Elder Paisie of Sihastria, a Testament of Divine Love
From the teachings of Elder Paisius
(Taken from “The Orthodox Word” No. 272, 2010)
(The first eleven sections of these teachings have been transcribed from a recording of a talk that Elder Paisius had with a nun, at which other women were present. For this reason the elder sometimes uses a singular address and sometimes a plural)
Any prayer is a gift from God. And we, the weakest, have prayer of the lips. For the time being, we fulfill this, my dear. The well is deep, but the rope is short and the bucket is small. In the morning read the Akathist to the Mother of God and in the evening read her Paraclesis (a supplicatory service to the Mother of God, including the canon to her) the Creed-unfailingly, at least once a day-and Psalm So, two to three times a day. Of course, this rule is voluntary. “Our Father” -without number. “Lord Jesus” (the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) without number. Prostrations-without number. Each one does what he can, just as the bee does not take all the nectar from the flower. But it’s very good if you do a little rule. I know this myself: if! get up and do a little of my rule, it seems as if I’m a different man all day long. But if you get up in the morning and you whirl around the house-because you have this and that to do-then your whole day goes poorly. So do a little of your rule every day, like the righteous Job, who offered sacrifice every day for his children in case they had sinned in their thoughts (cf Job 1:5).
Every day you should do as many prostrations to the Mother of God as you can-at least twelve prostrations-and at each prostration say this, like an old woman: “Mother of God, do not leave me … do not leave me, Sweet Mother of God.” Do not forget the Mother of God, my dear, do not forget her, because our dear Mother is so very good. So, my dear, don’t abandon prayer.. .. Do one more prostration, read one more psalm, say another “Lord Jesus” …. You must do a little bit of a rule, because a dirty shirt is not washed only with water-you must also have soap and something stronger to clean it.
And if you say the Jesus Prayer one hundred times, at least ten times out of the hundred it will be said with real meaning. When you talk with someone, you do not speak without your mind. It should be even more so when you speak with God! That’s what Fr. Daniel taught me: “0 Paisius, brother, don’t let your thoughts leave your cell!”
Thoughts will still come, but don’t talk with them. Don’t pay heed to them. Seek to have your mind occupied with prayer all the time; say “Lord Jesus” all the time. Become accustomed to saying this prayer all the time, and for every Akathist or Paraclesis unread every day, do twenty-four prostrations-at least that many …. Now, at midnight, here at Sihla (and at Sihastria) there is vigil. Try to get up, make the sign of the Cross three times, say “0 Heavenly King;’ “Our Father;’ and whatever else you know, do twenty-four prostrations-and it will count as if you had attended the whole vigil.
When we cannot weep in prayer, this is also for our humility, my dear, so that we will humble ourselves. We do not necessarily need to sob. A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise. (Ps. 50:17)
The devil too can sometimes help you weep, so that afterwards you’ll become prideful and be lost. A woman came here once and said to me, “Father, I do one hundred prostrations every day.” But she had been doing it without a blessing. And so I said to her, “From now on, don’t do one hundred but do only twenty-four prostrations each day. You have a blessing only for that.” And she came to me a month later, crying, and said to me, “Father, I was not able to do those twenty-four prostrations each day. I don’t know what happened, but I can’t do them-I, who had been doing one hundred prostrations, which were very easy for me to do, was not able even for one day to do the twenty-four prostrations that you gave me to do.” Do you see? A fight with the enemy occurred, because these were done with a blessing. When she had done the one hundred, she was doing them with a little pride.
Thus, do everything with the blessing of your spiritual father. Go to your spiritual father where you live and ask him to give you a rule of prayer. He will then know your rule of prayer and how much he has blessed you to do. Do what he gives you, as you have a blessing for that. It’s also good to ask for counsel and a blessing for any good deed you wish to do, such as fasting for a day. Everything you do, perform with the blessing of your spiritual father, my dear, so that the enemy may not gain power over your labor.
On Unbelief and Doubt
What do you mean you don’t believe? Hold your tongue! Who is it that brought you to the monastery? These are the thoughts of the devil. Why do you listen to what the enemy says? The devil’s aim is to make people doubt and believe that there is no God. Because if there is no God, then neither is there any sin, and people can do anything. Doubt is halfway to the renunciation of God; that is why the devil tempts us. The Savior says that the days will come-and, look, they have come (cf Luke 18:8). Some people say that man was made from an ape. It was a madman who said this; man is the image and likeness of God.
Even Jesus was tempted. Satan first said to him thus, Command that these stones be made bread (Matt, 4:3). The Scripture says: “bread” [plural], and not “bread” [singular] in order to show the first temptation of the devil is the temptation of the belly-of luxury, clothes, etc. Then he said to Him: Cast Thyself down [from the temple] for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee and in their hands they shall bear Thee up (Matt. 4:6). This is sectarian pride, because the sectarians are constantly saying, “It is written …. ” And the third temptation was, All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fill down and worship me (Matt. 4:9). This is the temptation that the atheists fall into; this is atheism. But Christ was victorious over all these temptations, in order to show us that we too can be victorious.
Don’t allow yourself to be tempted, my dear, since this is from the devil. So what if you don’t sense the fragrance from the holy relics? Ponder upon the deeds of the saint, on his life. Sometimes when I have received the great and holy Chrism (Holy Chrism is made from a special recipe that includes numerous fragrances. It is consecrated on Great Thursday by the Patriarch or chief hierarch of a Local Church, and is used by priests in the Sacrament of Chrismation.- TRANS), it didn’t have a fragrance. Have faith, my dear.
