When the Blessed Elder Paisios fell asleep in the Lord on 12 July. 1994, he left behind a spiritual legacy: his teachings. Ever a simple monk, with only an elementary school education, but rich in the wisdom of God, the Elder emptied himself for the sake of others. His teaching was neither instruction, nor catechism. He lived the Gospel, and everything he taught flowed naturally from his way of life, whose main characteristic was love. He had formed himself according to the Gospel and, for this reason, it was his countenance that taught first and then his evangelical love and enlightened word. When he received people of all backgrounds, he did not simply listen patiently to the problems they confided in him, but with his holy simplicity and discernment, he would enter deeply into their heart and make their pain, anxiety and trouble his own. And, then, gradually, the miracle would take place: the transformation of the person. He used to say, "God performs a miracle when we wholeheartedly participate in the pain of our fellow human beings."
We saw with great joy the interest generated by the first books that circulated on the life and teachings of the Elder Paisios. Many spoke with admiration about the answers they found to their questions, the solutions to their problems and the consolation to their grief. Our joy was even greater when people who had distanced themselves from the Mother Church became rightly concerned and changed their way of life. We often thought of the words of the hymnographer referring to Saint Basil the Great: He lives, though he lies asleep in the Lord; he lives even among us, as one who speaks through his writings. At the same time, we felt a compelling need to offer the veiy beneficial words of Elder Paisios - which we were recording with reverence from the very first steps of our Sisterhood, because they were so helpful to us - to our brothers and sisters in Christ who were so persistently asking for them.
The Good God provided that our Hesychasterion owe its very existence to Elder Paisios. It was he who received the Episcopal approval of His Eminence, Synesios, the Metropolitan of Kassandreia, to establish our Monastery and who sought to find the appropriate location. And he did this because his noble and sensitive heart felt great gratitude to us for having taken care of him when we first met him, in 1966, during a hospital stay for a lung operation. From that time on, he felt that he was our big brother and had the obligation to "provide for his sisters," as he used to say, by establishing the Monastery. The first Sisters were settled at the Monastery in October of 1967. Elder Paisios spent two months in the Hesycha-
1 Hesychasterion (pi. Hesychasleria) in Greece and outside Mount Athos is a Coenobitic Monastery in which the local Bishop has the right to intervene in spiritual matters alone, but not in administrative matters.
sterion to help in the organization of the coenobitic life. After that, he would come out of Mount Athos, usually twice a year, to help the Sisterhood in their monastic way of life and he would assist each Sister individually in her spiritual struggle, with his God inspired advice and his personal experience.
From the Holy Mountain, the "spiritual America", as he used to call it, he continued to help them through prayer and the letters he would send to each Sister individually or to the entire Sisterhood.
In 1967, when Elder Paisios started establishing the foundations of coenobitic
life in the Hesychasterion, from the simplest practical things to the most spiritual, he was forty-three years old. He had already attained the mature manhood to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13) and he had the wisdom of an Elder. From the first days of coenobitic life, we discovered that his words were the words of eternal life (Jn 6:68) and that much of what he said should be taken as an axiom for our daily life. For this reason, we felt compelled to write down his words so that they would not to be forgotten and could serve as a secure rule for monastic life.
After we filled the first notebooks, we submitted them with considerable hesitation to his judgment. We hesitated because the Elder always emphasized the practical application; he did not want us just to gather material, "ammunitions", without putting his words into action. He always asked that we cultivate spiritually whatever we heard or read. Otherwise, he used to explain to us, there would be no benefit from all writings and notes just as there is no benefit to a state when it has a lot of armaments but lacks a trained army that will put them in use. Relenting to our persistent pleas, he agreed to see our notes and to complete or correct any points that we had not understood correctly.
The recording of his spiritual counsels continued all along the twenty-eight years that the Elder was overseeing and guiding the Hesychaster ion. All meetings of the Elder with the entire Sisterhood or the Monastery Council and the Abbess were recorded - initially by notes taken down by the Sisters and later by tape recorder. Also recorded were conversations between the Elder and each Sister separately, who wrote down his words immediately after her conversation with him was over. When Elder Paisios realized what we were doing, he was rather irritated: "Why are you taking this down?" he asked. "Are you saving it for an emergency? You should put it into practice; apply it. Who knows what you are saying in these notes! Let me see." When we showed him a sample, the notes of one Sister, his expression changed; he was comforted and reassured, and with satisfaction exclaimed, "My goodness! She is like a tape recorder! She wrote it exactly as I said it!"
