Never Accept Images without Asking the Experienced

Patriarch Callistus and Ignatius of Xanthopoulos. "Directions to hesychasts, in a hundred chapters".

73. More on imaginings and fantasies of the mind, and on the distinctive Signs of prelest and of truth

The signs of prelest

Keeping silence and wishing to be alone with the one God, if you see something sensory or mental, whether within or without - such as the face of Christ, or of an angel, or the image of a saint, or some radiant image dreamed of by the mind - never accept it, but indignantly refuse to believe in it, even if it is good, until you have questioned someone with experience. Such behaviour is the most practical, profitable and pleasing to God. Always keep your mind empty of colour, image, form, appearance, quality or quantity, solely listening to the words of the prayer, learning from them and pondering over them in an inner movement of the heart, thus following St. John of the Ladder who says: 'The beginning of prayer is to banish oncoming thoughts as soon as they appear. Its middle stage is to keep the mind contained in the words we say or think. The perfection of prayer is ravishment to the Lord' (Ch. 28). St. Nilus speaks of it thus: 'The highest prayer of the perfect is the ravishment of the mind and its total transcendence of everything sensory, when "the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. viii. 26), before God, Who sees our heart like an open book, intimating its desire by the soundless signs written therein. Thus St. Paul was "caught up to the third heaven", "whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell" (2 Cor. xii. 2). Thus "Peter went up upon the housetop to pray" and saw a vision (Acts x. 9 ). The stage of prayer which comes second to this higher prayer, is when the words are pronounced with a contrite mind following the words, conscious of Him to Whom it sends its prayer. But a prayer interrupted by cares of the flesh and mixed with them is far from a level becoming to one who prays.' Abide in this and accept nothing else until your passions are subdued, always questioning the experienced, as has been said. These are the signs of prelest.

Now hear of the

signs of truth

The signs of truth and of the good and life-giving Spirit are: 'love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance' (Gal. v. 22, 23) as the divine Apostle says, calling these virtues the fruit of the Spirit. In another place he says: 'Walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth)' (Eph. v. 8, 9). Everything opposed to it is the attribute of prelest. One with God's wisdom says in answer to a question: 'Concerning the right road to salvation about which you ask, my beloved one, know that many ways lead to life and many lead to death. One way leading to life is keeping Christ's commandments. In these commandments you will find every kind of virtue, especially these three: humility, love and mercy, without which no one will see the Lord. These three are unconquerable weapons against the devil ; the Holy Trinity has given us, I repeat-humility, love and mercy-upon which the demons' hosts cannot even bear to look. For they have no trace of humility, and because they are blackened by vainglory, the eternal fire awaits them. How can there be in them even a shadow of love or mercy when they bear an undying enmity towards the human race, never ceasing to attack it day and night? Let us then put on these weapons, for he who wears them cannot be caught by the enemy. We see that this three-stranded rope, woven and plaited for us by the Holy Trinity, is both three and one: three in name and, if you like, in form ; and one in power and action, and in drawing us near to God, in giving us elan towards Him and in aiding our surrender to Him. The Lord said of them (humility, mercy and love): "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. xi. 30). And His beloved disciple said: ''His commandments are not grievous'' (1 John v. 3). Therefore the soul, merged with God by purity of living, by keeping of commandments and by these three weapons, which are God Himself, becomes clothed in God, and in a certain way itself becomes god through humility, mercy and love. Transcending material duality and rising above the summit of the law, that is, love, it unites with the transubstantial and lifegiving Trinity and converses directly with It, by light receiving light, and rejoicing in constant and eternal joy.' But enough of that. Having thus partially pointed out to you the signs and fruits of pretest and truth, let us now speak a little of the comforts brought by these two, using, as we should, the sayings of the fathers; speak, that is, of Divine comfort which truly comes from grace, and the counterfeit comfort which comes from the enemy. The divine Diadochus speaks of them thus:

74. On Divine and false comfort

'When the mind begins to feel the blessed comfort of the Holy Spirit, then Satan too slips his own comfort into the soul in a seemingly sweet feeling during the night rest, at the moment when sleep is lightest (or at the moment of falling asleep). If at that moment the mind keeps a warm memory of the holy name of our lord Jesus and uses it as a sure weapon against prelest, the wily seducer immediately retreats, but instead finally attacks the soul with his person (instead of with thoughts). Thus discriminating exactly among the deceitful pretests of the evil one, the mind acquires an ever greater experience in the discrimination of spiritual things' (Ch. 31).

And again: 'Blessed comfort comes either when the body is awake or when it is falling asleep while a man with warm memory of God cleaves, as it were, to Him in love. But false comfort, which is prelest, always comes, as we have said, at times when a struggler is in a state of light slumber or drowsiness and his remembrance of God is not strong. The first, coming from God, obviously moves the souls of strugglers for righteousness towards love of God, in an abundant outpouring of feeling of the soul; but the second fans the soul with a breeze of deceitful prelest, and during physical sleep strives to capture the feelings by a taste of something pleasant, notwithstanding that the mind is to some extent awake to the memory of God. Thus, as I have said, if at such a time the mind proves to be remembering our Lord Jesus with sobriety, this breath of the enemy, deceitfully pleasant as it seems, is at once dispersed and the mind gladly comes to grips with it, endowed by grace with a ready weapon against it in its praiseworthy spiritual experience' (Ch. 32).

And again: 'If the soul is inflamed by Divine love without wavering or dreaming, drawing even the body into the depths of its ineffable love, if it thinks of nothing except that for which it aspires, whether the man under the influence of the holy grace is awake or, as I said, is dropping asleep, you must know that it is the action of the Holy Spirit. Filled to overflowing with the blissful sense of this ineffable Divine sweetness, it can then think of nothing, but only rejoices with inexhaustible gladness. If, being thus excited, the mind is visited by a wavering of doubt or by some impure thought, and if thereupon it uses the holy name of the Lord as protection against evil, instead of being impelled solely by love of Him, you should know that such comfort comes from the seducer and is only an illusion of joy. Such joy comes from without, and is not a quality and abiding disposition of the soul. It is thus clear that the enemy wants to make the soul commit adultery. If he sees that the mind begins to display a sure experience of its own feeling, he attempts to comfort the soul with his own comforts which appear good, in the hope that, distracted by this happy physical sweetness, it will not discern its being mingled with the seducer. By these signs we can discern "the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 John iv. 6). However, no one can taste the feeling of Divine goodness, nor can experience palpably the gall of the demons, unless he has come to know in himself that grace has made itself an abode in the depths of his mind, whereas evil spirits are nesting somewhere round the members of the heart. The demons, however, are strongly opposed to a man's acquiring this knowledge, lest the mind should possess it with certainty and so stand for ever armed against them by memory of God' (33). Now that you have enough information about this, rest content with it according to the advice of the Wise One: 'Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it' (Prov, xxv. 16).

75. Of Divine sweetness pouring from the heart

It would be nearer to the essence of the matter to say: who will explain the sweetness of honey to those who have not tasted it? It is incomparably harder to explain to those, who have not tasted it, that sweetness which is Divine and that transubstantial spring of living joy, which ever flows from true and pure prayer of the heart, of which Jesus, God and Man says: 'But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life' (John. iv. 14). And again: 'If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture bath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive)' (John vii. 37-9). And the great Paul corroborates: 'God bath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father' (Gal. iv. 6).

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