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.”
Disciple: I do not sufficiently comprehend your explanation. I need a simpler explanation, more in keeping with my understanding.
Elder: The means whereby the fallen angel brought ruin upon the human race was falsehood (Gen. 3:13). For this reason did the Lord call the devil “a liar, and the father of [lies]… a murderer from the beginning” (Jn. 8:44). We see that the Lord closely associated the notion of falsehood with the notion of murder; for the latter is the inevitable consequence of the former. The words “from the beginning” indicate that from the very start the devil has used falsehood as a weapon in murdering men, for the ruination of men.
The beginning of evil is in the false thought. The source of self-delusion and demonic deception is the false thought. By means of falsehood, the devil infected mankind at its very root, our first parents, with eternal death. For our first parents were deceived, i.e., they acknowledged falsehood as the truth, and having accepted falsehood in the guise of truth, they wounded themselves incurably with mortal sin, as is attested by our ancestor Eve, when she said: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13). Thenceforth, our nature, infected with the poison of evil, has, voluntarily or involuntarily, inclined toward evil which, to our perverted will, distorted reason, and debauched heart, presents itself as good. I say voluntarily because there still remains within us a remnant of the freedom to choose between good and evil. And I say involuntarily because that remnant of freedom does not function as complete freedom, but rather under the unavoidable influence of the wound of sin. Thus is every human born and cannot be otherwise; and for this reason we all, without exception find ourselves in a state of self-delusion and demonic deception. From this view of man’s state with regard to good and evil, the state which is necessarily characteristic of each human being, we arrive at the following definition of spiritual deception which explains it satisfactorily: spiritual deception is man’s assimilation of a falsehood which he accepts as truth. Spiritual deception first acts upon one’s way of thinking; on being accepted and having perverted one’s thought processes, it is forthwith communicated to the heart whose sensibilities it distorts; having mastered the essence of man’s being, it seeps into every one of his activities and poisons the very body which the Creator has indissolubly joined to the soul. The state of spiritual deception is the state of perdition or eternal death.
From the time of man’s fall, the devil has had free access to him. The devil is entitled to this access, for, through obedience to him man has voluntarily submitted to his authority and rejected obedience to God. However, God has redeemed man. To the redeemed man He has given the freedom to submit either to God or to the devil; and that this freedom may manifest itself without any compulsion, the devil has been permitted access to man. It is quite natural that the devil makes every effort to keep man in his former subjection to him, or yet to enslave him even more thoroughly. To achieve this, he implements his primordial and customary weapon — falsehood. He strives to deceive and delude us, counting on our state of self-delusion. He stimulates our passions, our sick inclinations. He invests their pernicious demands with an attractive appearance and strives to entice us to indulge them. However, he that is faithful to the Word of God will not permit himself to do so; he will restrain the passions and thus repulse the enemy’s assaults (see Jas. 4:7); struggling against his own self-deception under the guidance of the Gospel, subduing his passions, and thus gradually destroying the influence of the fallen spirits on himself, he will by stages pass from the state of deception to the realm of truth and freedom (see Jn 8:32), the fullness of which will be given through the overshadowing of divine grace. He that is not faithful to Christ’s teaching, who follows his own will and knowledge, will submit to the enemy, and will pass from a state of self-deception into a state of demonic deception, will lose the remnant of his freedom, and in the end he will become totally enslaved to the devil. The state of those who are demonically deluded varies, depending upon the passion by which the particular individual is deluded and enslaved, and corresponding to the degree to which he is enslaved by that passion. And all those who have fallen into demonic delusion, i.e., those who, through the development of their own self-delusion, have entered into fellowship with the devil and have been enslaved by him, are temples and instruments of the demons, victims of eternal death, of life in the dungeons of hell.
On prelest (Part II)
Disciple: Enumerate for me the types of demonic delusion which result from the improper exercise of prayer.
Elder: All the forms of demonic delusion to which the athlete of prayer is subject arise from the fact that repentance has not been set as the foundation of prayer, that repentance has not been made the source, the soul, the goal of prayer. St. Gregory the Sinaite says: “Should anyone fancy to attain unto exalted states of prayer with a self-confidence based on a conception of one’s own worth, and has acquired not true zeal, but that of the devil, him wilt the devil easily enmesh in his snares as his slave.” Everyone who hastens to the wedding banquet of the Son of God, not in the clean and radiant garments wrought by repentance, but rather in the old rags of sinfulness and self-delusion, will be cast into the outermost darkness, into demonic deception. “I counsel thee,” the Savior says to one whom He calls to the mystical priesthood, “to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness not appear; and to anoint thine eyes [of sense and the eyes of thy mind] with [the] salve [of tears], that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:18-19). Repentance and everything that comprises it, such as: contrition or travail of spirit, lamentation of heart, tears, self-reproach, remembrance and foreboding of death, the judgment of God and the everlasting torments, the awareness of God’s presence, fear of God — are all gifts of God, gifts of great worth, gifts which are basic and represent our assurance of loftier and eternal gifts. The latter you can never receive unless you have received the former. “However great the life we may lead,” says St. John of the Ladder, “we may count it stale and spurious, if we have not acquired a contrite heart” (Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step VII, 64). Repentance, contrition of spirit, and lamentation are signs which attest to the correctness of our feat of prayer. Their absence, on the other hand, is a sign of inclination towards false direction, self-delusion, deception and barrenness. One or the other, delusion or sterility, is the inevitable consequence of the incorrect exercise of prayer, and the incorrect exercise of prayer is inextricably bound up with self-deception.