Our conversations with Elder Paisios were usually in the form of answers to our questions. In his private conversations with the Sisters, the questions mainly concerned their personal struggle. In meetings with the Monastery Council, which were scheduled in advance, subjects were raised that concerned us during his absence. These were put in the form of questions to be discussed when he came to visit. These questions covered all kinds of subjects: administrative, practical, spiritual, social, ecclesiastical, national and so forth. Finally, in meetings of the entire Sisterhood, besides the questions raised by the Sisters, the Elder discussed various other topics, which simply came up on the spot, in the course of the conversation. The Eider would use every word and image he could for the spiritual benefit of the soul. The sound of an aeroplane flying over the Monastery, the noise of a machine, the chirping of a bird, the opening of a door or a simple phrase could set him talking for a long time about a serious matter. "I put everything to use," he used to say, "in order to reach Heaven. If we approach and work on all things spiritually, do you know how much spiritual profit can be made and what spiritual experience can be acquired?"
In his contacts with people, Father Paisios sought to prepare them for the Kingdom of Heaven by helping them to know the will of God and come closer to Him. Thus, he put to practice one of his favourite sayings that "the Good God looks after us first for our next life and then for this life." When he mentioned something about nature, science, art or everyday life, he was not interested in these subjects themselves, but used them as parables in order to awaken souls, and to help them grasp the deeper meaning of life and "cling" to God.
Because his manner of speech was simple, spontaneous and full of natural humour, he could tell the greatest truths in a plain and joyful manner. "I am making sunshine," he used to say; he meant that just like the sun is necessary for the flowers to bloom, a gentle pastoral approach enables the opening and healing of the soul. This was his enlightened pastoral care, which often prepared the soil of the soul to receive the austerity of his words about the unyielding and steadfast evangelical truth. In this way, even his most demanding word fell
The aim was to give each topic the fullest possible coverage. Every effort was also made to preserve, as much as possible, the immediacy and the grace of his spoken words. Some repetitive remarks that stressed the deeper meaning of his word and pierced many hearts were retained, as well as many exclamations, which were a natural part of his story telling, coming from a heart that was pulsating with great love for God and humankind.
References to monastic life are frequent, not only because Father Paisios was addressing nuns, but also because he wanted lay people to seek "the joy of Monasticism" that springs from total surrender to God. He believed that in this way they might be saved from the insecurity caused by a total dependence on the self. He wanted them to enjoy Heaven in this life.
With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man is the first volume of the series Spiritual Counsels of the Elder Paisios of Mount Athos. In order to make its content more useful to the reader, it was divided into four thematic parts. Each part is subdivided into chapters and every chapter into sections with the appropriate subheadings. Footnotes that explain terms from the spiritual and monastic life will be more than familiar to those brothers and sisters in Christ who are well acquainted with patristic texts. They have been added in order to assist readers who lack this background.
As Elder Paisios made frequent use of examples from science, art and other fields, as noted above, we ran the risk of not rendering correctly some of his verbal terminology or expressions. For this reason, before publication, we invited the review of certain sections and chapters from brothers and sisters in Christ who specialise in the relevant areas. We wish to thank them for examining this materia with great reverence for the Elder and for making the appropriate corrections. We would, of course, be grateful for any additional suggestions.
We pray that "the spiritual waste" offered by the Elder out of an abundance of love, will bear fruit in the simple and good willing hearts of his readers, and that they will be enriched with the wisdom of God that is hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed to babes (Lk 10:21).
Sunday of All Saints, June 14, 1998
The Abbess of the Holy Hesychasterion Mother Philothei and the Sisters in Christ with me
External Noise and Internal Peace
Peaceful Nature Is Now Spoiled
Most of the devices that people use these days for their comfort are so noisy. They have turned nature, which is always so peaceful, crazy with all this noise! Using all these modern means they have managed to spoil it. Remember how serene it was before! How does man manage to destroy and be destroyed without even realizing it!
Now, we have all learned to live with noise. In fact, there are many children who cannot study without listening to rock and roll music. In other words, they find it more restful to study with music, rather than in peace and quiet. The reason this external unrest makes them comfortable is because they feel unrest inside. There is noise everywhere. You constantly hear a buzz: buzz when they cut wood, buzz when they sandpaper it, and buzz when they spray with the vaporizer. In the future they will invent vaporizers the size of aeroplanes that will make even more noise and they will say, "Oh, these are better because they spray from above and do not leave even a single bud unsprayed." And of course everybody will want to buy from those producers and will be so pleased for having done so.
Someone wants to drill a hole in the wall, and he plugs in the electric drill! All this noise and what does he achieve? He drills a "hole in the water"! And the funny thing is that he is so proud of it! When it gets hot and he wants to cool off, he goes and buys an electric fan. In the old days, if you wanted to cool off you would use a simple hand fan ... now you must go deaf first. Even in the sea, everything has become so noisy. In the old days, ships sailed "by quietly. Now even the smallest motorboat is so noisy. Pretty soon people will be going everywhere in an aeroplane. And you realize the earth absorbs some of the noise, but the air does not... may God help us!
