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Counsels from Contemporary Romanian Elders

To Laypeople, Monastics, and Clergy


I. Interview with Elder Cleopas Ilie of Sihastria Monastery

The still-living Elder Cleopas Ilie of Sihastria Monastery, who was featured in The Orthodox Word no. 155, is known throughout the Orthodox world for his spiritual and theological writings and enormous pastoral activity. He was spiritually formed in Sihastria Monastery under Abbot Ioanichie Moroi, who was one of the main transmitters of the spiritual principles of St. Paisius Velichkovsky in the 20th century. Fr. Cleopas was elected abbot of Sihastria in 1945; but later, after being severely beaten and threatened by Communist henchmen, he withdrew into the wilderness and lived as a hermit for ten years. After he returned to Sihastria he began his ceaseless labors of spiritual fatherhood and public instruction, both by word and writing, which he continued openly through the years of Communist repression. So great were his fame abroad and the peoples’ love for him that the atheist authorities dared not bother him again.

Elder Cleopas is known as a loving but very strict elder. His amazingly thorough knowledge of Scripture, the Holy Fathers, and canon law was largely self-acquired: during the ten years that he pastured the sheep of Sihastria as a young monk, he used to walk to Neam¸t Monastery to borrow books from their large library, which he read as he watched the flocks. His learning and God-given power of speech stood the Orthodox faithful in good stead two years ago when a group of Protestants from the West rented a stadium in Suceava and challenged any representative of Orthodoxy to a public debate. Elder Cleopas accepted the challenge and thoroughly defeated the Protestants.

The following questions and answers are extracted from the forthcoming book in English, Spiritual Conversations with Romanian Elders, by Fr. Ioanichie Balan, a well-known author and preacher in Romania and a spiritual son of Elder Cleopas.

1. MONASTIC BEGINNINGS

—Father Cleopas, when did you come to the monastery?

My parents had ten children, of which five, four boys and one girl, went to monasteries. My oldest brother, named Michael, lived in asceticism on Mount Ceahlau. My sister Catherine became a nun in the monastery of Old Agapia, while I and my two older brothers, Basil and George, came to Sihastria. By 1935 all my brothers had died, and afterwards my father, Alexander, also died. Only I still lived, as abbot then of Sihastria Monastery, and my mother in her home, in the village of Suli¸ta-Boto¸sani. In 1946 I brought my mother to Sihastria. There I tonsured her a nun and sent her to Old Agapia, where she lived until 1968 and went to the Lord at the age of 92.

My coming to the monastery was as follows: On December 12, 1929, the memory day of the holy Hierarch Spyridon, when I was 17 years old, I left my parents’ home with my older brother Basil, with our satchels on our backs. In one we had the lives of the Saints, the Psalter, the Horologion, and the Holy Scriptures, while in the other we had two large painted icons, one of the Theotokos and the other of St. George. We took nothing else from the house. Our parents, Alexander and Anna, accompanied us weeping as far as below the plain, to the area called the “Cattle Ravine.” Then my brother Basil began to sing the kontakion of the Akathist to our Savior Jesus Christ: “Sweetest Jesus, Light of the world, enlighten the eyes of my soul....” Then we kissed our parents’ hands, received their blessing, and departed for the skete of Cozancea. At that point our parents fell down and wept.... At Cozancea we stayed one night with Fr. Paisius. Then we took also our brother George and the three of us came to Suceava, venerated the relics of St. John the New, and went down to Sihastria Monastery. The abbot was Archimandrite Ioanichie Moroi. When he saw us, he kept us three days and three nights outside the gate of the monastery, to test if we had patience for the monastic life. Only at night did he let us sleep in a cell. After three days of fasting, prayer, and trials, he called us to the church, confessed us, gave us Communion of the Spotless Mysteries, and gave us cells and obediences in the monastery. In this way we entered the monastic life. Afterwards, in 1931 and 1933 my brothers died, and I remained alone. In 1937 I was tonsured a monk. I pastured the sheep of the monastery for ten years. In the years 1942-1945 I was appointed to govern the monastery, since the Abbot was sick. In January of 1945 I was ordained a priest and elected abbot of the monastery of my repentance, in the place of my reposed Elder, Abbot Ioanichie.

2. COUNSELS ON PRAYER

—What is prayer, and what kinds of prayer exist, according to the Holy Fathers?

Evagrius of Pontus says: ‘’Prayer is the converse of the mind with God. Prayer is an offshoot of meekness and angerlessness.” “Prayer is a fruit of joy and gratitude. It is the banishing of sadness and despair,’’ according to Evagrius of Pontus. And the Fathers say it is the union and joining of man with God, the strength of the world, reconciliation with God, the mother and daughter of tears. Prayer is the key of the kingdom of heaven, and according to Theophan the Recluse, it is the ascent of the mind and thoughts to God. Prayer has three degrees: first, spoken or read prayer, performed by the body; second, prayer of the thoughts, or mental prayer; and third, prayer of the feelings, or of the heart.

—Generally our people pray little, but with much humility. Can they hope for salvation through their small quantity of prayer? And how should the sick or those who can’t read pray?

Our Savior Jesus Christ said: When you pray, do not use vain repetition like the gentiles, for they think they will be heard for their much speaking. Do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him (Matt. 6:7-8). Then He taught us the ‘’Our Father.’’ Therefore, our Savior Himself taught us brief prayer. Anyone who says short prayers, but with humility and tender feeling, will be saved. Let us remember the holy elder who prayed for forty years with the same prayer: “Lord, I as a man have sinned; do Thou as God forgive me.”

—How can people fulfill the Apostle Paul’s command, “Pray without ceasing?”

Anyone can pray without ceasing if he always walks before God with his mind and heart. He can work with his hands while his mind and heart are raised to God. The only thing I have to add is that the most important thing in spiritual prayer is that our mind and heart are inseparable from God, regardless of what time and place we are in. We must always be aware of the presence of God. “This work applies to all kinds of prayer, and is considered an uninterrupted prayer,” says St. Theophan the Recluse. This is the feeling and spiritual contemplation of God that the blessed Prophet David had when he said: “I beheld the Lord always before me, for He is at my right hand, that I might not be shaken...” (Ps. 15:8). So we must understand that a faithful man’s life is a ceaseless prayer if his mind is always with God.

