In English

Avoiding Spiritual Delusion

28 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009
Fresco from Holy Great Monastery of Vatopedi

Fresco from Holy Great Monastery of Vatopedi

I was able to continuing reading Unseen Warfare last night and specifically I read a chapter titled “How to train one’s will to have but one ultimate aim in all things, both external and internal—to please God.” As Christians this is our ultimate aim, to re-align our will with the will of God and this is what the Church teaches us is pleasing to God. It is also perhaps the hardest thing will ever try to achieve in our lives.

As descendents of Adam we all are subject to our passions. These passions, these desires of our will have become what drives almost all of us; the fulfillment of them have become for the majority of the world the chief end of life:

For our nature is so accustomed to please itself, that it seeks its own comfort and pleasure in all its doings, even the most righteous and spiritual, and secretly and lustfully feeds on it as though it were food.

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Did you catch that? Our will seeks its own pleasure even in the most righteous and spiritual activities. This is what I am most scared of I think, that I will fall into what is called prelest. Prelest is a Russian word which is used because is there is no exact word in English to mean what it means, though it can generally be termed “spiritual delusion.” Prelest is doing spiritual things such as praying constantly, helping others, etc. out of love of doing the acts in-of-themselves, rather than doing them in order to please God. It is loving to do spiritual things because they make you feel spiritual, rather than doing them in order to draw yourself closer to God.

This really scares me because it is such a subtle deception. I could think that I am doing so well, worshiping God fully, but really be worshiping my own ego and my own will. In fact, the book goes on to say:

And so it happens that when we see the chance of spiritual doing lying before us, we immediately desire it and impetuously rush towards it; yet not as men moved by the will of God, nor for the sole purpose of pleasing Him, but for the sake of the comfort and joy which is born in us, when we desire and seek that which God wants from us. This prelest is the better concealed and hidden, the higher and more spiritual is the nature of what we desire. [emphasis mine]

Now, the author does give us the solution to this problem, and on the surface it makes a lot of sense. However even this doesn’t seem like an easy thing to do when you really think about how you would carry it out. He tells us:

When there lies before you some work, which accords with the will of God, or is good in itself, do not immediately incline your will towards it and do not desire it, without previously raising your mind to God, so as to be clear whether it is the direct will fo God that you should desire and perform such actions and whether they would be acceptable to God. And when you compose your thoughts in such a way that the inclination of your will is determined by God’s will itself, then wish it and do it, but only because God wishes it, for the sake of pleasing Him and for His glory alone.

Wow. Basically, what this is saying is that even we have the opportunity to do some spiritual work, or some good thing, we shouldn’t immediately do it, but pray about it and ask God if He wants us to do it, and to do it right then. Not only that, but also:

As regards activities whose completion takes a more or less long time, or which go on continually, we should establish in our heart a firm resolve to practice them solely to please God, and this not merely in the beginning, when we undertake them, but later too this right resolve should be renewed frequently to the very end. For if you fail to do this, you will be in danger of becoming once more enmeshed in the self-love so natural to us, which, inclining more towards pleasing ourselves than towards pleasing God, in the course of time often succeeds in turning us imperceptibly away from our original good disposition and in changing our first good aims and intentions.

This isn’t as simple as “making up my mind” to do this. It will be only by the grace of God that I can keep this in mind, to recognize when I should be asking God before acting, and, God willing, I will be kept free of any prelest. Please, pray for me! I also sincerely hope that any one who reads this might also take the advice to heart. God bless!

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