Paisius of Athos
Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Translated from Russian by Tatiana Pavlova/ Natalia Semyanko
To what to strive. Human and Divine Truths. The Story of a Pilgrim. Divine Providence. About Prayer. Feats in Spiritual Life. About Humility and Patience. Zeal. How to Combat One’s Passion. The Dominance of the Wordly Spirit. The Necessity of Confession. About Obedience and Patience. The Struggle with Bad Thoughts. A Vision of the Divine Light. Love for God and for People. A Virtuous Person. The Saints’ Example. Family. Discussion about the Upbringing of Children. Various Incidents.
The Life of the Elder.
Elder Paisius, Arsenius Eznepidis in the world, was born in Pharasas of Cappadocia, in Asia Minor, on July 25, 1924, on the feast day of St. Anna. His father’s name was Prodromos, and he was the chairman of Pharasas. He was distinguished by his love and devotion towards Saint Arsenius Hadgiefendi, and his patriotism, because of which, his life was in danger a number of times from wild Turkish robbers, the only menace of the Pharasiots. He had great reverence towards St. Arsenius, and if he saw or heard of any miracle, he wrote it down so that it could help him and his children. His mother’s name was Eulampia. The Elder had nine brothers and sisters. On August 7, 1924, one week before the departure of the Pharasiots to Hellada, St. Arsenius of Cappadocia baptized all the children that were not yet baptized. Prodromos Eznepidis brought his son (the future Elder) to the Saint to baptize him. The Mystery was begun, and when it was time to name to the boy, Prodromos, according to tradition, gave the name of the child’s grandfather, which was Christos. But Father Arsenius disagreed, for he particularly wanted to give his own name to this boy. Therefore he said to the parents: "All right, you want to leave a person on his grandfather’s knees, do I not wish to leave a monk after me?" Then he turned to the nuna (the godmother) and said: "Call him Arsenius!"
Saint Arsenius, thanks to his gift of vision, foresaw the Elder’s vocation, who, as it turned out, was already meant to be the chosen vessel of the Holy Spirit from the time he was in his mother’s womb. Five weeks after the baptism of small Arsenius, on September 14th, 1924, the Feast Day of the Holy and Life Giving Cross, after much hardship, the ship with the refugees put in to the Greek wharf "Saint George of Pirea". They waited for 3 weeks "behind the wire" in St. George and then sailed to Kerkira, where they temporarily set up camp in Kastra. St. Arsenius, as he had predicted, lived on the island for 40 days, and on November 10th, 1924 (new calendar), passed away at the age of 83, leaving behind a worthy successor and heir of his spiritual treasure, the new Arsenius, subsequently Elder Paisius.
The child Arsenius (the Elder) grew, filled with a great love for Christ and Theotokos, and greatly wishing to become a monk. His parents told him, that they would allow him to become a monk only when his beard grew out, and jokingly suggested that he rub his cheeks so that the beard would grow sooner. Small Arsenius rubbed his cheeks constantly.
He also loved to go to the forest, where he prayed, holding a wooden cross, which he had made himself.
In Konitsa, he graduated from public school and received a certificate with the grade "eight" and an "excellent" for behavior. Prior to military service, Arsenius worked as a carpenter, as did the Lord during his terrestrial life. A characteristic example of the compassion of the Elder’s soul, while still a young man working in the carpenters’ workshop, was that, if anyone ordered a coffin for someone deceased, he always made one for free, sympathizing with the sorrow of the deceased’s family, and trying to ease their pain.
In 1945, Arsenius was called up into the army. There, he distinguished himself with good temper and courage. He was always the first to volunteer for the most dangerous spots, preferring to be in danger himself than to let others be there. He often told those who were married and had children to move to the back, taking their place. He would say: "You have wives and children that are waiting for you, while I am single" (Though, as the Elder related, the fathers of families argued between themselves, who would go to the front).
He put himself in danger of being killed many times, in order to free some soldier-colleague. Most of his time in the service, he was a radio operator. He received a military certificate with an "excellent" rating in 1949.
The First Years of Monastic Life.
As soon as his military service ended, Arsenius went to the Holy Mountain, for he decided to lead his monastic life there. For several months, he lived in the Garden of the Theotokos, but was troubled by the thought, that his sisters’ lives were not arranged. So, he decided to return to the world for a time.
A year later, in 1950, he came back to the Holy Mountain. The first night he was hospitably met in the Lavriot Cell of St. John the Theologian, which is next to Karea. Then he went to the St. Panteleimon skete, to the cell of the Entry, where the pious Elder, Father Cyril, an ascetic, lived, who was originally from Agrinio (από το Αγρίνιο). (Father Cyril was ordained in the Holy Land. Then he came to the St. Panteleimon Skete and became a novice of the Blessed Spiritual Father, papa-Panteleimon, living there, in the cell of the Entry of the Theotokos. Father Cyril was forced to become an abbot in the Kutlumush monastery. He passed away in Christ in 1968).
Young Arsenius benefited greatly from living with papa-Cyril, who fasted a lot and served many vigils. Arsenius ardently wished to stay with Father Cyril forever, but -- as he himself said, -- unfortunately, there were some who did not permit a document (agreement) to be written for him for this cell. Then Father Cyril sent the Elder to the monastery "Esphigmen," which was remarkable for its benevolence to strangers and did not yet weave "the deeds of envy." He came to the monastery "Esphigmen" in 1950. There, in 1954, he was ordained with the name of Averkius.
He liked to study the lives of the Saints, the Paterik and Abba Isaac’s works, with which he never parted: even while sleeping, he kept the book under his pillow. When young Averkius was done with his work, he did not go to his cell to rest, but helped the other brothers, so that they might finish their work sooner, for he could not stay in his cell alone and rest, while the other brothers were "cultivated" till late at night. He always tried to help the weak. He loved all the fathers without discrimination, he obeyed everybody and humbled himself, placing himself lower than the others.
Averkius did not trust his thoughts, but humbly, without his will, asked his spiritual father about everything, prayed that his spiritual father would be enlightened, so that he could be guided by him in the way that would please God.
He was always determined, for he constantly thought about all of God’s blessings towards him and the whole world. He always had love for God within him, originating from gratefulness for His blessings and effortless unceasing prayer. He set only one goal for his heart — to respond, at least infinitesimally, to God’s gifts.
Young Averkius considered Divine grace the only reason for everything good, and himself —the cause of everything evil (due to his deep humility).
When, for example, he saw a brother committing a sin, or someone unrepentant, or an unbeliever, he said to himself: "I am guilty that this brother is in such a state, for if I had done everything that Christ wanted, He would have heard my prayer and the brother would not be in this state; now, however, he is, because of my hard-heartedness." He always thought that way, and made the his brothers’ problems his own, and constantly prayed to God to help the entire world, which, according to his opinion, suffered because of his indifference and spiritual idleness. So God, Who promised to listen to the prayers of the humble, always heard the prayers of Averkius, which came out of the cardiac "fire-place," that was warmed by his piety and humility.
Averkius greatly enjoyed visiting the blessed Elders and spiritual fathers, to receive their blessing and to listen to spiritual advice. Everything that he heard from the spiritual and "ever-marvelous flowers" of the Theotokos (i.e. the Elders), his pure and "childlike" soul accepted without any hesitation or doubt. In the simplicity of his heart, he believed those fathers, and never allowed their advice to be sifted through the sieve of his own mind: first confirming it and then accepting it, — but he fulfilled it with his unswerving faith, always contradicting any of his own ideas or logical investigation: for he knew very well that those who test the spiritual with logic — are trying to catch air with their hands.
He visited many of fathers while still young, and, as a bee, gathered the spiritual nectar, in order to make spiritual honey in the future, which nourished many of those "being treated." In 1954, he had to go to the holy Monastery "Philopheus" and submit to the Elder Simeon.
In 1956 Father Simeon ordained Father Averkius in the "lesser schema" with the name of Paisius, in honor of the Metropolitan of Caesarea Paisius II, who was his compatriot (they both came from Pharasa of Cappadocia).
In the monastery "Philopheus," the Elder Paisius continued to lead the same way of life that he led in the Esphigmenus Monastery, i.e. he did everything conscientiously, and helped his brothers as much as he could. The following case is very characteristic. One brother there committed a grave sin and was ashamed of confessing it. Consequently, he became withdrawn, began to despair and had suicidal thoughts. The Elder, who knew about it, undertook the following. Once, when he found that brother alone, he began to say that he had a lot of different sins, too, and among them, he mentioned the one, which the brother committed. But, unfortunately, the brother did not have any good thoughts, and as soon as he heard that, instead of helping himself and urging his soul to confess, he began to visit monasteries and say that Paisius, whom they respected and loved, had committed many sins, and repeated everything that the Elder had said, word for word. Naturally, the Elder did not justify himself. But the other fathers understood that the act was performed from the fullness of love, and justified and praised him themselves.
He attended to the cleansing of his soul daily. He did not ask anything of God, for he understood perfectly well that God had already granted him the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is everything, through holy baptism. That was why he was not envious about the gifts of the other fathers, for he knew that from the moment of the holy baptism they were in his soul, and did not take pride in knowing for sure that he had them, but professed them all to be the gifts of Divine grace! His only concern was how to activate this grace of the Holy Spirit in himself sooner, through conscientious effort and humility, and for that reason he cleansed his soul daily.
Thus, he, first of all, purged his soul from any trace of sly thoughts and consequently tried to have only good thoughts. Anyone could see, with delight, that good thoughts – and this due to grace, which "thinketh no evil," -- flowed effortlessly from his soul, even in the worst circumstances, with which he "patched" the flaws and deficiencies of others, as can be clearly seen from the example below:
In one monastery, a brother said certain things, which were considered spiritual delusion (prelest’). The lay-people, listening to him, were disturbed, and a few of them once asked the Elder: Father Paisius, in such and such a monastery a brother says such and such things. And so? The Elder answered them without hesitation: Heed to yourselves, that you do not judge. This brother is reverent, and when visitors come to the monastery, he pretends to be "a fool-for-Christ," to receive his reward from God. Then the pilgrims "calmed down."
While living in the monastery "Philopheus," he visited the skete of Father Cyril and asked for his advice concerning different matters. Father Cyril, through God’s grace, helped him in everything, and often presented the solution to the problem, even before the Elder would tell him what was worrying him,. He was always "informed" by God, that the Elder was coming to visit him to ask for advice, and awaited him with a ready answer. Sometimes, he even gave him the underlined answer from the text of some book: when the Elder arrived, he would show him the answer and the Elder would be surprised, then, receiving a blessing, would go back, filled with joy.
In 1966, the Elder became sick, and was treated for many months in the hospital of "Papanicolau," where he underwent an operation in which the greater part of his lungs were removed.
The Isichastiry of St. John the Theologian.
Divine Providence arranged for the Elder to become acquainted with the sisters of the Holy Isichastiry of St. John the Theologian in Suroti (Suroti is a picturesque place 20 km. from the city of Saloniki, Macedonia). During that period (of the Elder’s sickness in 1966), the priest of the Church of St. Sophia in Saloniki , Father Policarp Madzaroglu, learned of the Elder’s illness.
When the Elder came to Saloniki for the operation and was placed in a hospital, Father Policarp asked those spiritual sisters, who intended to become nuns and were under his direction, to assist the Elder with anything he might need during his stay in the hospital. During the operation, much blood was needed. He did not have any relatives nearby (for he himself did not want that), and the sisters gave as much of their own blood as was necessary.
