St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov). "On Prelest". On Hermitic Life.
Let it be known to beloved brothers that the highest types of monastic life, such as hermitage in a desert place or silence in the seclusion, as well as living under the guidance of a spiritual elder with complete obedience to him, were arranged not by chance or human discretion and reason, but by a special providence, determination, vocation and revelation of God. Saint Anthony the Great, the father of monasticism, the founder of the hermitic life, retreated to the desert, when he had been already endued with power from on high and in no other way than being called by God. Though it is not said in the Life of St. Anthony, but further events in the life of this Venerable father clearly prove it. And the description of his life (The Life of Venerable Anthony the Great. Menaion Reader for 17 January and Vitae Patrum Patrologiae coursus complectus, vol. LXXUI) says clearly that he was instructed by God’s voice and command to go to the deepest (inner) desert for the strictest silence. The Cherubim appeared to Venerable Macarius the Great, a contemporary of Saint Anthony, who was a little younger than the latter, showed him a fruitless wild plain – afterwards the famous Egyptian Skete – commanded him to have his dwelling there and prophesized that many hermits will dwell the desert valley (Alphabetic Patericon). St. Arsenius the Great, when he was in the royal palace, prayed to God to show him the way of salvation and heard the voice: “Arsenius, flee from men, and you shall be saved”. Arsenius retreated to the mentioned Skete and there prayed to God again to teach him how to be saved and again, he heard the voice: “Arsenius, flee (from men) and dwell in silence, these are the roots of virtue” (Alphabetic Patericon and Apophthegmata Patrum). Venerable Mary of Egypt was called to the hermitic life in the Transjordanian desert by God’s command (Menaion Reader for 1 April). God, who called to the silent and hermitic life those He had chosen, i.e. those that He foresaw to be capable of living the silent and hermitic life, provided them also with such means and aids for such life, which a man cannot find by himself. And in those times, when the monasticism blossomed, when there were many spiritual elders, only few were considered capable of living in silence, especially of living the hermitic life. St. John Climacus says: “Only a few can live in true solitude (silence); in fact, only those who have obtained divine consolation for encouragement in their labours and divine co-operation in their struggles” (Step 4, par. 120). “Solitude (silence) chokes the inexperienced” (Step 27, par. 5). Recluses and hermits often suffered greatest spiritual adversities: those, who retired into seclusion out of their own will, not being called by God, suffered adversities.
In the Synaxarium we find the following story: there was a monastery in Palestine on the bottom of a large and high rock, and there was a cavern (cave) in the rock above the monastery. Monks of the monastery told the following story: “Some time before that, a brother of our brotherhood conceived a desire to live in the cavern in the rock and asked the hegumen for it. The hegumen had the gift of discernment. He said to the brother: “My son, how would you like to live alone in the cavern, when you have not yet overcome carnal and mental passionate thoughts? One who seeks silence should be under guidance of the guide, and not guide oneself. You, having not reached due measure at all yet, ask my unworthiness to allow you to live alone in the cavern, but I believe that you do not understand various devil’s nets. It would be much better for you to serve holy fathers, receive help from God by their prayers, worship and glorify the Lord of all together with them at the set hours, than struggle with impure and cunning thoughts alone. Haven’t you heard how the divinely speaking father John, the writer of “The Ladder” said: “Woe unto him who liveth alone, when he falleth into despair or laziness, and hath not another among men to lift him up! And where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them,’ said the Lord.” So the hegumen told him, but he could not divert the monk from the harmful thoughts. Seeing the brother’s irresistible desire and his persistent requests, the hegumen finally allowed him to live in the cavern. Accompanied by the hegumen’s prayer, he ascended to the cavern. In the meal times, a brother of the monastery brought him food, and the recluse lowered the basket on the rope and ate the food. After he had lived in the cavern for some time, the devil, always fighting those who want to please God, began to disturb him with evil thoughts throughout the day and night; after several days, having transformed into an angel of light, he came to the recluse and said: “Let it be known to you that God has sent me to serve you due to your purity and virtuous life”. The monk answered: “What good have I done so that angels serve me?” The