Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Repose of Hieroschemamonk Paisius (Olaru).

Three ascetics of prayer: Hieroschemamonk Paisius,
Archimandrite Cleopa and Protosingel Joel of Sihastria.
   The relationship that existed between the renowned spiritual fathers of Romania during the latter part of the 20th century was truly a bond of spiritual love. These were the fathers and shepherds of souls who encouraged and comforted the vast multitudes of faithful who were suffering under the repressive and atheistic yoke of communism. The fathers, all advanced in age, never expected to see the days when Romania would once again be free. The events of the December, 1989 Revolution that overthrew the tyrannical rule which had held their land in an iron grip for over forty years came as an unexpected blessing to these elders: It was something that would certainly place new demands on Fr. Cleopa in his last years.
   By this time, Hieroschemamonk Paisius, Fr. Cleopa's spiritual father, was waiting for the day when he would depart to the Lord. The names of Fr. Paisius and Fr. Cleopa are forever bound together, just as their lives had been from Fr. Cleopa's early youth. These two elders were known throughout all of Romania, and indeed even beyond its borders, above all the other skilled and ascetical spiritual fathers of that land in the last years of the 20th century. Both Fr. Cleopa and Fr. Paisius were visited by countless faithful and monastics; both were gifted by God with the grace of preaching and the gift of tears. Both were fathers to thousands of spiri­tual children of all ages, simple peasant children and adults as well as intellectuals, priests and hierarchs. Both were charismatic and gifted with foresight. Both were men of prayer who sacrificed themselves for the salvation of the multitudes who came to them. Inasmuch as both of these spiritual fathers possessed many of the same spiritual attributes, each had qualities specific to himself.
   Fr. Paisius had a very gentle, calm and affectionate nature. He never refused to hear anyone's confession, regardless of how tired he was or the fact that there were numerous other priests who could hear the confessions of those who came to him. He spoke very slowly and quietly, was always quick to forgive and shed tears for all who came to him, having a special love and place in his heart for mothers, children and those who were ill. He heard confessions day and night from the multitude of people who would line up at his door, and he constantly strove to bring peace into their souls so that all who departed from him would return to their homes with grateful hearts. Because of the number of people who came to him, he would not lie down to sleep on a bed, but instead he just leaned back on his chair to hear confessions and nap a little until the next person came to him. Whenever someone knocked on his door or called out to him from outside, he would ask, "Who is it?" Then, if he did not have someone else with him confessing at that moment, he would say, "Come in. Come in!".
   There were two things that we were never able to ascertain about Fr. Paisius: we never knew when and how much he ate, nor when and how much he slept. Every day one of his disciples would bring him some food, leaving the tray on a chair in his cell; but the elder would not eat anything until he had finished hearing the confessions of the faithful who were waiting for him.
   Before his final illness, but while he was already quite elderly, Fr. Paisius would grab a hoe and go out in the garden whenever he found a few free moments. One time another spiritual father asked him, "Fr. Paisius, why do you work so much in the garden?... Aren't your la­bors with the faithful enough to wear you out?".
   But the elder replied, "I go outside into the fresh air and work a little bit in the garden so that I can forget some of the serious sins that I hear in confessions!. The devil likes to constantly remind priests of the sins that they hear in confessions, especially carnal sins, in the hope that these might tempt us old men. I also like to work by myself in the garden so that I can practice prayer of the mind and strengthen my own soul. Otherwise we could not have the strength for all these people who come to us, and our words and prayers would have no effect on chang­ing the souls of the faithful."
   Fr. Paisius never imposed strict penances on his spiritual children; instead he always took into consideration the age, zeal and love that each one had for Christ. The most common canon of penance that he gave to people was to repeat Psalm 50 seven times and the Lord's Prayer fifteen times each day, as well as do the Jesus Prayer with pros­trations, and read the Morning and Evening Prayers, the Canon to the Savior and the Paraclisis to the Theotokos. This is why so many of the faithful would seek him, and he was able to save more than a few souls for the kingdom of God.
   When people came to him for confession, the elder would always say "Be patient!. Don't cut down the cross in any way!". In other words, do not complain or lose hope during the trials and tribulations of this life. He would weep with those who wept over their sins, and would likewise rejoice with those who were delivered from passions.
   Surpassing this great compassion, Hieroschemamonk Paisius also pos­sessed the gift of foresight. He would sometimes tell someone not to leave the monastery toward evening, so that the person would not have an accident or other mishap; to others he would say that they should not leave the monastery without partaking of Holy Communion. All who obeyed these final words of advice would escape harm and find that things in their lives went well, through his blessing. This is why none of the elder's disciples ever went against his direction.
   Hieroschemamonk Paisius lived a more eremitical life be­tween 1973 and 1985 at "Sihla Skete", a dependency of "Sihastria", near the cave of St. Theodora of Sihla. There he combined the eremitic life with that of being spiritual father and guide to many of the faithful as well as to a number of monks from Sihastria. Although he did not rest day or night, he was very peaceful in soul during that time because he saw that God worked through him to bring peace and joy to the homes of those who came to him.
