By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
Source in Greek: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, " Ναυπάκτου κ. Ιεροθέου: Ο όσιος Παΐσιος Βελιτσκόφσκι, ένας μεγάλος ησυχαστής Πατέρας" , January-February-March 2012.
Saint Paisius Velichkovsky (1722-1794) was a great figure of monasticism who lived a few years on Mount Athos and communicated in Slavic lands, especially in Ukraine, Moldova and Wallachia, but he spread throughout the Balkan and Russian lands and other areas.
He was a great prophetic figure in the field of monasticism in the 18th century, having reintroduced to monasticism in the Balkans and Russia its ancient patristic sources, since monasticism had changed under the reforms made by Peter the Great, when Russia leaned towards the enlightening and romantic spirit of the West.
From my general studies I learned of the actions and teachings of Saint Paisius Velichkovsky, especially that he lived for a short time on Mount Athos, and translated into Ruso-Slavic the texts of the Holy Fathers of the Church that speak of the hesychastic tradition of the Church (the purification of the heart, the illumination of the nous and theosis), that is, texts which comprise the popular Philokalia. However, he was not satisfied to only discover and translate these important texts, but he also made practical application of them, thereby attracting many monks who desired to live this hesychastic tradition, to whom he also taught it, thus becoming their spiritual teacher in the hesychastic life.
The Emeritus Professor of the Theological School of Thessaloniki, Anthony-Emil Tachiaos, who taught for years the history of the Slavic and other Orthodox Churches, dealt particularly with the hesychastic tradition in the Balkans and Russia, since his doctoral thesis was on The Effects of Hesychasm in the Ecclesiastical Policies of Russia, and he even occupied himself with Saint Paisius Velichkovsky, since his habilitation thesis was titled Paisius Velichkovsky and his Ascetical-Philological School. These and other studies revealed the life and work of this great Ukrainian ascetic.
However, in 2009, the same professor released the book titled The Venerable Paisius Velichkovsky, published by University Studio Press. This book had already been published in other languages, that included the autobiography and biography of this great Ukrainian hesychastic monk, and with this publication it was translated into Greek in 2009.
Specifically, this book, which I consider very important, is divided into three chapters. The first presents the autobiography of Saint Paisius Velichkovsky, ending at the time he went to Mount Athos. The second chapter includes the biography of Saint Paisius written by his disciple Hieromonk Metrophanes, which begins at the point the autobiography ends until the repose of this great hesychastic Father. In the third chapter the narrative is published by the same Saint Paisius Velichkovsky to the abbot Theodosius in the Hermitage of Saint Sophronius of his discovery on Mount Athos of the writings of the Neptic Fathers and his translation of them in the Ruso-Slavic language.
In the Introduction, which precedes the whole work, Professor Anthony-Emil Tachiaos, with scientific precision and distinguished knowledge, makes accurate observations of the texts which follow, especially the autobiography of Saint Paisius Velichkovsky, which was discovered in Sekou Monastery by the late Valentina Pelin and translated by the Professor. Further important observations, which facilitate the reader, are recorded in the footnotes of the texts. The bibliographical survey at the end of the book shows the great heritage of Saint Paisius.
This work is very important and should be read by all who care about these issues, because they are connected with the revival of monasticism in Moldova, Romania, Russia, and the wider regions. It is known that the translation of these important neptic texts into the Ruso-Slavic language, which was done by Saint Paisius Velichkovsky, and from there into the Vlach-Romanian language, helped many monks to live this hesychastic tradition. Indeed, it was this Philokalia that the pilgrim had in mind in the famous book The Way of a Pilgrim.
We will proceed to identify five aspects of the life of this great Ukrainian neptic and hesychastic Saint of the Church.
1. His Path To Monasticism
His baptismal name was Peter and he was born in Poltava of Ukraine, or Little Russia as Ukraine was once called, in the year 1722. He was left fatherless at the age of four. At the age of ten he would read the Old and New Testaments, the book Pearls of the Divine Chrysostom, the venerable Ephraim the Syrian, Abba Dorotheos and other books. By reading these the love for monasticism was born within him.
While studying in Kiev he showed more zeal about spiritual matters than the scholastic studies they were teaching then in the Ecclesiastical School. He himself describes a typical dialogue he had with his Scholarch that shows his early zeal for the patristic hesychastic tradition. He would visit the Kiev Caves Lavra and, inspired by the monastic life and the asceticism of the monks, there grew within him a love for monasticism and the desert life.
Reading his narrative one observes his great zeal for the hesychastic monasticism he developed since adolescence. There are some phrases that he uses in his autobiography that show his love for monasticism as well as hesychastic monasticism that captured his soul. He recounts:
"The love for monasticism prevailed in my soul, and I no longer felt pushed to attend my studies; rather, I was compelled to renounce the world, and as quickly as possible to become a monk."