devil objected: “All your deeds are great and high. You left the pleasures of the world, and became a monk, toil in the fast, prayer and vigilance; besides, you left the monastery and moved to live here: how can angels but serve your holiness?” By such speeches, the soul-murdering serpent led him to haughtiness and pride and began to constantly appear before him. Once a man robbed by thieves came to the monk. The impure demon, who appeared to the monk in the form of an angel to delude him, said to him: “This men have bean robbed by thieves; the stolen things are hidden in such-and-such place: tell him to go and take his things”. The man bowed, when he came to the cavern, and the monk told him: “It is good that you have come, brother! I know that you have suffered a grief, because thieves came to you and stole this and that. Don’t lament! They put the stolen things in such-and-such place: go there and you will find everything, and pray for me”. The man was surprised; he obeyed and found the stolen things. He lauded the monk throughout the land, telling that the monk living in the cavern was a prophet. A lot of people poured to the monk; listening to him, they were surprised by the teaching presented by him after the devil’s counsel. He predicted, and his predictions came true. The poor wretch spent much time in such delusion. On the second day of the second week after the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, the impure demon came to the monk and said to him: “Let it be known to you, father, that due to your pure life, which is similar to the life of angels, other angels will come and take you to heaven in flesh: there you will enjoy the vision of ineffable beauty of the Lord together with all the angels”. Having said it, the demon became invisible. But merciful and man-loving God, Who does not want the man to die, put it in the heart of the monk to tell to the hegumen, what had happened. When the brother came, who usually brought him food, the recluse looked out of the cavern and told him: “Brother! Go and ask the hegumen to come here.” The brother related it to the hegumen. The hegumen hastened to come; he ascended the stairs, entered the cavern and asked the recluse: “Why have you commanded me to come here, my son?” He answered: “How can I give back to you, holy father, for all that you have done for my unworthiness!” The hegumen asked: “What good have I done to you?” The monk: “Truly, father, I have been blessed with many great benefits because of you. Through your help, I joined the angelic order; through your help, I see angels and am honored with talking to them; through your help, I have been endowed with the gift of clairvoyance and prophecy.” – Hearing it, the hequmen was surprised and said: “Poor wretch! Can you see angels? Are you endowed with the gift of clairvoyance? Woe unto you, poor wretch! Haven’t I told you: don’t go to the cavern, so that demons don’t deceive you?” While the hegumen told it, the brother objected to him like this: “Don’t say so, honorable father! Because of your holy prayers, I see angels: tomorrow I will be raised by them to heaven in my flesh. Let it be known to your holiness that I want to pray to God our Lord that you are also taken by the angles and be with me in the glory of heaven.” Having heard this, the hegumen told him sternly: “You are deluded by the demon, poor wretch! However, once I have come here, I shall stay here: I shall remain here to see what will become of you. I shall not see the impure demons that you call angels, but tell me, when you see them coming.” The hegumen ordered to take the ladder away and stayed in the cavern with the deluded brother, keeping fast and singing psalms continuously. As the time came when the deluded brother hoped to be raised to heaven, he saw the demons coming and said: “They have come, father.” Then the hegumen embraced him and cried: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, help your deluded servant and don’t let the impure demons to take hold of him.” While the hegumen was telling it, the demons grabbed and began to drag the deluded one, trying to pull him out of the hegumen’s embrace. The hegumen prohibited it to the demons. They tore the cloak away from the deluded monk and disappeared. It was seen that the cloak was rising to a great height and, finally, disappeared. After a while the cloak re-appeared flying down and falling on the ground. Then the elder said to the deluded brother: “Mad and wretched! You see, how the demons have dealt with your cloak: they wanted to deal with you in the same manner. They intended to raise you into the air, like Simon Magus, and take you down, so that you would smash and ruinously yield up your wretched soul.” The hegumen called the monks, ordered them to bring the ladder, led the deluded brother down to the monastery from the cavern, and appointed him to serve in the bakery, kitchen and fulfill other monastic obediences to subdue his thoughts. In such a manner, he saved the brother” (Synaxarium, 9th day of January).
