Prelest (Russian: прелесть, from Russian: лесть - cajolery; (charm, seduction), Greek: πλάνη - plani), also known as: spiritual delusion, spiritual deception, delusion, illusion, – according to Holy Fathers of Eastern Orthodox Church, a false spiritual state, a spiritual illness, "a wounding of human nature by falsehood" - a man's assimilation of falsehood as truth (St. Ignatius Brianchaninov). The concept of prelest should not be confused with somatic mental illness of any kind, prelest is rather a spiritual illness - an illness of the soul in its personal relation to God, an illness that is to be cured by humility and Holy Sacraments and under the guidance of the spiritual father. In the broadest sense, everyone is in prelest: everyone has some wrong thoughts and views, everyone does not fully understand the meaning of life, the degree of own sinfulness etc. When the word "prelest" is used in the narrow sense, i.e. that some particular person is in the state of prelest, that usually means that this person, initially being on the path of pious christian life, became possessed with the strongest pride and self-conceit right up to the thought about personal sanctity. The state opposite to prelest is spiritual sobriety. This article is dedicated to different manifestations of prelest mostly in the "narrow" sense.
Strictly speaking, any human error i.e. any acceptance of a false thought as truth can be the beginning of prelest: "The source of self-delusion and demonic deception is the false thought" (St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)). But Holy Fathers, speaking about prelest, considered not any errors but wrote mainly about the errors in the human judgement about spiritual matters and especially about the errors in understanding of the personal spiritual state.
True view of oneself (of own spiritual condition, position relative to God, sinfulness etc.) is tightly connected with the passions of pride and vainglory and is distorted by these passions. The degree of prelest is the degree of such distortion, i.e. the amount of falsehood in the view of oneself and the degree of difficulty of change from the false view to the true one.
Different kinds of prelest are described by many Holy Fathers, including the Fathers of Philokalia: St. Gregory of Sinai, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Symeon the Metaphrast, St. Symeon the New Theologian and others. Even when some Holy Father does not use the term "prelest" explicitly, writing about ascetic life implies writing what spiritual practice is true, i.e. leads to salvation, and what is false, i.e. leads to the opposite and, therefore, accepting it as true is prelest.
A modern reader can find the most thorough explanation of prelest in the writings of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) where he relentlessly keeps the traditions of Holy Fathers. Some of these writings were incorporated into a book "On prelest" dedicated solely to different forms of delusion (wrong way of prayer, trust to dreams, excessive zeal, false humility etc.), which St. Ignatius explains on the basis of the words from Holy Fathers of the first centuries and provides information about different recent cases of delusion.
Identifying prelest in its particular manifestations is called discernment (or discrimination) of spirits. The virtue of discrimination "is greater than any other virtue; and is the queen and crown of all the virtues". It corresponds to a very high degree of spiritual age and requires "three renunciations" (St. John Climacus): of the worldly concerns, selfishness and vainglory. True discrimination comes after a long previous experience of fighting with passions. The source of discrimination is in the action of Divine grace and the virtue of humility.
Professor N.E. Pestov in his book writes that in general, the safest spiritual path in relation to prelest is to live in obedience to an experienced and holy elder, or at least to live on the advice of others. The fastest way to fall into prelest is the opposite - to trust own thoughts and not to listen to any advices.
General prelest and prelest proper
According to Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, "Spiritual deception is the state of all men without exception, and it has been made possible by the fall of our original parents. All of us are subject to spiritual deception. Awareness of this fact is the greatest protection against it. Likewise, the greatest spiritual deception of all is to consider oneself free from it".
Theophan, the Archbishop of Poltava, comments on this statement of St. Ignatius briefly by setting apart "general prelest" and prelest in its "proper sense" of the word. On the bases of all the above mentioned he gives the following definition: "Briefly, the difference between 'general prelest' and prelest in the particular sense of the word can, on the basis of the above, be expressed thus. General prelest is forgetting and not noticing one's sinfulness. That which we call 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. One should recall the famous saying of Abba Poemen the Great: 'I prefer a man who sins and repents to one who does not sin and does not repent. The first has good thoughts, for he admits that he is sinful. But the second has false, soul-destroying thoughts, for he imagines himself to be righteous' (Bp. Ignatius, Patericon, 75)".
The most likely time to fall into prelest
Elder John Krestiankin in his word about spiritual guiding says that the most dangerous time in relation to prelest is the beginning of the spiritual life. "Upon entering the Church, winged with new sensations, the newly-born reaches with his consciousness straight for the Kingdom of Heaven, to the heights of mysteries that are hidden behind the impenetrable curtain of Divine revelation. At that moment the spiritual father and his spiritual child enter into a unified struggle with the dark powers, the latter of which are ready with their deceit to turn the new convert from the path of salvation. The enemy's deception will hunt after this person for the rest of his life, offering him its dangerous sweetness. This initial period is particularly dangerous, for this sweetness still resonates with the nature of the fleshly man, and finds sympathy and response deep within his soul. The spiritual father's strength in this struggle lies in prayer and love for his spiritual child's soul, which has come to desire its own salvation. The spiritual child's protection lies in his trust of the pastor, in the awareness of his own sinfulness, and mistrust of himself".
St. Gregory of Sinai also writes that "around beginners and those who rely on their own counsel the demons spread the nets of destructive thoughts and images, and open pits into which such people fall; for their city is still in the hands of the workers of iniquity, and in their impetuosity they are easily slain by them. It is not surprising that they are deceived, or lose their wits, or have been and still are deluded, or heed what is contrary to truth, or from inexperience and ignorance say things that should not be said. Often some witless person will speak about truth and will hold forth at length without being aware of what he is saying or in a position to give a correct account of things. In this way he troubles many who hear him and by his inept behavior he brings abuse and ridicule on the heads of hesychasts. It is not in the least strange that beginners should be deceived even after making great efforts, for this has happened to many who have sought God, both now and in the past".
Premature desire of impossible virtues
St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) writes that there is a spiritual law of interrelationship of virtues so that one certain virtue cannot be acquired without acquiring another that is in close relationship with the first one. For a spiritually inexperienced person, the very idea that some virtue can be premature seems almost blasphemous, but this is true according to Holy Fathers. St. Isaac of Syria writes that "It is the good will of the most wise Lord that we reap our spiritual bread in the sweat of our brow. He established this law not out of spite, but rather so that we would not suffer from indigestion and die. Every virtue is the mother of the one following it. If you leave the mother who gives birth to the virtue and seek after her daughter, without having first acquired the mother, then these virtues become as vipers in the soul. If you do not turn them away, you will soon die". St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) writes that "the fallen angel strives to deceive monks and draw them to destruction, offering them not only sin in its various forms, but also lofty virtues that are not natural to them". St. John Climacus writes that "the devil proposes impossible virtues to those who live under obedience, and unsuitable ideas to those living in solitude. <...>The enemy persuades them to look too soon for these virtues, so that they may not persevere and attain them in due time."
St. Ignatius warns that the books of Holy Fathers can act on novices so much that they, in inexperience and ignorance, easily dare to leave the place of residence, which has all the convenience for personal salvation by means of execution of evangelical commandments, and to seek for another higher way of life, seductively painted in their imagination. Such desires are the basis of many forms of prelest: desire of visions, revelations, and other supernatural gifts, execution of very long prayer rule, extreme fasting, premature desire of stillness and seclusion.
Expectation of grace
The very thought about forthcoming grace and receiving Divine gifts, expectation of grace is a clear manifestation of pride. St. Ignatius writes: "If there is an expectation of grace within you – beware, you are in a dangerous state! <...> Prelest exists already in self-conceit, in considering oneself worthy, in the very expectation of grace."