The Elder came to the monastery "Stavronikita" in 1968. There he provided great assistance, both in renewing the monastery, and in the spiritual establishment of the fraternity.
Father Tikhon, a confessor, was living in the Stavronikitskaya cell of the Holy Cross, not far from there (Father Tikhon was born in the village New Michailovka in Russia in 1884). He had many spiritual gifts and performed great monastic exploits. Father Paisius often came to him, asked for his advice and helped him during the Divine Liturgy as a psalm reader. Many times, as he stated himself, the Divine Liturgy was interrupted, because Father Tikhon was enthralled by spiritual contemplation, which sometimes lasted up to half an hour. He said, he himself witnessed, Cherubims and Seraphims, worshipping God. During that time, Father Tikhon ordained the Elder into the great and angelic Schema. When Father Tikhon’s life was coming to its end, he asked the Elder 10 days prior to that to come from the Stavronikita Monastery to the Cell of the Holy Cross, in order to help him during his last hours. There, the Elder served Father Tikhon with great self-sacrifice, offering any help that was required. Father Tikhon said: You, Paisiye, and I, have a dear love. My sweet Paisiye, we, my child, will have love from ages to ages.
The Elder’s Illnesses.
Serious problems with the Elder’s health began in 1969. The Elder, as we said before, suffered from a disease of the respiratory system, which was exhausting him because of a high fever, a bad cough and much phlegm. The doctors whom he consulted made an incorrect diagnosis – the presence of tuberculosis.
So, the Elder had to take "handfuls," as he put it, of anti-tuberculosis medicines, for a year and a half, which greatly exhausted him due to the side effects, which they caused.
After the operation he got sick from taking strong antibiotics and false-membranous colitis with sharp pains in the stomach, which caused an extreme sensitivity to food: most food caused him indigestion and pain.
The Elder was greatly exhausted. The constant visits of pilgrims, the burden of sorrows and problems of others, which he made his own, and the overwhelming fatigue from concern about them, wearied him; moreover, he left very little time for nocturnal rest, for he prayed at night as well.
During that long interval of time, the Elder became used to making "imprints" — small icons, made out of a metallic matrix, which he cut out himself. Those icons (the Crucifixion, the Theotokos, St. Arsenius of Cappadocia) he gave to pilgrims as a "blessing." That work also contributed its measure of tiredness to his exhausting program, especially when the icon was in the stage of being pressed and strong compression was necessary. Trying to squeeze the press, the way he showed it to hieromonk A. (to whom he gave everything concerning the icon production), he gradually became sick with a serious form of groin hernia. The Elder showed unusual patience during this illness as well. He decisively rejected the operation, trying to "stuff" the hole in the peritoneum with his own inventions, but all in vain. It was dolorous for him to sit, and even more to stand. I remember how, during one of his visits to the Isichastiry of St. John the Theologian in Suroti, he had to stand in that state for many hours, waiting until the endless line of people, wishing to get his blessing, would pass. He did not sit down even when he turned completely pale and was drenched in sweat from pain.
Beginning about 1988, a new complication appeared in the intestine. First, the Elder started to suffer with frequent, unceasing diarrhea, which nothing could stop.
The doctors prescribed different things: eating rice, drinking European tea, etc. But the diarrhea did not stop. Then the Elder began to suspect, that something he was using every day was doing him harm, and that it was probably the water. So, he decided to go have a look at the spring, from which he took the water with the help of a hose. (There was no water in the Elder’s cell, and he took pains to obtain the water for him and the pilgrims here and there. Later, Father Chrysanthus gave him his small spring to use). The Elder, upon examining the spring, found that it was polluted. The stomach disorder disappeared several days after he cleaned out the spring.
Some time later, slight bleeding came from the rectum, which steadily intensified, becoming more frequent. In spite of the advice of familiar doctors, he did not want to go "out" for a medical examination.
The doctors who came to look at him, inasmuch as the Elder did not allow them to examine him, suggested different possibilities: one said he had hemorrhoids, another -- colitis, still another that he had polyps, etc. All of them gave different advice, which the Elder did not follow, for he saw that the opinions of the doctors differed, moreover, he had already experienced the harmful side effects of medicines. He spoke of this very characteristically: I do not take pills not because I disdain them, but because I understood perfectly well, that by fixing one hole with one pill, you open another at the same time. You then have a constant labor that never ceases.
Once, when I was in the monastery, performing the duties of doctor, I told the Elder:
— Gheronta, ("Gheronta" is the term used by believers to address the Elder: γερών —means "elder," approximately coinciding with our form of address "father." Greeks use this term both for simple elders-monks and for the abbots of monasteries; therefore, we decided to use this form of address for the better understanding of the text. Though in Greek this word is pronounced as Gheronda, i.e. the "nt" are emphasized) — I have brought you vitamins and iron, take them, and I believe that they will help to raise the level of your hemoglobin.
But he answered:
— "My father, I believe that iron would do nothing for me. Lately, Father Theoclit, who is building a monastery, is collecting all the iron, give it to him, he needs iron greatly. In such hard times for him, I shall not accept iron! Inasmuch as I understand it, iron is useless to me. I prefer steel!" He rose, smiling, and fetched a glass of water, threw in it one dissolvable vitamin tablet and said:
—My father, I cannot begin such works, which I shall not be able to stop. If someone says: beware of this and be careful of that, — I will do so with all my heart and shall be grateful. But I have had bad experiences with medicines.
When the fizzy tablet dissolved, he raised the glass and said, smiling: Everything ends up as earth! Lifting the glass towards me, in the same manner as when they drink and say: "Cheers!" he added: Come on, father, for eternal rest!
Seeing the Elder in such a state, I knelt before him and begged him to "go out" to Saloniki, so that the doctors could examine him and learn what was wrong with him. Then the Elder raised me up and said:
—Listen, father, such a condition helps a lot in spiritual life, and it is not useful to get rid of it. So, here are the reasons why I do not wish to "go out" to be examined:
a) Christ sees the state of my health and, because He is the best Doctor, we should trust Him completely, for, if it is for the best, He will act and cure us;
b) since I think that there’s a tumor in my rectum, it is better to leave it alone and not to stir it up, because otherwise my state of health will get much worse.
c) today, the world suffers from three things: cancer, mental illnesses and divorces. Every week I get a great many letters by mail, in which they write to me about these problems. I do not have any serious mental derangements, — he said smiling; -- I have nothing to do with divorces and separations, eh…, at least I have cancer, so let the world derive consolation from it. Because when everybody suffers from something, and someone doesn’t have anything, then that is bad, but now, "thank God, "— everything is fine;
d) when someone has cancer or a great problem — and is burning up — but in spite of that is not interested in himself, but prays to God for others, then God also "moves"! Then, no matter what, a man has a "reason" to tell Christ: "See, I do not care about myself and do not ask for anything, but I beg you, help the others." And so God helps. Therefore, my father, do not worry much about me.
In the same period (Great Lent of 1993), as a result of the constant loss of blood, his level of hemoglobin was very low, and he would faint. Often he fell unconscious to the ground where he stood. But he did not lose heart. He resisted the illness with great patience, self-control and courage.
In the middle of April, the Elder was operated on again for the purpose of restoring the rectum. A few days later an axis tomography was done, which showed that the metastasis had spread to the liver and lungs.
The doctors said that the prognosis was bad and he had 4 months to live at most. When the Elder heard that, he said smiling: All right, it won’t happen earlier? Do I have to wait that many months?
The Elder firmly decided to return to the Holy Mountain. He already prepared his things and scheduled his day of departure, Monday, July 13th. In the meantime, he started to run a high fever, with difficulty breathing, so he had to wait and postpone the trip.
The state of the Elder’s health was steadily worsening. By the end of June, the doctors said that he had 2-3 weeks to live. Then the Elder stopped receiving visitors and started to prepare for the great journey. On July 9th, he saw a bishop, who came to see him and asked to read a prayer over him.
Monday, the 11th of July, on the day of St. Euphimia, the Elder took communion for the last time, standing on his knees near his bed. He was very calm on the last day, though he suffered greatly, but he tolerated everything with no complaints. He did not want any therapy and did not take any medicine, except for cortisone.
The night from Monday to Tuesday (11-12 of July) was full of suffering for the Elder. His extremities started getting cold and becoming blue, his breath became tense, but his heart was still working well. In the morning, his blood pressure started to fall and his breathing slowed down little by little. When it became obvious that the end was near, the sisters of the monastery came to take the last blessing. On Tuesday, July 12, the Elder gave his venerable soul to the Lord, Whom he loved so much and Whom he served from his youth.
The Elder was buried in the monastery of St. John the Theologian, in Suroti of Soluni. Many fell into temptation, thinking, why did the Elder stay there to die, and was not buried on the Holy Mountain.
The Spiritual Contribution of the Elder.
Here we offer some of the teachings and stories of Father Paisius, which may be useful to lay people. These teachings renew and formulate spiritual zeal in souls, which has almost vanished nowadays. Secular spirit and bustle reign everywhere.
To what to strive.
The Elder taught:
Your goal should be the cleansing of the soul and the absolute submission of the mind to Divine grace. Pray on behalf of this goal, learn and humbly repeat the Christ prayer, keeping in mind that you have an absolute need of God’s mercy.
If you will do this, the grace of Christ will come in its time. Only, for it to come, you have to in some way "move" Christ — with love, humility, for only then will He give His grace.
Moreover, it is necessary that the transmitter and the receiver (i.e. Christ and our soul) are tuned to the same frequency: that which Christ says, we shall do, and that, which we ask for, let Christ do. We should try to resemble Him in our thoughts and actions. Otherwise, the batteries of our receiver will be discharged in vain (i.e. kneeling, rosary repetitions, fasting, etc. will be futile)
Human and Divine Truths.
The Elder answered the question -- what is Divine truth, with the following examples.
"Let us say, that there are two people sitting at a table, eating. In front of them is a plate with 10 apricots. If one, because of his gluttony, eats 7, and leaves only 3 for the other, then this is injustice.
But if he says: "Listen: there are two of us, and there are 10 apricots. Consequently, each one should get five." If he eats 5, leaving the other 5 to his companion, then he will act fairly, that is, according to human truth. For the sake of human truth, for the sake of the protection of their own rights, people often hire lawyers and sue others.
But if one of them sees that the other one likes apricots, and, pretending that he does not like them, eats only one-two, and tells his friend: " Brother, eat the rest of the apricots, for I do not like them very much," — then he will act according to Divine truth. In the context of human relations, he voluntarily sustained a loss, and appeared to be short-changed. But, for his unselfish love, for his sacrifice, he will be rewarded with interest, and will receive "bagfuls" of grace from God.
I will give you another example, so that you can better understand what Divine truth is. If, for example, some brother will come to me and say: "Gheronta, this cell is mine! Therefore, rise quickly and go. Seek a place anywhere you want — I need this cell." Then, if I am guided by Divine truth, I shall humbly agree with him and shall even begin to thank him for allowing me to live in his cell for a while. But if I act according to human truth, then I will not yield to his demands, but will start to argue with him, quarrel and swear, until I prove, in court, that I am right and the cell is mine.
A true Christian should not judge, quarrel or sue others, even if the others would take his clothes off of him. For there is only one distinction between true Christians and non-believers: Christians are guided by the law of Divine truth, which is humble and compliant, while non-believers follow human truth, based on pride.