Our nationals, Venerable Isaacius (Kievan Cave Patericon and Menaion Reader for 14 February) and Venerable Nikita (Kievan Cave Patericon and Menaion Reader for 31 January) of the Kiev Caves, suffered great temptation as they retired into seclusion too soon. The life story of Saint Isaacius, a contemporary of Saints Anthony and Theodosius, tells us that he retired into seclusion of his own will. He accomplished excessive bodily endeavors; his even more intensified striving for endeavors prompted him to seclude himself in one of the smallest caves of Kiev Cave Monastery. He ate prosphoras and drank water, taking this very meagre food every other day. Performing such intensified bodily endeavors, while lacking experience in endeavors and spiritual struggle, a man can’t keep from evaluation of his own endeavors and himself. The arrangement of the ascetic’s soul usually defines a temptation, inflicted upon him by devils. “If a man”, St. Macarius of Egypt said, “doesn’t afford Satan to get him under his devilish influence, then Satan can’t subdue him by force”. (Sermon 4, ch. 12). The devils appeared to Isaacius in the image of saint angels; one of them shined more than others; the demons called him Christ and demanded that the ascetic would worship him. By worshipping, appropriate only to God, the ascetic submitted to devils, which tormented him with the forced movement (dancing) to death. St. Anthony, serving the recluse, came to him with the usual food, but seeing, that the recluse made no voice, and realizing, that something special had happened to him, with the help of other monks broke firmly walled-up entrance of the cave of St. Isaacius. They carried him away as dead and put him before the cave; having noticed that he was still alive, they laid him on the bed in the cell. St. Anthony and Theodosius, one after another, took care of him. After the temptation Isaacius deteriorated in mind and body: he could neither stand, nor sit, nor lie down, nor turn from side to side; for two years he lay stiff-limbed, dumb and deaf. In the third year he began to speak and asked to lift him and set him on feet. Then he started learning to walk as a child but did not express any desire or thought to go to church; they hardly forced him; after a while he began to attend the church. Later on he started to go to the refectory, and little by little learnt to eat; in those two years, when he lay motionless, he took neither bread, nor water. Finally, he got completely free from the terrible and magic impression, made by apparition and action of devils. Subsequently, St. Isaacius achieved high level of holiness. Venerable Nikita was younger than Isaacius, but lived at the same time. Carried away by zeal, he asked the hegumen to bless him to endeavor in seclusion. The hegumen - then the hegumen was St. Nikon - forbade him, saying: “My Son! It’s harmful for you, so young, to live in idleness. It’s better to live with the brethren: serving them, you won’t lose your reward. You know, how Venerable Isaacius, recluse of the Kiev Caves, was deluded by the demons in seclusion: he would have died, if the particular grace of God, given him for the prayers of the Saint fathers, Anthony and Theodosius, hadn’t saved him”. Nikita answered: “I won’t be deluded by something like that, but I’ll firmly stand against works of the devil and pray to loving God, that He would grant me the gift of miracle-working, as Isaacius the Recluse, who still performs many miracles”. The hegumen repeated: “Your wish is more than you can bear; having become proud, be careful of falling. I, on the contrary, command you to serve the brethren, and you’ll get the crown from God for your obedience”. Nikita, carried out by the great zeal for the secluded living, didn’t want to listen to what the hegumen told him. He did what he intended: retired into seclusion and stayed there, praying and never going outside. After some time, once during the prayer, he heard a voice, praying with him and smelt wonderful fragrance. Being deceived, he told himself: “If it were not an Angel, he would not pray with me, and there would no breath of the Holy Spirit. Then Nikita started to pray fervently, saying: “Lord, appear to me visibly, so I can see You”. At that time he heard a voice: “You are young! I won’t appear to you, so that you, having become proud, won’t fall. The recluse replied with tears: “O my Lord! I won’t get deluded, because the hegumen has taught me not to follow the demonic deception, and I will do everything you command me”. Then the soul-destroying serpent, having taken power over him, said: “It is impossible for a person in the flesh to see me, but behold! I will send my angel to accompany you: you are to fulfill his will”. With these words a demon in the image of an angel appeared to the recluse. Nikita fell to his feet, worshipping him like an angel. The demon said: “Since then you should not pray, but read books, it will enable you to start the permanent conversation with God and get the gift of offering people, coming to you, edifying advice, and I will pray for your salvation”. The recluse, having believed these words, fell into even greater delusion: he stopped praying, started reading, he saw the devil in the unceasing prayer and was happy, thinking that the angel prayed for him. Then he began to talk a lot about the Holy Scripture with the visitors and preach like the Palestinian recluse. He became famous between laymen and at the Grand Prince's court. Actually, he didn't preach, but told people, who came to him, where the stolen things were kept, what had happened in the far place, as he was notified by the devil accompanying him.
