Understanding of delusion among the Holy Fathers
St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) (1807-1867) clearly explained the teaching of the Holy Fathers about delusion for the modern readers. This teaching is summarized in the article about St. Ignatius in the Orthodox Encyclopedia as follows:
St. Ignatius believed that the main danger in the spiritual life is falling into delusion. The saint devoted large portion of his works to analysis of this phenomenon. By definition of St. Ignatius, "delusion is the wounding of human nature by falsehood" (On the Jesus Prayer: Conversation of an elder with a disciple // Complete set of works Vol. 1. P. 212). The devil used lies to tempt Adam and Eve already in the Paradise. Progenitors of the human race considered false words of the tempter to be true and doubted the words of God. As a result, they broke the commandment given by God and fell away from the source of life. Being affected by sin, human nature in the descendants of Adam and Eve was more eager to the evil than to the good, taking pleasure from communicating with the evil. Such deception is caused by the fact that the strength of the human soul - will, feeling, mind - are perverted by sin. "We are born such”, St. Ignatius said, “We can not be others: because all of us, without exception, are in a state of self-delusion and demonic deception" (Ibid, pp. 213). Lord Jesus Christ saved people from this deception, which all the mankind succumbed to. Lord Jesus, who himself is the Truth (cf. Jn 14: 6) proclaimed this truth to the world. The freedom is given to persons to obey either God or the devil that tempts each person. "He is trying to seduce and deceive us, basing on our state of self-delusion; he sets in motion our passions - these painful craving; he makes their adverse claims look like plausibility, increasingly inclines us to the satisfaction of the passions"(Ibid, pp. 214). Those who do not resist the temptation using the teachings of the Gospel, according to St. Ignatius, become totally subordinate to the devil and go from self-deception to the state of demonic delusion.
St. Ignatius believed that there are different kinds of delusion corresponding to passions, by which they are generated. Pride is an indication of any kind of delusion. "Terrible pride, like the pride of demons”, St. Ignatius wrote, “is the main feature of those who assimilated one or another delusion" (Ibid, pp. 233). All sorts of delusion are associated with prayer. They "arise from the fact that repentance is not the foundation of prayer" (Ibid. 215), and are reduced to two main ones, "occurring because of improper action of the mind, or the wrong action of the heart" (Ibid pp. 239). The first kind of the delusion is that "the praying person uses the power of imagination to make up the dreams or pictures, borrowing them, apparently, from the Holy Scriptures, but in fact from his own state ..." (Ibid, pp. 216). St. Ignatius called such prayer dreamy and considered it "the influence of Satan". Such prayer is usually associated with the appearance of visions, light, smelling fragrance, hearing voices, and so on. Another more extensive kind of delusion is connected to this one; St. Ignatius called it "conceit". A person in this state does not excite the imagination, but he focuses on the experience of a variety of "heart sensations" and erroneously attributes them to the action of grace. Dreaminess also operates in such a man, but "acts solely in the abstract field" (Ibid, pp. 232). The deluded person makes up "false spiritual state, close fellowship with Jesus, the inner conversation with Him, the mysterious revelation, voices of pleasure ..." (Ibid). In addition to striving for grace feelings, people exposed to this error have a high opinion of themselves and attribute to themselves the gifts of grace and spiritual virtues, " they seem to be intoxicated with themselves, with their state of self-delusion, seeing it as the state of grace" (Ibid, pp. 230) . On this basis, St. Ignatius believes that heresies, schisms, impiety, blasphemy originated from this "conceit" (Ibid, pp. 235). Interconnection of both types of delusion is that the mind and the heart, not purified from the passions and not renovated by the Holy Spirit, aspire to see God and to experience His presence in the soul, but, not being able to this, make up imaginary grace gifts for the purpose of enjoyment. Thus, such states "are the actions of subtle vanity and lust" (Ibid, pp. 233).
The only way to avoid delusion is repentant arrangement of the soul, i.e. permanent contrition of the heart, because the commandment of repentance accommodates all the other commandments of God (Ibid, pp. 228). Only those who walk the path of repentance gradually acquire gifts of grace, which the deluded persons try to find prematurely. Genuine gracious revelation has different nature than it is imagined by the carnal man. Likewise, the true senses of grace have nothing to do with the experience of the deluded persons and come with purification of the soul through repentance.
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov. "On Prelest".
On Prelest (Part I)
Thy mind was deluded: it tasted the fruit forbidden by God. The fruit seemed to be beautiful with a curious, careless glance at it; the fruit seemed to be beautiful for the ignorance, inexperience, innocence; the malicious and sly counsel persuaded the eating of it; the eating of the fruit struck the one who ate with the death. The bitterness of the poisonous eatable still foaming at thy mouth; thy inside is tormented of acting of poison in it. Confusion, bewilderment, clouding, disbelief comprehend thy soul. Exhausted, frustrated by sin, you look back, being before directed to the kingdom of God ... (Luke VI, 62. Lam. 1.)
Disciple. Give an accurate and detailed concept of spiritual deception [prelest, delusion, illusion, spiritual delusion, spiritual deception – all these English words in the article mean the same]. What exactly is this condition?
Elder: Spiritual deception is the wounding of human nature by falsehood. Spiritual deception is the state of all men without exception, and it has been made possible by the fall of our original parents. All of us are subject to spiritual deception. Awareness of this fact is the greatest protection against it. Likewise, the greatest spiritual deception of all is to consider oneself free from it. We are all deceived, all deluded; we all find ourselves in a condition of falsehood; we all need to be liberated by the Truth. The Truth is our Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 8:32-14:6). Let us assimilate that Truth by faith in it; let us cry out in prayer to this Truth, and it will draw us out of the abyss of demonic deception and self-delusion. Bitter is our state! It is that prison from which we beseech that our souls be led out, that we may confess the name of the Lord (Ps. 141:8). It is that gloomy land into which our life has been cast by the enemy that hates and pursues us. It is that carnal-mindedness (Rom. 8:6) and knowledge falsely so called (I Tim. 6:20) wherewith the entire world is infected, refusing to acknowledge its illness, insisting, rather, that it is in the bloom of health. It is that “flesh and blood” which “cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” (I Cor. 15:50). It is that eternal death which is healed and destroyed by the Lord Jesus, Who is “the Resurrection and the Life” (Jn. 11:25). Such is our state. And the perception thereof is a new reason to weep. With tears let us cry out to the Lord Jesus to bring us out of prison, to draw us forth from the depths of the earth, and to wrest us from the jaws of death! “For this cause did our Lord Jesus Christ descend to us,” says the venerable Symeon the New Theologian, “because he wanted to rescue us from captivity and from most wicked spiritual deception.”
Archimandrite Ephraim of the Holy Mountain. "Fatherly advices".
The voice that you heard and that said to you: "Christ has cleansed you from the sins and killed your passions" – comes from the devil. This is the first step that leads a man to delusion and death. If one listens to the devil, turns his attention to the devil, if his heart enjoyed the words and agreed that the devil’s words are truthful, then Satan comes immediately more appreciably and step-by-step takes dominion over the man. Then one should do a great work to get rid of him.
Therefore, my child, you have done well that you did not pay attention to it and then chided yourself. Another time, if you hear something like this, say:
- I'll pass it to the elder, and will do as he advises me.
The devil is very afraid of confession to the elder, because he knows that this will destroy all his nets!
You should be aware, my child, that a thought of conceit has sprouted in you, i.e. of pride, that is why it happened to you. Be careful, have a lot of humility, pray every day that God gives you the spirit of humility. As nothing can grow on the trodden path, no delusion can grow on the "path" of humility.
From the life of St. Joseph of Optina.
The Elder [Ambrose], and Father Joseph were asked the same question about how to find a clairvoyant person, "one meets a man, apparently clairvoyant, and yet it feels there is something wrong, how do you know whether his clairvoyance is from God?" Both ascetics said the same: "Recognize these people by humility. Because the enemy can give clairvoyance to a person, but he never gives humility - it burns himself".
Saints Barsanuphius and John the Prophet. "Letters".
Question from a monk named Theodore to the Great Old Man: 'How can I know which thoughts are from God, which are natural and which are from the demons?" Response by Barsanuphius.
My child, Theodore, when you ask a question, you should understand what you are asking and prepare yourself for work. For it is written: "Do not be haughty, but give yourselves to humble tasks."(Rom 12.16) Your questions, brother, belong to someone with high measures. Therefore, unless the inner eye is purified by means of much sweat, you cannot be detached from thorns and prickles in order to seize the grape that strengthens and gladdens the heart. If one does not reach this measure, then one is unable to discern whether one is ridiculed and deceived by the demons in trusting them. For they transform matters as they desire, especially for those who are not familiar with their tricks. Therefore, beloved one, hope in the Lord, "and he shall give you the desires of your heart."(Ps 36.4) Cut off your own will, and in all things say to the Lord: "Not as I want, but as you want,"(Mt 26.39) and then he shall treat you in accordance with his mercy.
Child, listen to the way of discerning the three thoughts, about which you have inquired. When your thought suggests that you are doing something according to the will of God, and you find joy in the matter but also find affliction resisting you, learn that this is from God and struggle to endure, according to the words of Paul: "I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified";(1 Cor 9.27) so just fulfill the will of God.
Professor N.E. Pestov. "Modern practice of Orthodox virtue".
The beginning of delusion can be determined on the following grounds:
1) Self-confidence, following own will, unwillingness to subordinate own will to the elder or spiritual father and to the authority of the Church’s consciousness.
2) Self-direction – also called "self-centeredness" or "autoeroticism" – is egoism with lack of love, gentleness and forbearance to the surrounding people (except, perhaps, the closest family members).
3) Keeping the attention on certain statements (thoughts) of the spiritual sphere; the deluded people are mainly guided in life by these thoughts, ignoring the basic commandments of God and the teachings of the Church. These ideas can be taken from the Holy Scriptures, but they are isolated from the general spirit of the Holy Gospel. Then they divert the deluded person from the main virtues - love, humility, obedience and gentleness.
How to protect yourself from delusion:
1) It is obvious that the most radical remedy is to be in obedience to the elder or spiritual father, and if one can not have them – then to be guided by the views and advice of those Christians who succeeded in spiritual wisdom.
2) At the same time, each Christian must study the Scriptures and the works of the Holy Fathers of the Church.
3) Everybody should be keep from having opinions that do not agree with the general church consciousness.
4) We should always be sensitive to the views of friends and associates, be attentive to their judgments and carefully analyze our disagreements with them. We should remember that the Lord often rebukes us through the mouth of our loved ones.
Words of elder Paisios. Ch. 3. The terrible delusion
Ascesis and delusion
-Elder, I am afraid of delusion.
-So you should. Whoever is afraid of delusion will not be deluded, because they are careful and they deposit their every thought - they hide nothing and are thus helped.
-Elder, what is a predisposition for delusion?
-The predisposition for delusion is to imagine that you are something special and showing others that you are achieving something. It is to imagine that you have reached spiritual heights because - for example - you have accomplished an ascetic feat (when the others have not yet perceived the meaning of spiritual life) and then behave arrogantly. It is when you force yourself egotistically during ascesis in order to attain the measure of a Saint so that others might admire you: that is the beginning of delusion. Violence is one thing and force is another. I told someone once "Take care that you don't become deluded, with those tactics of yours; it won't be to your benefit." "Me, deluded?" he replied. "I even abstain from meat." But he didn't go to confession either. He used to disclose his sins to an Icon. "What are you? Orthodox or a Protestant?" I said to him. "Where did you find that in writing?" "Why?" re retorted. "Can't Christ hear me?" What a remark!
The letters of schema-hegumen John (Alekseev), a Valaam elder. "On the devilish delusion and the clairvoyance of the saints".
St. Paul says, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but... against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" [Eph. 6.12].
It is this spiritual force that tempts us, the sinners, to the extent allowed to him by God. He raises different blasphemy through our thoughts: against God, against all the divine and the Holy Communion. Sometimes there occur such bad thoughts that one is even ashamed to look at the icons. Many other bad things may occur. Fathers did not want even to write about [this], I am not going to write [about] what I had heard from some people too.