Human truth is insignificant in comparison to Divine truth.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was the first to implement Divine truth. When He was being accused, He did not justify Himself, when they spit at Him, He did not protest, when they tortured Him, He did not threaten them, but bore everything patiently and silently. He did not resist when they took off His clothes and divided them among themselves, and then hanged Him on the cross naked — to shame Him before the crowd. In this example of humility, the most instructive thing for us, is that He did not only not seek protection on the part of the law but, on the contrary, even justified His persecutors before His Heavenly Father and prayed for them, saying: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!" (Luke 23:34).
To our shame, we do not follow the example of our Savior, God Incarnate, and do not stop judging others, as well as quarreling over trifles. And the result is that our human "truth" leads to great untruth. And, when some declare that it isn’t right to let shameless people plunder our property, — it is nothing but a favorable reason to place one’s own benefit above his neighbor’s. If we, setting aside prayer and the effort to purify our hearts, begin quarreling with people and dragging them to courts, then it becomes clear, that we put material matters higher than our salvation, and, what is more terrible, higher than Christ’s Own commandment (Luke 6:26-29).
In conclusion, the Elder said: In the same way that hay and fire cannot exist together, Divine and human truths cannot exist concurrently in one soul. The one, who entrusts himself to Divine truth in everything, does not become troubled when he is wronged, and does not search for justification in the matter, for which he was convicted, but accepts false accusations against himself as true ones, and does not care about changing the minds of the people that slandered him, but will even ask for forgiveness himself.
The Story of a Pilgrim.
"Our family lived in Greece, destitute. Our father had 5-6 tracts of land, which he cultivated, and off of which we lived. Suddenly he died, and we, the five children, were left with only our mother. The brothers decided to work out the inheritance, i.e. which piece of land each one of us should take, because our father did not have time to leave a will. So, we sat down, and the brothers began to quarrel about who would take the biggest piece, and who -- the most fertile. I, being the youngest and, by nature, extremely timid, sat on the side, waiting for whatever the brothers would give me. When they divided the good fields among themselves, they gave me a field in a distant and deserted area. The soil there was absolutely barren, sandy, where only wild grass could grow. I was hurt that they slighted me so, but I thanked them, not reproaching them for their injustice.
A few years later, I married, and because I could no longer stay in Greece because of financial difficulties, I took my wife and moved to Germany. There, with God’s help, I established my own business, and I fed my family on the money from my business — without anyone else’s support.
After living in Germany for 20 years and saving up a modest sum, we decided to return to Greece and continue our business there. We had completely forgotten about the field that my brothers had given me as an inheritance, and crossed it out of our memories as useless, but God did not forget it.
And so? — During our absence, many big hotels and tourist attractions were built around my barren land, so that the prices for land in that district increased greatly. It turned out that our sandy piece of land was in the middle of several large buildings, and I was offered a good price for it.
As was typical at that time, I decided to sell it at auction, because many wanted to buy it and its price rose to several millions. Naturally, I sold the field to the one who offered the highest price.
Now, living in complete comfort, I came to the Elder, in order to make a generous donation for benevolent deeds. Advise me, Gheronta, how much should I give and for what?"
When the pilgrim finished his story, the Elder asked him:
— And what are your brothers doing?
— They are cultivating their fields from which they live, — answered the pilgrim.
So, — concluded the Elder, —Divine truth triumphs everywhere! It may be a little late, but it never happens that it won’t triumph. For that reason, the Lord demands from us that our truth be higher than the Pharisees’, for they limited themselves to human truth …
The Elder explained that when we are not right, God does not accept our prayers — no matter how many vigils and bows we perform. We sit and judge our brothers, and then serve night vigils. Eh, we waste our batteries for nothing! God will not listen to us until we change.
Each one should look at himself, and not touch others. Otherwise, God cannot look at us. But, if we have Divine truth and do not look at ourselves at all, but love God and others, then God, fearful thing, watches and takes care of us.
Providence is God’s care for creatures. Everything that happens according to Divine Providence is wonderful, done in the best way and cannot be better. Anyone can be convinced that He cares well for us, from the following reasoning:
Being good, God provides for and cares about His creatures, for if He did not provide for them, then He would not be good. After all, both people and dumb animals by nature take care of their children; those who do not, are judged to be evil. Inasmuch as God is Most-Wise, He expresses care for His creatures in the best possible way. When we attentively observe the matters of Divine Providence, we cannot help being amazed by the Divine Goodness. Therefore, we have to worship Him and obediently accept His care for us, though, sometimes, the ways of His Providence are not fully comprehensible to us.
An Example of Miraculous Help.
To expand this thought, the Elder told me the following: Once, it was essential for me to go somewhere. I needed around 1000 drachmas for traveling expenses but I did not have any money. While I was pondering on how to get the money for my trip, a brother brought me a letter with a remittance of exactly 1000 drachmas. The letter was unsigned. In place of the return address there was an inscription on the envelope that said: "Sender: Pantanassa" — i.e. the "Queen of All."
As soon as I saw how miraculously the Lord took care of me, I cried and thanked the Lord and the Most-Holy Virgin.
I have seen many miraculous things in my life. It is amazing: if you do not attend to yourself, but only concern yourself about the Kingdom of God, then God does not even let us notice that we need anything! Truly: for that remittance had been sent to me even before I knew that I would need money. God, as a good Father, cares about us before we start to need any thing, and, in addition, His Providence takes cares of us even before we ask. On our part, we need to trust Him.
"Sometimes a thought comes to me, but I do not dwell on it. For example, the wine for the Liturgy is almost gone and I need to get more. I reject this worry immediately, saying: "Eh, probably tomorrow or the next day someone will bring it to me!" And that is what happens. Then I am greatly amazed, for the one who brought it, say -- from Crete, had already prepared it several days before I needed it!
From this I clearly see that God takes care of us even before the moment that we find out we lack something and decide to ask Him, as it is written: "For Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him…Take therefore no thought for the morrow…" (Math. 6:8, 33-34).
"Our task and concern should be to please God and to help our brother, while everything, that concerns our well-being, we must entrust to the will of God — for it is His, God’s, business. He wants a spiritual symphony, when, while working for Him, we, without any concern, rely on Him for everything, and He in turn, takes care of us. This is what the Apostle teaches us when he writes: "Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you" (1 Pet.5:7).
"He, who lives simply, thinks of himself humbly and feels the necessity of the paternal care of God, leaving to Him all the concerns about himself. In this case, the good God, seeing that this soul trusts Him in everything, and not itself, protects it with providence and mercy. Then the soul clearly sees the Divine help and rejoices.
God wants the soul to be simple, without the slightest doubt and questioning. Let it be like that of a child, who expects everything from his parents. Therefore, the Lord had said: "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein" (Mark 10:13). "One should ask God for help with much simplicity and confess to Him his weakness, for in this way we can become freed from any worries and concerns about ourselves: and as the shadow follows the body, Divine mercy follows humility and faith.
An Incident with an Elder, Who Doubted Divine Providence.
In order to could convince his visitors that God always cares about people and directs everything the best way, the Elder related the following incident:
"One ascetic, suffering in his soul due to the multiple injustices he had seen in his life, begged God to reveal to him, why the pious people so often fall into difficulties and suffer various oppressions, while the sinners and atheists triumph and thrive. For a long period of time, he begged God daily to reveal to him the mystery of the ways of His Providence and explain the riddle of the seeming contradiction between that which should be and that which occurs. Finally, the ascetic heard a voice saying to him:
—Do not examine that, what exceeds your understanding, and do not strive to fathom the mysteries of Divine judgments, for they are an incomprehensible abyss. Condescending to your heart’s pain, God will reveal His Providence to you in one life incident. And you pay attention to what you see.
And so, like in a vision, the elder felt himself above the earth, and a mysterious air-flow brought him to a field, close to which there was a road. On the other side of the field, there was a spring and an old tree. The ascetic was ordered to hide himself in the hollow of that tree and to observe what would happen.
Soon a rich man rode up to the spring on a horse. He stopped to drink some water and to rest. Settling down on the grass, he took out of the basket a small purse, tightly stuffed with gold coins. After counting them, he put the purse back into the basket and took some food out to eat. He did not notice that, when he was taking out the food, the purse fell out into the grass. The rich man ate, lay down to take a nap, and then, mounting the horse, rode on, without noticing that the purse with the coins was left in the grass.
A little later, another passer-by approached the spring. He saw the purse with the gold coins, picked it up and left, delighted.
Soon, there appeared a third passer-by, skinny and badly dressed — apparently, a beggar. He, too, stopped by the spring, drank some water, took a roll out of his handkerchief and sat down to eat. He had not yet finished eating his bread, when suddenly, the first passerby rode up, the rich man that had lost his purse. With a face, crimson with anger, he pounced on the beggar and began demanding the return of his gold coins. Naturally, the beggar, not knowing what the matter was, began to refuse and assure the rich man, that he had never seen his coins. The rich man, however, did not believe the beggar, and, becoming violent, started to severely beat the beggar until he killed him. Upon searching the beggar’s clothes, he did not find anything, and galloped away, anguished.
Observing all this from the hollow, the elder began to grieve and cry, that the beggar died for nothing. And again the elder appealed to God: "Lord, what do these events mean? How can Your goodness tolerate such injustice: the rich man lost his coins absent-mindedly, an accidental stranger took them, and the innocent beggar paid for them with his life."
Then the Lord’s Angel descended from Heaven and answered the elder:
—Do not be sad, and do not think that this happened contrary to the will of God. For everything in life happens either because God permits it, or, for the purpose of teaching people, or as part of the Divine house-building. So, listen:
The man, who lost the gold coins, is the neighbor of the one that found them. The latter had a garden, which had a value of 100 gold coins. The rich man, being covetous, made him sell the garden to him for half the price. Suffering damage at the hands of the rich man, the neighbor, not knowing to whom to complain, began to ask God to come to his defense. And God so arranged it: in finding the gold coins, he received what was due him.
The beggar, who, it appeared, had suffered for nothing, had committed a murder in his youth. Later, he sincerely repented of that sin, and lived the rest of the life righteously. Nevertheless, suffering in his soul for his grave sin, He prayed God to send him a death that would redeem him of his sin of the murder of an innocent person. Of course, the merciful Lord forgave him, seeing his complete reformation. Nevertheless, he permitted him to die violently, to crown him with the martyr’s crown, that he had asked for himself!
Finally, the miserly rich man, that lost the gold coins, was punished for his covetousness: God let him commit the grave sin of murder. Staggered by that incident, he came to his senses and with great grief started repenting. Then, having distributed his wealth, he left the world and became a monk in one of the monasteries.
So, in which of these three events do you see injustice or blind fate? Therefore, humble yourself before God, and in future, do not delve into His destinies, for He does everything righteously and leads to the best result.
Concluding this story, Elder Paisius mentioned the words of the Psalm: "Righteous art Thou, O LORD, and upright are Thy judgments" (Ps.118:137).
The Wonderful Relief of Hunger.
The Church was celebrating the Sunday "Of the Blind Man." The Elder — he then lived in the cell of the Holy Cross in the Stavronikita monastery — was lying on his bed, sick and exhausted — not only because of his disease, but also from hunger. He got up and went outside, upset that there was nothing with which to fortify himself.
At that moment, he looked toward the sea and saw a dark dot begin to rise from the horizon, which was flying towards his cell. Soon he recognized that it was a bird, something like a kite or an eagle, and it had a big fish in its clutches. Flying up to the cell, the bird let the fish go and it fell and began to jump at the Elder’s feet.
Then the Elder went to his cell church, and praying, certified, that it was not a temptation, but God’s mercy. Praising God, he thanked the Most-Pure Virgin for Her care for him. Then, picking up the fish, he fried it and ate, replenishing his strength with it.