—When we do good works, is that also a kind of prayer to God?

Yes, it is. The Apostle Paul tells us this when he says: Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him (Col. 3:17). Whenever one does a good deed for the glory of God, or speaks for the benefit of others for the glory of God, he has the prayer of works. Therefore St. Theodore the Studite, counselling his disciples, said to them: “He who does good deeds and obeys with humility and without protest, performs liturgy and priesthood” (Homily 4).

3. ADVICE TO LAYPEOPLE

—How should Christians stand in church during services, how should they pray, and what duties do they have when they go to church?

Christians should stand in church with faith, fear of God, and attention. They should force themselves as much as possible to pray without distraction and with feeling of heart. Also, Christians have the following duties: to go regularly to church, for whoever often misses the services, except for the sick, are barred from the Holy Mysteries; to be reconciled with all men and to ask forgiveness of anyone they have hurt; to preserve their purity at least two days before going to church and at least one day after; to come early to the divine services in order to have time to venerate in peace and hear Matins. Every Christian should offer some gift to the Lord according to his ability, even if it is very small, as a sacrifice from the work of his hands. They should give names for commemoration, and ask the priest to take out parts [from the prosphora] for the living and dead members of their families. Christians should stand in church modestly and in good order, the men on the right and the women on the left. They should wear clean and modest clothes, and women should have scarves on their heads. It is forbidden to talk during services without great need. After Divine Liturgy starts, everyone should remain in his place and not move about to venerate the icons. They should follow the Liturgy with pious attention, and listen to the prayers and singing of the choir, the Epistle and Gospel readings, and the sermon. No one should leave the church before the end of the Liturgy without great need. Those who have confessed and prepared for Holy Communion should read the appropriate prayers before Communion in advance, and before they approach the Holy Gifts they should ask forgiveness of all the faithful. After the Liturgy, those who received Communion should read the prayers of thanksgiving, spending that day in spiritual joy and guarding themselves from all temptations. Parents should bring their children to church regularly, taking care that they receive communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. After the end of the divine services, Christians should reverently return to their homes, spending the rest of the day thinking of holy things, reading spiritual books, and visiting the sick. They are also obligated to tell those at home who didn’t come to church about what they heard and learned in church from the troparia, readings, and the sermon. These are the most important duties of Christians when they go to church on Sundays and feast days.

—How should young people prepare for marriage?

The best preparation that young people can make for life and for marriage is to grow in the fear and admonition of the Lord, as the elect vessel and mouth of Christ, the Apostle Paul, teaches us. To begin with, they must know the teachings of the Orthodox faith. They should learn by heart the Symbol of Faith (Creed), and other necessary prayers. They should have good spiritual fathers, should read the Holy Scriptures, especially the New Testament, and the Orthodox catechism and other soul-profiting books. They also have the duty to live in virginity until their church marriage, and to perform all kinds of good works according to their ability, especially prayer, regular attendance in church, fasting, almsgiving, purity of life, obedience to their parents, and confession, particularly during the four great fasts of the year.

Here you see how every young person should prepare himself to walk rightly in his life and marriage. We should remember that marriage is the oldest Sacrament of the Church, which was established by God even in Paradise. It is the basis of the family and the whole society. The strength of a family depends on its respect for the moral principles of the church. They should begin preparing themselves for family life from their childhood. Their priest, godparents, and parents have the largest place in their lives, and the greatest responsibility.

The parents of the two young people must consent to their children’s marriage, for otherwise it will not be a happy marriage. Also, St. Basil the Great imposes the same penance as for fornication on children who marry without their parents’ permission—namely, separation from Holy Communion for three years, or until their reconciliation with their parents. The two young people must also love each other and want to marry, for if they are joined together against their will, under compulsion from their parents or for material gain, such a marriage will not last.

The betrothal should be performed by a priest. The betrothed should live with their parents and preserve holy virginity until their marriage in church. A week or two before the church marriage, they should go to confession to their spiritual father or village priest, with fasting and prayer, and, if they have permission, prepare for Holy Communion. According to tradition, the marriage should be performed on Sunday morning before Divine Liturgy. The sponsors should be good Christians, capable of teaching and guiding their spiritual children on the good path. After the sacrament the two young people stand with crowns on their heads in the middle of the church, surrounded by the faithful, until the end of the service, and the priest begins Divine Liturgy and all present pray together for the newlyweds. The latter must say the Creed and the “Our Father.” When the priest says, “With fear of God, faith, and love, draw near,” then the two young people approach the Holy Chalice and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, if they have their spiritual father’s permission. According to the old Orthodox tradition, after the end of Divine Liturgy the newlyweds go to their home together with the priest, the choir, and all the people. There they eat and make merry with sobriety and good order, to the glory of God, as is fitting for Christians. If the two newlyweds received Communion, they should preserve their purity until the evening of the following day, in honor of the Holy Mysteries.

This is the proper conduct of those who marry, according to the order laid down by the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church. But alas, in our days most Christians violate this order, to their punishment, because of our sins. Those who fulfill the Christian laws of marriage will receive God’s blessing and lead a quiet family life, advancing in everything; while those who violate this order will pass their lives with many temptations. According to the Church’s law, marriages cannot be performed on Saturday evening. Many get married for the sake of gain, to acquire gifts and large sums of money, changing the sacrament of marriage, ordained by God in Paradise, into an occasion for fornication, scandal, and loss of souls. Young people also commit a great sin when they are married in church only in the eyes of the world and for bodily enjoyment, and not for the sake of having children, and when they have the wedding and party during Holy Lent, when weddings are forbidden.

—Another man asked Fr. Cleopas: “Father Cleopas, can a virtuous Christian save his family and his village by the holiness of his life?”

How can he not? The more virtuous Christians there are in the world, in a country, in a community, the more that country or community will be preserved from dangers, wars, disturbances, famines, and all kinds of evil. On the other hand, the fewer elect of God there are, the more severe will be God’s chastising blow. Someone asked a certain Saint: ‘’Can one man save a city?’’ ‘’He can,’’ the Saint answered. ‘’The Prophet King David is an example. Listen to what God said: For the sake of David My servant, I will not abandon the city of Jerusalem.’’

