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Concerning false perceptions of grace


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#21 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 01:20 PM

Synaxis Press published an English translation of the Paterikon years ago. But I don't know if Synaxis Press exists anymore.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#22 Christina M.

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 01:43 PM

Thank you, Father.

Georgianna kindly sent me a PM this morning with an Amazon link to the Synaxis press version. I'll probably end up ordering that one, but my dilemma is that it is only 89 pages long. I thought the Greek version I used to have was a large book - it looked like it must've been near 300 pages long.

I have more questions / comments for this thread, but my brain isn't working well because I'm a little sick, so that's why I've become "silent" on the topic.

#23 Jason Hunt

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 01:54 PM

There are many stories of demonic delusion, and many such stories I have copied out and would be happy to post them, but typically these stories involve demonic *phenomena*, particularly visions of saints, angels, future events, etc. It seems that this thread is not so much concerned with this phenomena, as with the experience of grace, what grace "feels like", and how to distinguish the experience of grace from some other "good feeling" that is perhaps of chemical, biochemical, or other created origin. While perhaps I can provide quotations regarding this later, if time allows, the primary safeguard against any kind of delusion is humility, complete openness to one's spiritual father, and submission to the judgment of one's spiritual father regarding any such experiences. The greatest danger is to have any kind of experience, whether that which seems to be the grace of God or a vision or other phenomena, and then to think highly of one's self as though one has attained something special. If grace visits us in one way or another, we can humble ourselves by understanding that the weak need such consolations, since the weak and unbelieving often lose faith without these special blessings. The strong, the diligent, and the zealous, on the other hand, are faithful to God even without receiving special consolations from Him (like the Righteous Job). What is all important is that we seek to acquire the grace of God and not rather seek to acquire an “experience” of the grace of God. “God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud” (James 4:6, similar to 1 Peter 5:5). We acquire God’s grace by humbling ourselves, by struggling against the passions, sincerely repenting and turning from our evil deeds, by turning to God ceaselessly in prayer, by receiving the grace-filled mysteries of the Church, and by practicing the virtues. This acquisition of grace may be, and perhaps should be, somewhat imperceptible to the person who is actually acquiring this grace, for such a person’s vigilance over their own heart, and constant struggle to purify the heart of sinful passions, prevents one from being preoccupied in any way with themselves or their own “feelings” and achievements.

St. John Cassian, Conference II, Abba Moses on Discretion.

Surely none of these men would have been so tragically deluded if they had made an effort to follow the rule of discretion. Thus the falls and experiences of many show how dangerous it is not to have the grace of discretion.

---

True discretion is not obtained except by true humility. The first proof of this humility will be if not only everything that is to be done but also everything that is thought of is offered to the inspection of the elders, so that, not trusting one’s own judgment, one may submit in every respect to their understanding and may know how to judge what is good and bad according to what they have handed down. This instruction will not only teach a young man how to walk on the right paths by the true way of discretion but will preserve him unhurt from all the snares and traps of the enemy. Whoever lives not by his own judgment but by the example of our forebears shall never be deceived, nor shall the crafty foe be able to take advantage of the ignorance of a person who does not know how to hide all the thoughts coming to birth in his heart because of a dangerous embarrassment but either rejects them or accepts them according to the considered opinion of the elders.



#24 Rick H.

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 02:16 PM

There are many stories of demonic delusion, and many such stories I have copied out and would be happy to post them, but typically these stories involve demonic *phenomena*, particularly visions of saints, angels, future events, etc. It seems that this thread is not so much concerned with this phenomena . . .


Yes, Jason, correct.

. . . of grace, what grace "feels like", and how to distinguish the experience of grace from some other "good feeling" that is perhaps of chemical, biochemical, or other created origin. While perhaps I can provide quotations regarding this later . . .



Yes, this is exactly what some of us are after. Hopefully, you will 'have time' to provide some quotations, if so, you will be the first.


The greatest danger is to have any kind of experience, whether that which seems to be the grace of God or a vision or other phenomena, and then to think highly of one's self as though one has attained something special. If grace visits us in one way or another, we can humble ourselves by understanding that the weak need such consolations, since the weak and unbelieving often lose faith without these special blessings.


