Archimandrite Markell (Pavuk), confessor of Kiev Theological Schools
- Father, what is spiritual delusion? Where does it come from?
- In Russian, the word “prelest” has a positive connotation (it means charm, loveliness), however, from a spiritual point of view, delusion is a deceived state of the soul the person is unconscious of, when, under the influence of the passion of pride, one wants to seem better than he really is. Any excessive adorning of oneself with expensive clothes, cosmetics, ornate words, insincere actions, and smiles are kinds of delusion. Its beauty is deceiving, and it cannot save the world, but on the contrary, deceives and destroys it. However, each person has an internal innate defensive reaction, which allows us to feel the insincerity of others, but you will not always immediately understand what the matter is.
In the state of delusion, a man does not live his own life, but rather that of the stranger he dreams of. For him, life is an ongoing play. It is not accidentally that the programs related to playing have the highest rating in the media. It is also clear why in ancient times the main competitor of the Church was the pagan theater. The Holy Fathers very sharply criticized the actors precisely because they were engaged in play-acting and voluntarily or involuntarily infected their viewers with this.
The church teaches a person to be his true self, not to pose, not to show off, not to play-act, but to live, as they say, breathing freely. It was precisely because of this desire to be real people, personalities, and not faceless mass or limp posers, the first Christians joyfully went to martyrdom. As St. Justin the Philosopher explained the phenomenon of martyrdom, we go to martyrdom because we do not want to live by deception.
According to the Word of God, delusion is the most direct invention of the evil one, who parasitizes on a person’s natural desire to become better. Who of us does not want to grow spiritually, intellectually, physically and materially, who does not dream of a career? It was the promise of the evil one that let the delusion enter the world. The devil, in the form of a serpent in paradise, assured the ancestors that they would be like gods, and by this he tempted them, but instead of the promised things, it resulted in spiritual and physical death.
– What the most common types of delusion can be found with the Orthodox?
- According to the thought of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), delusion is the natural state of all people who are far away from God. Since we constantly sin and do not always repent of our sins or do it superficially and formally, we all persist in the delusion. Obviously, the degree of spiritual delusion, as well as the degree of illness of the body, is different. In the church environment, it often develops under the guise of excessive zeal for piety without knowledge. In this state, a person without the blessing of his spiritual father undertakes excessive fasting and prayer and, as a rule, quickly overstrains, makes many mistakes in his life. Instead of stopping and repenting, he begins to blame others for it: the bishop, priests, and parishioners.
Sometimes, such zealous people gather circles of like-minded people. Thus, their Orthodoxy turns into sectism. Recently, for example, we had a movement against the INN (taxpayer identification numbers), even earlier - against ecumenism, now there is a movement against new passports. It is clear that we, Christians, cannot be completely indifferent to the processes of globalization, and the Church issued special synodical decisions on these issues. The trouble happens when a Christian, enthusiastic about his fight against globalists, forgets about his personal invisible spiritual warfare against spiritual wickedness and passions. First of all, it is bishops and other authorized people who are entrusted to influence global political processes. We can help them in this when we pray earnestly so that they courageously uphold the interests of the Church before the high and mighty.
Another kind of spiritual delusion is when a Christian pities himself too much and begins to break fasting, skip services, and indulge himself with alcohol at the drop of a hat. Because of this, his Christianity becomes the salt that has lost his savour, which is to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Because of such nominal Christians, many seekers and sincere people who could become zealous members of the Orthodox Church become tempted and fall into the networks of schismatics or sectarians.
- What are the examples of falling into delusion in Christian history? Maybe, by ascetics, saints?
The delusion is quite contagious, like any other sin. Not only individuals but also entire nations may fall into it. It is especially dangerous when a prominent church pastor, whom many people trust, falls into delusion. When he begins to teach a new doctrine, those who listen to him are very easily attracted by it. So, in the 4th century, the famous Alexandrian presbyter Arius was seduced himself and then seduced many people by the new doctrine that Christ is not God, but only His highest creation. Then the Patriarch of Constantinople Nestorius began to call the Holy Virgin not Theptkokos (the Mother of God), but Christotokos (the Mother of Christ). Later there were monophysites, monothelites, iconoclasts. As you can see, a fairly large number of people were seduced by the sweetness of newfangled teachings and fell into heresy. In the XI century, the Great Schism arose because almost the whole West was seduced by the new dogma of the headship (primacy) of the Pope. Protestants and various sectarians later branched off from them.
But even in our Orthodox church environment, no one is safe from falling into delusion. The most striking example is St. Nikita the Recluse of the Kiev Caves, Bishop of Novgorod. Not having enough monastic experience of life among the brethren, he retired into seclusion too early. Here the devil appeared in the form of an angel and seduced him to bow down to him. Further, according to the suggestion of the evil one, the seduced ascetic completely stopped praying, only studied the books of the Old Testament. When the brethren of the monastery realized that something was wrong with him, they began to pray earnestly and expelled the demon from his cell. Subsequently, Nikita became the bishop of Novgorod.
- So, a Christian can in no way insure himself against falling into the delusion?
- To some extent, this becomes possible when a person regularly confesses and partakes of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. It is necessary to live a full-fledged life of the Church, not to turn in on oneself, to try to communicate with everyone, to love everyone, not to blame anyone, to support and provide all possible assistance, then other people will help us and will not let us fall. It is not for nothing the Lord said: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The measure of our spiritual prosperity should be determined not by the number of prayers read and not even by the frequency of Communion, but by our love for people, and not only for those who love us, but also for our enemies. Only in this way we will be able to at least to a small extent free ourselves from the inherent sinful delusion and not to fall into greater self-deception, which can completely tear us away from God and His Holy Church.
Interviewed by Natalia Goroshkova