"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch


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Sunday, 25 January 2015

TRADITIONAL LITURGY IN ITS POST-VATICANII FORM - 5: THE ROMAN by Father Louis Bouyer, with my commentary.

...The Roman Canon appears as one of the most venerable witnesses of the oldest tradition of the eucharistic prayer, at least contemporary in its totality with the most archaic forms of the Alexandrian eucharist.   There is every reason to think that the succession of these prayers and their content with many key expressions go straight back to the assuredly very ancient time at which the Eucharist at Rome as everywhere else was definitively connected with the service of readings and prayers.   This is to say that Hyppolytus, far from being its originator - a man who still wished to ignore this connection, must have propagated his own rite in Rome, if he ever did so, only in a vain attempt to dislodge a rite which must have been very like the one that has come down to us and which we still use, with the exception that the language was still Greek and not Latin.

This is how Louis Bouyer ends his chapter on the Roman canon. To read the full argument you will have to read the book, "Eucharist", by Louis Bouyer, published by the University of Notre Dame.  Because he says much about the Roman canon, you will have to largely rely on my commentary, with enough quotations to demonstate the my source is the great man himself rather than my own imagination. However,  quotations from the Mass text are taken from the modern English text rather than from the book, so that readers can relate what is said to their own experience.   As in the other articles of this series, quotations are in yellow, and my commentary is in white.

V. The Lord be with you.R.  And with your spirit.
V.  Lift up your hearts.R.  We lift them up to the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks to the Lord           our God.R. It is right and just.

This form of the introductory dialogue, whose first two verses and their responses are so purely Semitic, and which are found in this precise way only in Hippolytus and the Egyptian liturgy (the latter has the word "all" instead of "you"), must be considered the most primitive form that has come down to us.   Yet, it is quite meaningful that the third verse gives us the form "to the Lord our God" and not solely "to the Lord" as in Hippolytus.   We have recalled that the latter formula seem to be a survival of the primitive Eucharist which, according to the happy formula of Dom Gregory Dix, was still a private meal of the Christians through which they were completing the public Synagogue service which they still attended with the Jews.   In accordance with the Jewish use, it was suited to a meal of a small group which was less than the number required for a Synagogue congregation (the rabbis say ten).   On the other hand, the Roman formula is the one prescribed since Jewish days for an assembly equivalent to that of a synagogue.   That it was preferred is perhaps the indication that the joining of the sacred meal to the service of readings and prayers came about rather early at Rome so that the original meaning of the use of one formula rather than another was still known.

For the beginning of the eucharist, we shall quote the text of the "preface" reserved today for the Easter season:

(old version)

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ, our Lord.   We praise you with greater joy than ever at this Easter season when Christ became our paschal sacrifice'He is the true Lamb who took away the sins of the world.   By dying he destroyed our death; by rising he restored our life.And so, with all the choirs of angels in heaven we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise: Holy...
The preface, as we are accustomed to call it in the Roman liturgy, remains variable as we know, like the Communicantes to a certain extent, and the  Hanc Igitur itself has long displayed this trait.   [The preface is really a variable part of the eucharistic prayer.] We must say that the variability, which have been preserved integrally down to our own day in the preface (we still have a few vestiges in the Communicantes and in some Hanc Igiturs most of which have fallen into disuse), is merely a survival of the ancient improvisation....   If we remove the phrase "We praise you with greater joy..." ( which further more give the effect of an addition) from the preface just quoted, it could be perfectly appicable originally to any Sunday celebration, before having been reserved to the Easter season.

There follows a highly detailed commentary on this wonderful eucharistic prayer with its roots in Jewish prayer.  I can only urge you to get  "Eucharist" and read it for yourself. Meanwhile we will now go to where he describes the changes.

Along the way, the Consilium naturally came across those pseudo-critical interpretations of the Roman canon which tended either to cast it aside all together or to refashion it fancifully...and the Consilium rightly refused to involve itself in such dead-end solutions.   On the other hand, it devoted itself to resoring to the initial act of thanksgiving in the Prefaces, all its fulness and substantial richness.  It was therefore resolved to discard the common preface which, as we have said, is merely a framework emptied of its essential content: the theme of thanksgiving.   For it, the Consilium has substituted either other proper prefaces added to those already in use or a variety of common prefaces, all of which contain an explicit glorification of the work of creation and the history of salvation.   These prefaces have brought back into use, with at times some modifications and adaptations, everything that is most substantial in the treasury of the old sacramentaries. And possibly the new compositions that have been added will not appear unworthy beside their ancient neighbours.....

If we add to this necessary reform the new (or ancient!) Communicantes and Hanc Igiturs which will re-establish in the Roman canon, along with the fulness of the commemoration of the magnalia Dei, a newly diversified expression of the Church presenting to the Father the unique sacrifice of the eternal Son, there is reason to hope that we shall again grasp all of the imperishable beauty of the jewel of the eucharistic tradition of the West that is the Roman Canon.   Moreover, alongside this restoration of the Roman canon, we must rejoice in the intention to enrich the modern Latin liturgy with complementary examples from the riches of Catholic Tradition.   At the same time, the goal has been to revive among the faithful the plenary sense of the eucharist, by proposing to them  formularies that are as explicit and as directly accessible as possible in their structure and their language.

If you have read the whole series on the eucharistic prayers, you will see how traditional they are.

One thing you may notice is the way Father Bouyer makes comparisons between Roman and Egyptian  rites.  He even suggests that many of the converts in apostolic Rome were Jews from Alexandria!  Perhaps because of sea routes, but there was a constant mutual influence between Rome and Alexandria, beginning with St Mark who is connected with both cities; and, of course, monasticism came from Egypt. We had a post on Celtic spirituality which expresses an Orthodox myth that, somehow or other, the Celtic church was different from Rome, more Eastern in type, because of its close connection with Egypt.   May I suggest that there was a close connection between western Christianity and Egypt, and that the Celtic church is an obvious example.

   Great care was taken by the post-Vatican II Consilium  to be as faithful to Catholic Tradition.   In fact the whole project was to bring the ordinary Catholic faithful into contact with a living tradition that is wider and deeper than that which was possible before the Council.  Great pains were taken to bring into use texts that been dropped during the course of history, to restore the different aspects of the liturgy that had become petrified or smothered with liturgical weeds.   There was constant use of what Pope Benedict later called the "hermeneutic of continuity", reaching back to discover discontinuities in order to heal them by digging deeper or putting them in a wider context.   Bouyer and company used the hermeneutic of continuity, not only to form a liturgy in continuation with the past, but in an effort to seek continuity across the different strands of eucharistic Tradition in the contemporary world.   For these reasons, against the charges of the so-called conservatives, I wish to assert that the post-Vatican II rite is a truly Catholic, truly traditional project; hoever, one which is still going on. 

Nevertheless, we know that something went wrong.   It wasn't the new texts; but something happened which made the ressourcement theologians like de Lubac, von Balthazar, Ratzinger and Bouyer, all of whom were advocates of liturgical change, to be thoroughly dissatisfied with the results.   Also, where goes the reform of the reform?  All this and more, next week.

