July 17, 2014

Concerning the Book "Elder Paisios of Mount Athos" by Hieromonk Isaac (3 of 3)

3. Seer, Venerable One, Martyr

The people called the Prophets of the Old Testament "visionaries" and "seers", such as the Prophet Samuel, because they had spiritual binoculars, able to see the spiritual illnesses of humanity. They had constant communication with God through the spoken word and oral communication with Him, and they saw the future incarnation of the Son and Word of God. Such a "visionary" and "seer" was Elder Paisios, as we knew him personally and as aptly analyzed in this book.

His entire life was wondrous. On the Holy Mountain they say that when one undertakes their monastic life, they have zeal like Athos, and in the end his zeal diminishes like a nut. This did not happen to Elder Paisios, but as the years passed, so did his zeal increase, as well as his philotimo and asceticism.

His spiritual biography reminds us of the great ascetic figures of the ancient Church. Because he would receive Grace from God, his weak body bore this asceticism. For the love of Christ he would do many spiritually "crazy" things, while sleeping, eating, prostrating, during journeys, while confined in caves, staying in hollow acorn trees, descending cliffs for quietude, in deprivation, extreme quietude, unceasing prayer, pained in the heart for the entire world, in philanthropy, meeting with bears and showing kindness to them, being courageous and fearless before things that cause fear. While in the desert of Sinai he did not wear shoes, which is why "his heels were torn and were bleeding". Sometimes he behaved as a fool for Christ and other times as a wise teacher. Some of these incidents he testified to me himself, such as how he reacted during the temptation of the "burning of the flesh" at the Sacred Monastery of Stomiou in Konitsa. Indeed, he showed me the scars of the wounds on his leg and I testify to this.

And despite this great asceticism, giving himself to such "crazy" things for Christ, he was all heart, sweetly with sweetness, he radiated consolation and sympathized with the afflicted, he gave forth such an endless "spiritual humor", he had a tender and sensitive heart, he was an unceasing spiritual sunshine, a gladsome autumnal sunset. Whenever needed, and as warranted for pastoral needs, he was austere, but he combined austerity with a motherly heart. He scolded someone in front of me for his nonsense, and when he began to shed tears the Elder took him, like a mother takes her naughty children, and led him to the sink to wash and gave him a towel to wipe himself, and then he spoke to him didactically and pleadingly.

Generally, this blessed Elder, as is written in the book, "melted himself in asceticism and gave spiritual rest to all people. He himself was pained for the pain and sins of all people and simultaneously infused them with joy and consolation. He wrestled with demons, spoke with saints, socialized with wild animals and spiritually helped the people."

Just as his life was wondrous, so also also was his repose, which was a venerable repose, martyric. Typical is a conversation with his physician seven days before his repose, according to the testimony of the physician himself. The physician told him: "Elder, your liver is swollen and it hurts you", saying this because the cancer had metastasized terribly. Elder Paisios smiled and said: "Oh, this is my pride and joy, do not worry. It sustained me for seventy years, and now it is sending me, as fast as possible, where I should go. Do not worry about me, I am fine." This response shows his transcendence of death.

Towards the end of his life he "wanted to be alone, to pray without distraction and better prepare for his departure." During his last night he lived the experience of the martyrs. In his pain, as the book describes, he "invoked the Panagia", saying: "My sweet Panagia". "He lost consciousness for two hours, and when he recovered he said in a low voice: 'martyrdom, true martyrdom', and then he reposed in peace."

Typical also is the "spiritual will of the Elder", which was found after his repose in his Cell at Panagouda and it shows his spiritual and theological maturity. His "will", written by the Elder, is as follows:

My, Monk Paisios, words, as I evaluated myself, having seen that I have transgressed all the commandments of the Lord, and having committed every sin. It doesn't matter if I have done some of them to a lesser degree, because I have no extenuation, for the Lord has benefacted me much.

Pray that Christ may have mercy on me.

Forgive me, and I forgive all those who think saddened me.

Thank you very much,
and again

Monk Paisios

In this short writing he shows his self-reproach, his spiritual maturity, since he compares himself with the heights of the spiritual life, with the state of heavenly citizenship that he was made worthy to experience and see, which is why he writes with such deep humility. The simplicity of his words shows his spiritual maturity.

Elder Paisios was a great ascetic with the heart of a small child, and a nascent infant with the experience of the great Fathers.

With the frequent communication I had with the ever-memorable great Elder I formed the opinion that his entire personality combined the gifts of the Prophets of the Old Testament and the holy men of the New Testament.

