False Visions

True Visions From God Are Often a Consolation in Suffering

Elder Joseph the Hesychast. "Monastic Wisdom".

Elder Joseph the Hesychast

So, my priest, that lady you wrote about is a holy soul.  But see to it that you explain to her the things I shall write here, so that she will be careful.  For the enemy does not sleep; he hates man, and contrives everything to deceive him.  Since she suffers such a martyrdom from her husband, God comforts her with those consolations and various visions.  But she should not consider such things to be the main power of “the prayer,” because the evil one intervenes and quickly changes things.

The main power of the prayer and the entire appetitive power of the soul lies in the cleansing of the heart by means of noetic prayer.  What does the Lord say?  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  He does not say, “Blessed are those who see visions and revelations.”  So one should not rejoice in these things, even if they are from God.  But one should rejoice when one sees that the nous has found the heart and remains inside it.  Then the entire body is at peace, the soul is calmed, the heart leaps, the nous illuminates its powers, and tears run like a stream.  The evil one is able to transform everything, but these things that we are talking about now, he cannot imitate.  Nevertheless, when she sees something, she should not tell anyone about it, except her elder and spiritual father—no one else.

These things are happening now because she is suffering and has great simplicity and fear of God.  But these things do not last until the end; the evil one changes them when he finds a way.  Later, they lead to delusion.  Therefore, much caution and humility are needed.  She must think of herself as a worm of the earth, and only accept as true whatever her spiritual father tells her.  Because if she starts accepting them, in a little while her thoughts will become sick, and she will end up accepting all demonic and silly things as true and sent from God.

What happens after that?  A person becomes the mock of the demons.  They fool him with writings and visions, with dreams and revelations, with symbols and numbers, with oracles and a heap of superstitions.  May God protect her from this kind of change.  Therefore, my priest, see to it that your Reverence always humbles her, lest her thoughts change and she becomes proud.

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A Sinner Should Always Turn Away Any Visions

Saints Barsanuphius the Great and John the Prophet. "Letters".

St Barsanuphius the Great (6th cent.)

Letter 414. Question: "If a sinner should acquire certain visions, should that person not believe at all that these are from God?"

Response: When this happens to a sinner, it is clear that it has from the demons, in order to deceive the wretched soul of that person into destruction. Therefore, one should never believe in these, but one should rather cоmе to know one's own sins and weaknesses, in order always to lead a life in fear and trembling.

Letter 415. Question: "So should one also turn away from these visions, even when they appear in the Form of the Master Christ?"

Response: It is especially then that we should turn away from and anathematize their wickedness and deceit even more so. Brother, never be deceived, therefore, by such demonic assurance. For divine visions certainly occur to the saints, but they are always preceded by calm, peace, and joy in their hearts. Indeed, the saints are always aware of the truth and regard themselves as being unworthy [of such visions]. How much more, then, should sinners never believe these visions, when they are aware of their own unworthiness?

Where any Pride is, no Divine Visions Can Appear

Archimandrite Seraphim (Aleksiev). "Homily about self-esteem and about false visions".

Archimandrite Seraphim (Aleksiev) (1912-1993)

There are many dark tricks of Satan that bring him closer to the soul, but the path that Satan prefers to follow and tries to lead the humans is pride. For he knows well that even if God’s commandments are fulfilled, pride alone is enough to make an ascetic perish. He himself, having no other sins, has fallen from God through his pride only.

Sinful people are usually proud. They sin only because of their pride, which prevents them from accepting God’s will and obeying God’s commandments. Devil, a cunning tempter, knows how to make a man have a sense of grandeur about oneself. Those who are not of high intelligence, he tries make proud by telling them that they are smart or that they have some other exceptional qualities. He puts an idea to the mind of clever people that they have unique properties of their minds. To the wicked, he gives a proud persistence against the will of God. The pious, following his hints, begin to put on airs because of their execution of God’s commandments. Thus, all get by pride under the power of Satan – all those who have not stood up against his tricks, believers and unbelievers; clever and stupid; and sinful and righteous.

Where there is pride and there are visions - they cannot be from God, but surely from the evil one. Some say: ‘We know that those who have divine visions are virtuous people as they fast, pray, act honestly, visit the sick, give alms, show great love for their neighbours... Can these people indeed have visions from the Satan?’

