How to Avoid or Get Rid of Spiritual Delusion

St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) (1807-1867)

This section describes cases when people were cured from spiritual delusion and provides general guidance on how to avoid falling into this state. It should be noted that it is very difficult to get out of delusion. "The escape from self-delusion is difficult. A guard stands at the door, heavy doors are closed with strong locks and gates, sealed with the infernal abyss. Locks and gates - the pride of self-delusion, hiding deep in the heart, with their vainglory being the initial cause of their activity, falseness and slyness that the vainglory and pride are hiding with, with what they are clothed in the guise of good intentions, humility, holiness. The invincible seal - the recognition of actions of self-delusion as the action of grace." (Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov).

"To get out of delusion, a devoutly wise mentor is needed that could notice the delusion in time and pluck its weeds out of the soul, and if the delusion has strengthened in the soul, we need a daring pastor of prayer, that his prayer would tear away the spirits of darkness from the soul and bring it out of the area of lies to the Light and Truth - Christ."(Hegumen Mark Lozinski).

"A sinner can easily repent, but it is difficult for one in delusion, unless the demon is exposed. As soon as he is uncovered, he is unable to escape." (Elder Daniel Katounakiotis).

"When one slips off the right path and falls into delusion, it is essential, first of all, to confess to one's spiritual father, telling him everything. After such confession the delusion will moderate, and then, though not immediately, total reform will ensue." (Saint Silouan the Athonite).


Beware of Spiritual Deception

St. Theophan the Recluse, "Letters".

St. Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894)

Beware of spiritual deception! You really have to. But avoid the cornerstone spiritual deception and the others will not take place. The cornerstone spiritual deception is to think and even to feel (which is much worse) that I am something meanwhile I am nothing. I call that ‘self-value’. Do pay great attention to it, may this ‘self-value’ became your worst foe. Do not let this foe settle in, otherways, it will lead you to perish. That is an Apostolic lesson: For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself (Gal 6:3).

The One not Asking for Advice or not Heeding the Advice Falls into Delusion

Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Elder Joseph the Hesychast. "Monastic wisdom".

From the preface to the book, written by elder Ephraim.

The elder always taught his monks that Christ-like obedience was more important than anything else. He permitted the Christians in the world who knew him to practice noetic prayer,* but always under the guidance of those who were experienced, for he had seen much delusion and had become fearful of it. He would often tell us, “If you see a person not asking for advice or not heeding advice given to him, expect to see him deluded soon.”

* Noetic Prayer (νοερὰ προσευχή): Noetic prayer is prayer done with the nous without distraction within the heart. Another name for it is “prayer of the heart.” It is contrasted with the prayer of the intellect which is done within the reason.

This article in Russian

An Ordinary Person Cannot Bear True Visions from God

Question to Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov in the Radonezh radio studio. October 29, 2006.

Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov


The servant of God Sergius asks: In the life of the elder Paisios of Mount Athos there are examples of how the enemy can lead a person into delusion with false visions. The elder, of course, coped with it. But how can we, Orthodox Christians, avoid falling into this delusion? May the Lord save you.

Archpriest Dimitry answers.

There is nothing easier. All visions must be rejected. And that’s all. Because you and I are not elders, we are not of Mount Athos, we are not the men of fervent prayer, we are not saints, we are ordinary sinful people. Therefore, all visions to us - if any - come from the evil. Very simple. And there is no need to philosophize here somehow for a long time. Because a person is blessed with some kind of spiritual vision only in one case - when he can bear it. That’s it. However, an ordinary average person immediately becomes arrogant. Therefore, from God, who knows everything, there can be no such visions that put a person into such terrible conditions.

How the Elders Used to Heal Mental Derangement

St Ignatius (Brianchaninov), ‘Otechnik’ (a collection of sayings from the Holy Fathers)

One Elder told this story: ‘Our fathers used to visit the cells of novices, who had just started the life of recluses, watching if anybody went mentally deranged because of demonic attacks. Should they found somebody affected, they brought him to the church, put the chalice with the holy water and prayed for the brother who got into temptation. After that all the brethren washed their hands in the water and poured this water on the brother that fell into temptation, and the same moment he was clear of the impression made by the temptation.’

Letter to a Person who has Strayed into the Nets of the Enemy’s Deception

St Macarius of Optina Letters. Letters to laity. Letter 445

St. Macarius of Optina

Highly esteemed in the Lord N.N.,

I have received your letter, which was sent in March of this year, and I am astonished, indeed, that not knowing me at all you should choose to describe to me your strange experiences, and ask my advice about all your doubts. I, knowing myself being both physically and spiritually weak, should prefer to refuse to talk about things so difficult and high for me. I was going to refuse to answer your questions; but considering your faith with which you seek advice and feeling sorry about your condition in the past and in the present, which you described, I dared to write you (after having taken counsel with our fathers since God is known to have placed the right word of guidance even in the mouth of dumb beasts). I will try to give you some relevant passages of the teaching of the Holy Fathers, and will try to represent actions of the enemy’s deception in order to warn you not to follow it although it may falsely look like the truth. 