"I came in the evenings, and not knowing anyone there I was a stranger, and I would spend the night in some cave nearest to the church, or in the large monastery near the bell tower, where I stayed until they called us for the Rule."
"I would bless thrice-blessed quietude."
"There burned into my soul such a desire for one thing that was impossible, so that, if possible, I would not want in any way to leave those sacred caves, and by staying there, I would complete my life within them. Seeing that this was impossible, I would leave those sacred caves with sorrows and sighs."
With peers in the School that had the same desire, they promised: "Let us sojourn from our homeland to a deserted and quiet place, and once we find an experienced guide for our souls, we will give ourselves over to him in obedience, and when the time is right we will take from him the monastic tonsure." They decided to live "until our dying breath in monastic poverty" "in distress".
He looked for ascetics, hermits and fathers and was benefited by their presence and words. "I, standing near to them, heard words beneficial to the soul, and they seemed to be words of eternal life."
To accomplish his great desire to become a monk as a foreigner in quietude and distress, he abandoned his studies in Kiev, and at the same time separated from his mother in a moving and emotionally charged atmosphere. His zeal for the monastic life was amazing, as well as his strong will for the fulfillment of his desire.
One would be amazed to read of his tribulations in searching for a suitable place, in visiting the various monastic centers and in meeting hermits whom he wanted to be under obedience for his salvation. A typical example is the hermit Hesychius. He passed through rivers, forests and borders with much difficulty, and unimaginable and indescribable suffering.
When he enlisted in a Monastery as a novice monk, the Abbot suggested he wear, if he so wished, some monastic clothes. He recounts: "I prostrated before him and taking his blessing I went to my cell, took off my secular clothes, and with such great joy I dressed in the clothes given to me by the Abbot, that I kissed his hands many times as if they were something sacred. I continued to wear them until they melted on me, and I thanked God, that instead of the secular clothes I wore up to this point, I was made worthy for that which was needed, the monastic."
In his search for a suitable spot he reached the Sacred Monastery of Saint Nicholas, along the Traisteni River, also called Medvedovski, where he received the Small Monastic Schema and took the name Plato. Due to the persecution that broke out against the Monastery, however, after officials in the region pressured them to join the Unia, he was forced to return to the Kiev Caves Lavra.
Situated there his soul was benefited from the presence of great ascetic Fathers, who were distinguished for their asceticism and virtue. He related to a certain monk: "And only by seeing him would my wretched soul receive benefit." Referring to great ascetics, he wrote: "Seeing these things and thinking about them, I was entirely inflamed with love for this holy place and I thanked God with all my soul, because He made me, the worthless one, worthy to be found in such a holy Lavra."
These ascetics, however, did not usually accept to guide others, though he sought for a spiritual guide for his spiritual life. So he sought this spiritual guide in Moldova, passing through various places in snow that reached up to his knees, facing unexpected difficulties when passing over the borders with fellow travelers. Along the way he met many good ascetics who lived in deep and great asceticism. He writes somewhere: "The monks would gather with the elder in the same place and conversed until midnight. I, the least, sat among them, and carefully listening to what was said, I rejoiced with unspeakable joy and glorified God with tears, because He made me worthy in my youth to hear from the mouth of such a spiritual man similar words full of great benefit, which for all my life were a guide."
At Carnul Skete he met ascetics, hermits and fathers who lived the hesychastic tradition. There Saint Paisius was taught "what is work and theoria and true noetic quietude. There, not only did he learn watchfulness (nipsis) and caution which takes place in the heart through the nous and noetic prayer, but he also enjoyed in his heart the divine energy which moves from it."
Divine Providence, however, wanted the venerable Paisius on Mount Athos "in order to augment the treasure and give abundantly to all who sought benefit from spiritual teaching." There he sought "an experienced spiritual father, who lived in quietude, to give both his body and soul over to in obedience, that he may learn from him the spiritual way of life."
He arrived at Great Lavra, celebrated with the Fathers the feast of the venerable Athanasios, and from there went to the Skete of Pantokrator Monastery. He settled in a hut and sought a suitable spiritual guide. He lived in great asceticism, repentance, abstinence, absolute landlessness, poverty and hardship, and even in bed he had pain of heart, unceasing prayer, love for God and neighbor, the memory of death, psalmody, the reading of Holy Scripture, and continuous tears because he could not find a hesychastic Spiritual Father to be under his obedience. By doing such asceticism "he went from one spiritual power to another, making the ascent of his heart a reality. In this way, inflamed with divine zeal for great feats, he enjoyed the quietude for two and a half years."
During this time he received the Great Angelic Schema around the year 1750. He was then twenty-eight years old and renamed from Plato to Paisius. And not having a proper spiritual guide, he followed the teachings of the Holy Fathers of the Church as he read in their writings.