At one time, the Elder was living in the skete of the Iberian monastery. The Assumption fast began and 8 days went by, during which he did not eat anything. On the 9th day of the fast, some elderly monk, who was transferring his things to the Iberian monastery, asked the Elder to help him. The Elder, in spite of his weakness, agreed, and began to help him move. But, while he was returning, he felt great fatigue and his head swam. Suddenly a bright youth with a shining face appeared before him and gave him a basket full of fresh fruit that were not in season. The Elder thanked him, and the youth disappeared. Having made a sign of the cross over himself, the Elder ate some fruit and was completely fortified. He realized that the fruit was brought to him by an Angel and thanked the Lord.
—One should pray for the others somberly and with spiritual pain. The soul can attain this state, when in its humbleness it will think itself guilty for what happens to others.
—But, Gheronta, how can you be guilty of the fact that, for example, someone divorces his wife in Athens?
And the Elder said:
—So, I say to myself: "If I had been a saint, as the ancient fathers were, and would have asked God for the grace for them to unite and love each other, then God, who promised to listen to the Saints, would have helped them. But because I am not a saint, God does not listen to me. Consequently, I am guilty that this family is separating, and for other evil, that occurs. So, I blame no one but myself for everything: and then, God helps."
The Elder also said: "The rosary is like the handle of the starter in mechanisms which, by turning it several times, we warm up the engine and it starts working by itself. Something similar happens in prayer with the rosary. We utter a prayer, and our soul warms up." Another time he said something similar: "In order to activate the spiritual mechanism, run your fingers over the rosary without stopping until the spiritual ice melts, when the heart begins to pray by itself."
The Elder said: "We must pray everywhere. Once, a driver ran over a child in his car in Arnea. The child was not harmed at all, because the driver prayed while driving." And the next time he said: "Like ships that are in danger signal "S.O.S.", man should always pray: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ The prayer should be simple."
Prayer needs preparation. The Elder always advised: "Before praying, read a few lines from the Gospel or the Paterick (Lives of the saints). This way, your thoughts will warm up and will be transferred into the spiritual realm."
The Elder said: "Spiritual drought and indifference are the betrayers, that weaken prayer. One must use short prayers against them, and mainly — the Jesus prayer, diligent reading of the Holy Scriptures and spiritual books. Also, thoughts about death, judgment, Heaven, hell and God’s blessings help us and protect us from sin. God monitors our heart and checks its inclination. This will result in Divine fear, seeing oneself, the rejection of bad thoughts and feelings, and the preservation of moral purity. Let us always check ourselves: do we repent of previous sins and are we afraid of our infirmities? But let us never lose hope of salvation." The Elder said: "Let the major part of your exploit be prayer, for it sustains our communication with God. And this communication should be constant. Prayer is the oxygen of the soul, its urgent necessity, and it should not be considered a heavy burden. For prayer to be heard by God, it must come from the heart, be performed with humility and a deep sense of our sinfulness. If the prayer does not come from the heart, it is good for nothing. God always hears the prayer of a man, whose spirit is uplifted. Diligent reading of the Holy Scriptures greatly helps prayer, warms the soul and transfers the praying person into the spiritual realm."
The Elder said: "Run from the powerful enemy — chatting with people. Chatting obscures the soul as a cloud shades the sun. Prayer should be a joy and appreciation, not a forced and dry formality. Prayer is rest. The soul does not get tired praying, because in talking with God, it rests. Let us always begin prayer with readings of the Holy Scriptures, books of the holy fathers and ascetics, because reading delights the mind and warms the heart. Reading warms the soul and transfers it to the spiritual world. The goal of reading is for the mind to delight the heart and to initiate heartfelt prayer. Only heartfelt prayer is prayer, for it is done with pains and brings results."
The Elder said: "While praying, you must stand with the humility and simplicity of a small child, in order to become worthy of paternal care. Admit your infirmity and insignificance, so that the Divine mercy could cover you, for as the shadow follows the subject, Divine mercy follows simplicity and humility. He, who feels his sinfulness and laments in the depth of the soul, is higher than he, who can resurrect the dead and helps the whole world with his teaching. He who has attained the realization of his spiritual infirmity has attained absolute humility."
In his book about the Holy Mountain’s ascetics, the Elder wrote: "Calm nighttime prayer is very beneficial, because of its serenity, and is very good for our spiritual growth, in the same way that the quiet night rain greatly helps the plants to come up. Do you want your prayer to become sincere and to be accepted by God? Make the suffering of the neighbor your own. Even one sincere sigh about a neighbor bears real fruits. Divine consolation, which a person feels after prayer, is divine notice of the prayer being accepted."
Feats in Spiritual Life.
The Elder admonishes us: "The years pass, people get old, therefore, do not stop at the cross-roads. Choose the cross that suits you and carry it, walking along one of the two ways of our Church. Follow Christ to be crucified, if you want to rejoice with joy of His resurrection." The two ways of the Church that the Elder mentions, are marriage and monastic life.
The Elder said: "Bread is sweet after fasting. Sleep is sweet after a vigil. And when tired, one can rest better on a hard stone than in an arm-chair."
To the question, what books should a Christian read, the Elder answered: "What is more necessary: to read or to fulfill? The feat is more valuable than knowledge."
Talking with seminary students, in passing, he also said the following: "Avoid opportunities to sin. I shall give you an example. If someone has diabetes and must not eat sweets, can he avoid doing so, going to bakeries? Pay attention to temptations. Everything begins with a thought, with which we were carried away. The more spiritual a person is, the fewer rights he has in life. The greatest joy is to serve another person and to forgive him his mistakes. The one accepting a good deed feels human joy, and the one who is doing a good deed — divine joy."
Addressing youths, the Elder taught: "We can only help others cut off their passions when we cut off our own. A prayer should be said in the heart, not just uttered with the lips."
The Elder, addressing young persons, said: "Try to fill your audio cassette now, while you are still young, otherwise, when you get old, you will hear rock and roll mixed in with classical music."
Addressing youths, the Elder said: "Spiritual work should start in childhood, for when a person is young, he can work and has strength for that. When he gets old, it will be difficult to work. Now I partake of what I have gathered in my youth. You, work now too, while you are still young."
Father Paisius wrote: "A young man, who gives his entire heart to Christ and entrusts himself to the experienced spiritual elder, easily parts with the decrepit man, like a young potato, which is very easy to peel. An elderly person, especially if he is not that simple and humble, can be compared to an old potato, which is hard to peel. It must be boiled, and peeled while still warm."
The Elder said: "Try to cut off passions and correct the defects, with which your heart is filled. All the beasts of the world are within it. When we cut off our great passions, the minor ones disappear easily. Live in constant worshipping and thankfulness to God, for the greatest sin is ingratitude, and an ungrateful man is the worst man of all."
The Elder also said: "If the wires are rusty, no matter how much you press on the plug, the current will not run." "The amount of Divine enlightenment you will receive is directly proportional to how much you clean the wires." "First I shall untangle the skein, and only then shall I braid a rosary." "Our spiritual success, as well as our salvation, depends on us. No one else can save us." "Alms produce the highest reward. Those, whose hearts are ice, do not have this elevated, sacrificial spirit. But, luckily, they, too, have good leaven." "When a man does something whole-heartedly, that is, he loves what he does, then he does not get tired spiritually." "Goodness wins in a good way." "Go through life in simplicity." "A physical injury can make the soul chaste." "We pass tests, in order to enter eternal life. We have to get at least a passing grade." "God works for our good. But we shall have to answer, because we do not work in this direction." "Let us not justify ourselves, so as not to hinder the Divine grace." "They serve God, but do not learn." "Evil begins from a lack of faith in the other life." "A believing and reverent woman is more precious than an icon of any woman saint, for such a woman is a living icon!"
"When a person is sure that he is truly worse than everybody else, then a single "Lord, have mercy," said by him about the world, is equal in strength to a thousand "Lord, have mercies" of other people, who are not humble. Prayer must become a necessity for all of us. Let us pray for those who need prayer and for the entire world. Let us divide our prayer into 3 parts: one — for ourselves, the second— for the living, and the third — for the departed. Let us regularly give our names in the proskomedia, so that a priest could commemorate them at holy sacrificial table. Let us not trust ourselves. Self-assuredness is a great obstacle for Divine grace. When we entrust everything to God, then He will surely help us."
One of Father Paisius’ visitors asked him, why he did not perceive the Holy Communion the same way that he perceived it when he was small, and the Elder answered him: "If you have children, you can understand this. A father gives sweets to his small children. Later, when they grow up, they will have to buy sweets for themselves. In the same way, God first gives His grace for free, but later He wants our personal feat, so that we could feel the Holy Communion."
Spiritual work is hard and endless. The Elder, in talking to his visitors, gives the following example: "Like an icon, cut out of wood, seems unfinished if you look at it through a magnifying glass, so the human soul is imperfect to the extent, to which the eyes of a person’s soul are opened and become like a telescope." Then he adds: "Every person is either a mirror, or a can’s lid: if the sun’s rays do not fall upon it, it will not shine."
The Elder said: "The heart is cleansed with tears and sighs. One sigh with spiritual pain is equal to two buckets of tears. Let us cry about our sins, always hoping for the love and mercy of God. Let us plunge our soul into springs of tears. Do not limit your prayer to words alone. Make your whole life a prayer to God."
The Elder asserted: "Divine grace is not a cistern, which runs out of water after a while, but an infinite spring."
The Elder appealed: "Let us work with all our strength, to attain Heaven, because no one will be able to enter it without an exploit. The gates of Heaven are very narrow, and do not listen to those, who say that we shall all be saved. That is the devil’s net, so that we would not work spiritually. That is what he wants."
Some conditions have to be met for spiritual exploits to bear fruit. The Elder said the following about this: "The one, who works spiritually for a long time and does not see spiritual improvement, is proud and egoistic. Spiritual success is there, where there is much humility, which fulfills everything. The man, who feels that inside of him everything is disgusting and improper, is the one who has spiritual success. The diligent and zealous exploit, combined with the feeling of one’s own mediocrity and hope for God — is spiritual oxygen. All this adds dependability to the spiritual exploit."
The Elder taught: "Let us always work with desire and zeal, so as not to grieve and disappoint our Guardian Angel, who battles hard day and night, in order to present our soul, in purity, to God. We cannot permit him to go to God with empty hands. Do not devote your heart to fussy and temporary things of the world, and do not waste your time on them, for we shall answer for it on Judgment Day. Time is given to us by God to use it in a proper way. Let us devote our heart to God, and not to the world. God does not demand anything from us, except a pure heart. He who gives his heart to the world -- is the enemy of God."
About Humility and Patience.
"God does not want His creation to suffer. But temptations are given for refinement. When a man attains perfection, the temptations stop."
The Elder focused all the spiritual activity of a Christian on obtaining humility. He said: "God loves man very much; he knows perfectly well the problem of each one of us and wishes to help before He is asked to do so, inasmuch as there are no difficulties for God because He is Almighty. In the present case, the Lord meets a difficulty, emanating from a proud man! So, I repeat, God has only one difficulty — that He "cannot" help until a man humbles himself. In this case, the good God "is saddened" in a way, for He sees how His creation suffers, and He "cannot" help, because He knows that what the man asks for will do him harm, since the man does not reason humbly. The things that happen to a man are completely connected to humility; for example, we see a man, who is wrestled and defeated by some passion: God lets it happen only because his soul has a proud thought or is ready to accept it (i.e. is predisposed to pride). A man can hate concrete passions and not desire them, and can even shed blood to get rid of them, but he will not succeed, because God is not helping him; and He will not help him — until he humbles himself (for even if he hates definite passions, he is still a slave of pride, which leads to all the rest of passions).
