The letters of schema-hegumen John (Alekseev), a Valaam elder. "On the devilish delusion and the clairvoyance of the saints".
St. Paul says, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but... against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" [Eph. 6.12].
It is this spiritual force that tempts us, the sinners, to the extent allowed to him by God. He raises different blasphemy through our thoughts: against God, against all the divine and the Holy Communion. Sometimes there occur such bad thoughts that one is even ashamed to look at the icons. Many other bad things may occur. Fathers did not want even to write about [this], I am not going to write [about] what I had heard from some people too.
Some people are very confused and think that these are our thoughts. But the Devil is a spirit, he mixes with our soul. Of course, not many people can distinguish, [set their heart] against these diabolical suggestions. The only way is not to pay attention to them and to ask God for help.
The Devil transforms into an Angel of light, appears to the people in the form of Angels, even as the Savior. Once demons appeared in the form of two Angels before St. Isaac of Kiev, who had lived in seclusion for seven years. The demons said to him: "You have pleased God. Here comes the Savior, bow down to him." And the Devil in the form of Christ walks in a glow, and the monk bowed. The demons tormented him so that he lost his mind, he was like a baby. Two years others fed him, because he could not eat himself. Two years later, he recovered by the prayers of the Saints, who lived then [in the Kiev Pechersk Lavra], and with God's help, he became a scare for the demons and had power over them.
Saint Nikita lived in the same Lavra, he asked the hegumen to let him go into seclusion. The hegumen and other elders did not advise him, and said to him: "You are still young and inexperienced in the spiritual warfare, the enemy can seduce you as they did with Isaac." But he insisted: "Isaac was deceived, and the demonic deception will do me good to avoid their wiles." [Finally], the hegumen and other elders gave him his request. The young ascetic secluded and started asceticism earnestly. After some time, a demon appeared to him as an Angel and said: "You have pleased God. I was sent from God to serve you. Now do not pray, I will pray for you. Here is a sign for you - you will know by heart all the Old Testament and you will know the languages. People will come to you, and you shall prophesy to them."
The young ascetic really began to predict the future to those who came to him, he even predicted to the princes, and everything come true exactly. At first, the hegumen and the elders did not understand anything, but when they came to him and talked with him, they found out that he was in a devilish delusion. He knew by heart the entire Old Testament but had forgotten the New Testament. They forcibly took him from the seclusion and healed from demonic delusion with their prayers. He later became the Bishop of Novgorod.
The enemy of the human race came to Saint Simeon Stylites in a chariot of fire and said to him: "You have pleased God and we will take you to heaven like the prophet Elias." The Saint raised the foot, wanted to set foot on the chariot, but made the sign of the Cross, and the vision disappeared.
Of course, only God is perfect. The devil first tempted the Saint [saying] that [he] has been awarded for his feats by this appearance and [the ascetic] almost died. But the Lord took pity on him for his labors and instructed him to protect himself with the Cross.
The Devil appeared before some elder as an Angel and said to him: "I am sent to you from God." The wise elder said, "I guess you made a mistake, perhaps, you are sent to the other elder, and I am unworthy of seeing angels." And the enemy disappeared. Before another elder, also wise, the Devil appeared in the form of the Savior. The elder closed his face with his hands and said: "I do not want to see Christ in this life but will see Him in the future life." And the enemy disappeared.
The enemy tempts mankind with many machinations. Anthony the Great saw all the enemy’s nets spread on the ground, and said with a sigh: "O Lord! Who will escape them?" And he heard a voice: "Humility".
I lived in the skete, we sang with one monk, and during the service, when we read the Six Psalms, this monk fell to thinking. I felt his thoughts with the mind, I wanted to hit him on the shoulder and say, "Why are you plotting evil?" But I refrained, I decided: I need to check his thoughts, will he do so as he thought. It turned out that he did exactly the way he thought. We have the imagination and the memory. This is one internal sense: when we visit something, we can then very well imagine all the places where we have been. It was the same way with me: the enemy presented the thoughts of this monk. This is not a divine vision but the enemy's suggestion.
Here is another case. I had a cold medicine. I also felt that the monk in the other cell wants to come to me for the medicine. I brought him the medicine and he said: "How did you know? I just wanted to come to you." I did not say anything to him.
Sometimes it happens that another person says just the thoughts one is thinking at that time. It is difficult to determine here, if it is a random coincidence or the devilish suggestion to create self-conceit of the inexperienced believing to be clairvoyant.
The clairvoyance of the saints is completely different because they have, by the grace of God, the soul free from passions and they see with the spiritual eye. I will give you one example out of the many. Saint Stephen drove twelve miles past the Trinity Lavra and bowed to hegumen Sergius: the brothers had lunch at this time. St. Sergius said: "Arise, brothers, and bow, as the Saint Stephen bows to us."
In sign [in memory] of such miracle, they always used to rise and bow during the lunch at the Lavra. Here is the vision of the saints: there is no space for them, they see with the soul as we see things around us with the eyes.
When I lived in St. Petersburg in the chapel, an old woman used to came to pray there. She always saw those, who were going to visit her house, with her soul and prepared to meet them beforehand. Also she saw when and where her husband was, how he behaved when visiting someone.
She told Father John of Kronstadt about this and he said to her: "There is no sin in this but it is not to the good of you." And she lost clairvoyance.
There are clairvoyants – as they are sometimes called – by nature: they were given the gift without effort, and it is not useful to themselves and others, because they have no discernment obtained in labors. While the clairvoyance of the saints – because they, by the grace of God, cleansed their heart from passions and have true discernment – wisely brings benefit to others, because the Holy Spirit guides them.
However, the saints also have different spiritual prosperity: there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory [see 1 Cor. 15, 41], as Apostle Paul says.
Only God is perfect. Indeed, there are many of those who were taken up to heaven and saw the glory of the saints, and then fell and lived an evil life to people’s ridicule. Of course, the fall of the spiritual people [is] caused by vainglory and pride. O blessed humility! For I have no mind, and my soul is trembling, how can I praise and understand you? Since Thou divinely inclined the heaven and descended to the earth.