They Have Even Ruined the Sacred Places
The restless secular spirit of our times, with its supposed civilization, has unfortunately destroyed even the sacred sites of the desert that bring so much peace and sanctification to souls. The restless person cannot find peace. They have not left any place on earth in peace. They have even gotten hold of the Holy Land. As mentioned in the biography of Hermit Photeini,1 kiosks and cantinas have been built in the desert, where once she had lived as an ascetic. Inside the actual ascetic cells, where the noise of the lawn mower, I looked over and saw that she was cutting the weeds with it. The idea is to leave no place in peace. As soon as she finished, another person came with an even louder machine and started ploughing. The plough ran here, it ran there, ploughing the ground. Then another noisy machine was used to straighten the ploughed soil. See what has happened to us!
- But, Geronda, these machines make our lives easier. - Oh, there are too many of these devices around! You must avoid noise and loud sounds as much as possible. This constant buzzing removes us from the real monastic way of life. Why then do you have a sign outside that says, HesychasterionV Why do not write "buzzing place" or a "place of unrest"? What is the use of the Monastery if there is no peace and tranquillity? Try, where possible, to reduce the noise around you. I see that you have not yet experienced the sweet hesychia because if you did, you would understand both me and what I am trying to say. If you had tasted the spiritual fruit of hesychia, you would become so concerned about losing it, that you would pursue it in earnest at all times.
Tranquillity Is Mystical Prayer
When the monk makes use of all these noisy devices, he does away with the preconditions for prayer and the monastic way of life. For this reason, we should avoid using noisy devices as much as possible. What people
- When our duties must be done in a noisy environment, a quite chant is very helpful. If you cannot concentrate to say the Jesus Prayer, then chant. You must be patient. When I travel from Mount Athos to Thessaloniki, the boat is very noisy. I sit in a corner with my eyes closed as if I was asleep and I chant. I chant everything you can imagine. I chant the Axion estin and Aghios o Theos many times. The boat makes a clatter that accompanies my chanting really well. This clatter actually keeps the right tone for Papanikolaou's Axion Estin and Neleos' Agios o Theos. It fits with everything. I chant mentally but my heart participates too.
At any rate, I think that it's not so much the external noise that is disturbing, but one's internal concerns and anxieties. You can always avoid hearing noises, but you cannot avoid worries. At the root of it all is the mind. Our eyes could be looking at something without really seeing it. When I am praying, I may have my eyes open, but I don't really see anything. I am walking and perhaps observing a landscape and so on, but not really seeing it. When someone has difficulty in saying the Jesus Prayer in a noisy place, it is because his mind is not completely given to God. A person must attain a kind of divine absence of mind, in order to experience inner tranquillity and not be distracted by noise while praying. One can actually attain such a state of divine absent-mindedness where he no longer hears the noise, or he hears it only when he wants or, actually, when his mind comes back from Heaven. And one can reach this point if he works spiritually, if he struggles. Then he will hear the sounds around him only when he wants to.
Does with his heart, he enjoys it and it helps him; and when he feels in his heart the need to respect his fellow human being who is praying, he also has a sense of awe afterwards. When we have respect for the other person, we have respect for ourselves and we do not consider our own self first, because instead of self-love we have philotimo. We must put ourselves in the other person's place. We should think, "If I were in his place how would I want people to treat me? If I were tired, if I were praying, would I want people to bang doors like that?" When we put ourselves in another's place things change.
How beautiful life was in the Coenobitic Monasteries in the past! There was such peace! There was even a clock that struck every quarter of an hour to remind each of us to say the Jesus Prayer. Even if someone were distracted and forgot, the clock would remind him to pray again. The clock helped a lot. When the Fathers were saying the Prayer, there was so much tranquillity inside the Monas-tery.
There were sixty Fathers in my Coenobium on the Holy Mountain, but it felt as if there was only one hesychast. In Church, only a few people chanted while the majority prayed mentally. The same was happening when the different monastic chores and duties were being car¬ried out. There was stillness and quiet everywhere! They did not speak loudly or shout. They all did their assigned work quietly. They all moved about quietly, like sheep. There was always a silent movement in the Monastery. It was not like today where they have put aside a specific time for the various duties, a time for chores, a time for quiet, a time for curfew! In the past each person moved according to his assignment. Than a good thought.
