The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios is a spiritual memoir by Dionysios Farasiotis, chronicling the author’s flirtations with the occult and later conversion to the Orthodox Church through the eldership of then Elder—but now Saint—Paisios. The author captures the most notable spiritual episodes of his own life on his path to repentance. The best parts of the book are the appearances of Saint Paisios.
The vanity of the secular world
I realized that every morning you get up early to go to work at a usually joyless occupation that drains you of all your energy. Afterwards, you return home for some food, take a short afternoon nap, and for relaxation watch a soccer match or a mindless television show, which is followed by the evening news, during which you are told what is interesting and what opinions you should form on various minor issues. After some sleep, the cycle repeats itself. Of course, from time to time, you might see some friends and go to a restaurant to exchange some pleasantries, but who has the energy or the intellectual stamina to entertain serious questions? “Come on, pal, we just want some small talk, so we can have a good time to get us comfortably through the day.” And, ultimately, this is how you pass your entire life.
Like the author, I also recognized the futility of secular conformity. I decided to seek the truth using my fallen mind, and what did it decide on? That the “truth” was to pursue all my passions and worldly desires. From that wrong path, I did catch glimpses of objective truths, but not the ultimate truth, because I was so attached to the pleasures of the world.
Natural love is flimsy, transactional, and temporary
In this world, I hadn’t found any genuine love, or anyone who really loved me for who I was. Everyone had a motive for loving me. Girls would love men for an attractive face, a handsome body, and beautiful eyes. But if I had been in an accident resulting in the loss of a limb or the disfigurement of my face, no woman would have cared to stay at my side, even though I would still have been the same person. No woman really loved me, or was even interested in the deeper core of my being; rather, they were only concerned with the appearance of my body. And the guys who were my friends loved me for my mind, my ideas, my knowledge, and my wit; but if I hadn’t been educated, I would still have been the same person. Were I to have suffered a wound to the head and become a little slower on the uptake, the deeper core of my being, my soul, would still have been the same, yet no one would have still loved me. Even the natural love of my parents was not free from utilitarian motives. It was colored by certain expectations and desires for compensation in the future. They loved me because I was intelligent, because I was a good student, and because I would take care of them in their old age. No one loved me without guile, without self-interest, or without the expectation of something in return. My real self existed beneath the surface, apart from my being smart or stupid, handsome or ugly, good or bad. I longed for this core of my being to be loved without any reason or societal justification, but just because I existed.
Not until I came to God did I realize how true is the phrase “Looking for love in all the wrong places.” It turns out that all the places of this world are wrong! Unconditional love cannot be found on the earth, because such love comes only from God. The highest form of natural love you can achieve, usually with your spouse or child, will still be a form of creaturely love, and lower than what you can experience directly from God.
The man who lives far from God
When man despises the immortal soul, the higher part of his being, and becomes deeply attached to his body, he becomes utterly carnal and condemns himself to a life that is degrading. And so “man, being in honor, did not understand; he is compared to mindless cattle, and is become like unto them.” (Psalm 48)
How does God dispense miracles to individuals?
I once asked Father Paisios about something I found quite perplexing: “Elder, why have all these miracles happened to me?”
“Because,” he replied, “starting from when you were a child, you didn’t get the help you needed. And not only that—you were actually being pushed towards evil. So you deserved some divine help, and God gave it to you all at once.”
Warfare with Satan
“Look,” [Father Athanasios] said, “the devil doesn’t want people to know that he exists, because it’s easier for him to fight them if they’re unaware of his existence. You don’t protect yourself from an enemy unless you realize he exists. But once you’ve detected him, there’s no reason for him to hide, so he then fights you out in the open.”
[Saint Paisios] used to say, “The devil isn’t able to hide in a sack for long, since some horn will always show through the sack. But if you ask him, ‘What’s that sticking out?’ he’ll answer, ‘Oh, that’s not a horn; it’s an eggplant.'” In other words, if evil showed itself for what it really was, everyone would flee from it for fear of being harmed. It has to be camouflaged and appear to be beautiful and good, so that people will accept it; and, in the same way, people enraged in evil have to act as though they are virtuous, so that they won’t alienate others. This is why Christ openly rebuked the Pharisees, the supposedly virtuous men of biblical times, saying, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”
I told [Saint Paisios] about [a strong demonic attack]. In fear, I asked him, ‘Elder, does the devil really have such power?” And he answered, “We are the ones who give him that power, by our sins.” Indeed, most Christians never have—or are even aware of—such experiences with the powers of evil, because they have not given the devil authority over them by immoral living or witchcraft, yoga, and related activities.