By the way, you yourself once had mentioned your suspicions of having strayed into the enemy’s nets. In the light of knowledge of the Holy Fathers you would see that more clear and embrace this truth, then, leaving the lies, follow cautiously the doctrine of the Holy Fathers. Here are some passages I have prepared for you.

The spiritual deception, according to Gregory of Sinai (Philokalia, part 132; in the Russian Philokalia Vol.5, P.233) has two reasons from the men’s side: pride and sinful life, for this reasons a man is made a laughing stock for spiritual enemies. God permits this temptation in order that man should come to his senses, do penance and change his ways if he wants.

Appearance of Light, Voice or Some Fiery Form Should Be Accepted in No Way

St Diadochos of Photiki (~400 - ~486)

St Diadochos of Photiki. "On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination. One Hundred Texts". From Philokalia, Vol. 1.

36. Let no one who hears us speak of the perceptive faculty of the intellect imagine that by this we mean that the glory of God appears to man visibly. We do indeed affirm that the soul, when pure, perceives God's grace, tasting it in some ineffable manner; but no invisible reality appears to it  in a visible form, since now 'we walk by faith, not by sight', as St Paul says (2 Cor. 5:7). If light or some fiery form should be seen by one pursuing the spiritual way, he should not on any account accept such a vision: it is an obvious deceit of the enemy. Many indeed have had this experience and, in their ignorance, have turned aside from the way of truth. We ourselves know, however, that so long as we dwell in this corruptible body, 'we are absent from the Lord' (2 Cor. 5:6) - that is to say, we know that we cannot see visibly either God Himself or any of His celestial wonders.

This article in Russian

How St Vassian Delivered the Merchant from Spiritual Deception

From the Vita of St Vassian the Blind (Balashevitch) (1745 - 1827)

One day a merchant who was not only a businessman but also took some part in ascetic exercises went to the Kiev Monastery of the Caves. The merchant was especially proud of his fetters of about sixteen kilograms, which he was wearing permanently, and used any occasion to boast of it. At his arrival to the monastery, the merchant went to the Elder Babylas [the previous name of the elder, in the lesser schema tonsure] who began to gain authority, in order to get some encouragement and take more exercise in his ascetical practice. The Elder met the merchant and smiled, asking:  ‘Is the yoke of Christ easy for you?’ ‘Oh yes, answered the merchant, I would like even more of it!’ ‘Lucky you,’ said Fr Babylas, ‘for I’m an old man and can hardly carry the yoke of Christ. Go in peace.’ Then he blessed the merchant and went to his cell. In a minute time, the merchant started running about the Lavra screaming that his fetters are as hot as fire. After a long while, a blacksmith found managed to take off the fetters. So Father Babylas delivered the pseudo-ascetic from demonic deception of exaltation and pride.

Who Truly Repents, Is Never Affected by Spiritual Delusion

Hieroschemamonk Sergius (Vesnin). “Letters of an Athonite”.

Hieroschemamonk Sergius (Vesnin)

Only self-willed people are affected by spiritual delusion

That is what Mr.D writes:

3) No one dares, moved either by love or charity, to break into solitude of Athonite hermits, who, as it is to believe, sometimes end up their long repentance with insanity (p.162)

A truly educated and kind person, it seems, fears the very thought of such a mistreat of repentants leave alone the printed word of this kind. Were there any examples in our Church history, in the books of our Holy Fathers, to our knowledge any hermits of far deserts, absorbed in contemplatives lives of their own, having reached purity and chastity, overcoming their own mortal nature, considering all devil’s tricks and fears of the deserts nothing more than a childish game – were there any among those ascetics who ended up their lives in the desert as insane ones?

Can our God be so strict and unfair to crown with folly and insanity (*) any true repentance, labour and seeds of self-denial committed because of love to Him? Should somebody agree with Mr. D.’s wrong position just tell me – we will discuss this in details, considering history, to give the opinion of Mr. D its true value.

St Antony truly said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, 'You are mad; you are not like us.”

How true are these words of this great beacon to the universe regarding modern enlightened people and monks! The former consider the latter louts for they are not competent in politics or other subjects of the distracted great world.

The beginning of Prelest is Slothfulness with Regard to the Prayer and the Divine Services

St Isaac of Syria, The Ascetical Homilies, Homily 2.

The beginning of mind derangement (when it becomes visible in the soul) is to be seen, first of all, in slothfulness with regard to the Divine services and prayer. For except the soul first fall away from these, she cannot be led in the way of error; but as soon as she is deprived of God’s help, she easily falls into the hands of her adversaries. And again, whenever the soul becomes heedless of the labours of virtue, she is inevitably drawn to what is opposed to them. A transition, from whichever side it occurs, is the beginning of what belongs to the opposite party. Practice the work of virtue in your soul and do not concern yourself with futile matters. Always lay bare your weakness before God, and you will never be put to the test by aliens when you are found alone, distant from your Helper.

