- The Father of the Romanian "Filocalia" -
Saint Paisie from the Monastery of Neamţ (today in northwestern Romania) is a saint revendicated equally by the Slavic and the Romanian Orthodoxy, for his contribution to the “Orthodox Renaissance”, in the late 18th century. His name is transliterated in Romanian as Paisie Velicicovschi, and in Ukrainian as Паїсій Величковський.
The revendication of a saint is not a priviledge, but an inheritance of a spirituality which both Romania and Ukraine (or maybe all the Slavic-speaking countries) have it fully until today.
The first years
Saint Paisius, as a laymen named Peter, was born in born in Poltava, Ukraine on 21 December 1722, in a priestly family, being the eleventh child of twelve. His father, John, was the dean-priester in the diocese, and his mother, Irene, was a very pious Christian woman.
His father died very early and the whole education given by his mother was crowned in 1735, when the child was sent to learn at the Theological Academy of Kiev, founded by the Bishop Peter Movilă, an important orthodox bishop in the late Middle Ages, the author of the Orthodox Confession of Faith from 1645. After four years of study, the young Peter left the school and entered in the community of the Medvedeski Monastery, being 19 years old. Here he was tonsured as rasofor (bearer of “rasa”, a monastic cloth: practically a novice), receiving the name of Platon. After a short stay in the monastery Pecerska, he came in Wallachia in 1745, at the skete Traisteni, near Ramnicu Sarat and then to Dălhăuţi Monastery (southern Moldova).
The Monastic life and the work of translation
In the summer of 1746 he went to Mount Athos, where he tried the life as a hermit, for 4 years. Only after that hewas tonsured as monk, in 1750, having as “godfather” his confessor, a Moldavian monk, St. Basil of Poiana Marului, taking then the name of Paisie (Paisius). Shortly after he was ordained as hieromonk (priester-monk), and he founded the monastic community of the Holy Prophet Elias. He wes gathering around him about 65 Romanian monks, and by summer 1763, he left Mt. Athos, because of the financial claimings of the Turks. So, Paisius and his community came back in Moldova and all established themselves at the monastery of Dragomirna, near the old capital, Suceava.
The community of Paisius at Dragmirna has grown there to 350 monks. His success consisted in the popularization of some important mystical works, by translating them in the local languages. Paisius himself and some disciples translated for the first time the “Philokalia” (“the love for beauty”), a kind of manual of spirituality of the Eastern Churches, from old Greek to Romanian and Slavonic. A manuscript of this translation is kept until today at Dragomirna, consisting in 626 pages of text.
St. Paisius gave a special attention to the group of translators. After Philokalia, some Moldavian, Wallachian and Transylvanian monks, but also Ukrainian or Russian translated many other texts of the Greek Fathers into Romanian and Slavonic, so that Neamt Monastery became practically a patristic academy and a spiritual center, unprecedented in other Orthodox countries in that time. That was the “Orthodox Renaissance”.
The community rules at the Neamt Monastery: The Orthodox “Renaissance”
In 1775, the Northern part of Moldavia (Bukovina) was occupied by the Austrian Empire, and St. Paisius moveed with 200 of his monks at Secu Monastery, which remained in Moldavia, with the consent of Metropolitan Gavriil Ghica Callimachi and Prince Gregory. At Secu, he made the same thing: combined the strong ascetic Athonite life with the work of translating texts into vernacular languages. On August 1779 the new prince of Moldova decided to give to Paisius also the statute of stareţ (abbot) of the biggest Moldavian monastery at that time, namely Neamţ, so that the saint became a very important spiritual leader on two of the biggest monastic communities here.
In the next fifteen years, St. Paisius preserved the rules of Mount Athos’s monastic life, both in terms of the order of divine services, and in the ascetical individual life of the brothers. Until his period, not all the monks were always at the services, but he imposed the participation to the church services as obligatory for all the brothers, except for the sick or those sent to very important works.
A very important “reform” in the monastical life was the implementation of the “hesychast” prayer, well-known as the “Heart’s prayer”, which was a short incantation repeated unceasantly (as much as possible). The words of this prayer were: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy of me, the sinner” and is supposed to be used for the first time at the Mount Athos in the period of St. Gregory Palamas (14th century), but new researches demonstrated the use of it in the 5th century in the Desert of Egypt (see Antoine Guillaumont – The origins of the monastical life).
The Sacrament of the Confession repeated frequently among the brothers, up to every three days, conducted to the flourishing of the spiritual life of the community. In order to be able to do this, St. Paisius proceeded to the ordination of 24 priests, who confessed and spiritually guided the entire community. The confessors had also the role of overseeing the administration of the two monasteries.
Near the Monasteries of Neamt and Secu, St. Paisius founded several hermitages for the nuns around the Mount Ceahlău, where he appointed as confessor St. Joseph them Hermit (1828), one of his disciples from Neamt. Another disciple or holy life was St. Irinarch Rosetti (1859), who founded the monastery of Horaita in Moldova and of the Mount Tabor church, in the Holy Land. There is to be mentioned as apprentice also St. Gheorghe from Cernica and Metropolitan St. Gregory the Teacher (Dascălul) from Wallachia, who also conducted a work of translating books and renewing the monastic life.
The holiness of his life, made Paisius well known in the whole Moldova, both in the nobiliar circles, but also for the simple Christians, up to northen Russia. A Russian Metropolitan named Ambrose, being in Moldova, made him “archimandrite” (the highest monastic distinction in the Eastern Churches). His influence was great on many monasteries and hermitages especially in Moldova (monasteries of Dragomirna, Secu, Neamt, Agapia, Văratec, Bisericani, Rasca, Vovidenia, Pocrov, Tarcău) and Wallachia (Cernica, Căldăruşani).
Paisius as a Saint
In autumn 1794 Paisius fell ill and went to the Lord on November 15, at the age of 72 years. At the moment of his death, his congregation of two monasteries numbered more than 1,000 monks of different nationality (Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, Greek, Bulgarian). He was buried in the crypt of the big church, built by the Voivod Saint Stefan the Great. Being honored as a saint yet in his life, his disciples have committed memorial service, appointed him as the annual feast day November 15. In the last decades of the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century, his Romanian disciples have spread the hesychasm in the Romanian lands and the Slavic ones, in more than 100 monasteries in Russia and Ukraine.
In 1988, the Holy Synod of Russian Orthodox Church canonized St. Paisius, and the same made in 1992, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, which put his commemoration, as St. Paisius from Neamt, on November 15. His tomb at the Neamt monastery is until today an important place for pilgrimage.
Hymn of the Saint (Troparion):
“Defender of the true faith and the praise the monks, o, Pious Father Paisie, you loved Christ from your childhood, and as another Abraham you forsaken your country, leaving an ascetic life at the Mount Athos. And gathering many disciples, you have you the blessed country of Moldova, and you have made from Neamt Monastery a heaven and earth. For these, you are now together with the angels, not ceasing to pray to God for our souls”.