This section describes cases when people were cured from spiritual delusion and provides general guidance on how to avoid falling into this state. It should be noted that it is very difficult to get out of delusion. "The escape from self-delusion is difficult. A guard stands at the door, heavy doors are closed with strong locks and gates, sealed with the infernal abyss. Locks and gates - the pride of self-delusion, hiding deep in the heart, with their vainglory being the initial cause of their activity, falseness and slyness that the vainglory and pride are hiding with, with what they are clothed in the guise of good intentions, humility, holiness. The invincible seal - the recognition of actions of self-delusion as the action of grace." (Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov).
"To get out of delusion, a devoutly wise mentor is needed that could notice the delusion in time and pluck its weeds out of the soul, and if the delusion has strengthened in the soul, we need a daring pastor of prayer, that his prayer would tear away the spirits of darkness from the soul and bring it out of the area of lies to the Light and Truth - Christ."(Hegumen Mark Lozinski).
"A sinner can easily repent, but it is difficult for one in delusion, unless the demon is exposed. As soon as he is uncovered, he is unable to escape." (Elder Daniel Katounakiotis).
"When one slips off the right path and falls into delusion, it is essential, first of all, to confess to one's spiritual father, telling him everything. After such confession the delusion will moderate, and then, though not immediately, total reform will ensue." (Saint Silouan the Athonite).
Letters of St. Joseph of Optina
Your Mavra, as it can be seen from your description, is in delusion. - What to do? It happened and is happening sometimes here as well. Our deceased elders recommended menial jobs for such deluded persons. As delusion is a result of pride and conceit, the damned pride is reduced, at least to some extent, through menial jobs. You should make Mavra help in your kitchen with anything she can, for example, cleaning potatoes or washing the dishes, and so on. She should not be allowed to lead a solitary life under any circumstances. For, as you have noticed, she will become crazy. She should not take the Holy Communion often as well. Let the confessor first to persuade her to humility and self-abasement.
Novice Evstolia, a prayerful person, is afraid of falling into delusion. - Let her keep the God-pleasing humility, believing herself in her heart to be the most sinful of all the persons, and then she will not fall into delusion. For, according to the remark of Holy Fathers, "humility cannot fall".
Extracts from the book by Archimandrite Sofronii. "Saint Silouan the Athonite".
Beware these two thoughts, and fear them. The first suggests "You are a saint;" the other, "You will not be saved". Both come from the enemy, and there is no truth in them.
Instead, think to yourself, "I am a great sinner but the Lord is merciful. He loves man with a great love, and will forgive my sins."
Evil thoughts afflict the pride soul, and until she humbles herself she knows no rest from them.
Be assured of this - if evil thoughts torment you, it means that you are not humble. The Lord said, "Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
Without Christ-like humility the soul will never be at rest in God - she will always be agitated by divers thoughts and impulses which will not let her contemplate God.
The Lord gives the soul understanding to recognize His coming, to love Him and do His will. Fight the enemy with the weapon of humility.
Elder Joseph the Hesychast. "Monastic Wisdom".
My child, hear about another delusion. There are also other monks who work on all the virtues together, and trust in their works. And when they pray and ask something from God, they do not seek it with humility, but with insolence and pretension, as if they have obligated God with their toils and therefore He owes it to them. When they are not heard and the Lord does not do their will, they are troubled and greatly grieved. Then when the Devil our enemy sees them with this ignorance, he attacks them with twisted thoughts and teaches them saying, “See? You are struggling so hard even until death to work for Him, and He doesn’t even listen to you! So why do you work for Him?” Then he pushes him to blaspheme the name of God, so that he may enter inside him and possess him, and then people bind him with chains.
But if the Devil is unable to accomplish this, he comes around differently. He transforms himself into an angel of light saying that he is the Archangel Gabriel or some other angel, and that God sent him to be near him, since God is pleased with his works. Or similarly, he transforms himself into the form of our Lord Jesus Christ, while another demon goes earlier and says, “Since you have gladdened God with your sweat, He has come to visit, so go and venerate Him to receive grace.” Or he says that he has come to raise him like the Prophet Elias to the heavens. And in closing, to make a long story short, with such methods he has deluded many both in the past and today. Some were thrown upon the rocks, others into wells, others were slaughtered in various ways and were utterly destroyed. And all this happened because from the beginning they had no discernment and were doing their own will, without having obedience.
Hieromartyr Archimandrite Kronid (Lyubimov). "Trinity Lavra flowers from the spiritual meadow."