—A visiting layman asked him: “Father Cleopas, I quarrelled with someone and have asked his forgiveness many times, but he doesn’t want to forgive me. What can I do to be reconciled with him?”

Do not say anything more to him, nor speak evil of him to others, but pray to God for him and forgive him from your heart. In time the anger will be extinguished, like a fire that is starved of wood.

—Someone asked him: ‘’What do you say, Fr. Cleopas, is it a sin to smoke?’’

I haven’t seen written in the Holy Gospel, ‘’Do not smoke,’’ but I have seen written, ‘’Do not judge.” However, smoking is a sin.

—By what law will all the peoples of the earth be judged?

St. Gregory of Nyssa says that men will be judged by four laws at Christ’s terrible tribunal: 1. Those who lived from the time of Adam until the giving of the law on Mount Sinai will be judged by Christ by the law of the conscience, which is given to man at his birth, and which is called the natural moral law. Through the conscience, which is the voice of God to man, everyone knows what is good and what is bad. This is the law by which the world was governed until the time of Moses. 2. The second law by which those who lived before Christ and all who have never known of Christ will be judged is the law of the whole creation, which is always before us and tells us that it was created miraculously by an unseen Creator, God. ‘’The visible creation,’’ says St. Basil the Great, ‘’is the school of rational souls, the unwritten book of all mankind.’’ 3. The third law, by which the Hebrews alone will be judged, is the written law of Moses, which was given to him on Mount Sinai. 4. The fourth is the law of Grace, or of the Gospel, given to us by Christ, by which all Christians will be judged. One who renounces his Christian baptism becomes an apostate, and at the Last Judgment he will be punished more severely than a pagan who did not know Christ.

4. ADVICE TO MONKS

—One day a monk of Neam¸t asked Fr. Cleopas: “What should I do to be saved?”

Father Chariton, do these three things and by the Grace of Christ you will be saved: Never leave your prayer-rule unfulfilled; get up at midnight and pray, afterwards participating also in the service of Matins; and until your death abstain from eating meat and from judging.

—Another of his spiritual children said: “Father Cleopas, give me a profitable word.’’

Listen, Father. The mother of all the virtues is prayer. If you occupy yourself with other work during the time set for prayer, you will become a laughing-stock of the demons. All the Saints were men of prayer throughout their lives. Your first concern should be prayer—afterwards comes reading, writing, and handiwork. Do not work during the time set apart for prayer. Only under obedience, with a blessing, are you justified in leaving prayer, for obedience is higher than prayer.

—Another brother asked him: “Father, tell me something about the Kingdom of God.”

Listen, Brother. The Kingdom of God is not in words but in power, that is, in good works.

—One monk, the guestmaster of a certain monastery, asked the Elder: “Father Cleopas, tell me, how should we receive visitors to the monastery?”

Visitors come to us in the name of Christ. Therefore we must welcome them to the monastery with love, refresh them, show them hospitality, and see them off at their departure, because Christ comes to you with your brother. So through them we have Christ with us. Here is the key to monastic and Christian hospitality.

—One of the Elder’s disciples asked him: “Father Cleopas, is a monk obligated to give material alms?”

Why not? Every monk has the duty to give alms to the poor from whatever he has—clothes, money, food. Even those who live in the desert have the duty to open their door to the poor, to give them dry bread or just a cup of cold water. Only one who lives completely isolated in the depths of the mountains and is completely deprived of all earthly things is not required to give alms. Haven’t we heard what St. Isaac the Syrian says, ‘A monk who does not give alms is like the cursed and unfruitful tree....’ Especially today, when monks have everything they need, they should give alms according to their ability without being stingy, in order not to fall into the abyss of perdition. Woe to monks who are stingy and do not show mercy to the poor, because great punishment is prepared for them.

Father Cleopas added: “Fathers, when I was a brother in Sihastria Monastery, no one locked their cells because no one had anything to steal. We received everything we needed from the monastery. But see what the enemy once did to incite me to the passion of love for money. In 1937, when I was the cook in the monastery, a certain Christian came to me and said: ‘Father Cleopas, look what a beautiful new coin they have minted.’ And he gave me one, too. I took the coin to my cell, put it by the window under a piece of paper so that no one could see it, and I locked the door. And while I worked in the kitchen I was always running to my cell and looking under the paper by the window to see if the coin was gone. One day, seeing that the enemy had attached my heart to money, so that I kept my door locked and thought only about it, I made the sign of the Cross, unlocked the door, and gave the coin to a pauper. So after that I was delivered from love of money.”

—What kind of words are the most potent to benefit others?

The most powerful word for edifying others is practical—the example of our lives. St. Isaac the Syrian says the same: “The speech of works is one thing; beautiful words without deeds, another.” Afterwards he adds: “Many words without works are like an artist who paints pictures of water on the wall but is not able to quench his thirst.’’

—Which monks please God more: those who live in silence in the wilderness with fasting and ceaseless prayer, or those who preach to others the word of the Lord for their salvation?

The monk who struggles in the wilderness with great humility, silence, tears, fasting, temperance, and renunciation of all the cares of the world, cleansing his soul from the passions, is closer to God than one who preaches to others the word of the Lord without having spiritual strength to perform the things he teaches. St. Isaac the Syrian tells us: “I wouldn’t compare those who work signs, wonders, and mighty acts in the world with those who live in silence with spiritual intelligence. Love more the inactivity of silence than to satisfy the hungry in the world or to return many nations to faith in God” (Homily 23). Consequently, it is a greater and more profitable work to purify oneself from the passions of body and soul in silence and submission, than to teach others the will of God when one has not attained a proper spiritual age for this. St. Gregory the Theologian says the following about this: “It is good to theologize about God, but it is better to purify yourself from your passions for the sake of God.” And St. Isaac the Syrian says: “It is more profitable for you to strive to resurrect your fallen soul through moving your thoughts towards divine things, than to resurrect the dead.” Then the same Father adds: “Many have performed mighty acts, raised the dead, labored to return those astray, and done great works ... but after these things they themselves fell into unclean and filthy passions, killed themselves, and became a scandal to many by their open deeds. For they were still sick in their souls and did not take care to be healed, but they committed themselves to the sea of the world to heal the souls of others while they themselves were sick, losing thus their souls and their hope in God.”