Some people are very confused and think that these are our thoughts. But the Devil is a spirit, he mixes with our soul. Of course, not many people can distinguish, [set their heart] against these diabolical suggestions. The only way is not to pay attention to them and to ask God for help.
Conversations with Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. "On Prelest".
Very often, way too often people talk about prelest and use this word with some mysterious expression on their faces because they found this word in the writings of the Holy Fathers, which they should not be reading yet. I remember a very experienced priest telling me, "Do not let people who have not yet matured in Orthodoxy read "Philokalia," because they will think that they already know everything that is described in there in such simple terms. In reality, none of us often has the slightest idea of what is being described there in such simple words." And that takes us to the topic of prelest. People can be charmed by their imagination. They can be deceived. Prelest is derived from the words "flattery, lies." And a deluded man is a man who is imagining something while the real situation is different. That man thinks he knows the secrets of spiritual life, while in reality he only knows something about his emotional life.
There is a wonderful excerpt in Theophan the Recluse’s writings where he doesn’t speak about prelest but rather says that very often we, thanks to prayer, sacraments, deep reflection, and our attempts to live worthy of our Christian calling, start having some unexpected feelings or even corporal experiences – we feel warmth or some light rising in the soul. And he says: all of that is only emotions and corporal experiences. He even says that if during prayer we see some golden light, we should know that that phenomenon is not divine but is of an emotional and corporal nature. For this reason, we should be very cautious in such matters and should live soberly instead of wondering whether it is prelest or not. In other words, we shouldn’t get intoxicated with our desire to live a spiritual life.
From an interview with Bishop Pankratios (Zherdev) of Troitsk, hegumen of Valaam monastery.
Does life in a skete promote the gift of prayer?
You know, brethren often seek for life in a skete or even solitary. In some cases, this corresponds to the Providence of God about these people, and then it is really good and saving for them to be there. But sometimes this desire is due to the fact that in the sketes, especially those with few people, there is more freedom, more opportunities to live according to your own will. In the monastery, of course, life is not easy: you have to get up at a certain time, to come to the church, you must perform obedience, to endure grief, resentment, injustice ... But all that is necessary. Why is that? Some of the Fathers cited the example of pebbles on the beach. When they rub against each other, the angles are erased and the pebbles become round. You may have noticed that even the bottle fragments have the sharp edges erased. The same occurs in our case, if a monk complacently undergoes grief and resentment that are inevitable in a cenobitic monastery, he develops humility and ability for a deep heartfelt prayer. Otherwise, you can fall into delusion, because pride is still very strong. As it is said: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble". When there is no grace, a man easily succumbs to the tricks of the enemy. Such things have happened here, we saw the state of delusion when a brother began intensified prayer on his own, neglecting obedience.
In the spiritual life of a monk, both extremes are dangerous. One extreme is loosening up, and it prevails today. This is also delusion. A man is deceived, he thinks that he lives a monastic life, but in fact, in the severe, but true words of St. Seraphim of Sarov – he is a black firebrand. Although he wears black clothes, in fact, he is no different from a layman, except that he lives in the monastery without a family. He goes with the flow, but the flow is always directed down.
St. John of Sinai. "The ladder of Divine ascent".
Step 7. On mourning which causes joy.
29. When we see anger and pride in those who seem to be mourning in a way pleasing to God, then their tears are to be regarded as a repugnant to God. For what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians vi, 14.)
30. The fruit of morbid compunction is self-esteem, and the fruit of meritorious compunction is consolation.
31. Just as fire is destructive of straw, so are pure tears destructive of all material and spiritual impurity.
32. Many of the Fathers say that the question of tears, especially in the case of beginners, is an obscure matter and hard to ascertain, as tears are born in many different ways. For instance, there are tears from nature, from God, from adverse suffering, from praise worthy suffering, from vainglory, from licentiousness, from love, from the remembrance of death, and from many other causes.
33. Let us, stripped by the fear of God, train ourselves in all these ways, and acquire for ourselves pure and guileless tears over our dissolution. For there is no dissimulation or self-esteem in them, but on the contrary there is purification, progress in love for God, washing away of sin and the sublimation of the passions to dispassion.
34. It is not surprising if mourning begins with good tears and ends with bad. But it is praiseworthy if reprehensible and natural tears are sublimated to spiritual tears. People inclined to vainglory understand this problem clearly.
35. Do not trust your fountains of tears before your soul has been perfectly purified. For wine cannot be trusted when it is drawn straight from the vats.
68. Our enemies are so wicked that they turn even the mothers of virtues into the mothers of vices, and those things which make for humility, they make into a cause for pride. Frequently the very setting and sight of our dwellings are of a nature to rouse our mind to compunction. Let Jesus, Elijah and John who prayed alone convince you of this. I have often seen tears provoked in cities and crowds to make us think that crowds do us no harm and so draw nearer to the world. For this is the aim of the evil spirits.
Letters of the Valaam Elder Schema-hegumen John (Alexeev).
It is very sad to hear that the priests teach their spiritual children to imagine the Saviour, or the Mother of God, or some Saint in the mind while praying.
This method of prayer is wrong, even harmful. I know that the ones who prayed so, became of unsound mind and went to the doctors to be treated.
I'll tell you briefly how to pray according to divinely wise Holy Fathers. The mind must be enclosed in the words of the prayer and attention should be kept in the top of the chest, for attention is a soul of the prayer. You should not push the heart with attention, since if there is attention in the chest, the heart will sympathize. When tenderness and warmth of heart appear, do not think that you have received something great. It happens naturally because of concentration, but it is not delusion. Yet God gives some consolation to the praying person by the grace.
By all means try not to judge anyone for anything. What you do not want for yourself, do not do to others, and nor bear hatred, or the prayer will not become establish in the heart.
Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. "Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters"
Hieromonk N, the victim of temptation because of his pride
(translated from Russian)
Once there lived a monk in a monastery, who outwardly seemed to be pious, but there was hidden pride inside. He was exemplary all over, polite, he worked with zeal and gave spiritual instructions to others, because, among other things, he was educated. But he did not receive anyone's instructions himself, since out of respect for him no one dared to tell him about something bad that noticed in him. Not only others, but he himself had a false opinion that he was the most pious monk in the monastery.
Once a demon-possessed man was brought to the monastery and the abbot ordered this hieromonk to read a prayer of exorcism over him and said to the brethren to pray with prayer beads for him. Naturally, the demon was curled up because of all this, and he cried out "Where are you sending me, unmerciful!"
Schema-archimandrite Abraham (Reidman). The good part. Conversations with the monks. 44. About delusion.
I am coming to a very serious issue, and it is important for me that you understand me right: I mention only the most common, I cover only theoretical issues, and you need to solve specific cases with your mentor. What other outward signs of delusion one can mention? Sometimes a person can even imagine about himself that he has unceasing prayer. I recently read interesting memories of Archimandrite Raphael about elder schema-archimandrite Seraphim (Romantsov) from the Glinsk Hermitage. The book about ascetics of 50-60s of XX century "In the Caucasus mounts" by monk Mercury tells about one very young schema-nun, who had secret schema, and who was thought to have the unceasing prayer. And it turns out that this schema-nun once came to schema-archimandrite Seraphim, a highly experienced elder, whom I can not mistrust. The elder gave her some instructions, none of which she accepted, and he realized that she was in delusion and she did not have the unceasing prayer for a single day. The one who gave her schema was also in delusion. Fr. Seraphim said that there is such a state (this time he meant the another monk), which to some prayerful person seems as he has unceasing prayer, but in fact it's just a state close to delusion, because he is accustomed to the incessant repetition of prayer as others are accustomed to the bad language, that is, it is not a gift of grace and only a habit. An inexperienced person who does not know what unceasing prayer actually is, who does not even have the correct theoretical idea of it, begins to imagine that he has it and starts telling others. If such inexperienced Christian encounters an experienced spiritual person and begins to tell him about his spiritual state (this applies especially to eldresses), the latter should ask him in detail because some seemingly insignificant trifle can show that the person, in fact, simply does not understand what he tells us about, he only fantasizes about his experiences. One speaks about himself out of ignorance Heaven knows what, and believes that his state is spiritual, and the other, on the contrary, after reading the Holy Fathers and having no idea what they actually mean, identifies it, due to his highly developed imagination, with his own state. He speaks with the words of the Holy Fathers that he has read and understood in the book and not his own experience. It turns out that he was deluded and is misleading others, even spiritually experienced. Therefore, when dealing with someone who talks about some of his spiritual experiences, you need to have special attention and carefully question even about small things. One does not know how to describe - and explains the proper spiritual condition wrong, and the other, on the contrary, represents a delusional or just imagined experience as something significant, because of learned and internalized terms. We must be extremely careful not to get lost in such subtle and at the same time vital subjects.
John Moschus. "Spiritual meadow". 130. The teachings of Athanasius and his wonderful vision.
Abba said: "Our fathers practised continence and poverty and detachment from all things up to the time of their death. But we have stuffed our stomachs and moneybags full."
He also said: "Our fathers made it their business to avoid distractions to the soul. But in our days we have them aplenty, as well as our manual work"
Abba Athanasius also told us this about himself:
"I was wondering once about what was worth striving for and what was not. And I went into an ecstasy, and someone came to me and told me to follow him. He led me into a place full of light and glory and set me in front of a doorway, the like of which it is beyond my power to describe, for we could hear inside a countless multitude praising God. We knocked on the door and someone inside heard us and called out:
"'What do you want?'
"'We want to come in,' said my guide.
"'No one who lives carelessly can enter here. But if you want to come in, go back and strive to be able to count all the vanities of the earth as nothing worth.'"
From a conversation with schema-archimandrite Abraham (Reidman).
- Where do people with supernatural abilities - psychics, prophets, seers – take their powers from? Are their gifts from God or from the devil?
- Psychics are in delusion. They often believe themselves to be in communication with God, with the cosmic energies or to be able to extract some force from themselves and thus to help other people. But, in fact, it is necessary to live a special spiritual life, a holy life to do miracles from God. From the Orthodox point of view, psychics are in communication with the evil spirits. If they seem to heal, these "healings", firstly, do great harm to themselves, and secondly, can damage those they treat - mentally and even physically. Of course, we cannot seek the help of psychics, it's like asking help from the demons themselves who seek only our death.
As for the gifts of prophecy and clairvoyance, they, of course, can come from God as well – but nowadays they are extremely rare. Another phenomenon is found more often, and it is false clairvoyance, false prophecy. Indeed, the demons are named seducing because they know how to cheat. They imitate in their actions the influence of Divine grace, trying to forge consolation of grace as well, consolation of the Holy Spirit. They can show visions; being very perspicacious, they can guess the future. They can create false clairvoyance: to inspire some thought in one person, and reveal it to another, for whom they want to create the glory of being a seer. Often, they show to such a "seer" the sins of others - and who knows sins if not a demon himself who provokes to them? Therefore, we should be very careful when meeting with some person believed to be a prophet.
An acquaintance of mine told me how she went to a certain "clairvoyant" priest, who actually turned out to be in delusion. So, when he talked to people, their body temperature raised to 37, even to 38 degrees, they felt as if glowing. At the same time, they had no consolation in the heart, no repentance, no determination to improve their lives; they have only such a sensation. And, having no experience in these matters, they decided that this man has the grace. But, in fact, what was here from the grace? Well, one feels hot - and what of it? There was such a characteristic case in the presence of that person. Several people were waiting for him. He named them their sins, and coming to a laywoman he asked, "Why don’t you think of anything?" And she was sitting and praying the Jesus Prayer silently. What does it mean? This means that she by means of the prayer drove away the thoughts that demons inspired to her, and this "seer", of course, could no longer say anything.
Elder Ephraim of Philotheou. "My life with elder Joseph".
(translated from Russian)
In those days when Elder Joseph lived near Drama, he was told:
- There is one nun here in Drama, who prophesies and solves all the problems.
- I'll go to have a look at her, - said the Elder.