The Gospel says: "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation" (Luke 17:20). According to St. Isaac of Syria and St. Macarius of Optina, these words mean that the ones who prematurely desired to acquire grace, acquired pride and fall. And this is not a sign that a man loves God but a mental illness. Saints who acquired grace, thought that they did not have it, and this humility kept them safe from the fall. St. Isaac adds: "How can we strive for high Divine gifts while Apostle Paul glories in tribulations." The same idea is expressed by St. Nectarios of Aegina: "The ones who seek the Divine gifts and insights while being immersed in the passions are in proud and foolish delusion. First, one need to work on cleansing oneself. Grace is sent as a gift to those who are cleansed from the passions. And they get it quietly, at the moment that they do not notice."
St. Ambrose of Optina provides in one letter an example of such expectation of Divine gifts. A nun thought that she will receive all spiritual gifts at the day of the feast of Archangel Michael. But on that day, she instead received depression and thoughts of suicide from the demons. St. Ambrose writes that it was a delusion and that living in complete solitude will be dangerous for her because of such demonic attacks.
Schema-archimandrite Abraham (Reidman) reminisces about his youth, when he did not pray with the Jesus Prayer, did not know any experienced elders, and did not read the books of the Holy Fathers. He read for the first time the conversation of St. Seraphim of Sarov with Motovilov, but understood it in a primitive way and began to pray about acquisition of grace. As a result, he began to see visions from demons. Fortunately, later he came to his senses and realized that he was in delusion.
Prelest in the New Testament
In the scene of temptation in the desert, the Devil tries to delude Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:1–11).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Lord Jesus Christ says about false miracles (Matthew 7:21–23).
Also Lord Jesus says about prelest and false prophets (Matthew 24:4–5, Matthew 24:11).
In Acts 16:16–18, Apostle Paul expels the spirit of false prophecy.
In 1 John 4:1, Apostle John writes about false prophets and trust to spirits.
In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, Apostle Paul writes about false visions.
In 1 Timothy 2:14, Apostle Paul mentions the deception of Adam and Eve.
In 1 Timothy 6:20, Apostle Paul advises to avoid delusion - "oppositions of science falsely so called".
Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov) writes there are many kinds of prelest. Each kind corresponds to the particular passion, from which it resulted, and each kind is somehow associated with pride. All kinds of prelest are also associated with improper prayer and occur when repentance is not the basis of the prayer. St. Ignatius notes that in terms of prayer, there are two distinct kinds of prelest:
- imagination – the person imagines in himself or outside something that does not exist. Such wrong kind of prayer (with imagination of Heaven, Lord Jesus Christ, Angels, Saints), when it is used by someone who did not reach dispassion, results in hallucinations mixed with real visions on the same subject originating from the demons.
- self-conceit (pride, arrogance) – the person attributes to himself dignity before God that he does not have. Self-conceit in relation to prayer can manifest itself in false attribution of natural feelings during the prayer to the action of Divine grace.
St. Ignatius says that the first kind of prelest results from the wrong action of the mind and the second - from the wrong action of the heart.
- illusory visions and mental images and fantasies, caused by arrogance and self-conceit: "arrogance is followed by delusion, delusion by blasphemy, blasphemy by fear, fear by terror, and terror by a derangement of the natural state of the mind".
- diabolic influence - "it has its origin in self-indulgence, which in its turn results from so-called natural desire. Self-indulgence begets licentiousness in all its forms of indescribable impurity." This form includes visions and gift of prophecy that some people have, in fact originating from the demons of licentiousness.
- mental derangement - a result of the first two forms.
According to the Holy Fathers, false visions are associated with pride. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov says that those people, who want to see visions, and whose mind is not renewed and recreated by the Holy Spirit, are filled with pride - that means, as writes St. Ignatius, that there is a connection between prelest of the first and the second kind (i.e. between "imagination" and "conceit"). Archimandrite Seraphim (Alexiev) says: "Where there is pride and at the same time one has a vision - it can not be from God, but by all means - from the evil one."
Romanian elder Cleopa (Ilie) specifies 7 ways of falling into delusion of false visions and dreams:
- Weak and inexperienced mind;
- Reckless zeal;
- Following own will and concealment of thoughts in confession;
- Not knowing self and the Divine Scriptures.
Elder Cleopa also provides examples of different saints from the Patericon who rejected the visions because they considered themselves unworthy to see it and due to the danger of delusion. He also quotes arguments of different Holy Fathers saying that one should not easily accept visions even if they have all attributes of true ones - if the saints were fast to accept visions they would be deluded and would not have become saints.
Elder Joseph the Hesychast says, mentioning the examples from his life, that true visions are always preceded or followed by very intense suffering and sorrows and are given by God only as a consolation. Even if the vision is true, it is very difficult to withstand the fight with thoughts and not to get proud of the fact of the vision. Elder Joseph writes about pride after visions: "What happens after that? A person becomes the mock of the demons. They fool him with writings and visions, with dreams and revelations, with symbols and numbers, with oracles and a heap of superstitions."
Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain tells such story about a woman who had one true vision. Then the Devil suggested her a thought that she was chosen by God and she believed it. Then the demons started to torment her with different visions and revelations. In the end, she had another true vision and was told to write to elder Paisios so that he could help her. So elder Paisios says that out of all her visions, only 2 were from God.
Also Elder Daniel Katounakiotis writes about several such cases of long condition of prelest accompanied by visions. He writes in a letter about one hierodeacon by the name of Ierotheos who had a lot of visions. Even though he confessed everything, nobody of the confessors understood that this was a delusion. Then elder Sabbas advised him how to find out the truth. After that the delusion was revealed. But in spite of the fact that the visions ceased after repeated exorcism, the injury to the soul of Ierotheos remained very serious and later he broke all monastic vows. Another case of prelest happened to a lay man Nicolaus. He was also subjected to a long and strong action of demons. Even though elder Daniel convinced Nicolaus that all his visions were false, the traces of delusion were seen to the end of his life.
St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) writes that "people infected with prelest of 'conceit' are very common. Anyone who does not have a contrite spirit, who recognizes any own merits and achievements, anyone not holding steadily the teaching of the Orthodox Church, but discussing about any dogma or tradition arbitrarily, at his discretion, or according to the heterodox teaching, is in this kind of prelest. The degree of deviation and persistence of deviation determines the degree of prelest". St. Ignatius adds: "As there is no, as noted by the St. Macarius the Great, person completely free from pride: there is no person who would be completely free from the action on him of a subtle delusion called 'conceit'".
There is an example when "conceit" may also result in a mental disease. Hieromartyr Bishop Arseny (Zhadanovsky) in his "Spiritual Diary" writes about one woman who was in this kind of delusion. She wanted to take the Holy Communion every day. When she was forbidden to do so, she started to serve a kind of "liturgy" herself at her home using prosphora and wine. "Her case, however, ended sadly. She lost her mind and she is currently in the mental hospital."
Sometimes the demons can "help" a deluded person. This "help" can include either recommendations about certain things, even theological and very complicated, or can take the form of false spiritual gifts: false healing ability, false clairvoyance, false gift of prophecy, false unceasing prayer, false power over demons, false reading of thoughts, false dispassion etc. The term "false" here means "not Divine".
An inexperienced person, not knowing enough about true Divine gifts, to whom and under which conditions they can be given, can easily accept such false gift as being Divine. Such false gift can be received either together with some evident external event like an appearance of false "Christ" sending the "gift", or can happen gradually and unnoticeably for the receiving person. Some people who received false gifts prematurely and due to conceit prayed to God asking to send them a gift and they did receive it, but from the demons. Others did not ask anything explicitly, but were already conceited and considered themselves worthy, i.e. were in the state of prelest of the second kind.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh recalls that when he was young, he had an ability to read thoughts of other people. Once he asked God: "If this gift is not from You, dispel it". And this ability immediately disappeared. It is very difficult for a conceited person to decline such gift, to consider oneself unworthy of receiving it and ask God to take the gift away. If these false gifts are accepted by the deluded person, it can lead him/her into demon possession or suicide.