The most dangerous and most incorrect method of prayer is when he who is praying fabricates, on the strength of his imagination, dreams or pictures, borrowing them ostensibly from the Sacred Scriptures, but in actuality from his own sinfulness and self-delusion. By means of those pictures he lures himself into self-esteem, vainglory, conceit and pride. It is apparent that all that is fabricated by the imagination of our fallen nature which has been perverted by the fall of nature does not exist in reality. It is nothing else but the fantasy and falsehood so characteristic and beloved of Satan, the fallen angel. With the first step that he takes on the path of prayer, the fantast departs from the realm of truth and enters the realm of falsehood, the realm of Satan, and willingly submits to Satan’s influence. St. Symeon the New Theologian describes the prayer of the fantast and its fruits thus: “He raises his arms, eyes, and mind toward heaven; and he fancies in his mind divine meetings, heavenly blessings, the ranks of the holy angels, the dwelling-places of the saints… in short, everything that he has heard of in the Divine Scriptures he gathers together in his imagination. He contemplates all that during his prayers and gazes heavenward, and spurring his soul on to divine desire and love, and sometimes he even sheds tears and weeps. His heart thus grows gradually bolder, without his oven being conscious of it. Not only that, but he also assumes that what is happening to him is the fruit of divine grace, conferred on him by the Lord for his consolation, and he entreats the Lord to vouchsafe him ever to abide in such spiritual activity. That is a sign of delusion. This sort of person cannot but fall subject to delirium and insanity, even though he observes perfect prayerful solitude. And even should he manage to avoid such a spiritual disaster, he nevertheless will never acquire a spiritual mind, virtue, or dispassion. In this manner those who have beheld light and radiance with their physical eyes, who savor sweet fragrances with their sense of smell, and hear voices with their ears, have been deceived. Some of them have become possessed by evil spirits and have wandered about, deranged, from place to place; others have accepted a demon that transformed himself into an angel of light, and were deceived and remained uncorrected even until the end of their lives, refusing the counsel of any of the brethren; still others, instructed by the devil, committed suicide; some cast themselves into an abyss, others hanged themselves. Who can enumerate the manifold deceptions of the devil which he uses to delude and which are inscrutable? Any knowledgable man can learn from what we have said as to the damage which ensues from this type of prayer. Such misfortunes befall mostly hermits who lead a solitary life, but it is possible that some of those who pray incorrectly will not fall subject to one of the calamities described above because they live in community with the brethren; yet such a person spends his whole life in vain.
All the holy Fathers who have described the struggle of mental prayer forbid not only arbitrary daydreams, but also assenting with our will and sympathy to dreams and apparitions that can unexpectedly present themselves to us regardless of our will. This happens during the exercise of prayer, particularly in the midst of stillness. “Accept under no circumstances,” says St. Gregory of Sinai, “should you perceive anything either by your physical eyes or your mind, whether outside or within yourself, even should that be the visage of Christ, or of an angel, or of some saint, or should light appear to you. Be careful and cautious! Do not permit yourself to consent to anything, do not express sympathy or consent, do not hasten to trust an apparition, even should it turn out to be genuine and good. Better to remain cold and distant toward it, constantly preserving your mind devoid of images, free of any depictions and unmarked thereby. He that has perceived anything in thought or with the senses, even though it be from God, and who hastens to accept the apparition, easily falls into deception and ultimately discloses his inclination and capacity for it, because he accepts appearances readily and without discrimination. The beginner must direct all his attention to activity of the heart alone, and regard that alone as non-delusive. He should undertake nothing else until such time as he attains dispassion. God is not angry at one who, fearing deception, guards himself with extreme circumspection and thus does not accept some vision sent by God, without considering what was sent with all care. On the contrary, such a one will be praised by God for his clear thinking.” As an example, we may take the life of St. Amphilochius. He entered monasticism in his youth, and in his mature years and old age he was deemed worthy to lead the life of a hermit in the desert. Confining himself to a cave, he trained himself in stillness and was greatly successful therein. After forty years of solitary living, an angel appeared to him one night and said: “Amphilochius! Go thou to the city and shepherd the spiritual sheep!” Amphilochius, however, remained unperturbed and paid no heed to the angel’s command. The following night, the angel again appeared and repeated his command, adding that it was sent by God. And once again Amphilochius did not submit to the angel, fearing lest he be deluded and mindful of the words of the Apostle, that Satan can appear even as an angel of light (II Cor. 11:14). But the angel returned once more on the third night, glorifying God in order thus to convince Amphilochius, for, as is generally known, the outcast spirits cannot bear this. Then the angel took the old man by the hand, led him out of his cell, and brought him to the church which stood nearby. The doors of the church opened of thorn selves. The church was illuminated with a heavenly light and a multitude of holy men in white robes were visible therein, their faces shining with a sun-like radiance. They consecrated Amphilochius as bishop of the city of Iconium. In contrast to this procedure, the venerable Isaac and Nicetas of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, while yet new and inexperienced in the solitary life, gullibly believed a vision which appeared to them and therefore fell into the most dreadful misfortune. To the former, a multitude of demons appeared in light; one of them assumed the guise of Christ, and the rest that of holy angels. The latter was first deceived by a demon by means of a sweet fragrance and voice, afterwards appearing to him openly in the guise of an angel. Monks who are experienced in the monastic life, truly holy monks, fear delusion far more, show a far greater distrust of themselves, than do beginners who are seized with fervent zeal for the ascetic struggle. The venerable Gregory of Sinai, the Hesychast, with heartfelt love warns us to guard ourselves against delusion. “I desire,” writes the saint in a book written chiefly for those who pray in solitude, “that you have a clearly-defined understanding of delusion. I desire this with the goal in mind that you may be able to preserve yourself from delusion, that, in a struggle which has not been illumined by the necessary knowledge, you not inflict great damage upon yourself and destroy your soul. For man’s free will readily inclines to fellowship with our adversaries, particularly the will of those who are inexperienced and new to the struggle, for they are still in the power of the demons.” How true! Our free will does incline toward deception because every delusion flatters our self-esteem, our vainglory, our pride. “The demons are close by and surround beginners and the arbitrary, spreading in their path the snares of evil thoughts and pernicious fantasies, digging for them abysses into which to plunge. The city of the novices,” i.e., the entire being of each of them individually, “is still under the suzerainty of the barbarians… Wherefore do not hasten to deliver yourself over to that which appears to you, but remain serious, holding on to what is good with much circumspection, and rejecting what is evil … Know also that the effects of grace are always clear; the demon is incapable of producing them: he cannot give meekness or gentleness or humility or hatred of the world, and he does not restrain the passions of voluptuousness, as grace does. These are the effects of the devil: conceit, haughtiness, fear — in a word, all forms of malice. Therefore, by its activity will you be able to discern the light which shines in your soul, whether it be from God or from Satan.” We ought to know, of course, that such circumspection is the property of advanced monks, never of beginners. The venerable Gregory of Sinai, it is true, is conversing with a beginner, but, as is evident from the book, a beginner in the life of prayerful stillness who was, according to the years he had spent in monasticism and from his age, already an elder.
