On Orthodox Catholic Teaching

PaisiusSt. Paisii Velichkovsky 1722-1794

Knowing, as is clear from the teaching and commandments of our God-bearing Fathers, that one who has brethren under his guidance must not instruct and teach them according to his own understanding and discernment. But rather according to the true and right understanding of Divine Scripture, as is taught by the divine Fathers, teachers of the inhabited world, and likewise by the teachers and instructors of monastic life, being enlightened by the grace of the All-Holy Spirit. And knowing further the poverty of my own mind, and fearing and trembling lest I myself fall, and push those who follow me, into a pit of perdition like a blind man, according to the word of the Lord, because of my inexperience. Therefore, I placed as an unshakable foundation in true and undeceived instruction, undeviating from the true path of God, both for my own poor soul and for my holy brethren, the Divine Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and its true interpretation by the grace of the All-Holy Spirit, that is, the teaching of our God-bearing Fathers, the teachers of the inhabited world and the instructors of the monastic life, the Holy Councils and all the Canons of the Apostles and Councils and Holy Fathers which the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Eastern Church contains, and all Her commandments and rites. I offered all this, as I have said, as instruction for myself and the holy brethren, so that both I and the brethren living with me, being instructed by these, God cooperating and enlightening us by His grace, might not sin against the right and catholic thinking of the Holy Orthodox Church. (Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky: The Man Behind the Philokalia, p. 77-78)

On Obedience

St. Paisius Velichkovsky 1722-1794

Divine obedience is something so necessary for the true pleasing Of God, that without it it is not at all possible to please God. Therefore, all-holy obedience was planted by God in three places, in the heavens, in paradise, and on earth: in the heavens, among the heavenly powers; in paradise, in the first-created men; and on earth, in the holy disciples and apostles of the Lord. In all three of these places there appeared the fruit of most blessed obedience, and also the fruit of thrice-cursed disobedience.

In the heavens, all the heavenly powers, remaining by their good will in obedience to God, were vouchsafed, being enlightened by the Holy Spirit, to remain eternally in Him. But the devil, being from the angelic order, by his own free will fell away from obedience, and becoming proud, was cast down from the heavens together with all the fallen-away powers of the same angelic order who freely obeyed his impious counsel; being deprived of the divine light, they became darkness by their own will, and were made eternally enemies of God and of the salvation of right-believing Christians. Behold how the fruit both of obedience and of disobedience was manifested in the heavens.

In paradise, as long as the first-created ones remained in true obedience to God, they took sweet enjoyment in beholding God face to face and in multiform gifts of the Holy Spirit. But when of their own free will, obeying the counsel of the devil and falling away from obedience, they became proud, desiring to be equal to God, then they received the sentence of death from God were banished from paradise, and were the cause of death for the whole human race. And if the Son of God by His obedience unto death to God the Father had not destroyed the disobedience of Adam, there would have remained from the human race no hope at all for salvation from death and eternal perdition. Behold how in paradise, in the first-created ones, the fruit of obedience and of disobedience was shown.

On earth, Christ the Son of God, having come down from heaven not to do His own will but the will of the Father Who sent Him, to Whom He was obedient unto death, the death of the Cross, planted His Divine obedience in His holy disciples and Apostles. Remaining in it even unto death, they were enabled by their preaching to bring the world to the knowledge of God, and now with Christ their Lord and Teacher they reign in the heavens. But the thrice-cursed Judas, who fell away from obedience and in place of the Lord obeyed in all things the devil, fell into despair, hanged himself, and perished eternally with soul and body. Behold how on earth the fruit of obedience and of disobedience was manifested.

The divine obedience, planted by Christ God Himself in His holy disciples, passed over to the holy angelic monastic order, in  which many shone forth like the sun in holy obedience and pleased God perfectly. And, indeed, the whole monastic order is founded upon holy obedience; and in ancient times, whether in the common life, or in the royal way (that is, where two or three are together), or in the deserts, for the greater part they began their life with obedience, and thus by God’s grace they escaped demonic deceptions. (To Maria Petrovna Protasieva. Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky pp. 206-208)

On the Procession of the Holy Spirit

A certain Uniate priest by the name of John came to doubt the truth of his confession and appealed to Elder Paisius Velichkovsky with the entreaty that he clear up his perplexity. The main part of the Elder’s reply is given here:

The Holy Spirit Himself, Who proceeds from the Father and reposes in the Son, has inspired you by His grace to appeal with this question to a humble and sinful, but Orthodox, son of the Eastern Church…

