Elder Paisios (whose real name was Arsenios Eznepides) was a monk who lived during the 20th century. His fame as a saint among orthodox people has reached far and wide due to his personality and the great number of affirmations of the charisma he possessed (prophet charisma or curative etc.) made by Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians alike. Metropolitan bishop Ierotheos Vlachos of Nafpactos has proposed that the Orthodox Church classify him in its diptych (holy catalogue) as a saint.
Elder Paisios was born in Farasa, Kappadokia, (Minor Asia) on the 25th of July 1924. The name of his father was Prodromos and he was the president of Farasa council, while the name of his mother was Evlampia. The elder had 8 siblings. On the 7th of August 1924, just a week before the Greek people of Farasa were to leave their homeland for good to go to Greece, the elder was baptized by a Sainty man, Arsenios of Kappadokia, who insisted on giving him his name “so as to leave a monk on his foot (in his place)” as he was typically saying.
Five weeks after the day small Arsenios was baptized, on the 14th of September 1924, the Eznepides family along with lots of Greek Minor Asians refugees arrived in St. George, Piraeus and then they went on to Corfu where they temporarily settle in Kastro. The family stayed there for a year and a half. Then, they went to Igoumenitsa and finally ended up in Konitsa. In this town Arsenios finished primary school and was awarded a certificate with “grade 8; with excellent contact”.
Ever since his childhood, he always had a paper in his hands on which he was taking notes of the wonders Saint Arsenios had done. He had shown a particular tendency to ascetic life and he was eagerly wanted to lead a secluded life (to be a monk). His parents were teasing him saying “grow first bear on your face and then we let you go”
TEEN YEARS – MILITARY SERVICE
Up to the day Arsenios joined the army, he had worked as a carpenter. Whenever he received an order to make a coffin, he wouldn't ask for money not only because he wanted to share in the sorrow of the bereaved but also because he took into consideration the economic hardships people faced those days. In 1945 Arsenios joined the army. He was given the post of radio operator during the Greek civil war. Before beeing in this post, he requested to be sent to the front lines so that some family men could stay behind and be safe. But the greatest part of his military life was spent as a radio operator. He was discharged in 1949.
THE EARLY YEARS
In the same year, Father Paisios entered for the first time Agion Oros to become a monk. It was just after his military discharge. But soon he took a year out to return home and help his sisters get married. When this was accomplished in 1950 he returned to Agion Oros. He spent one night in the cell of St. John Theologos in Karyes. Then he was put up in the skete of St. Panteleimonos monastery, in the cell of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That was the place where he came across father Cyril, who was the elder of the cell, whom he would faithfully follow. Later, he left the cell and went to Esphigmenou Monastery where he received the '' Cowl blessing '' (he was tonsured there as rasophoros monk) and was given his first name, Averkios. He immediately stood out due to his industriousness, his great love for and the understanding he showed to his brothers, his blind obedience to his elder and his modesty, as he considered himself truly inferior to all the other monks. He would pray intensively, and he was continuously reading, especially books by Abba Isaac.
In 1954 he left Esphigmenou Monastery and headed for the Filotheou one which at that time was still idiorhythmic. He had an uncle there who was a monk. But it was his encounter with elder Symeon that would prove to be the catalyst for his development and the formation of his ascetic character.
Two years later he was declared Crucifier and was tonsured to the small schema. It was then that he was named Paisios in honor of the Metropolitan Bishop Paisios the second of Kaisaria, who came from the same place as he did. In that time, Elder Augoustinos developed a close bond with Paisios. In 1958, after receiving internal information he went to Stomio in Konitsa where he carried out important missionary work which resulted in many heretic families returning to the Orthodox faith. He helped the poor and suffering either through charity or by helping them psychologically using the word of Christ. He stayed at the monastery of the Birthday of Virgin Mary in Stomio for 4 years. He was extremely popular with the local people for his work and for his modesty. From there he went to Mount Sinai and stayed in the cell of saints Galaction and Epistimi. He worked as a carpenter and whatever he earned, he would give away to Bedouins buying them food and medicine.
