The title of this article was suggested by a priest in Moscow who, when asked what he thought about the followers of a certain pseudo-monastic movement, replied: ‘They are all spiritually ill and with the same spiritual illness’. Here he referred to the fact that the archimandrite who had founded and then led the group had fallen into spiritual delusion (prelest/plani/illusio) and his weak-minded adepts had simply followed in the footsteps of their guru, conforming themselves to his illness of disincarnate ‘spiritualism’.
For any ism is by definition a spiritual disease and guruism is no different (nor, for that matter, is anti-intellectualism). Guruism in the Church context is spiritually dangerous because it replaces the repentant heart with the blinded head (whereas anti-intellectualism gives complete priority to irrational emotions). What are the signs of the spiritual disease of guruism? They come in three stages and affect the fallen mind (and imagination), the fallen body and the fallen spirit, that is, all fallen human nature or ‘the flesh’. These stages are:
1. Blind certainty that the guru and therefore the adepts are right. This results in a blinkered attitude towards others, as well as an imagined superiority, pretentiousness and pompousness, producing an army of identical clones devoid of individual personalities, who are full of themselves in self-righteous priggishness. This entails contempt, condemnation and slander of others, with profound anger and hatred towards those who disagree with the ideology of their cult. This may take the form of racism or a number of other isms.
2. The lack of any spontaneous, heartfelt feeling because of the cold guruism which results from the lack of love, the love produced by a warm heart. This is itself the result of the confusion caused when the indoctrination of the head with the teachings of the guru replaces the cleansing of the heart as the focus of Christian life. This is in direct disobedience to St Silvanus the Athonite’s dictum that we are ‘to keep our minds in hell’, and so not to focus on our minds and our imaginations (fantasies), which produce so many delusions.
3. Depression which is the inevitable result of the realization of the disincarnate disconnect between the diseased conviction of rightness (in fact, of the escapist fantasy or daydreaming imagination) and the real world (fallen reality). This is accompanied by fanaticism, as can be seen in strangeness of dress (in fact a uniform) and demeanour, rigidity of pose and walk, and the refusal to be sociable or mix, including eating and drinking, with others who are not part of the clique and the refusal because of pride to talk to them about everyday life.
As can be seen, the overwhelming trait here is pride – absence of humility and simple humanity. It seems that the Epistle to the Colossians has been forgotten: ‘Let no-one beguile you of your reward, insisting on self-abasement and worshipping of angels, taking his stand on those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind…These things have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigour of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in satisfying the flesh’ (Col 2, 18 and 23).