Once there were two old men, and they wanted to go to Jerusalem.
One became sick on the road and went back. The other went further on, but the ship broke into pieces and he lost everything, and so he too had to return. But he remembered that his companion had strongly entreated him to bring him a piece of wood from the Holy Cross. Then, out of love for the sick man, he tore a piece of wood from the ship and returned home with it. He went to the house of the sick man, and he didn’t tell him what had happened to him or that he hadn’t made it to Jerusalem. And that one asked him, “Did you bring me a piece of wood from the Holy Cross?” “Yes.” And he gave him the piece of wood from the ship. And the sick man venerated and kissed it with so much faith that he was made welL And many miracles were performed with that little piece of wood from the ship on all who thought it was wood from the Holy Cross. Look at what faith does. He who has undoubting faith has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved!
What is this about despair and despondency? Despondency, despair-this is the greatest sin. Don’t say, “I won’t be saved, I’m praying in vain.” No, say, “Where are these thoughts coming from? Oh, no.
With the help of our dear Mother of God, I will be saved.” The door of Paradise is open, my dear, if we want to enter; God does not force anyone. He may sometimes drag someone in-by sending an illness or a difficulty, but God loves him who gives willingly.
Perhaps it is written somewhere: “Any sin is forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is never forgiven” (cf Matt. 12:31). But, is it your thought? No! It’s his blasphemy, the enemy’s. (St. John Climacus writes concerning blasphemous thoughts, i.e., thoughts against that which is holy: “If you have blasphemous thoughts, do not think that you are to blame. God knows what is in our hearts and He knows that ideas of this kind come not from us but from our enemies [the demons]” (Ladder of Divine Ascent, step 23)·-ED). The devil does this-he gives you blasphemous thoughts in order to bring you to despair, and then he also reminds you that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is never forgiven. No, my dear, it’s his blasphemy. And you come to Confession and tell what came into your mind: “Father, I have blasphemous thoughts, I have profane thoughts about the Mother of God, about God, about icons, about monks, about priests …. ” Thoughts must be revealed in a timely manner. What is this despair? Come, reveal it and raise yourself again. Confession is a second baptism. Through the mystery of Confession we raise ourselves again. And do this all the time: fall and get up …. Don’t let yourself stay in despair.
How is it possible that you don’t love God? These are thoughts of the devil. Be quiet! What do you mean you don’t believe? Who brought you here to the monastery? Why do you listen to what the enemy says? And why will you not be saved? No, my dear, stop it-with the help of the Mother of God, we will be saved. Because if we were able to accomplish everything [on our own], we’d become prideful and would be even worse: “I have mental prayer, I give alms …. ” But if you see that you can’t do it, then you humble yourself more. The power of God is perfected in weakness (cf. II Cor. 12:9). Do everything that depends on you. Pray more, confess more, go to church more often, partake of Holy Communion more often, at least every month …. And do not be afraid, because you will not go to hell. Fast on Fridays until you are hungry. Read another [spiritual] book. Always say the Jesus Prayer and don’t forget the Mother of God. And take this notebook of mine that I compiled for the benefit of him who wants to imitate Christ. Examine it, study it. It’s like a confession. It teaches you what to do and how to do it. And do everything that depends on you.
So, my dear, let us from now on make a good beginning. We live with hope in the life beyond the grave. When I was a child, my mother would tell me, “We will fast, my dear child, and after the fast is ended, you’ll see red eggs and cheese and stuffed cabbage leaves …. ” It’s still like that. We fast while contemplating what we will eat after the fast has ended.
On NOT CONDEMNING OUR NEIGHBOR
May you not judge anyone, my dear. It’s a great sin for you to judge.
When you see someone that has sinned, be merciful to him: “0 Lord, the poor thing, look what the devil did to him;’ … and don’t judge anyone. And see everyone the same-don’t say that one is better and another is not as good. Don’t condemn anyone. See everyone as better than yourself And don’t care what others do; take heed to what you do.
There was a brother named Coprius who, seeing that he was unable to fight with heretics, began to pray: “Lord, take so and so from off the earth, because, look, he does so much evil; he is a stumbling block to so many people.” And thus he would pray continually. And one night he dreamt that Jesus descended from the Cross and turned His cheek toward Coprius and said to him, “Strike me, Coprius, strike me …. If I am ready to crucify Myself a second time for this soul, why are you praying for Me to kill him?” So, do you see how things are, my dear?
Do you have compassion for the poor? Don’t pass judgment on them, my dear. If you can, help them. And even if you don’t give them money, have pity on them. But if you have it, give it. Give alms by works or by word. Do both if you can. Don’t give them too much, so that you end up regretting it. But don’t ever judge them: “If I give to them, do you think I give to them out of compassion? I give to them in order to get rid of them.” And if you give, flee as much as you can from pride. Don’t think: “Well, isn’t my deed great?” There were saints who gave even the clothes off their backs. So we really never do anything great.
Almsgiving must be done in secret. You can also go about in luxurious clothing and give alms so that no one knows.
