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St. Symeon the New Theologian Orthodox Church

Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.A.

3101 Clairmont Ave, Birmingham, AL 35205-1114

Our Spiritual Heritage Pages

St. Paisius Velichkovsky (+1794)

There are three aspects of St. Paisius' life for which we venerate him: his personal holiness, his revival of monasticism and spirituality in Romania and Russia; and his translation from Greek into Slavonic and Romanian of many writings by the greatest Orthodox masters of prior centuries, edited into a collection which would be called the Philokalia ("Love of the Good"). For these reasons, he is a pivotal figure in Orthodox Church history.

St. Paisius grew up in a devout family, a reminder to us that Christian families are where saints are born and nurtured to begin their journey to heaven. Even as a child, St. Paisius had a profound inner spiritual life and love for God, which his parents and the general atmosphere of his household strongly encouraged. He loved church services and reading spiritual books, especially the lives of the Saints.

When he was 13, he went to the Kiev Theological Academy. But he longed for the monastic life and so, following the voice of his heart, be became a monk when he was 19. He wandered to Moldavia (northern Romania), where there were then a great many holy elders and hesychastic sketes. There he learned under his Elder Basil of Poiana Marului, the important lessons of obedience, humility and the practice of the "Prayer of the Heart."

Seeking further spiritual wealth, he went to Mt. Athos in northern Greece, which was, and still is, the greatest center of Orthodox monasticism. There he labored faithfully and was tonsured into the Lesser Schema, the secondary level of monastic obedience. Recognizing his gifts for spiritual leadership, other monks gathered around him. They insisted he become their priest. He was ordained a priest and always celebrated the Divine Liturgy profoundly with tears of joy and compunction. Soon there were many monks in his brotherhood, composed of Slavs and Romanians. They had to move to find a place to develop their brotherhood. Eventually, with a blessing, they were invited to take over Neamts Monastery in Moldavia, which grew to become the spiritual center of Romanian Orthodoxy, amongst many great spiritual monasteries. St. Paisius was tonsured to the Great Schema, the highest level of monastic order, and elevated to Archimandrite, the highest honor of monastic priesthood. His personal holiness, and gifts of spiritual counsel, and administrative leadership resulted in his monastery growing to 1,000 monks, making it then the largest Orthodox monastery in the world.

While on the Holy Mountain, St. Paisius had gained great spiritual wisdom from reading the Church Fathers and observing the life of the Athonites. He was moved to translate and edit the Patristic writings, especially their writings on the Jesus Prayer and the ascetic practices, necessary to acquire the heights of inner illumination and union with God. He would continue his own personal translation work, despite all his responsibilities as abbot and elder, until his last days. Neamt Monastery became a center for this sacred scholarly work, as St. Paisius attracted to his monastery and encouraged a whole army of gifted monastic translators who translated previously unknown works of the Fathers and liturgical services from Greek into Romanian and Russian. St. Paisius' collection, The Philokalia, profoundly contributed to the subsequent flowering of monasticism and spirituality in Russia and Romania in the 19th century.

In Russia, the spiritual life of the monasteries had been in decline for a century due to the harsh laws and interfering policies of Tsars Peter and Catherine, which severely restricted monasteries and the life of the Church. The famous Optina Monastery, southwest of Moscow, grew and flourished in the early 19th century as a direct result of St. Paisius' guidance through those taught by his disciples who settled there and developed the tradition of eldership. Optina, in turn, played a vital role in Russian spiritual revival through the 19th century, and into the 20th. It cultivated several revered elders (startzi) who offered spiritual direction to those monastic and lay people, including the great 19th century Russian writers such as Dostoyevsky, who came from across Russia for their blessing, prayers and counsel.

Through the prayers of our Holy Father Paisius, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us!

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