Thus, his zeal for the monastic life, which developed in him from a young age, was satisfied with the gift of the Great Angelic Schema, and his love for sacred quietude and the monastic life.
2. The Search for the Texts of the Hesychast Fathers and their Translation
The venerable Paisius, through God's enlightenment, understood the great worth of Holy Scripture and the neptic and hesychastic texts of the Holy Fathers which he studied as a young child, and by reading these his zeal was increased to gain communion with God.
Already as a novice monk in the Monastery of Liubetz a certain monk had given him to read the book titled The Ladder by Saint John of Sinai, which had filled him with great joy. In order to always have it with him he copied it all night, using a torch that would fill his room with smoke.
Saint Paisius himself tells us that he acquired such love for Patristic books because, lacking a suitable spiritual guide, he wanted for himself and for the monks he assumed over time to not deviate from "the correct mindset of the Holy Catholic Orthodox Church". Thus, he began to acquire various Patristic books in the "Slavic" language, "which taught about obedience, attention, watchfulness and prayer", restricting food and enduring poverty. Reading the already translated books in Slavonic he found that there were serious errors which resulted in him not receiving a clear understanding. At first he tried to correct them by using other books that were translated into Slavonic, but he found this work very difficult and impossible.
However, after "staying for many years" on Mount Athos he "learned to some extent the Greek language", so he sought to find the neptic books in their original language, in order that with these he could correct the Slavonic texts. He found this task to also be difficult and impossible. He would visit the various Sketes of Mount Athos, such as Saint Anna's and Saint Demetrios of Vatopaidi Monastery, as well as the various Monasteries and experienced Elders in order to find books referring to the hesychastic and neptic life, such as that of Saints Philotheos of Sinai and Hesychios the Presbyter, but no one knew of their existence. This saddened him very much.
He tells of the great joy he experienced while on a journey from Great Lavra Monastery to the Skete of Saint Anna, as he passed by the Skete of Saint Basil and met a monk who copied books of the venerable Peter of Damascus, Anthony the Great, Saint Gregory of Sinai, Saint Philotheos, Saint Hesychios, Saint Diadochos, Saint Thallasios, Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Saint Nikephoros the Monk, Saint Isaiah, and so on. After many entreaties and payments he acquired many such neptic texts, and returned to Moldova in order to arrange his large Brotherhood, that had been created in the meantime, and he served there by translating these neptic texts.
At first he tried to correct the already translated texts into Slavonic using the original Greek texts. Because these translations were not done well, it was difficult, so he started a new translation. The venerable Paisius would translate from the Greek to the Ruso-Slavic language that prevailed in the seventeenth century in the books published in Russia.
He confesses: "This work was beyond my powers." His biographer and disciple Metrophanes says that the venerable Paisius translated from the "Helleno-Greek" language to their own "Slavonic" and from these the "Vlach-speaking brothers translated into their own language". All day long he dealt with the issues of the Monastery and at night he translated "exceeding the limits of nature with work", even though his body was entirely in pain "being crippled, suffering much from wounds".
His biographer also gives us information how Saint Paisius would translate at night: "While in bed resting he was surrounded by books: many dictionaries, a Greek Bible, a Slavonic Bible, Greek and Slavonic Grammar books, the book he was translating, and a lit candle burning in the middle. Sitting like a child either crouching or lying down, he wrote all night, forgetting his sickness and trouble, unable to answer or hear if he was spoken to or if something was going on outside his cell."
He did these translations of the neptic books, those which are contained in the Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics, with much zeal, because within them he found the wisdom of the Fathers and the way by which someone could attain union and communion with God, and on the other hand in order to give it to those under him that it may be food for them who want to be helped by the teachings of the Holy Fathers.
Thus, the venerable Paisius contributed as few have in the renewal of hesychastic monasticism in Ukraine, Moldova, Wallachia (Romania), Russia and other countries.
3. A Spiritual Guide of Hundreds and Thousands of Monastics
Because the venerable Paisius felt in his heart the sweetness of noetic quietude and prayer, without seeking it he attracted near to him many people and monastics who sought this way of spiritual life.
He lived eighteen years on Mount Athos (1746-1763). At first he remained in a small hut near the Monastery of Pantocrator. "Inflamed with divine zeal for great feats, he enjoyed the quietude for two and a half years." Various monks slowly came to be near him, and they were forced to build another hut higher than theirs, then they purchased the Cell of Saint Constantine. The brotherhood consisted of Romanian-speaking and Slavic-speaking brethren. At that time, for the sake of the brotherhood, he was pressured by revered Spiritual Fathers to accept the priesthood in order to serve the brotherhood.
