The Greek word ‘plani’, translated 1600 years ago into Latin by St John Cassian as ‘illusio’ and then into Slavonic (not into Russian, where the word means something quite different) as ‘prelest’, means in English spiritual delusion.
We all know what delusion and delusional mean.
We can think of examples among politicians. For instance, there was Gorbachov, who actually thought that by ruining the lives of tens (if not hundreds) of millions of people he was doing the world a service. Apparently, he is still a Communist, having learned nothing from his long life. Today, he cannot appear on any street in Russia for fear of assassination.
Then there was Blair. A man so delusional that he killed tens (if not hundreds) of thousands in the name of his narcissism. Years later, he still justifies himself! There is no repentance because he is so ‘sincerely delusional’ that he actually believes in his delusions. Today, he cannot appear on any street in the UK for fear of assassination.
However, we are talking about spiritual, nor political, delusion. What are the signs of spiritual delusion among its victims?
First of all, there is spiritual pride, the certainty that they are absolutely right, and their decisions and opinions are always categorical, dogmatic, despite long histories of errors and misjudgements. Indeed, this is why they accuse others of ‘prelest’. Humility is a word unknown to them.
Secondly, as they are blind to their own major faults, like the pharisee they can only see the minor faults of others and always find fault and carp. They are full of negativity and criticism and generally depress those who have to tolerate them, which is why people avoid, even flee, them.
Thirdly, they are narcissists, they love having their photos taken (especially with the great of this world), and encourage personality cults around themselves. Thus, they are easy prey to flatterers who learn how to manipulate them very easily and very quickly.
Finally, and above all, they suffer from a complete lack of discernment, which some Church Fathers consider to be the greatest virtue. This is why they make mistakes so consistently, often and almost systematically doing exactly the opposite of what is right. This is known as the Midas touch in reverse.