Demonic Visions of Elder Basiliscus

Lives of Russian ascetics of 18th -19th centuries. March. The ascetic Elder Basiliscus.

At this time, a god-loving noble man saw the ascetic Basiliscus and asked him to live in the bathhouse, which was in his garden. Referring to his three-year stay with this hospitable man, Basiliscus said that the devil had never been more armed against him than he was at that time. One night, while he was praying and reading with tears the psalm, suddenly he saw a demon in the form of a big, ferocious horse, with a wide opened mouth, ready to swallow him. With a firm belief in God, he shielded himself with the sign of the cross, and the vision faded. The other night a basket came down from the ceiling, and many flies flew out of it with noise; the ascetic did not hesitate, but intensified his prayer to God, and the vision disappeared. For the third time, also at night, a seducer appeared in the form of the ascetic as an elegant woman, and when the hermit, ignoring her, continued to pray, she attacked the ascetic, pulled the chain on which his body cross hung, and so squeezed his throat that his breath stopped, and only in his mind could he read: ‘Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered!’ The vision faded; but the Basiliscus, after such a strong attack by the enemy, long felt the tremors and cold in the body and, encouraged, plunged before the icon of the Savior, gently begging not to put him in the hands of the foes.

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Vision of the Satan in Immense Light

St Isaac the Syrian. "The Ascetical Homilies".

A person called Malpa, who came from Edessa, was the author of the heresy of Euchites but he was a great ascetic and went through the harshest ascetical practices. It is said that in time of being a disciple of Julian the Blessed, also called Sava, he visited with him for a short time Mt Sinai and Egypt and there heard mysterious homilies of St Anthony about the purity and salvation of the soul. St Anthony was explaining that the mind made pure can contemplate the mysteries of the Holy Spirit and the soul by God’s grace can become passionless if only keeps the commandments and returns to its primitive healthy nature of Eden.

The Monk, who did not Repudiate a Vision, Became Possessed

“The Great Watch”. From the private diary of Hieroschemamonk Jerome.

Father Ephrem in spiritual delusion

Fr. Ephrem, a native of Don, came to our monastery being already a mature man, and since he in the world had his own ship and was familiar with seamanship, the monastery ship was entrusted to him, where he worked hard for several years. He was an attentive monk who had accepted the image of repentance, he prayed diligently to God for the abandonment of his sins in the world. In this mood of spirit, he accepted imperceptibly a temptation from the enemy to find out, whether God had forgiven him for his sins or not. As a result, he became keen to see any sign of his absolution, but did not feel the need to first consult his spiritual father on this important matter. Having received such a proud and presumptuous compulsion from the enemy, he began to pray hard for it, while the enemy prepared him for acceptance of the delusion by tricking him with such manner.

False Vision of the Mandylion

Lives of Athonite ascetics. Elder Fr. Nicodemus, a Greek († 1867).

Once his cell was covered with snow so that he could not leave it. To such a misfortune, he run out of his supply of dried bread, and he was left without food for a long time, so he became extremely exhausted because of hunger. At that time, a demon appeared to him in the glow of light, sitting on the throne, in the form of the Holy Trinity and said: ‘I am the holy trinity, bow to me, receive grace and eat!’ At this time the elder was shown tables with various food, the smell of which greatly wounded the smell of the starving man. The elder fell down and begged God not to let him be mocked by the enemy. He was praying in such a way for a long time, and God took pity on the elder and chased away the demon. It was only then that the elder stood up when the smell of food disappeared.

By instructing the disciple Nilus about noetic prayer, the Elder taught him: as much as it is possible work on it  relentlessly and not believe any vision or dream; even if  Christ himself came, do not believe and say: ‘I do not want to see Christ in this life here and now, but I pray to see him in the future life, With sadness, his disciple was telling us: ‘There is no such elder left nowadays. Not long ago, after his death, I was preparing for the Holy Communion and I was saying my prayers with my eyes closed. Suddenly I had this fantasy that I have been a hardworking monk for so long and I didn't see any vision! And then, at one moment, the ‘Mandylion’ appeared before the eyes. Opened eyes and saw the same; before me in the great light there was the icon of the Savior. According to the instructions of the elder, I realized that it was from the devil, closed my eyes and continued to pray, and the demon disappeared!

