I, too, met Father Paisie Olaru, during my pilgrimages to Sihăstria Monastery and the Sihla Skete, together with my schoolmates and above all, with regretted Father and Professor Constantin Galeriu, such a brilliant guide in searching and discovering spiritual treasures.
During my studies at the School of Theology in Bucharest, being advised by experts to read the sacred texts in their original language and in my effort to acquire as many languages as possible, at one point I got to an acute existential crisis, one that made me question the meaning of my life. Tired, confused, I decided to do a complete confession (starting with my childhood) before the worthiest Spiritual Father I have ever met, Father Paisie Olaru.
In one of my personal discussions with Father Archimandrite Nicodim Sachelarie, he said: “Father Paisie and Father Cleopa are true monks and great spiritual confessor fathers. Many others would do well to find something else to do.”
So I bought train tickets in Bucharest, to go to Moldavia. Although I rushed to catch the train, I missed it. Annoyed by the incident and full of impatience, I returned to the ticket desk and decided to take the next train that was leaving Bucharest, even if I had to tour around the entire Romania. So I took the next train, which followed the route Brasov – Ciceu – Onesti – Adjud – Bacău – Piatra-Neamt, then I took the bus. I walked all the way up from Agapia to Sihla. I had written down several letter-sized pages, in tiny handwriting, in order to make a confession that would be as detailed as possible before the holy man.
The Father lived in a small dwelling, up on the hill to the right of the “Bisericuta dintr-un Lemn” church. Just before I had arrived, a big storm had scatterred off the visitors and pilgrims who had come to see the Father. I found him on the southern part of the place, in a small garden among the rocks. I got near, kissed his hand, asked for his blessing, and entreated him rather abruptly to hear my confession. He told me straight on that it wasn’t possible.
I got confused by his answer then thought that perhaps I had not been polite and respectful enough and that maybe we should have talked for a while first and only afterwards should have asked him to hear my confession. So I tried to make a bit of a conversation and then asked him again to hear my confession. Again, Father Paisie rejected me. I made at least five attempts to convince him to hear my confession. Fr. Paisie said “no” every time.
Discontent, distraught, revolted, I asked him: “Why not?” In a deep voice, he replied: “I cannot, because I am blind.” His answer came like a thunderbolt upon me. I thought: “God, I could not carry his cross”, no longer being able to read the sacred texts of the world in their original languages! – to me, that would have been a fatal blow. I admitted that I could not bear such a Cross – “Why did you give it to your beloved apprentice, oh, God?” – but well, it was none of my business. In any event, I was thinking: better dead than blind.
The weight of his Cross shook me. However, my selfish obstinacy brought this thought to my mind: “Well, in fact, what I want is for him to listen to me, not see me”. I thought that without saying it. Then he asked me: “Do you know where the worst place is?” I said no, I don’t know. He said: “The worst place is where I am.” I asked him again to hear my confession.
Wound up by his refusal, a thought spread through my mind: “I wonder why the Father rejects me? After all, I’m a cultivated man; he’s just a simple person.” The next moment I was faced with an avalanche of questions: “What are you looking for, coming to me, a simple and uneducated man?” – the Father said, also calling me by my name – “Why don’t you go to confess to and talk with your illustrious professors and guides – Father Stăniloae, Father Galeriu and all the other ones?”
I felt like I was in another world, in his presence. Space, time, and the depth of his words would take on new dimensions, as they seemed to come from another realm. Surprised again – this time by the fact that although I had not told him my name, where I was studying, and who my teachers were – I was amazed by the precision of the information he had given me. I looked around – saw no one else, no electric cable, neither a telephone one – let alone the fact that I had not shared with anyone my plans to go and confess to Father Paisie. I understood then that he was a charismatic Father, that he knew everything, and that he had the gift of foresight from God.
I insisted, once again, trying to make him look at me. “You know, Father, I am poor, I have made a great deal of effort to travel all the way up here for confession.” He replied: “I know you missed your train in Bucharest. I know you have come here after taking a big detour through Brasov, Ciceu, Adjud, Bacău, but – I cannot.” And then it seemed to me like he was diverting our discussion, referring to how difficult it was to move some rocks. I understood that what he actually meant was the state of my heart, which was like a stone and that, in fact, he referred to the Prophet, who says: “Let your hearts of stone be changed at least into hearts of flesh, so that God can then renew them”. The power of his inner prayer was crushing the stone of my hardened heart.
What a bitter taste caused by his refusal and my wounded ego alike. I decided to give it one more try. This time, he justified his refusal by saying: “I am a terrible person, so stubborn, and very proud.”
I understood that he kept showing me the mirror of my inner life. I decided to give up. This thought came to my mind which said: “Stop troubling this man of God. Stop wasting his prayer time. Kiss his hand, ask for his blessing, and go.” No sooner had I finished thinking it, that Father Paisie surprised me again, by saying: “Now, my dear son, now I can hear your confession.”
He took me by the hand, led me into his dwelling with tiny windows, put on his epitrachil and phelon, lit a candle, and started saying the confession prayers by heart. In the meantime, I took out all my papers from my pocket, as I wanted to make a full confession. I was trying to catch a ray of light from the candle and the little window, to be able to read everything that I’d written in my notes.
Once again, surprise. After he finished the prayers, Fr. Paisie started asking me about – and telling me – my sins, in the order that I had written them on my papers. I felt like I was catching fire. Storms of thoughts and emotions were swerving upon me. However a bad thought came to mind: about a half an hour after the father had started telling me my own sins, I said to myself: “I know Fr. Paisie is a holy man, but he is not God.”
At first, I thought it was mere coincidence, that he just happened to know a few things about me – but then, when, 45 minutes into it, he was telling me word for word everything I had written in my own papers, I got almost revolted – that was just too much!…
With a sad voice, he told me: “My dear son, now why do you still doubt, even now?!” I understood then that it was me who was the blind one, the stupid one, the one with a heart like stone, the stubborn, the proud one and all the other things that he was accusing himself of in order to help me wake up to humility, repentance, and tears. From that moment on, he changed his confession method.
He told me what was in my mind, heart, and what was written in my papers, for almost three more hours. At one point, he stopped, as if irritated, upset by my silence but also in order to discreetly hide the gifts that were dwelling in him, and told me: “First you troubled me for one hour to listen to your confession – now say what you have to say.” I replied: “Father, you told me everything. I have nothing more to say.”
Then he called me like my mother used to call me as a child; then he told me the names of my parents, colleagues, relatives, friends, teachers; their names, ages, professions, significant details about them and many other details regarding everyone’s life. Hundreds and hundreds of names. Which made me think that the most terrible institutions, whose specific job was to record the smallest detail in one’s personal file were mere jokes compared to the overwhelming amount of information that Fr. Paisie gave me that day.
The climax of my surprise was when he started telling me about my future, too. He guided me through the way in which the history of St. Stephen the Great should be presented at the Putna Monastery, in order not to upset the political authorities, so hostile to the Church both back then and now.
The moment he started saying the releasing (forgiveness) prayers, I felt like tasting the joys of Heaven beforehand. I forgot everything he told me about my future right away, but when the events occurred later on in my life, the Holy Father’s words would come back to mind every time. They were like testimonies that took shape over time, across a span of almost 30 years, right down to details of mathematical precision that Fr. Paisie had told me about.
Words cannot describe the reality and the deep joy I felt as Fr. Paisie was saying the forgiveness prayer.
Protosyngelos Constantin Chirilă