Trust in night dreams
A rather dangerous kind of prelest is trust in dreams. The Holy Fathers say that we should never pay attention to them because they may originate from the demons. St. John Climacus says: "The devils of vainglory do their prophecies in dreams. They guess the future and, as part of their deceit, they inform us of it so that we are astonished to discover our visions coming true. Indeed we get carried away with the notion that we are already close to the gift of foreknowledge." The Wisdom of Sirach reads: "The hopes of a man void of understanding are vain and false: and dreams lift up fools. Whoso regardeth dreams is like him that catcheth at a shadow, and followeth after the wind."(Wisdom of Sirach 34:1-2) "For dreams have deceived many, and they have failed that put their trust in them."(Wisdom of Sirach 34:7) If the person starts to notice dreams, looks for signs about the future in the dreams, the demons can quickly increase his trust to dreams to such extent that will lead to suicide or can turn the person into heresy or other deadly sins.
Passion of teaching
Apostle James warns against unauthorized teaching in his Epistle: "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (James 3:1). If the desire of teaching in the particular person originates from the passions of vainglory and pride rather than from love and humility, it becomes a kind of prelest, being based on a false idea of personal dignity and ability to teach and that such teaching is pleasing to God. Archbishop Averky (Taushev) in his analysis of James 3:1 says that one should start teaching with the great caution and distrust to oneself. Such inner determination is opposite to pride and conceited opinion about personal merits. St. John Climacus also warns about forbidden teaching when he speaks about vainglory: "Ignore him when he tells you to accept the office of bishop or abbot or teacher. It is hard to drive a dog from a butcher's counter."
Teaching can be a king of prelest in the following situations:
- arbitrary teaching and advices without being asked (except for the cases when the person was explicitly appointed to teach without being asked);
- teaching someone who is not interested in the topic or who does not have previous experience and knowledge to understand;
- teaching of something that the teacher does not know well, in particular, that he knows only from the books, not from experience;
- arbitrary acquisition of the dignity of a teacher belonging to bishops and priests, e.g. teaching publicly on faith in the church.
One of correct motivations of teaching is the obedience to share information with others according to the commandment "Give to every man that asketh of thee" (Luke 6:30, Matthew 5:42). In particular, Elder Joseph the Hesychast quotes these words in his letters when he explains why he gives advices not arbitrary, but only when being asked. The same commandment is mentioned by St. Gregory Palamas in a letter to nun Xenia when he explains why he decided to give her instructions. St. Ignatius (Briachaninov) also writes about arbitrary teaching that "fathers forbid advising neighbors on own accord, without questioning from the neighbor; unauthorized council is a sign of presence of a consciousness of own competence and spiritual dignity – which is obvious pride and self-deception (Opinion of hieromartyr Peter, Metropolitan of Damascus, and other Fathers. Philokalia, Vol. 3). This does not apply to the rectors and superiors, who are required to teach the brotherhood handed to them at all times and on every encountered need without being asked (2 Tim 4, 2). But when they visit other monasteries, they should be guided by the advice of St. Macarius of Alexandria given to St. Pachomius the Great. Pachomius said to Macarius about the guidance of the brethren and judgment over them. Abba Macarius said, "Teach and judge your subordinates and do not judge anyone outside" (Patericon and Memorable Tales of Abba Macarius of the City, Ch. 2). This rule was and is respected by all the abbots wishing to please God."
The conceited teacher often does not notice that he does harm to his students because they do not understand, understand incorrectly or even cannot understand at all some subject not having enough experience or knowledge, but the teacher does not cease his teaching. Lord Jesus warns against teaching those who are unprepared and cannot understand: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." (Matthew 7:6). St. John Chrysostom in the interpretation of these words says that the corruption of life is the reason why the teaching is not understood. St. Symeon the New Theologian speaks in a similar way about teaching of something that cannot be understood: "the one who speaks about the ultimate steps of perfection to the novices and especially to the most lazy of them, not only does not help them, but also makes them to go back". The same idea about teaching of high matters is expressed by Apostle Paul: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14)
The teacher, according to St. Symeon the New Theologian, should know the subject from experience. Elder Joseph the Hesychast writes that when one passionate person starts to teach another passionate person, the first one immediately loses the grace because God gives the privilege of teaching only when the teacher achieved the state of dispassion and contemplation, i.e. already knows the subject from personal experience. Also the main role in the human understanding belongs not to the efforts of the teacher but to the action of Divine grace. Elder Joseph notes that he witnessed many times that unless God will help with His grace to understand, no human efforts alone can make the teaching successful. St. Innocent of Alaska writes about the action of the spirit of love that only the one who have plenty of faith and love can have a mouth and wisdom, which all hearts of the listeners shall not be able to resist.
Regarding arbitrary (i.e. without permission of the bishop) teaching in the church, the rule 64 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council reads: "That a layman must not publicly make a speech or teach, thus investing himself with the dignity of a teacher, but, instead, must submit to the ordinance handed down by the Lord, and to open his ear wide to them who have received the grace of teaching ability, and to be taught by them the divine facts thoroughly. <...> If anyone be caught disobeying the present Canon, let him be excommunicated for forty days." The interpretation of this canon then reads: "But if any layman chance to be experienced in discourse and modest in manner, he is not prohibited from answering and teaching in private those asking questions, as Zonaras states, and ch. 32 of Book VIII of the Apostolic Injunctions declare. For they shall be, it says, all taught of God: in which manner Apollos spoke, and taught the facts about the Lord, and in spite of the fact that he only knew the baptism of the Lord (Acts 28:25), and Aquilas and Priscilla, who taught the same Apollos the way of God more exactly".
Delusion of carelessness and negligence is gradual and unnoticeable weakening of zeal for virtues in a man and appearance of a false idea that salvation can be achieved without labors. St. Ambrose of Optina writes in one of his letters about carelessness as about a kind of delusion: "The delusion of carelessness (maybe); but regular delusion will not occur because we are not ascetics". In another letter, he cites the Gospel: "You complain about the coldness and reluctance to fulfill your Christian duties. Remember the words of the Gospel, that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11:12), and force yourself according to your abilities and opportunity." True ascetic is never satisfied with his current state. He understands that it is never enough, that he has to fight and that he does not fulfill the commandments. In the state of negligence and in the absence of spiritual zeal, the human condition inevitably worsens: "The human soul as being immortal, can not remain in the same state: it either improves or worsens". (St. Macarius of Optina).
St. Gregory of Sinai says that the cause of carelessness is self-love.
Bishop Pankratius (Zherdev), the abbot of Valaam monastery, says in an interview about monastic life that both extremes are dangerous: excessive zeal and carelessness. The latter it is a delusion too and it predominates now. In the state of carelessness, a monk is deceived thinking that he still conducts monastic life while in fact, according to the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, he is just a black firebrand. Though he wears black clothes, he differs from a layman only in that he does not have a wife.
Schema-archimandrite Abraham (Reidman) in his book of conversations with the monastics also thinks that carelessness is delusion and says that carelessness in some sense is opposite to pride, but even more dangerous. A very common manifestation of carelessness is the weakening of abstemiousness in food. With excessive nutrition, the passions begin to act in the person and darken the mind, especially the passion of sexual lust, and especially in the young persons. Also carelessness can manifest itself in laziness to physical labor, when the person is too sparing himself, is lazy to attend long church services, abandons the daily prayer rule. In obedience, a monk can be lazy to fight with himself cutting out his will, not striving to do exactly according to the blessing of the spiritual father but rather trusting his own intellect and reasoning.
Schema-archimandrite Abraham considers the abandonment of Jesus prayer to be the most dangerous manifestation of the carelessness for monastics: "If a person abandons the Jesus Prayer, he rejects the spiritual life", "abandonment of the prayer rope rule means that you do not conduct any monastic life." Holy Fathers say the same about abandonment of the prayer. St. John Climacus writes: "Self-will is the ruin of the monk living in obedience. But ruin for the solitary is the interruption of prayer." St. Isaac of Syria says that "The start of the mind derangement (when the sign of it starts to show up in the mind), is primarily seen in the laziness to the Divine service and to the prayer."