RETURN TO AGION OROS
In 1964 he returned to Agion Oros for good never to leave the place again. He lived in the skete of Iviron Monastery. During his stay there, in 1966, he became seriously ill and needed to be admitted into Papanikolaou Hospital in Thessalonica. He was operated on and as a result parts of his lungs were removed. Until the day he recovered and was able to return to Agion Oros, he was put up at the Saint John Theologos Monastery in Souroti. After his recovery, he returned to Agion Oros and in 1967 he moved to the Lavreotiko Cell of Ipatiou at Kantounakia where he started receiving many visitors. His name had already begun to spread and all kinds of unfortunate people made their way to him having been informed of a charismatic monk named Paisios. The following year he was transferred to Stavronikita Monastery. He considerably helped to the renovation of the Monastery by producing a lot of handicraft work. Apart from that he often helped as chanter, elder Tychon at the Skete of Timios Prodromos. Those two elder monks developed a great and strong friendship that lasted till the day elder Tychon died in 1968. Paisios stayed in Tychons' Cell for eleven years after his burial, in accordance with his friend's wish.
Elder Paisios with the Abbots of Coutloumousiou
and Esphigmenou Monasteries
AT PANAGOUDAS CELL
In 1979 he left Skete Timios Prodromos and headed for Koutloumousiou Monastery. There, he joined the ascetic brotherhood as a outside-living monk. Panagouda was an abandoned Cell and Elder Paisios put a lot of effort into creating a habitable Cell. He stayed there to the end of his days. Since the day he moved in there, a large number of people visited him.
There were so many visitors, that special signs had to be installed so as to direct them straight to his Cell and leave the other nearby monks alone. He also received a lot of letters. As the Elder was saying, he was deeply troubled as most of them dealt with cases of divorce or physical and mental illnesses. Despite his heavy program, he didn't stop his intensive ascetic life, to the point where he could only rest for 2 or 3 hours a day. He continued to accept and help his visitors. He also used to make small stamped icons that he offered to his visitors as a blessing.
THE ELDER'S ILLNESSES
In 1966 the elder was hospitalized at the Papanikolaou Hospital because of bronchiectasis. After the operation he had, and because of the intense use of very strong antibiotics, the Elder in turn suffered from pseudomembranoid colitis that left him with permanent digestive problems. At another time when he was using the press machine he got inguinal hernia. He refused to be treated at hospital and as a result he suffered a great deal from terrible pains for four or five years. One day during a visit he paid in Souroti, he was literally kidnapped by some concerned doctors and was taken to Theageneio Hospital where he underwent surgery. Against the doctors' advice, the elder continued to lead his strict ascetic life and the hard hand work, a fact that seriously deteriorated the state of his health.
Elder Paisios while passing outside of the
Representative House of Esphigmenou at Karies
THE END OF HIS LIFE
In 1993 he started hemorrhaging but he refused to be treated in hospital saying that ''everything will be settled with the soil''. In November of the same year, Elder Paisios left Oros for the last time. He went to Souroti at the Saint John Theologos Monastery to celebrate the day of Saint Arsenios (10th of November). He stayed there for a few days and when he was ready to leave, he got ill and he was taken to Theageneio Hospital where the doctors found him suffering from a malignant tumour in the large intestine. On the 4th of February 1994 the elder had an operation. This did not stem the problem. In fact, it produced lung and liver metastasis. The Elder expressed his wish to return to Agion Oros on the 13th of June but the high temperature and the severe dyspnoea put paid to this.
By the end of June, the doctors told him that he had no more than two or three weeks to live. On Monday the 11th of July (saint Efimias' day) the elder had Holy Communion for the last time kneeling in front of his bed. For the remaining days of his life, he decided not to take any medicine or painkillers despite the unbearable pain brought about by his illness. Eventually, Elder Paisios died on Tuesday 12th of July 1994 at 11.00 am. He was buried at the Holy Monastery of Saint John Theologos in the town of Souroti near Thessalonica. Since then, every year throughout the night of 11th to 12th of July, on the anniversary of the Elders' burial, an all-night service is held at the Holy Hermitage attended by thousands of people.