In order to succeed spiritually, a person can ask God for love, prayer, wisdom, obedience and other virtues. But God wishes that we get to know Him — plant this firmly in your mind, —He will not give us anything that we ask, no matter how we toil, — if we do not humble ourselves first. When our only goal is humility, then God will give us everything gratis.
God wants only one thing from us – humility, nothing else. He only wishes to help us through His Divine grace, which He gave us through Holy Baptism, even before we do anything, before we love Him, before our exploit, because of His inexpressible goodness. His Grace helps us love the Lord, to know Him. The Lord fulfills everything —we should only have humility, so as not to hinder the Divine grace, but let it act. We prevent it from acting, when we have no humility. Only one thing opposes Divine grace — pride.
Apostle Peter in his first Epistle, in Chapter 5, clearly lets us understand what he accuses us of, and what we should do: "submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." So, "humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you" (1 Pet. 5:5-7).
If we look and decide on this single task — our humility, then God’s blessing will be given for everything else. When we bother about anything else, but not about humility, then we shall not be able to gain anything good. Only one thing is needed: humility of the heart, so that the Kingdom of Divine grace could enter it.
Concerning tests, the Elder wrote: "Those, who were born cripples, or became such because of the others, or due to their own inattentiveness, if they do not complain, but humbly glorify God and live with Christ, then they will be numbered among the confessors by God."
"…There exists a great evil in the world, not noticed by us: it is not understanding the ways of Divine Providence, and as a result – complaining. God does not permit trials, which do not bring something good. When a cripple accepts the trial sent to him with joy, then God will number him among the righteous."
"God gives us many opportunities to earn Heaven, but we do not use these opportunities and do not accept them. Let us accept all the trials with patience and humility, thanking and worshipping God. Let us try to be with God always and not move away from Him, for there is no salvation away from God."
"…God lets man tolerate various trials, diseases, harm and many other things, slander on the part of the people around us, offenses, injustice. We must face them patiently, without distress, as a Divine blessing. When anyone is unjust to us, we should be happy and regard him as our great benefactor, for he becomes a reason for the multiplication of our reward in the next life. God, through the trials which He lets happen, prepares us for His heavenly kingdom, so that we can have a passport of trials in our hand."
"…God lets some of the righteous be slandered, so that the guilty would not become desperate. God’s great love permits the righteous to be condemned and slandered, so that some infirm soul would not perish, but in the end the truth is revealed."
"…We often ask God for this or that, but He does not respond. In order that He could respond to out appeal and give what we ask for, we, first of all, should have humility. All of us, children and adults, are very egoistic, and do not accept either instructions or remarks. We know everything ourselves, we are all wise men. When we are guided by egoism, an insignificant reason is enough for a big quarrel. We open the door for Satan, and he comes into our family and destroys it. Leave unnoticed the things you hear and see at that moment. Your advice does not help, but only fans the flames. Only be patient, pray a little, and when the other one calms down, only then will mutual understanding be possible. The fisherman does not fish in a storm, but waits until the sea calms down."
One bishop said to the Elder:
— Gheronta, I am disconcerted about the concessions, which our Patriarchate makes to the Vatican, so that I want to stop commemorating our Patriarch. What would you say?
—Before answering the question, I wish to ask: does the Patriarchate make those concessions, because it believes in them, or by necessity, under the pressure of circumstances?
— Gheronta, I do not know that, — the bishop said.
—Eh! Your Eminence, precisely this is the deciding factor in the given question!
It is most important – doing what we know is right, or yielding to circumstances. Nowadays we study many sciences. We have large libraries in houses, we take "The Bible" or "The Philocalia" in our hands, but practice nothing.
One Muslim here, in Phrakia, having read the Gospel in one day, became inspired by the faith that Jesus Christ is the true God. From everything that he read, he understood only 3 things, i.e. that one needs: a) to love God and constantly pray to Him; b) to love your neighbor, and c) to bear everything that happens in life. Having understood that, he went and got baptized. From that day on, he tried to fulfill the three things that he understood.
The Hodja and the other Muslims —his parents among them — seeing that he became a Christian, declared war on him and gave him no peace. But he practiced the three things that he understood. He prayed to God often, loved all people and bore everything without complaint. The Muslims were amazed by his kindness and patience and also started to believe in Christ and be baptized. In this way, that man helped both himself, and his friends.
We, on the other hand, do not fulfill everything that which we know, but continue filling our soul with new knowledge, which obscures our mind so, that we hardly can help ourselves, because we accept trivial thoughts. We cannot make our "Muslim" way of thinking "Orthodox."
How to Combat a Passion.
Once, the father of a girl who had cancer, and whom the doctors told that she had only a few more months to live, came to the Holy Mountain. He brought some of her belongings so that the "Father" could bless them, and asked the Elder to pray for his daughter.
The Elder said to him:
—I shall pray, but you, as a father, should bring some sacrifice to God, for the sacrifice of love greatly "predisposes" God to help.
The father asked:
— What shall I sacrifice, Gheronta? The Elder said:
—What passions do you have? Sacrifice one of them. Not being very spiritual, the father answered:
— I do not know, I have no passion….
Then the Elder asked:
— Do you smoke?
— Yes, — he answered.
— So, give up smoking out of love for your daughter, and then God will cure her.
He promised to do that and, really, gave up smoking. After that, the girl began to recover gradually, until she became completely healthy. The doctors later confirmed her full recovery.
After a while, the father, apparently having forgotten about his vow, started smoking again. At the same time, the cancer began to return to his daughter, so that she found herself in the previous grave state.
Then the father again came to the Holy Mountain and visited the Elder.
The Elder, looking at him sternly, said:
—If you, as a father, do not have enough piety to sacrifice your passion and save the life of your child, then there is nothing I can help you with.
The Elder persistently emphasized the fact, that a man does not have the right to say, "I cannot," he can only say: "I do not like" or "I do not want."
When people, overwhelmed by some passion, say, that some force prevents them from doing good, they should know that this force is nothing else but their own force, which is given them for loving, but that began to act in the wrong direction. And, inasmuch as they love their passions, they naturally do not want to cast them off, because you do not wish to lose that which you love.
Consequently, when coming to hate a passion, one should find something better and elevated to replace it with. For, if a man cannot find anything better for himself, he will not know where to direct his love and his forces, and will suffer because of this.
"Very often people came to me and asked:
— Gheronta, I smoke, and cannot give it cigarettes. What should I do?
The Elder asked: — Do you want to give it up?
I hear the answer: — Yes, Gheronta, I tried many times, but in vain.
Then the Elder said: — Yes, it happens! … From this moment on, stop smoking, and God will help you."
The person, subjected to the passion, normally objects:
— No, Gheronta, I cannot!
Then the Elder, interrupting him before he can finish the phrase, powerfully said:
— There is no "I cannot," fulfill it and that’s all! Do not give in to the thoughts, which suggest that you will not be able to deal with this habit.
In this way, the Elder instilled in each of us, that we are autocratic. If we became the slaves of some passion, then this happened according to our own will. And, if we remain its slaves, then only through attachment to it, because we are delighted to be in servitude.
But when we fall in love with our freedom and our being with Christ, then from that moment on, when we want it, we become free from passions and become God’s children. This proves, that we are autocratic. Moreover, Christ gave His commandments to ordinary sinners and, consequently, slaves of sin. He commanded them to get freed from the yoke of sin and to come nearer to Him. He said to the fornicator: "Do not sin," to the thief: "Do not steal," and to the wrong-thinking: "Do not judge."
If we were involuntary slaves, then God would not command: "Leave that place and come to Me," for we would have been unable to fulfill it. Therefore, if He tells us, that we should leave them on our own, this means that we voluntarily submit to our passions, love them and long for them. But at the moment that we start hating them and turn our love to God, then we are immediately freed.
Thus, it is necessary to:
This will put us on the path to moral freedom and true happiness.
The Dominance of the Worldly Spirit.
The Elder said: "The greatest disease of our time lies in the anxious trivial thoughts of lay people. Only Christ can cure this illness with the help of spiritual peace, but the person needs to confess and turn to Christ."
Father Paisius points out the spiritual danger, emanating from the worldly spirit that dominates the Christians of our time. According to the Elder’s words, people are weakening spiritually, and the Orthodox ascetic spirit of our Church can go out. "Here we should be attentive, for, besides the obvious fact of a great weakening, modern people have begun to issue laws supporting it, and force ascetics to fulfill them. That is why ascetics not only must not subject themselves to the influence of the lay spirit, but must not compare themselves to lay people at all, and must not think that they are saints. Otherwise, they will weaken also, and end up being worse than even the most dissolute lay people."
The Elder wrote: "The strong lay spirit, dominating modern man, directing all his attempts to the better arrangement of his life, with more comfort and less labor, has, unfortunately, influenced the majority of spiritual people, who are trying to become saints with the least possible labor. But this has never happened, for "the saints gave their blood and accepted the Spirit." And the heart today, glad about the Christians turning to the Holy Fathers, and amazed by young people, who, aspiring to their ideals, dedicate themselves to monasticism, at the same time feels pain, when it sees that all this good human material does not find the suitable spiritual leaven, and the spiritual dough does not rise, and it ends up that the bread, made of this dough, turns out unleavened."
"Educated" Christians will not be worthy of the miraculous visions of the saints. They deny everything that contradicts their cast-iron logic. The ancient Christians were worthy to see miracles because they were humble. The Elder said about that: "In our time of increased knowledge, logic, unfortunately, shook the very basis of people’s faith and filled their soul with questions and doubts. As a result, they are deprived of miracles, because a miracle is experienced personally, not explained logically."
Lay people are interested in external things, and do not even suspect the inner life. The Elder described their way of thinking with the help of the following example: "Lay people do not want their yard to be filled with garbage and dirt; that is why they sweep the yard and put things in order until it becomes clean. The gathered garbage they take into the house so that it would not be seen from the yard. This is what lay people do. And they let the garbage be inside, but not outside, because otherwise people can see it. Spiritual people, on the contrary, clean the house, throwing the garbage out, and are not interested in what others will say."
"…The more people move away from a simple, natural life and give themselves to luxury, the more they multiply their fear for the next day. And the more worldly courtesy is developed, the more simplicity, joy and the natural human smile are lost."
"…The devil always convinces us to compare ourselves with those, who are worse than we are’.
The sign of authentic spirituality of a clergyman is that he is very strict to himself, but lenient towards others. As a rule, he will not use the Church Canons against others!
If a priest has many spiritual children, among which there are people, remarkable for their reverence, then he should work more with them, for they, in their turn, will help the others.
The more a man unites with Christ, the less fear he has.
The Necessity of Confession.
The Elder advised one visitor to go to confession. He objected:
— Gheronta, what sense is there in confessing, and then sinning again?
Then the Elder explained him:
— Look, during war, when someone is wounded, say, with a bullet in his leg, should he not first of all see the doctor to get his wound dressed? If he says: "Why should I get the wound dressed, if I shall be wounded again anyway?" Then he will die prematurely from bleeding or blood poisoning, which he could have avoided. The same thing happens with sins. That is why you go and confess, and if you fall again, confess again. And let it be so until you stop falling.
About Obedience and Patience.
The Elder related the following about the power of patience. One man in Phrakia became a Christian. His wife, though, did not follow his example, and, in addition, greatly hindered him and treated him harshly. But he tolerated it and responded to her with love. With time, the wife yielded to his patience and love and said: "God, in Whom he believes, must be true and great." And she became a Christian too.