Translated by S. Karganovic from the Serbian edition of the writings of Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov) The text above has been carefully compared with the Russian original in The Works of Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov), Vol. I (Ascetic Experiences), pp. 129-135. The above is but a segment of a longer article on spiritual deception.
[This article originally appeared in Orthodox Life, July-August 1980. It is posted here with the kind permission of Holy Trinity Publications.] http://orthodoxleader.paradosis.com/articles/on-spiritual-deception/
Disciple. Did you have a chance to see someone who fell into the demonic delusion because of the development of dreaminess while practicing prayer?
Elder. Yes, I did. Some official, who lived in St. Petersburg, was practicing a severe feat of prayer, and it led him into an unusual state. He revealed to then archpriest of the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God in Kolomna about his feat and its consequences. The archpriest, when visited some monastery in the Petersburg diocese, asked one of the monks of the monastery to talk with the official. "A strange state which the official has reached from the feat – fairly said the priest - may be more convenient to explain by the residents of a monastery, as they are more familiar with the details and cases of the ascetic feat." The monk agreed. After some time, the official arrived at the monastery. I witnessed his conversation with the monk. The official immediately began to speak about his visions – that he constantly saw the light from the icons during prayer, smelled fragrance, felt an extraordinary sweetness in the mouth, and so on. When the official finished the monk asked him, "Did it come to your mind, to kill yourself?" - "Of course!" - replied the official, "I was throwing myself (figure of speech used by the inhabitants of St. Petersburg) in the Fontanka river, but I was pulled out by others." It turned out that the official was using the type of prayer, described by Saint Symeon, which excited the imagination and blood, and making a man very capable of increased fasting and vigil. To the state of self-delusion, chosen randomly, the Devil has attached his own action, akin to that state – and the human self-delusion turned into an obvious prelest. The official saw the light with the bodily eyes: the fragrance and sweetness, which he felt, were also sensual. In contrast, the visions of saints and their supernatural states are quite spiritual (St. Isaac of Syria, Word 55): an ascetic becomes capable of them not before but after the eyes of the soul are opened by the Divine grace, in concurrence with this other feelings of the soul also come to life, hitherto being inactive (St. Symeon the New Theologian, the Word on Faith); the corporal senses of the saints also take part in the vision of grace, but only when the body will pass from the passionate state to the state of dispassion. The monk began to persuade the official to leave the employed method of prayer, explaining the incorrectness of both the method and the state, resulting from the method. The official resisted the advice fiercely: "How can I give up the obvious grace!" – he objected.
Listening attentively to what the official was telling about himself, I felt an inexplicable pity for him, and altogether he seemed to me somewhat funny. For example, he posed the following question to the monk: "When saliva increases in my mouth because of abundant sweetness, it starts to drip on the floor: is it a sin?" Exactly: people in the demonic delusion seem regrettable as not belonging to themselves, being with the mind and the heart prisoners of the evil, outcast spirit. They represent themselves a funny spectacle: they are made a laughing stock by the dominating sly spirit, who led them to a state of humiliation, having deceived by vainglory and arrogance. The deluded people do not understand either their captivity, or their strange behavior, no matter how obvious this captivity and strangeness of behavior is. - I was spending the winter of 1828-1829 at the Ploschanskaya Pustyn monastery (Orel diocese). At the time, an elder lived there, he was in prelest. He cut off his hand believing that he fulfilled a commandment from the Gospel, and he was telling anyone who was pleased to hear it, that the severed hand became a holy relic, that it was kept and honored in the Moscow Simonov monastery, that he, the elder, being at the Ploschanskaya Pustyn, five hundred miles from the Simonov monastery, felt when the Archimandrite of the Simonov monastery with the brethren venerated the hand. Sometimes a shudder passed through the elder and besides he started to hiss loudly: he recognized this phenomenon as a result of the prayer, but it seemed to be a perversion, worthy only of regret and laughter. Orphan children, who lived in the monastery, were amused by this phenomenon and copied it before the eyes of the elder. The elder came in anger, rushed at one and then at another boy and ruffled their hair. None of the venerable monks of the monastery could assure the deluded man that he is in the wrong state of mind, in a sickness of the soul.
When the official left, I asked the monk why he asked the official about the attempted suicide. The monk replied, "As minutes of unusual quiet of the conscience come during the mourning for God, which comprises the consolation of the mourners, contrary, the moments, when the delusion is revealed and allows to taste it as it is, come among the false pleasure from the devilish delusion. These minutes – are terrible! Their bitterness and the despair produced by this bitterness – are unbearable. This condition, which results from delusion, is an easy manifestation to notice the delusion for a deluded person and to take steps towards healing himself. Alas! The beginnig of prelest is pride, and the fruit of it is surpassing pride. The deluded man recognizes himself as a vessel of Divine grace, despises the saving warnings of the neighbours as it was seen by St. Symeon. Meanwhile, the fits of despair become stronger: finally, the despair turns into madness and is crowned by suicide. – Schemamonk Theodosius was living at the beginning of this [19th] century in the Sofronievaya Pustyn monastery (Kursk diocese). He gained the respect of both the brethren and the laity by a strict, higher living. Once it seemed to him that he was caught up into heaven. At the end of the vision, he went to the abbot, told in detail about the miracle, and he added an expression of regret that he had seen in heaven only himself and did not see any of the brethren. This trait slipped out of the spotlight of the abbot: he called the brethren, in contrite spirit told them about the vision of the schemamonk and admonished them to live a more diligent and God-pleasing life. After some time, some strangeness started to appear in the actions of the schemamonk. The matter ended with that he was found hanged himself in his cell".
