The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios by Dionysios Farasiotis is an autobiographical account of a restless，skeptical young man in 1970’s Greece, sampling from a variety of mystical and occult influences. His story is anchored by a close relationship with Elder (now Saint) Paisios, a monk from Mount Athos. Dionysios’ explorations exposed him to a great deal of spiritual dangers, including literal attacks from demons. Saint Paisios’ prayers and influence protected Dionysios from the worst dangers. Nevertheless, Dionysios’ stubborn determination to test for himself the claims of the occult practitioners led him to India, where he sought out the tutelage of prominent gurus and cult leaders.
The bulk of the book is a brutally honest account of Dionysios’ time in India as he seeks out various spiritualists around the country. The author and his traveling companions encounter a great deal of misery and exploitation, but all that pales in comparison to the otherworldly dangers they encounter. This part of the book contains vivid and unsettling accounts of demonic possession and spiritual bondage, as the author foolishly submits himself to the authority of the gurus. Dionysios eventually manages to escape India, and the book ends with Saint Paisios guiding him, slowly nursing him back to spiritual health.
The bizarre and startling episodes where Dionysios finds himself in the thrall of dark forces are gripping and well-written. The author is completely honest about his foolishness and naiveté, and as a character he is very relatable- simply a man wanting to find out the truth for himself.
Nevertheless, I thought that the most rewarding parts of the book were the gentle encounters with Saint Paisios during the author’s frequent visits. We get glimpses of the great man’s character as he counsels and cares for Dionysios. Saint Paisios finds himself in a position that many of us struggle in, showing love for someone who persists in foolish and self-destructive behavior. Young Dionysios ignores Saint Paisios’ warnings again and again to his own detriment, and yet the the saint continually demonstrates a deep compassion without judgment. The encounters between Dionysios and Paisios are filled with an intimate warmth and good humor, even as they occur in seasons where Dionysios’ life is in shambles. The monk’s faithful prayers for Dionysios serve also as a continual backdrop to the events in the book. In the darkest episodes of Dionysios’ journey in India, we see how Paisios’ intercessions from thousands of miles away are a decisive in warding off the worst of the dangers.
Thus I think it would be a mistake to approach this book focusing on Dionysios’ occult misadventures in India, as titillating as those accounts may be . Pay attention instead to the Christlike person of Saint Paisios, his humility, patience, and joy. Inspired by his example of prayerful compassion, I have had to do a lot of fruitful reflection about what it means to love someone who is stubborn and wayward, to truly work for his best interests without succumbing to the temptation to judge him or to control him.
Finally, I would like to briefly comment on the excellent work that the translators did for the English version of this book. I cannot testify to its accuracy, since I don’t know Greek. However, the language is at once stirring and profound, especially in the parts where Dionysios is engaged in spiritual reflection after a visit with the saint. I will end this post with a passage from the end of the book that both demonstrates the effectiveness of the language, and serves as a celebration of the patient, unfailing love of Christ displayed through the works and life of Saint Paisios.
“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. He desires a relationship of love with man, and love can exist only when people are free.”