There are saints in our days who did their good deeds without others knowing. They made St. Jacob (Elder Paisius is speaking of St. John Jacob the Romanian of the Holy Land. He was a monk of Neamts Monastery who went to the Holy Land in 1936 and remained there for the rest of his life. For the last eight years of his life, he labored in the cave of St. Anna, together with one disciple, and reposed on August 5/18, 1960. Twenty years later his relics were found to be incorrupt and he was glorified as a saint. His relics were then brought to the Monastery of St. George the Chozebite, where pilgrims frequently come to venerate them.-ED) sell wine in a tavern, and when someone would come in to buy a drink, the saint would say to him, “Don’t buy so much-buy a little less; you have children waiting for you at home.” Twenty years after his repose, when they dug him up, his clothes and footwear were just as they were when they had buried him. His beard and hair were the same; they even combed it. And no one had known until then. Do you understand? …
Of course, those who have husbands, families, and children must first take care of their own household, and only after they have provided for them should they give alms. The one who gives alms to others-to strangers-and lets his own children go hungry and shiver from the cold, that one does not give alms for God, but for human glory so that people will say, “Why, look how compassionate he is! Look-he gave everything, he sold everything!” Take care of your own family first, and then take care of others. Thus say the canons, thus says the Bible.
An old man once asked me, “Fr. Paisius, what is pride, and how does it come?” (This man wandered about in winter, barefoot in the snow with his head uncovered.) “Brother George, pride is when you consider yourself something more than another, that you are better, nicer than another.. .. ” “Poor me, Fr. Paisius, do I have anything good?” He stayed eight years with me … Fr. Gennadius Avatamanitei. And he had poor eyesight, like me.
Look, this is pride: when you consider that you know more than another, that you can do something better than another. This is pride. And it’s very dangerous, because God does not like this pride. If you consider that you know more, that you’re more capable, that you can do more, take care that you don’t become like the man who pondered on all that he was able to accomplish, on the things that he could set aright, and on his fasting, while the one near the door wept and beat his chest because he had done nothing good. That one near the door obtained more than the one who thought to himself that he was something. This is the story of the Publican and the Pharisee (cf. Luke 18:10-14).
For the Savior says, When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do (Luke 10:17).
No matter how many times you get angry, anger will not bring about God’s righteousness. When you get angry, know that there is the spirit of rebellion, the spirit of pride, and the spirit of vainglory. It urges you not to humble yourself but to think: “Why, I’m not so bad after all!”
You see, I can say about myself: “Listen, my good men, I am more sinful, stupid, and wicked than any other person.” But if someone starts to call me stupid and ugly, just see how puffed up and angry with him I become. “What is that to you? Why are you concerned with me?” And so on. So, is this humility? When another person insults you and humbles you against your will, then see if you can say: “He had to do this to me-he had to-God commanded him to do this because I have insulted someone else.” This is true humility; not when I myself say that I’m stupid. When another person insults you, then prove your humility and quickly say, “God commanded him to insult me.” When someone takes something from you by force, say, “God commanded him to take it from me because I have also taken from someone else.” When someone forces you to move from one place to another, say, “God has changed my location in order to change my bad habits and ways.” This would be true humility. If someone asks for your coat, give him also your shirt. If someone hits you on your right side, turn to him the other also (cf. Matt. 5:39-40, Luke 6:29). See if you can do this, because we must follow the commandments of Christ. But if someone hits us across the face and we turn around and hit him back four times, we have returned to him fourfold, and we have not followed Christ’s commandment.
When I was younger, the abbot put me to the test. Once he kicked me out of the church. I had been singing in the choir, and I had sung in my own way, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me;’ and it seemed to me that I sang so beautifully. I had become prideful in my heart. And one time the abbot came in, and when he heard me he gave me a jab in the ribs and said: “Get outside! Get out, you donkey, what is this bellowing?” I thought I was singing so nicely, and then look what I experienced. And I think to myself even now: 0 insidious pride, how it clings to all the seams!
A young man once came to me here. He was of a somewhat delicate appearance. He had come from Bucharest to ask me, “Are you Fr. Paisius?” Well, I answered him, “There may be others, too-I can’t be the only one.” And he said: “I have heard about you, and I came to see you.” Then I said to him this word:
Do not believe all that you hear.
Do not do all that you can.
Do not say all that you know.
Do not give all that you have.
Woe to that man who receives praise that exceeds his life and deeds.
Humility springs forth out of love, because if you love someone you don’t upbraid him so that he’s disgusted with himself. You don’t get angry with him so that he languishes, because if you get someone angry, the poor thing can’t even eat, pray, or sleep. Therefore, make sure that in no way do you anger anyone. But it’s impossible to never anger anyone! Perhaps without realizing it, you’ve said a troubling word. So, when you meet the one you’ve angered, immediately make a bow to him, “Forgive me, my dear, for angering you.” And when you’ve said, “Forgive me;’ all the anger goes away at once. It’s completely broken, nothing at all remains. And when the devil looks there, he sees that he was fooled. There’s nothing written there anymore.
Never even think of pleasing men. To be dishonored by men-this is good. And what if people say that you have sins? Don’t you? We must endure insults, my dear, because the Savior Christ praised us for this:
Blessed are ye) when men shall revile you) and persecute you) and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake (Matt. 5:11). We must endure everything with humility, my dear, endure with humility for the love of Christ, so we can just win not all of Paradise but only a little corner, however small.
Humility seems difficult to you, my dear. But try to lift the rock first and only then say, “I can’t.” Humility of heart springs forth from the love for God, my dear.