The following case, worthy of noticing, happened to me. I was once visited by a schemamonk from Mt. Athos, who was in Russia for alms. We sat down in my own reception cell, and he started to speak to me, "Pray for me, Father, I sleep a lot and eat a lot." When he told me this, I felt the heat emanating from him, that is why I replied: "You do not eat a lot and do not sleep a lot; but is there anything peculiar in you?" and I asked him to enter my inner cell. Walking in front of him and opening the door into the inner cell, I prayed to God mentally, that He gave my hungry soul to borrow something from the hieroschemamonk from Athos if he – is a true servant of God. Exactly: I noticed something peculiar in him. In the inner cell, we again sat down for a talk, - and I started to ask him: "Do me a favor, teach me to pray. You live in the first monastic place on earth, among the thousands of monks: in such a place and in such a numerous gathering of monks, there should certainly be great ascetics of the prayer, knowing the mysterious action of the prayer and teaching this their neighbors, for example Gregory of Sinai and Palamas, following the example of many other Lights of Athos." The hieroschemamonk immediately agreed to be my mentor - and, horror of horrors! With the greatest excitement started he to teach me the above method of enthusiastic dreamy prayer. I saw he was in a terrible excitement! He got excited both the blood and the imagination! He was in self-satisfaction, delighted with himself, in self-delusion, in prelest! After he expressed himself, I began, in the rank of a disciple, to offer him the teachings of the Holy Fathers about prayer, pointing at them in the Philokalia, and asking him to explain this doctrine to me. The monk from Athos came in a perfect bewilderment. I saw he was quite unfamiliar with the teachings of the Fathers about prayer! As the conversation continued, I said to him: "Look, elder! If you live in St. Petersburg – do not take an apartment in the top floor, take an apartment certainly at the bottom." Why is that? – the monk from Athos objected. "Because, - I answered - if the angels suddenly want to take you, and move from St. Petersburg to Mount Athos, and if they carry you from the top floor but drop, you will be killed; if they carry you from the bottom floor and drop, you only will get a bruise." "Look – replied the monk - many times already when I was praying, I came to the actual thought that angels will take me and put on Mount Athos!" It turned out that the hieroschemamonk wore chains, hardly slept, ate little food and felt such a heat in the body that he didn’t not need any warm clothes in winter. By the end of the conversation, it occurred to me to do the following: I started asking the monk, that as an ascetic and a faster, he tried himself the way of prayer taught by the Holy Fathers. The essence of this method is that during the prayer the mind is completely free from any dreams, and plunged into the attention to the words of the prayer, lay and be enclosed, according to St. John the Climacus, in the words of the prayer (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Word 28, ch. 17). In this case, the heart usually helps the mind with the salutary feeling of sadness for sins, as St. Mark the Ascetic said: "The mind, praying attentively, oppresses the heart: the heart of the contrite and humble God will not despise" (Psal. 51; Word about those who have a false idea to be justified from the deeds, ch.34, Philokalia). "When you try it yourself, - I said to the monk - tell me about the fruit of the experience as well; for me, this experience is uncomfortable because of my relaxed life." The monk from Athos readily agreed to my proposal. In a few days, he came to me and said, "What have you done to me?" "Why are you asking?" - "When I tried to pray with attention, enclosing the mind in the words of prayer: all my visions disappeared, and now I no longer can get back to them." Later in a conversation with the monk, I did not see the arrogance and audacity which were very noticeable in him during the first meeting and which are commonly seen in people who are in self-delusion, who consider themselves to be holy or in a spiritual progress. The monk from Athos even expressed a desire to get my humble advice for himself. When I advised him not to differ from the other monks in the external way of life, because the distinction of oneself leads to arrogance (The Ladder of Divince Ascent, Word 4, Ch 2, 83; St. Barsanuphius the Great, answer 275; life and teachings of St. Apollos, Alphabet Patericon), he took off his chains and gave them to me. A month later, he visited me again, and said that the heat in his body ceased, he needed warm clothes and slept much more. In this respect, he said that on Mount Athos many people and even the ones, who have the fame of holiness, were using the way of prayer, which had been used by him – and taught it to the others. No wonder! St. Symeon the New Theologian, who lived eight centuries before our time, said that very few practise attentive prayer (About the third way of prayer). St. Gregory of Sinai, who lived in the fourteenth century after Christ, when arrived at Mount Athos, found that its numerous monks have no concept of noetic prayer and were engaged only in bodily feats, performing prayers only verbally and orally (Living of St. Gregory of Sinai ). St. Nilus of Sora, who lived in the late 15th and early 16th century, also visited Mount Athos, said that in his time the number of people who practised attentive prayer minimized (Preface to the Tradition, or the Charter of the Skete). The elder, archimandrite Paisios Velichkovsky moved to Mount Athos from Moldova in 1747. He acquainted closely with all the monasteries and hermitages, talked to many of the elders, who were by the general opinion of the Holy Mountain recognized as experienced and holy monks. When he started to ask these monks about the books of the Holy Fathers who had written about noetic prayer it turned out that they neither knew about the existence of such writings, nor even knew the names of the Holy writers. By that time, Philokalia had not been yet printed in Greek (Excerpt from the letter of the elder Paisios to the elder Theodosius. Writings of Paisios, Optina Pustyn edition).
Attentive prayer requires self-sacrifice and very few dare self-sacrifice. The one who is enclosed in oneself with attention, being in a state of bewilderment from seeing their own sinfulness, unable to phrase-monger and in general to impress and act, appears somehow strange, mysterious, inadequate in all respects to the people who do not know this mystical feat. Is it not easy to give up the opinion of the world! And for the world – how to apprehend the true ascetic of prayer, when the very feat is even unknown to the world? What a difference – the one who is in self-delusion! He does not eat, does not drink, does not sleep, walks in winter with only a cassok on, wears chains, sees visions, teaches everyone and convicts with a bold impudence, without any regularity, senselessly and without meaning, with blood, carnal, passionate excitement, and because of this sad, fatal excitement. He is just a Holy one! The taste and desire for such people has long been noticed in the secular society: For ye suffer – writes the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face (2 Cor. 11,20). Then the holy Apostle says that he, being in Corinth, could not act boldly and brazenly: his behavior was caught with modesty, meekness and gentleness of the Christ (2 Cor.10, 1). Most of the ascetics of the Western Church proclaimed there as the greatest of saints – after its apostasy from the Eastern Church and after the retreat of the Holy Spirit from it – prayed using the above mentioned way and reached visions, of course, false. These imaginary saints were in a terrible demonic delusion. The delusion naturally arises on the basis of blasphemy that perverted the dogmatic faith for the heretics. The behavior of the Latin ascetics, filled with delusion, was always like frenzy, because of extraordinary corporal, passionate excitement. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Order of Jesuits, was in this state. His imagination was so excited and sophisticated that, as he claimed, he could only wish and use some effort, and at his request either hell or heaven appeared before his eyes. The vision of heaven and hell were not produced solely by the action of human imagination; an act of human imagination alone is not enough for this: the vision was accomplished by the action of demons attaching their abundant action to insufficient human action, mating action with action, action to replenish the action on the basis of free will of a man, who chose and assimilated himself a wrong direction. It is known that the true saints of God are given visions only by the kindness of God and by the action of God, not by the will of a man and not by his own efforts – are given unexpectedly, very rarely, in the cases of special need, according to the wondrous providence of God, and not randomly (St. Isaac Syrian, Word 36). Enhanced feat of the ones, who are in prelest, usually adjoins deep depravity. Depravity is an assessment of that flame that inflames the deluded people. This is confirmed also by history and the testimony of the Fathers. "The one who sees the spirit of prelest – in the apparitions that it shows, - said St. Maximos Kavsokalivitis - is very often exposed to rage and anger; the incense of humility or prayer or a true tear has no place in him. On the contrary, he constantly boasts of his virtues, filled with vainglory, and devotes himself to sly passions fearlessly"(Conversation of St. Maximos with St. Gregory of Sinai).