Grace Leaves Because of Conceit

Saint Theophan the Recluse. "What is spiritual life and how to tune into it?"

Be afraid of self-conceit, it is the first enemy. Our diligence before God, even only intentional, already gives rise to the thought of a certain difference from others and even from ourselves – the ones who we were in the past, especially when we manage to do something on this path. As soon as we stand for a while in this condition, it seems to be something marvelous, and we begin to dream of ourselves as perfect persons, doing wonderful things. And this is the enemy who tempts us in order to give rise to conceit. Whoever succumbs and falls into this conceit, is immediately abandoned by the grace, it leaves him alone. Then the enemy seizes him as a helpless prey.

There was a Danger for a Woman to Fall into Delusion in Case of Tonsure

From the life of the venerable Ambrose of Optina (compiled by Archimandrite Agapit Belovidov).

Saint Ambrose of Optina

“For five years,” said the late elder himself, “I had the intention to go to Kiev to visit my homeland on the way in order to tonsure my old mother to the Lesser Schema secretly, but I didn’t have a chance to go.”

Let us add to this that the elder Ambrose during his entire residence in the monastery because of pain did not go anywhere far from it. He was only once in Belyov (40 miles from Optina) and it was for obedience, as assigned by the elder Makarius.

“My mother”, the late elder continued his story, “was always weak, sick. I remember that in summer she sat on the stove, but she lived longer than the father, despite the fact that he had good health. Father died at 60, and mother at 75. She lived a godly life and went by her own way to salvation. But if I had tonsured her, then she could have become confused and would not have got anywhere (neither with the laymen, nor with the nuns). And I thank God that I was not able to do this. ”

No Need for the Humble to Be Afraid of Delusion

Saint Theophan the Recluse. Letters. Issue 4. From the letter 322.

No need to be afraid of delusion. It happens with the proud people only... who begin to think that as the warmth has entered their hearts, this is already the end of perfection. And here is just the beginning, and, perhaps, it is not durable. For both warmth and peace of heart are natural, the fruit of concentration. But you have to work tooth and nail, and wait until the natural is replaced by the grace. Anyway, the best of all is never to consider yourself to have achieved something, but always see yourself as a beggar, naked, blind and worthless.

Venerable Niphon Healed a Monk from Delusion

From the life of St. Niphon of Athos, who lived in the XIV century

Another monk living in a separate cell relied on himself and on his own knowledge, and therefore decided not to disclose his thoughts to a more experienced spiritual father. So he lived in the way as his thought prompted him. As a result, the unfortunate monk fell into delusion and mistook an angel of darkness for an Angel of light. The monk was taught by him to do many improper deeds, fell into pride and thought that he excels all people with his virtues. Once he came to St. Niphon. When asked why he came, he answered:

“To look at you, the one who is famous for his virtue.”

The saint remarked on this:

“How is it that you, so great and magnificent, have condescended to coming to me, insignificant and wretched?

“God gave me benefaction, and the gift that I have is from God.”

“Brother, the gift of God is the humility of mind. The thought from God is to think of yourself that you are the last of all; the thought from God is to achieve great virtues and think that you are the worst of all. And what you imagined about yourself is the delusion from Satan being the one who taught you everything.”

After such words of the saint, the monk seemed to come to his senses and said:

- Father, if my pride comes from the evil one, then, I ask you, drive it away with your prayer and save me from arrogance.

Raising the eyes of his soul to heaven, blessed Niphon said:

- Lord Jesus Christ, who sought and found a lost sheep and counted it as being among other non-lost sheep, who banished the mental wolf who intended to kill it, and showed us the way of salvation. Thou, Lord, deliver from the arrogance of demons this servant of yours, who has fallen into delusion through his simplicity and the treachery of the deceitful devil, let him know Thou, the true God, who suffered the cross and death for the sake of us, so he may glorify Thy holy name forever and ever. Amen.

So the saint prayed, and immediately a veil fell from the brother’s eyes, and he clearly saw what evil he, miserable, fell into. Since then, having gotten rid of satanic arrogance, he began to lead a pious life with prudence and humility.

From the Lack of Sobriety and Repentance, New Converts Fall into Delusion

Question on Soyuz TV channel on December 8, 2013.

Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov answers, the host is Archpriest Alexander Berezovsky.

Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov and Archpriest Alexander Berezovsky

Question: In the writings of the holy fathers and in your sermons, sobriety is often mentioned as an extremely desirable condition for success in the Christian life. Define this term as applied to modern laity, if possible, with examples.

