Elder Paisios was born in Cappadocia on July 25, 1924. Almost immediately his family was forced to flee with the general exodus of Greek refugees from Asia Minor. They settled in Eperos in Northwestern Greece. He first visited Mt. Athos in 1949 after his time in the army.
He returned in 1950 and, after a short time in the neighborhood of Karyes, settled in the Monastery of Esphigmenou. In 1954 he was tonsured there as rasophoros monk with the name Averkios. That same year he moved to the Monastery of Philotheou, which at that time was still idiorhythmic. The elder observed in later years that one could even live a more ordered and stricter ascetic life in an idiorhythmic monastery than in a cenobium if one was under close supervision of a good spiritual father. After two years he was tonsured to the small schema in Philotheou and given the name Paisios.
In 1958 Fr. Paisios left the Mountain and went to the Stomio Monastery of Konitsas north of Ioaninna. He stayed there four four years and in 1962 went to Mt. Sinai where he lived in the Skete of St. Epistime on Gebel Mugufa. In the two years that he stayed there he gave himself to strict physical asceticism which he later said was the breaking of his health. In 1964 he returned to Mt. Athos and lived in the Cell of the Archangels in Iveron Skete. He was hospitalized in 1966 and while on the mainland became acquainted with the nuns of the Hesychastirion of St. John the Theologian, whom he helped greatly in years to come and where he died and was buried.
In 1968 he went to Stavronikita Monastery and was tonsured to the great and angelic schema by Papa-Tychon of the Kelli of the Holy Cross. After Papa-Tychon’s passing he left the kelli to Geron Paisios and the elder remained there from 1968 to 1979.
In 1979 he moved to the kathisma of Koutloumousiou Monastery known as Panagouda near Karyes. At his request the kathisma was made a kelli and the elder was given an omologo/ life-lease. Many of his monastic spiritual sons settled nearby in kellia or in kalyvia of Koutloumousiou Skete, but the elder lived alone. Many, many pilgrims came to visit him there. He finally died and was gathered to the Lord on July 12, 1994. Within a year two books about him and recording his teaching had been published in Greek.
Sayings Concerning the Spiritual Life
Father Paisios said: As a person becomes more spiritual, so much fewer rights does he has in this life. It is obligatory to be patient, to accept injustice, to accept evil words from others. A crooked stick (perverted person) who is distant from God has many rights: to strike and shout and act unrighteously. Our rights God keeps for the other life. Out of ignorance however we often seek our rights here. Let us not damage things at all. If they say anything to us, immediately we give them the right. And later we think we trust in God. That is a big joke. Human justice doesn’t mean anything to a spiritual person. But it is a great concern for the perverted person.
The elder said: I often see a strange thing that occurs with religious people, reminding one of a vegetable market. There everybody shouts. One says, take oranges; another says take beets, and so forth, each in order to sell their own stuff. Something similar happens with Christians. Some say if you enter this association you’ll be saved. If you go there you’ll be saved. However, many people are not for here or there but for somewhere else. , . A man of God can help. Help but not strangle. Now, let’s imagine, I go to some army base to tell them various things about monasticism. I won’t tell them lies. I’ll tell them as it is. So what happens? Are all to become monks. That way naturally I cause trouble, because perhaps some of them will undertake monasticism and later will suffer and fail. I have to find the pure one to help him choose.
The elder spoke again on the same theme: Someone want to paint icons, has decide to become an icon painter, to make icons which will perform miracles; may it be. Another wants to become a married priest; it is my joy. One wants to be unmarried; let him be unmarried. One wants to be a monk? He should be helped accordingly. All do not fit in one basket. Some set the people to do things contrary to whatever they can do.
The elder said: It is not good for one to change spiritual fathers. Imagine a building which continually changes engineer and builder. It’s not likely to turn out right.
The elder said: The spiritual father should be free and act accordingly. He should not follow somebody elses party line. (follow some line placed by others)
Father Paisios said: I don’t give prescriptions at a distance. There is no long distance doctor. Only I give prayers.
The elder said: So much higher you throw a thing, with analogous power it will fall down and break in pieces. Often we see someone with a great fantasy of himself, but outwardly he doesn’t suffer anything to be humbled. This is dangerous. He has arrived at interior pride and gives grades. May God protect him, he’s one with Satan.
They asked the elder if there exist on the Holy Mountain those who have arrive at the love that sees all people as brothers, and he answered: There would have been many. Unfortunately there are few, few souls. We Athonites have suffered a great evil with the Calendar. This will destroy the Holy Mountain. It has destroyed the whole world. It has created the whole situation.
The elder said again: The world now is concerned with all the other matters except itself. I think that if one is concerned with oneself everything will fall in its canonical rhythm. And this we must do. The devil, you see, opens work, gives handiwork to each.
The elder said: When I put myself in order, I put in order a bit of the Church, whenever we can be of one mind. The Holy Spirit is One. Now people make many spirits. I can not understand.
The elder said: A person give flesh to his child. God gives the soul. When the child grows the parents cease to have authority. God gives to each person the guardian angel. He helps him throughout his whole life. Shouldn’t we trust ourselves to God?