"In 1889, - recalled the father Kronid, - a very handsome young man, dark-haired, with burning black eyes, came for obedience to the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, his name was Alexander Druzhinin. He was a Muscovite. I introduced him to the Father Superior, and the young man was affiliated with the brethren. He was given an obedience in the refectory; his task was to serve the pilgrims. Every day I saw him at the Trinity Cathedral at the brethren prayer service at two o'clock in the morning. From time to time, I asked him, "How are you? Do you get used to it?" He answered, sometimes with tears of tenderness, "I live like in paradise". In such cases I unintentionally thanked God for such organization of his soul.
Six months passed. Alexander Druzhinin was given a new obedience (to manage vegetable cellars) and he got a monastic cell, where he lived alone. Once I came to him and found my friend in some ecstasy. Apparently he performed an especial feat of prayer. Another few months passed. One day visiting him I asked a question, "My brother Alexander, do you attend all the services in the monastery?" He replied humbly, "All". "And brethren prayer rules too?" "Yes, - he said and added, - every day I attend all-night Vigil in the temple of Zosima and Savvaty and I stand at the early and the late Liturgy in the morning."
Then I said to him: "Tell me, who blessed you for such a feat of intensified prayer? Matins, Vespers and early Liturgy are the full range of church services, and the brethren prayer rules completes the duties of a monk. But later Liturgy and Vigil, representing the repetition of usual services, are not mandatory for all. I know that during the later Liturgy when anybody comes to you for provisions from the brethren kitchen, he doesn’t find you in your cell. Then the cooks have to look for you in the churches, what, undoubtedly, causes grumbling and hostility in their hearts. You should think, whether such a prayer will be useful for you. And I had no intention to offend your love with my speech.
The Man Who Engages in Prayer without Spiritual Director or Who Does not Trust His Confessor, Falls into Delusion
Archimandrite Sofronii. "Saint Silouan the Athonite".
He who loves the Lord is ever mindful of Him, and the thought of God begets prayer. If you are forgetful of the Lord, you will not pray, and without prayer the soul will not dwell in the love of God, for the grace of the Holy Spirit comes through prayer. Prayer preserves a man from sin, for the prayerful mind stays intent on God, and in humbleness of spirit stands before the Face of the Lord. Whom the soul of him who prays knoweth.
But the novice naturally needs a guide, for until the advent of the grace of the Holy Spirit the soul is involved in fierce struggle against her foes, and is unable to disentangle herself if the enemy offer her his delights. Only the man with experience of the grace of the Holy Spirit can understand this. He who has savoured the Holy Spirit recognises the taste of grace.
The man who sets out without guidance to engage in prayer (imagining in his arrogance that he can learn to pray from books), and will not go to a spiritual director, is already half beguiled. But the Lord succours the man who is humble, and if there be no experienced guide and he turns to any confessor he finds, the Lord will watch over him for his humility.
Think in this wise: the Holy Spirit dwells in your confessor, and he will tell you what is right. But if you say to yourself that your confessor lives a careless life, how can the Holy Spirit dwell in him, you will suffer mightily for such thoughts, and the Lord will bring you low, and you are sure to fall into delusion.
Some there are who say that prayer beguiles. This is not so. A man is beguiled by listening to his own self, not by prayer. All the Saints lived in prayer, and they call others to prayer. Prayer is the best of all activities for the soul. Prayer is the pith to God. Through prayer we obtain humility, patience and every good gift. The man who speaks against prayer has manifestly never tasted of the goodness of the Lord, and how greatly He loves us. No evil ever comes from God. All the Saints prayed without ceasing: they filled every moment with prayer.
St Gregory of Sinai. "On Stillness: Fifteen Texts. Different Ways of Psalmodizing." From Philokalia, Vol. 4.
10. So, lover of God, attend with care and intelligence. If while engaged in spiritual work you see a light or a fire outside you, or a form supposedly of Christ or of an angel or of someone else, reject it lest you suffer harm. And do not pay court to images, lest you allow them to stamp themselves on your intellect. For all these things that externally and inopportunely assume various guises do so in order to delude your soul. The true beginning of prayer is the warmth of heart that scorifies the passions, fills the soul with joy and delight, and establishes the heart in unwavering love and unhesitating surety. The holy fathers teach that if the heart is in doubt about whether to accept something either sensory or conceptual that enters the soul, then that thing is not from God but has been sent by the devil. Moreover, if you become aware that your intellect is being enticed by some invisible power either from the outside or from above, do not trust in that power or let your intellect be so enticed, but immediately force it to continue its work. Unceasingly cry out: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy’, and do not allow yourself to retain any concept, object, thought or form that is supposedly divine, or any sequence of argument or any color, but concentrate solely on the pure, simple, formless remembrance of Jesus. Then God, seeing your intellect so strict in guarding itself in every way against the enemy, will Himself bestow pure and unerring vision upon it and will make it participate in God and share in all other blessings.