Archpriest Dimitry answers:

Sobriety is a derivative of discernment. Besides, sobriety can be considered as a certain step. Discernment is a very high virtue, which many Holy Fathers put even higher than love, because everyone can achieve love, while discernment can not be achieved by everyone. But the first stage of reasoning is sobriety, and every Christian must somehow succeed in this. Because, unfortunately, very often, especially in the beginning of the Christian life, a person falls into some kind of euphoria. It is simply explained. Because, firstly, a person discovers a new world, and this always happens. He experiences a certain fascination - quite legitimate - since he plunges into the two-thousand-year-old tradition. He begins to meaningfully read the Holy Scriptures, because for a person far from tradition, this is generally a closed book. Thirdly, he immediately encounters new, one might say, objects: a church, a priest, vestments, a choir, and icons. And to research everything, dozens of books are needed. He begins to plunge into it, and, of course, he becomes overwhelmed. Many people, when facing churchliness like that, even stop reading secular books - everything seems tasteless. And one more aspect. This is a contact with the church world, and yet there is also the grace-filled life. And the grace of God affects not only our spirit, but also the soul and body. Man is also transformed externally - he is radiant, dozens of miracles happen every day in his life, and he almost flies. And he still does not know how to fly. And much of what he perceives as the direct action of the grace of God is not really this - it is a spiritual perception of his real contact with the grace-filled life. That is, indirectly. Therefore, there is always a danger to take one thing for another.

Delusion is a Result of Pride and Self-conceit; Delusion is Reduced Through Menial Jobs

Letters of St. Joseph of Optina

St. Joseph of Optina

Your Mavra, as it can be seen from your description, is in delusion. - What to do? It happened and is happening sometimes here as well. Our deceased elders recommended menial jobs for such deluded persons. As delusion is a result of pride and conceit, the damned pride is reduced, at least to some extent, through menial jobs. You should make Mavra help in your kitchen with anything she can, for example, cleaning potatoes or washing the dishes, and so on. She should not be allowed to lead a solitary life under any circumstances. For, as you have noticed, she will become crazy. She should not take the Holy Communion often as well. Let the confessor first to persuade her to humility and self-abasement.


Novice Evstolia, a prayerful person, is afraid of falling into delusion. - Let her keep the God-pleasing humility, believing herself in her heart to be the most sinful of all the persons, and then she will not fall into delusion. For, according to the remark of Holy Fathers, "humility cannot fall".

How to Get Rid of Delusion?

Question from a viewer of the Soyuz TV channel.

“Received a call from Voronezh: “Your Grace, how to get rid of delusion? Is it possible to get rid of it? And what is needed to be done for this? ”

Archbishop Vikenty (Morar')

The questions are answered by Vikenty, the Archbishop of Yekaterinburg and Verkhoturye.

“It is better not to fall into delusion than to get rid of it. Of course, getting rid of delusion is very difficult. This is a serious spiritual illness. And we know that some ascetics in monasteries, who fell into a state of delusion were engaged in prayer and abstinence, strict fasting. They fell into delusion, and to get themselves out of this state, they needed a very big work of prayer of the whole monastery, of all the monastery dwellers, so that the Lord would help to get out of the delusion. Therefore, the holy fathers warn us that we should be attentive to ourselves, so as not to get into this serious spiritual illness. What is delusion? This is flattery, a deception of the highest degree - when we are deceived by our consciousness or demonic obsessions that we are on the right path, that we are going the right way of life and leading the right spiritual life. Therefore, we need to always be self-critical, always acknowledge and see our mistakes. There are words of some holy fathers that we should see, notice our sins, like sand on the seashore. Now, when we recognize ourselves as sinners and see our sins, we constantly notice - this is a sign that we are on the right path, not deluded. And when we do not notice this, but only praise ourselves that we are great ascetics, do the right things and do everything right, that’s pride. And pride is the cause of all our spiritual illnesses; and the most terrible disease is deceit, a grand deceit, which brings us to the spiritual death. Therefore, one must be very careful in one’s spiritual life so as not to fall into enemy nets.”

April 2009

It Is Impossible to Escape Delusion without Confession

Extracts from the book by Archimandrite Sofronii. "Saint Silouan the Athonite".

St. Silouan the Athonite

Beware these two thoughts, and fear them. The first suggests "You are a saint;" the other, "You will not be saved". Both come from the enemy, and there is no truth in them.

Instead, think to yourself, "I am a great sinner but the Lord is merciful. He loves man with a great love, and will forgive my sins."

Evil thoughts afflict the pride soul, and until she humbles herself she knows no rest from them.

Be assured of this - if evil thoughts torment you, it means that you are not humble. The Lord said, "Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls."

Without Christ-like humility the soul will never be at rest in God - she will always be agitated by divers thoughts and impulses which will not let her contemplate God.

The Lord gives the soul understanding to recognize His coming, to love Him and do His will. Fight the enemy with the weapon of humility.