"Twenty brethren" gathered there under his spiritual guidance, and they moved to the Skete of the Prophet Elias. Services were done in two languages, Slavonic and Romanian, and for handiwork they constructed spoons, which they sold in order to have what was necessary and to offer hospitality to visitors. Metrophanes writes: "Our father performed his handiwork, making twice as many as the other brothers, and at night he copied books. His entire life was spent as an all-night vigil, unable to sleep more than three hours." His reputation spread throughout the Holy Mountain and many came to confess to him, even Patriarch Seraphim, who then resided at the Monastery of Pantocrator.
For a short time he went to the Sacred Monastery of Simonopetra with some monks, but because the Monastery was in debt they could not stay long there. Yet, with his way of life, he "illumined the entire Holy Mountain" and "all the Athonites marveled at the brilliance of his light."
When, however, the "brotherhood became numerous at Prophet Elias and no longer fit there, then God took them and brought them to this Orthodox land, in Moldova." Sixty-six monks followed him there.
The venerable Paisius and his monks settled in Dragomirna Monastery and underwent much trouble in its reconstruction, and it was put under an Athonite order. He regulated the typikon of the Coenobium based on the typikon and writings of Basil the Great. "In common ministries there should be kept silence and prayer in the mouth." "In the cells should be read the works of our God-bearing Fathers, and noetic prayer of the nous through the heart should be performed skillfully and precisely, and breath should be held with the fear of God, because it is the source of love for God and neighbor, as well as the source of all virtues." Every night there was a confession of thoughts, because it "is the foundation of salvation, peace, quietude and love." Over two-hundred monks lived in asceticism at this Monastery.
He educated them as a father and teacher in noetic prayer. He taught them regularly during the fasting periods, and at other times. "Every day, except Sundays and feasts, the brothers would gather at night in the refectory, they would light a candle, and their blessed father came sitting in his regular place. He would open a patristic book, either Saint Basil the Great's 'On Fasting', or John of the Ladder, or Saint Dorotheos, or Saint Theodore the Studite." Then he would interpret passages he read through his own spiritual experience.
They remained twelve years (1763-1775) at the Sacred Monastery of Dragomirna, where due to the events of the Ruso-Turkish war they served and ministered to a large crowd of people gathered at the Monastery. In the typikon of the Monastery produced by the venerable Paisius in 1763, "he foresaw that the abbot of the Monastery must know three languages: Greek, Slavic and Romanian."
But when the Germans (Austrians) settled in the Monastery and the Venerable One realized that he could not "live under the Papists", they moved with great sadness and pain gradually to another Monastery, that is, the Monastery of Sekou.
Metrophanes writes about the move of the brotherhood from Dragomirna Monastery: "We were persecuted by the Germans and on our own we distanced ourselves from Dragomirna Monastery, so that nothing would happen to our Orthodox faith from the arch-heretics and their secular authorities that remained there." Reflecting on the life they lived in this Monastery, he writes: "O Dragomirna, Dragomirna most sweet and the consolation of our souls, I remember our lives in you. Yet it is better to be silent lest bitterness fills our hearts for having lost you.... To us you were like a paradise of delight, you were for us like a garden that quickly takes root near water and the flowers give off various fragrances and fruits."
So from Dragomirna they moved in 1775 to Sekou Monastery, where they overly wore themselves out trying to reconstruct cells that the brotherhood may settle. The place was quiet and deserted. The situation of the brotherhood, after a long struggle of three years, arrived at the level of the previous Monastery and this was a cause of joy for the venerable Paisius and he glorified God. But Prince Constantine Mourousis urged and pressured the venerable Paisius to settle in Neamt Monastery. The Venerable One did not want such a move after so many hardships, but finally he succumbed in obedience to the desire of the Prince.
In 1779 a portion of the brotherhood moved to Neamt Monastery. New struggles awaited there for the reconstruction of the Sacred Monastery, which was difficult for the venerable Paisius and saddened him.
At this Monastery the venerable Paisius constructed a Hospital and a Hostel for the aged, the blind and the lame who would come and beg him to accept them and give them mercy. Here the number of monks, together with those who were in the Sketes, reached three hundred. However, towards the end of the life of the venerable Paisius in Neamt Monastery there had gathered around 700 monks near him. In the biography of the venerable Nikodemos the Hagiorite, as we will see below, it was written that the monks that were under the spiritual guidance of the venerable Paisius exceeded the thousands. Information indicates that at Neamt Monastery "there lived monks from a total of ten national backgrounds, such as Moldovans, Serbs, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Greeks, Jews, Armenians, Turks, Russians and Ukrainians." The Venerable One reposed in this Monastery in 1794.
The venerable Paisius found the way of hesychasm and noetic prayer, so that his heart was filled with the Grace of God, and then he taught this life to the monks who ran to him from everywhere in order to hear the divine wisdom that came out of his mouth, yet especially from his heart.