This nun allegedly communicated with the All-Holy Mother of God, Who was said to have predicted to the nun even what people would visit her. There were many people visiting her. The Elder came to her and asked:
- How did you get this grace?
- This is from God, from the Holy Spirit.
- And you see thoughts, don’t you?
- I will conceive one thought in my heart, and if you guess it, it's all right, and if not - then close your mouth.
The elder conceived a curse on the Devil in his mind, for he understood that it was the Devil who had revealed everything to her.
- Well, tell me my thought.
She became speechless and could not say anything.
She could not.
- If you repent and stop prophesy from the Devil, I'll cross you and it will go away.
She nodded that she agreed. The elder made the sign of the cross over the nun, her lips were resolved and the Elder said:
- You were deluded because of pride and haughtiness. Pay attention to your sins and no longer do what you did.
The nun asked for forgiveness, but, unfortunately, soon fell into the same delusion.
Hegumen Ambrose (Yurasov). "Faith and Salvation".
(English translation from Serafim Gascoigne. "Living Theology: Russian Spirituality in the 20th Century").
Know how cunning the devil is and learn how he catches people in his nets! In 1978 I baptized a woman and gave her a prayer rule and recommended some spiritual reading etc.. I told her: "Every day say the Jesus Prayer 500 times and make 50 prostrations." (This woman had been attending church for a long time, but had never been baptized). After a time she came to me and said: "Bless me to do more prostrations". "Ok, do 100". "And may I say 1000 Jesus prayers?" "You may, God bless youl"
After a while she came and asked me to bless her to say 3000 prayers. "Do you have the strength", I asked her. "Yes", she replied. Over the course of a year she came and went, we met twice a year. One day we had gathered to celebrate a parishioner's namesday. There were 8 seated at the table. This woman came in and was the first to sit down, sitting down in the place of honor. I told her to move and sit somewhere else. She immediately got up and left the room. She was deeply offended. I caught up with her later and asked her why she was offended by being asked to move. "You chastised me in front of everybody!" I explained that it was not her namesday and that the seat that she had taken, under the icons, was always given to the person who was celebrating that day. But more importantly I asked her how she prayed these days. She told me that she made 1000 prostrations a day, doing these without a blessing. When she traveled she prayed 2000 prayers with tears. She slept two to three hours per day. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she neither ate nor drank. On the other days she only ate once a day. If you had seen her she would have been amazed how fit and strong she was. When she came to visit (another time) she carried a heavy rucksack, approximately weighing 10 kilograms. There was not a drop of perspiration on her face. When she sat at table, she simply glowed with love for those around her.
Saints Barsanuphius and John the Prophet. "Letters. Vol. 2."
Question from the same [brother] to the same [Old man]: "Although I am slow in learning, nevertheless I am able to learn the Psalms more quickly. Tell me whether this has happened to me from God, or else from the demons in order that I might come to vainglory". Response by Barsanuphius.
Whatever God grants you, receive it with humility. For to learn the words of God easily does not actually come from the devil, but they are in fact a seed from God. If, however, one is not careful, then the devil, too, sows own tares. If you want to humble your thought, give it the following example: "If one receives from the master certain silver coins, as in [the story of] those servants [Cf. Mt 25.14], but does not make some profit or increase, then what will happen?" And your thought will respond: "Whatever happened to that servant who hid the silver of the master." [Cf. Mt 25.24-30] Then you can say to your thought: "So do not feel proud, filling the air with fruitless words, because these shall be to my condemnation."
How to protect yourself from delusion?
Archpriest Basil Volskiy (village Polyarnye Zori, Murmansk region, Russia).
- The signs that you start to fall into delusion are numerous. They include self-righteousness, a desire to have own way by all means, disobedience and self-conceit, unwillingness to listen and take advice from other people, neglect to the authorities, officials, dreaminess, tendency to visions, dreams, delight in own righteousness. A deluded person likes to take excessive feats upon himself, for example, he can read akathists and canons for several hours a day. Imitating the righteous people outwardly, he does not realize that they were strengthened by love, while he is driven by vainglory, by the desire to rise above the people. I remember how one grandmother in the cathedral told someone, "You should pray, but not overpray." According to the remark of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), enthusiasm for external deeds creates voluptuousness.
We are all in delusion. Adam was contaminated by it when he accepted a lie for the truth, and since that time we cannot get rid of it, but there are extreme states. In the world it is not understood at all. For example, in the Soviet dictionary by Ozhegov, delusion (“prelest”) is a good word such as "beauty" - means attractiveness, while its original meaning is not even considered. In Dahl's dictionary, the attitude to this word is more folk, the essence of "prelest" is revealed there – delusion, confusion, deception, temptation, seduction by the evil spirit. About a century separates the appearance of these two dictionaries but the difference is huge, the delusion, the lack of spiritual sobriety became something correct, up-to-date. In the Church, fortunately, there is at least an understanding that this is not the case. Another question is how to get rid of this disease. Here I am a bad adviser, a patient cannot help to a patient. A doctor is needed. And He comes, many times I have witnessed as the Lord helps, pulls people out of the deluded state.
Neophytes are very prone to it. And I did not miss it, yet before ordination. Unfortunately, there were no people who would just tell me about it. But the Lord sent such grief that I was on the verge of death (I was dying, the blood pressure was 40x20) and through this I thought who I was, why would I have such a high opinion about myself. The Lord sent medicines, thank God! And He still sends, and when this will be over - I don’t know. But I will say that elderly people not less but more than neophytes are subjected to delusion. They no longer suffer from bodily passions and they take it for righteousness. They consider themselves to be very prayerful and good in fasting and it is especially difficult with those who have been in the Church for a long time and even spent the whole life at the Church. Here a person starts to think too much of himself. We should treat ourselves with caution.
Hegumen John (Alexeev) - Valaam elder, who was the hegumen of our Tryphon-Pechenga Monastery for some time, said well about delusion. When he arrived there, he found a terrible scene: many monks suffered from severe conceit, thought themselves men of prayer and miracle workers. They believed they could walk on thin ice without falling under it, and many died at that. So Fr. John gave a very wise advice: "Do not trust yourself until you go to last home." You cannot say better that that.
16 And it came to pass, as we were going to the place of prayer, that a certain maid having a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much gain by soothsaying.
17 The same following after Paul and us cried out, saying, These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim unto you the way of salvation.
18 And this she did for many days. But Paul, being sore troubled, turned and said to the spirit, I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And it came out that very hour.
Elder John (Krestiankin). From the letters of 2003.
Servant of God, L.!
You get a gift not from the Lord, but you are deluded by the dark forces. And if you do not stop following "the voice", the end of this delusion will be very sad for you. Initially you are given a gift for free and you are taught to obey, but in a very short period of time you will get retribution.
Have pity on your soul. You should confess, take the Holy Unction and the Holy Communion.
And to succeed in resistance to this enemy violence you should take the Holy Communion more often, no less than once in two weeks.
Now in our time this way of delusion is very common – at first you are dictated the truth, but very soon you will not even notice how the lie will be mixed with the truth, and the deluded person takes the lie for the truth. The Divine truths at all times are kept in the Church of God, and for this purpose the Lord created the Church - the Pillar and Ground of the Truth. And you have lived outside the Church for a long time, and so now the enemy easily enters your life using flattery.
Do not teach, you have no blessing for this.
Saint John Cassian. "Conferences".
First Conference of Abbot Moses. On the Goal or Aim of the Monk.
Chapter XXI. Of the illusion of Abbot John.
In this manner we have heard that Abbot John who lived at Lycon, was recently deceived. For when his body was exhausted and failing as he had put off taking food during a fast of two days, on the third day while he was on his way to take some refreshment the devil came in the shape of a filthy Ethiopian, and falling at his feet, cried "Pardon me because I appointed this labour for you." And so that great man, who was so perfect in the matter of discretion, understood that under pretence of an abstinence practised unsuitably, he was deceived by the craft of the devil, and engaged in a fast of such a character as to affect his worn out body with a weariness that was unnecessary, indeed that was harmful to the spirit; as he was deceived by a counterfeit coin, and, while he paid respect to the image of the true king upon it, was not sufficiently alive to the question whether it was rightly cut and stamped. But the last duty of this "good money-changer," which, as we mentioned before, concerns the examination of the weight, will be fulfilled, if whenever our thoughts suggest that anything is to be done, we scrupulously think it over, and, laying it in the scales of our breast, weigh it with the most exact balance, whether it be full of good for all, or heavy with the fear of God: or entire and sound in meaning; or whether it be light with human display or some conceit of novelty, or whether the pride of foolish vain glory has not diminished or lessened the weight of its merit. And so straightway weighing them in the public balance, i.e., testing them by the acts and proofs of the Apostles and Prophets let us hold them as it were entire and perfect and of full weight, or else with all care and diligence reject them as imperfect and counterfeit, and of insufficient weight.
How to protect yourself from delusion?
Archpriest Alexiy Denisov (Arkhangelsk, Russia)
– The only way to protect yourself from delusion is to realize that you are in it. This was the advice given to all of us by St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov). The Lord does not allow us to see ourselves in the right perspective, so that we do not fall into horror and despair. Therefore, we have no reason to consider ourselves as a criterion of truth.
In the past all of us committed a lot of mistakes, were under a delusion, in the future it will be in the same way. If I know that I have a sick leg, am I going to put all the weight on it? If I put the weight on it then I will fall in the same way as I fell before many times. The same is with our mind – it gives us too little reasons to trust its judgments. It is said in the Book of Psalms: "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help", but isn’t each of us a son of man? Put your trust in God, not in yourself.
Many times I have found myself in such situations, when your own understanding of what is happening seemed perfect, but then you look, everything is completely different. Once, twice you get into these situations and you begin to wonder whether to trust yourself unconditionally.
You try to explain this to people who are little taught by experience, but you refer primarily not to yourself but to the Scripture, to the Holy Fathers. Fight with delusion is carried out in the Church since its birth, so the gained experience is tremendous. The hardest thing is to earn confidence of the person who has gone pretty far in self-delusion. I recently spoke with one such woman. She kept replying to everything I said: "You misunderstood me." To be understood (or misunderstood) in such case means one thing – I have to look at the situation through the eyes of the deluded person. If I see otherwise – I do not want to go into the heart of the matter – this way the person thinks. However, with that woman who approached me, we managed to find a common ground. But we must understand that there is no universal way to help the person who sees the world in a distorted manner. It is all very individual. Some people need to be flicked on the nose and then caressed, and others should be treated quite differently. You may shout at someone, but this will antagonize another forever. For example Optina Elders, St. Anatoly was like the sun, so affectionate, and St. Nektarios was severe. Different styles. What was common in these elders? They loved people. It is impossible to reach people without love. Sometimes you can hear: "You are in delusion", and it is said in such hostile voice that it is clear - evidently something is not right with the accuser. If you do not you love the person, it’s better not to say anything, because even if you are right, you will not be heard. Only when you truly mean well to the neighbor, he can believe you.
Saint Peter of Damaskos. Book1. A Treasury of Divine Knowledge. From Philokalia, Vol. 3.
If by the grace of God you have received the gift of discrimination, you should in great humility do everything you can to guard it, so that you do nothing without it. Otherwise you will bring on yourself greater chastisement by sinning knowingly because of your negligence. If you have not received this gift you should not think, say or do anything without consulting others about it, and without a basis of firm faith and pure prayer. Without such faith and such prayer you will never truly achieve discrimination.
Discrimination is born of humility. On its possessor it confers spiritual insight, as both Moses and St John Klimakos say: such a man foresees the hidden designs of the enemy and foils them before they are put into operation. It is as David states: ‘And my eyes looked down upon my enemies’ (Ps. 14:7. LXX). Discrimination is characterized by an unerring recognition of what is good and what is not, and the knowledge of the will of God in all that one does. Spiritual insight is characterized, first, by awareness of one’s own failings before they issue in outward actions, as well as of the stealthy tricks of the demons; and, second, by the knowledge of the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures and in sensible creation.