THE ELDER'S SPIRITUAL WILL
Elder Paisios was a very simple man who believed in the word of the Gospel and tried to live his life accordingly to the monastic and the orthodox ascetic tradition. His formal education was restricted to what he had learnt in the primary school. He was noted for his ''pleasant'' simplicity and the lengths he went to in order to help people who were looking for a spiritual conductor (guide). He himself was an example of a man devoted to God, having completely negated his personal pursuits and desires. Obedience, ascetism, godliness, modesty, honor and above all love and forbearance were not only a way of life for him but also an example for all those who were looking for a word of consolidation or for some solution to a personal problem.
Thoughts. The elder gave great importance to thoughts. He would constantly say that everything starts from the good thoughts which, in turn, expel the bad ones. Other people need to be thought of in a positive light, and not negatively, as otherwise slyness and obstinacy settle in the man's mind. He also held that we should not rely solely on our own thoughts but leave space for God's will, since whoever does so always benefits.
Sense of honor (Filotimo). The elder would often mention that man must have nobile love. ''Whatever we offer or do'' he said, '' must be done with good will and not as if we are obliged to or for our own advantage. We should not proceed because we feel afraid, but we should have volition and good will, as Jesus Christ had when he came in this world''
Holy Justice. He continuously referred to the fact that if man wants to be like the saints, he must apply in his life holy justice in his life and not the human one. Human justice according to the elder exists only to daunt evil men. The aim of holy justice is to serve the weak and those who are in need. When we apply holy justice we avoid disputing, censuring (blaming, criticizing) and contesting with other people.
HolyGrace. Holy grace cannot be defined. It is an inscrutable and unfathomable mystery. The salvation of man and his eternal life is its aim. He noticed that we should not constantly spend our whole time on the concerns of our life, because God has already made provision for what we need, even before we start asking for it, provided that our thoughts are close to Him and that we pray for it. When something bad happens to somebody, it's by divine dispensation and not just sent by Him, for it comes for instructional purposes, according to His provision.
Humility. Humility for the elder is the most fundamental element for people's salvation and, in general, the element that cultivates good relationships among people. God ''cannot help'' when we don't try to be humble and as a result he tries to generate humility through hardships using any means. Without humility, he continued, Holy Grace cannot reach us, we close Christ outside our hearts and whatever we might ''gain'' at the beginning we would soon lose it.
Obedience. Absolute obedience, according to the elder, drives us to humility which is the most important virtue. He often said, ''we must obey even when we are treated wrongly, because God compensates injustice with patience'' and he ended, ''these days everybody is in a hurry, but those who are patient, according to Jesus Christ, will enter the kingdom of Heaven
Prophecies. The elder made a lot of prophecies. Unfortunately, many people exploited them, twisting things for their own benefit or for national interests things he had never made reference to, a fact which grieved him greatly thoughout his lifetime. Most of those prophecies had to do with the goings on concerning Constantinople, elaborations on the prophecies of Saint Kosmas the Etolian and about the Antichrist.
Being a coenobium monk at Esfigmenou monastery.
Since his first visit to Agio Oros both experience and knowledge had set on him. He decided then, to join a coenobium for some time so as to grow spiritual wings. At first he thought to try Konstamonitou monastery because he had heard that it was a peaceful and ascetic place. The day of his travel the sea was really rough from the north side of Athos peninsula, – he accepted that as God's will – and he finally arrived at the Esfigmenou Monastry. (Those days the monastery was not zealotic). He was accepted by abbot Kallinikos, he put repentance and started trying.