Friday, 23 January 2015


 “The Church is still young. Christianity is only just beginning” said Fr. Alexander. And that inspired people: if genuine Christian history is still in the future, then each of us can do much for the blooming of the Church, for science and culture, for the spiritual rebirth of our country and the whole world.

Fr. Alexander often repeated that the Gospel has not yet been fully read or understood by mankind, since history is full of wars, revolutions, catastrophes. Each person must discover Christ and believe that God is Love. And when the Good News enters his heart, he will look at the world, at people, and his mission in the world with different eyes. And if this happens, then evil, hatred, conflicts will disappear from the world of man. Love teaches us to look on the other as a part of ourselves. Mankind is one, and therefore every enmity against the other is waged against us as well. Christ came in order to put an end to this chain reaction of hatred, in order to teach people to love. “We are moving to an age of Love,” said Fr. Alexander Men’. His entire life was a powerful striving to it and a witnessing to that fact, that already here on earth man can realize in complete fullness God’s plan, and to make near the Kingdom of Heaven.


my source: www.alexandermen.com/Two_Understandings_of_Christianity
Father Alexander Men (1935-1990) was a great leader, and one may say architect, of religious renewal in Russia at the end of the Soviet period. He was a pastor, who found the time to write a great number of books including a seven volume study of world religions, ranging in style from the academic to the popular, he lectured widely, at the end gaining access to radio and television and becoming a nationally known figure. He founded the first Sunday school after the communist persecution, established a university, made a film strip, started volunteer work at a children’s hospital. He baptized thousands into the faith, was at home with simple people but was also called “the apostle to the intellectuals.”His life and person and writings speak powerfully to a wide range of people, not only in Russia and not only Eastern Orthodox. It seems that he is one of the very few who can touch and speak to and for all Christians and indeed, through his broadness of learning and heart, not only to Christians.He was assassinated in 1990 but through his writings and through his memory and his spiritual heritage he still speaks and it may be is an increasing presence in the world and his work becomes better known.
What follows is the text of a lecture which Fr Alexander gave on 25 January, 1989 in Moscow. His first topic takes its starting point in the contrast between two monks depicted by Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov: Zosima, the famous spiritual guide, a lover of nature and experienced man of the world who believes the Christian path is to be lived in the world and therefore sends his young protege Alyosha Karamazov away from the monastery and back into the world to deal with the troubles of his family; and the ascetic Ferapont, living a life turned in on himself, full of hatred and portrayed by Dostoevsky as semi-crazed. These two monks represent two different models of Christianity: the one open to the world, like the famous monastery of Optina Pustyn, and the other withdrawing from it. Fr Alexander draws a telling portrait of the present weaknesses and distorted ideology of many adherents of the Russian Orthodox Church today and shows how this tendency is rooted in Russian history. The second theme of the lecture is to weigh up and assess the relative importance of the inner life and of outward works in the Christian life in general, arguing for a balance of each. The talk concludes by drawing out the point that has been running like a leitmotif through the lecture: a plea for pluralism and understanding in the religious life.