The first and most important error of the Uniates is the teaching, which they have taken from the Romans, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son [Filioque]. This is the first and most important of all the heresies, for it includes in itself an incorrect judgment, contrary to Sacred Scripture, about God, Who is One in the Holy Trinity. He who confesses that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son supposes in God two principles: one of the Father, another of the Son. But we Orthodox confess in the Trinity one principle of the Father, as our Lord Jesus Christ taught us in the holy Gospel, when He said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. He said: When the Comforter is come, Whom I send unto you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, Who proceedeth from the Father (Jn. 15:26). And the Apostle says: Every good gift and evry perfect gift is from above, coming from the Father of lights (Jm. 1:17). Do you see? He says “the Father of lights”; that is, the Father is the root and fount of Divinity; and the two lights, the Son and the Spirit from the single light, the Father, have their pre-eternal being, the Son in being begotten and the Holy Spirit in procession.

The divine Prophet David says: By the word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them by the Spirit of His mouth (Ps. 33:6). Do you see? He calls the Father Lord, but he calls the Son Word, as pre-eternally begotten of Him; and he calls the Holy Spirit of His (and not “Their”) lips, as proceeding from the Father alone. One could search out other testimonies also from the Old and New Testaments, which show more clearly than the sun that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone and reposes in the Son, as was disclosed at the Baptism of the Lord.

Further, all the holy ecumenical teachers who have interpreted the Scripture as if with one mouth say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and nowhere have they written that he proceeds from the Son also. Thus, if Uniates think exactly like the Romans in such a serious heresy, what hope do they have for salvation, unless they openly renounce this Spirit-fighting heresy and become united again with the Holy Orthodox Eastern Church?

Spare neither property nor relatives if they do not wish to listen to you, but by all means save your own soul from perdition; because there is nothing more needful for you than the soul for which Christ died. But in fleeing, do not look back in your heart for the sake of swiftly perishing possessions; it is better for you to remain in poverty than to blaspheme Him. Depart and flee from the Unia as speedily as possible, lest death overtake you in it and you be numbered among the heretics and not among the Christians. And not only go away yourself, but advise others to go away also, if in your conscience you know that they will hear you. And if they will not hear you, then at least depart yourself from the nets of the enemy and be united in soul and heart with the Holy Orthodox Church, and thus, together with all [the faithful] holding the inviolate faith and fulfilling the commandments of Christ, you will be able to be saved. (The Letters of Elder Paisius from Niamets II: To a Uniate Priest, on the Procession of the Holy Spirit. Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky pp. 200-202)

On the Power of Spiritual Books

Remembering about Elder Paisius Velichkovsky with awe and reverence, Athanasius [a monk of Mt. Athos] told the following in order to confirm the height of spiritual strivings:

“I was fortunate to know the last living disciple of Elder Paisius, an ancient elder. You can understand how great was this Paisius from this incident which happened to this disciple of his, who was a man of mature spirituality. Once he was sitting on his cot in contemplation and suddenly he saw (as is revelaed in spiritual ecstacy to such men) that some sort of altar was being placed and a multitude of demons surrounded it, and then other demons brought Satan with demonic solemnity, who sat upon the prepared altar. One by one the demons would come to him with reports and he would question them. ‘Where were you?’ Satan asked the first demon. ‘I was at the place of such and such a monk, who lives in silence outside of the monastery(at that time in the monastery under Paisius’ supervision there were many desert-dwellers, mostly Russians and Moldavians), and could not come close to him, because whenever I would approach him, he would fall down to the ground (of course, in prayer before God) and fire would come out from him which would burn me, and I could in no way come close to him.’ Then Satan ordered him to be beaten, just like the others who did not succeed in their demonic deeds. Then Satan began to groan and said: ‘Oh, how these trifolois bother me, that is, these rags — the books (the translations of Paisius); but the time will come when everything will be according to my will, and they (the books) will be no more!’

“So,” added elder Athanasius, “that time did come, for the library of such great renown burned to the ground in Niamets Monastery and those books on the spiritual activity which did remain — who looks into them now? Such were the disciples of Paisius Velichkovsky.” (Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky pp. 255-256)

The following awesome vision clearly reveals the great benefit and salvation which comes from the study of edifying books, and hence the enmity which the demons have towards them, in that these books destroy their snares and devices. The vision was revealed some hundred years ago to a pious abbot of the Monastery of Niamets, which had been founded by the saintly Paisius Velichkovsky.

Some years after the repose of the righteous Paisius, the austerity of the monastery’s life began to grow lax, on the one hand because of the great wealth it had acquired, and on the other because of the great freedom that was allowed to people of the world who came to visit the monastery. Some came with their whole families to stay in the monastery for two or three months during the summer, spending their time in various worldly entertainments. The monks became negligent in their rule and began rather to care for their vineyards and gardens in the monastery’s holdings.