Disciple. The incorrectness of this way of prayer and its relation to self-delusion and prelest – are clear; caution me also against other kinds of improper prayer and the false state connected to it.
Elder. As wrong action of the mind leads to self-delusion and prelest: exactly in the same way wrong action of the heart leads to it too. The desire and aspiration to see spiritual visions with the mind which was not purified from passions, not renewed and recreated by the right hand of the Holy Spirit, are filled with reckless pride: the same pride and recklessness fills the desire and aspiration of the heart to enjoy holy, spiritual and Divine sensations when the heart is unable to enjoy such pleasures. As the impure mind, wanting to see Divine visions and not being able to see them on its own, composes visions for itself and from itself, it is deceived and deluded by its own delusions: in the same way the heart, trying to taste the Divine sweetness and other Divine feelings and not finding them in itself, composes them from itself, using it to flatter itself, deluding, deceiving, destroying itself, entering the realm of falsehood, in communication with demons, submitting itself to their influence, enslaving itself by their power.
One sense out of all the sensations of the heart, in its state of fall, can be employed in the invisible Divine Service: sorrow for sins, about the sinfulness, the fall, the destruction. It is called weeping, repentance, and contrition of spirit. This is witnessed by the Holy Scripture. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering: both every feeling of the heart apart and all of them together are not pleasing to You, as contaminated by the sin, as perverted by the fall. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Ps. 51, 16-17). This sacrifice – a negative sacrifice, the offering of all other sacrifices with the offering of this sacrifice is naturally eliminated: if there is a feeling of repentance, all other sensations are silenced. For the sacrifices of other sensations to become pleasing to God, first the good pleasure of God must pour out in our Zion, first the walls of the destroyed Jerusalem must be built. Lord – is righteous, all-holy: only righteous, clean sacrifices, to which the human nature is capable after its renovation, are pleasing to righteous, all-holy God. He is not pleased with the desecrated sacrifices and burnt offerings. Let us take care to cleanse ourselves with repentance! Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar (Psal.51, 19): newborn feelings of a man, renewed by the Holy Spirit.
The first commandment given by the Savior to all of humanity without exception is the commandment about repentance: From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4, 17). This commandment comprehends, includes combines all other commandments. The Savior said many times to those men who did not understand the value and power of repentance: But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice (Matthew 9, 13). That means: the Lord in mercy for the fallen and lost men granted repentance to all as the only way to salvation, because all are seized with the fall and destruction. He does not charge, does not even want sacrifices from them, to which they are unable, but wishes that they would have mercy upon themselves, understand their disaster and free themselves from it by repentance. The Lord added to the noted words other fearful utterance: for I am not come, - He said - to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Who were called righteous? - Those miserable, blind sinners, who, being deceived by self-conceit, do not find repentance essentially necessary for themselves, and therefore, either reject it, or disregard it. Oh calamity! Because of that, the Savior denies them; they lose the treasure of salvation. "Woe to the soul - says St. Macarius the Great - that does not feel its sores and thinks about itself, due to the great, infinite damage by the evil, that it is quite alien to the damage by the evil. Such souls are no longer visited and no longer cured by the good Doctor because it arbitrarily left its ulcers without care about them, and imagines about itself that it is healthy and immaculate. They that be whole need not a physician, - he says, - but they that are sick." (Matthew 9, 12; Word 6 on love, ch.16). A horrible cruelty to yourself – the rejection of repentance! A terrible coldness, lack of love for yourself - the neglect of repentance. The one, who is cruel to himself, cannot be not cruel for others as well. The one, who had mercy on himself by acceptance of repentance, together with that becomes a merciful and loving to the neighbors. This shows all importance of the error: take away from the heart something that was commanded to it by God Himself, a sense of repentance that is significantly and logically necessary for the heart. And make an effort to reveal in the heart, opposite to the order, in disregard of the establishment of God, those feelings, which should appear in the heart by themselves when it is cleansed by repentance, but in a very different character (St. Isaac of Syria, Word 55). A carnal man cannot have any notion of this spiritual character: because the notion of a felling is always based on the feelings that are already known to the heart, while spiritual feelings are quite alien to the heart, which knows only some carnal and emotional sensations. Such a heart does not know even about the existence of the spiritual experiences.