This is of interest to me because more times than not, depending on the circumstances, when this question comes up for me in a real way there is no need to try to employ any contrived techniques to obtain humility because the experience is usually one that leaves one awestruck during and after. I guess I could see how some who are just madly in love with religion for religions sake could be anxious to share their story as if it was a feather in their cap and proof of their elevated status . . . . but, for the sincere seeker the natural by product or fruit of such an experience (that would even make one ask this question) would be awe/humility I would think.

#25 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 02:38 PM

I have to suspect that humility, the queen of virtues, is in fact, the key. If any experience serves to make a person more humble, it is a good thing, be it inspired by demons or angels. And vice-versa, if any experience serves to make a person proud, or less humble, then it might not have been such a good experience.

Little thoughts from a bear of little brain

Herman the Pooh

#26 Owen Jones

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 02:46 PM

The test is always this: is the experience accompanied by virtue? If not, it may still be the grace of God but we have not been humbled by it. Grace is certainly more than God's love. It is God's presence that is realized in us. I think Grace operates like a flow. A flowing presence. It is dynamic, not static, and it depends on both God and our cooperation. I think one of the keys, something which the desert fathers talk about a lot, is attentiveness. Grace is all around, in and through, all the time, but we lack the spiritual perception to realize it. We are busy, anxious, our attention is diverted, we may have false intellectual concepts that get in the way, etc. And so that is why there is so much emphasis in Orthodoxy on training.

#27 Christina M.

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 04:25 PM

(I apologize if I wrote something that is incoherent, as I am suffering from bad "brain fog".)

The following is from St. Theophan the Recluse. He might be writing specifically in regards to the prayer of the heart, but I think his message can also be applicable to natural psychosomatic feelings in general:

Warmth of heart, about which you write, is a good condition, which should be guarded and maintained. When it weakens, you must continue to kindle it, gathering yourself together inwardly with all your strength and calling upon God. To prevent it leaving you, you must avoid distraction of thoughts and impressions coming through the senses, which are incompatible with this state. Avoid the attachment of your heart to anything visible, or the absorption of your attention by any worldly care. Let your attention toward God be unwavering, and the tautness of your body unslackened, like a bowstring, or a soldier on parade. But the most important thing is to pray to God and ask Him to prolong this mercy of warmth in the heart.

When the query arises 'Is this it?', make it your rule once and for all mercilessly to drive away all such questions as soon as they appear. They originate from the enemy. If you linger over this question the enemy will pronounce the decision without delay, 'Oh yes, certainly it is - you have done very well!' From then on you stand on stilts and begin to harbor illusions about yourself and to think that others are good for nothing. Grace will vanish: but the enemy will make you think that grace is still with you. This will mean that you think you possess something, when really you have nothing at all. The Holy Fathers wrote, 'Do not measure yourself.' If you think you can decide any question about your progress, it means that you are beginning to measure yourself to see how much you have grown. Please avoid this as you would avoid fire.

I have bold-faced the most applicable sentences for this thread, though obviously the rest of the quote is very beneficial as well. The interesting thing is that, because of certain feelings, sometimes we can be deceived into thinking that we have grace and are in a high spiritual state, when "really [we] have nothing at all".

The following is from another one of his letters. If I had bold-faced the applicable sentences, I would have bold-faced the entire quote:

Real warmth is a gift of God; but there is also natural warmth which is the fruit of your own efforts and passing moods. The two are as far apart as heaven and earth. It is not clear in the early stages which kind of warmth you have; later on it will be revealed.

You say that your thoughts tire you out, that they do not allow you to stand firmly before God. This is a sign that your warmth comes not from God but from yourself. The first-fruit of the warmth of God is the gathering of thoughts into one, and their ceaseless concentration upon God. Think of the woman whose issue of blood suddenly dried up. In the same way, when we receive warmth from God, the flux of thoughts is halted.

What then is necessary? Keep your natural warmth but set no value on it, and consider it only as a kind of preparation for God's warmth. And then, grieved over the faintness of the echo of God's warmth in your heart, pray to Him unceasingly and with suffering: 'Be merciful! Turn not Thy face from me! Let They face shine on me!' Along with this, increase bodily privations in food, sleep, work, and so on. And place everything in the hands of God.