When we were in Moscow, a similar prophet lived in the lunatic asylum, where plenty of gawkers fled to. The prophet’s name was Ivan Yakovlevich. Moscow citizens came to an anchoretic monk and started praising their prophet. They said that they learnt his clairvoyance by their own experience, having asked him about their relative, who was sentenced to hard labour in Nerchinsk. Ivan Yakovlevich didn’t answer for an hour. When people, asking him, pressed him for an answer, he told them: “And is it far from Nerchinsk?” They replied: “More than 6,000 versts (approx. 6,400 km)”. “It’s not a short route to go there!” - retorted the prophet. He answered, that the exiled criminal rubbed his legs sore with fetters. After some time, the askers received a letter from their relative in Nerchinsk, where he described the difficulties of his situation and mentioned that his legs were rubbed sore with fetters. “Imagine the clairvoyance of Ivan Yakovlevich!” - ended Moscovites their story with this exclamation. The monk replied: “There is no clairvoyance here, but evident communication with fallen spirits. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need time: He immediately tells both worldly and heavenly mysteries. Ivan Yakovlevich sent the devil, which stayed at him, from Moscow to Nerchinsk, and got news - empty, worldly, satisfying vanity of the prophet and curiosity of the fleshly men, asking him. The Holy Spirit always tells something spiritual, edificatory, essentially necessary, while the fallen spirit always proclaims something carnal, as it wallows in sinful passions and materiality”. As an example of action and features of the saint sagacity given by God we can mention a wonderful event from the church history. Saint Athanasius the Great, archbishop of Alexandria, telling bishop Ammoniy about his escape from the emperor Julian the Apostate, said: “At those times, I saw great saints of God, Theodorus, father superior of Tavenisiot monks, and Pammon, abba of monks, living in the neighborhood of Antinoë. I, having decided to shelter at Theodorus, entered his boat, covered on all sides; Pammon accompanied us in deference to us. The wind was not favorable; I prayed with a heavy heart: monks of father Theodorus, having stepped out to seashore, hauled a boat. Abba Pammon, seeing my sorrow, consoled me. I answered him: trust me, that my heart has no such courage during peaceful times, as it has under persecutions: since, suffering for Christ and supported by His grace, I hope to get more mercy from Him, even if they kill me. I was still talking, when Theodorus looked at Abba Pammon and smiled; Pammon in his turn looked at him, smiling. I told them: “Why do you laugh at my words, don’t you blame me in cowardice?” Theodorus, addressing to Pammon, said: “Tell the Patriarch the reason for our laughter”. Pammon replied: “It is your part”. Then Theodorus said: “Now Julian was killed in Persia, as God foretold about him: Haughty and pettish man, and proud one never settles down (Habak. II:5). The Christian Emperor, a distinguished man, will rule the country, but his life will be short. So, don’t go far to Thebaid, don’t bother yourself, but go privately to the emperor; you’ll meet him halfway, will be received by him very favorably and return to your Church, and he will be soon taken by God from this mortal life. Everything has happened in the said way”. (Sancti Athanasii opera omnia. torn. 2, pages 979-982.).
So he told Great Prince Izyaslav about the killing of Novgorod Prince Gleb, and advised him to send his son to Novgorod for reigning. It was enough for the laymen to proclaim the recluse to be a prophet. It was noted that laymen and even monks, having no spiritual discernment, are practically always carried away by deceivers, hypocrites and people in evil delusion, consider them as saint and godsent. Nobody could surpass Nikita in knowledge of the Old Testament; but he could not bear the New one, never quoted the Gospel and Epistles, never let anybody remind him anything from the New Testament. Guiding by this strange character of his teaching, fathers of Kiev Pechersk Monastery understood that he was deluded by the devil. Those times many saint monks, distinguished by the gifts of God, lived in the monastery. They drove the devil away from Nikita with the prayer; Nikita stopped seeing him. Fathers took Nikita away from seclusion and asked him to tell them something from the Old Testament; but he swore that he had never read the books, which he knew by heart earlier. He even lost the ability to read as a result of the devilish delusion, and they hardly taught him to read again. Brought to his senses by prayers of Holy Fathers, he understood and confessed his sin, shed bitter tears over it, reached a high level of holiness and a miracle-working gift due to the humble living among the brethren. Later Saint Nikita was ordained into the bishop of Novgorod.
