January 23, 2015

Why St. Paisios the Athonite Was Not a Nationalist, a Homophobe or a Misogynist

By Kostas Nousis, 

A strong majority - if we speak with such terms of political relevance - of today's Neo-Greeks were made worthy to not only learn about, but to also know closely the newly-canonized Saint of our Church, Paisios the Athonite (+ 1994). Among them boasts the least of these, the author of this piece who was given the honor reserved by divine providence to often meet and talk with this huge and iconic figure of Orthodoxy in these latter days in which we live.

Anyone who saw the Saint up close understood, first and foremost, that he was a Man in the true meaning of the word, and they sensed in him, even slightly and dimly, who God is, rather who our God is and His noble, precise and paternal love. It is not my purpose here to list my personal experiences of the holiness of this man, which I will only mention was indicated when he invoked the name of my brother in the flesh without of course ever having met him beforehand, and his prophecy of the future repose of a family member of mine which was fulfilled in a wondrous manner, and in his responses to my questions before I even expressed them verbally to the Athonite ascetic. All of these are just indicators and proofs of the plenteous Grace of the Elder and have more importance for the faithful than those who are outside or stand against the Church of God. My purpose here, however, is to solve and explain both retrospectively and proactively, some misconceptions of the words and actions of the newly-appeared Saint, without, of course, having the mistaken impression that the reputation of Saint Paisios deserves my very weak apologetic.

The reason for this, therefore, comes from a short text on Facebook, along with a recent discussion with a challenger friend of Orthodox tradition, according to which he formed the view, to exploit the honorable name, teachings and glory of this great ascetic, that he was falsely, as can be encapsulated in these three words: a nationalist, a homophobe and a misogynist. Maybe the last two we can unite together. The substance, however, of all these focuses on a blatant distortion of the truth and the holiness of Elder Paisios.

Let us begin with the last. He cited a passage from the letters of the Saint to beginner and novice monks, which identified him, supposedly, as a misogynist. The obvious reality of the context of this letter - its purpose was to protect the recipients who were inexperienced and young from the burning of carnal passions and temptations - was either deliberately omitted or overlooked by the accuser out of ignorance, especially since these are general and Orthodox ascetic conditions of Christianity. I will simply refer historically to the known exhortation of Saint Kosmas the Aitolos, that we ought to prefer being beside the devil than a woman, which would classify him on a higher pedestal of misogyny than our contemporary Saint! But this is only if they don't know, or, better yet, if they don't want to judge correctly... For the record, however, I will simply state that the Elder had for many years an excellent relationship with simple and faithful women, and he even eventually reposed at the Monastery of Souroti, where he was under the care of the female sisterhood situated there.

Needless to say that there are people who criticize him, because they consider that for an Athonite to die outside of Mount Athos is an indication that they were not pleasing to God, but this is an oral Athonite tradition where it is believed that it is more pleasing to God to die in the Garden of the Panagia. Yet these laymen and monks and clergy who accuse him do not think of what should be obvious: that God allowed him to die in the world precisely to make this female Monastery a place of pilgrimage, to help more easily and directly the people of God around the world. Already they come from around the world to venerate and pray at the grave of the Saint.

We come now to homophobia. This certainly "puts a heavy load" on the entire Christian tradition and of course not only on Saint Paisios. But I would say he is to a great degree falsely accused, even though we know that many homosexuals found their salvation and the consolation of their souls near the Elder. I will refer to one small example: Once a homosexual who felt ashamed for his passion was at an impasse in his inability to overcome it, and by divine providence went as a last resort to see "a certain Paisios" of whom he heard about. When he went, before he even had the opportunity to speak, the Saint slapped him hard. The man fell on his knees baffled and lost in tears of despair. After a while the Elder crouched, hugged him, and embracing him he raised him up saying: "I didn't hit you for what you are doing, but for what you are thinking of doing." This is because he was seriously thinking of committing suicide. He explained that with this tragic outcome he would lose his soul, while grief for his passion would give him a crown and a key to enter eternity.

Perhaps he was a nationalist? We can add here the "eschatological terrorism and commentary" which he is accused of. Someone can also add here general reproach and intolerance, for example regarding heterodox Christians. Let us begin with the latter. As is known, the Saint was a Cappadocian, a refugee from his ancestral ancient land in Asia Minor. He lived all the drama of being uprooted, and experienced through family and friends the pain, the blood, the fury and the hatred of the Turks against his countrymen, who are all our brethren. Here everything can be justified that he said and "prophesied" concerning a new Great Greece and about Constantinople. Perhaps there was mingled here a bit of wishful thinking along with some oracles of the past, which surely were never accepted by our Church. Of course we cannot be absolutely sure whether or not these are genuine predictions, but we can very easily understand the "mistakes" of the Saint, which came from his great pain and excessive love for our Greece and the many historical injustices it suffered in recent centuries. We must never forget that the Saint prayed for the whole world and his beneficence was extended in many ways and in every direction - to Muslims, Turks, Bedouins and every tribe and nation. If he did not do this, he simply would not be a Saint, and certainly would not have received such an abundant Grace from God.

Indeed, one could accuse even Christ Himself of nationalism. If we read in a literal, frivolous and unscientific way the New Testament texts, there will be found a Jesus who is a misogynist in one place and a chauvinist in another! One can cite passages to make this point (e.g. Matt. 15:26). At the same time one could observe clearly the universality of the divine message and design (Matt. 28:19). In the same way we should examine the case of Father Paisios. He kept a discreet middle course between globalization and a genuine and healthy love for the Greek Nation, for the race of Romans, for his Homeland. Especially nowadays, where in the name of liberalism the national consciousness is being dissolved, it is worth remembering the heroic and high mindedness of the Elder to trigger our national lethargy, to which we have come. Healthy patriotism is surely not identical in every case with anti-Christian and anti-evangelical nationalism.

The eschatology of the Saint is always based on his holy desire and inward zeal for the Church, from his salvific concern and anxiety because of the temptations and persecutions of Christians in the last days. On this point he even came to a mild disagreement with the other great figure of our days, Saint Porphyrios.1 If we look at what he says about these relevant issues, we will likely see his "wrong" interpretation of it, which of course simply shows his great desire for the global brightness of Orthodoxy and nothing more. In fact, he himself stated that he did not express these things in a dogmatic way with prophetic validity, but he spoke "from his thoughts".2 He spoke somewhat of a certain rejuvenation of Orthodoxy with the coming of the Antichrist, which does not seem to be supported by the Bible and especially by the Apocalypse. But I stress again, the Saint himself is merely expressing his own thoughts and they should not have a final and authoritative interpretation.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFbYg3MWGeI. See also Κ. Νούση, Όσιος Πορφύριος ο Καυσοκαλυβίτης, Εκκλησιολογία – Θεολογία, εκδ. Γρηγόρη, 2014, pp. 156-157.

[2] Γέροντος Παϊσίου Αγιορείτου Λόγοι Β’: Πνευματική αφύπνιση, εκδ. Ησυχαστηρίου Σουρωτής, 1999, σελ. 188.

Sources 1 and 2: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.