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One Should not Listen to the Demons Even if They Say Something that Resembles the Truth

Apophthegmata Patrum. Chapter 10. About discretion.

One brother lived in silence, and the demons in the form of angels sought to seduce him on a pretext of a brethren’s meeting for prayer. They arouse him, ask him and show him some sign of light. He then went to one elder and told him: Abba, angels come to me with light and wake me up to join the brethren for our common prayer. And the elder says to him: ‘Don’t listen to them, my child! They are demons; but when they come to wake you, tell him I will stand up only when I want and I won’t listen to you.’ The brother, having accepted the elder’s instruction, went to his cell. The next night again demons came and woke him up again. He answered them, as the elder commanded him to answer, saying: I would stand up when I wanted, and I would not listen to you. The demons told him: ‘This evil elder was a liar, he deceived you. For his brother came to him, wanting to borrow money, and he, having the money, told him a lie, saying: “I have no money” - and did not give him. From this, understand that he is a liar.’ Brother got up, went to the elder and told him about it. The elder told him: ‘You are right, I had money, and when my brother came and asked me, I did not give it, because I knew that if I gave it to him, it would be bad for his soul. So I decided to break one commandment instead of ten so we wouldn’t grieve. Do not listen to the demons who seek to deceive you.’ And this brother, much confirmed by the elder, went to his cell.

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False Visions of Haji-Georgis, the Elder

Lives of Athonite ascetics. Elder Haji-Georgis, a Greek († 1886).

One day Haji-Georgis, upon temptation of demons, has left his elder, the demons began to please him and in the form of angels were going up to the sky and descended; at which Haji-Georgis has noticed in actions of some haste. They forced him to worship them and promised to give him the grace of the Holy Spirit; but when Haji-Georgis called his elder’s prayers, all this disappeared.

On another occasion, while Haji-Georgis still lived at his elder’s, a demon appeared to him as a young man with a mule, who began to invite him to his home, promising that he and his comrades would make him their elder and he would live well with them; But Haji-Georgis understood the devil’s illusion, and then he saw the demon and the mule going up in the air and disappearing.

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The Novice Escaped Perdition Only through the Prayers of the Elder

Archimandrite Ioannicius (Kotsonis). "Athonite Paterikon".

Many years ago, on the southern outskirts of Katunaki, there lived a very reverent elder with his novice named Spyridon. At first, Spyridon was diligent and obedient in everything. However, over time, the invisible worm of vanity began to corrode his monastic living. He performed excessive deeds, increased number of bows, the number of prayers with the prayer rope, kept vigil for more time without taking permission and blessing from his spiritual father. He began to consider himself much higher than other monks and, little by little, doing his own will, reached the point that he was completely possessed by the spirit of pride.

One night, he heard someone knocking on his cell, saying: “Through the prayers...”. He opened the door and saw an Angel in front of him. But it was an Angel only in appearance, and not in essence.

“I have been sent by God Almighty Himself to declare to you that many of your deeds and virtues are pleasing to Him,” the pseudo-angel told him. - So, God, in order to reward you, is calling you to ascend with me today to the top of Mount Athos, where He will come with the angelic armies and with the ranks of saints, so that you worship Him.

Evagrios the Solitary on Prelest and Demonic Tricks

Evagrios the Solitary. “On Prayer: One Hundred and Fifty-Three Texts”.

(In Russian Philokalia, this text is attributed to St Nilus of Sinai).

94. Take care that the crafty demons do not deceive you with some vision; be on your guard, turn to prayer and ask God to show you if the intellection comes from Him and, if it does not, to dispel the illusion at once. Do not be afraid, for if you pray fervently to God, the demons will retreat, lashed by His unseen power.

95. You should be aware of this trick: at times the demons split into two groups; and when you call for help against one group, the other will come in the guise of angels and drive away the first, so that you are deceived into believing that they are truly angels.

One True Vision Was Followed By a Number of False Ones

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. "Spiritual counsels." Volume 3. Spiritual struggle.