The "later on it will be revealed" shows that it takes time and experience to be able to distinguish between the "natural warmth" and the "gift of God".

He shows a marker we can use to distinguish whether our feelings are natural or supernatural: "the gathering of thoughts into one, and their ceaseless concentration upon God... the flux of thoughts is halted." This is very valuable information. I love to learn things like this, and it is one of the reasons why I started this thread.

And the following is advice for how we should view the natural good-feelings: "Keep your natural warmth but set no value on it, and consider it only as a kind of preparation for God's warmth." This is also what I've learned through my own experiences. For example, sometimes when we go outside into a beautiful place we might have many positive feelings. Shortly afterwards it might become easier to pray and to think about God, and we might have strong feelings of love. Are we closer to God at that moment, or are these all natural feelings? Don't even the atheists feel good when they visit a beautiful place? I think that even if these feelings are natural, it is good if they help us to become more receptive to the supernatural feelings. I think the same conclusion could be drawn from Rick's previous Yoga example (ignoring the controversy surrounding Yoga, since it would completely throw this thread off...).

On the other hand, there are also examples of when we are deceived, and instead of the natural "good" feelings being a "preparation for God's warmth", they become a source of pride and delusion. I have been deceived like this countless times in my life. My personal solution to avoiding such deception is to ignore all feelings and just try to repent to God. Using this strategy it doesn't matter if the feelings are natural or supernatural, because we ignore them all. Also, even if someone feels very good while praying, if they ask themselves "am I repenting now?" they will be able to see if their "good" feelings will eventually cause them pride or humility. (And as Herman has said above, humility is the "key" to understanding these experiences.) I'm not saying that this is a strategy that would be beneficial for anyone else, nor am I saying that such a strategy is supported by most spiritual fathers (I don't know). I'm just saying that this problem of "where are these feelings coming from?" has bothered me a lot in the past, and "just repent" has been my favorite solution.

There is always a danger in a topic like this of "stepping over the line" and sharing something that is too personal. I hope I have not done this, and please forgive me if I have.

Sidenote: Can anyone please tell me what the phrase 'Do not measure yourself' would be in ancient Greek? (If I had to guess, I would say "Min metreite eavtois", but I'm not sure if that's correct.)

#28 Jason Hunt

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 04:29 PM

Probably the best work would be that entitled “On the Signs of Grace and Delusion, Written for the Confessor Longinos: Ten Texts” by St. Gregory of Sinai, contained in the IV volume of the Philokalia. It is too long to quote in its entirety, but the following three paragraphs excerpted from this text will hopefully be a helpful introduction:

On the Signs of Grace and Delusion, Written for the Confessor Longinos: Ten Texts
St. Gregory of Sinai
Philokalia, Volume IV


ON THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF ENERGY

8. In every beginner two forms of energy are at work, each affecting the heart in a distinct way. The first comes from grace, the second from delusion. St. Mark the Ascetic corroborates this when he says that there is a spiritual energy and a satanic energy, and that the beginner cannot distinguish between them. These energies in their turn generate three kinds of fervor, the first prompted by grace, the second by delusion or sin, and the third by an excess of blood. This last relates to what St. Thalassios the Libyan calls the body’s temperament, the balance and concord of which can be achieved by appropriate self-control.

ON DIVINE ENERGY

9. The energy of grace is the power of spiritual fire that fills the heart with joy and gladness, stabilizes, warms, and purifies the soul, temporarily stills our provocative thoughts, and for a time suspends the body’s impulsions. The signs and fruits that testify to its authenticity are tears, contrition, humility, self-control, silence, patience, self-effacement and similar qualities, all of which constitute undeniable evidence of its presence.

ON DELUSION

10. The energy of delusion is the passion for sin, inflaming the soul with thoughts of sensual pleasure and arousing phrenetic desire in the body for intercourse with other bodies. According to St. Diadochos it is entirely amorphous and disordered, inducing a mindless joy, presumption and confusion, accompanied by a mood of ill-defined sterile levity, and fomenting above all the soul’s appetitive power with its sensuality. It nourishes itself on pleasure, aided and abetted by the insatiable belly; for through the belly it not only impregnates and enkindles our whole bodily temperament but also acts upon and inflames the soul, drawing it to itself so that little by little the disposition to self-indulgence expels all grace from the person thus possessed.