In addition, St. John Climacus names carelessness as one of the reasons for the demon attacks as well as one the reasons why God may not fulfill the prayers of a man: "Every demonic upheaval within us arises from the following three related causes namely, carelessness, pride, or the envy of demons. The first is pitiable, the second deplorable, but the third is blessed"; "When requests are made to God and are not immediately answered, the reason may be one of the following: either that the petition is premature, or because it has been made unworthily or vaingloriously, or because if granted, it would lead to conceit, or because negligence and carelessness would result."
Prelest and Jesus prayer
Many Orthodox Holy Fathers and modern ascetics wrote about the dangers of wrong practice of the Jesus Prayer and prayer in general: Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, Saint Theophan the Recluse, Saint Ambrosius of Optina, Saint Macarius of Optina, elder Joseph the Hesychast, Valaam elder John (Alexeev) and others.
Professor of the Moscow Theological Academy A.I. Osipov analyzes the teaching on the prayer by St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) and points out that the prayer should have three properties: attention, reverence, repentance. Also humility should be the basis of the prayer as St. Ignatius says: "Today I read the declaration of St. Sisoes the Great, which I always particularly liked. A monk said to him: 'I am in constant memory of God'. St. Sisoes responded to him: 'That is not great; it will be great when you consider yourself to be worse than any creature.' St. Sisoes continues: constant memory of God is a very elevated activity!! However, this height is very dangerous, when the ladder to it is not founded on the solid rock of humility"  (Holy Fathers use the words "memory of God" as a synonym for the Jesus prayer).
If at least one of the following exists:
- the person prays without keeping the attention in the words of the prayer and imagines heavenly hosts, Lord Jesus,
- the person does not use the prayer for repentance but seeks for some "spiritual feelings",
- the person does not truly repent of some sins, i.e. he does not want to completely give up some sinful habits for which the consciousness condemns him,
he/she can fall into prelest.
St. Ignatius tells a story about the proper way of the prayer. A monk came to him from Mount Athos. This monk did not need warm clothes in winter because of the internal heat in his body caused by the prayer and was wearing chains. At first, St. Ignatius thought that this is a true ascetic and wanted to hear something useful from him about the prayer. But then he found out that the monk uses wrong way of prayer with exaltation and imagination. St. Ignatius gingerly asked the monk to try to keep the mind in the words of the prayer. When the monk started to pray this way, that was enough to cure him. All his visions disappeared and he could not make them return. When the monk returned later, he no longer looked conceited. He took off the chains and could not do without warm clothes.
St. Ambrose of Optina several times wrote in his letters that for a beginner, especially without an experienced mentor, it is much safer to start with audible verbal prayer rather with purely noetic (silent) one because many people who prayed with noetic prayer, were mentally deranged, while St. Ambrose does not know any examples of people falling into prelest with verbal prayer.
During practice of the Jesus prayer, the person always encounters an opposition from the demons through the thoughts. They attempt either to make the person abandon the prayer or to make the prayer unpleasing to God, i.e. to drive the person into pride and prelest. There is even such wrong opinion that one can fall into prelest because of the Jesus prayer. This opinion is denied by Valaam elder John (Alexeev): "One falls into prelest not because of the prayer but because of pride, self-conceit and following own will". This following own will includes neglecting Confession and advice of the spiritual father, as elder Joseph the Hesychast notes: "It is not just a matter of saying the prayer, but it is also a matter of being attentive. You must be vigilant with your thoughts, masterfully controlling them. Otherwise, they will take control of you and in the end you will become the laughing-stock of the demons. I have never seen a soul make progress in the prayer without frankly confessing secret thoughts".
False unceasing (self-moving) Jesus prayer
Sometimes, very rarely, God gives some humble and pious individuals, who reached the highest degree of purification from passions, a gift of unceasing (self-moving) Jesus prayer. That is one of the greatest blessings from God that a person can receive. But if the person is conceited, he may get a similar gift from the demons or may confuse the Divine gift with something natural.
Archimandrite Raphael (Karelin) writes about Saint Seraphim (Romantsov), elder of the Glinsk monastery, and about the importance of obedience which is required to receive the Divine grace. Once Fr. Seraphim spoke to a nun who thought of herself as having an unceasing prayer. She lived in the mountains and severely fasted. Fr. Seraphim said: "Once a day, you have to have a hot meal". She stared at Father Seraphim: "Do I have to waste the time and distract the mind from the prayer to prepare lunch?" Fr. Seraphim widely crossed himself: "Cross my heart, that you do not have any prayer and never had it". When she left, Fr. Seraphim said, "She did not understand anything. The one, who gave her the schema, he was in prelest himself. Poor soul, how much struggles she will have!"
Another time St. Seraphim (Romantsov) said to a monk: "You do not have any prayer of Jesus: you just got used to it, as some people get used to the bad language".
St. Ambrose of Optina also writes in a letter that one person has had an unceasing prayer when asleep. And when he listened closer to what his heart was saying, he heard: "Meow" − like a cat but not the Jesus prayer.
Once elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain met a man who got used to the words of the Jesus prayer. But upon talking with this man, elder Paisios realized that he was in delusion thinking very high of himself, e.g. that his every thought comes from God because he constantly prays.
Magicism and "automatic" view of prayer
One of the kinds of false attitude to prayer originates from a widespread view on God, prayer, and spiritual life, implying that God can be "forced" to execute the petition that is asked in the prayer, i.e. as if the prayer acts "by itself", solely by pronouncing the words, with no regard to the spiritual condition of the person who prays.
This "automatic" view can apply to any relationship with God, to any action of Divine grace including the prayer and Sacraments. Orthodox theologian Fr. Valery Dukhanin writes that such view has nothing to do with Orthodox faith and rather belongs to magic: "The main property of magic – correct ritual. That is a drastic difference with the Sacraments of the Church, which cannot help without man’s personal relation to God".
Unconditional action of prayer assumes that free will does exist neither in man nor in God and that God can do something harmful and with no regard to the inner determination of all involved persons. St. Hilarion of Optina writes that though we should pray about each other, the view on prayer that every petition is necessarily executed originates from pride and leads to delusion. 
Professor A.I. Osipov writes that "an awareness of magic is deeply present in our 'old man'. For very many people, Orthodoxy consists in placing candles, 'venerating', donating something, leaving prayer requests, ordering Liturgies, molebens and pannikhidas, joining in the cross processions, visiting holy shrines, confessing and receiving Communion. The most important part of salvation, life according the commandments and repentance, remains undone".
Also some holy fathers wrote about such "automatic" attitude to the Sacraments (i.e. without faith and willingness to fight with passions): St. John Chrysostom, St. Mark the Ascetic, St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Such false "automatic" attitude to the action of Holy Sacraments is named by A.I. Osipov as one of the reasons of degeneration of Christian faith and backsliding into paganism.
Prelest and saints of the Roman Catholic Church
According to Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov), some of the most respected saints of the Roman Catholic Church who were glorified since it turned to papal supremacy were in a state of prelest and therefore could not have been considered as saints. St. Ignatius provides examples of visions and other mystical experiences of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas à Kempis and compares them with experience of Orthodox saints of the first centuries.
Saint Francis's very life's goal, ("I have labored and want to labor … because this brings honor," "I want to suffer for others and redeem the sins of others"), shows his fall which he himself does not see; it shows his own sins. At the end of his life, he said, "I am not aware of any sin I have committed which I have not redeemed through confession and repentance. His dying words were, 'I have fulfilled what I should have fulfilled."