As has been already explained, humility, the mother of discrimination and spiritual insight, likewise has its own characteristic by which it is known. The humble person must possess every virtue and yet truly think himself the greatest of debtors and inferior to everything else in creation. If, however, a person does not think in this way, then he can be assured that he is in fact inferior to everything else in creation, even though he seems to lead a life like that of the angels. For even a true angel possessing so many virtues and so much wisdom cannot conform to the Creator’s will unless he also possesses humility. What, then, can a person who thinks that he is an angel say for himself if he lacks humility, source of all present and future blessings, begetter of that discrimination which illumines the ends of the earth and without which all things are obscure?
Discrimination is not only called light; it truly is light. We need this light before we say or do anything. When it is present we are able to view everything else with wonder. We can marvel at how God, on the first and greatest of days, began by creating light, so that what was subsequently created might not he invisible and as if it did not exist, as St John of Damaskos says.’ Let it be said again: discrimination is light; and the spiritual insight it generates is more necessary than all other gifts. For what is more necessary than to perceive the wiles of the demons and with the help of God’s grace to protect one’s soul? Other things most necessary to us include, according to St Isaac, purity of conscience and, according to the apostle, the sanctification of the body (cf. Rom. 12:1; 1 Cor. 6:19-20) without which ‘no one will see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14).
Alexei Ilyich Osipov. "The Basics of Spiritual Life, Based on the Writings of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)".
5. Untimely dispassion is dangerous
Let us turn out attention to yet another important law of spiritual life. It consists in “the like interrelationship of virtues and of vices” or, to put it another way, in the strict consequentiality and mutual conditioning of the acquisition of virtues as well as the action of passions. Saint Ignatius writes, “Because of this like relationship, voluntary submission to one good thought leads to the natural submission to another good thought; acquisition of one virtue leads another virtue into the soul which is like unto and inseparable from the first. The reverse is also true: voluntary submission to one sinful thought brings involuntarily submission to another; acquisition of one sinful passion leads another passion related to it into the soul; the voluntary committing of one sin leads to the involuntary fall into another sin born of the first. Evil, as the fathers say, cannot bear to dwell unmarried in the heart” (5:351).
Archimandrite Raphael (Karelin). "The mystery of salvation. Conversations about spiritual life." Schema-Archimandrite Seraphim. 
Obedience is necessary, absolutely necessary, like air, for acquisition of grace. A monk without obedience was not considered a monk by Fr. Seraphim. True, real, not imaginary and illusory spiritual path is possible only through complete obedience to his elder. Fr. Seraphim considered external feats of retreat and fasting to be secondary to obedience, that is, the help, and not the foundation of monastic life. A feat of the body should be based on the blessing of the elder and to be precisely defined. Fr. Seraphim believed that without obedience one cannot practice the Jesus prayer: it will remain at the level of repetition of sounds, not being able to touch the heart that is hardened in pride. Fr. Seraphim said to one monk (what I think daring and I would not repeat it, if I did not hear it myself): "You do not have any prayer of Jesus: you just got used to it, as some people get used to the bad language."
Once, when I was with Father Seraphim in Sukhumi, a nun came to him; it was that nun to whom monk Mercury devoted a considerable part of the book "In the mountains of the Caucasus." Fr. Seraphim, knowing her unusually severe fasting, started by saying: "You should have a hot meal once a day" She looked at Father Seraphim with amazement, "Do I have to waste the time and distract the mind from the prayer to prepare lunch?" Fr. Seraphim widely crossed himself: "Cross my heart, that you don’t have any prayer and never had it". When she left, Fr. Seraphim said, "She did not understand anything. The one, who gave her the schema, was in delusion himself. Poor soul, how much struggles she will have!"
 Schema-Archimandrite Seraphim is glorified by UOC MP as a local saint on 21.08.2010, commemoration on December 19/January 1.
 From these words it is clear that Father Seraphim could not sympathize with the movement of Imiaslavie. - Ed.
Letters of Hegumen Nikon (Vorobyov) to Spiritual Children.
Dear ... !
10 days have already passed since I received your letter, but I didn’t set out to respond.
On your feelings about Bright Matins, I would say that all things work together for good to those who love God. The Holy Fathers say that the kingdom of God does not come with observation. When we will expect the spiritual joys - then we can just (and often it is so) not get them. The right disposition of the soul is to consider yourself unworthy of any spiritual consolation.
Moreover, Venerable John Climacus says, "Drive off with lowly hand every passing joy as something of which you are unworthy, for if you let it in, you may be admitting a wolf instead of a shepherd". This idea is expressed in different forms by all of the Holy Fathers. All people are easily inclined to every sin, and especially to those no less harmful than gross. No one can notice and overcome everything by one’s own forces, only realization of one’s infirmity, poverty, sinfulness, irredeemable indebtedness to God, and hence the incessant cry of the heart (heart is broken and subsequently contrite), which all the Saints of God had - this is the right spiritual disposition, protecting people from fall, leading to spiritual gifts and protecting these gifts, if they are granted. The ascetic, having no cry of the heart, is in spiritual delusion, i. e. false disposition, and if he does not improve, he may fall into apparent demonic delusion and perish. In our time, all this happens implicitly, but it happens and most  of the ascetics are temporarily or permanently in delusion. This matter is rather subtle.
I'm sorry to tell you this, maybe at the wrong time. It scarcely concerns laymen (although, in some respect, of course, it concerns them, but in a simpler form).
So you have overcome your grief and resentment at the chief, and maybe you have also understood that you were properly deprived of the consolation by the judgment of God, to look deeper into yourself and become humble. The success of spiritual life is not measured by spiritual consolations which may be from the Devil as well, but by the depth of humility.
How are you? Forgive me if I wrote poorly, but I assure the correctness. I will not multiply words any longer, hoping to talk to you personally.
 Translator's note: depending on the stress in the original Russian word, it can be translated also as “large part”, but “most” is closer to the general sense of delusion which “is the state of all men without exception” (St. Ignatius Brianchaninov).
Letters of St. Ambrose of Optina. Letter 294. Unauthorized teaching of others and arrogance lead to temptations.
In the letter, which was sent to me with the procuratrix, and in another letter, you write something about high things, the inner teaching, noetic prayer, that the prayer acts by itself in you, and on time! It does not look like any true prayer, and portends more danger than spiritual success. Our spiritual measure is very small; you rush to high things and write to me about high things, but you pass common issues over in silence, speaking only as if incidentally, as there were some troubles with you, but you don’t explain what exactly. To make it clear: sometimes you want to teach other sisters who live with you, and then sometimes you endure vexations and reproaches, which you name troubles, in your own way, without further explanations, but you say nothing about your unauthorized teaching, for what you get not only reproaches and vexations from the outside, but sometimes you are allowed a strong fight with sensual thoughts. Therefore, first of all it is necessary to become wiser and to teach yourself about what you should do, without doubt and blindness, because you ran away from M.P., as if avoiding praise ascribed to you, and then you began to strive for the same by unasked teaching of roommates, even though you have not noticed it until now. The passion of self-exaltation and love of fame is subtle and varied, intangible and hardly noticeable. Saint Mark the Ascetic writes that some people visibly humble themselves to get the praise. You call your leaving from the cell of M.P. skillful, but in fact this is greatly non-skillful. You are an insignificant person, there is no need for anyone to understand your aims, and every major and minor understands and talks about you differently now. While O. fairly speaks about your spiritual father, that he is a great sinner, but you should not listen to this in silence. Theodore of Edessa writes: "Make silent anyone blaspheming your spiritual father" that is, do not let any such person speak; let him talk this when he wants, and with whom he wants, but you should not allow him to talk this in front of you, saying, "You may talk about it wherever you want, but it is indecent to say it before me, and you yourself will not avoid mental harm and liability". If they do not listen, then ask the mother hegumeness for another cell for yourself. You want to build a cell for yourself. If you have money, build and ask the mother hegumeness directly about the place, when the procuratrix does not assist you. You do not want to have a place for the cell far from the church, while you want to be among ascetics, forgetting that all the ancient ascetics chose some inconvenience themselves for the training of their self-restraint. You are to build a cell where you will be given a place, if you have money.
You ask me a lot of questions, but forget what I have told you personally. I remember that I would not advise you to practice noetic prayer, but to pray verbally in the measure of your ability, according to St. Paul (Heb. 13: 15): By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name; you should call for the help of the Lord with the nous only if you are attacked by the bad thoughts and if it is inconvenient to pray verbally because of the close presence of others or when a church service is going on.
You have become so carried away with your own reasoning and self-will that, disdaining advice and acting in your own way, you reached, as it were, a self-moving prayer of the heart, while you are asleep. This happens to a few rare holy men who have achieved extreme purification from passions. But men who are still passionate, as one man informed us, being half-asleep and listening to a similar internal movement as you described, heard – and what?.. - They heard a cat's meow cunningly pronounced in a way similar to the words of the prayer. Sister! We must humble ourselves. Our measure is still very small. You can fall into the enemy's networks, especially in the subtle delusion, because people liable to the enemy's delusion are difficult to cure. It is easier to turn every sinner to repentance than to bring a deluded person to reason. And you already write, that you do not understand, what repentance is. Read the book of Mark the Ascetic, in Russian translation, at first the fifth message: "Advice of the nous to the own soul," then the third message, "On repentance, appropriate in equal measure to beginners and intermediate, as well as to advanced", and then there's a passage which says that repentance is not accomplished (not ended) until the death, and it has three features, or parts: purification of thoughts, enduring of sorrows, and prayer, that is, the call for God's help against evil thoughts. These three things do not occur one without the other. If one part is interrupted, then the other two parts are unstable too.
St Maximos the Confessor. "Four Hundred Texts on Love". Second Century. From Philokalia, Vol. 2.
67. There are said to be five reasons why God allows us to be assailed by demons. The first is so that, by attacking and counterattacking, we should learn to discriminate between virtue and vice. The second is so that, having acquired virtue through conflict and toil, we should keep it secure and immutable. The third is so that, when making progress in virtue, we should not become haughty but learn humility. The fourth is so that, having gained some experience of evil, we should ‘hate it with perfect hatred’ (cf. Ps. 139:22). The fifth and most important is so that, having achieved dispassion, we should forget neither our own weakness nor the power of Him who has helped us.
Saint Symeon Metaphrastis. "Paraphrase of the Homilies of Saint Makarios of Egypt". III Patient Endurance and Discrimination. From Philokalia, Vol. 3.
45. He who follows the spiritual path must pay great attention to discrimination, since the ability to distinguish between good and evil, and to scrutinize and understand the various tricks through which the devil by means of plausible fantasies leads most people astray, keeps us safe and helps us in every way. If a man wanting to test his wife’s virtue comes to her at night disguised as someone else, and she repels him, he will rejoice at this and welcome the assurance it gives. It is exactly the same with us in relation to the attacks of the evil spirits. Even if you repel the heavenly spirits, they will be gladdened by this, and will help you to participate still further in grace: because of this proof of your love for the Lord they will fill you brim-full with spiritual delight. So do not from light-mindedness speedily surrender yourself to the visitations of spirits, even if they are heavenly angels, but be wary, submitting them to the most careful scrutiny. Thus you will welcome the good and repel the evil. In this way you will increase in yourself the workings of grace, which sin, however much it may assume the appearance of the good, cannot altogether simulate. According to St Paul, Satan can even change himself into an angel of light in order to practice his deceptions (cf. 2 Cor. 11:14); yet though he may manifest himself in such a glorious manner, he cannot, as we said, produce within us the effects of grace, and so it becomes quite clear that the vision is counterfeit. For the devil cannot bring about love either for God or for one’s neighbor, or gentleness, or humility, or joy, or peace, or equilibrium in one’s thoughts, or hatred of the world, or spiritual repose, or desire for celestial things; nor can he quell passions and sensual pleasure. These things are clearly the workings of grace. For the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, and so on (cf. Gal. 5:22), while the devil is most apt and powerful in promoting vanity and haughtiness. You may know from its effect whether the intellectual light shining in your soul is from God or from Satan. Indeed, once it has developed its powers of discrimination, the distinction is immediately clear to the soul itself through intellectual perception. Just as the throat through its sense of taste distinguishes the difference between vinegar and wine, although they look alike, so the soul through its intellectual sense and energy can distinguish the gifts of the Spirit from the fantasies of the devil.