A layman had built a house in a quiet place. Shortly afterwards a garage was built on one side, a new road on the other, and an entertainment centre with music till midnight, on the other. The poor man could not sleep. He put on earplugs and started taking sleeping pills. He was going mad. He came to see me. "Geronda, this is the situation," he told me, "and I cannot find peace. What must I do? I am thinking of building another house." "You should bring good thoughts to mind," I replied. "You should think that if a war was going on and tanks were being made in the garage next door, and the hospital was receiving the wounded, and you were told, 'Stay here. We will guarantee your safety and no harm will come you in this area,' wouldn't you think that this is a great thing and consider it a blessing? That is why you should be saying to yourself, 'Thank God, there is no war and people are well, going about their business. In the garage they are repairing cars instead of making tanks; there is no hospital and casualties of war; there are no tanks passing by but cars, transporting people to their business.' Bring such good thoughts to mind, and a doxology will fill your heart." Thus, the poor man understood that what matters most is to confront these problems appropriately, and he left in peace. Little by little, he managed to deal with the situation with good thoughts, and eventually threw away the pills and began sleeping without difficulty. Do you see how a good thought can take care of one's troubles?
Once I was on a bus and the conductor turned the music on really loud. Some religious young men pointed out to him that there was a monk on the bus and they repeatedly made signs to him to turn it off. They tried once or twice but without result. He turned the music even louder. "Let him be," I told the young men, "it does not matter. It keeps the drone tone to my chanting"! "God forbid," I said to myself, "but if there was an accident further down the road and they were forced to put the injured people in our bus, how would I bear to see people with broken legs, broken heads? Thank God that people are not only well, but they are even singing"! So, I had a great trip chanting away!
Let me tell you another example, to see how a good thought can help us appropriately in any situation. I was in Jerusalem once with an acquaintance of mine.
There was some sort of festivity there. They were celebrating a feast and constantly crying out, it was a madhouse. Sing to Him ... with loud shouts; Praise Him with loud clashing cymbals] You could not understand what they were saying, and it went on all night long. My acquaintance got upset and went to the window. He did not sleep a wink, while I slept like a bird by just bringing to mind a good thought. I remembered the scene of the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt and this provided me with a sense of spiritual exaltation.
This is how you too should confront any situation, with good thoughts. Let's say, for example, a door slammed. You must say, "If, God forbid, something bad had happened to a Sister, if she fell and broke her leg, would I be sleeping now? Here, as it is, it was only a door that slammed; a Sister must have had something to take care of." But, if one starts criticizing and saying, "Here she goes again, slamming the door! She is so careless!" There is no way that one who thinks this way can find peace!
The moment you start having such thoughts, the devil will come to upset you even more. Or, let's say, one of you hears an alarm going off at night. You hear it go off once, and in a while you hear it go off again. If you start thinking, "This soul must have been very tired; she could not get up. It is good that she slept another half hour and then got up to do her spiritual duties." If the Sister brings such thoughts to mind, she will not be annoyed and upset because someone woke her up. But if she thinks only of herself and how the alarm clock woke her up, then all she will be thinking is, "Whatever is going on in this place? No one can ever get some rest!" This is why the benefit you receive from a good thought, you will never get from any other ascesis.
It Is the Inner Tranquillity That We Must Acquire
Our goal should be to take all that comes our way and make the best out of it for the sake of the spiritual struggle in which we are engaged. We must strive to acquire the inner tranquillity, and to this end even noise can become a good thing if it is met with the right thought. What matters the most is handling a problem in the right way. We must face up to everything using good thoughts. When, in very midst of noise, you manage to reach inner tranquillity, you have achieved something of great value. If you cannot find tranquillity in the midst of disturbance, you will not be able to be tranquil even in the midst of tranquillity.
When inner tranquillity comes to a man, everything inside him will be tranquil, and he will not be disturbed by anything. But if he requires external tranquillity in order to find inner tranquillity, then, when he Mdoes find himself in such a place, he will want a cane to chase away the cicadas by day and the jackal by night, so that they will not bother him! In other words, he will be chasing away what in fact the devil is gathering. What do you think the devil's job is after all? His job is to create difficulties and to obstruct our efforts, until he has com-pletely turned us upside down.
Once, in a Skete, two very old monks got a donkey that had a bell on him. A young monk, who wished to practice tranquillity, complained about the donkey's bell and used all the canons to prove that donkeys should not be allowed in a Skete. The other Fathers said that they were not bothered by it at all. So I said to him, "Isn't it enough for you that the old men do not bother us at all, but take care of their own needs with the donkey? If it did not have a bell, they would lose it and then we would have to go looking for it. Why complain about a good thing?" If we do not have such good thoughts and make the best of all situations in matters spiritual, we will not meet with success, even if we were to live next to Saints. Let's say that I find myself at a military base. I should think of the trumpet as a church bell and the weapon should remind me of the spiritual weapons against the devil. If we don't use all situations in a spiritual way, even a bell will annoy us. We have two choices: Either we will utilize them for the right purpose or the devil will take advantage of them. The restless person will carry his restlessness even into the desert. What a soul must acquire first is the ability to find inner tranquillity in the midst of external disturbance; only then will tranquillity be found in the stillness of the desert.