04 October 2009

'I Live with the Angels & Archangels'—Papa-Tychon of the Holy Mountain

Yesterday I had someone with an ISP in Louisville, KY, wind up at my blog as a result of a Google search for the keywords ‘Fr. Tikhon Athos’. Unfortunately, as I do not have anything posted at Logismoi concerning a Fr Tikhon of Athos, the post that my mysterious reader landed at was the one on St Tikhon of Zadonsk. In fact, only one of the results on the first page of Google results for those words had anything to do with a Fr Tikhon of Athos (interestingly it was the Wikipedia article on Elder Paisios!). So anyway, I thought the charitable thing to do would be to post briefly on the life of the only ‘Fr Tikhon of Athos’ that I know of—Papa-Tychon of the Holy Mountain (1884-1968), the story of whose life is told by his disciple, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, in the latter’s book, Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters (Thessaloniki: Holy Convent of the Evangelist John the Theologian, 1999), pp. 25-55.

Papa-Tychon—the name is a transliteration from the Greek, Τυχών, whereas English readers are probably more familiar with the Russian transliteration, Tikhon, from Тихон—was born in Novaya Mikhalovka, Russia, in 1884, to pious parents, Pavel and Elena. When he was seventeen, they gave him their blessing to go on a pilgrimage to the monasteries of Russia for three years. Completing that, he moved on to ‘the God-trodden Mountain, Mount Sinai’, for two months, and settled in the Holy Land, beyond the Jordan, to a live as an ascetic for a while. Unfortunately, the many pilgrims forced him to leave for the Holy Mountain. As Elder Paisios puts it, ‘Then, like a pure flower, he went and was planted into the Garden of Our Most Holy Lady where he flourished, fragrant in his virtues, as we shall see below’ (p. 27).

On the Holy Mountain, Papa-Tychon lived for five years at the Cell of Bourazeri (a dependency of Hilandar), and then got a blessing to move to a cave in Karoulia, ‘where he lived as an ascetic for fifteen years’ (p. 28). According to Elder Paisios:

All the time he was at Karoulia he spent in fierce struggles. His ‘handiwork’ was to make great and small prostrations, as well as to say the Jesus Prayer and study. He borrowed books from the monasteries, and also received from them dry rusks, from the broken pieces left over, as a blessing in return, for which he would pray with his komboskini. And so he struggled with philotimo [a term Elder Paisios often uses to mean 'the love shown by humble people'—W. James Lillie, ed. and trans., St Arsenios the Cappadocian, by Elder Paisios (Thessaloniki: Convent of St John, 2001), p. 71] to become an angel internally, too, not merely externally by wearing the angelic habit. (p. 28)

Eventually, Papa-Tychon left Karoulia as well and moved to Kapsala, ‘at the southernmost tip of Athos (above Kaliagra) to a Cell belonging to the Monastery of Stavroniceta’ (p. 28). There, he looked after an infirm, elderly monk for a time, and after the elder died, received his blessing to stay there. In Elder Paisios’s words, ‘Divine grace no revealed him to people and many who were suffering ran to him to consult him and be comforted through his great love’ (p. 28). It seems that although he was Russian, Papa-Tychon became a spiritual father to Orthodox of all ethnicities, his great disciple, Elder Paisios, for instance, being Greek. (Although the latter notes, ‘Father Tychon was greatly moved by the souls suffering under the atheist regime in Russia. He would say to me, his eyes brimming with tears: “You know, my child, Russia is still under penance from God. But it will pass”’ [p. 38].)

Seeing the great need of these people, Papa-Tychon yielded to their entreaties that he be ordained, so that he could hear formal confessions. He providentially received a donation from America through the head of Prophet Elias Skete, and hired some monks to build a chapel at the Cell dedicated to the Precious Cross (p. 29). There, according to Elder Paisios—

he celebrated spiritually every day with his rule of prayer which combined the mourning of the Cross and the brightness of the Resurrection, with his great ascesis and almost no human consolation in the hollow of Kaliagra where he gazed at heaven and lived the joys of Paradise with the angels and saints. When anyone asked him, ‘Do you live all alone in the desert?’ the elder would reply:

‘No, I live with the angels and archangels, with all the saints, with the Mother of God and with Christ.’ (p. 30).

