Guest writer Christie Nicolles wrote the below article in 2016 about the beloved Saint Paisios of Mount Athos. In recognition of this great Elder of the Greek Orthodox Church, we reprint this article in honor of his upcoming birthday, July 25th.
I would posit, those who dive in intensive study of this Master, Saint Paisios of Mount Athos awakens to a phantasmagorical fact: this saint has rocked their world!
Meeting this legend, via his dozen books, has been endearing and amusing – his humorous antics made for endless laughs.
Pilgrims from the ends of the earth came to see this poor hermit and he'd often say, “People come looking to find refreshment in a big watermelon, but instead find a big gourd.” But his ascetic crucifixion of self made for deep reflection and an inner shame for being so far from his sanctity.
Whatever ineffable cause binds me to this holy man, to enter his spiritual orbit, I've placed his venerable image everywhere , even on my bicycle, he comes along for the ride. This illumined being is important for he mastered his Nous – achieved Theosis [the beatific vision]. Canonized a Saint by Patriarchate in 2015, but considered as such all along by those blessed to have met him. A few monks however, caught in envy and delusion accused him of sorcery. Didn't this happened to Christ?
In 1994, as he lay dying, people witnessed seeing Paisios flying above the church in Souroti, blessing them! After his death, miracles continued – a fragrance pervaded his tomb, clothes and cell; people's lives were saved from illness/accident and witnessed seeing him. In 2006, a taxi driver said a monk stopped him for a ride to Thessaloniki, sat next to him and said “Kosta” without knowing him, “you have a tumor in your lungs, go to hospital.” Instantly, he disappeared. Amazed, the driver obeyed and found it was true and relating this to clergy, was shown photos and recognized Paisios.
Many call him a Nostrada-mus for prophesying the Greek financial crisis. Even Wall Street Journal wrote about him. And he has also predicted Russia will give Constantinople back to Greece, which got him scolded to keep silent by his friend St. Porphyrios (also canonized).
It is reported that the pope desired to meet both Paisios and Porphyrios at the Vatican. I applaud them for rejecting him. Without communicating with each other but guided by the Holy Spirit, they said: “No, we cannot go, because Roman Catholic Church and the pope continues to demonstrate egotism and not only do they want to subjugate us to Papism – a delusion – but they won't repent. We will help the situation better by our prayers.” Good for them. When did a Pope speak up for Orthodoxy? History records: 13 holy martyrs were killed by order of the Vatican.
BOTH GENERAL AND LAMB
Paisios to me was a blend of General Patton and sacrificial lamb and I've learned not all gerontas are of his spiritual stature. He was not afraid to speak up against the lukewarmness he saw in the church: “We should witness our faith in boldness. Today, there's no manliness at all! All I see is indifference and no warriors. Godlessness and blasphemy are allowed on television/film and the church does not denounce them – they need to be excommunicated! A lukewarm clergy lulls the people to sleep – they are not holy just 'cause they wear the robe – they're cowards!”
Wow. He rebuked the scourge of political correctness and knew clairvoyantly how worse it would get. I can vouch, after a two-year survey asking many churchgoers if they truly believed in tenets of the Faith – to my horror the great majority do not! Apart from churches' philanthropic works, the collectivity give their allegiance to what is commonplace – the secular. No matter how many gallons of liturgy wine imbibed, they remain “cultural” Christians. Some even dismiss gerents like Paisios, after all, the secular ethos is “equality” and nothing can be above.
I say, woe to churches descending into social clubs, preferring entertainment over mastery of self. I recall the words of a noble, married priest who quit my church: “Understand, there's the corporate church and the mystical church; I don't belong in the corporate.” Monk Paisios turned down every 'corporate' position – he wanted the desert.
THE CROWD IS UNTRUTH
I side with philosopher Kierkegaard's The Crowd Is Untruth: “In early Christianity to be holy meant to separate oneself from the crowd – to do what was not easy; today one becomes Christian by easiest of processes; the sacraments are a social function – a eucharist and a cocktail party go hand in hand.” The crowd is untruth, its domination overlooks the individual, its eternal truth: It can only be communicated by and received by the 'single individual' – a truth seeker.” Once, beloved Paisios complained “my time gets wasted on crowds refusing to abandon their secular logismos.”