Dear Friends! Perhaps the subject of this talk of mine may seem strange to some of you, but I want to remind you of a scene from Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, and you will realize that my subject has not been idly or casually chosen; it is a topic that has a deep relevance to the history of spiritual culture, to the history of literature and to the history of Christianity in Russia and in other Christian countries.
You remember, I’m sure, two characters in The Brothers Karamazov who are polar opposites: the starets Zosima and his antagonist Ferapont. Remember how the starets Zosima is described by Dostoevsky as a radiant personality with broad and enlightened views about the world, human destiny and about people’s attitude to eternal life and to God. Some literary scholars think that Zosima is modelled upon the famous starets Amvrosy of Optino, who was canonized at the time of the thousandth anniversary of Christianity in Russia [1988]. Other specialist historians reject this idea because there are important differences between the real, historical Amvrosy and the character which Dostoevsky imagined. Even so, there definitely is a connection between the prototype and the literary character. The monastery of Optina Pustyn was not a typical one, and indeed it was unique in the history of our Church. That was why so many cultural figures made a point of going there: Khomyakov, Kireevsky, Dostoevsky, Solovyev, Leo Tolstoy, Leontyev, Sergei Bulgakov and many others.(2) They didn’t stream off to any other monasteries, but specifically this one which was so unusual and unexpected. In one of the issues of the literary almanac Prometei, there is an article entitled ‘Optina Pustyn – why did so many famous people go there?’, written by the well-known poet Nadezhda Pavlovich,(3) who started publishing her work in Blok’s lifetime. She worked at Optina Pustyn and managed to meet the last starets there. She shared her impressions with me of her meetings with this amazing character . In her article, Pavlovich names many more of them whom I have not mentioned.
The startsy and other inhabitants of the monastery were concerned with the same problems which preoccupied the cultured section of society at that time. That’s why both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were able to discuss with the startsy not only their own personal problems but also general human and cultural issues. Yes indeed, the place was exceptional. That was why Dostoevsky created his Zosima with Optina Pustyn in mind for he found there a kind of open variant, an open understanding of Orthodoxy and an open understanding of Christianity.
But in this same monastery, which is described in Dostoevsky’s novel, there is another character – starets Ferapont, a famous ascetic, a powerful old man who walked around bare-foot, dressed in a rough belted overcoat, like a beggar. He hated starets Zosima and even on the day he died, had no shame about denouncing him over his grave. If you haven’t read it already, read this great epic novel, and you will see how within one Orthodoxy, one Church, one culture and even one monastery, two seemingly completely antagonistic elements clash – and clash quite sharply. The situation which Dostoevsky describes gives us as it were the first intimation that within Christian culture not everything is identical and not everything can be reduced to some sort of unity.
I do not intend now to discuss those divisions within the Christian world which have happened over the last twenty centuries – the split which occurred as early as the first councils of the church, divisions between Arians and Orthodox, between Orthodox and Monophysites and finally the great and tragic schism of the Christian world between West and East: that is between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. This division took place in spite of the fact that each side adopted the same names: the Eastern church called itself Catholic and the Western called itself Orthodox, but still the schism took place.
Of course, two understandings of Christianity clashed there too. If we turn to history, then we shall see yet another great clash within Western European culture: the rise of Protestantism. This again was a new interpretation of Christianity: Catholicism and Protestantism are two different understandings of it. And finally, within Protestantism itself, the orthodox and radical movements clashed with each other. I do not intend to discuss this because it is a large special subject. For the present I shall be dealing only with problems related to that culture in which we Russians have grown up and were educated and which is closest and most comprehensible to us.
Orthodox culture derives from two sources. The first source is the fundamental and most important one, namely the Gospels. That source is the teaching and proclamation about God-manhood, in other words, about the mystery of the eternal and the mystery of the human. It is the teaching that humanity is exceptionally important and valuable for the Creator. It is the teaching that humanity is raised above all creation because the Eternal itself made contact with it, because human beings are created in the image and likeness of the Creator and in them lives a kind of programme for the future: to develop from beings akin to the animals to beings akin to heaven.
But there was another tradition too, born long before Christianity, and that is the tradition of ascetic practice. It is an exceptionally important tradition. It contains some of the richest experience of self-observation and the richest experience of inner practice, that is, of spiritual work designed to make the human personality grow. But this ascetic tradition, which came mainly from India and Greece and which was adopted by the church several centuries after the appearance of Christ, came to regard the surrounding world as something alien and external to it, something which had to be recoiled from and shunned.
Were there good grounds for this tendency? Of course there were. Every one of us can readily understand how energetically a person seeking depth, stillness, contemplation and eternal wisdom must push away the cares and noise, the superficiality and futility of life which surrounds them, if they are to find themselves. And then by picking out a few words from the Gospels (true, taken out of context) such as ‘He who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life’ [John 12.25], this tendency began to predominate, firstly in monastic circles and in certain strands of the church, but then, gathering ever greater strength thanks to its inner spiritual energy, this tendency began imperceptibly to be the dominant one, and almost overshadowed the other source, the principle of the God-man. If in the Gospel it says, ‘ He who hates the world’, it also says in the same Gospel of St John that God so loved the world that he gave his own Son to save it. This is the contradiction, and this is the dialectic in which we have to distinguish the two understandings of the world.
In practice, of course, it was not so straightforward. And so the other-worldly type of Christianity which shunned the life surrounding it, shunned history and creativity and culture, developed along its own lines. It could not, of course, be totally consistent, and it did create things of cultural value. We know that within the walls of monasteries of the ascetic tradition there were great artists, chroniclers, masters of historical narrative, and architects. But this culture developed there in spite of the basic tendency which set Christianity outside the world and above it.
And then in our own national culture, these two lines have clashed, and the clash grew into antagonism. For educated society at the beginning of the nineteenth century, this other-worldly Christianity was identified with Orthodoxy itself. And what is more, Orthodox circles themselves easily slipped into the same identification. That is why almost all initiative was left to the secular world. Social justice, the structure of society, agonizing problems such as serfdom – all were left to the sphere of the state and were disregarded by the church. These matters seemed to be of no concern to Christians. Hence the indifference, the apathy to things of this transient world, and hence the bitter inner split.Though the process had begun in the eighteenth century, the division deepened throughout the nineteenth century. Even Christian writers like Dostoevsky did not fully understand the true tradition of the church. And what of the church people who were far removed from society? There grew up two languages, in the literal sense – a church language and a secular language. The church language absorbed a mass of Slavonicisms (you will find, for example, a large number in the works of Leskov). This was why Russian versions of the Bible in the nineteenth century were immediately outdated for they didn’t correspond either to the language of Pushkin and Gogol, or to that of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Secular language developed along its own lines.
At that time, in the reign of Nicholas I [1825-55], a person who became well-known as a writer was Archimandrite Fedor Bukharev. He was a monk who lived at the Trinity St Sergius monastery and a learned theologian and biblical scholar. He published a book entitled Orthodoxy and its Relationship With the Contemporary World in which he first broached the question of the need to bring the two understandings of Christianity together. He pointed out that the problems which concern everyone – culture, creativity, social justice and many more were not matters of indifference to Christianity; rather the contrary, that in the resolution of these problems, the spiritual ideals of the Gospel could be important and might be an inner resource for their solution. But Bukharev was attacked, abused in the press and reduced to such a state that he left monastic orders and the service of the church, became a journalist and soon died in poverty and oblivion. But his memory lasted long. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Pavel Florensky made a collection of his letters. But to date, his works have not been published in full.
Then Tolstoy came along and posed the problem in a completely different way. For him, the traditional understanding of Christianity as a sum of traditions which had grown up from the Gospels was only a useless burden, the dead weight of centuries. He proposed casting all of it aside and returning to the original nucleus. One might say that he was following a Protestant line. But that’s not really so, for Tolstoy as a thinker never was a Christian. His ideas were different and much more Eastern, closer to the Eastern philosophies of India and China. That’s why his conflict with theology and with the church was not an indication of the conflict between the two understandings of Christianity but merely a side issue. Then Vladimir Solovyev came along, a great figure of world philosophy. He was a person who, in an era dominated by materialism and positivism, had the ability to raise questions about spiritual values in such a way that the most cultured people of the time were compelled to acknowledge the seriousness of the problems. He was a man who was at the same time a poet, critic, philosopher, theologian, historian, and historian of philosophy, and publicist. People like that with universal gifts are born only once in a century. In his Lectures on God-manhood,(4) he put the question like this: is the Good News of Christ really only a method of salvation for the individual soul? Is it only a personal route for someone on the way to perfection to achieve eternal bliss after their death? Indeed, if that were so then this is no different from several other religious systems. We find essentially the same thing in Islam and in Eastern religions. Solovyev saw things from a completely different point of view: Christianity is the line which joins higher things with lower, the divine with the human. If this is what Godmanhood means, then there is nothing in history which is a matter of indifference to spirituality. Therefore, the Christian ideal can absorb into itself everything, including social problems, the moral problems of society, and even problems of art. Solovyev created a great synthesis whereby the two understandings of Christianity could be united. His follower in the twentieth century was our well-known compatriot Nicolas Berdyaev, a bold, enlightened thinker with a most brilliant mind. The whole world knows him and international conferences gather to discuss his works. Unfortunately, his works were not published in Russia and to many Russians his name for a long time has hardly meant anything at all.
Berdyaev wrote several articles which had the same title as our lecture today – ‘Two Understandings of Christianity’. He clarified and reformulated the subject. He defined two points of view: personal salvation and creativity. These two points of view are as it were hostile to each other. To one group of Christians, the most important thing is simply inner self-perfection leading to salvation. Everything else is rejected. Creativity is left to the secular world, outside the domain of the church: it is left, as it were, outside the spiritual realm, without the light inherent to the impulse of the Gospels. This position led to a strange outcome: humanity was demeaned. The great word ‘humility’, which Christ spoke about, was turned into a synonym for compromise, appeasement and a wretched collusion with evil.
