On July 25, 1924, the Evlambia and Prodromos Eznepidis welcomed a new son into their devout family. The family’s spiritual father at that time was Fr. Arsenios (now called St. Arsenios of Cappadocia). Soon after the baby was born, Fr. Arsenios came, baptized him, and gave him the name “Arsenios.” He also prophesied that young Arsenios would become a monk. A few weeks later, all of the Orthodox Christians in the region were forced to leave. The Eznepidis family followed Fr. Arsenios, who led them to Konitsa in Epiros, which is in northwestern Greece. Forty days after they settled there, Fr. Arsenios reposed in the Lord, fulfilling another of his prophecies.
When Arsenios Eznepidis was a boy, he spent a lot of time in the quiet of nature. He prayed outside for hours when he was not in school. After he finished elementary school, Arsenios learned to work as a carpenter. He did that work until his term in the Greek military. He bravely served as a radio operator during World War II. During the years of his service, Arsenios cared more for others than himself and often risked his own life so that others (especially those who had a wife and children back home) would be safe. He would volunteer to go on missions in their stead, to keep them safe. When he was finished with his military service, Arsenios wanted to become a monk. But he knew that his unmarried sisters needed someone to provide for them, so he worked to make money so that they would have what they needed. By 1950, he had made enough money to provide for his sisters, so he was able to become a monk. He went to Mount Athos, where he was a novice for four years. He was tonsure as the monk Averkios in 1954, and worked diligently to complete his obediences while maintaining silence so he could continue to grow in prayer. He also read a lot during this time from the Lives of the Saints, the Gerontikon, and the Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian.
Soon after he was tonsured, the Monk Averkios went to the Philotheou Monastery. His uncle was a monk there. In 1956, Averkios was given the Small Schema, along with a new name, Paisios. Fr. Paisios continued in his asceticism and was a good monk, working hard, praying, and struggling to become more like God. In 1958 Fr. Paisios spent some time near his home village, Konitsa, helping the faithful to retain their Orthodoxy and rebuilding the monastery there that had been ruined during WWII. He helped orphans and the poor during this time. When the monastery was restored in 1962, Fr. Paisios went to Sinai and visited there for two years. The Bedouins loved Fr. Paisios because of how he cared for them. He helped them spiritually, but also physically (he carved things out of wood and sold them to buy food to give to the Bedouins).
In 1964, Fr. Paisios returned to Mount Athos and finally got to live in asceticism in the desert, as he had longed to do his entire life. Unfortunately, he was only able to live there for a few years, as his health began to fail. Because of his declining health, in 1966 he had part of his lungs removed in surgery. During the operation he needed a lot of blood, which novices from the nearby sisterhood of St. John the Theologian donated to save his life. When he recovered, he was so grateful for their gift to him that he did everything he could to help them build their monastery and grow spiritually.
In 1968 he went to the Monastery of Stavronikita to help to renovate it. While he was there, he came to know Elder Tikhon. He served as the elder’s disciple and the elder clothed him in the Great Schema. After Elder Tikhon reposed in the Lord, Fr. Paisios stayed on in his hermitage until 1979. That was the year that Fr. Paisios moved to his final home: the hermitage Panagouda, on the Holy Mountain.
During his 14 years at Panagouda, Elder Paisios received many visitors. Most of them were people with struggles, but he also was visited by Christ Himself, the Theotokos, and other saints. The sick and suffering would come to him in the day, and at night he would pray and keep vigil. He was left with only a few hours to rest each night (maybe 2 or 3), and all of this ascetic labor made his body weak so he would easily get sick. He continued to have problems with his lungs and breathing, and also developed a hernia that was very painful. Even when he was off of the Holy Mountain (usually to recover from illness) he would continue to receive guests, although it meant physical challenges that left him pale and exhausted. He did not complain, though, because he trusted that God knows what is best for us. He also believed that it blesses God when someone who is suffering doesn’t complain but instead uses what energy he has to pray for others.
Elder Paisios also suffered from blood loss which always made him very weak, and the last few weeks that he was on the Holy Mountain, he often fainted. On October 5, 1993, Elder Paisios left the Holy Mountain to go into Thessaloniki for a few days. He never returned to the Holy Mountain, however, because in Thessaloniki they discovered that he had cancer and needed an immediate operation. After a little time in the hospital, recovering, Elder Paisios went to the monastery at Souroti. Even though he was weak and very much recovering, he continued to welcome visitors so he could listen to their stories and counsel them.
He wanted so much to go back to Mount Athos, but his health would not allow it. After much suffering, on July 11, 1994, Elder Paisios received Holy Communion one last time and the next day, he departed this life. He wanted to be buried at the monastery of St. John the Theologian in Souroti, so that is where his body was placed.
Thousands of people visit his grave every year, to receive his blessing. The monastery has welcomed the visitors and worked to organize his writings and publish them in books that can continue to help those who read them.
On January 13, 2015, Elder Paisios was elevated to sainthood, confirming what the thousands of people who have been touched by his life and his prayers knew all along. He is a man of God, and his prayers have brought healing to many people.
