November 15 – Paisius Velichkovsky; Albert the Great

Paisius Velichkovsky (1722–1794) Ukrainian by birth, studied at the Moghila Academy for four years, then took the rason (a garment that rasophore (“authorized to wear the rason”) monks wear[1]) and the name Platon. Under various elders at various monasteries he learned the Prayer of the Heart*. Later he moved to Athos, where he was made a schemamonk (a monk authorized to wear the schema1), taking the name Paisius. Believing monastic piety should be grounded in the Fathers, he collected, copied, and translated them, eventually creating his life’s work, the first Slavonic edition of the Philokalia*. In 1746 he received the Great Schema, the highest “rank” (sorta) of monkdom. In 1754 he was made a priest so he could attend to the priest-requiring needs of his growing flock of disciples.

In 1764 he was invited to return to Moldavia to revive its monastic piety. His promotion of heyschasm* and spiritual eldership (staretz*-osity) spread throughout the Slavic world as his disciples fanned out into the Slavic world. He lived to see the Philokalia published, and died the next year. Oddly, they dug his relics up four times between 1846 and 1872 to make sure they were still incorrupt (they were). His Philokalia was a favorite book of Seraphim of Sarov (Jan 2), and came to North America with Herman of Alaska (Aug 9). Much of the strength of Slavic monasticism today is credited to Paisius Velichkovsky.

We end with a story. Platon overslept one Sunday, and despite running, came too late for the Gospel reading. In sorrow, he returned to his cell and wept. When he didn’t show up for lunch, the Elder sent someone to find out if he was okay. He explained through his tears what had happened, falling down before the brothers and fathers and uncles (etc.) and asking for forgiveness. He was eventually consoled, accepting even that it wasn’t entirely his fault. But from that day forward, and I kid you not, he slept kneeling.

Albert the Great (1206–1280) (Albertus Magnus) was born in Bavaria, although there is no historical evidence he ever wore Lederhosen (Gott sei dank). After an “encounter” with the Virgin (dream? vision? chat over a cup of tea? the sources don’t say), he joined the Dominicans and studied theology, much to the chagrin of his family, who didn’t want him to. He taught in several places, and received his doctorate in Paris (where they grew on trees).

Albert is most famous for reviving European interest in Aristotle and other ancient Greeks (excepting Zorba), and for teaching all that to his famousest pupil, Thomas Aquinas. He (Albert) was conversant (and surprisingly accurate for his day) in many areas, including logic, theology, botany, geography, physics, astronomy, astrology, mineralogy, alchemy, zoology, physiology, phrenology, justice, law, friendship, love, and mathematics (I saved the best for last). He also commented extensively on Muslim scientist Averroës, although he was not sparing in his criticisms of what he saw as Averroës’ errors. (As these are universally known, I won’t belabor them.)

After a stint as Provincial of the Dominicans, he was made Bishop of Regensburg, where he won fame by refusing to ride a horse to parish visits, earning him the sobriquet “Boots the Bishop[2]” (although he resigned that post after three years). He defended Aquinas (whose death greatly grieved him), commented knowledgeably on music (he thought the “music of the spheres” was absurd; planets don’t make noise), and was declared a Doctor of the Church. He is the patron of medical technicians and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

[1] There’s no reason you shouldn’t share in my delight (kof) with online circular definitions.
[2] You seriously can’t make this stuff up.