4. The Experience of Hesychastic Monasticism
The reading and translation of neptic and hesychast books put the venerable Paisius on a quest from a young age, but simultaneously, it still lit up for him an even greater desire for the neptic-hesychastic life.
His biographer and disciple Hieromonk Metrophanes in his text presents the spirituality of the venerable Paisius. I will quote a few indicative passages that show this reality.
From his youth the venerable Paisius "was a chosen vessel of God and a perfect observer of His commandments. This is why his words were strong and perfect, full of Grace, incisive in his soul, such that he separated the evil from the good, uprooting the passions and cultivating the virtues in the souls of those who hear with faith." "The Grace of the All-Holy Spirit dwelt within him from the womb of his mother", and this Grace later increased with the observance of the commandments of God.
From his youth he was wise. "While a young child in age, he was old in his mind and in wisdom. He subdued anger and desire to reason, alienated his senses from all the beautiful and pleasurable things of this world and he considered it all as corrupt." "He locked himself in his house and lived in quietude, as if he was in the desert of Sinai." From a young age he was inflamed with "unspeakable zeal" to love the Lord and abandon everything in the world, "even his mother".
The venerable Paisius loved noetic quietude and the neptic tradition of the Church and served with zeal to acquire this method, by which a person acquires unity with God.
The natural gifts he had, as well as the fruits of hesychasm and prayer were noticeable. "His bright mind and memory, which grace kept intact, no one can describe. He was rapid in understanding the higher doctrinal matters and, if he read something once, he treasured it always in his memory." "Indeed, this wonderful man, our blessed father, assimilated in all things with the ancient Holy Fathers."
He resembled the ancient hermits. "If we compare him with the holy hermits, who practiced the same type of hesychasm, then we would not be surprised how he rejoiced at prayer and in the union with God." "His mind was always serene" and "inflamed with the love and union of God." He could not hear anything that took place outside of his cell. He kept vigil in his cell with noetic prayer and watchfulness. "Just as the holy hermits remained vigilant brides, so throughout his life at night he was a vigilant bride, lacking nothing of the athleticism of the God-bearing Fathers."
He even resembled "the ancient holy coenobitic Fathers" in many points. The Holy Spirit resided within him and from his lips there "flowed the honeyed source of divine teachings, that soothed and healed souls and eliminated passions. He had a divine nous, which correctly understood the canons of the holy Ecumenical Synods and the traditions of the Church."
He was "steadfast in faith and hoped in the providence of God", having "the fear of God by which he kept the commandments of God as the daughter of his eye". "Within him was fiery love" towards Christ and "completely inflamed he poured himself out towards all, loving, animating and teaching all, sympathizing with everyone, embracing with his soul his spiritual children, as well as everyone who came to him." "He was always at peace with everyone, never at war with or embittering anyone". To a large degree he was humble, chaste. "While his innocence and simplicity were childlike, his nous was divine and not childish." His face was "in the form of an angel".
Metrophanes, who lived near the venerable Paisius, writes about his whole presence, since even his body was transformed by the Grace of God that dwelled in him.
"His face was bright as angel of God, his look was calm, his words were humble and a stranger to insolence, he greeted everyone with love, responded with affability; he was full of kindness, keen on charity, brought everyone near him like a magnet which naturally attracts iron. He had deep humility, gentleness and forbearance in all things. This great man was entirely God-like and a vessel of Grace. His nous was always united with God and his tears testified to this. When he spoke about Theology, then his heart vibrated with love, his face shined with joy, his eyes teared up, confirming the truth. When we stood before him, our eyes never tired of seeing him but wanted to see him avidly, nor were we tired of hearing him, nor bored, because out of the joy of our hearts, as I said, we completely forgot about ourselves."
His biographer also describes some miraculous events that he experienced watching the venerable Paisius.
Once he walked into his cell and was speaking to him, but he was still lying down and motionless, hearing nothing. Then, as recounted by Metrophanes, "I remained standing, looking at him and seeing his face as if it was blazing." Because, however, he was by nature "white and pale faced, I realized that the flame of his heart, out of love for prayer, passed through to his face."
Another time he saw his face shining. "The same out of spiritual joy spoke while smiling with unspeakable love, with spiritual words coming out of him, and it was as if he instilled joy in our souls."
The venerable Paisius had "also the gift of foresight and whatever he foresaw happened". While he was in his cell, he knew the moods of all the brothers of the Monastery. Not even miracles were missing from him. "Our blessed father did many miracles for us, but, because he did not want to even hear about this subject he attributed everything to the most-honorable Theotokos, and for this reason I will stop so as not to oppose him, although I know of many miracles both before his death and after."
