Today is the feast day of Agios Paisios of Mount Athos, born July 25, 1924 and died July 12, 1994.
Also known as Elder Paisios (Γέροντας Παΐσιος ο Αγιορείτης), he was a monk from Mount Athos. As an ascetic, he was known to his visitors for his gentleness and acceptance of those who came to receive his advice, guidance and blessing.
During his lifetime, the words of Agios Paisos were honored by many and considered a “holy elder” by the Greek and Russian Orthodox.
It is said that Agios Paisos truly loved people and suffered with those who were in despair, listened to them, offered them hope and prayed for them. He spent his nights in prayer and his whole days in relieving human pain and spreading divine consolation. He has guided, consoled, healed and given rest to countless people who have taken refuge in him.
Agios Paisios of Mount Athos was canonized on January 13, 2015, and his feast day is celebrated today, July 12.
His words were recorded by thousands who traveled to seek his guidance and prophecies. Agios Paisios had warned of the great cataclysms, which awaited future generations and spoke of the Greek crisis, as well as of the European Union, Islam and the Third World War.
Arsenios Eznepidis was born on July 25, 1924 to devout parents in the city of Farasa, Cappadocia in Asia Minor. His name was given to him by Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian, who baptized him and named the child for himself and predicted Arsenios “monastic future.” Very shortly after his baptism, young Arsenios and his family were forced to leave Asia Minor in accordance with the peace treaty of Lausanne. Saint Arsenios led his flock on a 400 mile trek to Greece. The Eznepidis family eventually settled in the city of Konitsa in Epirus, in northwestern Greece. As he had prophesied, Saint Arsenius rested forty days after the group settled in Greece, leaving as spiritual heir the child Arsenius. Arsenios grew up in Konitsa and learned carpentry after finishing middle school.
During the civil war in Greece after World War II, Arsenios served as a radio operator. If he was worried about his compatriots who had family, he was not worried about him because he was single and had no children. He was known for his bravery, selflessness, and moral righteousness. After the end of the civil war, he wanted to enter monastic life but had to consider his sisters, who were not yet married. By 1950 he had foreseen the future of his sisters and was free to begin his monastic vocation.
He arrived on Mount Athos in 1950, first to Fr. Kyril, future abbot of the monastery of Koutloumousiou, then of the monastery of Esphigmenou. In 1954, Arsenios, a novice for four years, was tonsured a monk and received the name of Averkios. He was a conscientious monk, finding ways both to complete his obediences (which required contact with others) and to keep his silence, in order to progress in the art of prayer. He was always selfless in helping his brothers. He didn’t want to rest while the others worked (although he might have already finished his own obediences) because he loved his brothers very much and indiscriminately. In addition to his ascetic struggles and common life in the monastery, he became spiritually enriched through the reading of books that benefit the soul.
In 1968, he resided at the Stavronikita monastery helping in its spiritual and material renovation. While there, he was blessed to be in contact with the ascetic Elder Tikhon who lived at the Hermitage of the Holy Cross, near Stavronikita. Elder Paisios remained by his side until his rest, selflessly serving him as his disciple. It was during this period that Brother Tikhon dressed Fr. Paisios in the Great Scheme. According to the Elder’s wishes, Fr. Paisios remained in the hermitage of Ancient Tikhon after his rest. Pr. Paisios remained there until 1979, when he moved to his final resting place on the Holy Mountain, the Panagouda hermitage, which belongs to the monastery of Koutloumousiou.
It was in Panagouda that the fame of ancient Paisios as an ancient God-bearer grew, drawing to him the sick and suffering people of God. He received them all day long, devoting the night to God in prayer, vigil and spiritual warfare. His regimen of prayer and asceticism left him only two or three hours each night to rest. The self-surrender with which he served God and his neighbour, his severity towards himself, the austerity of his diet, and his sensitive nature made him more and more prone to illness. In addition to respiratory problems, in his last days he suffered from a severe hernia which made his life very difficult. When he was forced to leave the Holy Mountain for various reasons (often due to his illnesses), he received pilgrims for hours at the Souroti women’s monastery. The physical effort involved in his weakened state caused him such pain that he turned pale. He bore his suffering with great grace, confident that, God knowing what is best for us, it could not be otherwise. He would say that God is very touched when someone who is suffering a lot does not complain, but rather uses his energy to pray for others.
In addition to his other illnesses, he suffered from hemorrhages which left him very weak. In his last weeks before leaving the Holy Mountain, he often fell unconscious. On October 5, 1993, the Elder left his beloved Holy Mountain for the last time. Although he had planned to leave the mountain for only a few days, in Thessaloniki he was diagnosed with cancer which required immediate treatment. After the operation, he spent some time recovering in the hospital and then was transferred to the Souroti monastery. Despite his critical condition, he received people, listened to their pain and advised them.
After his operation, Elder Paisios was keen to return to Mount Athos. His attempts to do so, however, were hampered by his failing health. His last days were filled with suffering, but also with the joy of martyrdom. On July 11, 1994, he received Holy Communion for the last time. The next day, Elder Paisios committed his soul to God’s safekeeping. He was buried, according to his wishes, at the monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Souroti, where yesterday and today thousands and thousands of people have gathered to pay their respects to him. Elder Paisios, perhaps more than any other ancient contemporary, captured the minds and hearts of the Greek people. Many books of his advice have been published, and the Souroti Monastery has undertaken a great work, organizing the Elder’s writings and advice into impressive volumes worthy of his memory. Thousands of pilgrims visit his tomb every year.
Elder Paisios was glorified on January 13, 2015 by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. He is commemorated every year on July 12.