The last practice lucidly confirms experience of the past days. And now the delusion - it is a monastic term for self-deception combined with demonic deception - can be an evident result of the premature retirement into seclusion or zealous spiritual endeavors in seclusion of the monk’s cell. At those days, when the writer of this ascetical advice, being a youth, visited Alexander Nevsky Lavra for discussing with the monk Ioannicius, a chandler of the Lavra, a disciple of the elders Theodorus and Leonid; many laymen, living ascetical lives, came to this monk for spiritual advice (Monk Ioannicius was a native nephew of Theodorus. After Theodorus’s death, he continued to communicate with Leonid and later moved to Optina Pustyn Monastery to live nearby). Pavel, a soldier of Pavlovsky Regiment, recently converted from the Old Belief schism, lately a guide of old believers, a literate person, also went to Ioannicius. His face sparkled with joy. But he, having burnt with the extreme zeal, launched into bodily endeavors, exceeding his forces, while had no sufficient knowledge of the spiritual endeavors. Once at night, Pavel prayed. Suddenly sunlike light brightened near icons, and whitely shining dove appeared among that light. The dove said: “Take me: I am the Holy Spirit; I came to make you my abode”. Pavel agreed with joy. The dove entered through his mouth, and Pavel, exhausted with fasting and wake, felt strongest lust: he stopped praying and ran to the whorehouse. His starving passion made his lust unsatiated. All whorehouses and all affordable whores became his haunt. At last he came to his senses. He described his delusion with the devil apparition and defilement by implications of the delusion in the letter to the hieroschemamonk Leonid, living in Alexander-Svirsky Monastery. The letter reflected former high spiritual state of the fallen man. The mentioned youth was a lay-brother of hieroschemamonk Leonid (1827-1828 years) and read Pavel’s letter with the blessing of the elder. Hieroschemamonk Leonid moved from Svirsky Monastery to Ploshchanskaya Pustyn and then to Optina Pustyn in spring of 1828. He was accompanied by his lay-brother, who made a pilgrimage to some monasteries of Kaluga and Orel eparchies on his way. When he was at the renowned Beloberezhskaya Pustyn, he saw a well-known ascetic, ryasophore monk Serapion, famous for the angel’s vision during the cell prayer rule. Not only laymen, but also monks glorified Serapion and showed him as an example of the monastic life, because people in Russia especially value bodily endeavors and have practically no understanding of the spiritual ones. In 1829 a mental disorder forced Serapion to go to Optina Pustyn, where he was guided by spiritual advice of hieroschemamonk Leonid. During one of the conversations with the elder, he pulled out a large part of the elder’s beard. Serapion, who accommodated at the Skete of Optina Pustyn in deference to his ascetic life, once came to the head of the Skete, hieromonk Anthony, telling that John the Baptist appeared before him and asked him to stab Anthony, hieroschemamonk Leonid, hieromonk Gavriil and landowner Zhelyabovskiy, visiting the Skete this time. “And where is a knife?” keen-witted and fearless Anthony asked him.
“I have no knife,” answered deluded man.
“Why have you come to stab without a knife?” Anthony objected him and took the deluded man to the cell and then to the asylum, where he died.
Some said that Serapion came to his senses and died, hoping for salvation. It is worth to note that the evil spirit, wanting to take possession of Christ’s devotee, does not act commandingly, but tries to get his consent for the proposed delusion, and having taken the consent, possesses a person, who gave it. St. David, describing the attack of the evil spirit against a man, expressed this idea with a great precision: “He lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net”. (Psalm IX, 30). The Holy Spirit acts commandingly as God; He descends, when a humbled and humiliated man doesn’t even wait Him. He unexpectedly changes the man’s mind, changes heart. He entirely masters the will and abilities of the man, not able to think about the action, taking place in his soul. The grace, when it comes to a man, does not reveal itself as something special or perceptional, but mysteriously teaches him something new, that he had never seen or imagined before. Then mind learns lofty and innermost mysteries, which according to St. Paul, no eye has seen, no human mind has conceived…. The human mind itself, not connected with God, reasons on its own. When it connects with the flame of Divinity and the Holy Spirit, it, being possessed by the Divine Light, will become all the light, inflamed with the flame of the All-Holy Spirit, filled with the Divine mind, and it can’t think its own thoughts in the flame of God”. So Venerable Maximus of Kavsokalivia told to Venerable Gregory of Sinai (Philokalia, part 1).