Such a personality that had many spiritual gifts, quietude and noetic prayer, as well as teaching, attracted many monks near him and in this way he reconstructed the monasticism of his time, bringing to it the neptic tradition of the Fathers of the Church.
Most of the monastics of his time, apart from notable exceptions he himself recognized in the Kiev Caves Lavra and elsewhere, had altered so much that they only retained the outer form of monasticism. "They did not know what monasticism was and what the mystery of obedience was and how much benefit it offers the novice who approaches with awareness, what work was, and what is divine and noetic prayer that takes place in the nous through the heart. The same was taught these things by God and by the teachings of the Holy Fathers, through the study and translation of their works."
5. His Venerable End
The end of such a Saint was worthy of his life. Throughout his life he lived in hesychastic quietude and noetic prayer, and in such also did his life have to end and pass on to eternity.
According to the testimony of his biographer Metrophanes: "Several days earlier he received notification from the Lord regarding his death, for which he stopped the translation of patristic works." He visited his cell and saw him "extremely happy". He asked him "four difficult theological questions" for which he received good responses. When he left the cell, then the brother that served the Saint "locked the door and did not allow anyone to enter. The next day he fell ill. Then it was not allowed for anyone to even knock on the door, to worsen his situation."
He suffered three days and on Sunday felt better and went to the Divine Liturgy. With much difficulty he returned to his cell. "From then his illness worsened and no one was allowed to visit him. The blessed one desired to complete his life in quietude."
"When the end was near he communed of the Immaculate Mysteries, and after inviting two spiritual fathers, through whom he transferred to all the brethren blessings and peace, he departed as if he slept and he gave his soul into the hands of God, leaving the brotherhood, according to the judgement of the common gathering, to elect an Elder and shepherd."
When the passing of the venerable Paisius became known "a multitude of monastic and married priests gathered, together with ordinary people, and there was a common lament from everyone, from ourselves and them, and we buried him with honors inside the church."
He reposed on November 15th in the year 1794. A venerable life, venerable also was his repose. A hesychast life, his repose and burial to the Lord was also hesychastic.
6. The Philokalic Movement in the Orthodox World
The venerable Paisius Velichkovsky, without seeking it, became associated with an event of great significance that was observed in the eighteenth century Orthodox world, and it is called the Philokalic Renaissance, which played an important role in the revival of Orthodox Tradition and revealed new Holy Fathers and Neomartyrs.
It is known that in Europe in the eighteenth century there developed the ideological current known as the Enlightenment, which came out of the cosmic idol of western Christianity and established on ancient Greek philosophers and writers. Such enlightening ideas, transferred albeit in a more modest form to Greece, and Greeks like Adamantios Koraes even took interest in the publication of the works of ancient Greek philosophers and writers.
There appeared at this time in the Greek land the so-called Kollyvades or Philokalic Fathers, such as Saint Makarios Notaras, Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Saint Athanasios Parios, and others, who moved in the opposite direction that the Enlighteners moved. They sought and published texts of the Fathers of the Church and especially texts referring to Orthodox hesychasm, which is the only method by which God can be known (theognosia).
Saint Makarios, formerly of Corinth, Notaras (1731-1805) worked diligently to discover and gather the writings of the neptic Fathers of the Church and gave them the title Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics. The venerable Paisius refers to this great hesychast Bishop who went to Mount Athos to find and collect these neptic texts. It is surprising that among other things the venerable Paisius writes: "When I came to the Holy Mountain."
We know, however, that Saint Makarios was on Mount Athos in 1775, while the venerable Paisius left Mount Athos in 1763. Thus, this "came" of the venerable Paisius shows that he felt and acted as an Athonite, although at the time he was living in Moldova.
However, the venerable Paisius refers to Saint Makarios, the former Bishop of Corinth, with very beautiful words, since they had the same desire and sought the same thing. He writes:
"The All-Sacred lord Makarios, former Metropolitan of Corinth, from yet a young age, worked with God, having such an indescribable love for the patristic writings, those referring to watchfulness, the attention of the nous, hesychasm and noetic prayer, namely the heart operating through the nous for the one who works at this; so that his entire life was dedicated to searching for them with his hand that loved to work, and as one experienced in secular education and unsparing in expenses, he ordered their copying."
He then tells us how Bishop Makarios investigated all the libraries of the Sacred Monasteries of the Holy Mountain, and how he discovered the "priceless treasure" at Vatopaidi Monastery, "namely a book on the unification of the nous with God, which was a collection from all the saints done in ancient times by great zealots," as well as other writings which were unknown at that time. Bishop Makarios copied them, with the help of expert copyists, and he read them while in custody of the originals and corrected them properly. He also wrote a quick biography of the saints who compiled them. "Then he departed the Holy Mountain with unspeakable joy, as if he found a heavenly treasure on earth, and then came to the glorious Asia Minor city of Smyrna, and sent them to Venice with a lot of money, which he acquired from the charity of Christians" for their publication. The venerable Paisius praises Saint Makarios for the important work he did, because he understood the value of these writings "and almost his entire life exhausted himself in an intense search for these writings everywhere, but especially on Holy Mount Athos." Indeed these writings, as he writes, are for the athletes of monastic life in the arena with invisible spirits "more necessary than breath itself."
Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite (1749-1809) helped in the publication of the Philokalia after the urging of Saint Makarios when he visited the Holy Mountain in 1777 and met him. Hieromonk Euthymios, the spiritual brother and first biographer of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, refers to this episode:
"In 1777 Saint Makarios of Corinth came, and after worshiping in the sacred Monasteries he came to Karyes and was given hospitality at Saint Anthony's by a fellow patriot, Elder David. So he called for Nikodemos and pleaded with him to consider the Philokalia. And in this way the blessed one began - what do I mean began? I wonder, for I do not know what to say; should I say spiritual struggle or excessive labor of his mind and flesh? It is not only these things which I said, but other things also, which my mind cannot contemplate - I say he began with the Philokalia. And there we see his most beautiful Introduction and the short honey-dripped biographies of the deified Fathers."
This original biographer of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, however, gives us the important testimony that Saint Nikodemos had heard of the venerable Paisius Velichkovsky and wanted to visit him.
"And being there [Dionysiou Monastery] he heard of the good fame of the coenobitic leader Paisius the Russian, who was in Bogdania [Moldova] and had over a thousand brothers in his fold, and that he taught noetic prayer. Loving also this divine work, he embarked on a ship to go in search of his beloved divine prayer. While sailing outside of Athos they were caught in a storm and they were in danger until they reached the port of the Panagia in Thasos. Disembarking there he changed his goal due to the phenomenon of the storm, though in truth the inclination of God turned him back, that he might undertake this great good in the Church of Christ." Of course he refers to the publication of various patristic texts.
A cause of particular impression is the communication between the three great figures of that era, namely the venerable Paisius Velichkovsky, Saint Makarios the former bishop of Corinth, and Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite. All three loved the hesychast tradition and life, and considered it the essence of Orthodox ecclesiastical life. They struggled to locate and discover the neptic writings of the hesychast Fathers and did all they could to publish and disseminate them. Above all, they loved noetic quietude and noetic prayer of the heart, and they understood its value in the union of the nous of man with God. This is what made them saints in the consciousness of the people and the life of the Church.
The venerable Paisius Velichkovsky wrote also of the contribution of the Greek Orthodox Church to the Russian Orthodox Church:
"With the inexpressible philanthropy of God, in these end times, our entire Russian Church was made worthy to receive the holy Orthodox faith and Orthodox baptism from the Greek Orthodox Church. With the holy faith the Holy Scriptures were received also, together with all the sacred books, the ecclesiastical teachers and fathers, translated from Hellenic-Greek. These are the sources of Slavic books, because otherwise there would be no Slavic books."
So the Philokalic Fathers, Saint Makarios Notaras and Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite among others, contributed to the rebirth of hesychastic monasticism and the hesychastic tradition, which resisted the stream of the Enlightnment, that sought to restore ancient Greece in modern Hellenism in defiance of the entire intermediate Byzantine-Romaic-Patristic period. In the same way the venerable Paisius Velichkovsky resisted in a thoroughly positive way the stream of the Enlightenment which had penetrated Russia and the surrounding region, as indeed he had encountered it in the Ecclesiastical School of Kiev as a seminarian.
Emeritus Professor Anthony-Emil Tachiaos in his study titled Paisius Velichkovsky and his Ascetical-Philological School, after investigating the sources, gives us important information regarding the publication of the Philokalia in the Greek language and its translation into Slavonic and, of course, he relates the parallel efforts of the venerable Paisius and Saint Makarios Notaras the bishop of Corinth.
The venerable Paisius, in order to cover up the absence of a spiritual guide and in turn guide his brotherhood, was interested in the study, discovery and translation of the neptic texts of the hesychast Fathers. This effort had previously been localized. When he departed Mount Athos and relocated to Moldova he was informed of the parallel movement of Saint Makarios Notaras to find and gather the texts of the neptic Fathers. This information was conveyed to him by his disciple the monk Gregory, who was close to Saint Makarios. When the Greek edition of the Philokalia was issued in 1782, then the venerable Paisius received a copy of this edition and then both he and his monks revised the translation with many of their texts. Having completed the translation of patristic texts, they then printed the Slavonic Philokalia at the Synodal Printer of Moscow in 1793, eleven years after the publication of the Greek Philokalia. However, the Slavonic Philokalia only included 24 of the 36 writings of the Greek edition. Later the Slavonic Philokalia was translated into the Romanian and Russian languages.
