November 21, 2013

Saint Paisius Velichkovsky: A Great Hesychast Father (5 of 8)

Neamt Monastery

Continued from part four...

4. The Experience of Hesychastic Monasticism

The reading and translation of neptic and hesychast books put the venerable Paisius on a quest from a young age, but simultaneously, it still lit up for him an even greater desire for the neptic-hesychastic life.

His biographer and disciple Hieromonk Metrophanes in his text presents the spirituality of the venerable Paisius. I will quote a few indicative passages that show this reality.

From his youth the venerable Paisius "was a chosen vessel of God and a perfect observer of His commandments. This is why his words were strong and perfect, full of Grace, incisive in his soul, such that he separated the evil from the good, uprooting the passions and cultivating the virtues in the souls of those who hear with faith." "The Grace of the All-Holy Spirit dwelt within him from the womb of his mother", and this Grace later increased with the observance of the commandments of God.

From his youth he was wise. "While a young child in age, he was old in his mind and in wisdom. He subdued anger and desire to reason, alienated his senses from all the beautiful and pleasurable things of this world and he considered it all as corrupt." "He locked himself in his house and lived in quietude, as if he was in the desert of Sinai." From a young age he was inflamed with "unspeakable zeal" to love the Lord and abandon everything in the world, "even his mother".

The venerable Paisius loved noetic quietude and the neptic tradition of the Church and served with zeal to acquire this method, by which a person acquires unity with God.

The natural gifts he had, as well as the fruits of hesychasm and prayer were noticeable. "His bright mind and memory, which grace kept intact, no one can describe. He was rapid in understanding the higher doctrinal matters and, if he read something once, he treasured it always in his memory." "Indeed, this wonderful man, our blessed father, assimilated in all things with the ancient Holy Fathers."

He resembled the ancient hermits. "If we compare him with the holy hermits, who practiced the same type of hesychasm, then we would not be surprised how he rejoiced at prayer and in the union with God." "His mind was always serene" and "inflamed with the love and union of God." He could not hear anything that took place outside of his cell. He kept vigil in his cell with noetic prayer and watchfulness. "Just as the holy hermits remained vigilant brides, so throughout his life at night he was a vigilant bride, lacking nothing of the athleticism of the God-bearing Fathers."

He even resembled "the ancient holy coenobitic Fathers" in many points. The Holy Spirit resided within him and from his lips there "flowed the honeyed source of divine teachings, that soothed and healed souls and eliminated passions. He had a divine nous, which correctly understood the canons of the holy Ecumenical Synods and the traditions of the Church."

He was "steadfast in faith and hoped in the providence of God", having "the fear of God by which he kept the commandments of God as the daughter of his eye". "Within him was fiery love" towards Christ and "completely inflamed he poured himself out towards all, loving, animating and teaching all, sympathizing with everyone, embracing with his soul his spiritual children, as well as everyone who came to him." "He was always at peace with everyone, never at war with or embittering anyone". To a large degree he was humble, chaste. "While his innocence and simplicity were childlike, his nous was divine and not childish." His face was "in the form of an angel".

Metrophanes, who lived near the venerable Paisius, writes about his whole presence, since even his body was transformed by the Grace of God that dwelled in him.

"His face was bright as angel of God, his look was calm, his words were humble and a stranger to insolence, he greeted everyone with love, responded with affability; he was full of kindness, keen on charity, brought everyone near him like a magnet which naturally attracts iron. He had deep humility, gentleness and forbearance in all things. This great man was entirely God-like and a vessel of Grace. His nous was always united with God and his tears testified to this. When he spoke about Theology, then his heart vibrated with love, his face shined with joy, his eyes teared up, confirming the truth. When we stood before him, our eyes never tired of seeing him but wanted to see him avidly, nor were we tired of hearing him, nor bored, because out of the joy of our hearts, as I said, we completely forgot about ourselves."

His biographer also describes some miraculous events that he experienced watching the venerable Paisius.

Once he walked into his cell and was speaking to him, but he was still lying down and motionless, hearing nothing. Then, as recounted by Metrophanes, "I remained standing, looking at him and seeing his face as if it was blazing." Because, however, he was by nature "white and pale faced, I realized that the flame of his heart, out of love for prayer, passed through to his face."

Another time he saw his face shining. "The same out of spiritual joy spoke while smiling with unspeakable love, with spiritual words coming out of him, and it was as if he instilled joy in our souls."

The venerable Paisius had "also the gift of foresight and whatever he foresaw happened". While he was in his cell, he knew the moods of all the brothers of the Monastery. Not even miracles were missing from him. "Our blessed father did many miracles for us, but, because he did not want to even hear about this subject he attributed everything to the most-honorable Theotokos, and for this reason I will stop so as not to oppose him, although I know of many miracles both before his death and after."

Such a personality that had many spiritual gifts, quietude and noetic prayer, as well as teaching, attracted many monks near him and in this way he reconstructed the monasticism of his time, bringing to it the neptic tradition of the Fathers of the Church.

Most of the monastics of his time, apart from notable exceptions he himself recognized in the Kiev Caves Lavra and elsewhere, had altered so much that they only retained the outer form of monasticism. "They did not know what monasticism was and what the mystery of obedience was and how much benefit it offers the novice who approaches with awareness, what work was, and what is divine and noetic prayer that takes place in the nous through the heart. The same was taught these things by God and by the teachings of the Holy Fathers, through the study and translation of their works."

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.