What is of God, says St Isaac, comes of itself, without you knowing when it will come. Our natural enemy - the demon who operates in the seat of our desiring power - gives the spirit-forces various guises in our imagination. In this way he substitutes his own unruly heat for spiritual warmth, so that the soul is oppressed by this deceit. For spiritual delight he substitutes mindless joy and a muggy sense of pleasure, inducing selfsatisfaction and vanity. Thus he tries to conceal himself from those who lack experience and to persuade them to take his delusions for manifestations of spiritual joy. But time, experience and perspicacity will reveal him to those not entirely ignorant of his wiles. As the palate discriminates between different kinds of food (cf. Eccles. 36:18,19), so the spiritual sense of taste clearly and unerringly reveals everything as it truly is.
Lorenzo Scupoli, enhanced by Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, and Saint Theophan the Recluse. "Unseen Warfare".
The reason why we have wrong judgment of the things we mentioned earlier is that we do not look deeply into them to see what they are, but conceive a liking for them or a dislike of them from the very first glance, judging by appearances. These likes and dislikes prejudice our mind and darken it; and so it cannot form a. right judgment of things as they really are. So, my brother, if you wish to be free of this prelest in your mind, keep strict attention over yourself; and when you see a thing with your eyes, or visualise it in your mind, keep a firm grip on your desires and do not allow yourself at the first glance either to conceive a liking for the thing or a dislike for it, but examine it in a detached way with the mind alone. Unobscured by passion, the mind then remains in a state natural to it, which is free and pure, and has the possibility to know the truth and to penetrate into the depths of a thing, where evil is often concealed under a deceptively attractive exterior and where good is sometimes hidden under a bad appearance.
But if desire comes first and at once either likes a thing or turns away from it, your mind no longer has the possibility to know it rightly as it should. For if this predisposition, or rather this passion precedes every judgment, it enters within, becomes a wall between the mind and the thing and, obscuring the mind, makes it form its judgment from passion. In other words, it sees it not as it really is, which strengthens still more its original predisposition. The further this predisposition runs ahead, or the more it likes or dislikes a thing, the more it obscures the mind in relation to it, until it darkens the mind completely. Then passion in relation to this thing reaches its ultimate limits, so that it appears to a man either as the most desirable or the most hateful of all the things he ever liked or disliked. Thus it happens that when the rule I have indicated is not observed, that is, when desire is not restrained from forming likes and dislikes before a thing is properly examined, then both these powers of the soul—mind and will—always work wrongly, plunging ever deeper and deeper from darkness to darkness, and from sin to sin.
So watch, my beloved, with all attention and protect yourself from liking or disliking a thing out of passion, before you have had time to examine it properly in the light of reason and the just word of the Divine Scriptures, in the light of grace and prayer, and with the help of the judgment of your spiritual father; otherwise you may sin in taking for evil what is truly good, and for good what is truly evil. This mostly happens in the case of certain actions, which are good and holy in themselves, but which according to circumstances,) namely that if they are done at a wrong time, or are out of place, or arc not done in the right measure, cause, considerable harm to those who do them, We know from experience what afflictions are suffered by some through such worthy and holy deeds.
Bishop Palladius. "The Lausiac History".
Chapter XXVI. Heron
There was a certain Heron, a neighbour of mine, an Alexandrian by race, an excellent young man, of good natural ability and pure in his life. He also after many toils was attacked by pride and flung off all restraints and cherished presumptuous sentiments against the fathers, insulting even the blessed Evagrius by saying: "Those who obey your teaching are dupes; for one should not pay heed to any teachers except Christ." He even abused Scripture to serve the purpose of his folly and would say: "The Saviour Himself said, 'Call no man teacher upon the earth.'" His mind became so darkened that he too was afterwards put in irons, since he was unwilling even to attend the mysteries - truth is dear.