The elder reached at this holy spiritual state because he loved Christ so much, as he did humility and poverty, too. (p. 31)

But in addition to humility, Elder Paisios points out that Papa-Tychon ‘also emphasized the study of God, that is, people’s minds should be constantly turning toward God’ (p. 43). Elder Paisios then goes on to write:

He also stressed the study of the Holy Scriptures and the holy fathers: Evergetinos, the Philokalia, St John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, St Maximos, Symeon the New Theologian, Abba Macarios and Abba Isaac. ‘Study,’ the elder would say, ‘warms up the soul and cleans out the mind, so that people willingly live in asceticism and acquire virtues, but when they don’t do so, they acquire passions.’ (p. 43)

The Elder emphasises Papa-Tychon’s great poverty and frugality—one of the many examples he gives being the herring the old man would get ‘for the joyous Twelve Days of Christmas’ every year (p. 33). Having used the fish for the Christmas feast, he would save the backbone, and for the other feasts he would dip it into some boiled water before tossing rice in, thus making the most frugal ‘fish soup’! As Elder Paisios writes, ‘In this way, he observed the dispensation for fish but also condemned himself for eating fish soup in the desert! Then, he would hang the backbone on the nail again for the next dispensation, until it became quite white and only then would he throw it away’ (p. 33).

Once, a man attempted to rob him, even going so far as to tie a rope around his neck in order to force him to give up his money, of which of course he had none. When the police finally caught the thief, they tried to get Papa-Tychon to testify against him, but he replied, ‘But, my child, I forgave the thief with all my heart’ (p. 34). Although the police laughed this off, ‘In the end the police chief took pity and let him go back to his Cell from Hierissos because he was crying like a little child at the thought that he would be to blame for the thief being punished’ (p. 34).

Whenever he would have a visitor, after praying with them in the chapel and visiting for a while, Papa-Tychon ‘would get up with great joy and say: “Now, I have a treat for you”’ (p. 35).

He would draw some water from the cistern to fill a cup for the visitor and put some in his own tin can (an old food tin which he also used to boil water); afterwards, he would go and look for some Turkish delight, which sometimes would be either as hard as rock or half-eaten by ants, but since it was a blessing from Father Tychon it was not at all disgusting. (p. 35)

Hieromonk Alexander (Golitzin) has written the following of Papa-Tychon—which I can’t find in Elder Paisios’s book—in his anthology, The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain: Contemporary Voices from Mount Athos, trans. Hieromonk Alexander (Golitzin) (South Canaan, PA: STS, 1999): ‘By this asceticism, together with a great humility, he acquired the gift of unceasing prayer, even during his sleep. “Whenever one prays,” he used to say, “the prayer must unite with the heart just like you join two different things together with glue”’ (p. 142).

Elder Paisios also tells the following story—a version of which Fr Alexander includes in Living Witness (p. 142) and which he uses to great effect at the end of his article, ‘“Earthly Angels and Heavenly Men”: The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Nicetas Stethatos, and the Tradition of “Interiorized Apocalyptic” in Eastern Christian Ascetical and Mystical Literature’ (here), calling it ‘a little taste of, as it were, “Christian merkavah” coming to us from the late twentieth century’—

Even for the Divine Liturgy, he would tell the monk who came to ehlp him and act as chanter to come in the morning when it was light. During the Divine Liturgy, he would tell the monk to stay in the narrow corridor outside the chapel and chant ‘Lord, have mercy’ from there, so that he, Father Tychon, could feel entirely alone and at ease in his prayer. When they got to the Cherubic Hymn, Father Tychon would be taken up in spiritual contemplation for twenty to thirty minutes and the chanter was obliged to repeat the Hymn many times, until he heard the footsteps of the elder at the Great Entrance.

When the service was over and I asked the elder what he saw, he replied:

‘The Cherubim and the Seraphim glorifying God!’

