Monk Konstantin. “From conversations with the Caucasian hermit”.
Question: How to distinguish correct, saving work of faith from delusional work?
Answer: Of course, only a spiritually experienced person can do this - can determine what work is performed by someone. And for ourselves, we must learn this truth: you do not need to invent works. When a person comes to repentance, he naturally begins to correct his life, his behavior is not invented, not fabricated, but forced by the way of life, by the struggle with his passions. Such work is required by itself and taken for granted. It does not make arrogant, does not give a person a reason for self-conceit and self-exaltation, but only leads him along the path of repentance and correction.
Meanwhile, the delusional work is usually far-fetched and bright. And it is especially necessary to emphasize: it is “great”, but short-lived: it is completely abandoned with the course of time. It alternates with self-indulgence and relaxation: “You worked hard - you can relax! Work hard play hard”. A man has accomplished something: fasting, or vigil, or prayer, or a certain number of bows - that's all, now he is “having a rest”.
These are signs of a harmful deed, leading, to a greater or lesser extent, to delusion.
Question: What is delusion?
Answer: In brief: when we consider to be good something that is not good. When we take the demonic action or our heated blood for the action of the grace.
Question: What is the beginning of delusions, where is its root?
Answer: As St. Ignatius Brianchaninov said: “One false thought contains the whole building of delusion, like the future plant is contained in the grain.” When the enemy gives us some kind of false thought (“you need to do this and that, so and so”), and if we accept it without checking it for compliance with the Holy Scriptures, the advice of the Holy Fathers or an experienced counselor, then we can be wrong. And then delusion develops.
In the mid-70s, an educated young man K. came to our place. He graduated from the Moscow State University, worked as one of the editors of the "Soviet Cosmonautics" journal, then was converted to faith and decided to live in the mountains as a monk. Since he had no peers in education there, he kept himself apart. He comprehended everything with his own mind and paved “his own” way in spiritual life.
Once a spirit appeared to him and announced: “It’s me - don’t be afraid!”, and began to answer all his questions and give exhortations. When K. told us about his “insights” in a conversation, we were simply horrified, but we were not able to convince him.
Under the dictation of the devil, “The Colored Psalter”, “Tetrade”, “Pentade”, “Hexade”, “Eternal Gospel” were written. Actually, we did not read them, so we cannot say definitely what they are. In the end, the unfortunate imagines himself to be John the Theologian reincarnated. The enemy gave him assurance: "Do not be afraid, you will not sin by expressing such thoughts, you are John the Theologian reincarnated." And he walked without a moment hesitation, headlong…
That's how dangerous it is to trust your mind and rely on your strength.
Our salvation is not difficult, but it requires wisdom. This wisdom is based on assuming that the main work for a Christian is to truly repent, to cry for his sins, to fight with all his strength his passions in the circumstances in which the Lord puts him and to fulfill the commandments of Christ in each particular case.
Question: What is “humility” and are there any guidelines that make it possible to determine whether the spiritual work is correct?
Answer: As the Holy Fathers say, the perfect form of humility is the grace of the Holy Spirit, i.e. the humble spirit. But a person receives such a gift only at the end of his work. Initial humility is mainly expressed in self-condemnation. A person sees himself as a sinner and consciously, fairly and impartially condemns himself to eternal torment, because he understands that if he has done such things, then he deserves eternal torment. And then, on this basis, he obtains the desire to deprive himself of temporary pleasures, to fast, to pray, to endure various troubles, illnesses, sorrows, adversities, etc., so as suffering in such a way, to incline the Lord to mercy.
However, if a person has fasted for a week or two, or refrained from something and then, as if casually, begins to demonstrate (or show) it to others, not keeping his work secret, then there is already a delusion that either preceded or followed this work. In this case, even if there was a good start based on repentance, the enemy still “hooked” the man with pride, causing vanity, and the person turned from the good, true and saving path to the path of seduction and death (often not noticing it). And if we observe the situation more carefully, then perhaps this misfortune was even in its infancy: the “good” work only seemed to be good, and, in fact, it was infused by the devil for greater seduction.
In another case, a thought may come: “What a work some saint had! And I will do it as well!” If such an idea appears, you need to know that this is the enemy preparing a pit, because the work turns out to be far-fetched, it is not caused by the state of the person, his struggle with his passion.