[Elder Paisius (Olaru) with Elder Cleopa (Ilie) on right]
ON OBEDIENCE AND LOVE
Obedience-this is of great benefit, my dear. That is, it’s of great benefit not to do your own will. In a monastery you must never do your own will. Say, for example, that you want to rest a little, but it’s not possible-just then you’re called to an obedience. You want to pray, but you’re called to leave your prayer and go. So you have to cut off your own will. But if you go to your obedience and say in your mind, “My, my, see how the enemy put it into his mind to call me, just as I wanted to pray a little-and it just wasn’t possible;’ then He does not receive your prayer, because you reproached the one who called you.
Obedience with love, my dear.
Come to me occasionally, when you’re in the neighborhood. But you should have your regular confessor there, so you can confess more often and partake of Holy Communion as often as he allows you. Heed your confessor, my dear. Follow where he leads you. And don’t go about from confessor to confessor, because what one gives you, the other will take away. But obey your confessor as if he were God.
Oh, how much the abbot tested me to see ifI would obey. Sometimes he would confuse me as only he knew how. I didn’t know what work to do, and he said, “Do this;’ and so I did it. Then he said to me, “Now, this isn’t good. Why did you do it?” He had asked me to do it, and then he asked me why I had done it! Indeed, he would sometimes pick at me, give me a little poke in the ribs ….
The best teacher for us is death. There was a song: “The Song of the Blind Man.” A blind man would play on the fiddle and sing. He was from Pipirig,7 but he has since died. I heard him sing the song, and I liked it. Would you also consider my song? Here it is:
Death, pitiless death,
You take all from the house,
Whether they be young or old,
Whether they be servant or master,
Whether they be masters of the earth,
You prepare them for the tomb.
Even if he lives quite well,
No one escapes you.
To some you come while they are riding in their car,
To others while weeding the garden,
And to some you come
And stop their heart.
You come to all for a reason,
And sometimes even without a reason.
You just come and take
Whomever and however you please.
O death, I beg you with tears,
If you are to come to me soon,
Please do not come angrily,
To cut me with your scythe,
Nor put in my glass
Some of your bitter medicine,
But come with a little hammer
And sever me slowly
From head to toe,
So as to heal the wound that hurts.
For your medicine is good,
Too good for words to say.
And your little hammer is holy,
Because it parts me from this earth.
So, death, be good
And comfort me with your hand,
And your mouth, which is forever sweet.
Allow me to sign myself with the sign of the Cross,
So that with my lips I can say
My last prayer,
And with my eyes
Shed many tears,
So as to wet my cheeks
And wash away my sins
With which I have angered the Lord.
And so, with many tears I ask,
Mother of God, help me
To separate myself easily from my body
And to die in peace.
And may the angel of Christ
Show himself joyfully to me
And say, “Come, my dear,
Let me take you to God.” Amen.
Well, now, all of this is my song. I’d like it to be remembered, for it’s not at all easy to live, and it’s so very difficult to die. Those who have died forgot their whole life, and at the hour of death they only remembered what they had done wrong. This was all that remained before their eyes.
There was a man who was hiding under the table, under the bed.
He kept saying, “Don’t leave me, Fr. Paisius, don’t leave me!” “What can I do for you, my dear?” I would say. When I tried to take him out from under there, he would move to the other side. “Don’t leave me, Fr. Paisius!” he kept saying. “What can I give you, my dear-a little piece of sugar?” “No.” “Some candy?” “No.” “Some medicine?” “No.” He was asking for something else. He was asking for something that he should have prepared during his life. And when he died-God forgive him-it wasn’t even warm weather, bur we weren’t able to keep his body in church. They took him outside. They said the prayers for the dead outside. He stayed outside for three days. All the fluids flowed out from his body. Everything, everything flowed out, and it smelled from far away …. There you have it.
My dear daughter, it’s no joke. If we had the fear of death always in our mind, that is, the awareness that at any moment we could die, we would not be able to sin so easily. When the thought of something foolish would come into your mind, by remembering your death you would stop yourself immediately, saying: “God forbid-what if death should take me right now? What would I do?” You’ve seen what the Savior Christ says: “In whatever state I find you when your end comes, in that I will judge you.”(This quotation is taken from the Conversation with Trypho, a ]ew, chap. 47, by St. Justin Mart yr.-ED). If you ponder your death, you’ll immediately stop any sin that comes into your mind. Has it come into your mind to steal? Say to yourself, “No, this is a sin; what if death were to come now?” If you are about to hit someone, say to yourself, “No, it will hurt him, and that’s a sin. What if the Lord calls me now, and I don’t have time to reconcile myself?” It’s said that death is the best teacher, which stops you from all sins.
For this, dear brother,
Whether you will live a long or short life,
Throughout your life never forget,
Do not forget that you will die.
“Do not forget that you will die.” “What if death finds me now when I’ve done something foolish, or thought or said something bad, or am in a quarrel with someone?” And so it is. The immediate thought of death restrains you. “Oh my, if I die in that state …. I’ll certainly no longer steal and no longer quarrel, so that I won’t die in enmity:’ Because however death finds you, that’s how you’ll be judged …
The old blind man continues to sing:
Death knocks at the window,
And I am not prepared.
Even from their swaddling bands,
Babes are destined to die.
After they grow a little,
They are even more comely,
But they are not spared from death.
Youth is also like a Bower
That soon falls onto the road,
Young today, and tomorrow he dies
From a merciless illness.
And old age, my dear brother,
Like a hoarfrost from the east, Always ready to die
And to breathe his last.
For this, dear brother,
Whether you live a long or short life,
Never forget that you will die.