The Elder said: "Obedience is the key to Heaven’s gate. But only obedience, not military order, i.e. forced subordination and prayer under compulsion. No one can cure himself and no one will be saved without obedience. Obedience and natural simplicity are the shortest way to holiness. The following happened to one simpleton, who took care of a sick poor man. Once, the sick person asked him for some fish to eat. The simpleton came to the sea shore and entered a church that stood on the shore, raised his hands to the sky and prayed in simplicity: "Christ, I ask you, give me a fish for the man." And a miracle occurred! A fish appeared in his hands at that moment! Thanking God, he took it to the sick person."
The Struggle with Bad Thoughts.
"…Nowadays people are losing their mind and do not understand what they do, the ground has slipped from under their feet. This happens because no one wants to control themselves, everyone wants to live to live uncontrollably, according to his own will. But this leads to total catastrophe, because, yes, God granted man the freedom to do what he wants, but He also gave him reasoning, so that he could understand his limitations and the boundary between the correct and the incorrect. When man acts presumptuously, without taking into account his infirmity, then he makes mistakes. Many people want to understand everything with the help of human logic, and they reject anything that their mind does not understand. Instead of being guided by faith and Divine grace, they are guided by their physical mind, and because of this, their social life fails. This is a terrible thing!"
Therefore, I advise people, who come to me for advice:
"…It is tragic that today, more than ever, people accept demonic suggestions and become demonized. They can free themselves of these suggestions only by following the advice, that I mentioned above."
Examples from Scripture about the Benefit of a Good Manner of Thinking
Once some people visited the Elder, and he began to convince them to always think good things. To illustrate his idea, he read an extract from the Bible, about the time the Persian King Darius, because of enemies’ slander, ordered the Prophet Daniel be cast into the lions’ den (Dan. 6:14-28). Early in the morning, Darius came to the den and ordered the lid of the den be opened, to check if Daniel was still alive or not. Not hearing what was going on below, the king asked timidly: "…O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? (20). Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever! (21)… Then was the king exceedingly glad for him (23)."
Explaining this incident, the Elder said: if the prophet Daniel had bad thoughts, he would have answered the King: "Aren’t you ashamed, tyrant, that you have cast me, an innocent person, to the lions to be killed, and now you ask me how I am?" But Daniel always had good thoughts and responded meekly; therefore, God informed the lions not to touch him.
Similarly, when the three youths were unjustly cast into the furnace on Nebuchadnezzar’s orders, they did not have bad thoughts and did not complain: "Why didn’t You, our God, intercede for us, when we loved Your law, and we were thrown into the furnace?" But instead, they blamed themselves, and worshiped God, saying: "Blessed are You, and praiseworthy, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and glorious forever is Your name. For You are just in all You have done; all Your deeds are faultless, all Your ways right, and all Your judgments proper. You have executed proper judgments in all that You have brought upon us and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our fathers. By a proper judgment You have done all this because of our sins; For we have sinned and transgressed by departing from You, and we have done every kind of evil. Your commandments we have not heeded or observed, nor have we done as You ordered us for our good." (Dan. 3:52, the prayer of the three youths).
You see, -- said the Elder, -- what good thoughts, based on humility, those three youths had? One good and humble thought turns lions into lambs and converts an extremely fiery furnace into heavenly dew and coolness. That is why we should oppose all our problems with patience, good thoughts and humility, and then Divine grace will help us."
Examples of Good and Bad Thoughts
Once, a 17-year-old boy came and knocked at the door so that I would open it. It was still morning. I came out and approached the wire.
—I want to see Father Paisius, — he said to me. I, in order to test his mood, told him: he is not here. He went to Karea to buy cigarettes.
— All right, I shall wait for him, answered the boy, always having good thoughts in his mind.
— Go! — I told him. — Why wait for him?
— No, father, I want to see him! — insisted the boy. The boy was well-inclined, and I was not able to perturb him, in spite of the fact that I tormented him for a long time. He did not accept bad thoughts. He had a good soul.
Another time, a man came to me and asked me to pray about his child, who was seriously ill. "I shall do something, I told him, — but you have to help as well. Of course, you do not know how to pray, or fast or make bows, etc. But get rid of one of your shortcomings."
— Which shortcoming, father? — he asked me.
— Give up smoking, — I told him. He listened to me attentively, and when I opened the church for him, so that he could come in and kiss the icons, he, unnoticed by me, left a pack of cigarettes and a lighter at one of the stasidias. Immediately after him, another man came into the church, looked around out of curiosity and came out. He went and sat down on the stone step, which is beside the church wall, lit a cigarette and smoked without compunction.
—Bah, dear, you smoke here, near the church? Go over there, under the trees, and smoke there, not here! — I told him. He had bad and sly thoughts, and answered me with an impudent look:
— What does it matter to you that I smoke? You smoke in the church, and I, smoking outside, behave badly? — I again told him to go away, but he persisted and kept on repeating the same things. "But what is he talking about?" — I asked myself. I could not understand him. When I entered the church, I saw the pack of cigarettes, left by the father, worn out with suffering. Then I guessed, that the other man understood me incorrectly and thought that those were my own cigarettes, and that I smoked in the church! I explained to him, what had actually happened, but he had a bad way of thinking. He did not have a desire to derive a benefit. He looked for the justification of his evil, to preserve it in himself. But the boy, that I mentioned before, was disposed in a good way.
The Elder said: "Satan does not stop sowing sly and unclean thoughts in our mind until we take our last breath. Let us not pay attention to them. Let them fly by us, as do the birds in the skies. Let us start a factory of good thoughts. What we give to it, that we shall receive. If we give iron — shall receive iron. If we give gold — then shall receive gold. We must always transform the evil that we see into good. Let us look at everything with simplicity. One monk, simple at heart, seeing the sign "+"on a Japanese radio, thought it to be a cross. What did he do? He did not judge the Japanese for putting a cross on a radio, but said: "Thank God that the Japanese have also become Christians." If you find yourselves in any company, where they do not speak about the spiritual, keep silent and do not pay attention to what they say, but pray secretly. This way prayer will be said for those, who chatter, and you will not be harmed."
The Elder said again: "Do not hold the bad thoughts that come, for they do harm. It is similar to a fly that sits on a piece of meat and lays its eggs. Soon worms appear in the meat. The same way a bad thought, if it stays in the mind, causes great harm."
To one young man, who wanted to be the Elder’s novice, he said: "Until you have good thoughts, how an elder can help you? If, for example, a man does something evil because of his infirmity, you will judge him for that. Now, if he, with the help of Divine grace, performs some miracle, you will say that he is a sorcerer, and that is why he performed a miracle. This is how a man with bad thoughts thinks."
The Elder said: "Blasphemous thoughts are like airplanes that bother us with their noise against our will, and we cannot do anything about them. The most powerful anti-aerial defense is Psalm-chanting, for it is both a prayer to Christ and disdain for the devil." Another time he said: "Blasphemous thoughts are driven out only by indifference and contempt towards them. When they attack us, we shall sing. They are not ours, but foreign. They come from the outside, like the noise of planes."
Two pilgrims asked the elder, if they are responsible for those thoughts that attack their minds, and he answered them: "I am here, and planes are flying above me. I cannot stop the airplanes, therefore I am not responsible for that. But if I would have begun to build an airport, then I would take the responsibility for it."
The Elder said: "The Good God leaves demons free for some time, so that they, through their malice, could help us pass the spiritual tests on earth and reach the eternal heavenly life. While a man lives on earth, he has the opportunity to pass these spiritual tests. There is no re-examination. So, let us work, in order to get the necessary spiritual grade and enter Heaven."
Here are five statements of Father Paisius about thoughts: "When a man does not accept thoughts from the devil, he does right." "We shall only have good thoughts, when we shall see everything as pure." "No exploit has as much power as a good thought." "Pure heart and clean good thoughts bring spiritual health." "A bad thought creates obstacles for Divine grace."
The Elder wrote: "At the beginning of a spiritual life, the toiler pushes bad thoughts away with spiritual teachings, unceasing prayer and zealous exploit. Later, only good thoughts come. Further on, even good thoughts cease and a kind of emptiness is felt, and only then Divine enlightenment comes to a man."
A Bee and a Fly
— From my own experience, I know that in this life people are divided into two categories. There is no third: a man either belongs to the first one, or to the second. One category of people is like a fly. A fly has the remarkable feature that it always lights upon everything dirty. For example, if there are many sweet-smelling flowers in a garden, while some animal made a corner of the garden dirty, it will fly through the whole beautiful garden, not landing upon any of the flowers. But it will come right down when it sees the sewage, sit on it and start digging in it, enjoying the stench arising from the disturbance, and cannot tear itself away from it.
If it could talk, and you, catching it, would ask, if it knew where the roses of the garden were, it would answer that it did not know what they were. "It would have said: I know where there are cesspits, toilets, animal droppings, dirt…" Similarly, in life there are people, who resemble a fly. This is the category of people, who learned to think negatively about everything and find evil everywhere, not noticing and ignoring everything good.
The other category of people resembles a bee. The distinguishing feature of a bee is finding the beautiful and sweet to sit on. Let’s say, for example, that someone put a vase with a flower in the corner of a dirty building. If a bee flies inside it, it will pass everything dirty and will not sit upon anything until it finds a flower, and only there will it stop.
If you caught this bee, and asked it where the garbage and cesspits were, it would have answered that it had not noticed anything like that, but there are hydrangeas over there, roses -- there, and even further— violets, over there -- honey, over there — sugar… It will turn out to be a connoisseur of everything good and will have absolutely no idea of anything bad.
Thus, man belongs either to the category of a fly or a bee. The Elder concluded:
—When people visit me and start accusing others, I give them this example and suggest they choose, to which category they want to belong, and equally to determine to which category belong the people they accuse.
Another Incident: a Man with Negative Thoughts
Once a young man visited me, who had no good thoughts, and he asked me to accept him as a novice. I explained to him:
— I do not take novices here. First, because of the multitude of people, they will not be monks who are concerned about the spiritual, but waiters, trying to derive some profit. Secondly, being a monk for many years, I accumulated a little good, as well as a few infirmities which I still have not managed to get rid of. And if you come here, I said to him, then even the good (fasts, vigils, prayer, etc.) will do you harm, because you will not be able to observe it, and my infirmities will harm you too, for you will not be able to tolerate them. That is why I cannot accept you.
Upon hearing this, he began to visit the other monasteries.
A few days later, when I sitting outside and eating 2 tomatoes with a piece of dry bread, I started thinking about the kind acts of God, which were done for me. I began to think that God gave me a wonderful house in such a beautiful place, which many rich people could envy, desiring to have such a house to rest. I thought, the house is mine, without any monthly rent which many people work so hard to pay. Besides, I have daily food, for which I do not have to work at a factory, as many others do. That I live in such a holy place, where there are so many good brothers. Considering all of this, I was overwhelmed with such tearful pity for my ungratefulness for the great Divine blessings. Crying, I could not eat any more.
While I was in that state of deep emotion, the young man, who had asked me to accept him as a novice some days before, suddenly came up to the fence.
I immediately entered my cell, so that he would not see me crying, washed my face and, putting myself in order, went to open the gate.
Obviously, being disturbed by my delay, he said to me:
—So, this is how it is, eh? And you are considered to be an ascetic! You were eating meat, and as soon as you saw me, you disappeared so that I could not see you. Now I understand who you really are!
Flabbergasted by such an accusation, I laughed and did not try to justify myself. I was only amazed, how easily he gave way to bad thoughts.