He was excessively abstemious in his mode of life, so that many who knew him intimately declared that he frequently went three months without eating, being content with the communion of the mysteries and any wild herbs that might be found. And I too had an experience of him when I went to Scete with the blessed Albanius. Scete was forty miles away from us. In the course of those forty miles we ate twice and drank water three times, but he without eating anything went on foot and said by heart fifteen psalms, then the long psalm, then the Epistle to the Hebrews, then Isaiah and part of Jeremiah, then Luke the Evangelist, then the Proverbs. And things being so, yet we could not keep up with him as he walked. Finally, driven as it were by fire, he could not remain in his cell, but went off to Alexandria, by (divine) dispensation, and, as the saying goes, "knocked out one nail with another." For of his own free will he fell into indifference, but afterwards found salvation involuntarily. For he frequented the theatre and circuses and enjoyed the diversions of the taverns. And thus, eating and drinking immoderately, he fell into a mire of concupiscence. And when he was resolving to sin he met an actress and had converse with her. In consequence a carbuncle developed on his private parts, and for six months he was so ill that the parts rotted away and fell off. Later, restored to health without those parts and returned to a religious frame of mind, he came and confessed all these things to the fathers. A few days after he fell asleep before he had returned to work.
Elder Joseph the Hesychast. "Monastic Wisdom".
O how dreadful is the delusion of the nous! And how imperceptible! Let me write a little about it for your information. I was very daring with these things and examined every kind of prayer. I tried out everything, because when grace approaches a person, his nous—that “shameless bird” as Abba Isaac calls it — seeks to penetrate everywhere, to try out everything. It begins with the creation of Adam and ends up plunging into depths and soaring to heights. If God did not set any boundaries, it would not return.
So, this method of heart prayer is a “praxis” method which we employ to keep the nous in the heart. And when grace overflows, it raptures the nous into theoria, and the heart burns with divine eros and is all afire with love. Then the nous is completely united with God. It is transformed and melts like wax before the fire or like iron assimilated with fire. Iron’s nature does not change, but as long as it is in the fire, it is one with it. But when the flame withdraws, it returns to its natural hardness.
This is called theoria. Then tranquillity reigns in the nous and the entire body is calm. At this point, a person can pray both with words and with improvised prayers and ascend to theoria, without enclosing his nous in his heart.
For we pray noetically so that grace may come. When grace is present, the nous does not wander. And when the nous stands still, it employs all the kinds of prayer; it tries out everything.
So then, the method of prayer which they are using is not delusion; however, it can easily turn into delusion because their nous is simple. It has not been purified, so it accepts fantasies instead of theorias.
Take, for example, a spring by the seashore that wells up clean water. Suddenly a storm breaks out, the sea rises, and our little spring is polluted with sea water. Now let me see you, no matter how clever you are, separate the sea water from the spring’s water. The same thing happens with the nous.
Saint Peter of Damaskos. "Book 1. A Treasury of Divine Knowledge." From Philokalia, Vol. 3.
In addition, when the devil saw Christ descending in His extreme goodness to the holy martyrs and revered fathers, appearing either in Himself or through angels or in some other ineffable form, he began to fabricate numerous delusions in order to destroy people. It is on account of this that the fathers, in their discrimination, wrote that one should not pay any attention to such diabolic manifestations, whether they come through images, or light, or fire, or some other deceptive form.’ For the devil can deceive even in sleep or through the senses. If we accept such delusions, he makes the intellect, in its utter ignorance and self-conceit, depict various shapes or colors so that we think that this is a manifestation of God or of an angel. Often in sleep, or to our senses when awake, he shows us demons that are apparently defeated. In short, he does all he can to destroy us by making us succumb to these delusions.
In spite of all this, the devil will fail in his purpose if we apply the counsel of the holy fathers: that during the time of prayer we should keep our intellect free from form, shape, and colour, and not give access to anything at all, whether light, fire or anything else; and that we should do all we can to confine our mind solely to the words we are saying, since he who prays only with his mouth prays to the wind and not to God. For, unlike men, God is attentive to the intellect and not to the words spoken. We must worship, it is said, ‘in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24); and again, ‘I had rather speak five words whose meaning I understand than ten thousand words in a strange tongue’ (1 Cor. 14:19).
Lorenzo Scupoli, enhanced by Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, and Saint Theophan the Recluse. "Unseen Warfare".
But if you, my reader beloved in Christ, wish to attain to such heights, you must first learn in what Christian perfection consists. For if you have not learnt this, you may turn off the right path and go in a totally different direction, while thinking that you make progress towards perfection.
I will tell you plainly: the greatest and most perfect thing a man may desire to attain is to come near to God and dwell, in union with Him.
There are many who say that the perfection of Christian life consists in fasts, vigils, genuflexions, sleeping on bare earth and other similar austerities of the body. Others say that it consists in saying many prayers at home and in attending long services in Church.
And there are others who think that our perfection consists entirely in mental prayer, solitude, seclusion and silence. But the majority limit perfection to a strict observance of all the rules and practices laid down by the statutes, falling into no excess or deficiency, but preserving a golden moderation. Yet all these virtues do not by themselves constitute the Christian perfection we are seeking, but are only means and methods for acquiring it.