By Fr. Elias Makos
Venerable Paisios, who memory is celebrated on July 12, had God as his ally, guide and inspiration since childhood.
In everything, alone, he felt himself to be weak and powerless. With God he gained power. The closer his bond with God was, the more powerful were his experiences.
Those who had conversed with him, and are no longer alive, left behind their memories to their relatives. And those younger than him who knew him closely, as well as his own relatives, have preserved incidents from his life in Konitsa, not only of his childhood and adolescents, but also of his early monastic life.
Venerable Paisios constantly struggled to rid himself of sin, and he emerged in a field that belonged to God, and was cultivated by Him.
From Igoumenitsa to Konitsa
When the family of Prodromos Enzepides, father of Arsenios (later the monk Paisios), who was only 40 days old, along with other people from Asia Minor, were expelled from Cappadocia and specifically from Farasa, they stayed for a short time in Piraeus and Kerkyra.
Finally they advanced to Igoumenitsa with the prospect of a permanent settlement and land concessions, as part of the exchange of populations, while the Muslim Tsamides would go to Turkey.
Eventually, they did not leave so the people of Asia Minor moved to Konitsa, although they did not want to.
|Childhood home of St. Paisios in Konitsa|
"This Little Child Will Become Saint"
In Konitsa, Arsenios, when he was two years old, grew physically, but he also received many spiritual stimuli and manifested many gifts of the soul as a child.
As a child he was thus found worthy of divine gifts which he received during his baptism in Farasa, a few days after his birth, by the priest of his village, Arsenios of Cappadocia, who gave him his name.
His behavior was so pious, and his childhood so venerable, that just about all the inhabitants of Konitsa would say, "This little child will become a Saint."
With the same faith of his early years, he lived until his repose. He also proclaims this faith after his death.
He Overcame Poverty with the Wealth of God
His family faced a lot of financial problems, so Arsenios was unable to continue his studies when he finished school.
He turned to the art of carving, which he learned very quickly, but also was involved with his father's estates.
Within these circumstances he deepened the value of God's wealth more deeply.
What was this wealth for him? His salvation. Everything else he considered secondary, temporary, that at some point they would be lost.
With the maturity of an older man, he realized that even if everything here was lost, if salvation was won, everything was won. Salvation for him was a similarity to Paradise.
He Built a Hermitage in the Forest
From the age of fifteen he would retire every afternoon in the neighboring forest where he had made a hermitage from wood and branches, and there he prayed.
Indeed, his parents were disturbed by these isolations, but in vain tried to stop them. His only inexhaustible source of consolation was prayer.
He needed prayer, because through it he spoke with God. Especially in every difficult occasion and time, when wild waves beat on the ship of his own life and that of his family.
|Chapel of St. Barbara in Konitsa|
Christ in Front of Him
A young man from Konitsa, who was studying at the University, discovered his hermitage in the woods, approached him, talked with him, and tried to shake his faith with various thoughts in order to create doubts.
"There is no God," he told him. "It is possible to worship something that you do not see. We humans are not God's creatures, but we come from the monkey."
The young Arsenios, in a troubled state, ran to the Chapel of Saint Barbara.
In front of the image of Jesus he broke into tears. Then, he himself revealed, he saw Christ in front of him, holding an open Gospel.
After blessing him, He said to him: "Arsenios, I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me even if he dies will live."
This first supernatural revelation was followed by many others which determined not only his course towards monasticism but also the very content of his monastic life.
The mercy of God, which has no limits, is an immense and bottomless ocean, and always strengthened him in his struggles.
The Devil Threatened Him
After serving for five years in the army as a radio operator and for three years working in Konitsa, in 1953 he departed for Mount Athos, where he was tonsured a monk.
After five years, in 1958, he lived as a monk, until 1962, in the abandoned Monastery of Stomiou in Konitsa, which he restored, and which, in the years that followed, became known not only nationwide but also internationally because of his presence there.
Once as he was ascending up to the Monastery, a 90-minute footpath in the gorge of Aoös, he heard the devil try to terrify him with hatred, to shake his faith and his monastic dedication, in order to be wiped out into the terrible darkness of deceit and the traps of the evil one.
He Tormented His Body
And during his stay in the Stomiou Monastery, he followed the will of God by asceticism, selflessness, and sacrifices.
His late brother Luke Enzepidis once said to a priest: "I went up one morning from Konitsa to the monastery. When I arrived, I found outside of the Monastery and walking towards the woods my brother, Pasios, and the young theologian Panagiotis Nellas. Nellas had gone a little while before to try to be a novice under the Elder to become a monk, but what I saw when I got close shocked me. Both of them were completely barefoot, walking on the wild stones and the thorns of the forest. The feet of the young theologian were swollen and completely wounded. I did not dare to say anything to them. Panagiotis looked at me with a melancholic smile on his frozen lips. As for my brother (Paisios)? He gave me a sharp look that did not allow me to say or to comment on anything, not even to catch up!"
|Stomiou Monastery in Konitsa|
The Miracle of Saint Arsenios for Elder Paisios
As long as he was in the Stomiou Monastery, he would go to Kerkyra, where Saint Arsenios had been buried by Cappadocians, and he recovered his relics and conveyed them secretly to Konitsa.
He would leave the next day and stayed at a hotel. The relics he put them under his pillow and he prayed.
Then, as he described, he felt his throat being choked by two hands, without seeing a man near him.
Spontaneously, he shouted, "Saint Arsenios, help me!" He immediately felt a force release him.
Rather Than Sleep, He Prayed in the Church
He visited the village of Konitsa, where he spent the night. He was housed in a home where he was offered coffee, but he did not accept food.
Instead of sleeping in the house, he spent the night praying in the nearby Church of the Panagia.
He struggled to live in this way, and thus he was truly Orthodox. Not only with Orthodox faith, but also with Orthodox life and ethos.
This was something that led him safely to the harbor of the future world, to the eternal joy of the Kingdom of God.
Piggy Banks in the Neighborhoods for the Poor
In certain houses in the neighborhoods of Konitsa he had left a piggy bank. He urged the people of Konitsa to throw their contributions, in order to buy from the management committee, as he had designated, food, clothes and medicines for the poor.
The support of our fellow men, according to Paisios, is a method of shielding the soul, an act of light.
He Converted the Evangelicals of Konitsa
During his stay as a monk in Konitsa, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there lived in Konitsa certain Evangelicals, who had come from Cappadocia's Farasa.
They also founded a church and took in around fifty residents of Konitsa. He approached one of these people and persuaded them that they were carried away by mistakes and that they were not keeping themselves clean and unpolluted.
He also helped them to understand that the deeper things they want - happiness, joy - God gives them, and they are His treasures. The result? The church of the Evangelicals was emptied.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.