Collusion with evil means, in the final analysis, working for evil. Hence the unwillingness to make any kind of protest and the unwillingness to take any bold initiative. Submission means acknowledging evil. And although Christ said of himself that he was ‘gentle and lowly of heart’ [Matt. 11.29], he never taught us to compromise with evil. This was the source of human demeanment which offended Berdyaev so exceptionally. He said that faith and spirituality should elevate people, and help them to stand tall because people are made in the image of God and are the most valuable of beings. The gospel preaches about humanity, about the greatness of humanity on which the light of heaven shines. So Berdyaev treated humility in a completely different way: as openness to everything, as the readiness to accept other points of view, as the readiness to listen to and hear the voice of other people and the voice of God. This understanding of humility is the opposite of pride, for pride hears only itself. Pride, locked up in itself, feeds on itself, as the saying goes, lives in its own world, in its own prison. So Berdyaev sought to find a way of uniting these two opposing trends which were tearing the church apart.
This propensity for the two understandings of Christianity to clash continues even today. You can easily find it in literature. In Leskov’s story The Mountain, you will immediately see two types of Christian: one is the artist Zenon and the other is the crowd which hangs around the patriarch’s palace. There are also many legends and stories which Leskov makes into serious parables. Even Belinsky, in his letter to Gogol which you certainly remember from school, described his understanding of Christianity – true, in a very incompetent, irritable and inaccurate manner. He said that Christ proclaimed freedom, equality and brotherhood and so on – in short Belinsky treated Christianity as an egalitarian liberation movement of social opposition.
Why is it important for us to be aware of this now? – important for all of us, believers and non-believers? Because today our culture is getting back those lost and half-forgotten values from the past and, together with them, the age-old values of the Russian Orthodox Church and of Christianity as a whole. And people who lack a clear understanding of the richness and deep antinomies of the phenomenon that is Christianity, think that Christians are all the same and that the church is something which has one clearly defined official view and a systematic ideology fully worked out in theory and practice. And they will be discouraged when they see that within this historical stream are many diverse and even contradictory currents. And we must bear this in mind. It must be borne in mind by those who wish to start on the Christian way and by those who are interested in Christianity simply as a cultural phenomenon and who want to understand it and make their own minds up about it. In periods of social freezes and social storms, as in war, people get quickly divided into two groups: those for us and those against us, believers and non-believers and so on. This is an over- simplified picture. And for those people who are just joining the church the picture still seems valid. But it may happen that a pagan, someone far away from the church, may become spiritually closer to a Christian than their fellow believers. It’s a paradox but it’s true. This can happen because there isn’t one single interpretation of Christianity which wholly corresponds to it.
There was a time when the antagonistic and seemingly irreconcilable principles of other-worldly, culture-denying Christianity and the Christianity which strives to share in creativity were in fact united in the church. But that was long ago. When Christianity first appeared in the ancient world, it faced the question: how to treat all this heritage? How to treat the philosophy, art, literature and in general all the great edifice of ancient culture? Should we say it’s all rubbish? That it’s all out of date? That it should all be thrown away? Many people said precisely that. Many were willing to go down that road.
The main answer given by the classic Christian thinkers, who are known as the patristic writers or the Fathers of the Church was, however, a positive one. Christianity could and should be open to all these questions. That’s why the Church Fathers were most often the outstanding writers, thinkers, poets and social activists of their time. They did not consider that such things were alien to or unworthy of Christianity.
So in the case of John Chrysostom you will find not only discussions about injustice in his writings but also in his life too efforts to fight social oppression and the unjust distribution of material goods. You will find in the writings of Augustine the famous words that a state without law is in principle no different from a band of robbers. That was written in the fourth century. You will find among the writings of Basil the Great a special work on the meaning of pagan literature for Christian youth. You will find in the works of Gregory the Theologian (also the fourth century) marvellously humorous letters and poems which he wrote to his friend.
But often something else creeps in to this general orientation. In the great legacy of the Church Fathers there is a special section, a special part and that is the legacy of the Desert Fathers, of the supporters of monasticism. It was collected in the huge anthology the Philokalia.(6) This is a magnificent and, in its own way, eternally valuable book which has much to offer people. But then this tradition of the Philokalia began to be accepted as the only one. Yet it was intended for people who were called inoki [Russian for 'monk']. Inok means ‘a person living a different way of life’. This means a person who deliberately lives apart from the world, not at all because he despises the world but because he personally has chosen for himself that special way. This was when the mistaken idea grew up that the legacy of the Church Fathers was to be regarded as the rejection of culture, whereas in fact this was not the case at all.
The return of contemporary Christian thought (by contemporary I mean over the last one hundred years) to the traditions of the Church Fathers, is the return of Christianity to an open model, which participates in the whole movement of human society. Berdyaev called this ‘the churching of the world’. But understand me correctly: that word doesn’t at all mean that some historical church incidentals are imposed on the secular culture of the world. It means that there is no such thing as the secular.
I myself, I don’t know what the word ‘secular’ means. It is a conventional historical term because there is a spiritual element in everything – or not, as the case may be. Even though the title under a picture may say ‘The Virgin Mary’, if the picture is painted in an uninspired way, if it has something superficial, banal and flat about it, then it won’t have anything to do with spirituality. And it’s very important to understand that there isn’t some literature which is spiritual and some which is unspiritual or ‘secular’, but rather there is literature with spirituality and literature without spirituality, there is good literature and bad literature. And truly good literature will always have a bearing on the eternal problems.
We can say the same of all types of art and also of the most varied kinds of creativity. Christianity has nothing to fear in all this. It’s open to it all. The narrow, other-worldly model is a legacy from the past. It’s something mediaeval (in the worst sense of the word) which, alas, is still extant. It often attracts new recruits who think they become true Christians if they put on black head scarves and walk around with a special mincing gait. None of that’s necessary. That’s parody, that’s a caricature. There’s a complex relationship between the inner and the outer. There is a tendency for some people to say: my spiritual life is going on here inside and I don’t need anything from outside. But this is a serious mistake because somehow or other, a person expresses all their experiences. No one can be a bodiless spirit who looks indifferent and only experiences things somewhere deep inside them. No. Everything is expressed, is embodied, in gesture, facial expressions. Experience is a matter of body and soul together.
But at the same time what is outward, for instance, rituals are slippery customers, they are like dangerous underwater rocks: they have a tendency to become sufficient unto themselves. It is very good when a person makes the sign of the cross when they stand before the icon of God. But it’s possible that person may gradually forget the important thing and just continue to cross themselves. Indeed, in popular speech, the words for ‘to pray’ and ‘to cross oneself’ have become interchangable. When a grandmother says to her grandson: ‘Say your prayers, say your prayers’, she is not thinking about what is going on in his heart. She is thinking about him waving his hand and making the sign of the cross. In this way, the external can gradually squeeze out the internal. Is this a danger for Christianity? Not at all. This danger is not specific to Christianity. Pharisaical mechanisms are at work in all spiritual movements, because the externals are always easier. That is why the Pharisees of gospel times observed thousands of rituals but inside, their spiritual lives were often dead. And this pharisaical external piety can exist in all places and all times. In the dialectic tensions between these two elements: the external and the internal, what is open to the world and at the same time concentrated, lies the deepest truth of the scriptures. And when we look deeply into it, we find there eventually the ultimate and final formula.
A spiritual community of people who are moving towards the supreme aim will undoubtedly still look like an exclusive group, but at the same time, this community is open to all and to the whole world. The foundation of the church goes back to ancient Old Testament times. When God called Abraham, he said to him: separate yourself, leave your country, leave your father’s house, become a wanderer. This meant cutting himself off; but at the same time, God said to him: but through you will all the tribes and peoples of the earth be blessed. This contradiction, this paradox in the Bible, is still alive today. Yes, the person who wishes to develop in a deeply spiritual way must build some sort of defence around their soul. Otherwise, the noise of the world will deafen it. But at the same time anyone who does not wish to turn his soul into a small reservation, into a stuffy lamp-lit little world in which the spirit cannot live, must ensure that their defence is not absolute. It’s like breathing in and breathing out. It’s like talking to many people and talking to one. It’s like solitude and company. It’s like day and night. It’s like what joins things together.
So the conclusion at least for me is clear: neither of the two understandings of Christianity is wrong, but each as it were takes one side and wrongly develops it. Fullness of life lies in the synthesis of the two. Florensky, the well-known theologian and philosopher, said that complete truth when it comes to our world is fragmented into contradictory parts and we see only this fragmented world, but somewhere in a higher dimension all these paradoxical, disunited and antinomic fragments are united in one. That’s the mystery of life. That’s the mystery of the two understandings of Christianity.
I hope, after this short digression, that you may feel that the variety and even the contradictions within the Christian church, and even more, the contradictions between the different Christian denominations – Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox – are not a sign of decay and breakdown but rather manifestations of parts of the whole, the united whole which we have to reach at greater depth. Then what seems to us to be impossible to unite will be united. Then the source, the profound source of spiritual life will nourish not only individual souls or small groups of individual souls in their interior lives but will also go beyond the limits of the merely personal and become for us a social force, a force in society, a force that will help us live in this world, and bring to the world our value as human beings and the light which each of us has been given to the degree that we are in communion with it. It follows, therefore, that this is not just a question for literary scholarship although you will find in it many literary aspects. Nor is it purely historical, although, of course, it has a direct relationship to history. It is a subject for today.
And it seems to me that such pluralism, such interaction of different points of view, is an important pre-condition for the vitality of Christianity. And perhaps it was providential that Christianity was split into different tendencies, because without this it would probably have been something uniform and forced. It is as if, knowing people’s tendency to intolerance, God divided them so that each person in their place, in their own garden could bring forth their own fruit.
And the time will come when all the different fruits will come together into one stream, in which will   be preserved all the best in the spiritual culture of humanity and of each person who is made in the image and likeness of God.