The idea is this: We’re all subject to sin, and if we have a healthy conscience, the moment we bring to mind that we’ve done something bad, immediately our conscience reproaches us. Or, when the enemy puts it into your mind to do something foolish, a healthy conscience immediately brings to your mind that you will die and you stop yourself:
“I may die this very hour … ”
Therefore, being subject to sin and death, we know that we must give up our life immediately whenever the Lord asks it of us, and then the end will come. And if our end is unforeseen, then we should be ready for it all the time. We should have just confessed, and we should be at peace with everyone. We should not somehow pass through life without thinking of death, and then allow death to find us unprepared. Because if you remember your death, you’ll receive much greater benefit, and you’ll humble yourself, thinking to yourself that you’re not eternal on earth, but quickly passing ….
It’s very difficult for a person who avoids Confession until the end of his life, until the moment of death. What can you say when death comes? What can you take with you? Because you don’t have anything you can take ….
When the Russians came in 1944, I was home at Cozancea Skete, and suddenly I heard someone yell, “Oh dear! The Russians are coming!” We couldn’t believe it. We thought to ourselves: “Well then, good men, aren’t these Romanians of ours awfully stupid, letting them come freely here from the Nistru9 River? Isn’t our border on the Nistru? And they couldn’t stop them?” Well, just as I went out to get water, I met the army which had come from the Prut River. “Well, ‘priest: why haven’t you left? We’ll put your head on a stick, ‘priest.'”
Good people, what was I to do? I was about twenty kilometers from the Nistru. I took the pail of water, and I quickly went home. What should I take with me? How should I depart? I needed one change of clothes … I needed a book … I needed the Psalter … I needed the Horologian. I had already filled a shepherd’s bag, but I also needed a blanket. What would I do if I had to sleep on the road? So I put a blanket in the bag. After I had filled two shepherd’s bags the old man, Gennadius, who was staying with me, was watching me prepare to depart, but he didn’t know where I was going. Suddenly I hurled both bags into a corner and, that’s it, I calmed down. I decided not to go. Others left, scattering to the four winds, but Gennadius and I remained. By the next morning, the Russians had filled the whole courtyard. When I came with the key to the church, they were standing there in front of it. They had built a big fire. They had put a cauldron on the fire and a cow into the cauldron, and they were all standing around it. They were all ripping off pieces of the cow and eating it, but most of it was still raw meat. They got hold of me and asked me for vodka. They’d go about looking for women and drink. They would do whatever they pleased. I said to them, “There are no women here. There are only monks here.” They asked, “What are monks?” I said, “This is a monastery.” I also began to tell some lies. I said, “This is a collective farm; here everyone eats together at one table.” Then they asked me, “So, where is the boss?” I said, “He ran away.” They said, “Don’t worry, we’ll catch him.”
They were there for almost a half a year. We submitted to them, and for a time they also learned from us. We also learned from them. Then they took everything that they liked and left. They were planning to go to Berlin.
There you have it, dear one. That’s how it was, my dear.
So, my daughter, for the man who leaves Confession to the moment of his death, it’s like this: “I’m now on the brink of departure and I look here and there to see what I can take with me. Look, I hardly have anything to take.” We must confess and prepare ourselves at all times and in good time, so when the hour comes for us to die we may have our bags packed and ready, tied up at the door. We must be ready to just snatch them and go when our time unexpectedly comes. There is no time for packing when death comes, dear, just as there wasn’t any time for us when the Russians were at the door back in 1944. At the moment of death, you can no longer do it, my dear. Then it’s no longer possible for anybody to prepare. No, my dear, no packing is possible then.
There was an old woman – Catrina was her name. And she would talk about death like we’re talking now, “Holy Death, please tell me when you’ll take me, so that I can prepare myself, Holy Death.” She was always talking like that. One day you would hear her addressing Holy Death, and the next day as well. She would always be speaking about death, but she didn’t see it coming. Then one day, death appeared, saying, “Come on, Catrina. Are you ready? Come on, because I’ve come to take you:’ “Oh, poor me! 0 Holy Death, I’ve asked you for such a long time now to come and tell me when you wanted to take me! I wanted to be told in advance. Why didn’t you come, Holy Death, to tell me?” And death replied, “What do you mean I didn’t come, Catrina? Wasn’t your ear hurting you for a while?” “Well, yes, it hurt me … ” “Wasn’t your head aching, Catrina?” “Why, yes!” “And what about you heart and your feet, Catrina?” “Yes, they hurt me, too.” “Well, that pain was me, Catrina, telling you to prepare yourself, that I would come soon to take you.” “Yes, well, is that the way you were speaking to me, Holy Death?” “That’s the way I know how to speak, Catrina … ” And he took Catrina. So you see, that’s how death speaks with us. It’s just like when you’re guilty of a crime-you’ve committed some foolish act. Before you’re taken to prison, a summons is first sent to you and, after that, a citation, and then follows a warrant-and then, that’s it.. .. It takes you, and it no longer leaves you alone. The summons is a twinge in the side so that you’ll prepare yourself to go confess to a spiritual father. The citation is another pain, so that you’ll receive Communion. And when the warrant comes, it won’t let you go …. That’s it! ”I’m taking you whether you’re ready or not!” “God reward you that I was made ready …. I’m finished. Come on …. ” That’s it, my daughter. I don’t want you to get confused by my crazy talk.