—How can monks be saved more easily: in coenobitic or idiorrhythmic life?

St. Theodore the Studite says the following: “Monks in coenobitic monasteries are saved by the thousands; in idiorrhythmic life, one in a thousand.’’ In coenobitic life there should be one mind, one thought, and one soul in all the bodies, as St. Basil the Great says. While in idiorrhythmic life each one does as he pleases. There is no one to govern him or to cut off his will; only his conscience guides him and his confessor, if he goes to him for counsel. In regard to this, I remember the words of our Elder and abbot of Sihastria, Fr. Ioanichie Moroi, who often said: “Fathers and brothers, when the coenobitic life is destroyed in the monasteries, then they will be deserted.” And so it is; now the common life is destroyed almost everywhere.

5. ADVICE TO PRIESTS AND SPIRITUAL FATHERS

—How should a priest preach?

A priest must preach in three ways: By word, by pen, and by his life, says St. John Chrysostom. With his mouth he has the duty to teach the faithful the word of the Lord, dogmas, the canons and teachings of the Holy Fathers. With his pen he should write down what he learns from the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers. And by his life he should show forth those things which he teaches, according to his strength, paying attention to the word of the Lord which says: Those who do and teach them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:19). And, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16). The preaching a priest performs with his life is the most powerful.

—What are a spiritual father’s duties towards his spiritual children, and theirs towards him?

A spiritual father has great duties towards his spiritual children: to continually oversee them, instruct them, and pray to God for their salvation. The spiritual children have the duty to obey their spiritual teachers, to ask their counsel and blessing for everything, to fulfill the rule given them, to struggle to correct themselves, and to pray for their spiritual father.

—What is the most difficult of the seven Sacraments?

The Sacrament of confession. By this Sacrament one either saves a soul and is saved oneself, or one destroys a soul and is destroyed oneself for eternity. Nevertheless, by no other sacrament can one better win a soul for the Kingdom of God than by Holy Confession. But so great are the responsibilities and the dangers of a priest-confessor that St. John Chrysostom writes : “Few confessors are saved.” And he also writes about the priesthood: “In the last times only three priests in a thousand will be saved.” These words of the Saint are fearful and terrible.

—What advice do you give to priests who confess many people?

The priest-confessor is very accountable for the position he occupies. He judges in the Name and in the place of Christ. He cannot bind anyone in any way without examination, nor can he loose just any sin whatever in any person. In order not to err he must know very well the Sacred Canons, the tradition of the Church, the liturgical life of the Church, the teachings of the Holy Fathers, and especially Holy Scripture. Also, he must be firmly established in faith, have fear of God, love for men, and a fatherly heart towards everyone. He must judge as carefully and fairly as he can, impartially, keeping in mind each person’s nature, age, social position, conduct, education, health, culture, degree of understanding and obedience, and before all, his faith in and fear of God. He must confess people with much diligence and attention, without haste, first listening to what the people say and then asking questions, beginning with spiritual things—the man’s nature, faith, prayer, church attendance—and then about human and physical things. He should not go into detail in asking about sins, in order not to scandalize people, especially the young, by indiscreet questions. He should not show surprise or upbraid anyone for the sins he confesses, nor should he ask who exactly he sinned with, and especially he must not tell anyone the secrets he heard in confession. The Sacred Canons say that anyone who publishes the secrets of confession must bind his tongue and resign from the priesthood and the hearing of confessions.

—What can you tell us about general confessions, without individual confession of sins, and without the reading of the prayer of absolution over the head of each person, as is done in some places today?

Such confession is anti-canonical, it does not have the power of a Sacrament, and the sins remain unabsolved. This practice should be completely abandoned, so as not to abrogate the Sacrament of Holy Confession to the condemnation of both priest and people.

—Now that we have reached the end of this spiritual conversation, I beg you, Father Cleopas, give me personally some profitable advice.

Father Ioanichie, nothing is easier than to teach others, and nothing is harder than to practice what one teaches. First of all, we must be aware that we grieve God at every moment. Without this heartfelt humility we cannot be saved. That is how I begin my confession. Afterwards, if you wish to be saved, fulfill these three things, as St. Anthony the Great said: “Do not go often from one monastery to another; have God always before your eyes; and whatever you want to do, have testimony from the writings of the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers.” Another holy father said: “Have your cell as heaven, consider the brethren as angels, seek to have peace, and you will be saved.” Thus we also, Father Ioanichie, should treasure with love the teachings of the Holy Fathers, the commandments of our Savior Jesus Christ, and by His Grace we can hope to be saved and abide in eternal repose. Amen.

II. Interview with Elder Paisius Olaru of Sihla Skete

THE FAME of the recently reposed Elder Hieromonk Paisius (1897-1990) was spread through all Moldavia, as is that of his disciple, Archimandrite Cleopas Ilie. They both had the same zeal for Christ, for the protection of the Orthodox faith, for prayer, fasting, love, silence. Through their ascetic lives and great personal experience they attained to a spiritual stature rarely seen today. By their holy lives, sermons, and wise counsel they refreshed Christians of all ranks and ages who eagerly have recourse to their cells for a word of salvation. Fr. Paisius was a father-confessor of the heart. He would begin first with prayer, and then he heard the confession and gave fatherly advice from whatever words sprang from his heart. He would weep when penitents confessed their sins, and seeing him they were humbled and began to weep for their own sins. He rarely spoke about hell; his consoling words more often dealt with the mercy of God and the blessedness of the righteous. Thus he bade farewell to his spiritual children with the words: “We will meet again at the door of Paradise!” He is the father of forgiveness, love, and paradisal joy.

Like the preceding interview, the section that follows has been taken from Spiritual Conversations with Romanian Elders by Fr. Ioanichie Balan.

1. EARLY REMINISCENCES

—Father Paisius, tell us something about your birthplace.

I was born in the village of Stroie¸sti in Boto¸sani County in 1897, and my parents were called John and Catherine. I was the youngest of the five children in our home. My parents lived in peace throughout their whole lives, and taught me to love Christ by taking me frequently to the divine services in the church.

—What advice did your parents give you when you were a child?

