On January 7, 2018, the feast of the glorious and radiant Nativity of Christ, Schema-Archimandrite Placide (Deseille)—a famous French ascetic and Orthodox theologian, founder of two Orthodox monastic communities in France—reposed in the Lord. The Pravoslavie.ru website asked Archimandrite Vasily (Pasquiet) to share his memories of the newly-departed ascetic, since he had met with Fr. Placide on many occasions, and it was under his (Fr. Placide’s) influence that he once converted from Catholicism to Orthodoxy.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, give rest to Thy servant Schema-Archimandrite Placide in Thy Kingdom!
I heard about Fr. Placide (Deseille) for the first time in 1975. At that time I was in a “spiritual quest” and was searching for meaning and purpose in my life. I was in love with my classmate and our relations were pure and chaste. One day as we were walking outdoors she showed me the Bellefontaine Abbey from a distance, where her uncle was abbot. Thenceforth my life changed and I wanted to visit it with all my heart.
The Bellefontaine Abbey in the Maine-et-Loire department was situated some twelve miles away from Tiffauges in the Vendee departement—the native village of my ancestors [it was there that the royalist reaction and resistance were especially active in the course of the French Revolution].
Thus, one Saturday morning I set off for the Bellefontaine Abbey. In my youth I would usually hitchhike, but on that particular morning cars would not stop, so I had to walk to the monastery and reached it only by noon. I had the good fortune to talk with the abbey’s guest-master a little. He told me about one of the fathers of the monastery who lived as a hermit in the south of France in the traditions of Eastern monasticism. Of course, he was speaking about Fr. Placide.
Suddenly the bell began to ring—the guest-master apologized and left. Then I did not know any monastic rules and did not understand what happened. In reality, the bell was ringing to signal the beginning of the Sixth Hour and the meal. Uninformed, I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to walk back home, all the more so because it was a long journey. And I walked the way so easily, as if “flying” on my “wings”. Perhaps on that day my vocation for monastic life was born.
On leaving school in July 1976 I moved to the south of France, to the community of the Theophany. That community followed the Eastern Christian tradition, so while there I seriously prepared myself for receiving the tonsure. I was totally absorbed in the Byzantine Rite and discovered the spiritual practices of Eastern Christianity for myself. At that time I was an avid reader of the works by Fr. Placide—namely The Gospel of the Desert, The Fiery Furnace, and, notably, The Ladder by St. John Climacus, translated by Archimandrite Placide, which became one of my favorite books.
In 1978, we learned that Fr. Placide had moved to Mt. Athos and had been received into Orthodoxy there; thereafter Abbot Aimilianos sent him back to France, charging him to found a dependency (metochion) of Simonopetra Monastery there.
I was very happy to hear that news and deep in my heart I felt that it was my destiny to become Orthodox, too. Some sisters of our community of the Theophany then left us and joined Fr. Placide who had been their spiritual father before embracing Orthodoxy. This marked the beginning of a monastic community of nuns which was later transformed into Solan Convent.
In 1989, I studied calligraphy in the village of Saint-Antoine-l’Abbaye near the Monastery of St. Anthony the abbot of which was Fr. Placide. And, of course, I used to visit it. The monastery was in a deep gorge in the Vercors Massif. Its location and structure indicated that its abbot had previously lived among the Trappists (a branch of the Cistercian order of Catholic monks, noted for an extremely austere rule) for many years. At that time the brethren still worshipped at a house chapel as the Byzantine church was yet to be built. Fr. Placide resided together with his old spiritual friend, Fr. Seraphim.
My communication with Fr. Placide strengthened my desire to become Orthodox, yet many circumstances within the community prevented me from realizing my intention.
In 1993, shortly before my departure for Russia, I had one more opportunity to meet with Archimandrite Placide at Solan Convent where he had organized a large sisterhood. After the conversation he drove me to my destination along the Rhone valley in his car. We talked during the journey, and Fr. Placide made me more determined to go to Russia. Next, as usual, I continued my way by hitchhiking.
By Divine providence, on August 20, 2017, accompanied by my Russian friends Pavel and Anna, I managed to visit my younger brother in France whom I had not seen for twenty years. My brother lives some 155 miles away from the St. Anthony’s Monastery where Archimandrite Placide was abbot. We decided to pay a visit to the father. After the Divine Liturgy we had a chance to talk with him for half an hour. Fr. Placide listened to us attentively and displayed his interest in the current state of affairs in Russia. The ascetic found the revival of the Orthodox faith and the preservation of traditional values in Russia very important not only for Russia itself, but also for the whole world. However, the pastor was very weak and got tired soon. We took his blessing and left.
We returned back to Russia with great joy, and our memories of that meeting are still very much alive. On that day we were unaware that it was our last meeting with Fr. Placide in this life.
On January 7, 2018, I was informed that Fr. Placide had reposed in the Lord.
With the saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of Thy servant the newly-deceased Schema-Archimandrite Placide, where there is no pain, no sorrow, no sighing, but life everlasting!
We are sad and happy at the same time.
A profile of Fr. Placide
He was born into a Catholic family in France in 1926. In 1942, at the age of sixteen, he joined the Bellefontaine Abbey. In 1952, he was ordained a priest at this abbey. During his trips to Paris Fr. Placide met famous Russian theologians—Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern) and Vladimir Lossky. He was present at the Orthodox Divine Liturgy for the first time at St. Sergius Institute in Paris. For him, reading The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by V. Lossky and talks with Fr. Cyprian (Kern) about the Christology of the Council of Chalcedon and the teachings of St. Gregory Palamas on the Divine essence and energies were the key to understanding the Church and man from the Orthodox perspective.
Vatican II was the decisive moment in Deseille’s life. As he wrote in his memoirs, the Council’s decisions “left no hope for a renewal of the structures and institutions of the Roman Church through return to the spirit of the patristic teaching.” In 1966, in search of the authentic roots of Christianity and monasticism, Fr. Placide and his monastic friends founded the Byzantine-rite monastery at Aubazine (the Correze departement). For over ten years they strove to live “in the liturgical and spiritual traditions of Orthodoxy”, while remaining in the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1977, the monastery brethren made up their minds to embrace Orthodoxy. This decision was influenced by their association with the revered Orthodox elders—St. Paisios the Athonite, elder Ephraim of Katounakia, and elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra. They were finally received into Orthodoxy on June 19, 1977; in February of 1978 they became monks of Simonopetra Monastery. As a monk on Mt. Athos Fr. Placide translated The Ladder of Divine Ascent into French.
On returning to France some years later, Fr. Placide established the Monastery of St. Anthony the Great in Saint-Laurent-en-Royans (the Drome departement) and became its first abbot.
He taught patristics as an associate professor at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. The ascetic also initiated the Spiritualite Orientale (“Eastern Spirituality”) series, published by the Bellefontaine Abbey Press since 1966. He is the author and translator of many books on Orthodox spirituality and monasticism; the list of the most important of them is as follows:
The Spirit of Pachomean Monasticism (1968)
We Have Seen the True Light: Monastic Life, Its Spirit, and Principal Texts (1990)
The Orthodox Spirituality and the Philokalia (1997; translated into Russian in 2006)
The Gospel in the Desert (1999)
The Fiery Furnace of Babylon: a Spiritual Guide-book (2001)
The Fundamentals of Catechism (in two volumes, 2001)
Confidence in the Things Not Seen (2002)
Body, Soul and Spirit—the Orthodox View.