November 23, 2013

Saint Paisius Velichkovsky: A Great Hesychast Father (7 of 8)

St. Makarios Notaras

Continued from part six...

6. The Philokalic Movement in the Orthodox World (A)

The venerable Paisius Velichkovsky, without seeking it, became associated with an event of great significance that was observed in the eighteenth century Orthodox world, and it is called the Philokalic Renaissance, which played an important role in the revival of Orthodox Tradition and revealed new Holy Fathers and Neomartyrs.

It is known that in Europe in the eighteenth century there developed the ideological current known as the Enlightenment, which came out of the cosmic idol of western Christianity and established on ancient Greek philosophers and writers. Such enlightening ideas, transferred albeit in a more modest form to Greece, and Greeks like Adamantios Koraes even took interest in the publication of the works of ancient Greek philosophers and writers.

There appeared at this time in the Greek land the so-called Kollyvades or Philokalic Fathers, such as Saint Makarios Notaras, Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Saint Athanasios Parios, and others, who moved in the opposite direction that the Enlighteners moved. They sought and published texts of the Fathers of the Church and especially texts referring to Orthodox hesychasm, which is the only method by which God can be known (theognosia).

Saint Makarios, formerly of Corinth, Notaras (1731-1805) worked diligently to discover and gather the writings of the neptic Fathers of the Church and gave them the title Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics. The venerable Paisius refers to this great hesychast Bishop who went to Mount Athos to find and collect these neptic texts. It is surprising that among other things the venerable Paisius writes: "When I came to the Holy Mountain."

We know, however, that Saint Makarios was on Mount Athos in 1775, while the venerable Paisius left Mount Athos in 1763. Thus, this "came" of the venerable Paisius shows that he felt and acted as an Athonite, although at the time he was living in Moldova.

However, the venerable Paisius refers to Saint Makarios, the former Bishop of Corinth, with very beautiful words, since they had the same desire and sought the same thing. He writes:

"The All-Sacred lord Makarios, former Metropolitan of Corinth, from yet a young age, worked with God, having such an indescribable love for the patristic writings, those referring to watchfulness, the attention of the nous, hesychasm and noetic prayer, namely the heart operating through the nous for the one who works at this; so that his entire life was dedicated to searching for them with his hand that loved to work, and as one experienced in secular education and unsparing in expenses, he ordered their copying."

He then tells us how Bishop Makarios investigated all the libraries of the Sacred Monasteries of the Holy Mountain, and how he discovered the "priceless treasure" at Vatopaidi Monastery, "namely a book on the unification of the nous with God, which was a collection from all the saints done in ancient times by great zealots," as well as other writings which were unknown at that time. Bishop Makarios copied them, with the help of expert copyists, and he read them while in custody of the originals and corrected them properly. He also wrote a quick biography of the saints who compiled them. "Then he departed the Holy Mountain with unspeakable joy, as if he found a heavenly treasure on earth, and then came to the glorious Asia Minor city of Smyrna, and sent them to Venice with a lot of money, which he acquired from the charity of Christians" for their publication. The venerable Paisius praises Saint Makarios for the important work he did, because he understood the value of these writings "and almost his entire life exhausted himself in an intense search for these writings everywhere, but especially on Holy Mount Athos." Indeed these writings, as he writes, are for the athletes of monastic life in the arena with invisible spirits "more necessary than breath itself."

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite (1749-1809) helped in the publication of the Philokalia after the urging of Saint Makarios when he visited the Holy Mountain in 1777 and met him. Hieromonk Euthymios, the spiritual brother and first biographer of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, refers to this episode:

"In 1777 Saint Makarios of Corinth came, and after worshiping in the sacred Monasteries he came to Karyes and was given hospitality at Saint Anthony's by a fellow patriot, Elder David. So he called for Nikodemos and pleaded with him to consider the Philokalia. And in this way the blessed one began - what do I mean began? I wonder, for I do not know what to say; should I say spiritual struggle or excessive labor of his mind and flesh? It is not only these things which I said, but other things also, which my mind cannot contemplate - I say he began with the Philokalia. And there we see his most beautiful Introduction and the short honey-dripped biographies of the deified Fathers."

This original biographer of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, however, gives us the important testimony that Saint Nikodemos had heard of the venerable Paisius Velichkovsky and wanted to visit him.

"And being there [Dionysiou Monastery] he heard of the good fame of the coenobitic leader Paisius the Russian, who was in Bogdania [Moldova] and had over a thousand brothers in his fold, and that he taught noetic prayer. Loving also this divine work, he embarked on a ship to go in search of his beloved divine prayer. While sailing outside of Athos they were caught in a storm and they were in danger until they reached the port of the Panagia in Thasos. Disembarking there he changed his goal due to the phenomenon of the storm, though in truth the inclination of God turned him back, that he might undertake this great good in the Church of Christ." Of course he refers to the publication of various patristic texts.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.