Someone to Look Up to: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos

“Because in the old times we had men of great stature; our present age is lacking in examples-and I am speaking generally about the Church and Monasticism.  Today, there are more words and books and fewer living examples.  We admire the holy Athletes of our Church, but without understanding how much they struggled, because we have not struggled ourselves.  Had we done so, we would appreciate their pain, we would love them even more and strive with philotimo to imitate them.” ~ Elder Paisios, from his book With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man

Perhaps we are lacking in examples, in modern times. It is true that we who live in these modern days do not understand how much the saints (“the Athletes of our Church”) have struggled. We certainly do not struggle as they did! However, God has provided wonderful modern examples for us to emulate to the best of our ability, whose stories we must share with our children, the future generation of the Church. It seems that Elder Paisios himself is one of those examples. He lived on this earth as recently as 1994; so many of us shared the planet with him for at least a while; and we can learn much from studying his life.

Elder Paisios was born in Cappadocia, Turkey, in July of 1924. He was baptized with the name Arsenios, by St. Arsenios himself. When Arsenios was only two months old, the Christians of Cappadocia were deported to Greece. So it was that young Arsenios grew up in Greece.

Young Arsenios loved God very much and did all that he could to live a holy life, even when he was a child. He fasted, prayed, and loved to read books about the lives of the saints. Once, when Arsenios was 15 and suffering some doubts about the deity of Christ (yet determinedly praying on, anyway), Christ Himself appeared to Arsenios and spoke to him. This event chased away the doubts in Arsenios’ mind and made him more determined than ever to be the best Christian that he could possibly be.

To further imitate Christ, Arsenios became an apprentice in a woodworking shop. He learned to make everything from window frames to iconostases. He made coffins for the departed, but would not accept any payment for them; he considered the coffin his donation to the family of the departed. When he wasn’t working in the woodshop, Arsenios would teach other children about Christ and the Church.

World War 2 began, and when Arsenios was 21, he was taken into the army. Many times he would help other soldiers at great risk to himself, but God protected him. He served his country for five years, when he was dismissed from the army. At that time, Arsenios went home to help his mother with his family, since his father passed away while Arsenios was in the army.

A few years later, Arsenios was finally able to go to Mt. Athos, where he had always wanted to live. Arsenios was tonsured as the monk Paisios at age 32. As a monk, he did many things: he made bread, he helped at the guest house, and he prayed for most of each night.

Several years after that, the Theotokos revealed that Paisios should re-open a monastery near his home village of Konitsa. He helped to rebuild the church, even carrying heavy marble slabs up to the church from the village on his back, when the villagers wouldn’t share their donkeys. (But when they saw Father Paisios carrying them himself, they changed their minds and used their donkeys to help him!) Once the monastery was rebuilt, Father Paisios lived there and worked, befriending everyone from children to bears and other animals whom he met along the way.

In 1962, the Theotokos led Father Paisios to Mt. Sinai, where he lived in a little cell and sold carved wooden objects. He used the money that he got for the carvings to provide food and clothes to the Bedouins that lived in tents nearby. He was especially loved by the Bedouin children, who called him “Abuna Paizi.” Often, he gave them sandals to help their cracked feet, as well as hats or whatever else they needed that he happened to have on hand. Father Paisios was only at Mt. Sinai for two years when he got sick and needed to go back to Greece to recover.

Once he was well again, Father Paisios went back to Mt. Athos. This time, he had a simple cell surrounded by many plants and trees, with an outside sitting space for visitors. Father Paisios welcomed and cared for visitors in the day, whether human or animal, and prayed and carved wooden items at night. On one day, Father Paisios had visitors, and a snake came toward them all. Father Paisios stopped the others from harming the snake. He gave the snake water to drink and told it to leave, since he had other company now. The snake drank the water and left, just as Father Paisios had requested.

At one point in these years on Mt. Athos, Father Paisios had a lot of headaches, and one of his eyes hurt a lot. He was granted the opportunity to see his guardian angel, who smiled at him, and touched his eyes, then disappeared. Father Paisios’ pain was immediately gone! God had done a miracle for him!

As Father Paisios got older, he moved to another part of Mt. Athos. Many people would come here to see him. He would serve them Turkish Delight and water, and speak with them. He continued to do all that he could to help others; either giving them things they needed, or giving them advice, or praying for them that God would meet their needs.

He continued to meet with and help people, even when he was very sick and soon ready to pass away. A few days before his repose, Father Paisios was still welcoming people to speak with them, even though he was now so ill that he had to stay in bed all of the time. As he had done for all his life, he showed people God’s love and that he cared for them, right up until he departed this life on July 12, 1994.

Elder Paisios continues to help others, even though he is no longer living on earth. He helps by praying for people and working miracles. His writings are full of wisdom, and many people who read them are encouraged to become more like God, as well.

Elder Paisios in his great humility would not want us to see him as a “man of great stature:” rather, he would point us to Christ and tell us that he, himself, had only just begun the journey of becoming like Christ. Let us honor the elder’s ascetic labors by, ourselves, doing what we can to pray more, fast better, and be kinder to everyone (human or animal) that we meet. And let us teach our children to do likewise. Holy Elder Paisios, pray unto God for us!

A wonderful children’s picture book about the life of Elder Paisios can be found here:http://www.stnectariospress.com/elder-paisios-the-hagiorite-the-friend-of-children/

Read more about the life of Elder Paisios here: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Paisios_(Eznepidis) or  here: http://gabrielsmessage.wordpress.com/saints-and-elders/elder-paisios/

Watch/listen to stories of his life and miracles here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4un8kDLECY&list=PLdWXl9r5ROuXUigTBDBE5rl87Im7ATj5p

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