Holy Saint Paisios, intercede for our salvation!
Show your students pictures from St. Paisios’ life such as the ones found in this blog post: http://pemptousia.com/2016/07/a-brief-life-of-saint-paisios/
Find hymns, including an akathist hymn, to St. Paisios here: http://www.orthodoxroad.com/saint-paisios-a-clairvoyant-elder-of-our-times/
Share this book about St. Paisios with younger Sunday Church School students: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-31-37-NEW/37-Paterikon-for-Kids-Saint-Paisios-the-Hagiorite/flypage-ask.tpl.html
This book would also be a good one to share with a Sunday Church School class: http://www.stnectariospress.com/elder-paisios-the-hagiorite-the-friend-of-children/
With older children, watch this 40 minute video of St. Paisios’ life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVX1HOxrDcw
This video features the voice of St. Paisios as he gives a speech. The speech is accompanied by photos from his life and includes English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o08x3qDL0K8
Your Sunday Church School students will want to learn of the miracles that have taken place through St. Paisios’ intercessions. For example, here is the first-person account of a miracle that St. Paisios wrought for a child: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2014/07/elder-paisios-heals-child.html. Here is the account of a miracle that took place in Florida recently: http://stpeterorthodoxchurch.com/a-miracle-by-elder-paisios/
And here is a video of a monk who knew St. Paisios (and is named after him) telling stories of his miracles (in Greek, with subtitles): http://pemptousia.com/video/sanctity-and-miracles-of-blessed-paisios-the-athonite/
Any Sunday Church School students will benefit from hearing this teaching from St. Paisios about bees and flies. Read this to your class (http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2009/12/flies-and-bees-advice-from-elder.html) and talk together about it. Resolve together to be bees, not flies. If you have younger students, you could enhance this discussion by including the senses. Provide smelly bags – a bag containing something stinky and another with a scented flower for the students to smell as you are reading the part about the fly and the bee. Bring honeycomb and/or honey sticks so the students can taste the sweet results of “being the bee.” If you’re feeling crafty, create a pompom bee such as this one http://mollymoocrafts.com/pom-pom-craft-bee/ or this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEDkzxJU1QY with each student. They can keep the bee in their pocket or on a keychain attached to their coat zipper or backpack: somewhere that they will see it and be reminded to “be the bee!”
Middle-years Sunday Church School teachers can gear a lesson around St. Paisios’ life and focus on one of his quotes in this way: Before class, write words or phrases that indicate a good or bad thought (ie: God loves me; I’m so angry; I like what I have; I want that; No one likes me; etc.), each on a different sheet of paper. Fold each sheet into a paper airplane in such a way that you can’t see the word/phrase. Set the airplanes where the students will see them when they enter the room. Use tape to mark a landing area on the floor. When your students arrive, share St. Paisios’ life with them. Afterwards, talk with your students about this quote: “Thoughts are like airplanes flying in the air. If you ignore them, there is no problem. If you pay attention to them, you create an airport inside your head and permit them to land!” Ask your students what kind of thoughts they think St. Paisios allowed to “land” in his head. Discuss what thoughts are “good airplanes” that should be allowed to land and which ones should not be given landing space in an Orthodox Christian’s mind. Drive the idea home with this activity: give each student one of your paper airplanes and offer them the opportunity to throw it at the landing area. After all of the students have had a turn, one at a time, open all of the planes that landed in the landing area. Read each word or phrase and ask the students if it was a good one to keep in the landing area: is it something an Orthodox Christian should have in their mind? Repeat with the ones that did not land in the landing area. Then talk about how thoughts and phrases constantly come to mind and how we must always be ready to welcome or turn away those “thought planes” to keep our minds pure as they should be. Then give each student a copy of the quote: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_paisios_thoughts_are_like_airplanes.pdf so that they can share it with their family and put it where they’ll see it and be reminded to be diligent in their “thought traffic control.”
With older Sunday Church School students, spend time looking at the wisdom of St. Paisios. Jump start the conversation with this two-minute video of twelve of his sayings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycxr6D74q-Y. Find other quotes of his in this blog: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/lessons-from-the-fathers-elder-paisios-of-the-holy-mountain/. (You could also consider doing a book study over a period of several weeks on the book “Talks with Father Paisios” by Athanasios Rakovalis, which is available here http://www.saintnicodemos.org/products/talkswithpaisios.php), slowly working your way through the stories and his teachings. When you finish your discussions, have each student select one of his quotes that resonates with the student and invite them to create a poster or wall hanging featuring that quote. They could create it on a computer; draw/write it on paper with a variety of tools; or paint it on large canvas. When they finish, post these quotes around your Sunday Church School room and invite others from the parish to come see what St. Paisios said.
Share with your Sunday Church School students some (or all!) of these miracles that have happened through the prayers of St. Paisios: http://amphilochios.blogspot.com/2016/07/the-elder-ephraim-of-vatopedi-monastery.html