They taught me mostly by their life, for they were simple people. I never heard them quarreling or abusing each other. My father knew the Paraclesis to the Mother of God by heart, as well as other prayers, and he prayed so loudly that we also could hear him. He used to say like the priest, “Let us pray to the Lord!” and he would weep and strike his chest with his fist. And my mother was the friend of everyone, and she said to us many times, “My children, be good, so as not to shame our honor!”

—Who drew you to the monastic life?

The lives of the saints urged me to monasticism, and my love for the Lord. At first I went to the skete of Cozancea, after the war, in 1921. My spiritual father was Fr. Callinicus ¸Su¸su, a great struggler and laborer of prayer. He used to wake me up at midnight every night, saying to me, “Come on, let’s go to church, because the harvest is great and the laborers are few.” It’s true that it was a hardship for me to get up so early, but when I went to church I often found him waiting for me in the exonarthex....

I had within me the desire to live in silence. I wanted to go to Sihastria Monastery, where there was more silence, but the abbot then, Fr. Ioanichie [Moroi], would not accept me without my abbot’s blessing. Therefore I stayed at Cozancea, where with the blessing of my Elder I built a little house and a chapel next to it in a meadow, where I struggled in silence and prayer, without abandoning my obedience in the church. I lived there for eighteen years, until 1948, when I came to Sihastria Monastery.

—Which were the most outstanding disciples you had when you lived in silence?

I had several, but the most advanced was the brother of Fr. Cleopas, named George Ilie. I remember that he lived in a cell with another older brother who didn’t know how to read. He was always silent, forcing himself in prayer and fasting. Once, when they were praying together in the evening, Brother George gave himself two slaps on the cheeks to drive away sleep. Then that elder was frightened and ran away from prayer. He came to me agitated and said that George had gone mad and they could not do their cell-rule together. I went and reconciled them. The next day I was working in the vineyard with the brothers. In the evening we sent the novice George to prepare the food. When we came, we found a sign on the table on which he had written, “Forgive me, Father Paisius, I am going into the forest for five days to weep for my sins.” We ate, said our evening prayers, and went to bed. At midnight I heard someone knocking on the door. “Who is it?” I asked. “Bless, Father Paisius, it’s Brother George the sinner.” “Brother George went off into silence for five days to repent!” I replied. Then he came into my cell, frightened and exhausted. “What happened?” I asked him. And he said to me, “I went to a hollow in the forest and decided to remain there for five days with prayer and fasting. But when I was reading the evening service with the Akathist to the Archangels, I heard a terrible voice: ‘What are you doing here?’ It was satan! Then I was scared and took the Horologion of the Church, and I don’t know how I got here. Please forgive me, Father Paisius.’’ “May God forgive you, Brother George,” I answered. “This is what happens to those who do any work without the blessing of their elder.”

After Brother George left for Sihastria Monastery, God sent me another good disciple, also named George. He came from the village of Flam^inzi, was very old, with a beard and white hair, and his whole life he had been a shepherd. Our first meeting was on a winter evening, after Vespers. He appeared before me outside the threshold of the church, barefoot and with a serene face. He shook his feet to get the snow off. He stayed with me as a disciple for eight years. All I have to say is that he surpassed me in everything, in fasting, prayer, humility, and he never did anything without a blessing. He always remains in my memory as a true hermit. He did not count his prostrations, and he prayed almost the whole night long. Once he asked me: ‘’Father Paisius, about how many prostrations should I make for one lei [about one cent], when someone gives it to me and asks me to pray for him?’’ “About ten prostrations are enough,” I said. “No, Father,” he said, “I make a hundred prostrations for a lei....” I cannot remember and note down everything that I saw and was profited by in the eight years I lived with this beloved and saintly elder.

—What spiritual counsels did you give your disciples?

Before I became a priest and confessor, I didn’t counsel laymen much. I used to urge those who came to me to pray much, to read the Psalter, make prostrations, fast, be at peace with each other, and I would bring them to the priest of the Skete for confession. And with my disciples, I was obliged to instruct them more by deeds and less by words. When they saw me get up for prayer, fast, be silent, and conduct myself towards them with meekness, they also were constrained to do even greater things. After I was ordained, I was obliged to try to benefit them by words, because my life did not correspond with my teachings. But by the grace of Christ I strove to pacify everyone and send them back to their cells calm.

—Since you loved to care for the sick, tell us something about the good repose of certain monks or disciples of your holiness.

Yes, I loved to help the sick, not from love of God, but from human duty. If I were to write about the good deaths of all the monks whom I took care of, I would have to write a whole book. But I can give a few examples. I remember one brother, named George Cosmanciuc, a great struggler. When he fell ill he called me to his bed and asked me to tonsure him a monk. On the third day after his tonsure, he received communion of the Spotless Mysteries, asked forgiveness of all, and while in my arms gave up his soul into the hands of God. A certain hierodeacon named Gerasim Vieru, when he became sick, asked me to read the Paraclesis to the Theotokos. When I had come to the middle, he gave over his soul into God’s embrace. Another hierodeacon, Nicon Draguleanu, a great laborer, called me one day and told me to lock his cell and come again tomorrow at eight, “so we can sing Alleluia with the angels.” When the next day came, I was delayed by people and could not be at his cell at the appointed time. I went at nine, but Fr. Nicon had just reposed, because his body was still warm. I wept and lamented much that I had not come an hour earlier and sung Alleluia with the angels! I also knew a wonderful elder, the monk Herman Conturachi, who was almost ninety years old. He was a pure soul, and had been a shepherd his whole life. He had a great devotion to St. Nicholas, and would pray to him like this, “St. Nicholas, bear with me, a sinner. I am an old man and you are an old man—have mercy on me!” I found him dead in his cell one summer, and I brought him to the flower-filled church to the ringing of the bells. Nor can I forget Monk Gennadius Avatamani¸tei, who was my cell-attendant for eight years. Even though he was old, he made prostrations next to my bed when I was sick, so that I might be made well and not die before him. He said to me many times, “Fr. Paisius, in my whole life I have never slept in a bed or taken medicines.” When the hour of his death drew near he asked me to take him out of his cell. I left him on the grass facing the east, and so he fell asleep on the bare earth as he had been accustomed to do in his youth, as a shepherd. May God forgive them. Their humility and simplicity remain indelible in my memory, for they were not educated men with many books, but they fulfilled with piety those things they received from their predecessors—namely, the cell-rule, church services, and handiwork. They were also, I believe, very advanced in mental prayer.