Our Attitude Towards People Reveals our Spiritual State
The Elder also said, that the spiritual state of a person is revealed by the content of thoughts. Once, in the park of some city, three men were sitting and talking. Suddenly, a young man rapidly passed by them, nearly running, and they started thinking about it.
One thought: "Maybe he stole something and runs, to avoid capture." The second one thought: "Maybe he has a date with a girl, and he hurries, because he is late." The third one thought: "He must be a church psalmist and is running to get there by the beginning of the service."
See, three people accepted different thoughts about one and the same person. Only the one, who accepted a good thought about the brother, gained a benefit, while the rest harmed themselves spiritually.
The Elder always insisted, saying: When a brother has a bad thought, we should try to correct him with our kindness and humility. This is our duty. Unfortunately, today many people, and even clergy members, do not fight with their rotten thoughts. They either agree with those who think badly, or spoil their thoughts even more.
I shall give you an example, so that you understand, how they act.
A brother comes to a confessor and starts complaining about someone. Thinking badly about the neighbor, he reveals his bad thought to the confessor. The confessor, instead of correcting him and leading him to love, treats the problem like a layman and, wishing to appear good in the eyes of the complainer, says:
— Eh, don’t you know him? Only now you found out, what is he like in reality! Keep away from him, do not pay him any attention.
The complaining brother appears to calm down, listening to his confessor, but his rotten thought about the brother is more deeply rooted. Later, the other brother comes to the confessor and complains about the first one. The confessor comforts him in the same incorrect way and consolidates his bad thought about the brother.
If I want, — says the Elder, — I can console the devil himself, not only the brothers. But see what happens next, inasmuch as Divine truth is active.
Since the brothers continue to have rotten thoughts about one another, they reach such a fevered pitch, that they start accusing one another: "You so and so! Even the confessor, with whom I spoke, shares the same opinion about you." At that moment they find out that the confessor, wishing to please each of them, supported their mutual suspicions.
The result is that the confessor harmed both of their ways of thinking.
I try to act differently. For example, the head of a family comes to me and, deeply worried, starts to accuse his wife of many unpleasantnesses and quarrels, which happen in his family. In reality, he tells about what he has accepted from his bad thoughts.
I ask him in detail about the problems in his family, try to understand the situation from the point of view of his wife, try to show him her good qualities and justify her any way I can. In conclusion, I tell him that he must worship God for giving him such a good wife, and that he himself is guilty that their love has cooled. I explain to him where the source of his family problems is, and try to convince him to love his wife and take care of her. I persistently persuade him to cut off bad thoughts, which the devil slips him. I do the same thing when his wife comes with complaints about him. I reproach her for her drawbacks and try to convince her to throw off the bad thoughts and to try to love her husband, to appreciate his positive qualities.
As a result, both spouses understand that I was strict with them, in order to correct their drawbacks and bad thoughts, and that my goal was to restore love in them.
A Vision of the Divine Light.
Once, when I was living in Katunaki, I began to feel heavenly joy during my nocturnal prayer. Simultaneously my cell, the darkness of which was only slightly lit by the wavering light of a candle, started to be filled with a wonderful bluish light. This mysterious light was extremely bright, but I felt that my eyes could tolerate its brightness. It was the Incorporeal Divine Light, which many elders of Athos have seen! I basked in that wonderful light many hours, without perceiving any terrestrial objects, and found myself in the spiritual world, completely different from our present, physical one.
Being in that state and receiving heavenly senses by means of that Incorporeal Light, I spent many hours, not feeling time. But then, the blissful Light gradually started to disappear, and I came to my senses. Feeling hungry, I ate a piece of dry bread and sipped some water. Being tired, I sat down to rest, and felt like an animal. The realization of my insignificance, that I was absolutely similar to a beast, was born of the state in which I had been. I had immediately descended to my miserable existence from the spiritual world and, seeing the difference, I judged myself and felt disgust towards myself.
With these feelings I went outside, and I thought that it was still night, with a full moon. A brother happened to be passing by and I asked him:
— Eh, brother, what is going on? Today the sunrise appears to be late. What time is it?
The brother , surprised, asked:
— Father Paisius, what did you say? I did not understand.
Only then I realized what happened: it was already about 10 a.m. and that, which seemed to me to be the full moon, was the sun.
So, the Incorporeal Light was so strong, that in comparison, sunlight seemed like the light of a full moon!
After telling me about this incident, the Elder ordered me to leave, for some other pilgrims came to him. On the way to my place, I felt my totally brutish state.
Love for God and People.
"The main responsibility of man is to love God and then his neighbor, and most of all, his enemy. If we start loving God the way we should, then we shall keep all His other commandments. But we love neither God, nor our neighbors. Who nowadays is interested in another person? Everybody is interested only in themselves, but not in others, and we shall answer for that. God, Who is Love, will not forgive our indifference towards our neighbors."
"A good Christian loves God first of all, and then man. The surplus of love extends to animals and nature." The fact that we, modern people, destroy our environment, shows that we do not have love.
The Elder is the author of the biography of St. Arsenius of Cappadocia, who was famous for his love for people. This is what Elder Paisius wrote about him: "The life of the father was holy and, like a spiritual generator, which was brought into motion by the great and all-embracing love of God, always conveyed Divine grace not only to Christians, but also to the Turks, both believers and non-believers."
The Elder said: "The one who works for the sake of the neighbor out of love, receives rest from his very tiredness. But the one who loves himself and is lazy, gets tired from his inactivity." We should turn our attention to the fact that we must induce ourselves to doing works of love, as the Elder advises. I should work for others out of pure love, and have nothing else in mind. Many express their love in relation to some people, and then immediately subjugate them.
The Elder said: "Our great love for Christ is hidden in the love for our neighbors. Our great reverence for Christ is also hidden in our reverence for the Theotokos and the saints." This helps to preserve Christian love, which differs in quality from lay people’s love.
Alms are an expression of love. Contemporary Christians have almost forgotten this virtue. The Elder reminds us not only of the necessity of it, but of its spiritual fruits: "The spiritual change which occurs in the soul, and the heart’s jubilation from alms alone, or from some good deed for a neighbor, even the best doctor cannot give, even if you give him a whole bag of dollars. Let pensioners sacrifice their time and money to save the unprotected children of a broken family." Another time, on the same subject, he said: "If a man would seriously evaluate the spiritual benefit and inner jubilation that he feels even in this life from one small favor, done to his neighbor, then he would beg the neighbor to accept that favor, and would even be grateful to him for doing so. For the change that occurs in the soul, and the joy that is felt in the heart of a merciful man, caused even by a small piece of bread given to an orphan, cannot be granted to him by any of the greatest doctors, even if he is paid a whole bag of dollars."
A Virtuous Person.
The Elder writes: "When I came to the Holy Mountain, I walked around the Garden of the Theotokos, as all novices do, to find the sweet-smelling flowers of the Mother of God (the holy elders), to borrow some spiritual pollen from them." Let us worship God for the fact that even today, many Christians search for this spiritual pollen. Of course, there are some who, though religious, do not search for it, for their ideal is external Christianity, and not reverence — the development of the mind, but not of the heart.
The Elder said: "Virtue cannot be concealed, no matter how much one wishes to, as the sun cannot be covered by a sieve, for many sun-rays will penetrate the holes."
From Father Paisius’ discussion with seminary students: -- Father, now, when everything is in a crisis and our life is subjected to criticism from all sides, tell us about the spiritual exploit which we must undergo. The Elder answered: -- Listen: people, who undertake an exploit nowadays, spiritual people, will surely get a great reward, and in our time, when sin is spread everywhere, and is praised as good and offered by everyone, a person’s exploit and effort, understand this, are more praiseworthy than at any other previous time. And know this, my children: a good and righteous person, toiling and trying to follow God’s way, is the best one and is desired by everyone. He is wanted by everyone, no one feels aversion towards him, everybody wants to be his friend. In order to illustrate what I have just said, I shall give you an example. Thieves go and steal. Then, when they sit down to share their booty, whom do you think they ask to divide it? A bigger thief, or the fairest one? A fair person, of course, not a thief or a swindler. And, naturally, it is fully possible that all thieves, associating with each other and being friends, still honor a righteous person who is not like them. Therefore, though they keep the worst company, when they want to do something, for example, like give their daughter in marriage, they do not let her marry the worst drunkard or tramp from among their friends, but, as much as it is possible, the most honest and truthful man."
The Saints’ Example.
Father Paisius wrote: "Descendants have a holy duty to write about the Divine exploits of the Holy Fathers of his time and about the diligent labor, which they undertook to come nearer to God. When we write about the saints, we, naturally, again get some benefit, for by doing this, we remember them and try to imitate them, and then the saints are touched and help us, so that we could also come to them."
The Elder said about himself: "When I was young and listened, with curiosity, to what others who knew him said about Father Arsenius, it was very easily etched in my soft heart, which did not have any sinful buildup yet."
Father Paisius fully depicted the spiritual image of St. Arsenius to us: "He professed the true faith by a righteous life. His flesh melted in exploit from his warm love for God, and he transformed souls with Divine grace. He had deep faith and healed many, believers and non-believers. There were few words, but many miracles. He experienced much, and concealed much. Under the firm outer shell, he concealed his sweet spiritual fruit. Very strict towards himself, he was the tenderest father to his spiritual children. He taught them to follow not the letter of the law, but to understand its meaning, to be diligent. As a servant of the Highest, he did not touch the ground, and as His co-worker he shined to the world. God, Whom he glorified with his life, glorified him."
Many parents, by loving their children incorrectly, cause them spiritual harm. For example, a mother, guided by too much physical love for her child, embraces him and kisses him, saying: "What a wonderful child you are!" or "You are the best boy in the world," etc. Because of this, a child (at an age, when he is not able to comprehend it or object to it), very early on assumes a high opinion of himself, that he alone is the best and the smartest. For that reason, he naturally does not feel the necessity of Divine grace and is not able to ask God for help. In this way, a concrete conceit is ingrained in a child’s soul from earliest childhood, which he will never be able to overcome and which he will take with him into the grave.
There is additional evil in the fact that the first persons to suffer from this conceit – are the parents themselves. Really, will children sit quietly and listen to their parents’ instructions, when they are sure that they are the best and know everything?
That is why the parents must be very attentive to the spiritual development of their children, for they bear the responsibility not only for themselves, but also for them.
Here is the elder’s useful advice to confessors and parents: "A sapling is tied up for support with soft grass, not with a wire, otherwise its bark will be harmed and it dries up, so the restrictions, put on a beginner, should be soft and good-natured, so that he does not dry up spiritually." "A lively and egoistic youth should not be drastically humbled by an elder, otherwise he will put forth branches, like a young tree, which has many juices in it, when many of its branches are cut." "When your spiritual tree is small and its branches are low, accept the spiritual fence and the ties of limitations with joy, so that it will not be mutilated by goats and become worthless. Show patience in order to grow spiritually, to taste your fruits and to cool yourself in its shade."
The Elder said: "The only value in life is the family. As soon as the family perishes, the world perishes. Show your love first of all in your family." Another time he said: "When the family is destroyed, everything, the clergy, and monasticism, will be destroyed as well."