   In 1986, Elder Paisius broke his leg and was brought down to Sihastria where his disciple, Fr. Gerasim, could better care for him. From that time until his death he never left his bed, and although he no longer received everyone who sought him, he still heard the confes­sions and offered counsel to a number of elderly monks, priests, faithful and even bishops who had all been his spiritual children for many years. By this time, in addition to the fracture in his leg that would not heal, he was quite hard of hearing and almost completely blind from advanced double cataracts in his eyes, but his memory, ability to offer counsel and watchfulness over his own soul and others' was still very sharp, for the grace of the Holy Spirit abode firmly in him.
   When one monk came to see him a few days before his falling asleep, the elder said, "Father, pray, pray, pray for me. This is serious. Pray that God may release me from the bond of the body in peace and that He may grant forgiveness of sins to me and to all those who con­fessed to me during my life."
   Shortly before his death, another disciple, himself a spiritual father to many, went to the elder to receive a final blessing and last words of advice. Fr. Paisius spoke in the soft voice of one who is at peace in his soul, "Father, do not put off until tomorrow that which you can do today, for you do not know if you will live until tomorrow!. Do everything with prayer and with a blessing, for the good of the commu­nity, in the name of the Holy Trinity."
   All who went to receive a final blessing from Elder Paisius during the last days of his life remembered how he always bade fare­well to them, "May we meet at the gate of paradise!". Some of his closer disciples asked him, "We want to meet to­gether in paradise; why do you want to meet at the gate of paradise?". The elder answered them with love and gentleness, "Let us see ourselves delivered from the evil wiles of the devil, then if we reach the gate of paradise, God will not abandon us. At that holy gate we will cry out to the Theotokos, beseech the aid of the saints and weep at the door of the merciful Savior, and He will not leave us outside!. Up to that point of reaching the door of paradise it is difficult."
   Just as the sun was dawning on October 18, 1990, the great spiritual father, Hieroschemamonk Paisius, who had neared the age of ninety-four, gave his soul into the hands of Christ. Two of his closest disciples were at his bedside and witnessed how the elder fell asleep in the Lord peacefully, as one sleeping. It was a gentle and blessed ending to his life, one for which he had prepared since his youth and which he had awaited with great longing. The funeral for Fr. Paisius was held in Sihastria on October 20, a Saturday, officiated by Metropolitan Daniel of Moldavia and Bueovina, and was attended by thousands of his spiritual children, both monks and laymen, who accompanied their beloved spiritual father to his final resting place in Sihastria's cemetery. Standing at the head of his coffin, as had been promised from their younger days, stood Elder Cleopa.
   The funeral service for the beloved elder held it most holy and festal atmosphere, full of great hope in the truth of the resurrection. The longing for eternity fell on everyone present, for Fr. Paisius had always spoken to everyone about paradise, about the joy of being united with Christ. Now the beloved elder was preceding all his beloved children to that door of paradise, and everyone was full of the hope that his prayers would open those doors to all of them.
   From the day of his burial, the vigil lamp on the elder's grave has never been allowed to bum out. With the interment of the holy elder, Sihastria's cemetery became a place even more holy, a place of prayer and spiritual strength to all who visit his grave and offer prayers there.
   Shortly after the fortieth day following the falling asleep of Fr. Paisius, one of his closest disciples was praying in the elder's cell one night. Exhausted, he knelt down and sat back on his heels; perhaps he slept a moment or two, but suddenly he saw Elder Paisius in front of him, clothed in rasa, schema and epitrachilion, standing near the edge of his bed, with a cross in his hand, weeping. The disciple was greatly saddened at the elder's tears, kissed the cross and the elder's hand and asked, "Why are you crying, Fr. Paisius? Are you in pain?"
   The elder replied, "No, my beloved. But if you do not weep, then I must weep for you, for it is very difficult to reach paradise. What trials and fear the soul endures then!. If you do not weep for yourself here, then who will weep for you after death?. Only those who suffer heartache and who have a pure conscience weep. Do you see how quickly time passes!. Oh! Do not let time go by uselessly, for once it is gone, you cannot regain it. Do what you are able to do today and do not put things off until tomorrow, for we do not know if we will live until then. If there are things that you are able to do and you neglect to do them, you have committed a great sin, and you cannot hide anything from God's eyes. He searches the intent you have for everything you do. Do you do things to please man or God?. Be attentive, for paradise is so very precious and it is so difficult to attain. Be attentive to your soul, for everyone must answer in detail for it. It is not years that help us, but deeds, my beloved."
   The disciple said to the elder, "Fr. Paisius, eat something be­cause it is 3:00." But the elder replied, "Wait until after Vespers." and with those words he disappeared from before the disciple's eyes. The disciple wept a great deal because of Fr. Paisius' tears and told others, "I feel as if I can always see him standing before me, weeping and say­ing those words to me."
   The true spiritual fathers of our own days continue to care and instruct us even after death.

Mother Cassiana (2001), Elder Cleopa of Sihastria: In the tradition of St Paisius Velichovsky, New Varatec Publishing, Protection of the Holy Virgin Monastery, Lake George, Colorado.