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November 11, 2019

The Story of Saint Paisios' Book About Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian

By Stelios Koukos

In the mid-1970's a non-fiction book was published titled "Father Arsenios the Cappadocian", which had been published by the relatively recent established monastic Hesychasterion of the Evangelist John the Theologian in Souroti. Neither the book's cover nor any other page contained the author's name, and only the attentive reader could understand from the context who really wrote it. However, it was soon learned that its writer was none other than the then known charismatic monk Paisios (1924-1994).

The book refers to a hieromonk named Arsenios, who was born around 1840 and reposed in 1924, and was from the village of Farasa, where Saint Paisios was also from. This hieromonk, after studying in Smyrna and settling in a monastery in the area, was sent by the local Metropolitan Paisios II to the village as a pastor. There the hieromonk Arsenios, on a daily basis, in addition to his religious and educational duties, performed signs and wonders, working miracles and healings for the inhabitants of the area, regardless of nationality or religion. He protected the Romans in the depth of Asia Minor from the frequent raids of the armed tchetas. Saint Arsenios, through his prayers, stopped them on the spot and so they were able to flee. I remember when I gave the book to a friend to read it, he very naively said: "He has done more than Christ!"

When the book was published, Father Paisios was living as an ascetic in the Cell of the Honorable Cross, which belongs to Stavronikita Monastery, and he also had under his spiritual guidance the female hesychasterion in Souroti. The book did not take long to become a bestseller, which was helped by its cheap price - I remember it was being sold for 18 to 20 drachmas. But this was not why it was so successful. Over time it became very popular in artistic circles, due to a writer from Thessaloniki, the artist and intellectual Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis.

Pentzikis considered this publication to be the best religious book written after 1821. He was so enthusiastic about the writing and words of Elder Paisios, whom he knew personally and who had a mutual appreciation, that on occasion he would buy books and give them to those he communicated with. If it was no longer in stock, he would urge them to look for it and buy it no matter what. Sometimes he would even give the 20 drachmas for them to buy it.

I remember some years later, when the price of the book had reached 80 drachmas, the writer from Thessaloniki was in Athens with some students of mine, publishers of a youth literary magazine. Pentzikis, when he realized during the discussion that one of them had not read this book, not only was discontented, but also took a hundred drachmas out of his pocket and gave it to him to buy. And while my student was taking the hundred drachmas, Nikos, with his always friendly and bold manner, suddenly said to him: "Give me back twenty, the book only costs eighty!" With this, they all burst out in laughter.

Once a well-known director was interested in bringing this book to the cinema, and he asked a certain writer to write a script. This writer did not take this suggestion warmly by telling me that these are not serious things. One time when I was going to Mount Athos and Elder Paisios I asked my friend the writer what he would say if I discussed this with him. "Why not," he told me, "ask him to see what he will say." And indeed when I found myself in the cell of the elder who was now in Panagouda, I mentioned this proposal to him. Then Father Paisios asked me, "What films does this director make?" The last one, I told him, was an explosive film with great psychological depth, and "ends with a metaphysical disposition." "Look," he tells me, "tell him to make movies first about good people and then about saints"! When I mentioned this to my writer friend, he said, "You know, this director is probably more fascinated with the eviction of Hellenism from its ancestral homeland and their shocking journey with their coming to Greece."

With this beautiful book of Saint Paisios, the hieromonk Arsenios became known everywhere, since the publication has been translated into various languages, and in 1986 he was officially canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Source: translated by John Sanidopoulos.