November 24, 2013

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

Optina Monastery

Continued from part seven...

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

A cause of particular impression is the communication between the three great figures of that era, namely the venerable Paisius Velichkovsky, Saint Makarios the former bishop of Corinth, and Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite. All three loved the hesychast tradition and life, and considered it the essence of Orthodox ecclesiastical life. They struggled to locate and discover the neptic writings of the hesychast Fathers and did all they could to publish and disseminate them. Above all, they loved noetic quietude and noetic prayer of the heart, and they understood its value in the union of the nous of man with God. This is what made them saints in the consciousness of the people and the life of the Church.

The venerable Paisius Velichkovsky wrote also of the contribution of the Greek Orthodox Church to the Russian Orthodox Church:

"With the inexpressible philanthropy of God, in these end times, our entire Russian Church was made worthy to receive the holy Orthodox faith and Orthodox baptism from the Greek Orthodox Church. With the holy faith the Holy Scriptures were received also, together with all the sacred books, the ecclesiastical teachers and fathers, translated from Hellenic-Greek. These are the sources of Slavic books, because otherwise there would be no Slavic books."

So the Philokalic Fathers, Saint Makarios Notaras and Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite among others, contributed to the rebirth of hesychastic monasticism and the hesychastic tradition, which resisted the stream of the Enlightnment, that sought to restore ancient Greece in modern Hellenism in defiance of the entire intermediate Byzantine-Romaic-Patristic period. In the same way the venerable Paisius Velichkovsky resisted in a thoroughly positive way the stream of the Enlightenment which had penetrated Russia and the surrounding region, as indeed he had encountered it in the Ecclesiastical School of Kiev as a seminarian.

Emeritus Professor Anthony-Emil Tachiaos in his study titled Paisius Velichkovsky and his Ascetical-Philological School, after investigating the sources, gives us important information regarding the publication of the Philokalia in the Greek language and its translation into Slavonic and, of course, he relates the parallel efforts of the venerable Paisius and Saint Makarios Notaras the bishop of Corinth.

The venerable Paisius, in order to cover up the absence of a spiritual guide and in turn guide his brotherhood, was interested in the study, discovery and translation of the neptic texts of the hesychast Fathers. This effort had previously been localized. When he departed Mount Athos and relocated to Moldova he was informed of the parallel movement of Saint Makarios Notaras to find and gather the texts of the neptic Fathers. This information was conveyed to him by his disciple the monk Gregory, who was close to Saint Makarios. When the Greek edition of the Philokalia was issued in 1782, then the venerable Paisius received a copy of this edition and then both he and his monks revised the translation with many of their texts. Having completed the translation of patristic texts, they then printed the Slavonic Philokalia at the Synodal Printer of Moscow in 1793, eleven years after the publication of the Greek Philokalia. However, the Slavonic Philokalia only included 24 of the 36 writings of the Greek edition. Later the Slavonic Philokalia was translated into the Romanian and Russian languages.

The same Professor in a separate chapter titled "Optina Monastery as an Heir to the Spirit of the School of Paisius Velichkovsky", documents how the Russian monks, disciples of the venerable Paisius, in 1779, after the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca and later after the repose of the venerable Paisius, repatriated to Russia and conveyed the hesychastic spirit of the venerable Paisius. They also conveyed the oral tradition, as well as the manuscripts of translated ascetic works that were done by the School of the Sacred Monastery of Neamt. These disciples of the venerable Paisius occupied various positions in Russian monasteries, becoming abbots and spiritual fathers, and this helped in the development of hesychastic monasticism.

It has been estimated that 103 monasteries in Russia were influenced by the spirit of hesychastic monasticism, as expressed by the venerable Paisius. But Optina Monastery was the one that proved to be eminently the "heir" of the great ascetical tradition of the School of Paisius Velichkovsky. The Sacred Monastery of Optina gained great glory in the days of Hieromonk Macarius (1788-1860). In his days the Sacred Monastery undertook the publication of ascetical writings "that were given as an inheritance to Russia from the school of Paisius".

This period in Russia was very important because the West was transferring German philosophy and a logicocracy that influenced many intellectuals. It was inevitable that the western Germanic Enlightenment develope parallel with the hesychast tradition of the Church, as expressed by the venerable Paisius. Thus there developed two streams in Russian society, namely the stream of the western Enlightenment and the stream of hesychasm by the Slavophiles, as we find manifested in the work of Dosteovsky's The Brothers Karamazov.

In Dostoevsky's novel he presents the streams prevailing in Russia in his time. The three children of Fyodor Karamazov, namely Mitya-Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha-Alexei express the three streams of Russian society. Mitya represents the old primitive and sensual Dionysian Russia. Ivan represents the Russian intelligentsia, which had been influenced by the western Enlightenment, and he himself was an intellectual, agnostic and a representative of thinkers. Alyosha represents the intellectual world that was affected by Orthodox spirituality and he express the way of thinking of the Slavophiles. And Starets Zosima, as presented by Dostoevsky, expresses Macarius and Ambrose of Optina Monastery and its tradition.

However, the 103 Russian monasteries, especially Optina Monastery, were a center of the study of the Philokalia and patristic texts. Indeed Optina Monastery affected tremendously the Russian social and intellectual world, since besides regular people visiting the Monastery there were also theologians, philosophers, writers and authors, such as Alexei Khomiakov, Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, etc.

So from the tradition created by the amazing Venerable Paisius it affected monks and even Saint Seraphim of Sarov, who is considered a spiritual descendant of the venerable Paisius, as well as other theologians, writers and philosophers.


The course of the life of the venerable Paisius Velichkovsky (1722-1794) is wondrous and amazing. His mother wanted to lead him into marriage and the priesthood, so that by this way he would remain in history as an example of family. This is because his mother, as the venerable Paisius narrates, lost her priest husband and he remained her only child, "the only one to take care of her in her old age and the house and a comfort from God". But, the venerable Paisius followed another path and ultimately saved thousands of people, and emerged as a new Moses in Moldova, Wallachia, Russia and throughout the surrounding area, so that his named might remain bright unto the ages. Even his mother, after her initial grief, became a monastic and reposed as a nun.

He brought to Mount Athos the zeal for the hesychastic life, but benefited from the hesychastic tradition that already existed there, even though it was forgotten by many, but was preserved in libraries and individual ascetics. This shows that the patristic teachings are the same throughout the centuries, and it is essentially the theology of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers, and nothing can overcome this Orthodox theology, neither scholastic theology, nor the so-called neo-patristic Russian theology.

Professor Anthony-Emil Tachiaos aptly writes in the foreword of the book:

"The study of the revival of hesychastic spirituality in the Orthodox world during the eighteenth century inevitably leads to the figure of the great ascetic and coenobiarch, Venerable Paisius Velichkovsky, who reintroduced to the Slavic and Romanian world the place of the spiritual life in this form. The venerable Paisius was the one who contributed to the revival of the coenobitic life in Romanian monasticism, based on an Athonite model, and with a shift towards hesychastic spirituality, as it had blossomed on Mount Athos in the fourteenth century. His work in this direction was a parallel effort to that which was being done in the Greek world by his contemporary Saint Makarios Notaras, whose work served as a model for Paisius."

And again I want to thank and congratulate Emeritus Professor Anthony-Emile Tachiaos for his overall contribution to the Church, but, especially, for the presentation of the life and activity of the venerable Paisius Velichkovsky, who is a bright child of the life that richly exists in the Orthodox Church.

Source 1, 2, 3: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ο όσιος Παΐσιος Βελιτσκόφσκι, ένας μεγάλος ησυχαστής Πατέρας, January-March 2012. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.