(translated from Russian)

Attention to visions.

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

- Geronda, what should we answer to the people who tell us about their visions, that they had seen such and such a Saint, or about something similar?

- It is better to advise such people to be cautious, restrained. Such attitude to visions is more reliable, because not all people are able to discern whether it was a vision from God or from the Devil.

But even if the vision is from God, a person should not accept it the first time. God, seeing that His creation – a man - does not accept the vision [is not upset, but on the contrary], in some way, is touched. Indeed, such an attitude to the vision shows that the person has humility. If the Saint who appeared to a person was a real Saint, and the man did not accept this vision, God knows way to notify the soul of the man and lead it wherever He wants. Attention is needed, because the Devil [instead of the Saint] can come, which will turn on [demonic] "television" and begin his transmission...

I remember one woman who did not receive any help from people, and therefore had the right to the Divine help. God, wanting to help this woman, gave her a vision. However, after this vision, the Devil suggested her the following thoughts: "Who knows, maybe God has honored you with this vision because He destines you to some higher mission!"

Since that moment when she believed in such diabolic suggestions, the Devil started his work and she fell under his power. But after all God had mercy on her. She had a vision, and she heard a voice saying to her: "Write a letter to father Paisios and describe all the visions that you had." She wrote me a letter and told about all previous visions. The Devil utterly tormented her. Yes, all her visions were real, but almost all of them were from the tempter. Only the first and last of her visions were from God. Wanting to bring her to life and to help her to get rid of delusion, God allowed this last vision to happen. Finally, the miserable woman obeyed my advice and managed to get out [of the net] of the Devil visions that she had.

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Elder Daniel about the Visions

Elder Daniel of Katounakia. “The Angelic Life”. Letters.

(translated from Russian)

Elder Daniel of Katounakia

Answer of monk Daniel to Marcian, a monk of the Iveron skete [1], on rejection of dreams

Marcian, reverend brother in Christ, greetings!

Having received with great gratitude your precious letter dated the second day of this month with attached manuscript reporting on visions and revelations of the great simple [2] elder Euthymius, I have heartily thanked and praised the all-merciful God, for I have long desired to investigate thoroughly these supernatural visions, about which I have heard many perverse things from different persons. And now I am most thankful to you [3], my dearest brother, for getting acquainted with this work, where one can glean many hortatory and edifying things. Therefore, yielding to your request, I have thoroughly investigated the mentioned manuscript not only from the point of its content, but also from the point of the very root of the matter.

And, first of all, I should deservedly praise you. Since no sooner this simple [4] Christian had visions on this place [5], than you, fearing delusion from the right, informed spiritual fathers, which considered revelations made to him to be true, and it prompted you to write them down thoroughly for the use of those reading it.

Secondly, although I, in spite of your love towards me, do not deserve such honour, you, due to your infinite modesty, have requested my considerations as well, whether the described visions are true. And so be it, since you, the highest in friendship and worthy of the utmost praises, keep in your memory guidance of the Holy Fathers on discernment, in particular, of Abba Moses, who said: “It is impossible to fall into demonic delusion for one who coordinates his life with the judgment and will of the succeeded, nevertheless, one should reveal himself not to random people , but to spiritual elders having discernment, and not to those that have got old [only] due to the time, since many people, looking at their age and revealing [them] their thoughts, fell into despair instead of receiving cure because of immaturity  of the “elders”” [6].

False Angel Tried to Deceive Saint Pachomius

From the Living of Saint Pachomius the Great.

Chapter XLVIII

On one occasion when he shut himself away from everyone in solitude, the devil appeared and contended with him in a false guise.

"Greetings, Pachomius," he said. "I am Christ paying you a visit, my faithful friend."
But guided by the holy Spirit, he thought for a while, then spurned this vision of the enemy.

"The coming of Christ always being peace, and to see him is to be free from all fear and full of joy. Human reason is banished afar and gives way to a longing for heaven. But at this moment I am in a turmoil, gripped by a tumult of confusing thoughts."

He rose up and signed himself with the cross, and stretching out his hands as if to seize him, he breathed upon him.

"Devil, depart from me," he cried. "Cursed are you and your visions and your insidious arts. You have no place among the servants of God."