It’s one thing to practice sin in ignorance or weakness, but it’s another to deliberately open demonic doors through the occult practices of tarot, witchcraft, psychedelics, and the like. If you explicitly seek out the demons, you essentially grant them rights over your soul, and they will not want to leave even if you change your mind.
Demons may use humor to lower your spiritual guard
Then my [demonic] visitor, up to that point manifest in a terrifying form, seeming as though it could squash me like a bug, suddenly changed into a fat dwarf with a cap on his head. It started joking around, gradually approaching me as though it were playing a game. I was so taken back that I almost laughed, but as soon as it came close to me I could feel in my heart its evil and threatening malice. Again I resorted to the Jesus Prayer, and again it fled to me.
Love your neighbor
Saint Paisios: “Man is worthy of being loved just because he’s in the image of God. It doesn’t matter at all if he’s good or bad, moral or sinful. Man is worthy of being loved for what he is. Christ loved and sacrificed Himself for sinful, corrupt people. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” We should be the same way: we should love everyone without making any distinctions. Just like the sun rises on everyone, intelligent and unintelligent, good and evil, beautiful and ugly, our love should be like the love of God—love that’s like the sun and shines on His whole creation without making distinctions.”
The extent of demonic power
…when a person has become open to demonic influence, the devil can indeed grant him, or rather exercise through him, the considerable power the devil naturally possesses as a spirit. Thus, such a man might gain great physical capabilities, such as were possessed by the man who had an unclean spirit in the country of the Gadarenes, who was able to break his chains into pieces. He might be able to alter his appearance, to speak with peculiar voices, to cause himself to levitate, or to make lights or different objects appear. He may seem to be able to foretell events, and he may be able to reveal a person’s hidden sins, amazing and frightening his hearers with his knowledge of the past. Moreover, acting through the demons, such a man can exploit others’ imaginations in order to form images and sounds in their minds, and can also bring about striking physical effects, such as cracking a mammoth tree or shattering a large boulder. I knew these phenomena well.
“The most insignificant demon has such power that he could make the entire earth collapse with a stroke of his tail, but God does not allow it.” On another occasion he said, “Suppose the president were speaking on the balcony before a crowd of thousands watching him from below. If God permitted the devil to spear on that balcony for just one moment, they would all drop dead from fear.”
Father Paisios: “When someone has a close relationship with another person and a lot of love, the soul can know [private details] from far away. But many times the devil gets involved and makes a mess out of everything. He’ll whisper to a boy and a girl about going someplace, and they go there and run into each other. Then he does the same thing with another place, and he keeps it up until they say, ‘Hey, there’s something special about what’s happening to us,’ so he can throw them into sin in the end. The tempter’s a great movie director. That’s why you shouldn’t pay attention to coincidences likes that, because otherwise you might get tricked. If it’s from God, He’ll find another way to let you know, one that’s even more clear.
The essence of spiritual life
No matter how great a man’s ascetic labors may appear before the eyes of men, his offerings are infinitesimal in contrast with what God offers. Man takes one step, and God responds with a thousand in order to bridge the gap. Nevertheless, man’s small and insignificant step in God’s direction is absolutely crucial, because it reveals man’s intention and good disposition, giving God the “right” to approach him, without infringing his spiritual freedom. Unlike the hate-filled, tyrannical devil, God deeply respects human freedom and never violates it, because He loves man. He desires a relationship of love with man, and love can exist only when people are free.
This book has some problems. First, since it is not chronological, it spins you around the timeline of the author’s life. I did not know if what I was reading came before or after what recently happened. Second, it’s repetitive. This cycle of narrative repeats numerous times in the book: Saint Paisios showed the author God’s love, he ran off to seek an Indian guru, he felt bad, he returned to Saint Paisios and felt God’s love again. As a reader, it was frustrating to see him repeatedly going back to the gurus after seeing miracles I could only dream of, but it’s important to understand that repentance is messy and takes time. Sympathy and patience should be given to those who were deep into the occult. Third, the author gave me more of an education on Hinduism and demonic practices than I wanted, to the point where it intruded upon my imagination and thoughts.
The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios is one of the few books that I can advise you to skip. The exception is if you fell hard for Eastern mysticism and actually went to India or bowed before the pagan idols. In that case, reading this story may help you understand that you alone were not deceived. Otherwise, the quotes I shared above are the best that it gets.