I would like to present before you the facts which to my mind set Elder Paisios apart as a great saint and not so much the innumerable and sometimes unknown miracles Elder Paisios performed even after his death. I have always believed and will continue to believe that we are dealing here with a modern-day, great Saint of our Church. To my mind he not only ranks amongst the great Saints but I am also convinced that this man truly sustains the universe with his prayers.
Seeing that I was weak and wretched, the Elder gave me the blessing to stay with him during several consecutive nights; this lasted two and a half weeks. During my stay I was watching him meticulously and very carefully. I was very curious to see how he lived. I have always been under the impression that this man sustained the entire universe with his prayers indeed.
I remember that the very first night I stayed with him he told me: “Let’s go and eat”. But, what was there to eat? There was absolutely nothing. I am not in a position to describe the absolute poverty that reigned in that cell at the Holy Cross.
Nevertheless, we went to get something to eat. He threw a rag on a marbled, square stone since there was no table and presented me with a couple of onions, some crisp bread and a tin which somebody had given to him. He said to me: “I am going to open this tin for you to eat. I was saving it for you”. How was he going to open it? He had no kitchen utensils, since he had no use for them. He tore it open using a hammer.
We stood up to pray and recite the Lord’s Prayer. This Holy Cross area of Kapsala was such a deserted place. And he stood up to pray in this forsaken place; he lifted his hands to the sky and started saying: “Our Father, Who art in heaven…” I am truly confessing to you, that so many years afterwards I have never heard this prayer said with such might. I almost thought that God Himself would reach out and bless our meager fare. It was awesome!
Yet, his entire life was equally awesome. Having lived with him until 1992, I used to visit him very often. I stayed with him during several occasions at night; I officiated at the Holy Liturgy at his tiny chapel, yet I have never been able to get used to this man. Each time I would meet him, I was feeling equally anxious like the first time.
Elder Sophrony from Essex solved this riddle for me. This is what he told me when I visited him in England with my blessed elder: “Meeting a spiritual man is like coming across a prophetic event every time; it is never possible to get used to someone who is a man of God. Your meeting with him will always be a unique and unrepeatable experience”. This is what was happening with Elder Paisios, indeed.
I never visited him during the last days of his life since I could not imagine that this man, who overcame the laws of physics, whose life was full of the strong and obvious presence of Grace, would become sick and pass away. Nevertheless, he did repeatedly send me his blessings with various people who visited him.
His immense love for the Lord set him apart; such love annulled the love towards his own self. Because he used to live at such a forsaken place, where there was absolutely no human comfort and had absolutely nothing, the Lord’s love and the presence of grace were very noticeable; the Lord’s hand was constantly with him as in the saying: “the hand of the Lord was upon him always”.
If I am not mistaken it was Christmas of 1982 when I visited him after the all night vigil, having rested for a while. He was alone in his cell at “Panayouda”. He was in a good mood and it was quiet without any visitors. I think that there was also a storm brewing. He said to me:
“How can I put it, deacon” (I was still a deacon those days). “Once my whole existence was set ablaze by the Lord’s love; such was the fervor I was feeling that my bones were melting like wax candles. Once, I was walking and had to stop; such was the love I felt for the Lord; I dropped under a tree and was hoping that no one would see me because they would not understand what had happened to me. I was seriously set ablaze by the love for the Lord. Since seven or eight years ago this love has not ceased but has changed into love for the whole world; I am melting everyday for the sake of those afflicted; I am also not able to think how the Lord became man for our sake. Sometimes I am thinking about the way He became man, how and where He was born and I come apart”. Indeed, his eyes filled with tears, which was something rare because he did not allow himself to show his feelings this way. He was a very brave soldier who avoided exposing his inner experiences. Nevertheless, his life at Panayouda had taken the form of a daily sacrifice for the Lord’s flock. This was an example of perfect love.
Jesus told Peter: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22, 32). The same thing happened to Elder Paisios. As soon as he accomplished contemplation of the Lord and his deification, he heard from the Lord this very same thing; namely to strengthen his brothers.
Indeed, whole crowds were coming to his cell, but the Elder particularly fell for the afflicted and the young who were spiritually lost. He stood by them with immense self sacrifice. He listened to them; he healed them, gave them advice and strengthened them.
His words were awesome; this was something I came to realize by myself. Once I was in charge of hospitality as well as of the entrance at the Koutloumousi monastery where we used to stay with my elder and the brotherhood. While I was a blabber and liked to preach, so much so that whoever was passing by the monastery became giddy with my sermons, when they went to Elder Paisios their whole life changed just by hearing one word from his mouth or even just by looking at him. As the Scriptures say: “…the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs” (Mark 16, 20). Jesus confirmed and sealed the Elder’s words through the signs performed by Grace. Such numerous were the signs and so great that they have been documented in various books, truly attesting to the fact that this man was a great saint who had found great favor in the face of the Lord. Moreover, there are still so many out there who can account for their own personal experiences with the Elder.
One evening I stayed at his cell and was upset because my elder, Elder Joseph, who was in Cyprus trying to set up a monastery, had not sent word to me yet…Elder Paisios asked me:
“What’s the matter with you?”
“I haven’t had any news from my elder Joseph and I am concerned”, I said.
“Ah, why do you worry? Let’s buy a ticket and go to him”.
“Yes, with pleasure”.
“Do you want to fly with Olympic Airways?”
“Yes, let’s take the Olympic”.
“Ok”. “Let’s find out when they are flying to Cyprus”.
“But we must take the ticket that Saint Maximus the Kavsokalyvytis used”.
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean ‘what do I mean’? St Maximus was eating crisp bread and was flying from Kavsokalyvia to the Vatopaidi monastery. We will eat crisp bread tonight too and will fly to Cyprus”.
“He is joking”, I thought to myself. Nevertheless, we ate our crisp bread and I went to bed. The Elder was praying. The next morning when I woke up he was already up.
“How did it go last night?” he said to me.
“The monastery looks nice there”, he said to me. And he started describing in great detail the monastery, the place where my elder was staying, his cell, his office, even his pen and his pen-knife, his slippers, everything.
“Elder, how do you know all these?” I asked him.
“The plane passed by, I came to pick you up but you were asleep. So I went by myself! You missed the flight. I went alone and returned this morning!?
His entire life was full of such experiences.
THE Translated from the Greek :Olga Konaris Kokkinos