Someone asked if the elder all the people who came everyday with questions tired him. He answered: I’ll tell you. When the discussion is spiritual it doesn’t weary. It’s bad when people ask altogether unreasonable questions. If they are illiterate and ask such things it will be alright. But there are “smart” people, students, and they ask you what relation the time has with the conscience of the person. In such cases I say, ‘Here I have coffee and one or two aspirins. Sit a little and little by little we’ll clear up your theme.
The elder said: In order for you to have time for prayer you must not concern yourself with things that other people can do. Let’s take an example. A doctor should not be concerned with gauzes and bandages. A nurse can do that. The doctor will take care of the serious matters. He’ll do the examinations and operations, etc. If he sit to put gauze he won’t get to the serious work and then many who have need won’t benefit. The same with you. Pray for your suffering parishioners (applied to the correspondent and two other priests) remember their names and note those who have greater need. It’s better for you to know what pains each one. That way the prayer is better.
The elder said: Whether we pray for ourselves or for others, the prayer must be from the heart. The problems of others should become our problems. You have to prepare for prayer. Read a bit of the Gospel or the Gerontiko and then pray. It requires an attempt to take the mind to the divine space. Study is like a gift which God gives us to direct us to greater spirituality. With study the soul is warmed.
The elder said: Seek the ladder of discerning doxology and thanksgiving/ rejoicing of God. The great sin is joylessness.
With regard to the recollection of the mind at the time of prayer, Father Paisios wrote to me:
Holy Cross 3-5-72
Dear brother Dionysios,
Rejoice. I received your letter with much joy for the interior change which has happened in you. I will pray God to do what ever is for the benefit of your soul and His glory.
Concerning the matter of the recollection of the mind which is made difficult by temptations, it will help a great deal to study patristic books which will lead to prayer. The Sayings of the Fathers will help a lot because just a couple lines from them cover all concerns. The Sayings of the Fathers will transport you to the holy soil of the Thebaid and Nitria and you’ll go up praying mentally with the holy father beside you.
Naturally it is not easy now to undertake many things now while you are in the army. Whatever you do is an achievement and has great worth. As to monasteries near you, I don’t know of any men’s monasteries. Women’s I know of but I don’t want to send men there. Be patient and your enlistment will pass without your noticing. I’ll pray that God give you patience. May Christ and the Virgin be with you.
With the love of Christ,
The elder said: Some say that when a person prays he should have his mind on the icon or the words. No. Not on icon nor letters. Let him have his mind in his sinfulness, but with discernment. Many times the devil can cause trouble there too. He’ll tell you that you are sinful, to make you despair. You should answer him abruptly: saying “What’s that to you? When I want to say that I am a sinner I will and not when the devil wishes; because when the devil wishes he’ll bring me to despair.
The elder said: The person should experience his sinfulness and have trust and hope in the mercy of God, because that way he’ll be saved. That way the mind is recollected and experiences the prayer as a need. That way he begins to say: Lord Jesus Christ, come…”, and the heart gains rest.
The elder said: Stillness and freedom from worry help to recollect the person in prayer. On the other hand, distraction does not help because it scatters the mind.
God will not require the same of everybody. But you should know that the one who prays arrives at a condition in which he says the prayer even in sleep; not as in a dream but in reality.
Hearing the above saying of the elder someone said that those in the world don’t have the possibility to reach such a state. And Father Paisios answered, “Do you suppose that I’ve attained it? Only I know people who have attained it.”
Addressing some people who lived in the world, Fr. Paisios said: You don’t know much about mental prayer, except for that which you have read. Women should be attentive because they have sensitivity and love, whereas men love Christ with the reason. Women love with the heart and have demonstrated it when they crucified the Lord. Men apply the reason, noting how many Jews, Scribes and Pharisees, were at the crucifixion, how many soldiers, etc. and therefore locked themselves in the house, set the bolt firmly and waited to see what would happen. The women have the sensitivity and it’s easy for their tears to come in the time when they pray and to think that they have arrived at the state which the fathers describe. It requires attention and caution.
The elder said: It’s not only that we become accustomed to saying the prayer. The purpose is for the person to know himself and sense his sinfulness. If he only slapped someone, he’s a sinner because he shouldn’t have done it. We are all sinners. Consider what God did for us and what we do for God. After thinking of that, even if the heart is granite it will soften. Let’s think a little logically. God could have made me a mule and given me into an undiscerning hand which would load me with 150 kilos of wood and beat me. Finally I would fall into a pit and the dogs would open my belly and those who pass by would cover their noses for the stink on the road. Just for that should I give thanks to God? I don’t thank Him. God could have made me a snake or a scorpion. But His love made me a human being. God was sacrificed for me. With one drop of divine blood He washes away all the sins of the world. If a person thinks of all this; on one side the good work of God and on the other his own sinfulness and ingratitude, even if the heart were granite it would soften. And then he senses the mercy of God. The heart must gain rest with “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”. The prayer refreshes, not wearies. When we do not proceed in this manner, we acquire only the habit although the elder, the old self, remains within and we follow the way of delusion.
