Elder Paisios the Hagiorite (1924-1994) – 323 July 2013
It is unanimously accepted by the ecclesiastical tradition that pride is the biggest enemy of man’s salvation. This is also underlined by the Bible where, inter alias, it is said that the “Lord scorneth the scorners ” (Proverbs 3:34) and “everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased” (Luke 18:14 ). The Elder told the following story which shows that pride is not the unfortunate privilege of the officials, rich and intellectuals only but is found amongst the most insignificant, poor and illiterate people. There was a shepherd who was discussing one day with the Elder when he was an ascetic in the Stomio Monastery near Konitsa. During the discussion, the dog of the flock approached trying to eat the shepherd’s food which was in a plate near-by. The shepherd realised the dog’s intention and managed quickly and swiftly to cover the plate avoiding thus the damage. Then, he turned to the Elder and boasted: “Did you see, monk, how clever I am and how I managed to save the food?” By mentioning this incident, the Elder pointed out the danger of pride which threatens all of us and the need to be alert and show repentance and humiliation in order to avoid the temptation stemming from the right.
During one of our visits, we asked the Elder about mercy. His answer was categorical. We have to practice this great Christian virtue suggested by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount when he blesses the ones that practice it and says: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). He mainly urged us to help widows, orphans and, in general, people that are in great need. He said that upon accepting our help, they make a wish for us and our departed from the bottom of their hearts and say “May God forgive them, may their bones become holy!” and God hears the prayers that spring deep from their souls. In answer to the question that sometimes the idea crosses our mind that the ones begging can be cons or use our mercy for harmful purposes, he used to say that in these cases we should apply Christ’s order giving a small amount of money and He takes care so that the money goes where it is needed. Furthermore, he referred for long to the ways that this is done.
The bleak condition of the world that “lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19 ) and the difficulties that the conscientious Christian faces “because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life” (Matthew 7:14 ) are very well known. The “enemies of man”, the devil that “prowls about as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), the old man, the one enslaved in the will of the flesh and the world, under the thumb of the devil who promotes his will in an attractive way, fight fiercely against the Christian who, literally, “goes in the midst of snares” (Sirach 9: 13). In answer to the agonising question raised by Christian family men about what they should do in order to face these bleak circumstances, the Elder provided the exit from the stranglehold of the daily reality talking to two different men. He said to the one that we will be saved from these if we “cling to the Church” and on a different occasion, he said to the other, as a clarification to the above: “go to the church, confess, receive the Eucharist and you will reach the average”.
The urging of Basil the Great “take care of thy self” (P. G. 31, 217B) is well known; the same holds for the unanimous advice of the Holy Fathers for continuous self- control exercised by the Christian. Elder Paisios, following this tradition, used to advise us to look into our selves and see “how many carats of Christians we are”.
I left for the end two pieces of advice given to me by the Elder when I visited him for the final confirmation of God as regards my entering the holy orders. It was the 1 st November 1986 , when the Church celebrates the memory of Hosios David the Elder. I walked down with eagerness from Karyes to the Elder’s Cell, Panagouda, in the wet autumn afternoon. A bit further down from the Monastery of Koutlomousio, two dogs became my “companions”. They were running along the path which I did not know well. When they led me to the gate of the Cell’s yard and the Elder came out to welcome me, he said to them and his words were full of meaning: “Ok, you can go now.” And the dogs, as good “subservients” left immediately upon concluding their mission. This time the Elder welcomed me inside the cell where the stove with the wood was lit. After the “traditional” treat we went to the small church of the cells. I mentioned the purpose of my visit and after his unreserved and at the same time overwhelming answer for me “of course it is God’s will”, we talked about other things. There, inter alias, he gave me the following pieces of advice which I am quoting hoping that they will help my brethrens as they have helped me. His first piece of advice was: “do not put your plans before God’s plans”. These words saved me. They freed me from stress and anxiety. They taught me to put Christ’s will always first in my life over my own will, to ask Christ always to lead the way in my life and direct me in everything. I saw, through the daily experience of so many years, that Christ knows and can assume full charge in the best way when we love Him, trust Him and ask Him to do that freely, voluntarily and unquestionably. We all understand the importance of this, especially for the shepherd’s ministration of rational sheep and for the faithful that Christ entrusted him with. His second piece of advice was: “Thank God for everything you are; everything you have and everything you achieve. By thanking God you will realise that these are not your achievements but His gifts and, thus, you will feel humble.” Without many comments, someone can understand the importance of the Elder’s precept who with a simple, but “square” way leads man to self-knowledge and balance, far away from the morbid complexes of handicap and arrogance as well as away from man’s lethal enemy, pride. The Elder’s words always remind me of what Apostle Paul writes: “what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)
I know that thousands of pages have been written about Elder Paisios. And I am sure that many more will be written. My work did not aspire to add some pages to the so many others. Stating my personal experience, six years upon the repose of the blessed Elder, is a debt of honor and gratitude for the person who, with God’s providence, helped me in critical choices of my life and continues to help me in my pastoral ministration with the prayers and precepts he left me. These lines are also a debt of love for my brethrens so that they can get to know this genuine person and the holy will of God as it was formulated through his lips with the wish that it will become their own will for salvation.Source: www.apostoliki-diakonia.gr