Saint Paisios Velichkovsky was born in Poltava, present day Ukraine, on December 21, 1722, and was the eleventh of twelve children. His father John was a priest, who named him Peter at his Baptism, in honor of Saint Peter the Metropolitan of Moscow, on whose Feast he was born.
After the children’s father died, their mother Irene raised them in piety. Peter was sent to study at the Moghila Academy in Kiev in 1735. After four years, Peter decided to leave the world and become a monk. At the age of seventeen, he went in search of a monastery and a good Spiritual Father. For seven years Peter visited various monasteries, including the Kiev Caves Lavra, but he did not feel drawn to any of the monasteries of Ukraine.
After being made a rassophore monk (one blessed to wear the rasson, but not yet tonsured “into the mantya”) at the Saint Nicholas Medvedevsky Monastery with the name Platon, he found that there was no experienced Elder there who could teach him obedience, or give him spiritual direction. Not wishing to begin his monastic life without such guidance, he left the monastery a week afterward with the blessing of his Elder.
At first, he went to Kiev, where he happened to meet his sister-in-law, the widow of his older brother Archpriest John. She informed him of his mother’s sorrow when he left Kiev, and her mind seemed to be affected by her grief. Then one day an Angel appeared to her and told her that instead of loving the Creator with all her heart and soul, she loved His creation (her son) more. Because of this excessive love, the Angel continued, she was thinking of starving herself to death, which would result in her eternal condemnation. The Angel said that by God’s grace, her son would become a monk, and that she should also renounce the world and become a nun. After this, she became calm and accepted God’s will. She entered a convent and was tonsured with the name Juliana. After ten years or so, she departed to the Lord.
While at Kiev, Father Platon met two monks from Romania who were about to return to their country. After crossing the border into Moldavia, they came to Vlachia and the Skete of Saint Nicholas, which is called Trăisteni, around 1745.
The Elder of the Skete, Hieroschema-monk Michael, was away on business in Ukraine, so Father Platon and his companions were welcomed by the Superior, Father Dēmḗtrios. Father Platon was placed under a general obedience and was given a cell near the Skete, from which the church was visible.
The time came when Father Platon was filled with longing to visit Mount Athos. He asked the brethren of the Skete, and those of other Sketes, for their forgiveness and blessing for the journey. He also thanked them for their kindness and their paternal instruction. They blessed him and let him go in peace. At that time, he was just twenty-four years old.
Father Platon went to Mount Athos in 1746, arriving at the Greatest Lavra on July 4, the eve of the Feast of Saint Athanasios of Athos. His traveling companion, Hieromonk Tryphon fell ill and reposed after four days. Father Platon would have died from the same illness, if not for the care of the Russian monks. He recovered and lived in solitude in a cell called Kaparis near the Pantokrator Monastery. He went around visiting many ascetics and solitaries, seeking a Spiritual Father, but was unable to find anyone suitable.
In 1750 Saint Basil of Poiana Mărului visited the Holy Mountain and spent some time with Father Platon, who asked him for monastic tonsure. Elder Basil granted his request, giving him the name Paisios. Then Father Basil returned to his Skete at Vlachia. About three months later, a young monk named Bessarion came to the Holy Mountain from Vlachia. He went around to the monasteries searching for an instructor, but did not find one. He also came to Father Paisios and asked him to tell him something about saving his soul. Father Paisios sighed and told him that he himself had been looking for an instructor without success. Yet, feeling compassion for Father Bessarion, he talked to him a little about the qualifications necessary for a true instructor, and about the Jesus Prayer. After hearing him, Father Bessarion said, "Why should I seek any further?" He fell down at the feet of Father Paisios, entreating him to be his Elder. Father Paisios did not wish to be anyone’s Elder, preferring to be one under the authority of an Elder. Father Bessarion wept for three days until Father Paisios finally agreed to accept him as a friend, but not as a disciple. They lived together for about four years, fulfilling God’s commandments, cutting off their own will, and obeying one another as equals.