It is said that Alexander the Macedonian, after he had conquered the whole world, said, “When I die, bury me in a coffin with holes for me to extend my hands outside, empty, so that the whole world can see that Alexander the Macedonian, he who conquered the world, took nothing with him to the tomb.” And they buried him just as he desired-with his hands empty, left outside. Do you see? He wasn’t a stupid man; in that era he was a man of great valor. All those who have gone after human glory-which is usually what the whole world goes after-have regretted it in the end, because they tired themselves in vain.
Therefore, it would be very good if, from this moment on, we made a good beginning, my daughter. Things pass, they move downwards, and the moment will come when God will arrange that you take the final exam …. Oh my … that last one is the exam, no joke. Let us pass that one, dear daughter, because then there are no intercessions, no advocates, nor any other studies, but only deeds, if you’ve done them. That’s all that remains: that which you promised at your tonsure.
So, my daughter, since you happen to be here on these feast days, I wish you many years-but not for them to be too happy, because happiness in this world isn’t really so healthy. When a man is too happy in this world, he forgets God and forgets death.
Do you remember what St. Paul said? “I will not glory but in my infirmities and my weaknesses” (cf. II Cor. 12:5). A night and a day 1 have been in the deep [of the sea] (II Cor. 11:25). He didn’t know where he was for three days. Once they let him down in a basket; he was beaten with rods; he was stoned. Look at what he gloried in. He didn’t rejoice that he performed miracles, that he was educated, that he did something, that he set things right. And when he said: 1 knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago … such as one caught up to the third heaven) … whether in the body or out of the body) 1 cannot tell… (II Cor. 12:2-3), he knew very well who it was-himself-but he didn’t want to put himself forward thus. And what he saw there … it’s not for us to know; for he was not a man to spend his life scratching his head like I do. For what he saw, what he heard, the mind and tongue of man cannot speak …. Further on, he gives himself away: Through the abundance of the revelations God allowed the messenger of Satan to buffet me (II Cor. 12:7). Here you are! It’s obvious. It was he himself Don’t you see? Lest I be exalted …. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice) that it might depart from me (II Cor. 12:7-8). And He said NO! He said, NO! Because in weakness God works miracles. So that’s how it was for St. Paul in order for him to be a chosen vessel. Therefore, from the great persecutor that he was, he became the most burning zealot, the most devoted, the most chosen vessel among all. He said many times: I am not meet to be called an apostle (I Cor. 15:9), and I am the least of the apostles (I Cor. 15:9). From a persecutor, from a vessel of dishonor, he became a vessel of honor. This is how God works. He can make a sinful man, through repentance and tears, into a believing man, a man who can be of benefit to himself and to others. So, this is how God helps you, dear daughter: from a dirty vessel-like me, my dear, tried by all sorts of lowly misfortunes, sins, and corruption-God makes you a pure vessel, a vessel of honor, in order to serve Him at His table of honor.
I don’t want either wealth or glory or riches for you here, because I know that from these come other troublesome things. If you have, by the grace of God, love and holy desire, then there, beyond the grave, will our future be. And doing God’s will, you’ll have much gain here as well, and beyond the grave you’ll have eternal blessedness, unto the ages of ages. And beyond, we’ll rejoice, where there are neither tears, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life everlasting. Amen.
We cannot be saved if we love the pleasures of the world.
Love helps a lot, my dear daughter. “Love with brotherhood surpasses great wealth.” 10 Have love one for another, because from love springs forth mercy. Love suffereth long and is kind … love vaunteth not itself: is not puffed up … seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity …. Love never faileth (cf. I Cor. 13:4-8). If only we had this, then we would have genuine spiritual love! If we have love, we have all of these. Love makes you endure illness and even makes it dear to you, because it cleanses you of all filth. And if you have love for Christ, you’ll endure everything, both abuse and mockery. From love also comes patience. Then you’ll no longer be disgusted by someone who’s sick; it will seem to you that he smells like perfume. The greatest act of love is to take care of a sick person. If you take care of him with love and patience, he’s saved through you, and you’re saved through him.
It’s an impure act when you become angry. Anger does not do the work of God and does not bear the fruit of love. When you’re angry, the Spirit of God is not present, neither is the spirit of love; it’s the spirit of pride and vainglory that’s present.
WORDS ON FAREWELL ADDRESSED TO VICTORIA
Be like the little bees that go about from flower to flower and gather only the juice from which they can make honey. A bee flies from flower to flower-to many flowers. But they don’t stay where there’s no nectar from which they can make honey-they flee. So, may you collect from all only what is good and beneficial to you. Let the rest just slip by, as though through raindrops.
Let me tell you a story: A gypsy was walking along the road. He was very well dressed. He was carrying a tin bucket. There were also a lot of other people traveling on the same road. It began to rain heavily, and everyone took shelter wherever they could, but the gypsy did not have anywhere to hide. What did he decide to do? He took off his clothes and put them in the bucket, turned it upside down and then sat on it until the rain stopped. When the rain ended, he put his clothes back on. The people asked him, “How did you manage to stay dry? How is it that you didn’t get rained on? How did you not get wet?”
And he said, “Through the raindrops-I simply squeezed myself between the raindrops.” So, you, too, must squeeze yourself between the raindrops so that you don’t get wet from the rain of sin ….