St Gregory of Sinai. "On Prayer: Seven Texts. On Delusion and Other Subjects". From Philokalia, Vol.4.
7. I wish you to be fully informed about delusion, so that you can guard yourself against it and not do great harm to yourself through ignorance, and lose your soul. For our free will easily veers towards keeping company with the demons, especially when we are inexperienced and still under their sway. Around beginners and those who rely on their own counsel the demons spread the nets of destructive thoughts and images, and open pits into which such people fall; for their city is still in the hands of the workers of iniquity, and in their impetuosity they are easily slain by them. It is not surprising that they are deceived, or lose their wits, or have been and still are deluded, or heed what is contrary to truth, or from inexperience and ignorance say things that should not be said. Often some witless person will speak about truth and will hold forth at length without being aware of what he is saying or in a position to give a correct account of things. In this way he troubles many who hear him and by his inept behavior he brings abuse and ridicule on the heads of hesychasts. It is not in the least strange that beginners should be deceived even after making great efforts, for this has happened to many who have sought God, both now and in the past.
Mindfulness of God, or noetic prayer, is superior to all other activities. Indeed, being love for God, it is the chief virtue. But a person who is brazen and shameless in his approach to God, and who is over-zealous in his efforts to converse with Him in purity and to possess Him inwardly, is easily destroyed by the demons if they are given license to attack him; for in rashly and presumptuously striving prematurely to attain what is beyond his present capacity, he becomes a victim of his own arrogance. The Lord in His compassion often prevents us from succumbing to temptation when He sees us aspiring over-confidently to attain what is still beyond our powers, for in this way He gives each of us the opportunity of discovering his own presumption and so of repenting of his own accord before making himself the butt of demons as well as of other people's ridicule or pity. Especially is this the case when we try to accomplish this task with patience and contrition; for we stand in need of much sorrow and lamentation, of solitude, deprivation of all things, hardship and humility, and - most important of all for its marvelous effects - of guidance and obedience; for otherwise we might unknowingly reap thorns instead of wheat, gall instead of sweetness, ruin instead of salvation. Only the strong and the perfect can continuously fight alone with the demons, wielding against them the sword of the Spirit, which is the teaching of God (cf. Eph. 6:17). The weak and beginners escape death by taking refuge in flight, reverently and with fear withdrawing from the battle rather than risking their life prematurely.
The Letters of Saint Ambrose of Optina.
On the harmful effects of improper prayer, and that the inconceivable Divinity should not be imagined.
Venerable in the Lord Brother D.
I have received your letter. You suffered the described infirmities of mind and body because you, for inexperience, used the wrong way of prayer, rising with the nous to the throne of the Holy Trinity and contemplating the inconceivable Divinity under the human representation, in the image and likeness, what by the words of St. Gregory of Sinai and Symeon the New Theologian, leads the inexperienced ones to delusion. The method of the prayer, with the vision and elevation of the mind to Heaven, can only be used by the passionless ones, who have cleansed themselves from the admixture of passions by means of deeds for a long time and especially through humility and with God's help; but it is dangerous for the inexperienced and infirm, it leads to demonic delusion when people undergo improper infirmities and passions, as the Saint Apostle explains this: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient”(Romans 1: 28).
Visions that you had and saw, such as a vision of the risen Lord, the vision of the Mother of God, and other similar ones, are untrue. Do not believe any further dreams or visions. All this is dangerous and beguiling, and not crowned with a good ending. The very fruits of your present life may serve you as a clear proof that you were deceived and carried away by the self-conceit with the experienced visions, and the imaginary purity, and lightness of mind, and the incidence of tears, and tenderness. All of this nourished your secret and subtle arrogance, and the enemy delusion, what led to bitter fruits afterwards. However, you should not despair. There is no sin that overcome the love of God to men. The Lord is strong to improve your soul's circumstances, if you endeavour to lay the new foundation with true repentance and sincere humility. Put away the former way of praying and do not dare to lift the mind to Heaven and imagine the inconceivable Divinity. You should reverently worship the image of the Holy Trinity on the icon, but not imagine the Divinity in the mind this way – it is dangerous, according to the teaching of the Holy Fathers - Gregory of Sinai and others. There is no possibility to enlarge on these things now for the lack of time. If you want to right the matter, you should follow the prayer of the tax collector, who, by the words of the Lord Himself, didn’t dare even to raise his eyes to Heaven, not to mention his mind i.e. did not dare to elevate his mind to Heaven and stood before God with fear and humility, as seen by the Lord from above, and asking for mercy: God be merciful to me a sinner (Luke 18: 13), and not daring to argue with the Pharisee, who clearly humiliated him. Here is an example of repentance and return to the right path for all who have sinned. And you shouldn’t teach and argue with anyone, and give heed only to your repentance and your own life, in awe of God, with humility and self-reproach, not justifying yourself and not rejecting reproaches of others, especially not judging and not condemning anyone.
Saint John Climacus. "The Ladder of Divine Ascent". Step 26.
Demons and passions quit the soul entirely or for some length of time. No one can deny that. However, the reasons for such a departure are known to very few.
Some of the faithful and even of the unfaithful have found themselves in the position of being bereft of all passions except one, and that one proved so overwhelming an evil that it took the place of all the others and was so devastating that it could lead to damnation.
The material of the passions is done away with when consumed by divine fire. It is uprooted, and all evil urges retire from the soul unless the man attracts them back again by his worldly habits and by his laziness.
Demons leave us alone so as to make us careless, then pounce on our miserable souls. And those beasts have another trick, of which I am aware; namely, to depart when the soul has become thoroughly imbued with the habits of evil, when it has turned into its оwn betrayer and enemy. It is rather like what happens to infants weaned from the mother's breast, who suck their fingers because the habit has taken hold of them.
There is a fifth kind of dispassion. It comes from great simplicity and from admirable innocence. "To such is help rightly given by the God Who saves the upright of heart" (Ps. 7:11) and Who rids them of ill evil without their perceiving it. They are like infants who when undressed have no realization of the fact that they are naked.
Letters of Saint Ambrose of Optina. Letter 243.
Praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for due to all-powerful petitions and prayer intercession of Our Lady Blessed Virgin Mary your gloomy thoughts at least were somewhat cleared up. Although the desire to move to Arz. does not leave you, sometimes the thought contradicts you, and the secret suggestion in the heart says that this intention and desire is vain.
You write that the suggestion is very quiet and calm, but on the contrary, when the desire to leave the monastery seizes you, you feel bitterness, gloom, unforgiveness, and hatred against neighbors, and laziness in prayer. You should understand from this that the desire is from the devil, and it is a suggestion of the enemies and haters of the human race, looking for our eternal damnation. Saint Gregory of Sinai writes: "You need great discrimination in order to distinguish between good and evil. ... You must also be aware that the effects of grace are self-evident, and that even if the devil does transform himself he cannot produce these effects: he cannot induce you to be gentle, or forbearing, or humble, or joyful, or serene, or stable in your thoughts; he cannot make you hate what is worldly, or cut off sensual indulgence and the working of the passions, as grace does. He produces vanity, haughtiness, cowardice and every kind of evil." (citation from Philokalia, Vol. 4).
How we can distinguish when the Devil wants to deceive us? (at 52:17)
Whenever the devil tries to trick you to things that maybe that was a good sign from Jesus and that really was and was the devil, how can you easily distinguish between the two?
The way to distinguish whether or not these spiritual experiences are from the Lord or from the devil is to see what results of them are, what the fruits of them are in our lives. If the experience that we had is from the Lord, accompanied it will be with humility, peace in our soul, and certain spiritual blessings and fruits that come from that: we feel that it is from the Lord. If on the other hand, if there is something from the devil, the results will be different: there will be an uneasiness about it, there will be a discomfort, there will be a spiritual unrest that will be created by the activity of the devil in our lives and of cause that sometimes leads to pride. So when we are not sure about a spiritual experience is to whether or not it is from the devil or not or whether it is from the Lord, we are to go for insurance to our spiritual guide, our spiritual father. We do this in order to check ourselves out. We need to go to somebody who help us make this discernment, to find out whether is something of the Lord. If we only depend on ourselves, if we make our own judgment on this, if we in a sense draw our own conclusions about the validity of the experience, we can easily fool ourselves, thinking that this is from the God while in reality it is not from the God, it could be from the devil. That requires a tremendous amount of spiritual discernment in order to be able to make distinction which one is from the devil and which from the Lord.
The Letters of Elder John Krestiankin.
Servant of God, E.!
What is going on with you is delusion and I have witnessed many such occurrences in my spiritual experience. And if now you are in the very beginning of this pernicious way, the end of this way will be perdition.
Initially the “voice” will teach you to obey him, for his bait will be the word of truth. But when you are completely spiritually paralyzed, the same sweet “voice” will give you a ruinous command, and you, being deluded, will perform it. You must cease to follow the delusion immediately. You should confess and receive the Holy Unction and tell your confessor everything that happens to you.
Hieromonk Adrian (Pashin). “The Way of a Pilgrim” and Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov’s) Teaching on Prayer".
Basing himself on the legacy of St Ignatius of the Caucasus, Alexey Ilyich Osipov, the well-known Professor of the Moscow Theological Academy, reflects on the issues of spiritual practices in Eastern and Western Christian traditions, as well as the place of the book The Way of a Pilgrim in Christian spiritual life.
Hieromonk Adrian (Pashin): Alexey Ilyich, your booklet on the Jesus Prayer was published recently. What prompted you to tackle this exclusively (as it might seem) monastic subject?
Alexey Ilyich Osipov: The thing is that I was invited to give a lecture in Italy, at the famous Bose monastery, where they hold conferences on various topics every year. Representatives of different Churches are invited – not only from the Catholic Church, but from the Orthodox and even the Protestant Churches as well. That was in September 2004. The topic of the conference was prayer and, I think, even the Jesus Prayer, but I don’t remember for sure. How did the theme for my talk come up? The Chancellor of one of the Pontifical Institutes in Rome visited our Academy about twenty years ago. During his talk in the conference hall he said, in particular, that Catholic monastics are currently very interested in Hindu meditation practices and The Way of a Pilgrim, where a quite peculiar teaching on the Jesus Prayer is expounded. That is why I decided to write a talk on the subject of “The Teaching on the Jesus Prayer according to Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov) and The Way of a Pilgrim”. I thought that the subject would be of interest both to Catholics and to me because I had read The Way when I was 16 or 17 and it had made a very inspirational impression on me back then. I remember trying to practice the Jesus Prayer for a day or two, using the Pilgrim’s method – I could not do it for much longer; later, when I took up work on my talk, I understood that that had been fortunate. I gave my talk at the conference. The Orthodox showed interest while the Catholic audience received it in silence. However, one of the famous (I am not going to name him) secular scholars from St Petersburg (not a theologian), a regular participant at all the Bose conferences, expressed his displeasure at my talk. The talk was then translated into Italian and published both in Italy and Russia. Such is its background.
The Letters of Saint Ambrose of Optina.
You still worry about one of your letters thinking that I haven’t received it, while it contained something important for you. Write about it again to calm down. Yesterday I arranged your letters, and I have a whole pile of them that are important and unimportant. And the most important is a letter in which you write that you, for pity and imaginary love, got in over your head, started to cure a sister, who is sick with non physical illness.