On the contrary, when the devil comes, the man is free to evaluate an apparition, adopt it or reject. We may conclude it from the attempts of a devil to delude the Saints of God. Once, when Saint Pachomius the Great was in seclusion out of the monastery, the devil appeared before him in the great light, saying: “Rejoice, Pachomius! I am Christ and came to you as to my friend”. The Saint thought: “Apparition of Christ to a man may be connected with joy, it is alien to fear. At this time all human thoughts disappear: then the mind concentrates on the vision of invisible things. But when I see this apparition, I am seized with embarrassment and fear. It is not Christ, but Satan”.
Having thought this, the Saint fearlessly said to the appeared spirit: “Devil! Go away from me: I damn you, and your apparition, and insidiousness of your cunning thoughts”. The Devil disappeared immediately, having filled the cell with stench (Menaion Reader for 15 May).
The man with mind governed by the flesh, who has not attained the spiritual view on the corrupt human nature, can’t refrain from appreciating his actions and valuing himself, notwithstanding how many humble words he says and how humiliated he looks. The genuine humiliation is alien to the fleshly mind and is not affordable to it: humiliation is a trait of the spiritual mind. The Saint Mark the Hermit said: “Those, who have not considered themselves to be debtors before each Christ’s commandment, revere the Law of the Lord with bodily endeavors, having no understanding of what the commandments tell and what they based on: that’s why they hope to fulfill them with “actions”. (Sermon on spiritual law, ch. 34).
According to the Venerable Father, a man, recognizing any own good deed, is self-deluded. This state of self-delusion lays the foundation for demonic delusion: a fallen angel finds breeding ground in false, proud understanding of a Christian, easily imposes his deception and uses it to subject the man to his power, plunge him into so called delusion. All above mentioned cases show that all deluded people didn’t find themselves unworthy of seeing Angels, so acknowledged own merit. A carnal and natural man can't judge himself in a different way. That’s why Holy Fathers told about all ascetics, who were not experienced enough in spiritual endeavors and deprived of God’s grace, that silence ruined them.
With regard to recluses’ life and silence, it is instructive to remember lives of Venerable Barsanuphius the Great and his fellow-faster John the Prophet, which were recluses in cenobium of Abba Serid. All brethren of the monastery, or at least most of them, were guided by advice of these great Saints, full of the Holy Spirit; hegumen Serid himself, named by Barsanuphius the Great as his spiritual son, followed their admonitions. Serid served to the Saint Elder, who didn’t leave the cell, received only Serid and gave instructions to other brethren through him. Brethren of the monastery, guided by admonitions of the divinely inspired men, showed intensive and considerable spiritual growth. Some of them, being called by God, Who foresaw their ability, became prone to the hermit life. So, Barsanuphius the Great foretold John of Mirosavas, that he was destined to the silence by God, and having prepared this monk with the life by Evangelical Commandments in the monastic society, in the furnace of obedience, brought him into seclusion at the time, set by God (Answers 1-54). The correspondence between Barsanuphius the Great and John of Mirosavas shows that John was attacked by lustful thoughts even upon retirement into seclusion. Other monks, allowed to live in seclusion, were attacked by passions even more; but still they were not forbidden to stay there. On the contrary, Saint Abba Dorotheus, who was remarkable for human and spiritual wisdom, gift of spiritual guidance of other monks, and proved this spiritual gift with his life, was prohibited from living in seclusion, no matter how much he desired it. “Silence”, they told him, “gives rise to arrogance, before one saves himself, becomes pure. A man acquires the genuine silence, when he has born a cross. So, if you show compassion to your neighbours, you will get help, if you refrain from compassion, seeking to reach spiritual height beyond your powers, know, that you’ll lost what you have. Don’t retreat into yourself, don’t take excessive endeavors, but steer a middle course, learning the will of God, because the days are evil. (Ephesians V, 16 - Answer 311).