About Self-justification as a Cause of Delusion

Hegumen Nikon (Vorobiev). "How to live today. Letters on the spiritual life".

* * *


Hegumen Nikon (Vorobiev)

Peace to you, worthy mother Mary!

I have received your letter. You recognize yourself wrong in many ways. I am glad about that. A person who stubbornly justifies himself and blames others is on the wrong track: he will either fail to make any success in spiritual life, or he will inevitably fall into the nets of delusion. Our salvation is not in feats, but in the consciousness, deep, sincere, heartfelt consciousness of our sinfulness, corruption, powerlessness to improve ourselves. This consciousness will result in contrition, crying and some humility, etc.

If there is no such consciousness, and moreover (God save us!), there is self-justification – then all the attempts will be in vain and even arrogance and pride will arise. So, in small and big things, in everyday and spiritual affairs, with yourself and in relations with other people, try to put yourself in the lowest place (according to the Gospel: do not sit in the highest place) - and then you will receive peace for your soul and everything described above, and with them or through them, you will get salvation.

My regards and blessings of God to you, Katya and to everyone you know.

Forgive me for offending you and the rest. Ours give their regards to you. God will forgive you for everything, and I forgive you.

* * *

How to Avoid Delusion

Elder Joseph the Hesychast. "Monastic Wisdom".

Elder Joseph the Hesychast

My child, hear about another delusion.  There are also other monks who work on all the virtues together, and trust in their works.  And when they pray and ask something from God, they do not seek it with humility, but with insolence and pretension, as if they have obligated God with their toils and therefore He owes it to them.  When they are not heard and the Lord does not do their will, they are troubled and greatly grieved.  Then when the Devil our enemy sees them with this ignorance, he attacks them with twisted thoughts and teaches them saying, “See?  You are struggling so hard even until death to work for Him, and He doesn’t even listen to you!  So why do you work for Him?”  Then he pushes him to blaspheme the name of God, so that he may enter inside him and possess him, and then people bind him with chains.

But if the Devil is unable to accomplish this, he comes around differently.  He transforms himself into an angel of light saying that he is the Archangel Gabriel or some other angel, and that God sent him to be near him, since God is pleased with his works.  Or similarly, he transforms himself into the form of our Lord Jesus Christ, while another demon goes earlier and says, “Since you have gladdened God with your sweat, He has come to visit, so go and venerate Him to receive grace.”  Or he says that he has come to raise him like the Prophet Elias to the heavens.  And in closing, to make a long story short, with such methods he has deluded many both in the past and today.  Some were thrown upon the rocks, others into wells, others were slaughtered in various ways and were utterly destroyed.  And all this happened because from the beginning they had no discernment and were doing their own will, without having obedience.

Healing through Ignoble Obediences

Hieromartyr Archimandrite Kronid (Lyubimov). "Trinity Lavra flowers from the spiritual meadow."

Hieromartyr Kronid (Lyubimov)

"In 1889, - recalled the father Kronid, - a very handsome young man, dark-haired, with burning black eyes, came for obedience to the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, his name was Alexander Druzhinin. He was a Muscovite. I introduced him to the Father Superior, and the young man was affiliated with the brethren. He was given an obedience in the refectory; his task was to serve the pilgrims. Every day I saw him at the Trinity Cathedral at the brethren prayer service at two o'clock in the morning. From time to time, I asked him, "How are you? Do you get used to it?" He answered, sometimes with tears of tenderness, "I live like in paradise". In such cases I unintentionally thanked God for such organization of his soul.

Six months passed. Alexander Druzhinin was given a new obedience (to manage vegetable cellars) and he got a monastic cell, where he lived alone. Once I came to him and found my friend in some ecstasy. Apparently he performed an especial feat of prayer. Another few months passed. One day visiting him I asked a question, "My brother Alexander, do you attend all the services in the monastery?" He replied humbly, "All". "And brethren prayer rules too?" "Yes, - he said and added, - every day I attend all-night Vigil in the temple of Zosima and Savvaty and I stand at the early and the late Liturgy in the morning."

Then I said to him: "Tell me, who blessed you for such a feat of intensified prayer? Matins, Vespers and early Liturgy are the full range of church services, and the brethren prayer rules completes the duties of a monk. But later Liturgy and Vigil, representing the repetition of usual services, are not mandatory for all. I know that during the later Liturgy when anybody comes to you for provisions from the brethren kitchen, he doesn’t find you in your cell. Then the cooks have to look for you in the churches, what, undoubtedly, causes grumbling and hostility in their hearts. You should think, whether such a prayer will be useful for you. And I had no intention to offend your love with my speech.

The Man Who Engages in Prayer without Spiritual Director or Who Does not Trust His Confessor, Falls into Delusion

Archimandrite Sofronii. "Saint Silouan the Athonite".

