ELDER PAISIOS the Athonite (1924-1994) was a devout ascetic, whose gentle manner and acceptance of those who came to receive his counsel and blessing endeared him to his visitors, and who has become one of the most beloved of spiritual fathers.
In 1979, he found a permanent home on the Holy Mountain, at the hermitage Panagouda, which belongs to the Monastery of Koutloumousiou. It was here that Elder Paisios’ fame as a God bearing elder grew, drawing to him the sick and suffering people of God. He received them all day long, dedicating the night to God in prayer, vigil and spiritual struggle. His regime of prayer and asceticism left him with only two or three hours each night for rest.
Strict though he was upon himself, he was nothing but kindness and understanding towards others. His spiritual counsel was marked by patience and by pacing his charges so that they could grow in grace step by step, rather than expecting too much at once, being particularly alive to the dangers of despair.
We mustn’t despair when we struggle and continuously see nothing but the slightest progress. We all do nearly nothing, some a little more, some a little less. When Christ sees our little effort He gives us an analogous token and so our nearly nothing becomes valuable and we can see a little progress. For this reason we mustn’t despair, but hope in God.
He saw many sensitive souls hurt by self-appointed spiritual fathers. “If a passionate man tries to correct an egotist” he said, “steel hits flint and fires are ignited! If he tries to correct a sensitive person, he hurts him greatly. It would be like a wild man taking a thick wire brush to clean out a little mucus from a baby’s eye.”
One word of a humble and [spiritually] experienced man that is painfully born from the depths of his heart has greater worth than a bunch of clever sayings of an external mans that come out quickly from his educated mouth. His words don’t speak truth to the souls of men, for they are fleshly words and not the flames of the fire of Pentecost.
The Elder came to distrust worldly wisdom and a merely academic spirituality among his charges too.
Someone asked the elder if all the people who came everyday with questions tired him. He answered: I’ll tell you. When the discussion is spiritual it doesn’t weary. It’s bad when people ask altogether unreasonable questions. If they are illiterate and ask such things it will be alright. But there are “smart” people, students, and they ask you what relation the time has with the conscience of the person. In such cases I say, “Here I have coffee and one or two aspirins. Sit a little and little by little we’ll clear up your theme”.
Paisios was blessed with many meetings with Christ and his saints, which he himself did not speak of, but his spiritual children have since told us about them. There is a short video at YouTube (in Greek with English subtitles) recounting some of the best known of the miracles which Elder Paisios did in his lifetime, and many more have been attributed to his intercession since his repose in 1994: healings of all kinds, friendship with wild animals (snakes and bears, to name but two), demonstrations of impossible knowledge of other people, bilocation (being in two places at once), and countless appearances to Paisios of the Virgin Mary and other saints. Many are described by his spiritual child Fr Maximos in the book Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides.
“A VERY subtle wind rushed into the chapel even though the door as well as the window were both firmly shut. The lamp in front of the icon of the Holy Virgin began swinging back and forth by itself. There was a lamp in front of each of the five icons. Only the one hanging in front of the Holy Virgin went on moving back and forth, back and forth.”
“Were you afraid?” I asked.
“To tell you the truth,” Father Maximos replied, “l was neither afraid nor rejoiced. I simply witnessed those events like an outsider. I just turned with curiosity toward elder Paisios, trying to figure out what was happening. He signaled to me to remain quiet as he knelt down and touched the floor with his forehead, remaining in that posture for some time. I stood there perplexed, holding the candle in my hand while the strange phenomena went on around me. After about half an hour, and while the lamp in front of the icon of the Holy Virgin continued its back and forth motion, I resumed the reading of the service. When I reached the seventh prayer of the blessing of Saint Symeon the lamp gradually stopped swinging. The luminosity that had inexplicably filled the room up to that point vanished and everything went back to normal. Elder Paisios stood up and signaled me to follow him outside for some fresh air. ‘What was that all about?’ I asked him. ‘What?’ he replied, pretending not to have a clue of what I was talking about. ‘That phenomenon in the chapel. What happened, really?’ I asked. ‘What did you see?’ he asked me again. I told him that I saw the lamp in front of the icon of the Holy Virgin swing back and forth and described everything else that took place. He asked me whether I saw anything else. I said no. ‘Oh. . . it was nothing, it was nothing,’ he said and waved his hand.
The self-abandon with which Elder Paisios served God and his fellow man, his strictness with himself, the austerity of his regime, and his sensitive nature made him increasingly prone to sickness. He bore his suffering with much grace, however, confident that, as God knows what is best for us, it could not be otherwise. He would say that God is greatly touched when someone who is in great suffering does not complain, but rather uses his energy to pray for others.
(Includes material from OrthodoxWiki)
The two videos below provide a very watchable biography of Elder Paisios, with Greek subtitles and many views of his cottage on Mount Athos.