From the Old Testament he reminded me of the figure of the Prophet Elijah, in regards to asceticism, his living communication with God, his stay in the cave and receiving food from a crow, his fiery prayer and its cycloidal convolution even of his body, his zeal for God and love for the people to return to the truth of the living God. Indeed, Fr. Paisios lived many of the aspects of the life of the Prophet Elijah, as seen in his spiritual biography.

From Ecclesiastical life he reminded me of two great ascetics. The first is Abba Poemen, whose sayings are written in the Gerontikon, in which one sees his deep knowledge of the spiritual life, his spiritual wisdom, as well as his love for people. The second is Saint Kosmas Aitolos, who was distinguished for the transparency of his personality, his deep humility, his wit, his genuine "missionary spirit", and his prophetic and martyric life. The combination of the gifts of these two great saints we meet in the personality and work of Fr. Paisios. He closely resembled Abba Poemen in regards his asceticism and love for people, as well as Saint Kosmas Aitolos in regards his simplicity, his miraculous interventions and his kenotic missionary ministry. And the peoples response to Fr. Paisios is the same response people had to Abba Poemen and to Saint Kosmas Aitolos.

We experienced him as a "seer", venerable one and martyr, which is why we testify to his holiness.

4. The Authenticity of the Book

Reading this book one is strongly assured that it is authentic, and it is written with simplicity and purity of words, concepts and events, which are characteristic features of truth. Someone characterized the book as "scrawny", because it has nothing superfluous. The way in which the book is written strongly resembles the holy Gospels that describe the life of Christ, the Synaxaria that describe the lives of the saints, the Gerontikon and the Evergetinos which describe the lives of the venerable ascetics. The more simple and pure the words, so much more are the truth of things expressed.

In the Prologue written by the Brotherhood of the ever-memorable Elder Isaac, it is written: "We set a rule of truth in the effort of this biography. 'The authority of Your words are true.' That is, we tried to present the Elder as we knew him, how he was, without trying to magnify him or idealize him out of love or admiration."

An important thing also is that the way the book is written is similar to the way Elder Paisios wrote, as we see in his books about Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia, about the Athonite Fathers, about Hatzi-George. One observes a similarity between biographer and the person of the biography.

5. Memories of the Heart

I read this book with deep contrition and nostalgic memories. Because the personality of Fr. Paisios is among those I met in my journey when seeking the inner life of the Orthodox Church, after the frustration caused by reflective and rationalistic theological analysis. And these blessed personalities created in me a particular sensation.

I feel deep gratitude towards God because he allowed me to meet this wonderful venerable figure. The ever-memorable venerable Elder Paisios I heard speaking and teaching the deep mysteries of the spiritual life, I felt him to be a living theology, I prayed with him during a vigil of many hours, I heard him chant, I journeyed with him for hours from the Sacred Monastery of Simonopetra to his Cell of Panagouda in Karyes, I slept or rather kept vigil in his Cell and I heard him praying all night, he helped me in critical moments of my life, he waited for me with love at a knoll far from his Cell and he suggested a path for me to meet him where he was even though I was walking to his Cell, and so many other things. That is why reading this book I felt deep contrition and immense gratitude towards God.

The ever-memorable Elder Paisios experienced the Church triumphant in this life and now he enjoys it even more. And I feel the need to ask his intercessions for my pastoral ministry and the salvation of my soul, because he has "much boldness before God". I would like to repeat that which was said by a certain monk about his holy Elder on the day of his funeral service: "I am not saddened by his repose, but I rejoice because in the kingdom of God there is numbered today a man who I knew and who loved me very much, one of my own." And we rejoice because people who truly loved us and gave rest to our spirits, "our own" people, such as Fr. Paisios, Fr. Ephraim, Fr. Sophrony, Bishop Kallinikos of Edessa, etc., are members of the Church and first-born in the heavens.

This important book should be read carefully to obtain a pure sense of the spiritual life, to understand what constitutes philotimo and bravery from which the ever-memorable Elder Paisios was inspired, to see what exactly is the Orthodox Church, how does one become a member of the Church, what is true purification, illumination and theosis, so that we will be healed of our contemporary incurable illnesses of theological Babylon and the contemporary confusion of theological discourse.

Fervent congratulations belong to the Brotherhood of the ever-memorable Fr. Isaac for overseeing the publication of this book, as well as the Sacred Hermitage of Saint John the Forerunner in Metamorphosis of Chalkidiki, for being the primary center of its distribution. They offered the Church a great spiritual treasure.

I for one, in carefully reading this book, became dizzy by its wealth, its depth, its height, and by the tenderness of this blessed holy man, the ascetic of the early years of the Church, who appeared in our days to rebuke us, to teach us, to love us and to drive us to be madly in love.

12 July 2004, the day of his repose

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, “Βίος του Γέροντος Παϊσίου του Αγιορείτου”, July 2004. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.