By comparison, we shall cite the last moments of Saint Sisoes the Great (fifth century):
Surrounded by the brothers at the moment of his death, he was as if talking with invisible beings. The brothers asked him, "Father, tell us, with whom are you speaking?" He answered, "With angels who have come to take me; but I am begging them to leave me for a short time, in order to repent." The brothers knew that Sisoes was perfect in the virtues, and protested, "You have no need to repent, Father." Sisoes answered, "Truly, I do not know if I have even begun to repent."
Sisoes' deep understanding of his own imperfection is the main outstanding trait of all true saints and is the most important sign that their revelations where true.
A.I. Osipov also says that there are 3 main manifestations of delusions of Catholic mystics:
- compassion of Christ that reaches its ultimate degree;
- matrimony with God, flirting with God, romance with God etc.;
- dreaminess of imagination.
Russian philosopher A.F. Losev analyzes Western spirituality and in particular, visions of St. Angela of Foligno: "That is not a prayer and conversation with God. These are very strong hallucinations on the basis of hysteria i. e. prelest".
Another Russian philosopher M.V. Lodyzhenskii compares Orthodox and Roman Catholic mystics and points at the differences in humility between St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. Francis of Assisi. In his opinion, the reason why St. Francis did not reach the true humility is that Roman Catholic Church at that time did not have the true humility at all. The strongest evidence of the spiritual pride the author finds in the papal supremacy.
New-martyr Mihail Novoselov compares the teaching of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), St. Theophan the Recluse, writings of M.V. Lodyzhenskii and the writings of Roman Catholic mystics. He writes that it is enough to read several pages of the writings of the Western mystics, in particular, the writings of St. Teresa of Ávila, to see that they were in prelest.
Father George Macris also compares the mysticism of St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. Francis of Assisi and analyses in detail different manifestations of their humility. He writes in the conclusion that St. Francis "moved progressively in his life in a growing condition of plani"; "as startling as it may appear to some, he bore many characteristics which are prototypical of Antichrist, who will also be seen as chaste, virtuous, highly moral, full of love and compassion, and who will be regarded as holy (even as a deity) by people who have allowed carnal romanticism to replace the Sacred Tradition of the Holy Church"; "The sad fact is that the attainment of a true spiritual relationship with Christ was never a possibility for Francis, for being outside the Church of Christ, it was impossible that he could have received Divine Grace, or any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. His gifts were from another spirit".
Prof. A.I. Osipov says that deviations in the Roman Catholic Church started from such things that are rather subtle and not easy to understand for everyone, even for the person who knows the basics of the spiritual life. A.I. Osipov gives an example of his personal misunderstanding. He speaks in one of his lectures about the time when he studied in the Moscow Theologial Seminary in 1950-60s. He knew about the book "Imitation of Jesus Christ" by Thomas à Kempis – in Ignatius Brianchaninov’s writings, there is a case when a landlord saw his daughter with this book, took it out of her hand and said: "Stop playing in romances with God." And A.I. Osipov took and read the book and did not see anything bad: "Why do they criticize it? It is true, we must imitate Jesus Christ." When he looked into this book again after a long time – he saw prelest everywhere: rapture, exaltation, false love. A.I. Osipov adds: "I did not understand, imagine that! I did not see. The people who just knew it and felt it – they understood. They saw where the falseness is."
Also Prof. A.I. Osipov says that, in his opinion, this is the key to the separation between the Eastern and Western Churches - not filioque or papal supremacy - these are only consequences visible to everyone. The beginning was in the spiritual deviation of the people who turned from the path of fight with passions to the path of false love to God.
Another Orthodox theologian Deacon Andrey Kuraev compares several times in his books the Eastern and the Western mystical practices. He says that often religious paths are compared by means of formal dogmatic differences – but that is not the most important part. In his opinion, the most important difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is the practice of meditative prayer. He writes that "Western spiritual authorities strongly recommend that way of spiritual practice, which the spiritual teachers of the East categorically prohibit (plus, since the time of the unity of the Church)".
Causes of prelest
According to Saint Gregory of Sinai, there are 3 sources for prelest: "arrogance, the envy of demons, and the divine will that allows us to be tried and corrected. Arrogance arises from superficiality, demonic envy is provoked by our spiritual progress, and the need for correction is the consequence of our sinful way of life. The delusion arising solely from envy and self-conceit is swiftly healed, especially when we humble ourselves. On the other hand, the delusion allowed by God for our correction, when we are handed over to Satan because of our sinfulness, God often permits to continue until our death, if this is needed to efface our sins. Sometimes God hands over even the guiltless to the torment of demons for the sake of their salvation".
If the person conceals sins or thoughts in confession or does not trust to his spiritual father, he can also fall into prelest: "Think in this wise: the Holy Spirit dwells in your confessor, and he will tell you what is right. But if you say to yourself that your confessor lives a careless life, how can the Holy Spirit dwell in him, you will suffer mightily for such thoughts, and the Lord will bring you low, and you are sure to fall into delusion". Also, elder Ephraim of Philotheou speaks about his teacher, elder Joseph the Hesychast, who used to say to his disciples about some people who suffered from prelest. Such people quite often committed suicide because they believed that an Angel appeared to them, whereas it was a demon. The delusion was in the thought: "Do not tell that to the Elder".
Prelest and insanity
According to St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, St. Gregory of Sinai, St. Symeon the New Theologian, Valaam Elder Schema-Abbot John (Alexeev) and other ascetics, the first kind of prelest (prayer with imagination) very often leads to insanity. The second kind (conceit) sometimes does not result in a mental disease, but the person cannot achieve salvation being in a state of one of the seven deadly sins - pride. St. Ignatius writes about it: "This kind of prelest - is terrible: it is equally fatal for the soul as the first one, but is less evident; it rarely ends in madness, suicide, but definitely corrupts both the mind and the heart."
The above mentioned kinds and properties of prelest suggest possible general means of curing it. These are opposite to different manifestations of prelest:
- Holy Sacraments (Confession, Communion, Unction);
- Prayer without side thoughts, especially without imagining Lord Jesus Christ, Angels, Heaven, etc., paying attention to the words of the prayer;
- Prayers of other people of the holy life about the deluded person;
- Reading the Holy Scripture and the writings of Holy Fathers;
- Work therapy.
Nevertheless, as there is no common pattern of development of prelest, there is no universal and suitable for everyone advice for curing it. From the general point of view, fight with prelest is a fight with demonic thoughts mostly containing pride, which, as St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) notes, in the deluded persons sometimes changes into deep sadness and desire of suicide. Keeping this in mind, the means of curing prelest should include some means of fighting with sinful thoughts and decreasing their influence on the deluded person. Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain says that if a spiritual person trusts his thoughts - that is already the beginning of delusion. Pride darkens the mind and even the prayers of holy people do not help such person. He should understand that keeping such thoughts (like "I am holy", "I am better than others" etc.) in the mind - that is prelest. Such thoughts should be disclosed either to the elder, or to the spiritual father, or to the abbess of the monastery, and then thrown away. Because of that, the first way to get rid of prelest is the Sacrament of Confession. If the person saw any vision, he should tell it immediately to his spiritual father not concealing anything. Then the person should follow exactly the specific advices of the spiritual father. Other Sacraments are needed as well but sometimes deluded persons are forbidden to take the Holy Communion by their spiritual father for some period of time, sometimes rather long (1–3 years).
For example, it is written in Patericon of Mt. Athos about one monk who was living with his elder in a skete at Mt. Athos. Because of conceit, he gradually started to fulfill his own will, prayed more and more but without asking his elder about it. Then he was deluded by false visions, almost died and finally revealed everything to his elder. The elder sent him to a monastery and forbade to take Holy Communion for 3 years. The monk started to live there with many brethren, washed dishes and recovered.
One woman saw a lamp before icon at her house lit by itself. That happened every midnight and even in the presence of other people. She accepted that as Divine. But when she told that to her spiritual father, a known ascetic Bishop Basil (Preobrazhensky), he said: "No, this phenomenon is not from grace, but from the enemy. And because you accepted it as being from grace, I am giving you a penance: do not receive the Holy Mysteries for one year. The lampada will not light itself again". Truly, the lampada did not light by itself from that day on.
