After my death our beloved Church abroad will break three ways ... first the Greeks will leave us as they were never a part of us ... then those who live for this world and its glory will go to Moscow ... what will remain will be those souls faithful to Christ and His Church. ~St. Philaret of NY


There are Two Kinds of Prelest: General and Proper

One kind is for the charismatics and the other kind is for the rest of us.

(spiritual deception) 
by Fr. Dr. Photios+ (W)

Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  
St. James 4:7

One of the nineteenth century’s most spiritual Orthodox Fathers wrote forcefully about the dangers to our souls posed by prelest.  Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov) [+1867] commented, “Spiritual deception is the wounding of human nature by falsehood.”

Because of the fall of Adam and Eve, we all have this disease.  We only fool ourselves if we deny being afflicted with it.  “Likewise, the greatest spiritual deception of all is to consider oneself free from it.”  Perhaps the best definition is: “spiritual deception is man’s assimilation of a falsehood which he accepts as truth…”

If we fail to follow the Faith, prelest is a prelude to demonic deception:

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…

One of the greatest Russian saints explained spiritual delusion to be: spiritual delusion, imagining oneself to be near to God and to the realm of the divine and supernatural.  They are seers of divine visions, or at least of dreams inspired by grace.  In every event of their lives, they see special intentional directions from God or their guardian angel… imagining that they are God’s elect… often try to foretell the future.

The Holy Fathers armed themselves against nothing so fiercely as against this sickness.

General Prelest 
In his letters, Archbishop Theophan comments that to St. Isaac the Syrian, there were two kinds of prelest:  General and Proper.  General Prelest “is forgetting and not noticing one’s sinfulness”.  In such a case, at least the individual acknowledges his prelest because he forgets, doesn’t notice his sinfulness.  Yet, he recognizes it.  He then repents for his sinfulness, prelest, and throws himself on God’s mercy.  He admits he sins.

Proper Prelest
One ‘guilty’ of Prelest Proper admits nothing of the kind.  He is ‘full of himself’.  He “thinks too highly of himself, God’s grace is withdrawn from him and he falls under the influence of the evil one who actively begins to tickle his vainglory with lofty contemplation and [spiritual] delights”.  Prelest Proper “is attributing to oneself righteousness when it does not actually exist.  If a man thinks he is righteous, then his righteousness is not divine, but diabolical, foreign to the grace of God and to humility”.

A prime example of prelest is following “charismatic” practices.
Anyone doing so is in spiritual denial.
If an individual engages in charismatic practices, he enters into communion with satan.

Bp. Ignatius writes: One possessed by this kind of spiritual deception fancies of himself [the second form of prelest is called ‘fancy,’ mnenie in Russian] that he abounds in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  This fancy is composed of false concepts and false feelings, and in this character which it has it belongs fully to the realm of the father and representative of falsehood, the devil.

If one goes to a Pentecostal gathering or a Protestant or Roman Catholic venue and dances, cavorts, sings praises in “free-form,” sits on a chair cross-legged, attempts to speak in tongues, has a ‘good time,’ witnesses to divine experiences the person is having or has had, feels ‘good’ about himself, is self-satisfied, has a warm feeling – he is in spiritual denial.  These “experiences” are not caused by the Holy Spirit!  The cause is demonic.

This secular approach, which is what it is, has its foundation in “self-centeredness and self-satisfaction,” promising a ‘quick fix’ for the impatient and ‘contentment’ to the participants.  These ‘spiritual movements’ emanate from their self-satisfaction, self-glorification bases and are completely at variance with true Christian spirituality.

Christian spirituality is formed in the arduous struggle to acquire the eternal Kingdom of Heaven, which begins only with the dissolution of this temporal world, and the true Christian struggler never finds repose even in the foretastes of eternal blessedness which might be vouchsafed to him in this life; but the Eastern religions, to which the Kingdom of Heaven has not been revealed, strive only to acquire psychic (emphasis supplied) states which begin and end in this life.