One of the disciples of the saintly Paisius, Sophronius by name, being the abbot at the time, led an austere spiritual life. One night, thinking that it had already dawned, Sopronius went out by the monastery’s gate and looked towards the outer gate, at the place where the holy spring lies today. There he saw a man, black in appearance and fearful in form. He wore the garb of a military officer and cried loudly, as officers do when they are giving commands to their troops. His eyes were blood red and shone like flames of fire. His mouth was like that of an ape and his teeth protruded from his mouth. At his waist he had entwined around him a large serpent, whose head hung down with its tongue hanging out like a sword. On his shoulders there rested “galoons” shaped like the heads of asps and on his head he wore a hat, from which venomous snakes extended their bodies and wrapped themselves like hair around his neck.

When the abbot Sophronius saw this, he became petrified from fear. After a while, he came to himself somewhat and asked the officer of darkness what he sought on the monastery’s premises at such an hour. “Can it be that you do not know that I am Chief Commander here in your monastery?” answered the black one. “We have no army here, and our country is enjoying a period of profound peace,” replied the abbot.

“Then be it known to you,” answered the black one, “that I am sent from the unseen hosts of darkness and we are here to wage war against the monastic order. When you make your promises at your tonsure, you declare an unseen war on us and you inflict many wounds on us with your spiritual weaponry. Many times, we retreat in shame, since the flame of your prayers burns us. Now, however, we no longer fear you, especially ever since Paisius, your abbot, died. He terrified us and we suffered much at his hands. Ever since he came here from the Holy Mountain with sixty other monks, I was sent with sixty thousand of our own troops to stop him. As long as he was in charge, we had no rest. In spite of all the temptations, devices and snares that we tried against him and his monks, we availed nothing. At the same time, the tongue of man cannot tell the terrible afflictions, hardships and trials we suffered during that man’s sojourn here. He was an experienced soldier and his strategies always caught us off our guard.

However, after he died things let up a bit and we were able to remove ten thousand of our troops from this front, and so fifty thousand of us were left. When the monks began becoming negligent in their rule and began having more concern for their fields and houses and vineyards, we relieved another ten thousand of our troops of their duties here and the remaining forty thousand stood by to continue the offense. Then, a few years later, some of the monks decided to change Paisius’ rule, and the monks became divided and some left. In the meantime, laymen were allowed to rent rooms in the monastery, and when they brought women in also, we had a victory celebration and reduced our troops by another ten thousand. Later, when the schools for young boys were opened, the battle came well nigh to an end, and we were able to reduce our troops by another ten thousand, leaving only twenty thousand of us here to take care of the monks.”

When the Abbot Sophronius heard these things, he groaned within himself and asked the black one: “What further need have you to remain in the monastery, seeing how, as you yourself confess, the monks have given up their fight? What further work is left for you here?” Then, being constrinaed by the might of God, the ugly one revealed his secret.

“It is true that there is no longer anyone to fight against us as of old, since your love has grown cold and you have become engrossed with worldly and earthly affairs. But there is still one thing left in this monastery that disturbs us and causes anxiety. It is those filthy rags, I mean the books — perdition take them! — that you have in your library. We live in fear and trembling lest any of the younger monks ever take them into his hands and begin reading them. Once they begin reading those accursed rags, they learn your ancient piety and your ancient enmity against us, and the little upstarts begin raging against us. They learn that Christians of old, both lay and monastic, used to pray unceasingly, fast, examine and confess their thoughts, keep vigil and live as though they were foreigners and strangers in this world. Then, simple-minded as they are, they actually begin putting that foolishness into practice. Furthermore, they even take all of the Scriptures seriously. They rave and rail against us like wild beasts; let me tell you, one of those hot-headed fools is enough to chase us all out of here. They become as relenting and uncompromising with us as your executed Leader (the Savior). We have come to have such peace and concord with you. But those so-called spiritual books of yours are a constant source of enmity and discord. Why can’t we have peace? Why don’t you read my books? Are they not spiritual also? For I too am a spirit, am I not? And I too inspire men to write books. But all that is needed is for one of those wretched rags which you call parchments to fall into the hands of some simple fool and a whole conflagaration begins anew and we are forced to flee and take up arms against you once more.”

The poor abbot, unable any longer to keep silence, asked him, “What is your greatest weapon against the monastics in these our times?” And he answered, “Our whole concern at present is to keep monks and nuns away from spiritual occupations, especially prayer and the reading of those smoky books. Why don’t you spend more time taking care of your gardens and vineyards, of your fishing and schools for the young, of your hospitality for all those good people who come here during the summer for the fresh air and pure water? The monastics who busy themselves in such pursuits are caught in our nets like flies in a spider’s web. Until all those books have been either destroyed or corroded with time, we will have no peace. They are like darts in our side.”