On Prayer

He who loves the Lord is ever mindful of Him, and the thought of God begets prayer. If you are forgetful of the Lord, you will not pray, and without prayer the soul will not dwell in the love of God, for the grace of the Holy Spirit comes through prayer. Prayer preserves a man from sin, for the prayerful mind stays intent on God, and in humbleness of spirit stands before the Face of the Lord. Whom the soul of him who prays knoweth.

But the novice naturally needs a guide, for until the advent of the grace of the Holy Spirit the soul is involved in fierce struggle against her foes, and is unable to disentangle herself if the enemy offer her his delights. Only the man with experience of the grace of the Holy Spirit can understand this. He who has savoured the Holy Spirit recognises the taste of grace.

The man who sets out without guidance to engage in prayer (imagining in his arrogance that he can learn to pray from books), and will not go to a spiritual director, is already half beguiled. But the Lord succours the man who is humble, and if there be no experienced guide and he turns to any confessor he finds, the Lord will watch over him for his humility.

Think in this wise: the Holy Spirit dwells in your confessor, and he will tell you what is right. But if you say to yourself that your confessor lives a careless life, how can the Holy Spirit dwell in him, you will suffer mightily for such thoughts, and the Lord will bring you low, and you are sure to fall into delusion.


Some there are who say that prayer beguiles. This is not so. A man is beguiled by listening to his own self, not by prayer. All the Saints lived in prayer, and they call others to prayer. Prayer is the best of all activities for the soul. Prayer is the pith to God. Through prayer we obtain humility, patience and every good gift. The man who speaks against prayer has manifestly never tasted of the goodness of the Lord, and how greatly He loves us. No evil ever comes from God. All the Saints prayed without ceasing: they filled every moment with prayer.

Warning against the Delusion

Letters of St. Macarius of Optina. Volume VI. Letter 109.

...We find it worth to offer a remark for consideration for you, mother: the honorable A. has come to your convent with a very good disposition and desire to “seek Jesus,” that is, to attain His love. This her expression often reached us. This thing is very good and virtuous, but it needs to have a solid foundation, for love is tempted by the enemy. Due to her ardor and purity of soul, she will soon see comforting and sweet feelings in herself - this will give hope to her in finding Jesus and His love. But this feeling is very dangerous and close to delusion: not yet having a struggle with passions, not knowing own weakness and not yet getting humbled, comforting feelings are not reliable. Although they come, but in order to be careful to get them and not to be under the delusion with them, but to consider herself unworthy of that... Thus, we suggest that you take care to warn her if she has any sweet feelings so that she does not rely on them and does not consider them to be great; they will leave her soon. Otherwise, being under the delusion and having accepted them at the wrong time, she will soon lose them; and when there is already time, he will not receive them, like a careless and stupid farmer who, when he saw growth, would consider it a fruit and pick it: he will never receive the fruit in this case. Many people suffered, going this way, and went astray; instead of humility, having too high opinion of themselves, they attained arrogance... Remind her that the love of God is tempted by the enemy: various passions will arise, and it is necessary to struggle with them, and whoever has humility and wisdom, will have relief in the struggle; but he who has a sense of grandeur about himself, or who reassures himself of comforting feelings, faces a tougher struggle, so that, learning his weakness, he would humble himself. But for them defeat is unbearable and leads to cowardice: and this is a sign of their pride. One must be afraid of the delusion, which is diverse: either, having seduced with imaginary holiness, it will blind one’s spiritual eyes, or, by a flash of joyful and comforting actions, having lost them, it will fall into various passions; and when you lead her in a moderate and constant way, engaging with her attentively, then something good can be developed out of her over time ... and she should reveal all her words, deeds, thoughts and actions to you, for whatsoever doth make manifest is light, and everything hidden is darkness (Eph. 5, 13)

What is of God, comes of Itself, Without You Knowing When it Will Come

St Gregory of Sinai. "On Stillness: Fifteen Texts. Different Ways of Psalmodizing." From Philokalia, Vol. 4.

10. So, lover of God, attend with care and intelligence. If while engaged in spiritual work you see a light or a fire outside you, or a form supposedly of Christ or of an angel or of someone else, reject it lest you suffer harm. And do not pay court to images, lest you allow them to stamp themselves on your intellect. For all these things that externally and inopportunely assume various guises do so in order to delude your soul. The true beginning of prayer is the warmth of heart that scorifies the passions, fills the soul with joy and delight, and establishes the heart in unwavering love and unhesitating surety. The holy fathers teach that if the heart is in doubt about whether to accept something either sensory or conceptual that enters the soul, then that thing is not from God but has been sent by the devil. Moreover, if you become aware that your intellect is being enticed by some invisible power either from the outside or from above, do not trust in that power or let your intellect be so enticed, but immediately force it to continue its work. Unceasingly cry out: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy’, and do not allow yourself to retain any concept, object, thought or form that is supposedly divine, or any sequence of argument or any color, but concentrate solely on the pure, simple, formless remembrance of Jesus. Then God, seeing your intellect so strict in guarding itself in every way against the enemy, will Himself bestow pure and unerring vision upon it and will make it participate in God and share in all other blessings.