During his service in Greek Army, St. Paisios begged Theotokos (Mother of God): “Let me be tortured, but don't let me kill anyone.” He was held captive by communist rebels and suffered. Arsenios Eznepedes (Paisios’ name at birth) got his wish, as radio signalman and still had mystical experiences. Once, praying in deserted area in Tripoli, he was taken up and saw the Uncreated Light. He said, “Monks are the church's signalmen; when they make contact with God through prayer, then God comes and helps even more, than they would by working in the world.” Once he heard the Army Captain blaspheming all that's holy and told him: “From now on I refuse to obey your orders – for blaspheming God you're offending the oath I took.” “With indignation I said, 'We ought to obey God rather than men!” 1949 Arsenios was discharged from Army and began another kind of military service: enlistment in Christ's Monastic Order.
The Elder confided to disciple Hieromonk Isaac: “From the age of 11 I read the lives of the Saints, fasted and kept vigil. My older brother hid the books but I just went to the forest and read there.” At 15, a friend of his brother's, Costas, told his brother, “I'll make him give up this stuff.” “He told me of Darwin's theory of evolution and I was shaken – I went to the woods to pray.
“And after this, Christ Himself appeared to me in a great light. He was visible from waist up. He looked on me with tremendous love and said, 'I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.' He was holding open the Gospel in His left hand.” With this event, Paisios was convinced of the truth, not by books or men, but the Lord Himself.
Now he thought to himself, “Costa, come back now and we'll talk.”
For the rest of his life, Paisios repeatedly saw the Theotokos, his own guardian angel, various Saints, and Christ again – not in dreams but during the day. The sage Mother Gavrilia who lived in India, sent many seeking gurus to Paisios instead. The “Fool in Christ” Tarso, also proved her admiration for Paisios, Porphyrios, and Iakovos; telling her disciple “They are living desert fathers.”
In 1949, Paisios went to Mt. Athos and lost his way, ended up at peak of Athos’ missing skete of St. Ann. He implored Panagia for help and “suddenly an Anchorite with a radiant face appears before me; he was old, his clothing showed no contact with the world. He said “my child this, is not the path to St. Ann's and pointed the right one. His face glowed with light! I asked where he lived and he said the peak of Athos. Later I, related this to experienced Elders, who knew: ‘that would be one of the 12 righteous Anchorites who live invisibly at the peak of Athos!’”
Later, Paisios himself could be invisible and two places at the same time!
A Martyr from the Third century visited Monk Paisios...“I had returned from the world outside Athos regarding a serious church matter; I was in my cell, I heard knocking on the door and a female voice says 'By prayers of the holy fathers.' How could a woman be on Athos? I asked who is it? 'Euphemia' she answered. The third time she knocked, the door opened by itself though locked. I saw a woman with a head scarf, accompanied by evangelist Luke, then he disappeared. She shone brilliantly – it wasn't from the devil. She said 'I am Martyr Euphemia.' “Come, we'll venerate the Holy Trinity together; she repeated everything I said. Now I'll venerate you too, I venerated her by kissing her feet and the tip of her nose. She sat, answered my questions for hours and told me of her life as a tortured martyr and then she vanished – I was ecstatic for days after this visit! After the Mother of God, I love St. Euphemia.”
What an exalted passion he expressed for St. Euphemia, even writing her a poem. Refreshing, though a hermit, he was not a dried up spring; he didn't struggle against the feminine energy – his eros met beyond space and time!
TOUCHED BY GOD’S LIGHT
Thanks to Prof. Kyriaco Markide's superlative books introducing the Elder – [Mountain of Silence] he asks his mentor Fr. Maximos [who built church in Limassol, Cyprus honoring St. Paisios]: “What chance has someone married like me and living in the world to attain union with God? If in order to get to God you must do excruciating forms of askesis, what chance do we have who cannot?” Fr. Maximos replies: “In reality it's the same as being monastic. You yourself are asked to transcend and forget yourself for the sake of the other. That's the meaning of marriage – for two to become divinities.”