The present-day ‘charismatic’ movement and ‘Christian meditation,’ and the ‘new religious consciousness’ of which they are part are forerunners of the religion of the future, the religion of the last humanity, the religion of antichrist, and their chief ‘spiritual’ function is to make available to Christians the demonic initiation hitherto restricted to the pagan world.

We are called upon to recognise and distinguish between the true spirituality of the Church and these “counterfeit spirituality” movements.  We find the source of our spiritual enlightenment in the teaching of the Holy Fathers.  The charismatic movement is part and parcel of the heresy of Ecumenism that infects the world, i.e., that all church organisations possess God’s grace, even extending this to non-Christian religions.  Obviously, those holding to this heretical view [for that is what it is] do not believe that the Orthodox Church is the only path of salvation, the Royal Path being, at most, just one of many leading to salvation.

   If an Orthodox Christian accepts these premises, he has voluntarily opted out of Christ’s Church.  There is only one way.  All of the Fathers’ teachings agree that there is only one path to salvation.  We are probably in the ‘last times’ since these heresies are rampant.  We know, however, that victory is ours because Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church.  He didn’t say His many and very different churches.
   Some Roman Catholics and Protestants are deeply involved in the charismatic/ecumenist movement.  They recognize no concept such as prelest (spiritual deception).  This is probably one reason it has gained footholds in nominally ‘Christian’ circles.  Prelest is completely incompatible with Holy Orthodoxy.  We can’t have both.  We must choose between “charismatic revival” and Orthodoxy.  The former is a “counterfeit of Orthodoxy”.
   Common behaviour in charismatic gatherings include laughter, tears, warmth, trembling, contortions, falling on the floor (perhaps in being’ healed’ by one of the Protestant TV charlatans), and these are the ‘ordinary’ experiences of Roman Catholics and Protestants of the charismatic ilk.  The behaviour is more extreme in Pentecostal circles.   If these activities could be considered “religious” at all, they would be classified simply as pagan, medium-driven, spirit-possessed which may or may not culminate in demonic possession, the latter being permanent whereas, the former is temporary.  It could be that in charismatic activities the people experiencing this bizarre behaviour are “spirit-filled,” “but it is certainly not the Holy Spirit with which they are filled.”!

Even so-called Latin “saints” as Francis of Assisi and Ignatius Loyola were deeply afflicted with spiritual delusion:  But the Holy Spirit is not acquired from ecstatic ‘charismatic’ experiences, but by the long and arduous path of asceticism the ‘path of sorrows’ of which the Elder Macarius spoke, within the Church of Christ.

. . . within the Church of Christ.

Stigmata -  Holy Orthodoxy has never been infected with this disease.  The great saints of the Church approach their spirituality through Christ in a humble, thoughtful, sober, reasoned and highly spiritual manner.  Stigmata do not appear on true saints.

Roman Catholics believe that it is the seal of the Holy Spirit.  The seal of the Holy Spirit is received at one’s Chrismation following Baptism.  The stigmata phenomenon is totally foreign and unknown to the Orthodox Church of Christ.  The great Russian Saint, St. Seraphim of Sarov did not encounter the stigmata phenomenon.  Neither has any other Orthodox Father of the Church.

Francis of Assisi’s stigmatization, resultant from his ‘vision,’ came from a prayer in which he invited “earthly or bodily sensations, i.e., physical suffering”.  All that Francis experienced in the stigmatization process are completely unorthodox: “As a matter fact, all of the things Francis experienced in the process of his stigmatization are the very beguilements the Church Fathers repeatedly warned against”.   Where is the humility in Francis’ thirsting after stigmatization?  No humble man expects to be transformed into Jesus as Francis prayed.

St. Seraphim of Sarov didn’t ask God to favour him with a Divine Manifestation of His presence in his prayers.  Instead, he frees himself from the passions and approaches the Lord in utter humility and repentance.  St. Seraphim’s experience has these characteristics:

Simplicity; Repentance; Humility; An unexpected vision beyond sensory and rational categories; not characterized by Spiritual ecstasy or ravishment.