No sooner had he finished these words, than the semantron was struck for the service at Matins. Straightaway, the officer of the demonic hosts vanished like smoke. The abbot arose with great pain of soul because of these revelations and came into the church. When the monks had gathered, he told them with tears everything he had seen and heard during that terrible apparition. Then he commanded that all these things be recorded for the edification of those that would come after. (Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky 259-262)

On the Chief Apostles

St. Paisius Velichkovsky 1722-1794

Christ the Savior, our true God, when He wished to entrust the world to His chief disciples and Apostles Peter and Paul, so that they might preach in it His Gospel and by their preaching might instruct those who believed in Him in the true knowledge of God and the keeping of His commandments, and so that they might be merciful to sinners and the more easily forgive the transgressions of those who repent – by His divine and unattainable decrees allowed that Peter should renounce Him three times and Paul should persecute and devastate His Church. And after Peter’s true repentance and Paul’s miraculous coming to believe in Christ, both of these Holy Apostles, inasmuch as they had known in themselves the weakness of human nature, were therefore most merciful, in the likeness of Christ the Lord, to those who transgressed and truly repented; and as they bore the burden of everyone on themselves, so also they inspired all to this, saying: Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). (Letter to Maria Petrovna Protasieva.  Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky pp. 205-206)

A Prophetic Warning

St. Paisius Velichkovsky 1722-1794

…[I]f you depart from heeding and reading Patristic books you will fall away from the love Christ, that is, from the fulfilling of Christ’s commandments and there will enter into your midst rebellion, tumult, and disorder, disturbance of soul, wavering and hopelessness, murmuring against and judgment of each other; and because the increase of these, the love of many will grow cold, or rather that of almost all; and if such will be, this community will soon be dissolved, first in soul, and with time and body also. (Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky: The Man Behind the Philokalia pg. 123)

On the Scriptures and Patristics

St. Paisius Velichkovsky 1722-1794

…[A]las for our times, whose woeful state our God-bearing Fathers foresaw by the Holy Spirit, and out of pity, as to their children, set forth for all of us in their holy writings to strengthen us. Thus, the divine Symeon the New Theologian says: ‘Rare are they, in truth, and especially now, who know how to shepherd and treat skillfully rational souls. For many, perhaps, have pretended to acquire, or in deed have acquired, fasting, vigil, and the appearance of reverence, and with ease can speak from the breast and teach how to multiply words; but very few are they who cut off the passions by means of humility of wisdom and constant lamentation and tears, and who acquire the ruling virtues inseparably from themselves.’ In confirmation of his words he quotes the most ancient Holy Fathers, and speaks thus: ‘For our divine Fathers say: he who wishes to acquire virtues, acquires them by means of lamentation. For it is evident that a monk who does not weep every day neither cuts off the passions nor performs the virtues, nor is he ever a partaker of [spiritual] gifts; for one thing,’ he says, ‘is virtue, and another is gifts.’

Likewise, the God-bearing father so near to us, the Russian luminary, Nilus of Sora, having examined all this with much care in the Divine Scriptures and seen the woeful state of these ties and the present unconcern of men, in the foreword to his book counsels zealots in this manner: ‘With great pains one must seek out an undeceived instructor; and if we do not find one, then the Holy Fathers have commanded us,’ he says, ‘to take instruction from the Divine Scriptures and the teaching of the Holy Fathers, hearing the Lord Himself, Who said: Search the Scriptures, and in them ye shall find eternal life’ (Jn. 5:39). And if this saint spoke thus only concerning the mental work [of the Jesus Prayer], then how much more is there need to find a skilled practitioner and undeceived instructor for the deliverance of the soul from all evil passions and instruction in the right path of doing God’s commandments? Wherefore, O brother, we have extreme need now to learn day and night, with much pain and many tears, from the Divine and Patristic writings, and to be instructed in the commandments of God and in the doings of our Holy Fathers by taking counsel of like-minded zealots among our eldest Fathers. And thus, by the mercy of Christ and by forcing ourselves, we can receive salvation. (Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky: The Man Behind the Philokalia pp. 66-67)

Not by the Orthodox Faith Alone

St. Paisius Velichkovsky 1722-1794

Without the diligent keeping of all Christ’s commandments, solely by Orthodoxy of faith it is not at all possible to be saved. (Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky: The Man Behind the Philokalia pg. 29)