Optina Pustyn Monastery played a vital role in the spiritual life of Russia. It has every right to be called a symbol of the Russian spiritual resurrection of the end of the XVIII century.

Located near a pine forest and separated by the Zhizdra from the outside world, the monastery was a perfect place for  hermits. This used to be a spiritual oasis, blessed with the grace of the first ages of Christianity. Optina Pustyn elders had the greatest gift of all - the gift of judgment,   as well as the gifts of vision, healing and working of miracles. Optina Pustyn is one of the oldest monasteries in Russia

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by Fr Alexander Men

by Fr Alexander Men

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


Elder Paisios has been canonized on Tuesday, January 15th, 20015, after being unanimously accepted by the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church.   As reported by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, he is now Saint Paisios and is added in the Greek Orthodox Church Hagiology

Elder Paisios was born on St. Anne’s day, July 25, 1924, in Farasa of Cappadocia, Asia Minor. His father, Prodromos, a pious man, was the mayor of Farasa. He was characterised by a strong sense of patriotism and his life was many times put in danger by the Tsetes, who were a constant threat to the town of Farasa. Prodromos felt a deep devotion and love for Father Arsenios, the spiritual father of the family; he was recently canonized by the Church because of the numerous miracles he had worked, even before his death. Impressed by St. Arsenios’ miraculous life, Prodromos kept a notebook where he recorded the saint’s miracles, which he either heard, or experienced himself, for the benefit of both his children and his own. The Elder’s mother was called Eulambia and he had nine brothers and sisters altogether.

On August 7, 1924, a week before the big emigration from Farasa (Turkey) to Greece, St. Arsenios decided to have all the children baptized including Prodromos’ son. The boy was supposed to be named Christos, after his grandfather, according to the old Greek custom. However, Fr. Arsenios refused to name him so, as he wished to give him his own name. So, he said to his parents: “I understand you wish to leave someone in the grandfather’s shoes. Shouldn’t I wish to leave a monk in my shoes, too?” Then, he turned to the godmother and said: “Arsenios will be his name!” Thus, St. Arsenios had predicted the Elder’s calling who, since his early childhood, was chosen to become a receptacle of the Holy Spirit.

On September 14, 1924, the day of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, after many hardships, the immigrants from Farasa finally reached the harbor of Piraeus, Greece. They stayed in Piraeus for three weeks and then went to the island of Corfu, where they temporarily settled down at a place called Kastro. Saint Arsenios, as he himself had predicted, lived on the island for just forty days. On November 10, in the age of eighty, he fell asleep leaving behind, as a worthy successor and heir of his spiritual wealth, young Arsenios, later to be called Elder Paisios.

Young Arsenios and his family spent a year and a half on the island of Corfu and then moved to a village near Egoumenitsa (Northeastern Greece). Their final destination was the town of Konitsa in Epirus. Young Arsenios’ heart and mind were totally devoted to Christ and the Virgin Mary and his strong desire to become a monk dominated his life. He loved to walk in the woods and pray all day long holding a wooden cross he himself had made.

After completing elementary education, he worked as a carpenter, in Konitsa, until the time of his military service. As a man of prayer, he was also a very sensitive and loving person. When someone passed away and he was assigned to make the coffin, he never accepted money from the relatives. In doing so, he was contributing, in his own way, in easing their pain and sorrow.
In 1945, he was drafted in the army, where he was distinguished for his ethos and bravery. He always wanted to be in the front line, or take part in the most dangerous operations, as he wished to put his own life into danger first. He was especially concerned about his fellow soldiers who were married and had children. He used to tell them: “You have your wife and children waiting for you, whereas I have no one; I am free.” Many times, he nearly lost his life in order to save someone else’s. For the most part of his military service, he served in the department of communications. In 1949, he was discharged from the army.

The first years of the Elder’s monastic life

After the end of his military service, he immediately left for Mount Athos as he had already decided to become a monk. He only stayed for a few months, however, because his mind was preoccupied with the future of his sisters who were still unmarried. So, he left to return to his family for just a short while.
In 1950, he went back to Mount Athos. He spent his first night at the cell of St. John the Theologian which belongs to the Great Lavra Monastery situated close to Karyes. Then, he went to the Skete of St. Panteleimon at the cell of the Entrance of the Holy Theotokos, where Father Cyril resided, a very spiritual and virtuous ascetic. Later on, Father Cyril became the abbot of Koutloumousiou Monastery.

Father Cyril’s conscientious efforts in fasting and long vigils greatly benefited young Arsenios, who wished to stay by his side for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, circumstances did not permit him to do so. Father Cyril sent him to Esfigmenou monastery, a very hospitable one, which had not yet been involved in the old-calendar movement. He first set his foot there in 1950 and in 1954 he was tonsured a monk. His new name was now Averkios.
Young Averkios displayed great zeal in practicing obedience. When all the monks were involved in various communal tasks, he tried to remain alone and quiet, in order to be able to pray. For instance, when everyone was working in the olive groves, he would stay a hundred meters away, conscientiously completing his task, while at the same time he was in a state of spiritual contemplation.