What is of God, says St Isaac, comes of itself, without you knowing when it will come. Our natural enemy - the demon who operates in the seat of our desiring power - gives the spirit-forces various guises in our imagination. In this way he substitutes his own unruly heat for spiritual warmth, so that the soul is oppressed by this deceit. For spiritual delight he substitutes mindless joy and a muggy sense of pleasure, inducing selfsatisfaction and vanity. Thus he tries to conceal himself from those who lack experience and to persuade them to take his delusions for manifestations of spiritual joy. But time, experience and perspicacity will reveal him to those not entirely ignorant of his wiles. As the palate discriminates between different kinds of food (cf. Eccles. 36:18,19), so the spiritual sense of taste clearly and unerringly reveals everything as it truly is.

Protect Yourself from Liking or Disliking a Thing out of Passion

Lorenzo Scupoli, enhanced by Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, and Saint Theophan the Recluse. "Unseen Warfare".

St. Theophan the Recluse

The reason why we have wrong judgment of the things we mentioned earlier is that we do not look deeply into them to see what they are, but conceive a liking for them or a dislike of them from the very first glance, judging by appearances. These likes and dislikes prejudice our mind and darken it; and so it cannot form a. right judgment of things as they really are. So, my brother, if you wish to be free of this prelest in your mind, keep strict attention over yourself; and when you see a thing with your eyes, or visualise it in your mind, keep a firm grip on your desires and do not allow yourself at the first glance either to conceive a liking for the thing or a dislike for it, but examine it in a  detached way with the mind alone. Unobscured by passion, the mind then remains in a state natural to it, which is free and pure, and has the possibility to know the truth and to penetrate into the depths of a thing, where evil is often concealed under a deceptively attractive exterior and where good is sometimes hidden under a bad appearance.

But if desire comes first and at once either likes a thing or turns away from it, your mind no longer has the possibility to know it rightly as it should. For if this predisposition, or rather this passion precedes every judgment, it enters within, becomes a wall between the mind and the thing and, obscuring the mind, makes it form its judgment from passion. In other words, it sees it not as it really is, which strengthens still more its original predisposition. The further this predisposition runs ahead, or the more it likes or dislikes a thing, the more it obscures the mind in relation to it, until it darkens the mind completely. Then passion in relation to this thing reaches its ultimate limits, so that it appears to a man either as the most desirable or the most hateful of all the things he ever liked or disliked. Thus it happens that when the rule I have indicated is not observed, that is, when desire is not restrained from forming likes and dislikes before a thing is properly examined, then both these powers of the soul—mind and will—always work wrongly, plunging ever deeper and deeper from darkness to darkness, and from sin to sin.

So watch, my beloved, with all attention and protect yourself from liking or disliking a thing out of passion, before you have had time to examine it properly in the light of reason and the just word of the Divine Scriptures, in the light of grace and prayer, and with the help of the judgment of your spiritual father; otherwise you may sin in taking for evil what is truly good, and for good what is truly evil. This mostly happens in the case of certain actions, which are good and holy in themselves, but which according to circumstances,) namely that if they are done at a wrong time, or are out of place, or arc not done in the right measure, cause, considerable harm to those who do them, We know from experience what afflictions are suffered by some through such worthy and holy deeds.

Cured from Spiritual Delusion through Illness

Bishop Palladius. "The Lausiac History".

Chapter XXVI. Heron

There was a certain Heron, a neighbour of mine, an Alexandrian by race, an excellent young man, of good natural ability and pure in his life. He also after many toils was attacked by pride and flung off all restraints and cherished presumptuous sentiments against the fathers, insulting even the blessed Evagrius by saying: "Those who obey your teaching are dupes; for one should not pay heed to any teachers except Christ." He even abused Scripture to serve the purpose of his folly and would say: "The Saviour Himself said, 'Call no man teacher upon the earth.'" His mind became so darkened that he too was afterwards put in irons, since he was unwilling even to attend the mysteries - truth is dear.

He was excessively abstemious in his mode of life, so that many who knew him intimately declared that he frequently went three months without eating, being content with the communion of the mysteries and any wild herbs that might be found. And I too had an experience of him when I went to Scete with the blessed Albanius. Scete was forty miles away from us. In the course of those forty miles we ate twice and drank water three times, but he without eating anything went on foot and said by heart fifteen psalms, then the long psalm, then the Epistle to the Hebrews, then Isaiah and part of Jeremiah, then Luke the Evangelist, then the Proverbs. And things being so, yet we could not keep up with him as he walked. Finally, driven as it were by fire, he could not remain in his cell, but went off to Alexandria, by (divine) dispensation, and, as the saying goes, "knocked out one nail with another." For of his own free will he fell into indifference, but afterwards found salvation involuntarily. For he frequented the theatre and circuses and enjoyed the diversions of the taverns. And thus, eating and drinking immoderately, he fell into a mire of concupiscence. And when he was resolving to sin he met an actress and had converse with her. In consequence a carbuncle developed on his private parts, and for six months he was so ill that the parts rotted away and fell off. Later, restored to health without those parts and returned to a religious frame of mind, he came and confessed all these things to the fathers. A few days after he fell asleep before he had returned to work.