After all, let’s remember, how did the Fathers do spiritual work? For example, Macarius the Great saw an apple, picked it (at the wrong time) and wanted to eat it. But, seeing the action of passion, he repented: “After all, Adam and Eve fell because of this. Well, that’s all – I have been tempted, now I won’t eat apples all my life! ” Macarius, for the sake of his passion of gluttony, undertook abstinence: he forbade himself to eat apples for the rest of his life. The saint did not invent this practice - “Well, I will not eat apples”, but the struggle with passion taught him to do so. The same can be said of other doings of the Holy Fathers.
Of course, their practices were exceptional (as, for example, the other Macarius did not sleep for twenty days), but the approach itself is taken into account here.
Some modern people do this: for example, they notice that they are overcome with gluttony. Then on the table where they eat, they lay out sweets, cookies - all these sweetmeats are in plain sight, but they do not touch them. However, there is also a danger of falling into vanity. The most important thing is to keep your work secret, known to One God. When you talk about it, you lose it. And not only lose – there appears a hole for the demon of vanity. It will begin to tell you: “Behold, you have fasted like that! You have prayed like that!..” So, you need to be extremely careful and cautious.
To sum everything up, we can determine three reference points characterizing God-pleasing work.
First reference point: A work, which is not invented, but required by conscience for self-correction. The work shall be moderate. It should be directed more towards internal doing, i.e. attention to your feelings, thoughts, desires. It is expressed in humility, self-condemnation, deep self-humiliation, repentant prayer, as constant as possible. Moving away from occasions for various pleasures enjoyable for flesh.
Everything is done for the sake of Christ, for the sake of eradicating our former sinful habits and passions, for the sake of acquiring new properties: humility, patience, meekness, mercy and other virtues.
The second reference point: Patient and humble acceptance of all temptations sent by the Divine Providence, sorrows, illnesses, reproaches, slander, insults, annoyances, untruths - all that is unpleasant for us. All this is accepted for Christ’s sake, a person bears it all with thanksgiving for his or her past sins, without complaints that “they offended me so much...”, “it’s so hard for me...” This can only be said to a confessor or spiritual friend-adviser, but also without a secret desire to make them feel compassion, “to be patted on the back”, but only to get spiritual advice and prayer help. And if we complain “like men” and they feel pity for us and give us human comfort, then to some extent (if not completely) the strength and comfort of the Holy Spirit will be removed from us, for the spiritual law “give blood - receive the Spirit” operates.
A patient and grateful person shows through his life that he has chosen a new path, according to the Lord: “Enter ye in at the strait gate”. The wide gates are left for the many “which go in thereat”, and distress, sorrow, self-condemnation and patience in everything that is sent by the Providence of God are chosen. Such work is God-pleasing and does not lead to delusion, because it was not chosen by the man for himself, but arranged by the Lord through His Providence. A man only humbly asks the Lord for help and patience.
The third reference point: The person doing the right spiritual work does not boast, does not exalt himself and does not reveal his work to others, but considers it to be his duty, required by the penitential life, which he chose to lead until the end of his days.
The delusion in repentance
Question: Repentance is the main work of every Christian. Could there be any delusion in repentance itself?
Answer: Every virtue can be perverted. However, it can only be determined by a more experienced person, therefore, the beginner cannot trust himself in anything - even in such a good deed as repentance. It has been observed in experience that temptation can also be present in it.
Here the man repented - firmly, sincerely. Then the enemy approaches and begins to lull, reassure: “Well, that's it. Now you are cleansed, now you are no longer carried away by the same passions. How well you have repented! How well you have prayed! How well you have fasted! How well you have... how well, well, well...” He pleases, praises. Then: “Yes, you need to recoup your strength a little bit, you need to have a rest, you need to relax a bit ...”
And when a person, having been exalted by the praise of a demon, accepts his advice, then over time he begins to sin. But the demon seducer continues to reassure: “Do not be afraid, do not be afraid! You are capable of strong repentance, not like the others - all their life being monks, but actually not repenting as they should. Do you see how ardently you have repented? So do not be afraid of sin - you will cleanse it many times with your ardent repentance!”