The following true story is told by St. Paisios as example: “A doctor visited me from America, an Orthodox, but little to do with religion, didn't go to church often or fast. He had an experience and wanted to discuss it with someone. One night while praying the ‘heavens opened up,’ he was flooded with light, the ceiling disappeared. He remained in that light a long time... It was real. He had seen the 'Uncreated Light.' What had he done to deserve such divinity? He was married with children. His wife said to him ‘I'm sick of housework, I want to go out with my friends alone.’ He accepted this for his children's sake. Then she wanted to go on vacation by herself. What could he do? He gave her money and the car. She then asked to rent an apartment to live on her own, invite friends over. He would console her: ‘How do our children feel?’
“She was adamant; in the end she extracted large sums of money from him and deserted him. She felt confined! Years later, he learned she ended up a prostitute in the clubs of Piraeus! He was distraught! He thought to look for her, but what to say? He knelt down to pray: ‘My God help me, how do I save this soul?’
“You see, he was hurting for her. No male ego, no contempt, he hurt over her wretched state. That was when God flooded him with light. You see! He was in America and what kind of environment? Yet many monks on Mt. Athos are without such progress!”
LIVE AND OLET LIVE
The Lion of the Holy Mountain was also friends with a bird – a red robin above the hermitage he named Olet. When he called Olet, the robin would come and sit on his shoulder and eat out of his hand. “When I was sick he wouldn't eat the food I left, instead he flew to see what became of me. Animals sense a person's disposition.” The forest near his monastery had bears, jackals and snakes and he would talk to and feed them. Once he told visiting priests to love even snakes; at that moment a large snake drew close to him and stood up straight! Truly, the life of this man embodies Shakespeare's Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Many people witnessed his face lit up, shining in a golden halo; several monks witnessed him fully covered in a blue light outside his cell, another reported seeing him levitate above the ground, nuns saw him rise in the air during liturgy and later confided he was taken up by the angels and saints. While living alone in Mt. Sinai desert he still knew everything going on in the whole world – as Porphyrios described, “he was his own television.”
PARTISAN ONLY SPIRITUALLY
Even American senators, members of Parliament and King Constantine visited him. When President of Greece came, his security guards abandoned him to run to the Elder for blessing. Though a poor hermit, the Elder had courage to raise his voice before the powerful of the day. On the eve of elections in Greece, he recalls sitting on his wooden bed saying the Jesus Prayer, suddenly the devil appeared in the form of a high ranking politician, whom he criticized for doing destructive things, “he was threatening me, but couldn't come near me, as if he was bound.”
Paisios disapproved of godless politicians. “If a hand won't make the sign of the cross, who cares if it's a left hand or a right hand?” A prime minister he publicly called detrimental to country and church asked to meet with him in Souroti. The geronta responded, “Let him come – I'll tell him to his face!” Imagine what he'd say regarding today's Prime Minister Tsipras or President Obama?
When asked when Cyprus would become free, Paisios replied, “Cyprus will become free when the Cypriots repent – they need to make spiritual bases in order to get rid of the bases of the British and Turks.” He considered the situation in Cyprus to be a spiritual matter, not a political one. ”And Greece has lost its way – sin rules the people who vote for anti-Christian laws.” St. Paisios published a text defending the hero Makriyiannis, a reverent man from false accusations. He did this not just to expose the truth, but to help people develop discernment for their choice of leaders.
NO PHOTOS, PLEASE
When St. Paisios was asked if he becomes prideful after receiving so much honor, he replied:
“My greatest enemy is my name. How can I be prideful when I know who I am? And when I think of the gallons of blood that Christ shed for me, I almost lose my mind.” My favorite salient point of his: “Logic is harmful when we use it to scrutinize the divine ... Angels and Saints enter our windows, we can see them, talk with them, and there is no way to explain this logically.”
And Paisios could be severe if someone secretly photographed or taped him; he'd take and burn them or make photos come out blank. To a visitor who wanted to write an article about him, he said, “What's this some kind of joke? If you want us to have a nice day together, don't write anything about me!” Well, I think in my case, I'm home free, as I had a dream about Elder Paisios – he was talking in my ear – of endless information!
May It Be Blessed!
Christie Nicolles is a writer and speaker on theological and philosophical topics.