St. Seraphim’s mysticism “appears as a purely spiritual ecstasy…  while Francis’ spiritual experience is a mysticism induced by his will, and obviously darkened by his own imagination and sensuality”.  “It has already been shown that Francis’ vision contains strong marks of spiritual deception.”

  Note how Francis’ remarks to his brethren reek with self-importance:
"I do not recognize any transgression in myself for which I could not atone by confession and penance.  For the Lord in His mercy has bestowed on me the gift of learning clearly in prayer in what I have pleased or displeased Him."

This is the talk of a vain, self-righteous, self-contented individual, not a humble repentant sinner.  His words “are far from genuine humility”.

Prelest derives from pride and vainglory.  We begin to believe our spiritual publicity about ourselves.  We act on our emotions in our relationships with the Church, turning away from all the Fathers of the Church as we indulge ourselves in various kinds of spiritual delusion.  We may believe that God has personally called us to the ministry, hear voices, see visions, experience stigmatas, or ‘speak in tongues’.  We begin to believe, perhaps, that we are special, we’ve been or are being especially called to experience the Church charismatically, or to bring our (pseudo) 'holy spirit' into the Orthodox Church.

When we are confronted with the opportunity to engage in these unorthodox activities, we must recall the famous words uttered by a former First Lady in relation to drugs and just “say no”!  The Undivided Orthodox Church knows no such spiritual delusion in its worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Orthodoxy, Christ’s Church from the beginning, knows nothing of a christianity that knows no suffering and struggle but instead concentrates on making its members ‘feel good,’ and be satisfied with themselves.  I have used the lower case in the c of Christianity to emphasise that this is not Christianity at all.  Feeling good about ourselves spiritually is the antithesis of true Orthodox Christianity.  We are to approach Christ with the utmost humility and be willing to struggle and sacrifice.  We are not in the ‘game’ to maximise ourselves.  Rather, we understand that we are all sinners and are unworthy.

As Orthodox Christians, we also understand that the Church does not exist to conform to the mores of society.  Man conforms to the Church, not the other way around.  The prince of this world is the evil one, and make no mistake about it, he is capable of great mischief.  However, he is no match for God’s grace.  We keep to the Royal Path, our spiritual mean.  We are to be not of this world not merely in it.  Our bar is set much higher because of the fact that we, as Christians, have as our goal, our deification.  We follow the Saints and Fathers of the Church, the decrees of the First Seven Ecumenical Councils, and, above all, we actively seek to transform ourselves from within recognizing fully our spiritual inadequacies.

We believe that faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, is the only way to salvation.  We are spiritually opposed to all forms of paganism, including the modern paganistic model of ecumenism, feminism and other variants of these aberrations.  We do not pray with heathens, pagans, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims.

Christ does not compel adherence (although He could).  We can choose to follow Him, or…  We will bear the consequences of our actions (or inactions).  Let’s commit to coming to Christ’s Table with true humility and no spiritual misconceptions about our ‘worthiness’.  We are all unworthy, and that certainly includes the author of this homily!

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Orthodox America, What is Prelest?, citing Bp. Ignatius (Brianchaninov).
Orthodox Life, July-August, 1980, tr. by S. Karganovic from the Serbian edition of Bp. Ignatius’ writings), 
St. Seraphim of Sarov (+1833), Prelest, Gleanings from Orthodox Christian Authors and the Holy Fathers 
Vol. I of the Little Russian Philokalia on the Spiritual Instructions of St. Seraphim of Sarov (tr. by Fr. Seraphim Rose )
Archbishop Theophan’s letters translated from the Russian by Antonina Janda, Sophia, 11/24, 1927).
Fr. Seraphim Rose, Charismatic Revival  A Sign of the Times, 
St. Nikodimos, Unseen Warfare, 
St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ. 
Gospel St. Matthew
A Comparison of the Mysticism of Francis of Assisi with that of St. Seraphim of Sarov 

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