As a servant of God said: “If you do not sin, you will not repent as you should”. This disastrous opinion is now widespread. It contains a very great delusion. It is said: “There is no unforgivable sin”, even if it is great. But if a person sins willfully, then the “smallest” and “insignificant” sin turns into a very grievous sin which is difficult to overcome.
Question: What does the word “willfully” mean? How to determine this?
Answer: Willful sin happens when a person consciously tramples on his conscience.
Suppose a devilish thought comes: “Take a bottle of wine, drink it, relax a bit, take a rest...” The man thought it over and accepted it. Conscience stops: “It is impossible, this is a devilish temptation! Abstinence is a virtue, and intemperance is a sin!” Devil: “Do not be afraid, if you make this sin, you will repent stronger!” And the will seduced by the desire, leaning on it, thinks slyly, does not listen to the promptings of conscience and violates it: “Well, what a sin it is! Why not?... Look at this “faster”!” A man goes, takes a bottle, drinks alone or with someone, and after that there are different consequences...
This is how a willful sin of intemperance is committed, chosen and justified by sly wisdom. Our ancestors fell in a similar way, and we, unfortunately, do not learn from this lesson.
And so, such a person sins. At first, one or two times he repents, then he repents less. And then the demon tempts him to a greater sin: “Well, that's nothing! After a great sin, you are able to bring great repentance, not like the others...”
This is a great delusion, and many fall into such nets. They cannot understand that willful sin is the second crucifixion of the Son of God in oneself. As St. Theophan wrote: “Don’t you know that, sinning, you participate in tormenting the Savior?! Choose one of two things: either crucify Christ again and perish, or be crucified with Him and inherit the eternal life.” Especially when we commit a sin intentionally, willfully, deliberately. This is a mortal sin, although it may seem insignificant.
I recall the words of the venerable Nilus the Myrrh-flowing, where he said that “in latest times, they will think that the workers of evil are also saved...” It was noticed (as one old monk said) that the one who is cunning before himself and sinning consciously, and thinking at the same time: “I will repent later,” often dies with a sudden death.
And in general, you need to keep in mind that if we begin to make excuses for something (even to ourselves), then there is a willful sin. And the more it requires justification, the more willful and pernicious it is.
Humility “through the back door”
There is another kind of temptation when the enemy puts the thought into one’s mind: “Make this sin - and you will have humility. Here, you are proud, arrogant, self-righteous, and when you do so... although this sin is willful, you will become humble and you will not condemn others. You will have self-condemnation and humility. ”
The Holy Fathers have a definition that “a willful sinner can never have humility.” This is a very deep and important thought. I once had such self-deception too, I thought: “I sin - but I humble myself, I consider myself worse than everyone: I’m so damned!” And ... I fulfill my wishes. And, ultimately, when I read this saying, the devil’s veil fell from my eyes, the label of false “humility” dropped from my lawlessness, and I realized: this is a devilish delusion.
There was once such a case with me. Since I am a glutton, the enemy tempted me and laughed at me. On Forgiveness Sunday, I had two cans of fish left. “Let them,” I thought, “remain for the Annunciation and Easter.” And the enemy at the end of the meal advises: “No, you need to refresh yourself for the fast, then the Lord will send food to you, eat now.” I mentally resist: “I have already eaten almost enough. It’s better to abstain a bit” – “Yes, you’ve eaten, however, you haven’t eaten up yet, eat, otherwise, you can imagine yourself being an abstinent man!” I also: “No, this is enough...” – “Humble yourself! Humble yourself, you proud man, and eat: and you will strengthen yourself bodily, and there will be benefit for the soul! After all, the main thing is, you will acquire humility!” By this I was caught. “OK, for the sake of humility I’ll eat.”
Well, I ate. I could not leave for tomorrow, because it would be the fast already, I had to eat up. Finished up. The next day, the stomach swollen up, I fell ill, and I was suffering for two days! Lent, you need to kneel down, but I'm sick! So the devil “strengthened” me physically and mentally: neither humility, nor temperance, nor repentance was obtained – he laughed well.
And there are many such examples in life when the enemy inspires the idea of “humility” and a person, who does not have vigilance, swallows this diabolical hook, line and sinker. And the enemy then laughs: “The only free cheese is in the mousetrap! You wanted to gain humility through the back door – look what you get!..”