—When did you come to Sihastria Monastery, Fr. Paisius, and what was the fathers’ spiritual life like then?

I came to Sihastria in 1948. The abbot then was Fr. Cleopas. There was a true coenobitic life then. I knew fathers who didn’t have anything in their cells except a bed and a few books. Fr. Dometian, a virtuous old monk, was never absent from the church services, and he always punctually began the midnight service. Another humble monk, Fr. Christopher, who cared for the sick, at night used to bring Fr. Michael, who was paralyzed, to church on his back. All the brothers had to come to Matins. When they didn’t come, they didn’t eat the next day. Everyone was grateful for the peace and quiet that reigned in the holy monastery of Sihastria.

—Fr. Paisius, when did you move to Slatina Monastery, and what was the spiritual life there like?

I moved to Slatina in the autumn of 1949 with a community of twenty-three brothers from Sihastria, headed by Fr. Cleopas. I met spiritual monks there too, such as Archimandrite Paisius Cosma. Before his death, Fr. Paisius called all the fathers and was forgiven by all. I also came next to him and urged him to say the Jesus Prayer. Then he answered me: “Fr. Paisius, I am a sinful man, a great sinner, but I have never known any other God. I have supplicated Him my whole life, and I believe that He will care for me!” And saying this, he gave over his soul before us.

I also knew a holy monk whom I took under my mantia to be made a schemamonk, Juvenal Birsan. He always read the Psalter, loved obedience and silence. He was the ecclesiarch and kolyva-maker, and never made a mistake. He also loved poverty and had nothing in his cell except two monastic garments, a small rug for prostrations, and a Psalter, and he was always content. More brethren came to Slatina at that time, and there was obedience and harmony among us. For what on earth is more good and beautiful than love!

—You also lived for a while at Rarau Skete. What spiritual remembrances do you have from there?

I lived for about one year in Rarau Skete, which was a dependency of Slatina Monastery. Several monks struggled there, of which the most outstanding, it seemed to me, was a blind monk named Nicodemus. He was strong in faith and skilled in spiritual counsel. One time the abbot of the Skete asked me if I had acquired mental prayer. I answered him that I had not heard anything about it. Then he locked me in a small cell with the windows blocked up, and ordered me to say the Jesus Prayer continually. I stayed closed in there for a week. Afterwards he examined me to see if I had acquired the prayer. I replied that I had not been able to become accustomed to it. When he heard that, he was upset and said, “You are a small and empty vessel! Stay one more week in the same cell to learn mental prayer.” I stayed there another week, and on Saturday, when he came to ask me the same thing, in order not to upset him again I told him that I had acquired the prayer. Then he was happy and ordered me to teach it to others. But even now I have not gained the habit of mental prayer, because I don’t have spiritual life and I don’t love God as I ought....

—What other profitable memories do you have from your time in rarau?

Once when I was going with my disciple to Rarau, we passed through a village in the mountains called Slatioara. A woman came to me there and told me that in a certain house there was an old woman who was not able to die because she was at odds with one of her neighbors. I went to the house, called the neighbor, read the prayer of absolution over them, reconciled them, and when I left the house that woman gave up her soul in peace. Her soul was waiting to be at peace with everyone, for without forgiveness we can’t be saved.

2. ON SPIRITUAL FATHERHOOD

—As a father-confessor in Sihastria Monastery for thirty years, what do you have to tell us about that difficult obedience?

Spiritual fatherhood is the most difficult obedience in monastic life. On the spiritual father depends the salvation or punishment of each soul entrusted to him, the monastic tonsure of the brethren in the monastery, permission for laymen and monks to receive Communion, as well as giving surety for the worthiness of candidates for the priesthood. A spiritual father has a great responsibility, and therefore it is much more difficult for him to be saved than for a monk or layman. As the confessor of Sihastria Monastery I had many spiritual joys, but also temptations and some disappointments. Most of the fathers and brothers came to me for confession. The more zealous ones, which were the greater number, took account of my blessing, confessed sincerely, and entrusted their souls into the hands of the abbot and spiritual father. These gave me the most joy, for I received them as my spiritual children. I comforted them, calmed them down when there were temptations, and advised them to have greater love for obedience, church services, silence, humility, and prayer in their cells. Some of them, however, came rarely to confession, were slow to forgive others, grumbled at their obediences, and were sometimes very dissatisfied. With them I had more work to do. Much patience and skill was needed to gain them spiritually. Sometimes I went to their cells. Sometimes I gave them an easier prayer-rule, encouraged them, and I prayed for them very much. Some of them were benefited, while others I at least kept from falling into worse things and leaving the monastery. But how much I succeeded, how many I gained or lost, God alone knows. I only know one thing, that I will have to answer for all those I confessed and counselled before the judgment of Christ.

—Does it seem easier to you to be a spiritual father of laymen or of monks?

It’s harder to pastor monks and priests than laymen, because they have given vows and have a great responsibility since they know the word of God and the sacred canons, but still do not do their duties. That is to say, they sin with their will and knowledge. Laymen have less responsibility, and many sin from ignorance. Here is fulfilled the Gospel saying, “To whom much is given, of him much will be required, and to whom little is given, of him little will be required.”

—A priest-confessor asked the Elder for advice, and he said to him:

The most difficult work for a priest is Divine Liturgy and confession. Some priests have been harmed and have even fallen because of confession. A spiritual father should be a light for all and a vessel of the grace of the Holy Spirit. If he has the Holy Spirit he will not be harmed by men’s weaknesses, because he has divine grace upon him which can heal the souls of Christians. But if he is passionate, the Holy Spirit does not work in him and he will easily be injured when he hears men’s sins. Such a priest should not confess the people. According to the canons, spiritual fatherhood is given only to those who are old and tested in virtue. A spiritual father should be a light for all, a father for all, a good counselor and skilled guide of souls. He should be a true pastor, and not a hireling who serves the holy things for money and earthly gain. He must be as a candle on a candlestand to enlighten all, and not under a bed. The spiritual father, even if he is sometimes upset during confession by the sins of men, should never scandalize the faithful, for thus he loses all his labor. Whenever we are going to hear confessions, we must first pray and have meekness, and then by appropriate discernment and the grace of God we can gain many for salvation.