Other disciples began to join them, and their number continued to increase. Since they needed a priest and a confessor, they pleaded with Father Paisios to accept ordination. He did not want to hear of this, and repeatedly refused to consent. They did not give up, however. They asked him how he could expect to teach the brethren obedience and cutting off their own will, when he disobeyed the tearful entreaties of those who wished him to accept. Finally, he said, “May God's will be done.”
In 1754 Father Paisios was ordained to the holy priesthood and was given the Skete of the Prophet Elias, where he began to accept even more disciples. Saint Paisios remained on Mount Athos for seventeen years, copying Greek patristic books and translating them into Slavonic.
In 1763 Father Paisios went to Moldavia with sixty-four disciples, and was given the Dragomίrna Monastery near the city of Sochava, on the border between Bukovina and Moldavia. Here he remained for twelve years, and the number of monks increased to three hundred and fifty. His friend Hieromonk Alexios came to visit him from Vlachia, and Father Paisios asked to be tonsured into the Schema. Father Alexios did so, but without changing his name. While at Dragomίrna, Elder Paisios corrected the Slavonic translations of patristic books by comparing them to the Greek manuscripts he had copied on Mount Athos.
The Russo-Turkish War broke out in 1768, and Moldavia and Vlachia saw many battles. Dragomίrna and the forests around it became filled with refugees from the villages near the battlegrounds. Another catastrophe followed in 1771 with an outbreak of the plague. When Dragomίrna and Bukovina came under the control of Austrian Catholics, so Saint Paisios and his flock fled to Moldavia. In October of 1775, the Holy Elder and many of his monks went to Secu Monastery, which is dedicated to the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
Secu was too small for the number of brethren, who were crowded with three to five monks in a cell. In the spring, more brethren were due to arrive from Dragomίrna, so new cells had to be built. After three years of labor one hundred cells were completed, and everyone had a place. Still, the numbers continued to increase, and they had to look for a larger monastery.
Prince Constantine Muruz wrote to the Elder saying that there was no larger monastery than Neamţ, about two hours from Secu. On August 14, 1779, Saint Paϊsios moved to Neamţ Monastery, where he spent the last fifteen years of his life translating the writings of the Holy Fathers. He also introduced the the Typikon (Rule) of Mount Athos in that community. He gathered about a thousand monks in the monastery, instructing them in the unceasing prayer of the heart.
Archbishop Ambrose visited Saint Paisios at Neamţ in 1790, remaining for two days to converse with the Elder. During the Sunday Liturgy, he raised Saint Paϊsios to the rank of Archimandrite. He stayed for two more days, then departed after blessing everyone.
Saint Paisios fell asleep in the Lord on November 15, 1794 when he was almost seventy-two. It is possible that God revealed the time of his death to him beforehand, for he stopped translating books. He merely reviewed and corrected what had already been translated.
He was ill for four days, but felt well enough to attend the Liturgy on Sunday. After the service, he asked everyone to come and receive his blessing. Bidding farewell to them all, he returned to his cell and would not receive anyone. A few days later, on November 15, he received the Holy Mysteries once more, and surrendered his soul to God. His funeral was conducted by Bishop Benjamin of Tuma, and was attended by multitudes of priests, monks, laymen, nobles and ordinary people.
The holy relics of Saint Paisios were uncovered in 1846, 1853, 1861 and 1872, and were found to be incorrupt.
Saint Paisios has had an enormous influence, not only in Romania, but throughout the Orthodox world. His disciples traveled to Russia, sparking the spiritual revival of the XIX century with Slavonic translations of the Philokalia and the tradition of eldership which they had learned from Saint Paisios. His influence has been felt even in America, through Saint Herman of Alaska. Saint Herman had been taught by Elders whose spiritual formation was guided by Saint Paisios.
Having become a stranger on earth,
you reached the heavenly homeland, O Venerable Father Paisios.
You taught the faithful to lift up their minds to God,
crying out to Him with all their hearts,
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Like a much-laboring bee, you were an elect zealot of the monastic life,
supplying our souls with the writings of the Fathers,
through which you guide us on the path of salvation.
Therefore, we cry out to you, “Hail, truly wise Paisios,
for through you, the tradition of spiritual Elders has been restored to us!”