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Saint Paisius Velichkovsky and the Need for Dwellers of Divine Grace

Updated: Feb 5

by Monahia Fotini, Paltin Monastery

The life of Saint Paisius is, indeed, a model for us, monks and Christians of today. The times bear a certain similarity in terms of moral and spiritual decay, especially in the lack of spiritual guides, abbots, and confessors whose enlightened minds could guide disciples toward acquiring inner grace.

“Father Paisius, wise one, cover and guard the holy and divine places that praise thee, for they have thee as their predecessor and caretaker, and deliver us from the counsels of the cunning, and from all their snares, showing to all that even after death, thou livest, and savest all who call upon thee with faith." (From the Vespers service)

What articulate tongue could properly praise the great enlightener of Christianity? What human mind could comprehend his angelic works, offered in the service of Christ God, to whom he sacrificed himself completely until death? "Only the rays of the sun could interpret him, for in resemblance, you acquired his brilliance."1 This saint's work is so immense and significant, especially for us Romanians, that if we were to understand it sufficiently, we would not cease to call upon him daily in our prayers. Through his wisdom and ascetic struggles, he not only made Neamț Monastery flourish, guiding with perfect skill and gentleness over a thousand monks but also revived the entire spiritual life, which had severely declined in both Moldova and Russia, through the disciples who followed his teachings. Monasticism suffered such a great spiritual injury in the 18th century that Saint Paisius, after extensive searches, found no spiritual guide of elevated stature either in Russia, in the Holy Mountain, nor in Romania.

Of Russian origin, born in the city of Poltava, gifted by God with a lofty mind and a generous heart, he quickly became a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, for even in his childhood, he was engaged with divine Scriptures. Progressing in the knowledge of God and in asceticism, the young Peter, as he was named, grew in virtues "in one year as much as others in ten." Certainly, God had a special plan for him, shielding him untouched from the fires of unbelief and the wandering of those times. It was a period when the Western scholastic spirit had strongly penetrated the schools of Kiev, and this malady supported by Protestantism had also affected the Orthodox Church through certain individuals seeking worldly glory. Peter's pure mind could not accept the emptiness of this teaching and recognizing its deviation, he left the school of Kiev and its futile philosophies.

Where should a lover of true faith and a zealous pursuer of the lives of the ancient Fathers turn? Poor Paisius did not know the arduous searches that awaited him! How many tears he was to shed for the general ruin of monastic life, where the purity and piety of his soul found no place! He, who had renounced all worldly pleasures he could no longer endure, had nowhere to lay his head, for wherever he went, he found the same moral decline and lack of ascetic depth. He, desiring to fully submit to another's will, had no one to whom he could submit, for there was no overseeing head knowledgeable of God's mysteries. Understanding the decline of the Russian Church, lured by imperialism and vanity, seeking to enlarge its walls and outward appearance, while also being under the authoritative regimes of Peter I (wrongly called “the Great”) and Catherine II, the rason-bearer Platon (as he was named after his monastic tonsure) , this time, headed together with his friend Alexie towards the land of Moldova, whose language he greatly admired. Truly, blessed are you, Paisius, for finding in Abbot Vasile of Poiana Mărului the guidance you sought! Yet, he did not stay here long, for God had an even greater work for him. Abbot Vasile, understanding the danger of losing inner asceticism, established small, poor hermitages where monks were especially engaged in the mystical work of the prayer of the heart. Quickly learning this practice, Paisius suffered due to the lack of more abundant spiritual nourishment, commensurate with the needs of his soul. It seemed that it was not Paisius who needed a teacher, but rather the lands stripped of the healthy evangelical spirit seemed to be seeking Paisius, so filled with the gift of spiritual guidance. Thus, this time, Mount Athos, renowned for its sanctity, called upon him to restore his spiritual striving and he, who loved the adornment of obedience profoundly and with inconsolable sorrow, left it behind and embraced the hermitage, finding no one to guide him, but only ignorance and lack of awareness of the teachings and writings of the Holy Fathers. In the pain of his heart, through many tears and harsh ascetic struggles, nourishing himself with the sweet Name of Jesus and growing through Divine Scriptures and writings of the Fathers, Saint Paisius found the abundant grace of God, which he locked in his heart as in a chamber where Christ had long awaited to reside. Rejoice, Saint Paisius, for within you, you received the torch of enlightened understanding and spiritual knowledge!

And behold, what he sought in others, he found within himself! What was lacking in the Church, he found in God's chosen one, Paisius! He, who diligently fled from human glory, was surrounded by the light of God's grace. Just as the healthy eye sees the brightness of the sun, so did his virtues shine to souls seeking the light of knowledge. He who fervently sought a spiritual guide, became himself a guide and enlightener to those in the darkness of passions. He, who teaches to elevate the mind to divine matters, brings down God into purified hearts. And what is his great work?

By God's grace, Saint Paisius succeeded in refreshing the Philokalic spirit in the communal monastic life. And what Abbot Vasile accomplished in his small monastic communities at Poiana Mărului, Saint Paisius developed within a community of over a thousand monks, seemingly reviving the monasticism of the 4th century. The monks in his communities, studying the Scriptures, accurately translating the Holy Fathers, following their teachings, paying attention to noetic prayer, regained their former glory, becoming perfect inheritors of the Patristic tradition. And God did not stop here. Through His care, many of Saint Paisius's disciples, alongside other venerable fathers, reaching Mount Athos and Russia, restored Christian life there in spirit and truth.

The world today lacks bearers of divine grace. However, this fact should not be discouraging at all, as we have the guidance of the numerous writings of the Holy Fathers, and especially the model of life set by Starețs Paisie, who showed to those lamenting the lack of guides that we can attain deification and acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit through effort and through much prayer, tears, and the holy writings that are closer to us than ever, as a guiding beacon toward the heavens.

[1] Ioan Diakovski, Lamentation at the Tomb of St. Paisius in Autobiography and Lives of an Abbot, p. 381.

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