Everyone knows what a mental disaster came to the Jewish scribes and Pharisees because of their wrong disposition of the soul: they became not only alien to God, but His frantic enemies, killers of God. To such disasters are subjected those ascetics of prayer, who ejected repentance from their feat, striving to excite the love for God in the heart, striving to feel the pleasure, excitement: they develop their fall, make themselves aliens to God, come into communion with Satan, are infected with hatred for the Holy Spirit. This kind of prelest – is terrible: it is equally fatal for the soul as the first one, but is less evident; it rarely ends in madness, suicide, but definitely corrupts both the mind and the heart. Because of the state of mind that it produces, Fathers called it "conceit" (St. Gregory of Sinai, Word 108, 128; St. John of Karpathos, ch. 49). This kind of prelest is indicated by holy Apostle Paul when he says: Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind (Col.2, 18). The one, who is obsessed with this kind of delusion, thinks about himself, creates an "opinion" about himself, that it has many virtues and merits – even that he has the abundance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This opinion is made up of false understanding and false feelings: within this its property, it quite belongs to the realm of the father and representative of falsehood – the Devil. The praying man, seeking to reveal in the heart the feelings of the new man and having no possibility for this, replaces them with the feelings of his own making, fake ones, which are immediately joined by the action of the fallen spirits. Upon recognizing the wrong feelings, own and demonic ones, as true and arising from grace, he acquires the ideas that correspond to these feelings. These feelings are constantly assimilated with the heart and, intensified in it, feed and multiply false ideas: it is natural that self-delusion and devilish prelest – "opinion", "conceit" – are formed from such wrong feat. "A conceited opinion on something does not permit the subject to actually exist" (Word 4, also at the end of Word 3), - said St. Symeon the New Theologian. The one who has a conceited opinion of himself that he is dispassionate, will never be cleansed from the passions; the one who imagines of himself that he is full of grace, will never receive grace; the one who thinks of himself that he is holy, will never reach holiness. Bluntly speaking: the one who attributes to himself any spiritual deeds, virtues, merits, gifts of grace, the one who flatters himself and entertains himself with "conceit", blocks with this "conceit" the entrance of the spiritual activity in himself, the entrance of the Christian virtues and Divine grace – he opens a wide entrance to the contagion of sin and demons. There is no longer capacity for spiritual progress in those who are infected with "conceit": they destroyed this ability, having brought to the altar of falsehood the very beginning of human activity and salvation – the notion of truth. An unusual pomposity is an attribute of the ones who are sick with this delusion: they seem to be intoxicated with themselves, with their state of self-delusion, seeing it as the state of grace. They are imbued, filled with arrogance and pride, though sounding humble for many, who judges by the face and who can not judge by the fruits, as the Savior has commanded (Matthew 7,16; 12,33), the less by the spiritual sense, which the Apostle refers to (Heb. 5, 14). The prophet Isaiah beautifully depicted the action of "conceit" in a fallen archangel, the action that deluded and killed the archangel. For thou - the prophet says to Satan - hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. (Isaiah 14,13-15).
The Lord denounces the one who is infected with "conceit": Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked (Rev. 3,17). The Lord admonishes the deluded person to repent, offers to buy from nobody else but the Lord Himself the required needs, which constitute the repentance (Rev. 3:18). The purchase is strongly needed: there is no salvation without it. There is no salvation without repentance, and repentance is accepted from God only by those who, for accepting it, sell all their goods, that is, will renounce all that they falsely assimilated from "conceit".
Disciple. Did you meet anyone infected with this kind of prelest?
Elder. People infected with prelest of "conceit" are very common. Anyone who does not have a contrite spirit, who recognizes any own merits and achievements, anyone not holding steadily the teaching of the Orthodox Church, but discussing about any dogma or tradition arbitrarily, at his discretion, or according to the heterodox teaching, is in this kind of prelest. The degree of deviation and persistence of deviation determines the degree of prelest.
Feeble man! "Conceit" certainly creeps into us in some its form, and by executing of our "I", sends away from us the grace of God. As there is no, as noted by the St. Macarius the Great, person completely free from pride: there is no person who would be completely free from the action on him of a subtle delusion called "conceit". It was slandering Apostle Paul, and was healed by grievous allowances of God. For we would not, brethren, - writes the Apostle to the Corinthians - have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life. But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead (2 Cor.1, 8-9). For this reason, we should vigilantly watch ourselves, so as not to attribute to ourselves any good deed, any praiseworthy virtue or special natural ability, even state of grace, if a person was raised into it, in short, not to recognize any dignity in oneself. What hast thou, - says the Apostle, - that thou didst not receive (1 Cor. 4.7) from God? From God we have both being and regeneration, and all the natural properties, all the abilities, both spiritual and bodily ones. We – are the debtors to God! Our debt is unpayable! From such a view on ourselves, the state opposite to "conceit" forms by itself for our spirit, the state that God called poverty of the spirit, which He commanded us to have and that He appeased (Matthew 5,3). The great tribulation – to deviate from the dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church, from the teaching of the Holy Spirit, by some kind of theorizing! This – high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God. We should dethrone and captivate such knowledge into the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10, 4-5).
Disciple. Is there any connection between prelest of the first and the second kind?
Elder. The relationship between these two kinds of prelest certainly exists. Prelest of the first kind is always connected with prelest of the second kind, with "conceit". The one who composes seductive images by means of the natural ability of the imagination, constructing by means of dreaming (imagination) a charming picture from these images, the one who subordinates all his nature to the seductive, powerful influence of this painting, certainly, by the unfortunate necessity, thinks that the painting is made by the action of Divine grace, and that heart feelings that are excited by this painting, are sensations of grace.
The second kind of prelest – the "conceit" itself – acts without composing seductive pictures: it is content with composing fake feelings and states of grace, from which forms a false, perverse notion about the whole spiritual feat in general. The one, who is in the state of "conceit", acquires false outlook on everything around him. He is deceived both from inside and outside. Dreaminess acts strongly in the ones who are deluded with "conceit", but operates exclusively in the abstract field. It is either not involved at all, or rarely involved in painting of paradise, high palaces and mansions, heavenly light and fragrance, Christ, Angels and Saints in the imagination; it always composes apparently spiritual states, close fellowship with Jesus (Imitation of Thomas a Kempis, Book 2, Ch. 8), the internal conversation with Him (Book 3, Ch. 1), mystical revelations (Book 3, Ch. 3), voices, enjoyment; based on all this, it creates a false notion about oneself and about the Christian feat in general; creates a generally false way of thinking and disposition of the heart, leads either to the rapture at oneself or to the feverish and exaltation. These diverse feelings arise from the action of subtle vainglory and lust: from this action, the blood acquires a sinful, seductive movement that pretends to be a pleasure of grace. In turn, vainglory and lust are excited by the arrogance, this inseparable companion of "conceit". Terrible pride, like the pride of demons, is the dominant property of the ones who assimilated one or another prelest. Those who are deluded by prelest of the first kind, are lead by pride to the state of explicit madness; and in those who are in prelest of the second kind, it also produces damage to the mind that is called in the Scripture the corruption of the mind (2 Tim.3, 8), but is less noticeable, clothed in the guise of humility, piety, wisdom – is known by its bitter fruits. The ones who are infected with "opinion" about their own merits, especially about own holiness, are able and willing to do any torture, hypocrisy, cunning and deceit, all the atrocities. They breathe with implacable hostility against the ministers of truth, rush franticly at them when they do not recognize the state that it attributed to the deluded ones, that is exposed to the blind world by "conceit".