Again, this is just a taste of this work, which should be read in its entirety. St. Gregory discusses how to discover the energy of the Holy Spirit and what are the signs which accompany the Holy Spirit’s activity in us. St. Gregory also describes different kinds of exultation, joyousness, and trembling, explaining what such experiences may look like which are from God and symptomatic of the experience of divine grace, and those which come from the Evil One and are symptomatic of demonic delusion.

Having provided the above, I still would like to emphasize the quote I provided previously from St. John Cassian regarding Discrimination. It is not sufficient to buy a Medical Diagnostics book and begin to diagnose our own ailments and treat our own infirmities. We need to have a good physician, someone with the necessary qualifications who can perform a proper examination of us, provide an accurate diagnosis, and prescribe the necessary remedies. Openness with one’s spiritual father about all such things, and an eagerness to follow his advice, is the greatest sign of humility and safeguard against delusion.

#29 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 04:46 PM

...everything that is of God is peaceful and useful
and leads a man to humility and to judging himself.*

St. Barsanuphius the Great

#30 Nina

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 05:10 PM

You guys are hoping someone who is deluded is gonna read these posts and learn humility right? lol

#31 Christina M.

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 05:14 PM

You guys are hoping someone who is deluded is gonna read these posts and learn humility right? lol


You were close...
I am the one who is deluded, and I am hoping to learn humility! :) LOL (actually it's not very funny... because it's true.)

#32 Nina

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 05:39 PM

You were close...
I am the one who is deluded, and I am hoping to learn humility! :) LOL (actually it's not very funny... because it's true.)


You know, when people put themselves down too much is also delusion Fathers have said. I do that a lot.

#33 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 07:46 PM

So, we have Christina saying she may be deluded and Nina saying Christina is deluded for thinking she may be deluded. Guess so!

Herman the delusional Pooh

#34 Christina M.

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 07:52 PM

So, we have Christina saying she may be deluded and Nina saying Christina is deluded for thinking she may be deluded. Guess so!

Herman the delusional Pooh


Herman, I must say I agree with Nina here. Truly, I am deluded.

Oh shoot... I just put myself down again! :) It's a lose-lose situation.

#35 Andrew Prather

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 09:28 PM

If you see your brother being lifted skyward, as if borne by angels, grab his ankle and pull him down, those angels might be demons in disguise! (from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers)


Do you remember who said this?

#36 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 01:05 AM

I'm not at home & don't have access to my copy of the desert fathers right now. Maybe someone who does have a copy handy could chime in?

#37 Christina M.

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 02:10 AM

Do you remember who said this?

It is "saying" #112 in Sister Benedicta Ward's "The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers", but it just says: "The old men used to say..." and doesn't give an exact author.

I'm not at home

Someone asked Abba Anthony: "What must I do to be saved?" The Abba replied: "In whatever place you live, do not easily leave it."
:) LOL!

#38 Andrew Prather

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 02:30 AM

Thanks, when I go home I'll check it out. I spent several hours looking for it but I was not able to find it.

Wait, I have Ward's Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Does anyone know if it is in this?

#39 Nina

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 04:33 AM

So, we have Christina saying she may be deluded and Nina saying Christina is deluded for thinking she may be deluded. Guess so!

Herman the delusional Pooh


I am not saying anything about Christina being deluded. Because I do not think she is deluded. Isn't it the purpose to know what Fathers say? Genuine humility leads away from delusion. This is what you said and what I said too, albeit through different words.

#40 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 07:47 AM

Nina, I started giving you a feedback comment and then pressed the OK button by mistake. I can't send you a second feedback comment so I'm posting what I wanted to say.

You write that genuine humility leads away from delusion. This is absolutely correct. When we have humility it is difficult if not impossible to believe that we have God's grace and so are able to levitate or heal illness or whatever else we may convince ourselves we are capable of doing. These things people close to God are able to do, but they often conceal that they have special powers because they have true humility. For those of us who are "up and down" in our faith (like myself) what extraordinary arrogance it would be to believe that I have purity of soul, mind and body - so much in fact that God would give me such gifts. Sadly, mental hospitals are full of people who imagine that they are special and much superior to all others.




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