I told you personally and now I repeat: in the future, do not practice such things. If Pimen the Great, keeping himself in humility, avoided such matters, even having a gift from God, who are you that you dares to do these things being unbidden. I repeat again: do not dare to do such things in the future, if you don’t want to undergo strong temptation, and to incur, firstly, an intolerable fight with sensual thoughts, secondly, assault and attack of the mental enemies, and, thirdly, also persecution by people. What’s the necessity to bring such a terrible temptation on yourself? St. Symeon of Evkhait advises to avoid people possessed by evil spirits, as there were cases when the enemy also confused spiritual people through them. In spite of imaginary compassion and imaginary love, under which self-conceit and pride subtly hide, you yourself must know what bitter fruit come from these passions. Listen to the Holy Scripture, saying, “Everyone that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord”. Look at the Apostle Paul, what he says. He orders to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Here is an example of true humanity. And you take care to save the person from exhaustion of the flesh, to give her temporary calm, covering up your actions perhaps with imaginary benefit for the soul. But this work is not for you. You are not a priest, or a clergyman, who has a spiritual power to help these people using a clever confession, but even in this case a full recovery does not always follow. It depends on the will of God, and from the disposition of the Very Lord, Who has providence for all and settles matters in the most useful and salvific way. People are not only unable to do anything themselves, but do not always realize that is useful to the soul of a man. Although sometimes we imagine ourselves to be zealous and compassionate to the neighbour, but we often understand neither others nor yourselves; and only become involved in this by subtle arrogance and pride. Let this sick woman be constrained to confess to your new confessor what she declared to you, and then we'll see, whether it will be necessary to come to us. If you want to have a real compassion for these people, then you can advise them to confess their sins sincerely to a spiritual father, and to be not ashamed to reveal anything because the punishment is not only for the sins, but more for taking Communion in an unworthy manner. But it is very-very harmful for you to listen to such sins yourself because of your zeal to avoid the temptations mentioned above.
As long as new authorities will be arranged for you, live even with difficulty, where necessary, and then may be God will help you to get better if you try to refrain from arbitrary, unasked zeal in regard to your neighbors. Forgive me.
Saint John Cassian. "On the Holy Fathers of Sketis And on Discrimination". Written for Abba Leontios. From Philokalia, Vol. 1.
'From all that has been said, we may conclude that nothing leads so surely to salvation as to confess our private thoughts to those fathers most graced with the power of discrimination, and in our pursuit of holiness to be guided by them rather than by our own thoughts and judgment. Nor should the fact that we may encounter an elder who is somewhat simple-minded or lacking in experience either prevent us from confessing to the fathers who are truly qualified, or make us despise our ancestral traditions. Many texts from the divine Scriptures make it clear that the fathers did not say these things according to their own-lights, but were inspired by God Himself and by the Scriptures to hand down to their successors the tradition of asking advice from those who had traveled far along the spiritual path. This is borne out especially by the story of the holy Samuel, who from infancy was dedicated by his mother to God and was granted communion with Him. He still did not trust his own thoughts, and in spite of having been called three times by God, he went to the elder, Eli, and was instructed and guided by him about how he should answer God (cf. 1 Sam. 3:9-10). Although God called him personally, none the less He wanted Samuel to receive the guidance and discipline of the elder, so that by means of this example we too might be led towards humility.
What are the prayers that the laity can not read and why.
We commit the sin of sacrilege, because we assume the honour that does not belong to us. In this regard, Archimandrite Gregory offers a very instructive case: "A young man (he lives in Timashevsk), once visiting the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, went to the bookstore and bought a book called "Service Book" (this happened in the early nineties). Service Book is a book that includes liturgical orders of service, containing sacramental prayers read purely by a priest. This fellow certainly did not know that a layman can’t read such prayers… At home he began to read this book including the prayers which only a priest befits to say. A short time afterwards the young man noticed some “warmth” in the body and felt “Divine grace”. The demon tempted him into a trap of delusion through the sensual deception. I warned this fellow that if he continued to engage in inappropriate things, then something bad could happen... But this young man ignored my admonitions, persuading me that Divine grace and Holy Ghost descended upon him… Soon after our conversation, at the moment when he was reading the priestly prayers again, a demon entered him ... Only his mother can tell us how much suffering and misery had he brought to himself and to his mother...
Here's an example that not all prayers can be read by a layman ... "
Saint Maximos the Confessor. "Four Hundred Texts on Love". From Philokalia, Vol. 2.
73. He who speaks dispassionately of his brother’s sins does so either to correct him or to benefit another. If he speaks for any other reason, either to the brother himself or to another person, he speaks to abuse him or ridicule him. In this case he will not escape being abandoned by God. On the contrary, he will fall into the same sin or other sins and, censured and reproached by other men, will be put to shame.
42. If you have no thought of any shameful word or action in your mind, harbor no rancor against someone who has injured or slandered you, and, while praying, always keep your intellect free from matter and form, you may be sure that you have attained the full measure of dispassion and perfect love.
53. A man can enjoy partial dispassion and not be disturbed by passions when the objects which rouse them are absent. But once those objects are present, the passions quickly distract his intellect.
54. Do not imagine that you enjoy perfect dispassion when the object arousing your passion is not present. If when it is present you remain unmoved by both the object and the subsequent thought of it, you may be sure that you have entered the realm of dispassion. But even so do not be over-confident; for virtue when habitual kills the passions, but when it is neglected they come to life again.
92. If when some trial occurs you cannot overlook a friend’s fault, whether real or apparent, you have not yet attained dispassion. For when the passions which lie deep in the soul are disturbed, they blind the mind, preventing it from perceiving the light of truth and from discriminating between good and evil. If you are in such a state you have likewise not yet attained perfect love, the love which expels the fear of judgment (cf. 1 John 4:18).
Saint Theognostos. "On the Practice of the Virtues, Contemplation and the Priesthood". From Philokalia, Vol. 2.
Do not try to embark on the higher forms of contemplation before you have achieved complete dispassion, and do not pursue what lies as yet beyond your reach. If your wish is to become a theologian and a contemplative, ascend by the path of ascetic practice and through self-purification acquire what is pure. Do not pursue theology beyond the limits of your present state of development: it is wrong for us who are still drinking the milk of the virtues to attempt to soar to the heights of theology, and if we do so we will flounder like fledglings, however great the longing roused within us by the honey of spiritual knowledge. But, once purified by self-restraint and tears, we will be lifted up from the earth like Elijah or Habakkuk (cf. 2 Kgs. 2:11; Bel and Dr., verses 36-39), anticipating the moment when we will be caught up into the clouds (cf. 1 Thess. 4:17); and transported beyond the world of the senses by undistracted prayer, pure and contemplative, we may then in our search for God touch the fringe of theology.
7. If you wish to be granted a mental vision of the divine you must first embrace a peaceful and quiet way of life, and devote your efforts to acquiring a knowledge of both yourself and God. If you do this and achieve a pure state untroubled by any passion, there, is nothing to prevent your intellect from perceiving, as it were in a light breeze (cf. 1 Kgs. 19:12 LXX), Him who is invisible to all; and He will bring you good tidings of salvation through a yet clearer knowledge of Himself.
Saint John Cassian. "Conferences".
The Second Conference of Abbot Moses. On Discretion.
Chapter X. The answer how true discretion may be gained.
THEN MOSES: True discretion, said he, is only secured by true humility. And of this humility the first proof is given by reserving everything (not only what you do but also what you think), for the scrutiny of the elders, so as not to trust at all in your own judgment but to acquiesce in their decisions in all points, and to acknowledge what ought to be considered good or bad by their traditions. And this habit will not only teach a young man to walk in the right path through the true way of discretion, but will also keep him unhurt by all the crafts and deceits of the enemy. For a man cannot possibly be deceived, who lives not by his own judgment but according to the example of the elders, nor will our crafty foe be able to abuse the ignorance of one who is not accustomed from false modesty to conceal all the thoughts which rise in his heart, but either checks them or suffers them to remain, in accordance with the ripened judgment of the elders. For a wrong thought is enfeebled at the moment that it is discovered: and even before the sentence of discretion has been given, the foul serpent is by the power of confession dragged out, so to speak, from his dark under-ground cavern, and in some sense shown up and sent away in disgrace. For evil thoughts will hold sway in us just so long as they are hidden in the heart: and that you may gather still more effectually the power of this judgment I will tell you what Abbot Serapion did, and what he used often to tell to the younger brethren for their edification.
Saint Symeon Metaphrastis. "Paraphrase of the Homilies of Saint Makarios of Egypt". VI The Freedom of the Intellect. From Philokalia, Vol. 3.
122. One must watch very carefully and in every direction for the enemy's trickery, guile and malice. Speaking through St Paul, the Holy Spirit says: 'I became all things to all men so as to save everyone' (cf. 1 Cor. 9:22); and in the same way the enemy tries to become all things so as to bring everyone to destruction. He pretends to pray with those who pray, so as to cheat them into self-conceit by making them think they have attained the state of prayer. He fasts with those who fast, with the purpose again of filling them with self-conceit because they have succeeded in fasting. With those who understand the Scriptures he tries to do the same, hoping to lead them astray by making them claim to possess spiritual knowledge. To those who have been granted a vision of the light, he pretends to offer the same kind of vision, transforming himself into 'an angel of light' (2 Cor. 11:14), so that through this simulation of the true light he may seduce them to him. In short, he uses every kind of deceit and adapts himself to every kind of appearance, so that by assuming the likeness of what is good he becomes a plausible agent of destruction. 'We destroy evil thoughts and all the self-esteem that exalts itself against the knowledge of God', says St Paul (2 Cor. 10:5). You see to what limits the impostor carries his defiance, wanting to cast down even those who have already attained a divine knowledge of the truth. Hence we must guard the heart with all diligence and beseech God for much understanding, so that He enables us to discern the devil's wiliness, to cultivate and train the intellect in understanding, to attend continually to our thoughts, and to conform ourselves to His will. There is no work greater than this. 'Praise and magnificence are His works', as the psalmist writes (Ps. 111:3. LXX).
Saint Seraphim of Sarov.
It is very useful to spend time reading the word of God in solitude and to read the whole Bible with understanding. In return for this exercise alone, without the addition of any other virtuous deeds, the Lord grants man His mercy and fills him with the gift of understanding. When a man provides his soul with the word of God, then he is granted the understanding of what is good and what is evil.
Bishop Palladius. "The Lausiac History".
Chapter XXVII. Ptolemy
Again another monk, Ptolemy by name, lived a life difficult, even impossible, to describe. He dwelt beyond Scete in a place called Climax. The place which bears this name is one in which no one can live because the well of the brethren is eighteen miles away. He then, carrying a number of pots brought them there, and collecting the dew with a sponge from the rocks during the months of December and January - for there is a plentiful fall of dew then in those parts - he made this suffice during the fifteen years he lived there. And he became a stranger to the teaching of holy men and intercourse with them, and the benefit derived therefrom, and the constant communion of the mysteries, and diverged so greatly from the straight way that he declared these things were nothing; but they say he is wandering about in Egypt up to the present day all puffed up with pride, and has given himself over to gluttony and drunkenness, speaking no (edifying) word to anyone. And this disaster fell on Ptolemy from his irrational conceit, as it is written: "They who have no directing influence fall like leaves.'''
Elder Paisios the Athonite. "Spiritual Counsels (vol. III): Spiritual Struggle".
Geronda, why is it that people often resort to deceivers to solve their problems?
Because the devil has worthless gifts to offer and people can acquire them cheaply. What is asked of them doesn't carry a cost, and they can remain comfortable in their passions. Instead of repenting for the sins they commit as human beings, and instead of going to a Spiritual Father to confess, they find some deceived individuals - that is, the devil himself - and ask him to solve their problems. But when they suffer even more, they can't understand that the devil has control over them.
Geronda, how do people come to believe the deceived?
People are confused. So many people claim to be leading the people on the right path, while in fact they are carrying a big bag on their shoulders with the devil hidden inside! But the benevolent God does not allow him to be entirely hidden. Once in a while the devil sticks out a horn or his tail, the people see it and shout in fear, "What is this? A horn? A tail?" But the deceivers answer, "No, of course not! What are you saying? It's an aubergine!" And they say such things to fool the people and to present diabolical things as good and beneficial.
Geronda, how can a person be protected from such deceivers?
This can be done by remaining within the fold of our Church. Of course, if someone should out of ignorance follow some deceiver, God will not abandon him. God will help him recognize his mistake and return to the truth.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian. "The Three Ways of Attention and Prayer".
