His Beatitude Paul of Serbia who lived like hermits

I had never met personally his Beatitude Patriarch Paul although I had heard many things about him. I went for the first time in Serbia in the autumn of the year 2006. I wanted to see his Beatitude, especially because he usually was absolutely available. I was not quite sure that I was going to receive an audience, but I wanted to see with my own eyes a living saint and get his blessing, even this thing would have meant a real happiness for me. But it didn’t happen. Exactly at that time, in the autumn of 2006 his health got worse and every time I went there he was feeling much worse. It seems I didn’t prove myself worthy enough to see Patriarch Paul. Nevertheless I heard amazing stories about him from trustworthy people and I’d like to share them with the readers. Patriarch Paul is an unique phenomenon of nowadays. To make him a standard for the other patriarchs would be absolutely meaningless, like it would be to impose the example of Saint Philaret the Merciful  or of Saint Alexis, the man of God, as a norm for the majority of the laymen of nowadays. Everyone has his own measure and his own way of spiritual struggle.  I consider that we should simply be glad that such a man existed in our times, within the Orthodox Church.

It is already known the fact that while fulfilling the high service of primate of the Serbian Church, Patriarch Paul continued his ascetic strives and behaved very humbly. All these were coming very naturally to him, without any ostentation. He walked through the city or traveled by the public means of transport through the crowds of people; he had no money and ate exactly like the hermits from the ancient times – because he was just like this.

Mrs. Iana Todorovici related to me a happenstance witnessed by her sister. Once her sister was received by the Patriarch for a certain problem. While talking about that issue, she suddenly looked at the feet of the Patriarch and was shocked by his shoes. He was wearing old shoes, once torn and then mended. The woman thought: “What a shame for us, the Serbians, that our Patriarch must wear such poor shoes.” “Couldn’t he get some new ones?” The Patriarch noticed her gaze and said merrily: “You see how nice my shoes are?” “I found them near the trash bins when I was coming to the Patriarchate.” “Somebody threw them and this is genuine leather.” “I mended them a little and from now on they can be worn for a long time.”

There is one more story about these shoes. A woman came to the Patriarchate and asked to speak with the Patriarch about a problem that could not be postponed and she had to speak only with him personally about it. Her request was unusual and they did not allow her to enter immediately, but the visitor’s insistence ultimately won and the audience took place. Seeing the Patriarch, the woman told him with great emotion that during the previous night she had a dream with the Holy Mother of God and she asked her to bring money to the Patriarch so that he would buy himself some new shoes. Saying these words, the visitor handed him an envelope with money. The patriarch without touching the envelope asked her kindly: “Tell me please, what time did you go to bed last night?” The woman, surprised, answered: At around eleven o’clock.”

“You know, I went to bed later, at about four in the morning”, said the Patriarch. “And I had a dream with the Holy Mother of God too.” “She asked me to tell you to give the money to the people who are in a real need for it.” And he didn’t take the money.

Once, coming to the Patriarchate, Patriarch Paul noticed that at the entrance were parked many fancy cars and he asked to whom they belonged. He was told that those were the cars of the bishops. The Patriarch smiled, saying: “Look at this!” “If knowing the Savior’s commandment about not saving money they still have such cars, then what kind of cars would they have if there hadn’t been any commandment like this?”

Another time the Patriarch was going by plane to a certain place. When they were above the sea , the plane got in a turbulent zone and started to shake. A young bishop, who was sitting beside the Patriarch, asked him what they would do if the plane fell in the sea. Patriarch Paul answered undisturbedly: “I think that for me this would be right.” “I ate so many fish in my life that it would be just to be eaten by them now.”

Maybe it won’t be useless to quote an excerpt from the dialogue between Nikolai Kokuhin and the deacon Neboisa Topolici:

“By the mercy of God now we have a spiritual pastor like Patriarch Paul…””He lives an ascetic life.” “He is a living example for us of an evangelical pastor.” “He lives with Christ in the true sense of this word…” “He fasts like a veritable Orthodox monk, meaning that he doesn’t eat meat at all and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday he keeps a very severe fasting…” “He officiates every day the liturgical service in the small chapel from the Patriarchate.” “There is no choir, only the parishioners sing…” “He puts on his clothes alone before the liturgical service and gets them off alone after it, he listens to the confessions of the parishioners and gives them the Holy Eucharist.” “He has been wearing the same monastic robes since he got the angelic order (and this happened 50 years ago).” “And he hasn’t changed them.” “He washes them alone, he irons them and mends them.” “Once he told me how he made himself some new shoes from some women’s shoes.” “He has all the tools of a shoemaker and can mend any kind of shoes.” “He often officiates the liturgical service in different churches and if he sees that the priest’s robe or canonicals are torn, he tells him: Bring them to me, I’ll mend them for you.” “It is a great privilege to be close to a man like this, beneficial for the education of your soul and for your spiritual progress.” “Beside these, Patriarch Paul is a doctor in Theology (he had got this title before he became Patriarch)

He wrote several books, a monograph of the monastery Saint Ioannikios from Devici and the three volumes of the book ~For a better understanding of certain matters regarding our faith.~

The Patriarch died at the age of 95. Because of his poor health he spent much time in hospital. In that period the attributions of the church management were undertaken by the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Paul asked more than once to be released of his duties because of his health, but the last council of bishops decided that he should stay as a primate of the Serbian Church till his death. Patriarch Paul was very close to the people and they loved him very much. His personality is unique even for the Church of Serbia and the next patriarch won’t be like him for sure.

Iuri Maximov


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