24/06/2009

ELDER PAISIOS


ELDER PAISIOS
On July 25, Arsenios Eznepidis was born in Farasa, Cappadocia, shortly before the population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Arsenios' name was given to him by St Arsenios the Cappadocian, who baptised him, named the child for himself and foretold Arsenios' monastic future. After the exchange, the Eznepidis family settled in Konitsa, Epirus. Arsenios grew up here, and after intermediate public school, he learned carpentry.

During the civil war in Greece, Arsenios served as a radio operator. He worried about his compatriots who had family, whereas he didn't worry for himself because he was single and had no children. He was noted for his bravery, self-sacrifice and moral righteousness. After the civil war ended, he wanted to begin the monastic life, but had to provide for his sisters. In 1950, this was accomplished, and he went to Mt Athos: first to Fr Kyril, the future abbot of Koutloumousiou Monastery (Athos), and then to Esphigmenou Monastery (although he was not supportive of their later opposition to the Ecumenical Patriarchate).

Arsenios, having been a novice for four years, was tonsured a monk and was given the name Averkios. Soon after, Fr Averkios went to the (then) idiorrhythmic brotherhood of Philotheou, where his uncle was a monk. While there, he was in obedience to Elder Symeon. In 1956, Elder Symeon was to tonsure Fr Averkios to the small schema, giving him the name Paisios.
Early life

On July 25, 1924 the future Elder Paisios (Eznepidis) was born to pious parents in the town of Farasa, Cappadocia of Asia Minor. The family's spiritual father, the priest monk Arsenios (the now canonized St. Arsenios of Cappadocia), baptized the babe with his name, prophesying his future profession as monk. A week after the baptism (and barely a month after his birth) Arsenios was driven, along with his family, out of Asia Minor by the Turks. St. Arsenios guided his flock along their 400-mile trek to Greece. After a number of stops along the way, Arsenios' family finally ended up in the town of Konitsa in Epiros (north western Greece). St. Arsenios had reposed, as he had prophesied, forty days after their establishment in Greece, and he left as his spiritual heir the infant Arsenios.

The young Arsenios was wholly given over to God and spent his free time in the silence of nature, where he would pray for hours on end. Having completed his elementary education, he learned the trade of carpentry. He worked as a carpenter until his mandatory military service. He served in the Army during the dangerous days of the end of World War II. Arsenios was brave and self-sacrificing, always desiring to put his own life at risk so as to spare his brother. He was particularly concerned about his fellow soldiers who had left wives and children to serve.

Having completed his obligation to his country, Arsenios received his discharge in 1949 and greatly desired to begin his monastic life on the Holy Mountain. Before being able to settle there, however, he had to fulfil his responsibility to his family, to look after his sisters, who were as yet unmarried. Having provided for his sisters' future, he was free to begin his monastic vocation with a clean conscience. He arrived on Mt. Athos in 1950, when he learned his first lessons in the monastic way from the virtuous ascetic Fr. Kyril (the future abbot of Koutloumousiou Monastery), but was unable to stay by his side as he had hoped, and so was sent to the Monastery of Esphigmenou. He was a novice there for four years, after which he was tonsured a monk in 1954 with the name Averkios. He was a conscientious monk, finding ways to both complete his obedience’s (which required contact with others) and to preserve his silence, so as to progress in the art of prayer. He was always selfless in helping his brethren, unwilling to rest while others worked (though he may have already completed his own obediences), as he loved his brothers greatly and without distinction. In addition to his ascetic struggles and the common life in the monastery, he was spiritually enriched through the reading of soul-profiting books. In particular, he read the lives of the Saints, the Gerontikon, and especially the Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian.
Monastic Life

Soon after his tonsure, monk Averkios left Esphigmenou and joined the (then) idiorhythmic brotherhood of Philotheou Monastery, where his uncle was a monk. He put himself under obedience to the virtuous Elder Symeon, who gave him the Small Schema in 1956, with the new name Paisios. Fr. Paisios dwelt deeply on the thought that his own spiritual failures and lack of love were the cause of his neighbour’s shortcomings, as well as of the world's ills. He harshly accused himself, pushing himself to greater self-denial and more fervent prayer for his soul and for the whole world. Furthermore, he cultivated the habit of always seeking the "good reason" for a potentially scandalous event and for people's actions, and in this way he preserved himself from judging others. For example, pilgrims to Mt. Athos had been scandalized by the strange behaviour and stories told by a certain monk, and, when they met Elder Paisios, they asked him what was wrong with the monk. He warned them not to judge others, and that this monk was actually virtuous and was simply pretending to be a fool when visitors would come, so as to preserve his silence.

In 1958 Elder Paisios was asked to spend some time in and around his home village so as to support the faithful against the proselytism of Protestant groups. He greatly encouraged the faithful there, helping many people. Afterwards, in 1962, he left to visit Sinai where he stayed for two years. During this time he became beloved of the Bedouins who benefited both spiritually as well as materially from his presence. The Elder used the money he received from the sale of his carved wooden handicraft to buy them food.

On his return to Mt. Athos in 1964 Elder Paisios took up residence at the Skete of Iviron before moving to Katounakia at the southernmost tip of Mt. Athos for a short stay in the desert there. The Elder's failing health may have been part of the reason for his departure from the desert. In 1966, he was operated on and had part of his lungs removed. It was during this time of hospitalization that his long friendship with the then young sisterhood of St. John the Theologian in Souroti, just outside of Thessaloniki, began. During his operation he greatly needed blood and it was then that a group of novices from the monastery donated blood to save him. Elder Paisios was most grateful, and after his recovery did whatever he could, materially and spiritually, to help them build their monastery.