Translated from Greek by Demetrios S. Skagias, 11/96
Though of unknown author, the following text was perhaps understandably attributed to St. Symeon the New Theologian (+1022). The date of authorship has been established around the early Paleologian period, whilst its importance and popularity made it an obvious choice for the standard anthology of Orthodox mysticism, called the 'Philokalia'. [The whole five-volume work of the Philokalia is available in an English translation by bishop Kallistos of Diokleia.]
There are three ways of attention and prayer, by which the soul can be lifted and become spiritually exhaulted, or crumble and perish. If these three ways are used appropriately and at the right time, the soul will be lifted, whilst if they are used unreasonably and at the wrong time, the soul will perish. Attention therefore should be tied and inseparable to prayer, in the way that the body is tied and inseparable to the soul. Attention should have the lead and mind for enemies as a guard, and fight sin, and resist evil thoughts of the soul. It should be then succeeded by prayer, which will destroy all those evil thoughts which attention fought against earlier, since attention alone is not able to do this.
It is this war of attention and prayer on which both life and death of the soul depend. By attention that we keep our prayer safe and therefore we progress: if we do not have attention to keep it clear and we leave it unguarded, then it is inflected by evil thoughts and we become wicked and hopeless. Hence, the ways of attention and prayer are three, we ought to explain the features of each one and leave the choice to whoever may wish to find salvation.
[The first way of attention and prayer.]
The features of the first way are these: one stands to pray by raising his hands towards the sky together with his eyes and mind. He imagines divine concepts, the good things of Heaven, the armies of the holy angels, the residences of the saints and, in short, he gathers in his mind all that he has heard from the Holy Scriptures. He recalls them in the time of his prayer looking at the sky, and he exhorts his soul to what seems to be love and eros of God. Sometimes he even has tears and cries. In this way his soul gradually becomes proud without realising it, thinking that what he does is by the grace of God's compassion for him. Hence he pleads God to always grant him worthy of such deeds which are, however, signs of error.
A good thing ceases to be good, when it is carried out in the wrong way or at the wrong time. To such an extent this is the case here that, if this person finds perfect solitude, it will be impossible for him not to lose his mind. Should this not happen, it will still be impossible for him to acquire any virtues or detachment from the earthly. By this method are misled all those who see the Light with their bodily eyes, sense perfumes with their sense of smell, hear voices with their ears and so on. Some of them have been possessed, moving senselessly from one place to the other. Others have been misled by accepting the Devil who was transformed and appeared to them as an angel of light, and they have remained uncorrected until the very end, without wanting to hear any advice from their brothers. Some of them were even incited by the Devil and committed suicide, whilst others were crumbled and others became insane. Who can describe the various illusions of the Devil by which he misleads them!
Every reasonable person can understand the kind of damage that comes from this first way of attention and prayer. If it happens that someone by being accompanied by brothers (since these evils usually happen to those who are on their own) does not suffer any of the things we described, he nevertheless spends all his life with no spiritual improvement.
Saint John Climacus. "The Ladder of Divine Ascent". Step 26.
When we begin religious life, some unclean demons give us lessons in the interpretation of scripture. This happens particularly in the case of people who are either vainglorious or who have had a secular education, and these are gradually led into heresy and blasphemy. One may detect this diabolical teaching about God, or rather war against God, by the upheaval, confusion, and unholy joy in the soul during lessons.
Saint Maximos Kavsokalyvites on Noetic Prayer.
A native of Lampsacus on the Hellespont, Saint Maximos became a monk at the age of seventeen. When his spiritual father died, he went on pilgrimage to Constantinople, where he took up the ascesis of folly for Christ, pretending madness in order to conceal his virtues and struggles from the world. He then went to the Great Lavra of St Athanasius on Mount Athos, where he lived as a simple monk in complete obedience.
One day, he was told in a dream to go to the summit of Athos to receive (like Moses) the tablets of the spiritual law. He prayed continuously atop the Holy Mountain for three days, after which the Mother of God appeared to him surrounded by angels. She gave him a miraculous loaf for his sustenance and told him to live in solitude on the wild slopes of Mount Athos. Henceforth he lived apart, barefoot in all weather.
He would build himself crude shelters of branches and brush; after living in one for a short time he would burn it and move to a new place. Thus he received the name Kavsokalyvites "the Hut Burner" from the other monks, who dismissed him as a madman.
Saint Gregory the Sinaite, one of the great Hesychasts, heard of St Maximos, and hurried to meet him. When they met, St Maximos put aside his usual silence at St Gregory's pleading, and they discoursed together for many hours. St Gregory asked St Maximos the story of his life, and Maximos told him of the wonders God had accomplished in him since his youth. He said that one day, when still very young, he was praying with tears before the icon of the Mother of God, and as he bent to venerate it a gentle dew-like warmth suddenly filled his chest and heart, producing abundant compunction; and that since then his nous, stationed unshakeably in his heart, had not ceased to invoke the Name of Jesus and that of the Mother of God with unutterable sweetness.
Bishop Palladius. "The Lausiac History".
Chapter LIII. Abramius
There was a certain Abramius, an Egyptian by race, who lived a very rough and savage life in the wilderness. Afflicted in his mind by an untimely fancy, he went to the church and contended with the priests, saying: "I have been ordained a priest by Christ this night, accept me as a celebrant." The fathers removed him from the desert and led him to a less ascetic and calmer life, and cured him of his presumption, bringing this man who had been deluded by the demon to a knowledge of his own weakness.
Letters of Archbishop Theophan of Poltava.
What does it mean to say "we are all in prelest"?
You write, "When I was reading the writings of Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, the following questions came to mind: On page 230 it is written that we are all in prelest; why then, when someone speaks of 'a man in prelest', is this attributed a special meaning? and how should one treat such a person?
In order to understand the expression "we are all in prelest," it is necessary to consider the following. The ancient ascetics regarded "repentance or lamentation of one's sins" as their primary ascetic labor. Many of their sayings concerning this have come down to us. I will cite a few of these in confirmation of [Bishop Ignatius'] writings.
"A brother said to Abba Sisoes: I perceive that the remembrance of God (mental prayer) ever abides in me. The elder said: It is not so extraordinary that your mind is constantly turned toward God; what is extraordinary is when a person considers himself the worst of all creatures" (Ignatius Brianchaninov, Patericon, 4).
"When Abba Arsenius the Great passed away, and St. Poemen heard of his repose, he shed abundant tears and said: Blessed are you, Abba Arsenius, because you wept over yourself during this life! One cannot help but weep, either here according to his own will, or against his will in the torments of hell" (Patericon, 29).
The more advanced a man is in holiness, the deeper is his awareness of his own sinfulness. Conversely, the less refined a man is, the weaker is his awareness of his own sinfulness. In the majority of people Such an awareness is altogether absent. This is why they do not understand the ascetic labor of repentance and do not feel any need for it. Because they do not understand this labor and feel no need to repent, one may say that all such people are in prelest. And inasmuch as we have but a limited awareness of our sinfulness, one may say that we are all in prelest !
Saint Diadochos of Photiki. "On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination. One Hundred Texts". From Philokalia, Vol. 1.
31. When our intellect begins to perceive the grace of the Holy Spirit, then Satan, too, importunes the soul with a sense of deceptive sweetness in the quiet times of the night, when we fall into a light kind of sleep. If the intellect at that time cleaves fervently to the remembrance of the glorious and holy name of the Lord Jesus and uses it as a weapon against Satan's deception, he gives up this trick and for the future will attack the soul directly and personally. As a result the intellect clearly discerns the deception of the evil one and advances even further in the art of discrimination.
32. The experience of true grace comes to us when the body is awake or else on the point of falling asleep, while in fervent remembrance of God we are welded to His love. But the illusion of grace comes to us, as I have said, when we fall into a light sleep while our remembrance of God is half-hearted. True grace, since its source is God, gladdens us consciously and impels us towards love with great rapture of soul. The illusion of grace, on the other hand, tends to shake the soul with the winds of deceit; for when the intellect is strong in the remembrance of God, the devil tries to rob it of its experience of spiritual perception by taking advantage of the body's need for sleep. If the intellect at that time is remembering the Lord Jesus attentively, it easily destroys the enemy's seductive sweetness and advances joyfully to do battle with him, armed not only with grace but also with a second weapon, the confidence gained from its own experience.
Alexei Ilyich Osipov. "Individual Revelation and Its Indications".
Translated by Nun Cornelia
A question of no less importance would also be about the truth of those religious experiences, phenomena, and revelations that a religious person could have. This question concerns the understanding of the existence of spiritual life and a conditional knowledge of the ”other” world, because any mistake in this matter is always bound with great danger: he who does not enter into it by the door will be consigned to the lot of a thief and robber! (see Jn 10:1). Curiosity, fantasy, and insobriety in this realm, or attempts to penetrate the spiritual world by any means, are tantamount to suicide. It is well known, for example, that those who have actively been involved in spiritualism have as a rule ended their lives in suicide, or at least in total psychological disorder. All other forms of occultism bring a person to the same end.
Such unlawful penetration into the spiritual world is dangerous in the highest extreme, especially since it inevitably stimulates false revelations, which draw in inexperienced people who are unacquainted with the basics of spiritual life, and destroys them spiritually and physically. Two obvious examples of such ”revelations” [in Russia] are those of the ”Theotokos Center,” or the ”White Brotherhood,” whose outrageous totalitarianism in their interpretation of Christianity speaks eloquently of the nature and worthiness of these ”revelations.”
Archimandrite Cherubim. "Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos".
Elder Daniel Katounakiotis: Stories of Apocalyptic and Demonic Delusions.
Extracted from the book and published in the blog by John Sanidopoulos.
Endowed with uncommon intelligence and thirsting for learning, Elder Daniel (+1929) had devoured the patristic books and plundered the treasures of the Spirit. Many monks who had fallen into various delusions through ignorance or a spirit of pride were saved by the intervention of Elder Daniel. Like his namesake, the Prophet Daniel, he in truth possessed "an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting dreams ... and dissolving doubts" (Daniel 5:12).
Deluded Demos, For Whom Demons Danced
A good Christian of simple faith named Demos, a builder by profession, lived in Stika of Northern Epirus. One night he dreamt that in a certain place there was a church buried in the earth. Rousing his compatriots, therefore, they brought shovels and pickaxes and began the excavation. The church was brought to light. Full of satisfaction, Demos took pride in his success and pleasure in everyone's wonder; and when the cunning thought whispered to him, "Now, Demos, you are an important man, you have been chosen by God...," he accepted it without disputation.
A while later he was exercising his trade as builder on the Holy Mountain, working on a certain construction project of Vatopaidi Monastery.
In Vatopaidi St. Evdokimos is very much revered. Nothing has been preserved about his life, but in 1840, by God's providence, his relics were miraculously revealed in the cemetery of the Monastery. Demos displayed great devotion to him, and began to believe that the Saint also regarded him with particular favor. Since the tradition said nothing about his extraction, Demos imagined that he had come from Albania.
"The Saint is an Albanian, like myself," he began to declare.
"But how do you know?"
"An Albanian he is. Don't you see that his head is flat? Besides, one night I was begging him on my prayer-rope to tell me his fatherland, and he appeared to me as though he were alive. 'I am an Albanian, from Stika; we are even relatives...' he said."
The fathers suspected that he had been deceived by a demon.
Metropolitan Anthony (Krapovitsky). "Confession".
10. Spiritual Delusion (Prelest).
Weak faith and carelessness are expressions of people’s irreligion, but even a pious person is not protected from spiritual sickness if he does not have a wise guide, either a living person or a spiritual writer. This sickness is called prelest, or spiritual delusion, imagining oneself to be near to God and to the realm of the divine and supernatural. Even zealous ascetics in monasteries are sometimes subject to this delusion, but of course, lay people who are zealous in outward ascetic struggles undergo it much more frequently. Surpassing their acquaintainces in feats of prayer and fasting, they imagine that they are seers of divine visions, or at least of dreams inspired by grace. In all events in their lives they see special, intentional directions from God or their Guardian Angel, and then they start imagining that they are God’s elect, and not infrequently try to foretell the future. The Holy Fathers armed themselves against nothing so fiercely as against this sickness — spiritual delusion.