The monastery was well organized and had fighting fathers. Apart from the endless services there were also the tough duties (diakonimata) and the praying time in the cell. The elder was saying, « To go through a fast period in this place it's a real Golgothas. You were given only water boiled food, just one plate for 24 hours. It was the strictest coenobium. During the first week of the fast, all fathers had to stay in the church all day. »
Later he said, «When I was at the coenobium I was really got afraid of a father. He didn't speak at all. He was feeling the need of his conversation with Christ. He didn't feel like speaking to us. It was enough to see him. He helped me a lot. More than the books had (synaxaria). For some reason he hadn't received the Holy Communion for three years while for this particular sin, 20 days would be enough. While the monks don't speak when they face such situations, even the seculars can see their change. This is the sermon of the monks.
In the monastery among other fathers there was one, devoted fighter, whom he admired a lot. Arsenios, was sincerely praying to God to make that monk like the saint whose name was bearing, and for himself to reach the spiritual level of that virtuous monk. He considered himself the least capable of all.
Testing and duties
The new novice would go on and accept the cores of monastic life with joy. At the beginning they would place him as assistant in the refectory room (trapeze) or in the bakery. Kneading was really tiring. The kneaded in a big trough quite enough quantity of flour by hand. His hand had to reach the bottom of the trough so as to cut the stiff paste.
Later they put him in the carpenter's shop because he knew the trade. The whole day long, without food, he was planing chestnut wood using the big hand-plane. He was really skillful in everything, capable and quick. Even the packsaddles of the animals were looking as if they were pieces of furniture.
Arsenios, conscientiously enough, asked for blessing to help in the big sitting room (archontariki) when they had a lot of visitors.
He was also responsible to keep clean and light the candles to two small chapels outside the monastery. He also took care of having there a service from time to time.
A novice's struggles
Looking up to the holy fathers he was trying to imitate them. He set as a target of his monastic life modesty and obedience and he gave his full attention to struggle beyond his endurance.
During the days he fatigued himself physically and during the night he remained sleepless praying and gloryfying God. He felt great fatigue but he didn't gave up. He added continuously new targets, always under the blessing and supervision of the abbot. He did everything in good spirits.
He used to say, ''we were working really hard on the lathe all day. In the evenings I used to go to the big sitting hall (archontariki) and gave a hand until 10 or 11 o'clock. I didn't have any time left for spiritual life.That's why when I went back to my cell, I didn't sleep but I would just put my legs high for a quarter of an hour to rest and let the blood come back to my body. Then, I used to stand in a basin full of water so as not to feel asleep and I would account my rosary. I used to sleep half an hour or so and then I went to the holy service to read a part (mesoniktiko) of it. And becouse I had in my mind the possibility not to carry out the duties of the so called megaloschimo later, I enquired the abbod's blessing who in turn gave me the permission to proceed these duties from the time I was a novice. I didn't do that out of selfishness but for fear I might not be able to meet the monastery's requirements. I didn't do it in pride. ''If I'm not able, I was saying, at least I shouldn't make a fool of myself''
During the service he wouldn' sit at all. He was standing at the church seat (stasidi). Sometimes he was about to fall asleep but he sprang up.
In winters he avoided lighting a fire. The sell was so dump that the mould had covered like a white cotton the walls. When the cold was unbearable, he would wrap his feed in an animal skin, using the ones he used to make saddles. He worked out in the cold wearing only the monk's dress (zostiko) and he was putting uner it pieces of paper to protect a bit himself from the cold.
Before fasting for Easter, it was a custom in the monastery all fathers to be given a tin of milk. Arsenios didn't use it but he gave it to old Nikitas who suffered from early tuberculosis.
During the fast period, he didn't chew the beens enough so that they would slower be digested and to feel this way satiated for longer. He was sleeping on the stone flore to exercise himself and sometimes on bricks which were supposed to be more ''human friendly''
The fathers started eventually to realise how ascetic and devoted he was and they wanted him to chant in the chapels.