My words mean: don’t dare to keep silence and don’t neglect your soul, when you are among cares of life: there is a middle course, safe from falling. Keeping silence, you need humiliation, having cares of life, you are to be sober and control your thoughts. All of this is not restricted by specific time. One should gratefully endure everything that happens with him. The more one humbles oneself, the more one succeeds. Staying at the cell doesn’t make you experienced, because you stay there evidently without troubles: if a man, secluded in the cell, doesn’t fight with demons, he will face with such painful sorrow and fight, that a cenobitic monk is not aware of (see life stories of Anthony the Great, Onuphrius the Great and other ascetics and hermits). And when you set aside all cares of life too soon, the fiend prepares you not peace, but new temptations, and at last makes you say: “I wish I hadn’t been born”. (Answers 312, 313). Saint Dorotheus, revered as Saint by the Universal Church, one of the best ascetic writers, remained in cenobium among brethren, and when his Saint spiritual guides died, he founded own monastery and became Father Superior. Saint John Climacus notes that those prone to pride and other natural passions should not choose secluded living, but live among brethren and save themselves by following the Commandments (Sermon 8, chapter 10, 18, 21, 25 - Sermon 27, chapter 13, 36): because each type of living, whether in the hermitage or in cenobium, when it corresponds with God’s will and has the aim of pleasing God, is a beatitude. (Chapter 88. Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Philokalia, part 1). Early seclusion gives rise to demonic delusion, not only evident, but invisible: mental, ethic, much more dangerous than the first one, and often incurable. This kind of delusion, based on pride, is called “self-conceit” (or “mnenie” in Russian) by Holy Fathers (Saint Gregory of Sinai, chapters 128, 131, 132, Philokalia, part 1), and it means a state, when an ascetic agrees with the false ideas of the spiritual subjects and of himself, takes them as true. When the heart naturally approves and supports the mind and the mind in its turn - the heart, false ideas and contemplations are definitely accompanied by delusive, delightful, cordial feelings: they result from ulterior sensuality and vainglory. Those, who suffered from this delusion, became preachers of the false ascetic teaching, and sometimes, heresiarchs, destined themselves and their neighbours for eternal death. In 55 Sermon Saint Isaac of Syria notes that some Malpas led very strict, very austere ascetic life in order to attain high spiritual state, but fell into pride and obvious devil’s delusion, became a head of evktits’ heresy. As an example of the ascetic book, written at the state of delusion, or “self-conceit” (or “mnenie” in Russian), we may name the work by Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ. It exudes refined sensuality and pride, arising delight in passionate people, which they treat as acceptance of the Divine Grace. Poor and deluded! They don’t understand, that having felt the refined smell of their passions, they take pleasure in it, and being spiritually blind, mistake it for the smell of grace! They don’t understand, that only saint people are capable of spiritual delight, that spiritual delight should be preceded by repentance and cleansing from passions, that a sinner is unable to spiritual delight, he must consider himself as unworthy of the delight, reject it, if it comes to him, reject as alien to himself, as evident and pernicious self-deception, as ulterior vainglory, pride and sensuality. Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola and some other ascetics of the Roman Catholic Church (after the schism of the Western Church from the Eastern Church), considered to be Saints by the Catholics, were deeply afflicted with demonic delusion, like Malpas. “When Francis was taken to the Heaven”, says a writer of his life story, “God the Father, having seen him, was perplexed for a minute, as He didn’t know whom to prefer. His Son by nature or His son by grace - Francis”. What may be more terrible, abnormal than this blasphemy, more sad than this delusion!
In our time and in our native land, the hermitage in the solitary place is impossible, and seclusion is very difficult, as more dangerous and more inappropriate than ever. This should be considered as God’s will, we are to submit to. If you want to undertake the endeavor of silence and please God, you should love silence and do your best to accustom yourself to it. Don’t allow yourself to have empty talks neither in the church, nor in the refectory, nor in the cell; don’t allow yourself to leave the monastery, if only it is absolutely necessary and only for a short time; don’t allow yourself to make acquaintance, especially close one, nor in the monastery, nor out of it; don’t allow yourself to treat people familiarly and engage in pernicious entertainment; act as stranger and sojourner in the monastery and in the mortal life - and you’ll become the hermit, acceptable before God, anchoret, recluse. If God considers yourself to be capable of living in the hermitage or seclusion, He Himself will give you silent life in the hermitage, as He gave it to St. Seraphim, or He will grant you seclusion, as He granted it to the St. George, the recluse of Zadonsk Monastery.