The same Professor in a separate chapter titled "Optina Monastery as an Heir to the Spirit of the School of Paisius Velichkovsky", documents how the Russian monks, disciples of the venerable Paisius, in 1779, after the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca and later after the repose of the venerable Paisius, repatriated to Russia and conveyed the hesychastic spirit of the venerable Paisius. They also conveyed the oral tradition, as well as the manuscripts of translated ascetic works that were done by the School of the Sacred Monastery of Neamt. These disciples of the venerable Paisius occupied various positions in Russian monasteries, becoming abbots and spiritual fathers, and this helped in the development of hesychastic monasticism.
It has been estimated that 103 monasteries in Russia were influenced by the spirit of hesychastic monasticism, as expressed by the venerable Paisius. But Optina Monastery was the one that proved to be eminently the "heir" of the great ascetical tradition of the School of Paisius Velichkovsky. The Sacred Monastery of Optina gained great glory in the days of Hieromonk Macarius (1788-1860). In his days the Sacred Monastery undertook the publication of ascetical writings "that were given as an inheritance to Russia from the school of Paisius".
This period in Russia was very important because the West was transferring German philosophy and a logicocracy that influenced many intellectuals. It was inevitable that the western Germanic Enlightenment develope parallel with the hesychast tradition of the Church, as expressed by the venerable Paisius. Thus there developed two streams in Russian society, namely the stream of the western Enlightenment and the stream of hesychasm by the Slavophiles, as we find manifested in the work of Dosteovsky's The Brothers Karamazov.
In Dostoevsky's novel he presents the streams prevailing in Russia in his time. The three children of Fyodor Karamazov, namely Mitya-Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha-Alexei express the three streams of Russian society. Mitya represents the old primitive and sensual Dionysian Russia. Ivan represents the Russian intelligentsia, which had been influenced by the western Enlightenment, and he himself was an intellectual, agnostic and a representative of thinkers. Alyosha represents the intellectual world that was affected by Orthodox spirituality and he express the way of thinking of the Slavophiles. And Starets Zosima, as presented by Dostoevsky, expresses Macarius and Ambrose of Optina Monastery and its tradition.
However, the 103 Russian monasteries, especially Optina Monastery, were a center of the study of the Philokalia and patristic texts. Indeed Optina Monastery affected tremendously the Russian social and intellectual world, since besides regular people visiting the Monastery there were also theologians, philosophers, writers and authors, such as Alexei Khomiakov, Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, etc.
So from the tradition created by the amazing Venerable Paisius it affected monks and even Saint Seraphim of Sarov, who is considered a spiritual descendant of the venerable Paisius, as well as other theologians, writers and philosophers.
The course of the life of the venerable Paisius Velichkovsky (1722-1794) is wondrous and amazing. His mother wanted to lead him into marriage and the priesthood, so that by this way he would remain in history as an example of family. This is because his mother, as the venerable Paisius narrates, lost her priest husband and he remained her only child, "the only one to take care of her in her old age and the house and a comfort from God". But, the venerable Paisius followed another path and ultimately saved thousands of people, and emerged as a new Moses in Moldova, Wallachia, Russia and throughout the surrounding area, so that his named might remain bright unto the ages. Even his mother, after her initial grief, became a monastic and reposed as a nun.
He brought to Mount Athos the zeal for the hesychastic life, but benefited from the hesychastic tradition that already existed there, even though it was forgotten by many, but was preserved in libraries and individual ascetics. This shows that the patristic teachings are the same throughout the centuries, and it is essentially the theology of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers, and nothing can overcome this Orthodox theology, neither scholastic theology, nor the so-called neo-patristic Russian theology.
Professor Anthony-Emil Tachiaos aptly writes in the foreword of the book:
"The study of the revival of hesychastic spirituality in the Orthodox world during the eighteenth century inevitably leads to the figure of the great ascetic and coenobiarch, Venerable Paisius Velichkovsky, who reintroduced to the Slavic and Romanian world the place of the spiritual life in this form. The venerable Paisius was the one who contributed to the revival of the coenobitic life in Romanian monasticism, based on an Athonite model, and with a shift towards hesychastic spirituality, as it had blossomed on Mount Athos in the fourteenth century. His work in this direction was a parallel effort to that which was being done in the Greek world by his contemporary Saint Makarios Notaras, whose work served as a model for Paisius."
And again I want to thank and congratulate Emeritus Professor Anthony-Emile Tachiaos for his overall contribution to the Church, but, especially, for the presentation of the life and activity of the venerable Paisius Velichkovsky, who is a bright child of the life that richly exists in the Orthodox Church.
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