Sometimes in monasteries people suffering from prelest are also given ignoble obediences to humble them. Such obediences often include some hard and dirty work. Such work therapy decreases pride and demonic attacks that cause prelest and helps to switch the mind from the sinful thoughts to something else. St. Joseph of Optina writes in one letter to the abbess of some monastery about a deluded nun by the name of Mavra. He writes that Mavra should wash dishes or peel potatoes - it can decrease the pride that caused prelest. He also writes that she should not take Holy Communion often - the spiritual father should first incline her to humility and self-abasement. At the same time, solitary life should be completely forbidden for Mavra - otherwise she will go completely mad.
Another story about healing through work therapy is told by Hieromartyr Archimandrite Kronid (Lyubimov). A novice by the name of Alexander from Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra arbitrary increased his prayer rule and started to see visions. When his condition was revealed, he was sent to another monastery and was given an obedience to clean the horse stalls in the stable yard. At first, he protested: "You appoint such a great ascetic to such a humiliating obedience", but then he agreed and all brethren started to pray about him. Alexander worked all day long and did not have time for his previous intensive prayer feats. Several years later Archimandrite Kronid met Alexander who was already tonsured a monk as Athanasius and, for his humble and good monastic life, was made hierodeacon. When asked whether he remembered what had happened to him, he replied: "I remember everything, but only now realize the full horror of my state of mind."
It should be noted that though work therapy sometimes is very useful, the deluded person can become very lazy. While in delusion he could easily pray and do prostrations for hours, recovery from this state can be accompanied by strong relaxation of will, melancholy and laziness to the prayer and physical work. Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov) tells a story about a deluded woman who arbitrary increased her payer rule to 1000 or more prostrations every day because of conceit. She was concealing it from her spiritual father. When the spiritual father revealed the delusion through her hidden anger and petulance, she no longer could execute even her initial smaller rule of prayer and prostrations, she could not fast at all and even could not read morning and evening prayers.
Regarding the opposite form of prelest, which is associated not with the excessive zeal but with the lack of it, the delusion of carelessness, Schema-archimandrite Abraham (Reidman) notes that everyone should remember that a man can change and everyone, due to carelessness and self-justification, can quickly and unnoticeably change to their opposite. To prevent that, we need to gain a skill of self-restraint, in the first place, for the Jesus prayer. St. Anthony the Great names several means of increasing the zeal to virtues and fighting with carelessness: inner means include remembrance of death (i.e. living every day as the last day), thinking about the time after death, fear of God; external and more advanced means include: feeling of sweetness of living with God, love to God, love to do good and according to God. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou writes in a similar way that "you can conquer carelessness using constant prayer, with the mouth and mind, with the remembrance about possibility of sudden death, about the tortures of hell, about Heaven etc. We need to enforce ourselves to our spiritual duties and especially to silence and prayer".
Even with Divine and human help, as Saint Ambrose of Optina notes, "It is easier to turn every sinner to repentance than to bring a deluded person to reason". However, there are cases when people were instantly healed of delusion. There is an episode in the life of St. Niphon of Athos when he was visited by a monk who accepted a false vision as true and became proud considering himself above the others. Through the prayer of the St. Niphon the monk instantly began to see his pride. Another case occurred with Archimandrite Parthenios, hegumen of St. Paul Monastery at Mount Athos. When he was young, he fell into negligence and stopped reading the monastic rule. This went on for a whole year. In the end, he suddenly cried out: "Mother of God, help me, I can not do anything. Make it so that I overcome this state!". And the state of negligence suddenly disappeared: he immediately made 400 prostrations.
Orthodox saints who suffered from prelest and recovered
When Saint Niphon, bishop of Cyprus, was an ordinary monk, he was struggling against demons and fell into partial insanity for 4 years but later was cured.
Saint Symeon the Stylite was deluded by demons who showed him a chariot wanting to take him to Heaven as it was with Prophet Elias. The chariot disappeared when St. Symeon wanted to enter it but made the sign of the Cross.
Saint Iakovos worshiped a demon who appeared as Lord Jesus and who disappeared after Iakovos made the sign of the Cross. 
Saint Isaac the Recluse of the Kiev Caves was living in seclusion for 7 years and was deluded by a false vision of Lord Jesus. He was left by demons lying unconscious. Saints Antonius and Theodosius of the Kiev Caves were nursing him and praying about him for 2 years. After that, St. Isaac got better and in the end of his life he received the power over demons.
Saint Nicetas of the Kiev Caves attempted an excessive feat of seclusion without sufficient experience. He was deluded by an "angel" who helped him and gave him a false gift of clairvoyance. When the Holy Fathers of the monastery unraveled the demon tricks and casted the "angel" away, St. Nicetas lost his supernatural abilities and even could not read at all. Later, following the way of humility, St. Nicetas became the Bishop of Novgorod and received the gift of miracleworking.
Saint Theodore and Basil of the Caves suffered heavily from the demon tricks. St. Theodore was deluded by a vision of "angel" and false appearance of a demon in the form of St. Basil and was listening to them. Later, St. Basil brought St. Theodore to reason and convinced that it was a delusion.
Saint Silouan the Athonite was in delusion 2 times as written in the book of elder Sofronii. Once St. Silouan accepted a vision and nobody, whom he asked about it, told him that this was a false vision. "But I was beguiled by vanity and began to see devils again. Then I knew that I had been deceived, and I made full disclosure to my confessor and asked him for his prayers; and because of his prayers I am now saved and ever beseech the Lord to grant me the spirit of humility."
Unsuccessfull attempts to delude Orthodox saints and modern ascetics
When Holy martyrs Timotheos and Mavra were crusified, the Devil tried to delude St. Mavra on the cross. She had two similar visions. An "angel" came to "help" her and offered a cup with water and honey. When she suggested him to pray together, the "angel" did not pray and could not look to the east. From this St. Mavra found out that this was a delusion. Then she had another vision of a man who brought her to a river of water and honey and again suggested to drink. When she refused again, the vision disappeared.
When St. Pachomius the Great was living in solitude, the Devil appeared in front of him as "Christ" and said: "Greetings, Pachomius, I am Christ paying you a visit, my faithful friend." But St. Pachomius was in turmoil and had confusing thoughts. So he understood the delusion and rejected the vision: "Devil, depart from me, cursed are you and your visions and your insidious arts. You have no place among the servants of God."
St. Peter of Mount Athos had many false visions trying to scare or delude him. During the first year of solitary life at Mt. Athos, St. Peter suddenly saw a "boy", whom he knew before. They started to speak and the "boy" tried to convince St. Peter to return home. St. Peter replied that he would listen only to the Mother of God since She had commanded him to settle at Mt. Athos. When St. Peter pronounced the name of the Mother of God, the demon disappeared.
7 years later a demon appeared in front of St. Peter as an "angel of light". The "angel" commanded him to go to the world for salvation of others. When St. Peter refused again and prounced the names of the Mother of God and St. Nicholas, the "angel" disappeared.
When St. Gregory the Decapolite was living in a cave, he had many demonic assaults. Once the demons appeared as Forty Martyrs of Sebaste and said that they came to give him the grace and power over demons. But St. Gregory understood their plots and rejected the vision.
When elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain lived in the Stomion Monastery, he had a vision: the roof opened and he saw a pillar of light reaching the sky. At the top of it he saw a young man who looked similar to Jesus Christ. "You are honored to see Christ" - elder Paisios heard inside him. "Who am I, unworthy, to see Christ" - replied Paisios and the vision disappeared.
Another time, when elder Paisios lived at Mt. Sinai, he had to go out in the night. There were several steps near his kellia and elder Paisios used a lighter to descend safely. But this time the lighter did not want to fire. Suddenly a ray of light like from a flood lamp shone from one of the rocks. Elder Paisios understood that this "help" had demonic nature and went back. The light immediately disappeared.