He thoroughly studied the lives of the saints of our Church, the Gerontikon (a collection of brief stories and wise sayings of the desert Fathers) and the book of St. Isaac the Syrian; he always kept his book by his bedside, under his pillow. When Averkios completed his task (assigned by the monastery), he did not go to his cell to rest. Instead, he helped the rest of the monks to quickly finish their own tasks. He could not tolerate the privilege of enjoying the peace and quietude of his cell, while the others were still working late. He offered his services to the weakest ones and avoided those who were wasting time in useless tasks. He loved everyone without distinction and humbly obeyed all of them always considering himself the least important.

Averkios did not trust his own judgment or will. He unhesitatingly asked his spiritual father for advice on all matters. He prayed to God to always enlighten him, so He would guide him according to his own will. 
His heart was full of gratitude, as he always thought about all the good deeds God was doing for him and the rest of the world. His love for God, originating from his inner gratitude, was continuously growing along with his effortless, unceasing prayers. The sole aim of his heart was to thankfully respond, even in the least, to God’s benevolence. He believed that the grace of God was the only cause of every good; for every evil, he blamed himself out of his deep sense of humility. When he saw someone falling into sin, refusing to repent, or having no faith in God, he thought: “It is my fault that one of my brothers has found himself in this difficult situation. If I were acting according to Christ’s will, then He would listen to my prayers and my brother wouldn’t be in this unpleasant state; my wretchedness is causing my brother’s misery.” He always thought this way and tried to make the world’s problems his own. He constantly prayed to God to help all the people who, as he humbly thought, suffered due to his own negligence and spiritual indolence. God, who listens to all humble people, always responded to Averkios’ prayers that gushed out of his burning heart; a heart full of gratefulness and humility.

Averkios liked visiting elders and spiritual fathers, who were full of grace and the Spirit of God; he loved to ask for their blessing and listen to their spiritual advice. His pure and childlike soul embraced, without any doubts or hesitation, whatever he heard from these elders, the so-called “beautiful flowers” of the Virgin Mary. He wholeheartedly believed in them, and never examined their words by passing them through the sieve of his own logic. Instead, he faithfully followed their advice by humbly giving up his own way of thinking or logical investigation. He very well knew that one must not try to use his common sense to understand spiritual matters; it is like trying to grasp air with human hands.

While he was still young, he visited many monks, and like a bee he collected their “spiritual pollen” so that he may produce later on his own “spiritual honey”, which many of the people in grief were able to taste. 
In 1954, circumstances (as well as his spiritual father’s advice) led him to leave the Monastery of Esfigmenou to go to Filotheou Monastery, where his uncle was also a monk. The monastery was then idiorrythmic. Averkios became the disciple of Father Symeon who was a very virtuous man. In 1956, Father Symeon gave Averkios the small schema and his new name, Paisios, in honor of Archbishop Paisios B’ the Caesarean who also came from the town of Farasa in Cappadocia.

In Filotheou Monastery, he became acquainted with Elder Augoustinos, the ascetic, who resided at the cell of Filotheou Monastery “The Entrance of the Holy Theotokos.” His simple-heartedness and humility greatly benefited the Elder.
Elder Paisios continued his zealous spiritual struggle and always assisted the monks in the monastery in any way he could. Following is an incident indicating the Elder’s strong desire to constantly assist the others. One of the monks had committed a sin but was embarrassed to confess it. As a result, he withdrew to himself, and being in despair, he started thinking of committing suicide. The Elder foresaw his situation and tried to help him. One day, he found him alone and started telling him about his own sins, mentioning on purpose, the same sin he had fallen into. Unfortunately, the monk reacted negatively to the Elder’s effort to make him go into confession. Instead, he started going around the monastery telling everybody that Paisios, whom you love and praise, is a very sinful person, and reported word by word whatever the Elder had told him. Father Paisios, of course, did not try to find excuses for himself, and the monks, who understood his loving and caring intentions, justified his act and praised him for it.
He strove daily for the purification of his soul. He did not ask anything from God, as he very well understood that God had given him, through the mystery of Holy Baptism, the most precious thing in the world, the grace of the Holy Spirit. He was not jealous of the talents and gifts of others, as he knew that the same ones were also given to him by God through Holy Baptism. He was not proud for them either, because even though he knew he had these gifts, he admitted they were gifts of God’s grace in him through his zeal and humility, and make it function the soonest possible. For this reason, he constantly looked after the purification of his soul.

He erased every trace of evil thoughts or negative dispositions from his soul and grew in their place good and positive ones. It was fascinating to see how, without any efforts, he always developed good and positive thoughts for every kind of situation, no matter how difficult and complicated it was; for he allowed God’s grace, which “is not irritable or resentful” (1Cor 13:4) to act on his behalf. He could then skillfully cover the faults and mistakes of other people, as it is clearly shown in the following incident:
In one of the monasteries, there was a monk who was spreading around deluded stories. The visitors, who heard the stories, were scandalized and asked the Elder: “Father Paisios, one of the monks in this monastery is saying weird stories. What exactly is going on?” The Elder promptly answered: “Be careful not to judge others, because our brother is a pious one; when the monastery has visitors, he pretends to be a fool for Christ, so God will reward him.” The Elder’s answer calmed the visitors down.

His kind heart was gradually embracing and protecting everybody in the same way God tactfully covers up all our sins, so they are not exposed to the rest of the world. While he was at Filotheou Monastery, he used to visit Father Cyril in his Skete and seek his advice on various subjects. Father Cyril, with the help of God’s grace, had greatly assisted the Elder. Very often, he used to give solutions to his problems, before the Elder had even had the chance to discuss them with him. He was almost always “informed” by God of his arrival and had the answers ready. Sometimes, he had even found the answer in one of his books, and had underlined it to show it to Fr. Paisios upon his arrival. The Elder expressed his admiration and after asking for his blessing, he left full of joy and spiritual profit.

In 1958, the Elder was asked to leave Mount Athos and go to Stomio, in Konitsa, to assist with the protection of the area against protestant proselytism. As he felt that this was truly God’s will, he left for Stomio where he stayed at the Monastery of Nativity of the Holy Theotokos. With the help of God’s grace, he offered assistance to many people. In 1962, for spiritual reasons he departed for Sinai, where he stayed at the cell of saints Galaktion and Epistimi and spiritually nurtured many people in the area. The Beduins loved him very much. He used to work many hours during the day carving wooden articles. After selling them, he bought food and gave it to them.
In 1964, he left Sinai and returned to Mount Athos where he settled down at the Skete of Iviron, at the Archangels’ cell. In 1966, he fell ill and was hospitalized for a few months in PapaNikolaou Hospital in Thessaloniki. He was operated on and a large section of hislungs was removed.