Prelest endangers a man’s soul if it lurks in him alone; but it is dangerous and imperilling also for the whole of local church life, if a whole society is seized in its grasp, if it makes its appearance anywhere as a spiritual epidemic and the life of a whole parish or diocese is oriented entirely towards it. This is exactly what has happened in the Russian Church, both in Great Russia and in the Ukraine, both among the simple people and in the so-called "enlightened society." This plague, under various names, began to develop in strength throughout the local Russian Church some thirty years ago, and by the time of the last war it had seized almost all parts of the former Russian Empire in its grasp. In St. Petersburg, in Moscow and on the lower reaches of the Volga appeared the Johannites, who declared the late Fr. John of Kronstadt to be a reincarnation of Christ and a certain Matrona Kisileva to be the Mother of God. To replace one Christ, others appeared — Chursikov in Petrograd, Koloskov in Moscow and Samara, and so on. The Ukraine created Stephan Podgorny, a wanderer who later became a monk and claimed to be God. Podolia and Bessarabia declared a semi-literate and drunken Moldavian hieromonk, Innokenty, to be Christ. In Kiev another uneducated monk called Spiridon, who had attained to the rank of archimandrite during the war, started to preach a new faith. In Siberia Johannism took on an especially fanatical character, and, alas, even on Mt. Athos an extremely harmful movement of delusion, called imenobozhnichestvo, has started spreading.
Fr. George Macris. "A Comparison of the Mysticism of Francis of Assisi With That of St. Seraphim of Sarov".
Originally printed in Synaxis: Orthodox Christian Theology in the 20th Century, Vol. 2, pp. 39-56.
During my prayer two great lights appeared before me (deux grandes lumibres m'ont ete montrees) — one in which I recognized the Creator, and another in which I recognized myself.
— Francis' own words about his prayer
The truly righteous always consider themselves unworthy of God.
— Dictum of St. Isaac the Syrian
Studying the biographical data of Francis of Assisi, a fact of the utmost interest concerning the mysticism of this Roman Catholic ascetic is the appearance of stigmata on his person. Roman Catholics regard such a striking manifestation as the seal of the Holy Spirit. In Francis' case, these stigmata took the form of the marks of Christ's passion on his body.
The stigmatisation of Francis is not an exceptional phenomenon among ascetics of the Roman Catholic world. Stigmatisation appears to be characteristic of Roman Catholic mysticism in general, both before it happened to Francis, as well as after. Peter Damian, as an example, tells of a monk who bore the representation of the Cross on his body. Caesar of Geisterbach mentions a novice whose forehead bore the impress of a Cross.  Also, a great deal of data exists testifying to the fact that after Francis' death a series of stigmatisations occurred which, subsequently, have been thoroughly studied by various investigators, particularly in recent times. These phenomena, as V. Guerier says, illuminate their primary source. Many of them were subjected to careful observation and recorded in detail, e.g., the case of Veronica Giuliani (1660-1727) who was under a doctor's observation; Luisa Lato (1850-1883) described by Dr Varleman,  and Madelaine N. (1910) described by Janat. 
Saint Gregory of Sinai. "On the Signs of Grace and Delusion, Written for the Confessor Longinos: Ten Texts". From Philokalia, Vol. 4.
1. As the great teacher St John Chrysostom states, we should be in a position to say that we need no help from the Scriptures, no assistance from other people, but are instructed by God; for 'all will be taught by God' (Isa. 54:13; John 6:45), in such a way that we learn from Him and through Him what we ought to know. And this applies not only to those of us who are monks but to each and every one of the faithful: we are all of us called to carry the law of the Spirit written on the tablets of our hearts (cf. 2 Cor. 3:3), and to attain like the Cherubim the supreme privilege of conversing through pure prayer in the heart directly with Jesus. But because we are infants at the time of our renewal through baptism we do not understand the grace and the new life conferred upon us. Unaware of the surpassing grandeur of the honor and glory in which we share, we fail to realize that we ought to grow in soul and spirit through the keeping of the commandments and so perceive noetically what we have received. On account of this most of us fall through indifference and servitude to the passions into a state of benighted obduracy. We do not know whether God exists, or who we are, or what we have become, although through baptism we have been made sons of God, sons of light, and children and members of Christ. If we are baptized when grown up, we feel that we have been baptized only in water and not by the Spirit. And even though we have been renewed in the Spirit, we believe only in a formal, lifeless and ineffectual sense, and we say we are full of doubts. Hence because we are in fact non-spiritual we live and behave in a non-spiritual manner. Should we repent, we understand and practice the commandments only in a bodily way and not spiritually. And if after many labors a revelation of grace is in God's compassion granted to us, we take it for a delusion. Or if we hear from others how grace acts, we are persuaded by our envy to regard that also as a delusion. Thus we remain corpses until death, failing to live in Christ and to be inspired by Him. According to Scripture, even that which we possess will be taken away from us at the time of our death or our judgment because of our lack of faith and our despair (cf. Matt. 25:29). We do not understand that the children must be like the father, that is to say, we are to be made gods by God and spiritual by the Holy Spirit; for 'that which is born of the Spirit is spirit' (John 3:6). But we are unregenerate, even though we have become members of the faith and heavenly, and so the Spirit of God does not dwell within us (cf. Gen. 6:3). Because of this the Lord has handed us over to strange afflictions and captivity, and slaughter flourishes, perhaps because He wishes to correct evil, or cut it off, or heal it by more powerful remedies.
Saint Seraphim of Sarov. "On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit".
"And I must further explain, your Godliness, the difference between the operations of the Holy Spirit Who dwells mystically in the hearts of those who believe in our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ and the operations of the darkness of sin which at the suggestion and instigation of the devil, acts predatorily in us. The Spirit of God reminds us of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and always acts triumphantly with Him, gladdening our hearts and guiding our steps into the way of peace, while the false, diabolical spirit reasons in the opposite way to Christ, and its actions in us are rebellious, stubborn, and full of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.
"And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die" (John 11:26). He who has the grace of the Holy Spirit in reward for right faith in Christ, even if on account of human frailty his soul were to die for some sin or other, yet he will not die for ever, but he will be raised by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ "Who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), and freely gives grace upon grace. Of this grace, which was manifested to the whole world and to our human race by the God-man, it is said in the Gospel: "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4); and further: "And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness has never swallowed it" (John 1:5). This means that the grace of the Holy Spirit which is granted at baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in spite of man's fall into sin, in spite of the darkness surrounding our soul, nevertheless shines in our hearts with the divine light (which has existed from time immemorial) of the inestimable merits of Christ. In the event of a sinner's impenitence this light of Christ cries to the Father: "Abba, Father! Be not angry with this impenitence to the end (of his life)." Then, at the sinners conversion to the way of repentance, it effaces completely all trace of past sin and clothes the former sinner once more in a robe of incorruption spun from the grace of the Holy Spirit. The acquisition of this is the aim of the Christian life, which I have been explaining to your Godliness.
Nun Macaria. "The Angel of Light and Spiritual Discernment in the Orthodox Tradition" –an Epiphany Journal Reprint.
The knight in John Keats’ poem, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, with his fatally naive fascination for the supernatural, has much in common with today’s spiritual seeker. The knight is described as being «at-arms,» that is, prepared for battle or for some high adventure. Had he been specifically intent on romance he might have been dressed differently. He was not prepared for the kind of adventure he encountered: he did not recognize the enemy. He had a supernatural vision which was beautiful and enticing but it did not occur to him that such a vision could be harmful. When the true nature of the vision was revealed, it was too late for him. The poet implies that the youth has received a fatal, invisible wound. This fascination with the supernatural and with fair-seeming, hostile spirits was a favorite theme for the Romantic poets, as it is in our time. In both cases there has been a rejection of materialism in favor of the supernatural but without any leavening of discernment. In fact, the contemporary world has no standard or guideline for discernment. It represents a plurality of world views in which the only common understanding is that there is no truth. Even modern Christianity is ill-equipped for this task, cut off as it is from the grace and wisdom of holy Tradition. If we wish to find practical, experiential knowledge of the spiritual world, and in particular about the discernment of spirits, we need to turn to the writings of the Holy Fathers and the Saints of the Orthodox Church. We will find a harmony and consistency in these many voices of experience, from the earliest days of the Church until our own.
Saint Gregory of Sinai. "On Commandments and Doctrines, Warnings and Promises; On Thoughts, Passions and Virtues, and Also on Stillness and Prayer: One Hundred and Thirty-Seven Texts". From Philokalia, Vol. 4.
131. Here something must be said about delusion, so far as this is possible; for, because of its deviousness and the number of ways in which it can ensnare us, few recognize it clearly and for most it is almost inscrutable. Delusion manifests itself or, rather, attacks and invades us in two ways - in the form of mental images and fantasies or in the form of diabolic influence - though its sole cause and origin is always arrogance. The first form is the origin of the second and the second is the origin of a third form - mental derangement. The first form, illusory visions, is caused by self-conceit; for this leads us to invest the divine with some illusory shape, thus deceiving us through mental images and fantasies. This deception in its turn produces blasphemy as well as the fear induced by monstrous apparitions, occurring both when awake and when asleep - a state described as the terror and perturbation of the soul. Thus arrogance is followed by delusion, delusion by blasphemy, blasphemy by fear, fear by terror, and terror by a derangement of the natural state of the mind. This is the first form of delusion, that induced by mental images and fantasies.
The second form, induced by diabolic influence, is as follows. It has its origin in self-indulgence, which in its turn results from so-called natural desire. Self-indulgence begets licentiousness in all its forms of indescribable impurity. By inflaming man's whole nature and clouding his intelligence as a result of its intercourse with spurious images, licentiousness deranges the intellect, searing it into a state of delirium and impelling its victim to utter false prophecies, interpreting the visions and discourses of certain supposed saints, which he claims arc revealed to him when he is intoxicated and befuddled with passion, his whole character perverted and corrupted by demons. Those ignorant of spiritual matters, beguiled by delusion, call such men 'little souls'. These 'little souls' are to be found sitting near the shrines of saints, by whose spirit they claim to be inspired and tested, and whose purported message they proclaim to others. But in truth they should be called possessed by the demons, deceived and enslaved by delusion, and not prophets foretelling what is to happen now and in the future. For the demon of licentiousness himself darkens and deranges their minds, inflaming them with the fire of spiritual lust, conjuring up before them the illusory appearance of saints, and making them hear conversations and see visions. Sometimes the demons themselves appear to them and convulse them with fear. For having harnessed them to the yoke of Belial, the demon of licentiousness drives them on to practice their deceits, so that he may keep them captive and enslaved until death, when he will consign them to hell.
132. Delusion arises in us from three principal sources: arrogance, the envy of demons, and the divine will that allows us to be tried and corrected. Arrogance arises from superficiality, demonic envy is provoked by our spiritual progress, and the need for correction is the consequence of our sinful way of life. The delusion arising solely from envy and self-conceit is swiftly healed, especially when we humble ourselves. On the other hand, the delusion allowed by God for our correction, when we are handed over to Satan because of our sinfulness, God often permits to continue until our death, if this is needed to efface our sins. Sometimes God hands over even the guiltless to the torment of demons for the sake of their salvation. One should also know that the demon of self-conceit himself prophesies in those who are not scrupulously attentive to their hearts.
Archimandrite Cherubim. "Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos".
The Deluded "Super-Ascetic" Who Made 3,000 Prostrations A Day.
When Elder Daniel Katounakiotis (+1929) was in the Russian Monastery, he observed that a certain monk living in asceticism in a kathisma outside the Monastery played a role of a great ascetic. He fasted severely, wore the most wretched clothes, walked around barefoot even in winter, etc. Among other things, while the rule called for 300 prostrations a day, he made 3000. For this reason the other monks marvelled at him.
Elder Daniel, even though he was younger at the time, displayed no enthusiasm. His clear-sighted eyes discerned a situation that was not pleasing to God. He noticed that the door of his kathisma contained an opening which allowed the passers-by to look in and praise his great asceticism.