November 10, 2022

The Wise and Courageous Metropolitan Paisios II of Caesarea (1776-1871), the Spiritual Predecessor of Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia

Paisios was born in Farasa of Cappadocia in 1776 or 1777. In 1804 he became abbot of the Honorable Forerunner Monastery in Flaviana (Zincidere) and a teacher of the School for Priests (Seminary). He helped the Ecumenical Patriarchate in very bad times. He fought zealously to prevent proselytizing actions against the Romans, saw to the construction or repair of temples, founded schools, orphanages and girls' schools.

The head village of Cappadocia was the saint-bearing Varasos, better known as Farasa, which was the birthplace of two great Saints of the Church, Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia and his spiritual successor Saint Paisios the Athonite. And, as Mr. Lazaros M. Kelekidis writes in his book "Farasa of Cappadocia", it was Saint Paisios who made Farasa known and thanks to him the whole world learned that there in the depths of the East, there was a spring of inexhaustible Roman Orthodox spirituality, a beacon that shone with the unfading light of Orthodoxy.

In the 19th century, Farasa also produced another important ecclesiastical figure, a Hierarch of the Ecumenical Throne not particularly known nowadays, whose courage, prudence and faith greatly helped his flock in Cappadocia, but also the Ecumenical Patriarchate in particularly bad times. This was Metropolitan Paisios II of Caesarea.

Son of the priest and teacher Papa-Anastasios Kepoglou, he was born in Farasa in 1776 (or 1777) and received the secular name Peter. His initial education was taught by his father, who, when Peter turned 16, took him to the Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner in Flaviana (Zincidere), where he continued his studies "at the feet" of Abbot Germanos, the wise teacher, which his student later called "the light of the East".

Flaviana (Zincidere) is a town that is 15 km from Caesarea. Until 1922 there was a numerous Greek (Roman) Community, while near it was the Sacred Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner, seat of the current Metropolitan of Caesarea. On August 29, a great Christian festival was held in the Monastery.

The Monastery also housed the Flaviana School for Priests (Flaviana Seminary), the only one in the whole of Asia Minor. The School was forced to suspend its operation for financial reasons. However, thanks to a fervent patriot, the Chios merchant Theodoros Rodokanakis, it operated without a problem from 1882 to 1916, and was renamed the "Rodokanakio Seminary".

The Monastery of Flaviana is described by G. Askitopoulos in his memoir about the Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner in Flaviana as follows: "The famous and historic Monastery of the Forerunner in Flaviana was two hours away from Caesarea, nine hundred and ninety-four kilometers from Constantinople, and is located in a fertile and picturesque place, which is surrounded by vines and gardens and is bathed by continuous waters, coming from the Argeas. Because of its brilliant, healthy and cool location, this Monastery becomes the summer residence of the inhabitants of the entire surrounding country every year. The Flaviana Monastery became famous, because within its surroundings the educational and philanthropic establishments of Cappadocia were concentrated in four splendid and imposing palaces, erected thanks to the brave contribution of not only the rich children, but also thanks to the contribution of the philanthropic inhabitants of the East and serving as orphanages for both sexes, a high school, a central girls' school and a school for teachers." In the same book, G. Askitopoulos does not hide his respect and admiration for Metropolitan Paisios II, referring to him with the words: "The great and skillful helmsman of the Church of Caesarea Paisios."

Two years later, Peter received the monastic schema, and was renamed Paisios, while in 1804 he became abbot of the Monastery and a teacher of the School. In 1832 the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elected Paisios Metropolitan of Caesarea, most-honorable of the most-honorable and exarch of all the East.

In the Patriarchal Seal of his election (under Patriarch Constantine) he is described as "God-revering, just, outwardly educated and inwardly well-educated, adorned in deed and speech as much as possible". This description does not exaggerate in the slightest.