And he went on to say:

‘After half an hour, my guardian angel brings me back down and then I continue with the Divine Liturgy.’ (Elder Paisios, p. 37)

According to Elder Paisios, who lived with Papa-Tychon at the time, in 1968 the latter ‘had a presentiment of his death, because he continually referred to death’ (p. 47). After the feast of the Dormition, he became bedridden and did not want anyone with him for some time so that his prayer would not be interrupted. Then, in the last ten days of his life, he asked Elder Paisios to stay with him. Because he could no longer go to the Chapel of the Precious Cross, where he had celebrated the liturgy for so many years, he asked Elder Paisios to bring him the Cross from the Altar ‘as a consolation’:

When he saw the Cross, his eyes glistened, and after kissing it with due reverence, he held it tightly in his hand with all the strength that was left in him. I had also tied a sprig of basil to the Cross and asked him:

‘Does it smell nice, elder?’

He answered:

‘Paradise, my son, smells a lot better.’ (p. 48)

Two days after the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, that is, on 10 September 1968, Papa-Tychon fell asleep in the Lord (thus, taking into account the calendar difference, the anniversary of his repose was only 11 days ago). According to a promise he made to Elder Paisios, after three years he began to appear to his spiritual child once a year, bringing him great consolation. At the end of his account of his elder’s life, Elder Paisios appends the following ‘prayer of the elder, which he wrote with great pain and many tears’ and would send ‘to suffering souls in Russia as balsam from the Garden of the Most Holy Mother of God’ (p. 54):

Glory to Christ’s Golgotha

Godly Golgotha, sanctified with the blood of Christ! We beg you, tell us how many thousands of sinners, by the grace of Christ, repentance and tears, you have cleansed and brought to fill up the Bridal Cahmber of Paradise? Oh, with Your ineffable love, Christ our King, with Your grace, you have filled all the celestial palaces with repentant sinners. You have mercy on those here below, too and save them. And who could render You worthy thanks, had he even the mind of an angel? Sinners, come quickly. Holy Golgotha is open and Christ is merciful. Fall before Him and kiss His holy feet.

He alone, as the merciful one, can heal your wounds! Oh, how happy we shall be when Christ the most merciful counts us worthy, with great humbleness, fear of God, and burning tears to wash His spotless feet and kiss them in love! Then Christ, the merciful, will be pleased to wash away our sins and will open unto us the gates of Paradise where, in great joy, together with the archangels and angles, the Cherubim and the Seraphim and all the saints, we shall glorify the Saviour of the world eternally, our most sweet Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity Undivided and of One Essence.

Hieromonk Tychon, The Holy Mountain. (pp. 54-5)


Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Awesome, in every sense of the word.
Papa Tychon, pray for us !

aaronandbrighid said...

Elizabeth> Yes indeed!

rsafley said...

Hi Aaron,
I've been meaning to write and thank you for your blog (it's the only one I read regularly), and after reading about your ability to track visitors in the post on Papa Tychon, I decided I'd better present myself. Your blog delights me for all the wonderful things that I learn from it; I think the only danger I've recognized so far is that I'm unable to resist your book recommendations/references and my walls no longer have room for any more books. Thank you, again.


aaronandbrighid said...

Rebecca> Thank you for your kind words. Like many bibliophiles, I think I actually enjoy dealing with the problem of shelving space!

I should point out that StatCounter only allows me to see a certain amount of information: ISP and its location, link that led to Logismoi, number of returning visits, first page loaded, and a few other things like that. So I hope you're not creeped out! I don't check all of this information very often--usually I'm just interested in the overall trend of daily page loads--but every once in a while I get curious and it can be fun to check these things out!


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this blog. I think it is entirely possible that I am the one who was looking for information on Papa Tychon. It might not be me, but it's entirely possible. Thanks again. I really wanted to know about this elder.
~Seraphim (aka. Aaron)

aaronandbrighid said...

Seraphim> I'm glad you found the post helpful. I certainly hope you WERE the one that prompted this post--it'd be nice to know that it was seen by and helped its raison d'etre!

Anonymous said...

I was just rereading this, and it says Papa Tikhon felll asleep 3 days after the Nativity of the Theotokos. But the Nativity is on Sept. 8. So wouldn't that put Papa Tikhon's repose on Sept. 11? ~Seraphim

Aaron Taylor said...

Thank you for pointing this out, Seraphim. I was not quite accurate in my wording of those details. I'll fix it forthwith!

--Fr Deacon Aaron

Anonymous said...

I looked it up. You were right about the date of his repose. It was the 10th. I guess that would just be 2 days after the Nativity. :) ~Seraphim

Aaron Taylor said...

Yes, but I was wrong about how many days it was after the Feast itself.