January 17, 2015

How a Sinner Came to Know Elder Paisios in Mount Athos

By Lambis Tagmatarchis

If someone wanted to somewhat characterize me, they could say anything ... except that I am a very religious man.

I am as much of the church as - I guess - you are. The church sees me on Pascha a little before the "Christ is Risen", and I went to a few weddings in the past, but now more often I go to funerals.

That's it.

Now, how I came to Mount Athos, years ago, and how they convinced me to walk a good distance to see up close an ascetic named Paisios who had an immense reputation and to whom people from the ends of the earth came to see, I do not understand.

After all, when you decide to go to the Holy Mountain you have come to terms with the idea that you should not understand everything, or at least you should leave conscious gaps, so that it can get inside you whatever needs to go through.

Reason does not explain everything - at least at the Holy Mountain. So when I was on a trail with a steep downhill initially with my friends, I came to realize I was part of a small reverential journey.

They were a disparate crowd who were going in the same direction towards the skete of Paisios.

Some were praying, some were murmuring hymns unknown to me, some were holding crosses and icons. Most had a small gift - do not imagine anything special - some fruit, nuts or a few chestnuts.

I, certainly, was unprepared for the "sacred descent/visit", suspiciously alone, "unbelieving", carrying nothing.

"Let's go see this too" I said to myself, and I was already thinking about the uphill return and the cigarettes stifling my chest.

As soon as we arrived at the skete, I saw the Elder standing there speaking with a visitor a few meters away. A long line had formed, and as soon as one of the believers left another went forward.

They would talk only for a few minutes.

On the branches of the tree there hung plastic bags with the offerings to the Elder. A bench was further away, and the extremely low door of the hut or chapel or both, and the scent of spring piercing the nostrils.

I honestly do not understand how I ended up in line, and I honestly do not understand how it was suddenly my turn to go before him.

Standing there, I was bewildered, embarrassed, unprepared and "guilty", because I didn't go there to say anything. I simply went there to see.

"And what is bothering you that you came here?" he asked me.

Indeed, I lost it.

I looked at his grated cassock, I looked him in the eye, at his knurled face; he was 60 years old and looked 80, or the opposite.

This, then, was Elder Paisios?

He asked me again, "What did we say your name was?"

"Lambis," I responded.

"As in Haralambis?"


He prompted me again.

"So what is occupying you? Tell me one of your sins."

I couldn't think of anything (if you are full of sins you don't know which to speak of first).

I answered him with youthful and pure excitement...

"I don't have sins, but even if I do have them I never told them to a confessor. In other words, I have never gone to confession."

"But, my beloved Haralambos, you appear to be smart. Confession to man is like an hours rest to a soldier at war, like a physician to one who has been injured in the daily battle. When you confess what is burdening you, you repel it and throw off the heavy burden, and you can continue more rested."

I did not respond. I leaned forward to kiss his hand, but he pulled it back so that I couldn't reach it.

This is also part of an informal ritual.

I thanked him in the dumbest way in the world and left. I ask that you forgive me also, but how can a sinner know how to say farewell to a Saint?

On the way back I said to my travel companion friend: "I will never forget the analogy of the weary soldier."

"Perhaps he knew that your last name is Tagmatarchis (Greek: Major)," he answered.

Years passed since then. His prophecies were gifts to Sunday newspapers. And his name on the cover of books were sold eagerly by booksellers on television.

Yesterday I learned that he was declared a Saint. Now, when I die, I will have someone on the inside, and I thought, "only if he remembers me".

Truly, do the Saints remember?

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.