3. ON PRAYER-RULES

—What rule do you give a novice, a monk, a schemamonk, and a hieromonk?

I don’t give a rule with numbers. Usually I give the brothers who confess to me a cell rule, such as the Akathist to the saint of the day, the Paraclesis to the Theotokos or another saint, and if they are able, a kathisma of the Psalter. Furthermore, I tell the novices in the monastery to make forty prostrations, the monks to make a hundred, and for schemamonks I double the rule, because they have received five talents and have to increase them. How I suffered once from a prayer-rule! After I was tonsured a monk, I went to my confessor and asked him what rule I should do. He told me: “As you are in obedience, do whatever you can.” But I was not satisfied with this answer and went a second time and asked him. Then my confessor said to me somewhat sternly, “Since you’re asking me for a second time, from now on do what you can’t!’’ For obedience in the monastery and the labor of the coenobium cover a part of the rule.

—What rule do you give to the sick who cannot make prostrations?

To the old and sick I give a rule according to their strength. If they cannot labor with their body, I tell them to double their prayer with the Jesus Prayer. At one time a schemamonk, Nicanor Bitica, lived at Sihastria Monastery. In his old age he could not make full prostrations, but he made bows from his stool. After he fell from his bed he could no longer make either bows or the sign of the Cross; he could only mark the Cross on his chest, and thus he fulfilled his rule. So everyone should do what he can, with the counsel of his spiritual father, because “God loves a cheerful giver.”

—A sick woman, after confessing to the Elder, asked him for a rule. He told her:

The rule for a sick person is the bed of pain. Endure your illness with gratitude, and you will be saved. As much as you can, say the ‘’Our Father,’’ the Jesus Prayer, the Trisagion, and the Creed, and if you refrain from murmuring and go regularly to confession, you will soon gain eternal life.

—What rule do you give to laymen, to parents with children, and to young people who want to get married?

To laymen I give a rule according to their circumstances. For those who have many children, the most important rule is to raise their children in the fear of God and to not murder them by abortion or injure them. Those who don’t have children must give alms if they can; if they are poor, their rule is to not steal and to attend church. I tell young people to preserve their sobriety and honor before marriage, and after marriage to have children, as many as God gives them. I tell them to not have abortions, to not avoid childbearing by artificial means, to have a good spiritual father they confess to, and to follow the laws of the Church regarding fasting, temperance, and frugality.

—What penance do you give those who have denied the faith and then repented?

Those who don’t believe in God and don’t go to confession, I don’t receive either. But if they sincerely repent, I have them first recite the Creed three times. Then I tell them to venerate in the church, to venerate the holy icons and the relics of the saints. Afterwards I confess them, give them a rule according to their strength, and if in the future they love and venerate the church and obey her laws, I give them permission to have Communion. This depends on their faith and repentance. If they still have doubts about the faith, I give them appropriate books to read to strengthen their faith.

4. ON MONASTICISM

—What is the most important work of monasteries and monks?

To pray unceasingly for themselves and for the whole world. To glorify God always, to teach and console the faithful. In the monastery Martha should obey Mary, and not the other way around, and live harmoniously with her. If we will do this, ‘’nothing will destroy our city.’’

—Why have zeal for prayer and good works weakened today, both in the monasteries and among laypeople?

Because faith has diminished in the whole world. Today every layman and monk confesses that he cannot pray as they did in the past. Only with great labor and pains can some good monks and laymen maintain pure prayer day and night. We others are always surrounded by cares, people, and weaknesses, and when we pray our minds are scattered and full of thoughts. Consider the three attacks the Savior passed through when satan tempted him—first by gluttony, second by pride, and third by unbelief. In each case he conquered by ‘’I will worship the Lord my God, and Him alone will I serve.’’ Today there is a great quarrel between “Martha” and “Mary,” over who has chosen the good part. In the monasteries, as everywhere, Martha dominates Mary and does not let her pray much, while Mary weeps inconsolably. If we would put the church and the praise of God first (Mary) and obediences and handiwork second (Martha), then all our monasteries and churches would be spiritually reborn and the devil would flee from men. Spiritual progress begins with the saying: “Lord, help me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother....’’

—What kinds of alms should monks give?

Monks who have something to give must help those in need. I believe that those who help strangers and their enemies will have the greater reward. But the highest almsgiving of monks is to be always poor in all material things and to pray for everyone. As the Psalmist says, “If riches come unto thee, set not your hearts thereon” (Ps. 61:11). Those who have nothing must feel as if they had everything, and those who have must live as if they don’t, and must give to others. The Savior teaches us, make yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. That is to say, if I acquire something not proper to our state, I should give it to the poor in the name of the Lord. Almsgiving certainly has great power, but for monks poverty and pure prayer are higher.

—A beginning monk said to the Elder: ‘’What should I do, Father? I can’t endure the obedience I was given.’’

If you can do it but don’t want to, it’s a sin. But if you can’t do it because it’s too burdensome or you’re sick, it’s not a sin. Only ask the abbot and he will arrange another obedience for you, as God will enlighten him. You should do nothing in the monastery without a blessing. If we live under obedience and the cutting off of our wills, we will surely be saved.

5. ON HUMILITY

—“What is humility, Father Paisius?” some of his disciples once asked him.

Humility is the thought and conviction of our heart that we are more sinful than all men and unworthy of the mercy of God. Reviling ourselves doesn’t mean that we have true humility. True humility is when someone shames and abuses us publicly, and we endure it and say, “God ordered that brother to shame me for my many sins.” We should receive everything as a command of God. When someone shames you, say that God commanded him to do it. When someone takes something of yours, God commanded him to take it, in order to make you a monk. When you are removed from a higher place, God changed your place so that you would change from your passions and bad habits. This is true humility. And pride is when we trust in ourselves, in our mind, our strength, when we think we are more capable than someone else, better, more beautiful, more virtuous, more pleasing to God. Then it is certain that we are overcome by the ugly sin of pride, from which may God, who humbled Himself for our salvation, preserve us. Let us humble ourselves, brethren, because a proud man cannot be saved. Let us weep for our sins here, so we can rejoice forever in the next life, for after we leave this world everyone will forget us. Let us not hope in men, but only in God. A man changes. Today he gives to you and tomorrow he asks from you. Today he praises you and tomorrow he condemns you. Let us place our hope in the mercy of God, and we will never go astray.