His acquaintance with the Convent of St. John the Theologian

At this point, I would like to describe how God’s providence led Father Paisios to become acquainted with the nuns of the Convent of St. John the Theologian. The Elder was in great need of blood for his surgery. He had no relatives by his side (as he himself wished) and a group of novice nuns donated as much blood as he needed. He was very grateful for their support. Wishing to express his deep gratitude, he used to say that their kind support resembled a woolen sweater embracing his bare flesh; he wished to take it off and offer it to them in return, as an expression of his heartfelt gratitude.
He sympathized with the nuns who were facing insuperable problems in their effort to build their convent. So, he personally took the initiative to find a suitable area for its construction. He offered his assistance in every way he could; along with the building’s foundations, he also laid its spiritual foundations by giving instructions for the proper functioning of the convent. Thus, the Elder established a strong relationship with the Convent of St. John the Theologian and remained by its side until his death. By the end of 1967, he went to Katounakia in Mount Athos, where he settled down at the cell of Ypatios of Lavra. Living alone in this deserted area, many times he experienced God’s presence and consolation, which contributed to his spiritual growth, enabling him to comfort thousands of people in pain.

At Stavronikita Monastery

In 1968, Father Paisios went to Stavronikita Monastery, where he assisted in its renovation by offering labor work as well as spiritual advice. In the Holy Cross cell of Stavronikita Monastery, located near by, lived Father Tychon, the ascetic, who was also a spiritual father. (Fr. Tychon, the ascetic, who was also a spiritual father. (Ft. Tychon was born in 1884 in Novia Mihaloska of Russia. He was a very gifted man and lived a strict ascetic life). Elder Paisios often visited him for spiritual advice and helped him with the service of Divine Liturgy by serving as chanter. Quite frequently, the service was in spiritual contemplation, which sometimes lasted half an hour. He saw, as he himself confessed, the orders of the angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim glorifying God. Father Tychon tonsured Elder Paisios and gave him the Great and Angelic Schema.
When Father Tychon’s life was coming to an end, (ten days before he passed away), he asked the Elder to stay by his side and take care of him. Paisios served Father Tychon with great self-sacrifice, offering him anything he could to comfort him. Father Tychon used to tell him: “Paisios, our love is precious. My sweet Paisios, our love, my child, will last unto the ages of ages.” He asked him to stay in his cell after his death and promised that he will visit him every year. Father Tychon fell asleep on September 10, 1968, two days after the celebration of the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos, as he himself had predicted, being well equipped and ready for his journey to eternity.
Father Paisios settled down at the cell of the Holy Cross, according to the wish of Father Tychon, where he stayed until 1979.

At Panagouda cell

On May 13, 1979, Father Paisios went to the Monastery of Koutloumousiou where he registered as a monk. He settled down at its hermitage, Panagouda (Nativity of the Holy Theotokos) after it was converted into a cell.
While living in Panagouda, the Elder assisted many troubled souls. All day long, from dawn to sunset, he gave advice to people, consolation and solutions to their problems, took away their sorrow and filled their souls with faith, hope and love for God. He dedicated the day to people and the night to God. He managed to rest only during the early morning hours, for 2-3 hours, so he would be able to survive through the day’s fatigue. During the night, he spent quite some time reading the letters he received by the dozen on a daily basis.
The Elder was very distressed by the content of the letters and by what the visitors used to tell him. Almost always, people spoke about broken marriages, mental illnesses or deaths caused by cancer. Elder Paisios was transformed into a spiritual magnet drawing out the sorrow of people in grief.
The mental fatigue and pain of his visitors, his extremely sensitive soul, his physical exhaustion arising from the many daily visits, as well as his unceasing prayers contributed to his gradual physical weakness and vulnerability to various illnesses.
The illnesses of the Elder

The serious problems of the Elder’s health began in 1966. As mentioned above, Father Paisios suffered from a disease of the respiratory system which made him very weak. The constant visits of the people, the heavy load of their problems and worries, which he always carried on him as if it were his own, but also the physical fatigue of the hospitality duties, resulted in his exhaustion. He had very few hours left to rest during the day as he dedicated the night to praying.
The Elder made small icons using a metallic mould that he himself had carved. He gave these icons (The Crucifix, the Holy Theotokos, St. Arsenios of Cappadocia) to the visitors as a blessing. This task was an additional burden to his already tight schedule, especially when he was using the press that required a lot of physical effort; as a result, he developed hernia. He systematically refused to be operated and tried to invent his own ways to relieve the pain, which were not very successful. He suffered when he was sitting down, but even more so, when he was standing up. When I was at the Convent of St. John the Theologian in Souroti, I remember once that he remained standing up for hours, so everybody could come by and take his blessing. He did not sit down even when he had turned pale and was sweating out of extreme pain. For five years, he endured with exemplary perseverance the painful disease of hernia, thus demonstrating in practice the great virtue of patience to both laymen and the clergy.
When a group of close friends, who were doctors, visited him in Souroti, they literally kidnapped and took him to the hospital to be operated.

The last illness of the Elder

Since 1988, Father Paisios was facing rectal problems. In 1993, during the period of the Great Lent, he was very weak as he was fasting strictly. He could not get any rest during the night due to the unbearable pain and constant bleeding. Although he told the visitors he was very ill, many insisted to see him. He felt so exhausted that he sometimes fainted. Ignoring the poor state of his own health, however, he accepted to see his visitors and relieved them of their grief.
When I was at the monastery, I undertook some nursing duties. One day, I went to the Elder and told him: “I brought you some vitamins and iron tablets. I believe these will help raise your hematocrit.”
He answered: “Father, vitamins won’t do me any good as my blood is in a very poor condition.” And then he added jokingly:
“Besides, Father Theoklitos is in need of large amounts of iron, for he is doing some construction works in the monastery. I do not wish to put him in a difficult situation by taking away from him all the iron. As I understand, iron is useless for me; what I really need now is steel.”
He stood up laughing, took a glass of water and dropped in an effervescent vitamin tablet and said: “My experience with medicine is a very negative one, so I do not wish to start taking pills again. I am willing, however, to take one’s advice on what to do protect myself, and I will indeed be very grateful to him.”
When the effervescent tablet was dissolved, he took again the glass and added laughingly: “Everything will be taken care of once I am buried in the ground!” He shook the glass as if to propose “in good health”, but instead made the following wish: “Let’s all rest in peace, Father!”
While listening to the Elder’s words, I knelt by his side and begged him to go to Thessaloniki to have some medical tests done in order to diagnose his disease. The Elder asked me to stand up and said: “Listen, Father. My health’s condition is a great benefit to my spiritual life and I do not really wish to alter it. These are the reasons why I do not wish to go to Thessaloniki for medical tests:
1) Christ knows the condition of our health. Since he is the best doctor, we should have trust in him. If it is for our own benefit, He will act accordingly and cure our illness.
2) Since I believe that I have developed a tumor in my intestine, it is best to leave it as it is; otherwise, if we “play around” with it, it will get worse.
3) In our days, everybody suffers from three things: cancer, mental illnesses and divorce. The dozens of letters I receive every week talk about these problems. “I do not suffer from any serious mental illness,” he used to say laughingly; I have nothing to do with marriages and divorce. At least, let me suffer from cancer as a consolation to people in distress. Things do not look too good when everyone in the world is in pain and sorrow and one of us has nothing to worry about. Now, thank God, everything is just fine.
4) God is deeply moved when someone, who has cancer or some other serious problem, does not complaint about it, but instead prays for his fellow men. Then, one may dare say to Christ: “You see, I am not asking any help for myself, but please do help the others.” And God does help. So, my Father, do not worry too much about me.”

