Paisius Velichkovsky

Paisius Velichkovsky Paisius Velichkovsky

1722 – 1794

Monk, archimandrite, hegumen of a community which moved from Mount Athos to Dragomirna, Secu and Neamț Monastery from Moldova, translator of patristic, ascetical and mystical literature, theologian and author of Hesychast and autobiographical works, letters and sermons.

Article

Paisius Velichkovsky is the key figure of the revival of the Byzantine mysticism in the Slavic and the Romanian world of the 18th century (Tachiaos 1986). Born in Poltava (Ukraine), in the family of Cossacks priests from Chernihiv (Шумило 2020), Peter was tonsured monk in 1741, taking the name of Platon. He studied in the Academy of Kiev (1735-1739) and he grew attached to the Pechersk Lavra, where he was spiritually guided by confessor John Kmita. Platon left his homeland in search of a spiritual master. In 1743 he arrived to Wallachia and met staretz Basil of Poiana Mărului in Dălhăuți Skete (Vrancea county). Between 1743 and 1746 he settled in Trăisteni, Dălhăuți and Cârnu Skete, ruled by staretz Basil, where he learned Romanian and the practice of the Jesus Prayer or the Prayer of the Heart. After this period of time, Platon left for Mount Athos, where he created a monastic community of Slavic and Romanian brethrens in different sketes around Pantocrator Monastery. In 1750 staretz Basil of Poiana Mărului arrived to Athos and tonsured Platon a lesser schema monk, changing his name to Paisius. Between 1746 and 1763, the Slavo-Romanian community of staretz Paisius gathered, copied and translated different ascetical texts from Athonite monastic centres (e.g. St. Basil Skete founded in 1744 by Karamanlis monks). This activity was continued in Moldova, once the community moved to Dragomirna Monastery (1763) and then to Secu (1775) and Neamț Monastery (1779). In 1790, archbishop Ambrosius of Poltava named Paisius archimandrite. Staretz Paisius Velichkovsky died in Neamț Monastery on the 15th of November 1794.

The multi-ethnic and multilingual monastic community (Romanians, Russians, Serbians, Bulgarians and Greeks) of Paisius Velichkovsky became an “ascetico-philological” school (Tachiaos 1964) which aimed to translate a wide number of patristic texts from Greek to Slavonic (Tachiaos 1964, Citterio 1991, McGukin 2012). The translation followed three stages: 1. Gathering Slavic manuscripts and confronting each other; 2. Translating texts from Greek to Romanian; 3. Translation from Greek to Slavic supported by the Romanian witnesses (cf. Letter to Theodosius in Pelin 1998). These stages were respected in different ways according to the phases of the activity of translation: Mount Athos (1746-1763), Dragomirna (1763-1775), Secu (1775-1779) or Neamț Monastery (1779-1794). Staretz Paisius and some Slavic disciples (Жгун 2016, 2017, 2018) translated directly from Greek to Slavonic, while most of the Wallachian and Moldavian monks transposed texts from Greek to Romanian (Ursu 1994, Pelin 2017). Sometimes, the Romanian disciples translated Slavic ascetical works (Mutalâp 2020, 2023) which were necessary to be read in the cell according to the Rule of Dragomirna Monastery (1763).

The peak of the translations from Neamț is the rendering of the Greek Philokalia (Venice, 1782) to Slavonic (Dobrotoljublje) by startez Paisius (Kontouma 2002, 2012). However, the translation was revised and published by a group of correctors and by metropolitan Gavril Petrov at Moscow in 1793 (Родионов 2014). The Greek ascetical anthology printed in Venice was translated into Romanian at Neamț at the beginning of the 19th century (Rom BAR MS 1455; cf. Zaharia 1996, Dulgheru 2022). Paisius Velichkovsky knew about the project of the Philokalia, translated and edited by Macarius of Corinth (1731-1805) and Nicodemus the Hagiorite (1749-1809), before its actual publication (cf. Letter to Theodosius).

The so-called “Paisian” movement or “paisianism” mixed the extensive activity of ascetical translations with the diffusion of the practice of the Jesus Prayer and the spirituality of staretsdom. Besides that, it created a wide monastic network between Mount Athos, the Slavic world and Moldova. Nicodemus the Hagiorite himself wanted to visit Neamț Monastery, to meet Paisius, in 1779 (Διονυσιάτου 1959). Monk Constantinos, who was part of the Kollyvades movement and close to Macarius of Corinth, came to Dragomirna in 1774 (Paschalidès 2016; Deun 2016). Throughout the Dragomirna phase, the Zaporozhian Cossack Petro Kalnyshevsky (1691-1803) assisted staretz Paisus’ community with alms (Шумило 2015), while some disciples of Paisius moved from Pecersk Lavra to Dragomirna and Neamț (Ігнатенко 2019, 2022). Within the Romanian Principalities, this movement strengthened the connections between Moldavian and Wallachian monasteries, as attested by the diffusion of the “Paisian” ascetical miscellanies focused on the Jesus Prayer (Furtună 2002; Mutalâp 2020, 2022).

Apart from translations, staretz Paisius’ oeuvre consists of letters, sermons and a couple of works which were aimed to defend the practice of the Jesus Prayer. The former were sent to Slav clergymen and political figures, Greek and Romanian monks and theologians. The latter consists of three texts focused on defending the reading of mystical literature and the monastic practice of the Prayer of the Heart: Response to Atanasius the Moldavian (1757-1758), Composition on the Prayer of the Mind (1770) and Defence of the Prayer of the Mind (1793) (Pelin 2010).

The Vitae of Paisius Velichkovsky was written by schema monk Mitrofan, one of his first disciples (Tachiaos 1986), and it is the basis of six different versions produced by: monk Vitalie; Isaac Dascălul, who translated it into Romanian (ca 1796); Grigorie Dascălul (beg. 19th c); schema monk Platon (first part of 19th c); archimandrite Gherasim Miron and Augustin Braha (1852-1856) and archimandrite Andronic Popovici (1872-1874). The common source for all of them is the Autobiography of staretz Paisius Velichkovsky, preserved in an autograph manuscript from Secu Monastery.

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