The elder said: When we have stillness there is a desert. The place is not a desert. In the desert I must make myself deserted of all my passions. When I adjust the desert to myself, I do not live in the desert. I must adjust myself to the desert. And in the world one can accomplish a lot. It’s enough to try to do away with mistakes. If you have, for example, a faucet that leaks continually: drip, drip, drip – or an alarm clock that continually tick, tick, ticks, – you’ll change it. One can do a lot.
The elder wrote concerning stillness. Outer stillness, with discerning asceticism, very quickly brings also interior stillness (the peace of the soul), which an essential preparation for delicate spiritual activity. For as much as one distances oneself from the world so much more is the world distanced from within you and worldly thoughts leave and the mind of a person is purified and he become a man of God.
The elder said: And by itself stillness is a mystical prayer and aids greatly in prayer, like the unceasing breath of a person.
The elder said: Stillness (far from the world) very quickly brings also interior stillness in the soul with ascesis and continual prayer. Then the person is not disturbed by exterior disquiet, because in essence only the body is found on earth but the mind is found in Heaven.
The elder said: Humility is acquired after struggles. When you know yourself you acquire humility, which become a (permanent) condition. Otherwise one can become humble for a moment, but your thought will say to you that you are something although in reality you’re nothing. and you’ll be deluded like that to the moment of death. If death finds you with the thought that you are nothing, then God will speak. If however your thought says at the hour of death that you are something and you don’t understand it, all your effort goes to waste.
The elder said: It is not freedom when we say to people that everything is permitted. That is slavery. To improve one must have difficulties. Let’s take an example. We have a little tree. We take care of it. We place a stake and tie it with a rope. Naturally we don’t tie it with wire because that way we would injure it. With their method they would not constrain the tree; and it doesn’t develop properly otherwise. And look at the child. We limit his freedom from the beginning. When he is first conceived the poor thing is limited in his mother’s womb and remains there nine whole months. Later he is born and immediately they swaddle him in a blanket, they tie him up, as soon as he begins to grow they set a railing, etc. All of this is necessary for him to grow. It appears to take away freedom, but without these protective measures the child will die in the first moment.
The elder said: Freedom is good when the person can use it appropriately. Otherwise it is a disaster.
The elder said: A certain monk known to me happened to go with a group on an excursion. One of them didn’t believe at all in God. Since he was a friend the others had brought him for all that he confessed that he didn’t believe. When the others began to chat among themselves, the monk joined the unbeliever and with his own method cast out from within him the matter of unbelief – without the others noticing. The man himself did understand what had happened. A change took place in him and everyone appeared like rainbows. That person believed in God through the intercession on the monk.
The elder said: Often we see a person and we say a couple spiritual words to him and he takes a turn. Later we say, “Ah, I save someone.” I believe that the person who has the disposition and goodness within him, if he doesn’t take the turn from us will take it from a bear or a fox or from anything else. Let us watch out for false evangelization.
The elder said concerning papa-Tychon: There was a little elder who had simplified his life. He had no housework. He was free from every convenience, because that which we call today convenience is in fact inconvenience. Convenience is for one to simplify one’s life and to limit its to the essentials. Then the person is liberated.
The elder said: We much not compel others to follow the spiritual struggle. You can not compel him if he does not have the disposition. It is like what happens with food. If one is not disposed to eat and we give him food under compulsion, he will vomit it up.
The elder said: The world today has need of good confessors. Good spiritual fathers are few today and the few that remain have to do their work in a hurry because of the many who go to them. Like a good surgeon who does many interventions and is wearied by the results so as to not give all as he should. If there were good spiritual fathers, there would not be so many psychiatrists.
To a question of how a spiritual father should apply the canons in confession the elder answered: The spiritual father must see each person separately and act accordingly. for me the spiritual father who applies the canons without examining each situation individually is a criminal.
For the monastics
The elder said: The monk will be unjustified if he does not move in the realm of general love. He struggles to go out from his small family and enters into the great family. God does not demand that the head of a household attain to this situation/ measure.
The elder said. Let us not bring the world and its customs, comforts and luxury, into the monastery,
The elder said: Let obedience not be with misery and like forced labor. The elder or eldress is not a Diokletianos who says no and don’t. We owe them gratitude since they protect us. Not complaints and disobedience.
The elder said: As soon as the monk renounces and gives over his own to God and forgets them, then God must help them. Thus the monk leaves the small family and enters into the great family of Adam. He doesn’t remember his own, nor prays particularly for them. I see in all people my parents, my brothers, my relations. I have ceased all communication. When I don’t think of my own, then God will think of them.
The elder said: My greatest enemy is my name. Woe to the monk who gets a name, because he’ll not have quiet, but the people will begin to shape various things, which are not the reality.
The elder said: Once two Catholics came here. They seemed to be good boys, architects. And they said to me that Orthodox monasticism doesn’t produce anything, whereas theirs undertake great ministries. I explained to them that the mission of the monk is something else, different from the mission of the clergy in the world. I said, “If we destroy the lighthouse on the rocks, what will become of the ships? But the monks are the lighthouses.”