Prelest in the liturgical texts of the Orthodox Church
The notion of prelest is used in some of the liturgical texts of the Orthodox Church.
In the Akathist to the Mother of God: "For thou hast quenched the furnace of deception" (Ikos 5); "For thou hast trampled on the delusion of error" (Ikos 6).
In the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete: "I lie naked and ashamed, for the beauty of the tree, which I saw in the middle of the garden, deceived me" (Monday, Ode 2); "O God, Trinity yet One, save us from delusion, temptations and misfortune!" (Monday, Ode 3); "But you, my hopeless soul, have rather imitated Esau, surrendering to the crafty evil the beauty you inherited from God. In two ways, works and wisdom, have you been deceived and now is the time for you to change your ways" (Tuesday, Ode 4).
- On Spiritual Deception. Orthodox Life, July-August 1980.
- (French) Jean-Claude Larchet, Thérapeutique des maladies mentales. L’expérience de l’Orient chrétien des premiers siècles (1992, 3rd edition 2008) ISBN 2204045187 (Russian) Жан-Клод Ларше, Исцеление психических болезней. Опыт христианского Востока первых веков Jean-Claude Larchet writes in his book about mental illnesses and sets apart 3 kinds of them: natural, demonic and spiritual based on the words from many Holy Fathers. Natural illness is associated with body (brain) malfunction, demonic one - with action of demons, and spiritual illness in the first place depends on the person's free will (though free will and demons can also partially participate in the first 2 kinds).
- (Russian) St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov). On prelest.
- Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Monastic Wisdom, From letter 55. Elder Joseph writes in a letter to a priest about true and false visions and pride. If the person becomes proud - the demons can start to make a mock of him, showing their own visions that imitate the true ones.
- Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Spiritual Counsels, Vol. 3. Spiritual Struggle
- (Russian) Elder Daniel Katounakiotis. Angelic living. Elder Daniel had a spiritual gift of counsel allowing him to guard or cure people from delusion. The book contains several his letters about it.
- Interview with prof. A.I. Osipov. "The Way of a Pilgrim" and Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov’s) Teaching on Prayer".
- Philokalia, Vol.2, St. John of Damaskos, On the Virtues and the Vices.
- St. John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Step 2.
- (Russian) N.E. Pestov. Practice of Orthodox Devoutness.
- Letters of Theophan, Archbishop of Poltava, Letter 31.
- Letters of Fr. John Krestiankin. On the work of a pastor.
- St. Gregory of Sinai. On Prayer: Seven Texts. On Delusion and Other Subjects. Philokalia, Vol. 4.
- A.I. Osipov. The Basics of Spiritual Life Based on the Writings of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov). Part 1.
- (Russian) St. Isaac of Syria. Ascetic words. Word 72.
- St. John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Step 4.
- (Russian) St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov). On Prelest. On caution when reading the books on monastic life.
- (Russian) St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov). Wanderer (from Works, Vol. 2).
- (Russian) St. Isaac of Syria. Ascetic words. Word 55.
- (Russian) Letters of St. Macarius of Optina. Prelest.
- (Russian) St. Nectarios of Aegina. Path to Happiness.
- (Russian) Letters of St. Ambrose of Optina. Letter 245.
- St. Seraphim of Sarov's Conversation With Nicholas Motovilov
- (Russian) Schema-archimandrite Abraham. The good part. Vol. 3. On obstructions in the spiritual life and the desire for grace.
- The interpretation of these words, i.e. that "false science" is prelest, is taken from the above mentioned article of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov).
- St. Gregory of Sinai. On Commandments and Doctrines, Warnings and Promises; On Thoughts, Passions and Virtues, and Also on Stillness and Prayer. Ch. 131. Philokalia, Vol. 4.
- (Russian) St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov). On prelest.
- (Russian) Archimandrite Seraphim (Alexiev). Instruction on the self-conceit and the false visions.
- (Russian) Elder Cleopa. On dreams and visions. 2012. Extracts from the book.
- Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Monastic wisdom. Letter 37.
- Answer of monk Daniel to Marcian, a monk of the Iveron skete, on rejection of dreams
- (Russian) Hieromartyr Bishop Arseny (Zhadanovsky). Spiritual Diary.
- Saints Barsanuphius and John, Guidance Toward Spiritual Life: Answers to the Questions of Disciples. Letter 421. In this and several other consecutive letters Sts. Barsanuphius and John write about demonic "help". From the answers it is clear that demons do not do only evidently sinful things. They can do something and help in something that, for inexperienced person, looks like good. For example, the person prays to God but does it with conceit, not with the intention to fulfill the will of God. In this case, the demons can be allowed to "help" this person and to do the deed that he wanted against the will of God. The sign of "help" is pride after such prayer. "When you have been praying and feel that your prayer has been heard, if indeed you are elated, it is clear that yon have neither prayed according to God nor have you received the help of God, but rather the feeling that worked in you was from the demons so that your heart might be elated. For whenever assistance comes from God, the soul is never elated; instead, it is always humbled."
- Saint John Cassian, Conferences. Conference 15. The second conference of Abbot Nesteros. On Divine gifts. Chapter 1. Discourse of Abbot Nesteros on the threefold system of gifts. St. John Cassian mentions the demonic gift of healing as one of the 3 sources of supernatural healing.
- Living of Saint Nicetas of the Kiev Caves.
- (Russian) Archimandrite Raphael (Karelin). The mystery of salvation. Conversations about spiritual life. Schema-Archimandrite Seraphim.
- (Russian) Conversations with Bishop Anthony of Sourozh. On prelest. Spas TV
- (Russian) Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos. Orthodox psychotherapy. Dispassion. Metropolitan Hierotheos writes about true and false dispassion based on words from many Holy Fathers. The main property of true dispassion is perfect love. Dispassion with the lack of love resulting in condemnation of others, in noticing others' sins is a manifestation of false dispassion, e.g. when the passion of pride temporarily expels other passions.
- (Russian) Philokalia, Vol 5, Sts. Kallistos and Ignatius Ksanthopoulos, Instructions for hesychasts, in 100 chapters, ch. 40 Sts. Kallistos and Ignatius say that each Divine gift should have a corresponding part in the soul that naturally receives such gift. E.g. the ones who made their mind clean from foreign thoughts - they receive wisdom; the ones who made their mind to control our inborn passions, anger and lust - receive prophecy; who has strong belief in Divine matters - receive all-mighty faith; the ones who succeeded in love for mankind - after elimination of self-love receive gift of healings.
- (Russian) St. Neofitos, Recluse of Cyprus. Word on some monk in Palestine, who in 6693, in September, was deluded by demons and fell miserably.
- Excerpts from the Letters of Elder Macarius of Optina.
- The Letters of Elder John (Krestiankin). Elder John (Krestiankin) writes to one person about the "gift" of healing. Elder John says from his experience that such "gifts" often end in irresistible desire of suicide in both the healer and the patient.
- Philokalia, Vol. 1, St. Diadochos of Photiki, On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination. One Hundred Texts. Ch. 36-38.
- Saint John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Step 3.
- Saint John Cassian, Conferences, The Second Conference of Abbot Moses. On Discretion. Chapter VII. Of the fall and deception of a monk of Mesopotamia.
- (Russian) Archbishop Averky (Taushev). Exegetic analysis of the Epistle of James.
- St. John Climacus. The ladder of Divine Ascent. Step 22.
- Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Monastic Wisdom. Letters 41,45
- (Russian) St. Gregory Palamas. To honorable Xenia about passions and virtues and fruits of noetic doing. Ch. 2.
- St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov). On Prelest. On Living with Advice.
- St. John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew. VII.
- (Russian) St. Symeon the New Theologian. Practical and theological chapters. Ch. 160.
- (Russian) St. Symeon the New Theologian. Word 83.
- Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Monastic wisdom. Letter 22.