In our time, much is being said about magic, therefore one of the elder’s stories is particularly interesting, which I present here the way one of Father Paisius’ visitors wrote it down: "A child is subjected to demonic influence, but, when he is clean, the devil cannot tempt him. But when a child stops obeying his parents and resorts to trickery, then the Divine grace leaves him. You should know that demons urge a man to evil from without. But for them to be able to enter him, a person must give them a serious reason. Otherwise, they cannot do anything. To make this clearer for you, I will tell you about a characteristic incident that happened to a 40-year old teacher and her 15-year old pupil. She wrote me about it lately herself. So, she was not married, an old maid, as they say, and became inflamed with unclean passion towards a 15-year old high school student. She went to a magician so that he could help her. But, inasmuch as the child was pure, the sorcerer could not do anything, and therefore he advised her to plunge him into sin, then the magic could find a place in him, i.e. find the door of his soul open, to do anything it pleased with him. She invited the child to her place, seduced him and caused him to sin. The devil took advantage of the moment and entered him. From that moment on, the child, possessed by evil forces, began to wither, sicken, become exhausted and was near death. He did not want to read, go to school, eat or do anything at all. And now she, that devilish woman, writes to me that she sorely grieves that the child is in such a state, and wants me to pray about him. But, on the other hand, she does not want to lose him. If she had been here today, in spite of the fact that I have never lifted a finger towards anyone, I would have pulled all her hair out, hair by hair, for the evil that she did to the child."
The Elder said: "Let us never judge. When we see someone committing a sin, let us cry and ask God to forgive him. If we judge the mistakes of others, it means that our spiritual sight is not cleansed yet. He who helps his neighbor, receives help from God. He who judges his neighbor with envy and malice, has God as his judge. Let us not judge anyone. Let us consider everyone holy, and only ourselves — as sinners. One can judge others not only by word, but mentally, and with the inner disposition of the heart. The inner disposition colors our thoughts and words. In any case, it is better for us to be reserved in our opinions, so as not to fall into judgment; in other words, let us avoid approaching the fire, otherwise we shall burn ourselves, or become sooty. It is best of all to always judge ourselves, and stop attending to others."
The Holy Fathers tell us to treat our visions with caution, for they might be from the evil one, and we, in order not to be deluded, should distinguish the good from the evil! For example, they say, that Divine Light is white, and the light of the evil one is red.
The Holy Fathers also say, that God’s Angel lavishes joy, but the evil one, pretending to be an Angel, brings anxiety. But what does the evil one do? He excites the heart with physical joy and charms the man, who has never experienced heavenly divine joy, with that physical one, so that he would not be able to distinguish the divine joy from the physical joy. Therefore, it is good to look at visions through the prism of the holy fathers’ reasoning, not giving them your own personal, absolutely logical interpretations.
We often see even the novices of great elders, who cannot explain what their confessor had in mind, in spite of the fact that they had been living beside him for many years, and that the writings of their elders are written distinctly, in language contemporary to them.
The Talk about the Upbringing of Children.
The talk, which the Elder had with one of my good friends about the religious upbringing of children, is memorable and worthy of attention. Here I cite its most important points:
— There are many temptations and dangers for the youth nowadays, father. We are worried about this, in spite of our efforts, about keeping our children within the church fence.
— Do not fear for the children that are filled with piety from childhood. Even if they stray somewhat from the Church with age or because of temptations, they will still come back. They are like door-posts, which we grease, and they are not touched by mold.
—What do you think, father, at what age do children become receptive, and what should we, parents, do, so as not to fear harming them accidentally with our extremes?
— First of all, children imitate us, and, certainly, from infancy. So, starting then, we should treat them as clocks. As soon as their spring gets loose, wind it up immediately, but attentively and carefully, so that it won’t break from excessive effort.
— Father, often children resist various pious traditions.
—When something is not in order, there must always be a reason. Maybe, you give them a bad example? Maybe, the fault lies in some unworthy spectacles, bad actions, and bad words at home? In any case, let us give children piety in the form of milk, but not like dry and hard food. One should never pressure them or order them, but first of all, set an example for the children ourselves.
— In case of bad deeds, does corporal punishment do any good?
— Let us, as much as possible, avoid it. Even if we permit it, then it no way should it be regular. Corporal punishment should be administered so, that the child understands why he is being punished. Only then does it benefit.
— Father, in spite of doing all these things, our children become uncontrollable. Sometimes they exceed all bounds. We do not know what to do.
— Sometimes, let us put a screwdriver into the hands of Christ, so that He Himself would bring things to order, by tightening some screws. Let us not think that we can cope with everything by ourselves.
— Father, if a child goes to church, but at some age his behavior starts changing and he runs from church, what should we do?
— You should act calmly. If something serious happens, you should interfere. But be attentive, so that your child will not get embittered and something worse won’t happen.
—When a child gets involved with bad company and leaves the house, without gathering at least a little of Christ’s grace, is there a hope for his return?
— Did he take love with him? When there’s love in the house and we surround the child with love, then even if he gets involved in bad company, one fine day he will see that there is no love there. He will see, that there’s hypocrisy everywhere and will return home. But if he remembers about hostility and hatred in the house, then his heart will not force him to come back.
— If we found Christ late, when our children were grown, what are we to do to set them in the way of God?
— In this case, only prayers will bring results. We must ask God with much faith for His mercy for these children, who are not guilty in their unbelief. Let us admit, that only we are fully responsible, humble ourselves and sincerely repent, and God will help them. He will throw them some kind of a life-buoy, certainly, so that they too would be saved."
The Vision of the Murdered Children
On the third day after Pascha, 1984 , the Elder saw a terrible vision during his prayer:
In front of him there was a big field, sowed with wheat, which had only begun to come up. He was standing near a wall that surrounded the field. Lighting candles, he stuck them to the wall. He did this in memory of the departed, as in reality he had a custom of lightning candles for the whole suffering world — for the living and the departed.
To the left of the field there was a wild and deserted place, dark, without any traces of greenery, full of rocks and stones. A continuous earthquake shook it, and a loud roar was heard everywhere. The Elder listened more attentively to it and determined that it was made up of the thousands of blood-curdling shrieks. He did not know their origin, but suffered greatly when he heard them.
There, where he was, perplexed with the meaning of that vision, he heard a voice explaining to him, that the field, sowed with wheat which had not yet matured, symbolized the tomb of the souls of the departed that will be resurrected. And the terrible place on the left was where the souls of the children, killed through abortions, were gathered. The Elder suffered so greatly because of what he had seen that, after the vision, in spite of the fact that he was exhausted, he could not lie down to sleep a little.
The Conversion of an Anarchist
Once, the six of us were sitting near the Elder’s cell, listening to his teachings. At that time, a young man with long hair and a silk scarf around his neck came. Addressing us, he asked with some shamelessness:
— Where is this Paisius?
The Elder stood up and approaching him, asked:
— What do you want from him, child?
— I want him! — said the young man.
In the left pocket of his shirt he had a pack of cigarettes. The Elder, pointing at his pocket, said:
— What do you have here, the Gospel?
— No, cigarettes, — he answered, and taking the pack out, offered it to the Elder, saying:
— Want one?
— No, — replied the Elder.
Since we were all looking at the elder and smiling, the young man understood that this was the Paisius, whom he wanted to see. Making sure, from us, that he was not mistaken, the young man turned to the Elder and asked:
The Elder, scratching his head, said:
—What is your name? Your name is…is…Yes, that’s how they call those… who direct traffic on the roads in Athens and allow the cars to pass… (He meant the traffic-controllers)? We jumped up and said to the Elder:
— Gheronta, you want to say,: "Stamatis" or "Gregory"? (These are the Greek words, approximately corresponding to the Russian ones: "the stopper" — Stamatis and "quicker" — Gregory).
— Ah, yes, that is your name.
In fact, the young man’s name was Gregory, and when he heard his name, he became confused and asked to talk to the Elder in private. They moved away, talked, and after that, the young man left.
Six months later, he came back to the Holy Mountain, where I met him at the Kutlumush monastery. But he little resembled that former anarchist, whom I had met at the Elder’s. He had changed so much that he left me in a state of puzzlement: was that him? To clear up my doubts, I asked him:
— Excuse me, did you visit the Elder six months ago? He replied:
—Yes, father, I am the one who shamelessly talked to the Elder. Then I was a beast! Pray for me, father, so that I could improve by the Elder’s prayers.
The Rescue of a Suicide
The Elder, according to his custom, spent the night praying. Once, while praying, about 1 a.m. he was "informed" by Divine grace that, at that moment, someone in the world, called John, was in danger. Upon receiving this information, the Elder immediately lit a candle and began to pray for John. Approximately half an hour later, the Elder’s soul received was "informed," that John was out of danger. But, the Elder still did not understand, what had happened.
The next day a young man came to the Elder and told him, what the Divine grace had concealed, i.e. that he, depressed because of a multitude of problems, found himself at a dead end, and decided to commit suicide.
Getting on his motorcycle at 12.30 a.m, he left the city, heading towards a distant district, in order to drive off a precipice and crash.
Around 12.50, while he was driving along the highway, he had a thought: "They say so many things about this Paisius on the Holy Mountain, maybe I should visit him, and if nothing happens there, then I shall crash."
That was that very John, about whom the Divine grace instilled the Elder to pray, when the young man was approaching the abyss.
And of course, when the young man returned home, he did not drive to that abyss, but to a confessor, to whom he confessed his sins. Thus, by the prayers of the Elder, the youth started on the right path.
From the Story of One Visit
From the book, The Pilgrimage of a Doctor to the Holy Mountain, I cite one extract, which has to do with Father Paisius:
"Recently, one of my acquaintances, a lawyer and a former member of Parliament, came to Athos with the goal of visiting an ascetic, who was famous for his wisdom and holiness, in order to solve some problem concerning the health of his son. We both came into the cell of the Elder. He accepted us as warmly, as if he had known us for many years. I waited with great impatience and curiosity for the "verdict" of the Elder: "If you and your son will not pray, then the disease will follow its natural course. If you will pray, then the disease will develop differently. If God decides that your son is ready, He can take him from you now, and do not grieve about that. If He decides that he is still not ready, He will leave him to you."
This ascetic loves me and always shows this with a great sense of humor: "You are here again, eh, doctor? Why did you come, for I did not call you?" Then he adds in the same spirit: "All right, if you came, then I shall have to get sick, so that you won’t have to leave without doing anything!" He then points at a can with lucum (candy from Cyprus): "This is my first-aid station! It has medicines in it. Take one. Do you have sweet medicines like this?" He sees me out, joking: "A village doctor is better than a university professor. A village doctor is always close, but where can you find a professor?"
The Visit of St. Euphimia
The Elder was greatly concerned with an imminent church problem. Especially he prayed to the Holy All-Praised Great-martyr Euphimia and said: "St. Euphimia, you, who with the "Communication" solved a great problem of the Church, help us now!" (In the year of 451, in Chalcedon, where the 4th Ecumenical Council took place, St. Euphimia, in the church where her relics lay, performed a miracle: she raised her hand in which she held the Communication of the Orthodox Symbol of Faith and gave it to the Patriarch).
One morning, the Elder heard that someone was knocking at the front door in an unusual way. He asked: who is that? The women’s voice said — it is Euphimia, Gheronta. That happened twice, and then the Elder felt that someone entered the closed door and he saw St. Euphimia. The Elder said — say, "Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit." The Saint pronounced this espousal, and the Elder fell down and worshipped her. The Saint answered the Elder’s question and answered 3 more questions, about which he had prayed. Then he asked: "How did you meet martyrdom?" The Saint replied: "Gheronta, if I knew what was waiting for me in eternal life, and about that heavenly beauty, I would have asked that the martyrdom would never end, for it, compared to what Divine grace had granted me, is absolutely nothing!"
Missionary Leaflet # E032
Copyright © 2004 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)