November 19, 2013

Saint Paisius Velichkovsky: A Great Hesychast Father (4 of 8)

Dragomirna Monastery

Continued from part three...

3. A Spiritual Guide of Hundreds and Thousands of Monastics

Because the venerable Paisius felt in his heart the sweetness of noetic quietude and prayer, without seeking it he attracted near to him many people and monastics who sought this way of spiritual life.

He lived eighteen years on Mount Athos (1746-1763). At first he remained in a small hut near the Monastery of Pantocrator. "Inflamed with divine zeal for great feats, he enjoyed the quietude for two and a half years." Various monks slowly came to be near him, and they were forced to build another hut higher than theirs, then they purchased the Cell of Saint Constantine. The brotherhood consisted of Romanian-speaking and Slavic-speaking brethren. At that time, for the sake of the brotherhood, he was pressured by revered Spiritual Fathers to accept the priesthood in order to serve the brotherhood.

"Twenty brethren" gathered there under his spiritual guidance, and they moved to the Skete of the Prophet Elias. Services were done in two languages, Slavonic and Romanian, and for handiwork they constructed spoons, which they sold in order to have what was necessary and to offer hospitality to visitors. Metrophanes writes: "Our father performed his handiwork, making twice as many as the other brothers, and at night he copied books. His entire life was spent as an all-night vigil, unable to sleep more than three hours." His reputation spread throughout the Holy Mountain and many came to confess to him, even Patriarch Seraphim, who then resided at the Monastery of Pantocrator.

For a short time he went to the Sacred Monastery of Simonopetra with some monks, but because the Monastery was in debt they could not stay long there. Yet, with his way of life, he "illumined the entire Holy Mountain" and "all the Athonites marveled at the brilliance of his light."

When, however, the "brotherhood became numerous at Prophet Elias and no longer fit there, then God took them and brought them to this Orthodox land, in Moldova." Sixty-six monks followed him there.

The venerable Paisius and his monks settled in Dragomirna Monastery and underwent much trouble in its reconstruction, and it was put under an Athonite order. He regulated the typikon of the Coenobium based on the typikon and writings of Basil the Great. "In common ministries there should be kept silence and prayer in the mouth." "In the cells should be read the works of our God-bearing Fathers, and noetic prayer of the nous through the heart should be performed skillfully and precisely, and breath should be held with the fear of God, because it is the source of love for God and neighbor, as well as the source of all virtues." Every night there was a confession of thoughts, because it "is the foundation of salvation, peace, quietude and love." Over two-hundred monks lived in asceticism at this Monastery.

He educated them as a father and teacher in noetic prayer. He taught them regularly during the fasting periods, and at other times. "Every day, except Sundays and feasts, the brothers would gather at night in the refectory, they would light a candle, and their blessed father came sitting in his regular place. He would open a patristic book, either Saint Basil the Great's 'On Fasting', or John of the Ladder, or Saint Dorotheos, or Saint Theodore the Studite." Then he would interpret passages he read through his own spiritual experience.

They remained twelve years (1763-1775) at the Sacred Monastery of Dragomirna, where due to the events of the Ruso-Turkish war they served and ministered to a large crowd of people gathered at the Monastery. In the typikon of the Monastery produced by the venerable Paisius in 1763, "he foresaw that the abbot of the Monastery must know three languages: Greek, Slavic and Romanian."

But when the Germans (Austrians) settled in the Monastery and the Venerable One realized that he could not "live under the Papists", they moved with great sadness and pain gradually to another Monastery, that is, the Monastery of Sekou.

Metrophanes writes about the move of the brotherhood from Dragomirna Monastery: "We were persecuted by the Germans and on our own we distanced ourselves from Dragomirna Monastery, so that nothing would happen to our Orthodox faith from the arch-heretics and their secular authorities that remained there." Reflecting on the life they lived in this Monastery, he writes: "O Dragomirna, Dragomirna most sweet and the consolation of our souls, I remember our lives in you. Yet it is better to be silent lest bitterness fills our hearts for having lost you.... To us you were like a paradise of delight, you were for us like a garden that quickly takes root near water and the flowers give off various fragrances and fruits."

So from Dragomirna they moved in 1775 to Sekou Monastery, where they overly wore themselves out trying to reconstruct cells that the brotherhood may settle. The place was quiet and deserted. The situation of the brotherhood, after a long struggle of three years, arrived at the level of the previous Monastery and this was a cause of joy for the venerable Paisius and he glorified God. But Prince Constantine Mourousis urged and pressured the venerable Paisius to settle in Neamt Monastery. The Venerable One did not want such a move after so many hardships, but finally he succumbed in obedience to the desire of the Prince.

In 1779 a portion of the brotherhood moved to Neamt Monastery. New struggles awaited there for the reconstruction of the Sacred Monastery, which was difficult for the venerable Paisius and saddened him.

At this Monastery the venerable Paisius constructed a Hospital and a Hostel for the aged, the blind and the lame who would come and beg him to accept them and give them mercy. Here the number of monks, together with those who were in the Sketes, reached three hundred. However, towards the end of the life of the venerable Paisius in Neamt Monastery there had gathered around 700 monks near him. In the biography of the venerable Nikodemos the Hagiorite, as we will see below, it was written that the monks that were under the spiritual guidance of the venerable Paisius exceeded the thousands. Information indicates that at Neamt Monastery "there lived monks from a total of ten national backgrounds, such as Moldovans, Serbs, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Greeks, Jews, Armenians, Turks, Russians and Ukrainians." The Venerable One reposed in this Monastery in 1794.

The venerable Paisius found the way of hesychasm and noetic prayer, so that his heart was filled with the Grace of God, and then he taught this life to the monks who ran to him from everywhere in order to hear the divine wisdom that came out of his mouth, yet especially from his heart.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.