Disciple. Are there also spiritual states, produced by Divine grace, as the state in which a man tastes spiritual sweetness and joy, the state in which the secrets of Christianity are revealed, the state in which the presence of the Holy Spirit is felt in the heart, the state in which the devotee of Christ is awarded with spiritual visions?
Elder. Sure there are, but there are only in those Christians who have attained Christian perfection, pre-cleaned and prepared with repentance. Gradually, all action of repentance, which is expressed in all kinds of humility, especially the prayer that is brought out of the poverty of spirit, from weeping, progressively weakens the action of sin in man. This requires a lot of time. And it is given to true, loyal ascetics by the Providence of God, constantly keeping the watch over us. The struggle with the passions – is extremely useful: it most of all leads to poverty of spirit. With the aim of substantial benefit of our, the Judge and our God bears long with us, and does not soon avenge the opponent (Luk.18, 7) of our – the sin. When the passions weaken – it is done the most to the end of life (Living of Theophilus, Pimen the Much-ailing of the Kiev Caves, John The Much-suffering. Kiev Caves Patericon.) – then little by little, the spiritual states will begin to appear, distinguishing in everlasting difference from the states, composed by "conceit." Firstly, weeping that results from grace, enters the temple of the soul, washes and whitens it for the acceptance of gifts, subsequent to weeping according to the establishment of a spiritual law. The carnal man nowise, in no way can imagine the spiritual states, he can not have any concept of the weeping that is caused by grace: the knowledge of these conditions is acquired just by experience (St. Isaac of Syria, Word 55). Spiritual gifts are given by the Divine wisdom that watches that the verbal vessel, that must accept a gift, could endure the power of the gift without doing harm to itself. New wine perishes old bottles! (Matthew 9,17) It is noted that at present time, spiritual gifts are given with the greatest modesty, according to that weakness that fills almost all Christianity in general. These gifts meet the needs of almost only salvation. In contrast to that, the "conceit" gives its gifts in immeasurable abundance and with the greatest haste.
A common feature of the spiritual states – deep humility and humbleness of mind, coupled with a preference of all the neighbors to oneself, with the favor, evangelical love for all neighbors, with the desire to live in the obscurity, to break with the world. There is not enough space for "conceit" here: because humility is the renunciation of all own merits, in a substantial confession of the Redeemer, in recognition in Him of all hope and support, while "conceit" is to assign merits, given by God, to yourself, and in composing for ourselves non-existent merits. It is connected with the hope for oneself, with cold, superficial confession of the Redeemer. God is glorified to glorify Himself, as was glorified by the Pharisee (Luke 18,11). The ones who are obsessed with "conceit", for the most part are devoted to lust, despite the fact that they ascribe to themselves very exalted spiritual states, unprecedented in the correct Orthodox asceticism; a few of them refrain from a crude enslavement to lust – and refrain only because of the prevalence in them of the sin of the sins – pride.
Disciple. Is it possible for prelest that is called "conceit" to have any sensible visible miserable consequences?
Elder. Destructive heresies, schisms, atheism, blasphemy appeared from this kind of prelest. The unhappiest visible consequence of it is a wrong activity, pernicious for themselves and for others – evil, despite its clarity and breadth, little noticed and little understood. Unhappiness, evident for everyone, happens with the ones who practice prayer and who are infected with "conceit", but rarely because the "conceit", resulting in a terrible error of mind, does not lead the mind to frenzy as does the deranged imagination. – On the Valaam Island, in a distant desert hut, schemamonk Porphyrios lived, whom I saw myself. He was engaged in prayer feat. What kind of feat was it – I absolutely do not know. One can guess the incorrectness of it from his favorite reading: the schemamonk thought highly about the book of the Western writer Thomas a Kempis, the Imitation of Jesus Christ, and was guided by it. This book was written from "conceit". One evening in autumn, Porphyrios visited the elders of the monastery, not far from which his hut was. When he said goodbye to the elders, they warned him, saying, "Do not you dare to go on the ice: the ice has just settled and is very thin." The hut of Porphyrios was separated from the monastery by a deep bay of Ladoga Lake, which had to be passed around. Schemamonk replied softly, with an outer modesty: "I have become light." He's gone. Through a short time they heard a desperate cry. The elders of the skete were alarmed, they ran out. It was dark; not soon they found the place where the accident had happened; not soon they found the means to get the drowned man: they dragged the body when it was already left by the soul.
Disciple. You are talking about the book "Imitation", which is written from a state of self-delusion, but it has a lot of readers, even among the children of the Orthodox Church!