The Devil Convinces Not to Obey Anyone

Elder Joseph the Hesychast. "Monastic Wisdom".

Elder Joseph the Hesychast

O how dreadful is the delusion of the nous!  And how imperceptible!  Let me write a little about it for your information.  I was very daring with these things and examined every kind of prayer.  I tried out everything, because when grace approaches a person, his nous—that “shameless bird” as Abba Isaac calls it — seeks to penetrate everywhere, to try out everything.  It begins with the creation of Adam and ends up plunging into depths and soaring to heights.  If God did not set any boundaries, it would not return.

So, this method of heart prayer is a “praxis” method which we employ to keep the nous in the heart.  And when grace overflows, it raptures the nous into theoria, and the heart burns with divine eros and is all afire with love.  Then the nous is completely united with God.  It is transformed and melts like wax before the fire or like iron assimilated with fire.  Iron’s nature does not change, but as long as it is in the fire, it is one with it.  But when the flame withdraws, it returns to its natural hardness.

This is called theoria.  Then tranquillity reigns in the nous and the entire body is calm.  At this point, a person can pray both with words and with improvised prayers and ascend to theoria, without enclosing his nous in his heart.

For we pray noetically so that grace may come.  When grace is present, the nous does not wander.  And when the nous stands still, it employs all the kinds of prayer; it tries out everything.

So then, the method of prayer which they are using is not delusion; however, it can easily turn into delusion because their nous is simple.  It has not been purified, so it accepts fantasies instead of theorias.

Take, for example, a spring by the seashore that wells up clean water.  Suddenly a storm breaks out, the sea rises, and our little spring is polluted with sea water.  Now let me see you, no matter how clever you are, separate the sea water from the spring’s water.  The same thing happens with the nous.

During the Prayer We Should Keep Our Intellect Free from Anything Besides the Words of the Prayer

Saint Peter of Damaskos. "Book 1. A Treasury of Divine Knowledge." From Philokalia, Vol. 3.

In addition, when the devil saw Christ descending in His extreme goodness to the holy martyrs and revered fathers, appearing either in Himself or through angels or in some other ineffable form, he began to fabricate numerous delusions in order to destroy people. It is on account of this that the fathers, in their discrimination, wrote that one should not pay any attention to such diabolic manifestations, whether they come through images, or light, or fire, or some other deceptive form.’ For the devil can deceive even in sleep or through the senses. If we accept such delusions, he makes the intellect, in its utter ignorance and self-conceit, depict various shapes or colors so that we think that this is a manifestation of God or of an angel. Often in sleep, or to our senses when awake, he shows us demons that are apparently defeated. In short, he does all he can to destroy us by making us succumb to these delusions.

In spite of all this, the devil will fail in his purpose if we apply the counsel of the holy fathers: that during the time of prayer we should keep our intellect free from form, shape, and colour, and not give access to anything at all, whether light, fire or anything else; and that we should do all we can to confine our mind solely to the words we are saying, since he who prays only with his mouth prays to the wind and not to God. For, unlike men, God is attentive to the intellect and not to the words spoken. We must worship, it is said, ‘in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24); and again, ‘I had rather speak five words whose meaning I understand than ten thousand words in a strange tongue’ (1 Cor. 14:19).

Only God’s Special Influence Can Turn Someone from Delusion

Lorenzo Scupoli, enhanced by Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, and Saint Theophan the Recluse. "Unseen Warfare".

But if you, my reader beloved in Christ, wish to attain to such heights, you must first learn in what Christian perfection consists. For if you have not learnt this, you may turn off the right path and go in a totally different direction, while thinking that you make progress towards perfection.

I will tell you plainly: the greatest and most perfect thing a man may desire to attain is to come near to God and dwell, in union with Him.

There are many who say that the perfection of Christian life consists in fasts, vigils, genuflexions, sleeping on bare earth and other similar austerities of the body. Others say that it consists in saying many prayers at home and in attending long services in Church.

And there are others who think that our perfection consists entirely in mental prayer, solitude, seclusion and silence. But the majority limit perfection to a strict observance of all the rules and practices laid down by the statutes, falling into no excess or deficiency, but preserving a golden moderation. Yet all these virtues do not by themselves constitute the Christian perfection we are seeking, but are only means and methods for acquiring it.