He was turned to dust, filling the cell with a most foul smell, and Pachomius heard a loud voice shattering the silence:

"I would have rewarded you greatly if I had persuaded you into my power. But the power of Christ is supreme, and I am always beaten by you. But make no mistake, I shall always continue to attack you. I am bound to carry out my task without ceasing."

So Pachomius was strengthened by the holy Spirit, and put his trust in the Lord, giving thanks for the great gifts and blessings showered upon him.

A Monk Prayed not to See Any Visions

Saint Nicolai Velimirovich. "The Prologue."

The spiritists of our time accept every appearance from the spiritual world as sent by God and immediately boast that it has been 'revealed' to them. I was myself acquainted with an eighty-year-old monk who was respected by everyone as a great spiritual guide. When I asked him if he had ever seen any being from the spiritual world in his lifetime, he answered me: 'No, never; and praise be to God for his mercy!' Seeing my astonishment at this, he said: 'I have constantly prayed to God that nothing should ever appear to me, lest I fall into illusion and accept a devil disguised as an angel. And, until now, God has heard my prayer.


A False Angel Told a Man to Sacrifice His Son

Saint John Cassian. "Conferences".

The Second Conference of Abbot Moses. On Discretion.

Chapter VII. Of an illusion into which another fell for lack of discretion.

Why also should I speak of one (whose name we had rather not mention as he is still alive), who for a long while received a devil in the brightness of an angelic form, and was often deceived by countless revelations from him and believed that he was a messenger of righteousness: for when these were granted, every night he provided a light in his cell without the need of any lamp. At last he was ordered by the devil to offer up to God his own son who was living with him in the monastery, in order that his merits might by this sacrifice be made equal to those of the patriarch Abraham. And he was so far seduced by his persuasion that he would really have committed the murder unless his son had seen him getting ready the knife and sharpening it with unusual care, and looking for the chains with which he meant to tie him up for the sacrifice when he was going to offer him up; and had fled away in terror with a presentiment of the coming crime.

Various Kinds of Delusion Including False Vision of the Cross

Extractions from the Letters of Saint Elder Macarius of Optina.

2. Illusions

St. Macarius of Optina.

It is dangerous to assume that our dreams are revelations: this leads to spiritual pride. Ponder calmly: is it likely that a heart and mind, both fully under the influence of all the wildest human passions, can truly mirror divine revelations? Does not such an assumption betray undue reliance on your own worthiness? For who can esteem himself worthy of such grace? [268]

You yourself have perfectly described the reason of your woe. First, your education. This, although Christian in theory, did not lead you to a Christian life in practice. Secondly, your early life ran exceptionally smoothly, without any of those temptations and afflictions which-when wrestled with or accepted in the right way-can make true Christians of us. Indeed, when you were a child and when you first grew up, worldlings showered on you much flattery, adulation, and praise. Thus encouraged and helped, unhealthy illusions concerning your importance, superiority, and goodness steadily poisoned your heart, so that even before the cruder passions beset you, pride and a hard self-esteem had built up a sound foundation for your woes.

God resists the proud; He allows them to be humbled by manifold chastisements and by the scorching torments of passion. Your insisting on separation from your first husband was a proof of the hold lusts and passions had gained over you. And, although the situation which naturally ensued could not flatter your pride, it was your pride that had forced the situation.

On Seeing Angles

Saint Gregory of Sinai. "On Prayer: Seven Texts. On Delusion and Other Subjects". From Philokalia, Vol.4.

Question: What should we do when the devil transforms himself into an angel of light (cf. 2 Cor. 11:14) and tries to seduce us?

Answer: You need great discrimination in order to distinguish between good and evil. So do not readily or lightly put your trust in appearances, but weigh things well, and after testing everything carefully cleave to what is good and reject what is evil (cf. 1 Thess. 5:21-2). You must test and discriminate before you give credence to anything.

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. Thus you can tell from its effects whether the light shining in your soul is from God or from Satan. The lettuce is similar in appearance to the endive, and vinegar, to wine; but when you taste them the palate discerns and recognizes the differences between each. In the same way the soul, if it possesses the power of discrimination, can distinguish with its noetic sense between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the illusions of Satan.

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