What day is it today? August 9, 1981. Let the memory of these places remain with you-the springs, the mountains, and the fir trees-and next year at this time recall: “Hmm, last year at about this time we found ourselves up there at Sihla, talking with an almost completely mute old man (because I didn’t have anything to say), almost completely deaf (because I don’t hear well); a blind old man who tells us some fancies of his while weaving together two pieces of straw:’ and, “I wonder if he’s still alive?” Yes, next year-there’s a long time until next year. At least those who live close by-you’ll wonder, you’ll ask about me-and if love persuades you, don’t forget these places, stop by here again. I believe that there’s no telling whether we will meet again when you return. But I would like for all of you who were here to forgive me, because perhaps some of you may have been offended. Don’t be scandalized by what you’ve seen and heard, for what’s heard is one thing and what’s seen is another. Woe to that man who receives praise that exceeds his life and deeds. You who have benefited-if any of you have benefited from coming here-commemorate me. Commemorate me at least in this way: “Friends, that man wasn’t learned, but he did have a desire, a certain zeal to help us. And he wove together two pieces of straw in order to benefit us by any means-such was his wish. And we-some of us profited and others were offended.”
I think to myself that if I have a few more days to live, these were granted to me because there’s still some rust left that must be scraped off with whatever God deems useful to cleanse me. Everything granted by God is useful, and we must be satisfied with whatever God has in store for us-He knows how much time is still necessary for our cleansing. For example, God calls some youths to Him in heaven so that they may no longer sin; while, on the other hand, He leaves some of the elderly on earth to repent. See God’s judgments? They’re marvelous! Therefore, may God be praised that He is still patient with us, while 1, instead of repenting, continue accruing sins. I still scold people, “Hey, why are you doing this?” “What kind of person would … ?” “What do you think you’re doing?” I’ve blamed people this way, and even though I’ve consoled them afterwards in some way or another, it’s still not a righteous thing to get angry, for wrath doesn’t work the righteousness of God.
1here was a young novice who died on Saturday, after I had tonsured him a monk on Thursday. His name was Gervasius. Before dying, he addressed me, “Father, bring my spiritual father here so I can receive Communion.” After I had carried out all his requests, he said, “Light the candle at once, Father!” I put the lit candle into his hand and decided to help him hold it, but he said, “Let go, Father, I can hold it.” “All right, if you can hold it, then go ahead.” He held the candle for about two minutes. He then looked up, first to the right and then to the left. When he looked to the left, his face darkened, but when he looked to the right, he became slightly joyful. “Father, extinguish it- I still have a bit of time.” After that, he again said, “Fr. Paisius, go tell my spiritual father to come and read the prayers for the departure of the soul for me.” When I heard this, I exclaimed, “You want this, too?” I then went back to the spiritual father and recounted the whole matter. “Father, he’s asking that you come and read the prayers for the departure of the soul.” Gideon, the poor father, was furious. “What are you trying to do, force people to die quicker? No, I’m not coming!” I persisted, and after he gave me a good scolding, I hurried back. Gervasius was waiting for him. “Is that father coming?” “He is.” The father came. “What do you want, Gervasius?” “Father, I want you to read the prayers for the departure of the soul for me.” So he read the prayers and left. By this time, the other fathers of the monastery, who heard what was going on, had come, since by now it was already morning. So I pulled the bed into the middle of the room and we gathered around his bed, looking at the young monk. He was saying, “I hear you but I can no longer see you.” He was seeing something else now. Suddenly he said, “Forgive me.” “May God forgive you;’ we replied. He then appeared to swallow something, took a deep breath, then a short one, and then another lengthy one, and reposed. A monk for three days-and I have been a monk for sixty-some years, and I still haven’t made a good beginning. I still haven’t prepared myself for death. “Hmm, I should add another layer here, maybe another rock, this one is not really suitable here … ” See how the wicked one deceives us? That nineteen-year-old died, after being a monk for three days; as they say in the books: He was an “old youth” and a “young elder.” Early in their lives, God takes to Himself those youths that are good because they haven’t sinned, and He leaves the elderly so that they may repent.
That’s how it is, my dear. May God strengthen you, unite you, and give you wisdom, so that you’ll endure in the monastic life. Carry your cross of suffering to the end through patience, meekness, and obedience, and you’ll be saved. May the good God grant many years to those who are healthy and much patience to those who are sick. May God grant great patience to those in need of it and spiritual joy of soul for the man who is diligent. May you live and labor in obedience, in that which is profitable for salvation. God grant you patience, love, and good hope, and don’t forget the decision that you’ve made-stand by it until the end. Let us pray more, so that God may grant us patience, meekness, and love-because if we have love, we have everything. Let us even endure insults, because this is how the Savior praises us: Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’sake (Matt. 5:10). We will endure all for His love, my dear one, so that we can win, not all of Paradise, but a little corner, however small.
All of you-make a good beginning for yourselves. You who have limped, straighten yourselves; and those of you who haven’t, take charge of yourselves. Never put your faith in people, because man is subject to change-today he gives to you and tomorrow he asks from you; today he praises you and tomorrow he insults you. However, if you place your hope in God’s mercy, you will never encounter failure.
That’s it-that’s about all I’m able to do, because I’m overwhelmed by things which are unseen and which only I feel.
What can I say about myself? Because I can’t see well, I always break something. I put a needle here and it falls down: “Oh, no, where is it? I put it here. Did someone steal it?” And, look here … ! Look how I make mistakes and become suspicious of others. Oh, well! I sin profusely just because I can neither see nor hear, and I suspect others. See how the enemy deceives us?
