Tag Archives: Spiritual Illusion

On the Prayer of the Heart

Q: Can the Jesus Prayer be dangerous?

A: Everything can be dangerous: it all depends on the user. Thus television can be used to broadcast spiritual programmes or else scenes of debauchery and violence; computers can be used to establish a gambling addiction or else to provide Church information websites. So too the Prayer of the Heart (miscalled by some the Jesus Prayer – a purely Non-Patristic term) can be dangerous.

If the Prayer is used with the imagination and mental images, as a form of meditation or contemplation as Roman Catholics do, which is strictly forbidden by Orthodoxy, it leads to a state of delusion. Thus, if someone repeats ‘the Jesus Prayer’ over and over again as a mere technique, without love for others, with a cold heart, because he thinks he will go heaven in this way, without seeing anything except his ‘prayer’ and his own selfish and narcissistic ‘spirituality’, this leads to spiritual death. He sees and loves only himself and his own speculations, reflections of his own sinful mind, not God, only his imagination of God. This is the definition of spiritual illusion (plani/illusio/prelest). This is an illusion because such prayer has no humility, no heart, it is merely an intellectual desire. This is precisely NOT the prayer of the heart, but the prayer of the head, accompanied by delusional emotions. I have seen very many who have fallen in this way. They always end up by lapsing from the Church, because in their insanity the think they are too good for the Church, above others.

In other words, if you want to get to heaven by yourself, by pride, you will meet the Devil, the Deceiver. We can only get to heaven with God, with humility. That is the only way. In prayer, we must pay no attention to feelings, thoughts and mental images, especially if they give us a feeling of sweetness and make us ‘feel good’ or feel relaxed. They are all there to distract us.

The key to all this is humility. If prayer makes you humble then it is good. Others will let you know about this, whether in a monastery or in your family – listen to them and their frank opinions. If you feel insulted and offended by them, then you are in a state of pride, spiritual delusion. If ‘prayer’ makes you feel superior to, better than, others, and you cannot possibly go to their ‘inferior’ churches, then that is not prayer, but the thought of yourself, not of God.

This is why there is no meditation in Orthodoxy. For Orthodox it leads to sin. Self-concentration and focusing on your internal abilities only increases pride. But we seek humility. This difference is a result of the different theology or understanding of how the Holy Spirit comes to us. For Orthodox it is directly from God the Father, for Roman Catholics through some human mediation, thought (contemplation or meditation), study or manipulation. This is why for Orthodox there is no difference between action and contemplation. All is one.

 

The Magic of the Mantra: On the Heresy of Name-Worship

The early twentieth-century heresy of name-worship, the worship of the name of God as if it were God Himself, is a curious amalgam of absurd and ignorant, magical and superstitious idolatry and pagan and intellectualist, Platonizing and Hinduizing pantheism. The crisis of name-worship came to a head in Russian monasteries and cells on Mt Athos in 1913 with acts of violence carried out by ‘name-worshippers’. After the heresy had been condemned by the Russian Holy Synod and the Patriarch of Constantinople as a heresy, the Russian authorities were frightened that the ultra-nationalist Greek authorities of the time, using a ‘foreign’ heresy as an excuse, would send troops and chase all 7,000 Russian monks off Mt Athos. Two Russian naval boats were sent therefore to prevent bloodshed and they took off Mt Athos 736 monks, with 26 ringleaders, who were involved in the heresy of name-worship. It was then found that some of the violent and leading name-worshippers were not monks at all, but novices, army deserters, runaway convicts and drunkards dressed as monks.

It must be said that even after 1913 sympathy for name-worship remained, especially at St Panteleimon’s Russian monastery on Athos, petering out only after the last monks, who had been present in 1913, had either left or died out by the 1950s. Although this crisis only came to a head in 1913, provoked by a book about the so-called ‘Jesus Prayer’, written in 1907 (‘In the Mountains of the Caucasus’), it is clear that elements of the heresy were present in Russia even before this and can be found indirectly in the mid-nineteenth century Russian booklets ‘The Way of a Pilgrim’ and ‘The Pilgrim Continues His Way’. Far more popular among naïve and pietistic heterodox than in Russia (most Russian Orthodox have never heard of them), these booklets, which were in the nineteenth-century criticized by St Ignatius (Brianchaninov) and corrected by St Theophan the Recluse on account of their spiritual danger, do suggest that one can ‘see God’ quite easily. Living outside the Church and its spiritual disciplines of the Psalter and the liturgical cycle and entertaining intellectual and philosophical dreams and fantasies, many unChurched converts to Orthodoxy of all nationalities, Russian, Romanian, Greek and Western, have fallen into spiritual delusion (‘prelest’) as a result. The magic of the mantra indeed.

This explains why although name–worship initially attracted the attention of uneducated peasant-monks, it then became attractive to politicized liberal intellectuals, notably of the Paris School, notably the heresiarch Bulgakov. In their out-of-focus and wishy-washy, ‘spiritualist’ and anti-State philosophy of Disincarnation, some of these individuals found in name-worship a way to attack and undermine the Russian Church authorities, Church discipline and, in Protestant-style, denigrate the sacraments. Seeking self-justification under the mask of ‘spirituality’, they fell into the delusions of pride, abandoning the Russian Church and the Orthodox Tradition. Such pride can easily be identified because it leads its victims to sectarianism (celebrating the services differently from the rest of the Orthodox world) and aggressive and angry self-justification. Doubt them and they at once become enraged. Indeed, this is very common among such individuals, but we always pray both for those who love us and those who hate us, as St Basil the Great ordains. Fortunately, such delusions have never attracted rooted Orthodox in traditional monasteries and parishes, and those in such prelest remain very marginal, attracting unChurched converts and heterodox.