Elder. These are those readers, delighted with its merits, who speak about these merits, not realizing that fact. In the preface to the book "Imitation" by a russian translator – 1834 edition, printed in Moscow – is said: "One highly enlightened man – a Russian and Orthodox – used to say: if one were to ask my opinion, I would safely after the Holy Scripture put the book about imitation of Jesus Christ by Kempis" (p.37). In this, such a decisive verdict, a heterodox writer is given preference to all the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, and a person’s own view is given preference before the definition of the whole Church, which at the holy Councils recognized the writings of the Holy Fathers to be Divinely inspired, and has left to read them, not only in edification of all the faithful, but also as a guidance in the Church matters. A great spiritual treasure is kept in the writings of the Fathers: the dogmatic moral tradition of the Holy Church. It is obvious that the book "Imitation" led the mentioned man in the mood from which he said so hastily, so wrong, so sad ("Imitation", at its original appearance, was condemned even by its own Latin Church, and persecuted by the Inquisition. Prosecution subsequently terminated, and reversed to the protection, when it was seen that the book is a good tool for propaganda among the people who have lost a true understanding of Christianity and kept a superficial approach to it. Under the name of papal propaganda is meant the spread of the concept of the Pope, which the Pope wants to suggest himself to humanity, i.e. the concept of the supreme, autocratic, absolute power of the Pope over the world. Propaganda, having this as an aim, pays little attention to the quality of teaching that it uses, everything suits it that contributes its aim – even the faith in Christ without leaving the faith in idols). This is – self-delusion! This is – prelest! It was composed from the false notions; false notions were born from the wrong sensations reported by the book. An anointing of the sly spirit lives and breathes from the book, who flatters the readers giving them a drink of falsehood, sweetened with the subtle flavorings of arrogance, vainglory and lust. The book leads readers directly to the communion with God, without pre-purification by repentance: that is why it excites a special sympathy among the passionate people who are not familiar with the way of repentance, not protected themselves from self-delusion and prelest, not instructed by the correct living by the teachings of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church. The book makes a strong effect on the blood and nerves, excites them, – and that is why it is especially liked by the people enslaved by sensuality: you can enjoy this book without giving up the pleasures of rough sensuality. Arrogance, vainglory and subtle sensuality are proposed by the book as an action of God's grace. Having smelled their fornication in its own subtle action, carnal people come to the ecstasy of delights, of excitement delivered without labor, without self-denial, without repentance, without crucifixion of the flesh with the affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24), with the flattering of the sate of the fall. They gladly move, led by their blindness and pride, from the bed of bestial love to the bed of more felonious love that is dominant in the brothel of the outcast spirits. Some person, by the position of earth belonging to the highest and the most educated society, and on the exterior, to the Orthodox Church, expressed the following about a deceased Lutheran woman who was recognized by this person as holy, "she passionately loved God, she thought only of God, and she had only seen God; she had only read the Gospel and "Imitation", which is the second Gospel" (Ecstatic sentence was pronounced in French, so capable for the scene:"elle aimait Dieu avec passion; elle ne pensait qu'a Dieu, elle ne voyait que Dieu: elle ne lisait que l'Evangile qui est un second Evengile"). These words exactly express the state to which the readers and admirers of the "Imitation" are lead – This phrase is identical, in its essence, with the words of the famous French writer, Ms. de-Sevigne about the famous French poet, Racine older. "He loves God - allowed herself to say Ms. Sevine - in the same way as he previously loved his concubines"("Il aime Dieu, comme il aimait ses maitresses"). Known critic La Garp, a former atheist, who came to Christianity that he understood wrong and that he perverted, favoring the words of Ms. Sevigne said: "The heart that loves the Creator and the creature – is one, although the effects vary among themselves as much how many the subjects are different" ("C'est avec le meme coeur, qu'on aime ie Createur, ou la creature, quoique les effest soient aussi differente, quo les objets"). Racine moved from the debauchery to the delusion called "conceit". This prelest is expressed with all clarity in the last two tragedies of the poet: in "Esther" and "Athaliah". High Christian thoughts and feelings of Racine found a wide place in the temple of the Muses and Apollo (Apollo and the Muses – are the deity of the ancient pagans, Greeks and Romans, Pagans attributed the patronage of elegant Arts to these demons), in the theater –filed a delighted applause. "Athaliah", recognized as the supreme work of Racine, was staged forty-two times in a row. The spirit of this tragedy – is the one with the spirit of "Imitation".
– We believe that there is a bestial desire in the human heart, the desire that was brought by the fall and that has a relationship with the desire of the fallen spirits; and we believe that there is a spiritual desire in the heart as well, with which we were created, which naturally and properly likes God and neighbour, which is in harmony (in consonance, in accordance) with the desire of the Holy Angels. To love God and neighbour in God, we need to be cleansed of the bestial desire. The cleansing is performed by the Holy Spirit in a person who, with his life, is expressing a desire for the cleansing. Actually, the thing that is called the heart, in a moral sense, is the desire and other forces of the soul, but not the body part – the heart. The forces are concentrated in this part – and the common use of the name is transferred from the part to the congregation of forces.
In contrast to the sense of the carnal men, the spiritual men who smelled the fragrance of evil, which pretends to be good, immediately feel an aversion to the books, smelling with this fragrance. A passage from the "Imitation" was read for the elder Isaiah, a monk who was living in stillness in the Nikiforov Pustyn monastery (Olonetsk or Petrozavodsk diocese) and succeeded in noetic prayer and who was granted an overshadowing of grace. The elder immediately went deeply into the meaning of the book. He laughed and said, "Oh, this is written from conceit. There is nothing true here! Everything – is invented! What Thomas imagined about the spiritual states and how he fancied about them without knowing them from the experience, the same way he described them." Prelest, as a misfortune, represents itself a sad spectacle; as the absurdity, it is – a funny sight. Archimandrite of the Cyril Novoezersk monastery (Novgorod diocese), known for his austere life, and who, in simplicity of the heart, was engaged almost exclusively in the bodily feat and who had a very moderate notion about the feat of the soul, first proposed to the persons who were asking his advices and who were guided by him, to read the book "Imitation"; a few years before his death he began to prohibit reading it, speaking with the holy simplicity: "Before I acknowledged this book as edifying; but God has revealed me that it is harmful for the soul". Hieroschemamonk Leonid, known for the active monastic experience, who started the spiritual accomplishment in the Optina Pustyn (Kaluga diocese) had the same opinion about the "Imitation". All of these ascetics were familiar to me personally. – Some landowner, brought up in the spirit of Orthodoxy, who knew well the so-called high society i.e. the world, in the higher echelons of it, once saw the book "Imitation" in the hands of his daughter. He forbade her to read the book, saying: "I do not want you to follow the fashion and flirt with God." That is the most correct evaluation of the book.
Disciple. Are there any other kinds of prelest?
Elder. All particular kinds of self-delusion and delusion by demons belong to the two main types of the above, and occur either from the wrong action of the mind, or wrong action of the heart. The action of "conceit" is especially extensive. Not without reason, the state of mind of those monks who, having rejected the exercise of the Jesus Prayer and generally noetic doing, are satisfied only with one external praying, is attributed to the state of self-delusion and prelest. That is, they attend all the church services and execute their prayer rule, consisting solely of psalms and oral and verbal prayers. They can not avoid "conceit", as the mentioned elder Basil explains this in the preface to the book of the St. Gregory of Sinai, referring mainly to the writings of the saints, this Gregory and St. Symeon the New Theologian. A sign of a crept in "conceit" is revealed in an ascetic in this way: when they think about themselves that they spend an attentive life, they often despise others because of pride, say badly about them, consider themselves worthy, in their conceited opinion, to be the shepherds of the sheep and their leaders, becoming like the blind man pointing the way to other blind men (On the second way of attention and prayer.) Oral and verbal prayer is fruitful when it is associated with attention, which happens very rarely: because we learn the attention mainly during the exercise of the Jesus Prayer (Foreword of schemamonk Basil).