—A layman asked the Elder for a profitable word, and he told him:

Brother, often animals are wiser than men. Let us learn obedience and patience from the ox, humility and meekness from the lamb, cleanliness and industry from the ants and bees. We can learn a lesson for our life from all the animals.

The Elder also added: “It’s best for a man to become a clay vessel, which is useful to all people and for all kinds of daily work, for food, water, and so on. But golden vessels are put in safes and locked up in cupboards. For fear of thieves they are seldom used, maybe only once a year. A clay vessel has its daily use and service to man. So also is a humble man who does not seek honors and rank. He remains insignificant even amid men of lower rank, but he benefits, counsels, and helps everyone, and all seek him out and rejoice with him. Humility is a great gift to monks and all Christians!”

6. THE BEASTS OF THE APOCALYPSE

—“What can you tell us about the heretics, Father Paisius?” the monks of Sihastria Monastery once asked him.

The Apocalypse says that two beasts will deceive the world. One will come from the earth and the other from the sea. The first is the heretics, who say: “Behold, Christ is here, Christ is there, Christ is anywhere!” The second beast from the sea is the unbelievers and blasphemers of God. The sea is the world, while the earth is the Holy Scriptures, from which are born the distorted teachings of the heretics. The first beast, the heretics, serve the second, namely the unbelievers. But who knows by what ways and means God will save His Church and the world! It was He who said: On this rock will I build My Church, and the gates of hell (that is, the mouths of the heretics) will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18). Let us pray to our good God and Savior Jesus Christ to deliver the world and His Church from these two great beasts of perdition.

7. COUNSELS ON TROUBLES

—A sorrowful Christian asked the Elder for a word of comfort, and he said:

Listen, Brother. Without temptations and griefs we cannot be saved. But we should not be disturbed or grow weak in faith, because now the devil attacks men more cruelly than in the past, for he knows that he has only a little more time to rule over the modern world. Let us pray, endure, and remember the words of the Lord, who said that He will be with us until the end of the ages. We should not despair in the time of our trials, because God has not abandoned us. As in the time of the Prophet Elias the Tishbite, when God still had 7000 of His elect who had not bent the knee to Baal, so also today the Lord still has many elect Christians with strong faith who have not bent their souls to the service of the passions. God has His just ones, in the villages and the cities, who glorify Him day and night and live in virginity and temperance, showing mercy to the poor and widows. But God alone knows their names.

—How can we reconcile those who are quarrelling?

First we should pray for them. Then we should urge them to confess to their spiritual father, and we should counsel them with the words of the Gospel to make peace, according to the Lord’s saying: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God (Matt. 5:9). As much as we can, we should strive to make peace, for we are sons of God and bear in ourselves the peace of the Holy Spirit. Those who are not at peace cannot have Communion. If one of them dies unreconciled to his enemy, then the living one must go to his grave for forty days and beg him to forgive him. Of course this is rather difficult. But we urge the living to make a prostration to the dead with whom they quarreled in life, and we hope in the mercy of God, that He will forgive them.

8. ON ABORTION

—A certain woman who did not want to have many children went to the Elder and asked his advice about what she should do. He said to her:

If you avoid having children, you avoid salvation. One child is not enough, because you might lose it. Many children in a home are usually healthier than one or two, because they often become spoiled and sickly. Here is fulfilled the word of the Lord: He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully (II Cor. 9:6).

A little while ago an old woman came to me for confession, and I asked her: “Sister, how many children do you have?” “Father, I’ve borne eighteen! God took eight of them when they were little, and the other ten are the first citizens in the village!” Another woman came from far away, and I asked her: “How many children do you have, my Christian?” “None, Father.” “And how many abortions have you had up to now?” “Father, I’ve had forty.” “Go and confess to the bishop, my child, and repent while you still have time, because God’s judgment is terrible!” After denial of the faith, the greatest sin in the world is the murder of babies by abortion. These two sins quickly bring God’s wrath and punishment upon men.

—What penance do you give those who have had abortions?

The punishment for abortion and murder in general is life-long repentance. The penance consists of daily prostrations, fasting until evening every Wednesday and Friday, complete avoidance of this sin in the future, and the birth and baptism of other children in place of those killed. Also in such circumstances they are forbidden to receive Communion for seven years, except in the case of a pregnant woman, who can receive Communion as a special allowance.

—Certain Christians asked the Elder, ‘’What will happen to the souls of infants killed by abortion?’’ and he answered with a sigh:

I believe that these infants are martyrs. They will complete the number of the martyrs in the last times, as the Apocalypse says. In dying through abortion they receive the baptism of blood, but the Church does not commemorate them in her prayers in order not to encourage abortions, which for the parents is an act of infanticide.

9. SPIRITUAL CONCORD

—A disciple asked : ‘’What kind of spiritual tie do you have with Elder Cleopas?”

In the autumn of 1935 Fr. Cleopas returned from the army and visited me at Cozancea Skete to receive a blessing. As I was accompanying him a while through the woods to see him off, I asked him: ‘’Well, now what are you thinking of doing, Brother Constantine?’’ (For he was not yet a monk.) “Will you stay at Cozancea or go back to Sihastria?’’

‘’I will go back to Sihastria, Fr. Paisius, where I lived before for five years, by the graves of my two brothers. I will also have more silence there....’’

Then we both took off our skoufias [hats], knelt down and made three prostrations, and I said the prayer: ‘’Lord, bless our vow that we will be together both in this life and the future one. If I die first, he will be at my head, and if he dies first, I will be at his head! Amen.’’ Then we embraced and parted. With my heart I am bound to Fr. Cleopas as much as it is possible to be in this life....

From The Orthodox Word, Vol. 28, No. 1 (#162—Jan-Feb, 1992), pp. 15-42. Posted on 6 Dec, 2005 (n.s.).