- (Russian) St. Innocent of Alaska. Instruction for a missionary priest.
- Canons of the seven ecumenical councils. Quinisext Ecumenical Council. Rule 64
- (Russian) Letters of St. Ambrose of Optina. Prelest.
- (Russian) Words from Holy Fathers about carelessness
- Schema-archimandrite Abraham (Reidman). The Good Part. V. 3.
- (Russian) Interview of Bishop Pankratius (Zherdev)
- (Russian) Schema-archimandrite Abraham (Reidman). The Good Part. V. 3. Between Scylla and Charybdis.
- St. John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Word 27.
- (Russian) St. Isaac of Syria. Ascetic Words. Word 2.
- St. John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Word 26.
- St. John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Word 26.
- (Russian) Gleanings from Holy Fathers on the dangers of the prayer of the heart. In particular, St. Theophan the Recluse writes: "Madness from the Jesus prayer may occur when the one who practices this prayer does not abandon some sins or sinful habits, which the conscience condemns. At that, a deep dissonance occurs inside driving away any peace of the heart."
- A.I. Ospiov. Apologetics.
- Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware). The Jesus Prayer in St Gregory of Sinai. 1971. Metropolitan Kallistos writes: secondly, it is manifested to us in obedience through the methodical and unceasing invocation of the Lord Jesus, that is, through the memory of God. ... The second way is that of inner prayer, and it is characterized above all by the ‘memory of God’, that is, by the continual invocation of the Name of Jesus.
- St. John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Step 28. St. John writes: "Make the effort to raise up, or rather, to enclose your mind within the words of your prayer; and if, like a child, it gets tired and falters, raise it up again."
- St Gregory of Sinai. On Stillness: Fifteen Texts. Different Ways of Psalmodizing. Ch. 10. St. Gregory writes: "Unceasingly cry out: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy', and do not allow yourself to retain any concept, object, thought or form that is supposedly divine, or any sequence of argument or any color, but concentrate solely on the pure, simple, formless remembrance of Jesus."
- St. John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Step 28. St. John writes: "And even if you have climbed the whole ladder of the virtues, pray still for the forgiveness of sins".
- (Russian) Letters of elder John (Krestiankin). On Prayer. Elder John (Krestiankin) writes to some person who has demonic attacks because of the previous devotion to heretic and demonic teachings. Elder John says that when someone starts to pray with Jesus prayer while keeping the passions in the soul and in the heart - that can cause mental damage. So elder John advises that person to reduce the prayer rule.
- (Russian) Letters of schema-hegumen John. On Jesus prayer.
- Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Monastic Wisdom, From letter 55.
- (Russian) Letters of St. Ambrose of Optina. Letter 294. St. Ambrose warns a nun in a letter about dangers of following own will and unauthorized teaching. That nun thought of herself as received a self-moving prayer when asleep. St. Ambrose says that even among holy men, unceasing prayer happens rarely. So there is a danger for her to fall into delusion, which is difficult to cure.
- (Russian) Sts. Barsanuphius and John. Answers to the Questions of Disciples. Question 178. A question about which stage of spiritual age does unceasing prayer correspond to. The answer reads that unceasing prayer corresponds to dispassion.
- (Russian) Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. Spiritual Counsels. Vol. 6. On Prayer. 2013. P. 163
- (Russian) Magic and Magicism – How They Appear in Our Life.
- (Russian) Letters of St. Hilarion of Optina. Letter 51.
- A.I. Osipov. Search for Truth on the Path of Reason. P. 240.
- (Russian) St. John Chrysostom. Conversation about the words of the Apostle 1 Cor.10:1 St. John writes: neither baptism, nor absolution of sins, nor knowledge, nor the communion of the mysteries, nor sacred body, nor sacred blood, and nothing else can bring us any good if we do not lead a life honest, rigorous and alien to any sin.
- (Russian) St. Mark the Ascetic Word 4. Answer to those puzzled about Holy Baptism. St. Mark writes: Are you sure even now that to a firm believer the Holy Spirit is given immediately after the Baptism, while to wrong and of evil faith is not given even after Baptism?
- (Russian) St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Catechetical teachings. Catechetical teaching 17th. St. Cyril writes: If you are a hypocrite, a man baptize thee this day, and the Spirit does not baptize you. If you come with faith, then people will make the visible and the Holy Spirit will make the invisible.
- A.I. Osipov. Individual revelation and its indications.
- (Russian) A.I. Osipov. Lecture for the students of the 5th year at Moscow Theological Seminary and Academy, 22.01.2007.
- (Russian) A.F. Losev. Essays on Antique Symbolism and Mythology. 1930.
- (Russian) M.V. Lodyzhenskii. Seraphim of Sarov and Francis Assisi. In: Light Invisible. 1912.
- (Russian) Mihail Novoselov. Mystics of the Church and mystics of Western faiths. 1912.
- George Macris. A Comparison of the Mysticism of Francis of Assisi With That of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
- (Russian) Andrey Kuraev. Challenge of Ecumenicism. Orthodoxy and Catholicism in the Experience of the Prayer.
- Philokalia, Vol. 4, St. Gregory of Sinai, On Commandments and Doctrines, Warnings and Promises; On Thoughts, Passions and Virtues, and Also on Stillness and Prayer: One Hundred and Thirty-Seven Texts, Ch. 132.
- Archimandrite Sofronii. Saint Silouan the Athonite. P. 292.
- (Russian) Elder Ephraim of Philotheou. My life with elder Joseph.
- Saint Symeon the New Theologian, The Three Ways of Attention and Prayer.
- Letters of the Valaam Elder Schema-Abbot John (Alexeev), On Prayer
- Nun Macaria, The Angel of Light and Spiritual Discernment in the Orthodox Tradition. The article contains a story about a deluded monk who concealed from his elder the fact of talking with an "angel". Concealment of something from the elder can be a sign of delusion or can cause delusion.
- (Russian) Архимандрит Иоанникий (Коцонис). Афонский отечник. 2011. Стр. 352. ISBN 9785985990645.
- A.I. Osipov. Search for Truth on the Path of Reason. P. 197.
- (Russian) St. Joseph of Optina. Letter 695.
- (Russian) Hieromartyr Archimandrite Kronid (Lyubimov). Trinity Lavra flowers from the spiritual meadow.
- (Russian) Living of St. Anthony the Great. It is written that once in the beginning of his ascetic life St. Anthony was confused with different sinful thoughts and prayed to the Lord what to do with it. Then he saw an Angel nearby in a form of a man. The Angel showed to St. Anthony what to do: to alternate mental prayer with bodily labor.
- (Russian) Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov). Questions about Faith and Salvation. 156. How do people fall in delusion.
- (Russian) Sayings of St. Anthony and about him. 5. How to increase the zeal?
- (Russian) Archimandrite Ephraim of the Holy Mountain. Fatherly Counsels. Ch. 8. On carelessness, fear, cowardice, betrayal and apostasy.
- (Russian) New Eklogion. Part 3. Life and feats of St. Niphon.
- (Russian) Fr. Sergii Tishkun. Ilia Kabanov. People of Greek Church. 2015. Hieromonk Euthimius (Djafarov). P. 326.
- (Russian) Living of Saint Niphon of Cyprus.
- (Russian) Living of Saint Symeon the Stylite
- Living of Saint Iakovos.
- (Russian) Living of Saint Isaac the Recluse
- (Russian) Living of Hieromartyrs Theodore and Basil of the Caves.
- Archimandrite Sofronii. "Saint Silouan, the Athonite". P. 432.
- (Russian) Living of the saints by St. Demetrios of Rostov. May 3.
- Life of St. Pachomius. Chapter XLVIII.
- (Russian) Living of the saints by St. Demetrios of Rostov. June 12.
- (Russian) Living of the saints by St. Demetrios of Rostov. November 12.
- Akathist to the Mother of God.
- The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete
- Liturgy of St. Basil the Great.