« I was tortured by the love of my relatives»
Not only did he have the core of his duties (diaconimata) but also the devil that was there, bothered him throught various thoughts. He had found his weak point. His love for his relatives. He confessed lated, « at the beginning, the devil tortured me with the rememrance of my family. Sometimes it was my mother, sometimes other relatives. Once I dreamed of them sick, another time dead. The supervisor saw me distressed and was asking me what the matter was. I went to the abbot to confess and it was only then that I was in peace. It is really painful for the monk at the beginning to leave his family and enter the great family of Adam, that of God. »
For the devil, mind fights weren't enough since he couldn't through them hinder his decision to fight. He appeared in shape too. He watch him eye to eye and they were having discussions. The temptetion tried in any possible way to frighten him and prevent him from fighting. It seems that he had relised, due to his experience, what that novice would become.
The novice Arsenios was neither upset nor frightened by the presence of the devil. He said, ''keep coming, because it's good for me. You help me remember God, when I forget him, and pray''
Later the elder made a comment, ''how could the temptation stay by him. He dissapeared immediately. He isn't that stupit to create victory wreaths for the monk.
- Holy elder, when you say temptation, do you mean our thoughts? A monk asked naively.
- Oh my God ! temptation is the devil himself, do you understand' What thoughts are you talking about?
Novice Arsenios using his intelligence "beat devil's cunning by human invetivness"
On the 27th of March 1954, after the commonly held testing, he was ordained as a monk. He received a cowl blessing and he was named Averkios. The abbot suggested he should receive the Great Clergy but he refused. He said, '' Although I could join the Great Clergy, given that I had finished my military service the cowl blessing is enough for me.''
He considered himself incapable, but on the other hand he didn't want to get involved with the prospects the Great Clergy involves, due to his love for a peaceful life he so longed for.
He watches the Lamp throbbing
«I was helping in the church too» the elder narrated, «as a church-helper during the nightlong night services (agripnies). Once, I was in the altar watching the priest during oblation. Something happened then. As the priest said ''the God's Lamb is being sacrificed'' I saw the Lamb on the holy Salver (diskario) throbbing like a lamb being slaughtered. I wouldn't dare to go closer next time! As a result, the Sacrament starts before hand and not afterwards as some of them say»
Ever since that period he started taking notes about anything he read. He copied in a notebook whatever helped him in his struggle and he tried to practise it in his everyday life. His inner incospicuous struggle was: a little practical reading in his ascetic books, very much attention, incessant prayer and constant effort to purge himself from suffering and obtain the Holly Grace.
But also in his work not only in his duty (diakonima) but also during collective work (panginia), he tried not to interrupt his prayer. He worked fast and quietly. Old – Gerasimos of the Koutloumousi monastery, who used to share the same coenobium with him says, «When we did collective work, all of us, except for him, used to talk and laugh. He used to work away from the others and he avoided the chattering and the criticism. He was a very careful monk. »
Once, the monastery sent a few monks, one of which was father Avercius, outside the boundaries of Mount Athos to plant poplar trees in a field. Not too far away there was a street where several laymen were passing by. Father Avercius had coerced his mind and eyes into not seeing anyone and he really managed to perform an achievement similar to the one achieved by abbot Isidore of Skitis, who went to Alexandreia and saw noone else but the Patriarch. His eyes were open to see only good examples of advancedfathers and benefit from it.