During the Great Lent of 1993, Father Paisios had a tendency to faint due to his low hematocrit. Often, while standing up he fell, unconscious. But he did not despair and faced his illness with great patience, perseverance and courage.
One Sunday, he asked a priest and two other monks to come and serve the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. Although he was very weak, he was assisting the priest in the Holy Altar. As he was standing at his stasidion (church seat) praying, suddenly he developed difficulty in breathing and started trembling. Then, he lost his balance and almost fell down unconscious, but fortunately the monks managed to catch him in time. They lay him on the floor where he remained unconscious for a few minutes. After a while, he recovered and they helped him get back to his seat. When they tried to lower the stasidion, so he could sit, he refused to do so. He was standing up during the whole service, even though his face was as pale as the pure candle. He was distressed because his health condition did not permit him to receive Holy Communion. After a while, he fainted again. When he recovered, they forced him to go and lie down, but he refused; not only he did not lie down, but he also refused to stand at the stasidion, and he continued to stand up. In a little while, he went to prepare the zeon, and for the third time he fainted. When he recovered, he asked: “Is the zeon ready?” completely disregarding the incident. He decided not to receive Holy Communion, as he was afraid he might vomit.

When the service was over, the monks sat in the small guestroom to have a sweet and Father Paisios (as usually) went to his cell to light up the oil candle. He stood on a stool- because the oil candle was high up- and the next thing they heard was: “Oh, Virgin Mary” followed by a loud noise. They were frightened and ran inside to see what was going on. They found him lying on the floor unconscious. When he recovered, he told them to leave. They said: “Father Paisios, how can you stay alone after having fainted so many times?” He answered: “There’s nothing to worry about! Go now, I feel better.”

The monks obeyed and left, being very concerned about his well-being. This situation went on until October 1993. He had constant hemorrhages, fainting, a tendency to vomit; in addition, the pain in the intestine made it difficult for him to sit down.
October 22 (November 5 according to the new calendar) was his last day on Mount Athos; he left and went to the Convent of St. John the Theologian in Souroti to be present at the vigil service of November 10 performed in honour of St. Arsenios. He stayed at the convent for a few days, as he always used to do; when he was ready to depart for Mount Athos, the doctors diagnosed the presence of a tumor the size of a small orange in the last section of the rectum. They decided he should undergo radiation therapy to reduce its size and then be operated. The CT-scan confirmed the metastasis of cancer in the liver and lungs. Despite these findings, the operation was considered necessary in order to prevent the total obstruction of the intestine by the existing tumor.

Around 1:30 p.m., when the operation was completed, the Elder was taken to the Intensive Care Unit. Only very few people were allowed to visit him. We remained by his side until he regained consciousness. He opened his eyes for a short while and then fell asleep again. When he finally woke up, I asked him: “How do you feel?”
He answered trying to smile: “Don’t you see, like an astronaut.” (He had an oxygen mask on his face, intravenous serum in his two arms, the wires of the cardiograph on his chest, a nasal-gastric catheter in his nose, a urinary bladder catheter, and a special converter for the measurement of the partial oxygen pressure).
With great effort, he continued: “I was also given a medal, and he pointed to his chest where the wire of the cardiograph had been installed; but I don’t really know the rank I was given. Am I a colonel or a general?”
Then he turned around to an old friend, a doctor, who had been greatly benefited by the Elder, and asked him: “Costa, what did they finally find inside me? Are there any metastases as the tomography indicated?”
“Yes, Father,” the doctor answered. “The liver as well as the lungs have been affected.”
“I don’t mind where the metastases are as long as this remains clean.” (And he pointed to his head).
He had a short discussion with the doctor and when he left, I stayed alone with him.
Among other things, he told me: “Honestly, my Father, if the hemorrhage could stop for just a couple of hours so I could be present at the service of the Divine Liturgy, I wouldn’t be bothered at all. By the way, I just recalled that I had asked God to make me suffer from cancer.”

I had some personal problems that Father Paisios knew about. I was deeply moved by the fact that in spite of his post-operative condition and unbearable pain, he tried to find solutions to my problems. He did the same thing for everyone else, disregarding the state of his very poor health. One could feel the sincere love he felt for all. 
Many people were distressed, because they could not visit him at the hospital. The reason was not because the Elder wanted his peace and quietness, or he did not wish to see his visitors; being a monk with a very sensitive and discreet soul, he did not want to accept people’s consolation and comfort, while the patients next to him had no one by their side. Moreover, he did not wish to disturb the hospital’s daily routine, as some doctors disliked the coming and going of many visitors.

He used to say to those who informed him that someone is waiting to see him outside: “Visits are of no use to the patient. Peace and quietness are.”
He remained at the hospital for ten days, and then was transferred to the Convent of St. John the Theologian for recovery. In the meantime, the doctors informed him that the prognosis was not so good, and his lifespan was not more than four months. When the Elder heard about it, he said smiling: “Do I have to wait for that long? Can’t it be earlier than this?”
He suffered from acute pain, which at times was getting unbearable. He endured with exemplary patience and joy the terrible pain, thinking as he used to say, of the martyrdom the holy martyrs suffered for the love for Christ- while he suffered only in order to recover!
Father Paisios had irrevocably decided to return to Mount Athos. He had set his departure for Monday, June 13. Meanwhile, he developed high fever with difficulty in breathing and was forced to cancel his trip. His health condition was gradually deteriorating. According to a scan, the metastasis now occupied the biggest part of the liver which was significantly swollen. Every now and then, he had to use an oxygen mask to facilitate his breathing.

As time went by, his anorexia and difficulty in breathing were steadily increasing, as well as his abdominal pains, which were now becoming more acute and frequent. On top of all this, he periodically developed high temperature and serious tachycardia; his abdominal meteorism created great discomfort, as he could not comfortably lie in bed. During all the stages of his illness, he never ceased repeating that we must be patient, while his very own patience was an excellent example to all of us.

Towards the end of June, the doctors informed him that he had about 2-3 weeks left. On Monday, July 11, on St. Ephemia’s day, Father Paisios received Holy Communion for the last time, kneeling in front of his bed. During the last 24 hours, he was very serene, and even though he suffered, he did not complain at all. He did not wish to take any more medication. The only medicine he accepted was cortisone, because, according to the doctors, it would not prolong his life span, but it would only give him some strength. On Tuesday, July 12, Elder Paisios humbly and peacefully rendered his soul to God, whom he had deeply loved and served since his early childhood.

Priestmonk Christodoulos (1998) “Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain”
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