Yes, that’s how it is, my dear …. Peace in the country, peace in the world, peace in the monastery, peace in your homes. Maybe you’ll no longer find me tomorrow, because it’s already time for me to depart. But you’ll remember these places and long to see these stones. However, with God’s mercy, if we’re still alive next year, remember that last year, a stupid, blind old man wished you well. I am old and will depart when God wills, but we’ll meet again, no doubt, here or there, at the gates of Paradise … not in any other place. May God strengthen you, unite you, and give you wisdom, because there are only two roads: to Paradise or to hell. We must decide which to follow and, until the end, carry our cross of suffering through patience, meekness, love, and obedience-and we’ll be saved.
My dear, I will leave … and I would like everything that you have seen and heard from me to remain in your memory-that it be unto your salvation. Yes, dear one, and commemorate me when you remember, without any obligation. Amen.
On the Passions
(The remaining sections of Elder Paisius’ teachings were addressed to a group of women)
My dear ones, this life is very difficult; you have to fight until death against your nature’s passions. Fire, hell, and fornication-they never say they’ve had enough and are satisfied. There are old men who don’t break free from this passion [fornication]. Don’t you know how terribly tempted the saints were? But the Mother of God watches over you. If you have faith and the fear of God, the Mother of God will also protect you. You’ve seen some of her miracles. But don’t enter into conversation with the thoughts. If you don’t consent to them, you haven’t sinned. The thoughts will come, but don’t talk with them; pay them no heed. So, thoughts and temptations perhaps come to us also; perhaps some thoughts among these have come also to me. But if you take no notice of them, they depart.. .. But they’ll come even more often to those who rarely go to church and forget to pray!
Let us guard our five senses, dear one. May you preserve purity, but not just bodily purity. Purity is also of the heart and of the thoughts. Pray always. And, God forbid, don’t agree with what your thoughts tell you. And when you do have thoughts and passions and temptations, think of the Mother of God and try to sing to her “It is truly meet;’ because the Mother of God protects you. If she has watched over you until now, I believe that she will also watch over you from now on. You must make your way through life like the gypsy through the rain drops. That is how we must go through this life. The body and the devil must be deceived. Say to them, “Leave me alone, leave me alone this year.” And by the following year who knows what will happen? So, my dear, don’t speak with thoughts. Tell them: “Flee from here!” You sin only when you stop and think: “How can I do this, how can I manage to do that…?”
May you keep away from boys like fire. When you see a boy or a man, let it be as if you had seen a rock. And keep away from your imagination. Don’t ever think about a man’s body, or a woman’s body, or anything like this. Let it not interest you, because other thoughts begin from these. For me, thoughts like these perhaps flash through my mind, but they pass by, fly over, like a flock of birds. Now they no longer come to me. Because I neither know about them, nor do they interest me, nor do I want to know them-God forbid! They pass through my head like a lightening flash, like a gleam. Just pray that the thought be sent somewhere else. Don’t talk with it.
You must tell your thoughts in good time to your confessor, my dear.
And at Confession don’t vulgarly say whatever comes into your mind, but say, “Father, I have blasphemous thoughts, I have defiling thoughts, I have passions and desires;’ or, “I have evil and blasphemous thoughts about monastics, about priests; I have dirty passions …. ” So from now on keep away from all the desires and passions that you’ve had. And don’t forget this either: a kiss is the first chapter of sin.
If you want to spend your life in purity, never even consider pleasing people. To be as despised by them as possible-yes, that’s right. And never enjoy being praised, my dear-that too is a form of pride. And when the thought comes into your head that you’re better than others and that you’re worthy of being praised, say this to yourself: “Who has committed more shameful sins than I have?” Because this sin is not a small thing, dear one ….
If you are resolute in living in purity and banish idle thoughts and make the resolve that “I will not do this until I die;’ then the idle thoughts will depart, and they will assault you less.
So, my dear, from these three paths, you must choose one: to marry, to enter a monastery, or stay as you are and preserve your virginity in the world, doing God’s will as you’re able without anyone knowing. In the monastery you’re under a rule of life with vows. If you’re not in a monastery, you’re acting according to your free will, without making vows. There are many who have kept their virginity in the world and did not manage to come to the monastery, and they are reckoned in the ranks of monastics. If you die in the world with your mind in the monastery, then you’re in the ranks of the nuns. The man sanctifies the place; the place doesn’t sanctify the man. You can be saved anywhere in Bucharest or somewhere else. The most important thing is to have sobriety.
Did you make an oath that you’ll go to a monastery? My dear, don’t make any more oaths about this. You must not swear. If you want to go to the monastery, see how the Mother of God draws you, step by step. But don’t swear anymore, my dear. Always say, “Look, if it will lie in my power and if God will help me, I’ll do such and such.” Okay, my dear. Do not lose your good disposition. And if you pray, the Mother of God will enlighten you, my little lamb. You have my complete blessing to love the life of purity. Yes, you made an oath; you made oaths many times that you’ll go to a monastery. If it’s meant to be, you’ll be His bride. It’s much easier in the monastery than in the world, my dear. No one compels you to get married. Know that few have regretted that they entered a monastery, but many more have wept because they regretted marrying. (I’m referring to those who are seeking their salvation.) You can’t take a husband simply in order to look at him. You have obligations, and it’s quite difficult. Then come the children. Little lamb, for the time being, remain in the world with your thoughts in the monastery. Many young people wanted to go to the monastery but have died in the world, and they attained to the monastic ranks. And many monks have lived in the monastery with their mind in the world, and they attained to the ranks of the laity. Have fear of God, be good, and avoid the passions. Don’t forget that indulgence in passions constitutes a kind of suicide. 50 do this, my dear, and the Mother of God will protect you.