of the great joy he experienced while on a journey from Great Lavra Monastery to the Skete of Saint Anna, as he passed by the Skete of Saint Basil and met a monk who copied books of the venerable Peter of Damascus, Anthony the Great, Saint Gregory of Sinai, Saint Philotheos, Saint Hesychios, Saint Diadochos, Saint Thallasios, Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Saint Nikephoros the Monk, Saint Isaiah, and so on. After many entreaties and payments he acquired many such neptic texts, and returned to Moldova in order to arrange his large Brotherhood, that had been created in the meantime, and he served there by translating these neptic texts.

At first he tried to correct the already translated texts into Slavonic using the original Greek texts. Because these translations were not done well, it was difficult, so he started a new translation. The venerable Paisius would translate from the Greek to the Ruso-Slavic language that prevailed in the seventeenth century in the books published in Russia.

He confesses: "This work was beyond my powers." His biographer and disciple Metrophanes says that the venerable Paisius translated from the "Helleno-Greek" language to their own "Slavonic" and from these the "Vlach-speaking brothers translated into their own language". All day long he dealt with the issues of the Monastery and at night he translated "exceeding the limits of nature with work", even though his body was entirely in pain "being crippled, suffering much from wounds".

His biographer also gives us information how Saint Paisius would translate at night: "While in bed resting he was surrounded by books: many dictionaries, a Greek Bible, a Slavonic Bible, Greek and Slavonic Grammar books, the book he was translating, and a lit candle burning in the middle. Sitting like a child either crouching or lying down, he wrote all night, forgetting his sickness and trouble, unable to answer or hear if he was spoken to or if something was going on outside his cell."

He did these translations of the neptic books, those which are contained in the Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics, with much zeal, because within them he found the wisdom of the Fathers and the way by which someone could attain union and communion with God, and on the other hand in order to give it to those under him that it may be food for them who want to be helped by the teachings of the Holy Fathers.

Thus, the venerable Paisius contributed as few have in the renewal of hesychastic monasticism in Ukraine, Moldova, Wallachia (Romania), Russia and other countries.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.