The elder narrated: « There was once a brother in the Monastery who was a carpenter. The fathers accepted him from need, because although in the beginning there were seven carpenters in the Monastery, in the end there were none, not even for the minor jobs. Because they needed him, they had given him many initiatives. He took that for granted; he became a superior and didn't take anybody onto consideration. Whoever went with him to learn the trade could not stay for more than a week. I, on the other hand with God's will, stayed with him for two and a half years. What I went through is indescribable. But I also profited from it! He swore and yelled continuously. His sight was not very good, and when he told me to do something, of which I saw that was wrong and we would have to repair it afterwards, if I would dare to tell him something about it, he yelled: «You still have not learned it: You are to say only two words «bless» and «let it be blessed». I was keeping myself silenced. It was being made crooked. We were making windows for the church with patches. If the fathers asked why, I would keep myself silenced. He was even in the synaxi (superiors meeting) and if he wanted he could confess the truth. Otherwise I would put a couple of drahmas aside (meaning saving a spiritual salary) I used to cough out blood and he yelled: «What are you doing there? Get back to work. That's the way you are going to die». When my heath got worse, the doctor told me to definitely stay at the hospital of the Monastery for two months. He came to the hospital yelling: «Come down quickly there is nothing wrong with you». I obeyed and set off for the mountain, to cut down chestnut trees and to shape them into square logs. I took an isolated path. I did not take the road, in order for the fathers not to see me so I would not expose Monk –I. On the way my arteries opened and I started haemorrhaging, that's why I was forced to turn back. Then he came to the hospital and asked me strictly: «Why did you not come? » I did not think about the brother. I thought that God allows things to happen from love, so that I could pay back for a sin or two. When I was in the outside world, God had given me a virtue to become a good carpenter. People would come to me, and without wanting it, I was the reason for others not to have work. Everyone ran to me and family men were left without work. In order to avoid this situation, I was telling them ''it would take me long to finish the job for I have too many orders to carry out, etc '', but everyone said «We will wait». So now I am paying for my sins. In the end, because I profited so much from this brother, the good lord got hold of him. He wasn't able to see at all, he was humiliated in front of all and was saved. He made me spit blood but he made a man out of me».
The holy fathers judged obedience as a confession. But for father Averkio obedience was blind, torturous and not only to the Abbot, but to an older Monk as well. He accepted everything with joy and patience. When the superiors saw the unfinished windows and made comments, he did not make excuses to cover himself, saying that he had followed what Monk-I told him to do, but silenced and accepted these unfair accusations as if it were his fault. Later, the good Lord revealed the truth and they realized what had happened and praised the novice's virtue.
In the hospital the good nurse in order to build up his strength, would give him honey and walnuts to eat. Father Averkios was sad there because from his hospital bed could not help his «fathers and brothers». The nurse told him: «If you count your rosary that is worth more. God will give strength to the fathers and will send his blessings to the monastery. And so he got exhausted with dignity praying for his brothers.
When he partially recovered the Abbot gave him his blessing to have a pot in his cell to drink something warm in order to recover. Looking for a spirit lamp amongst the fathers he was touched very much that none of them had one. With great difficulty he managed to have one and he made one or two warm drinks in his cell, he through the coffee pot, which was a tin can, out the window into the sea and entrusted his health, his body and soul to God.
The visit of the Holly Grace
The roughness of ascetic life was mellowed by something I had never experienced before, the visit of the holly grace. «When my strength had given out» he said, «an incident happened. One night, while I was praying standing, I felt something coming down from above pouring all over me. I felt exultation and my eyes became two fountains from which tears were flowing. I could see and feel the grace. I had experienced excitement and emotions like that in the past, but nothing like that had ever happened to me before. This incident was so spiritually strong/ powerful, that supported me and lasted for approximately ten years until later, in Mount Sinai, I experienced greater situations in a different way.
Deparure for peace
When father Avercius came to the Monastery, he asked the Abbot to stay for a period of time and then give him his blessing for peace and he accepted. Of course he gained advantage from all the fathers and he laid good foundations in that coenobium, but also his desire for quieting life became more and more intense. When he prayed his mind was captured by grace. His heart was burning “ by the coals of the desert” and he felt the calling of the desert.
He received blessing to depart from the Convent for peace/ quiet reasons. He left labour and service, blood and sweat in the Monastery and went to the desert placing his hope to the God and the Virgin Mary to lead him “in desert land”.
First he went and bowed before the icon of Virgin Mary (Portaitissas) in Iviron monastery. Her image was altered! It became very sweet! From this incident he realised that his departure was in accordance with God's will.