His pastoral and charitable work was enormous. Outside the Flaviana Monastery there were always sacks of bread leavened by the monks, intended for poor passers-by. He fought zealously to prevent the proselytizing action of the Papal and Protestant missionaries who were trying to seduce the Romans, while he took care to build or repair the temples, to establish orphanages, schools and girls' schools, to publish books, to appoint teachers. There are also references to his written work, but it will have to be researched in archives and libraries. Where his contribution proved particularly important, however, was in solving the difficult problems that the Patriarchate faced from time to time, either with the Ottoman state authorities, or with the heterodox communities of the state.

The Patriarchate chose in almost every difficult situation to send Paisios to represent it to the Sultan. And this, both because of his prudence and wisdom, for which the Turks also respected him, and many problems were solved thanks to his advice, but also because of his courage, a courage that was truly surprising. Saint Paisios the Athonite mentions a typical detail: when some complicated problem was to be discussed, he would come before the sultan with a rope tied around his waist. He was, says the Saint, determined to be hanged by the Turks, it was as if he was provoking the sultan, saying to him: "Don't look for a rope and be a fool; if you want to hang me, I have the rope ready."

A characteristic incident where the prudence of the Metropolitan solved a serious problem of the Patriarchate, was the dispute that arose with the Armenians over the cemeteries of Baloukli. The Armenians claimed it as theirs, having even secured the support of the Grand Vizier, but the Greeks (Romans) insisted it was theirs.

The Sultan, not wanting to displease the Vizier, but neither the Patriarch, found himself at an impasse. So he asked the Romans if there was anyone among them who could say with certainty to whom the cemeteries belonged. The Romans told him about Paisios, however clarifying that his advanced age did not allow him to make such a journey. Then the Sultan ordered him to be conveyed in his personal carriage, which was done. The Sultan told him that he had been informed of his wisdom by all, and asked him if he knew to whom the cemeteries of Baloukli really belonged, since each side claimed that they belonged to it.

Instead of another answer, the prudent Hierarch answered him with a parable: A certain father had a large estate with gardens, but once he was killed by robbers, they seized his property and threw his orphans on the street. "So, according to the law of the Koran, polychronemene," he finished, "in order to do justice, don't you think the estate should be returned to the rightful heirs?" "Certainly," replied the Sultan. "The estate must be given to the orphans and those who grabbed it must be punished." "Do you believe that?" the Metropolitan asked him. "Of course I believe so," replied the Sultan. "So can you write it and give it to me, sealed with your royal seal?" The sultan agreed and did what Paisios asked, who asked that the sultan's advisors also sign, which was done.

As soon as the old Metropolitan took the firman in his hands, he boldly said to the Sultan: "With this paper, polychronemene, you grant me all that your ancestors seized by force from my ancestors: the City and all of Asia Minor, from end to end!" The sultan was shook, surprised and enraged, but the brave Hierarch calmly reassured him. "You're not right to worry. I'm very old, I don't even have the strength, and I'm all alone in the palace. So I can't hurt you. Take back your bull, then, and order that Baloukli be given to the Romans, because it belongs to them. All this was Roman." The Sultan admired the old man's wisdom and courage.

Thus the sultan ordered that Baloukli be given to the Patriarchate and ordered that Paisios be taken back to his Metropolis in the royal carriage and with all the honors.

Saint Arsenios, his Spiritual Successor

Paisios II fell asleep in 1871, at a very old age. He was buried in the narthex of the Church of the Honorable Forerunner of the Flaviana Monastery and many called him "Great", for his work and his wisdom.

He had ordained as a deacon his relative the hieromonk Arsenios, our well-known great Saint, the predecessor of Saint Paisios the Athonite, and sent him to Farasa, which he had never forgotten.

According to the testimony of an old man from Farasa, quoted by Lazaros M. Kelekidis in his book "Farasa of Cappadocia", about Metropolitan Paisios the older people said that he was the great father and advisor of the people of Farasa, until Saint Arsenios came to Farasa.

When he sent him, Metropolitan Paisios was already advanced in age. And the old people of Farasa unanimously admit that he made the most correct choice. He sent to Farasa a worthy shepherd, who lived an ascetic life and reached a full measure of sanctity.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.