In 1968 he spent time at the Monastery of Stavronikita helping both with its spiritual as well as material renovation. While there he had the blessing of being in contact with the ascetic Elder Tikhon who lived in the hermitage of the Holy Cross, near Stavronikita. Elder Paisios stayed by his side until his repose, serving him selflessly as his disciple. It was during this time that Elder Tikhon clothed Fr. Paisios in the Great Schema. According to the wishes of the Elder, Fr. Paisios remained in his hermitage after his repose. He stayed there until 1979, when he moved on to his final home on the Holy Mountain, the hermitage Panagouda, which belongs to the Monastery of Koutloumousiou.

It was here at Panagouda that Elder Paisios' fame as a God bearing elder grew, drawing to him the sick and suffering people of God. He received them all day long, dedicating the night to God in prayer, vigil and spiritual struggle. His regime of prayer and asceticism left him with only two or three hours each night for rest. The self-abandon with which he served God and his fellow man, his strictness with himself, the austerity of his regime, and his sensitive nature made him increasingly prone to sickness. In addition to respiratory problems, in his later days he suffered from a serious hernia that made life very painful. When he was forced to leave the Holy Mountain for various reasons (often due to his illnesses) he would receive pilgrims for hours on end at the women's monastery at Souroti, and the physical effort which this entailed in his weakened state caused him such pain that he would turn pale. He bore his suffering with much grace, however, confident that, as God knows what is best for us, it could not be otherwise. He would say that God is greatly touched when someone who is in great suffering does not complain, but rather uses his energy to pray for others.

In addition to his other illnesses he suffered from haemorrhaging which left him very weak. In his final weeks before leaving the Holy Mountain, he would often fall unconscious. On October 5, 1993 the Elder left his beloved Holy Mountain for the last time. Though he had planned on being off the mountain for just a few days, while in Thessalonica he was diagnosed with cancer that needed immediate treatment. After the operation he spent some time recovering in the hospital and was then transferred to the monastery at Souroti. Despite his critical state he received people, listening to their sorrows and counselling them.

After his operation, Elder Paisios had his heart set on returning to Mt. Athos. His attempts to do so, however, were hindered by his failing health. His last days were full of suffering, but also of the joy of the martyrs. On July 11, 1994, he received Holy Communion for the last time. The next day, Elder Paisios gave his soul into God's keeping. He was buried, according to his wishes, at the Monastery of St. John the Theologian in Souroti. Elder Paisios, perhaps more than any other contemporary elder, has captured the minds and hearts of the Greek people. Many books of his counsels have been published, and the monastery at Souroti has undertaken a great work, organizing the Elder's writings and counsels into impressive volumes befitting his memory. Thousands of pilgrims visit his tomb each year.

Elder Paisios was a very simple man, who believed in the word of the Gospel, making monasticism and the teachings of the Orthodox ascetical tradition his way of life. His general education was limited to primary school level. Despite all this he was distinguished by his “charming” simplicity and his intense anxiety to help his fellow man, who needed a spiritual guide. He himself was the example of a person dedicated to God, removing from himself personal aspirations and all personal wills. Obedience, practice (ascesis), humility, piety, a sense of honour and, above all, love and patience, were a way of life for him, as well as teachings for all who sought a word of comfort or a solution to a personal problem.

Teachings
Thoughts. The Elder gave great importance to thought. He always stressed that everything begins from good thoughts which drive away evil ones. We should think positive thoughts about our fellow men, not negative ones, otherwise guile and obstinacy enter our thoughts. He also mentioned that we should not trust our thoughts and rather give way to God’s will, because he who does this, always wins.

Sense of Honour. The Elder constantly mentioned that people should have noble love. “Whatever we offer or do”, he would say, “should always be done with a sense of honour and not out of necessity or selfishness. We should not follow out of fear but rather we should have good will and intention, as did Christ when He came to this world”.

Divine Justice. He always said that if we want to be like the Saints we need to enforce Divine Justice and not human justice. According to the Elder, human justice is blind and is there only to drive away evil and cunning people. Divine Justice however, aims to assist man who is weak and those who have need. When we enforce Divine Justice we avoid disputes, castigations and differences between with our fellow men.

Divine Providence. Divine Providence is unfathomable and uncharted and aims at the salvation of man and eternal life. He emphasized that we should not constantly concern ourselves with life’s needs, because God provides in such a way that He will give us want we desire, many times before we even ask for it, as long as our thoughts are on Him and we pray. When something bad happens to someone it is God’s concession, not sent by Him, so that He can teach man, because of His dispensation.

Humility. For the Elder, humility was the foundation element of the salvation of man and generally, the element which brings about good relations between people. He also said that God “is unable” to help when man is not humble and tries in every way to bring about this humility, through suffering. “Without humility”, he continued, “ there can be not Divine Grace, we close off our hearts to Christ and whatever it is that we gained, we quickly lose”.

Obedience. Total obedience, according to the Elder, brings about humility which is the beginning of all good. “We must obey even when we are unfairly treated, because God rewards patience in injustice”, he often said. “Today everyone is impatient, but those who are patient, according to Christ, will gain the kingdom of heaven”, he would say.







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