…”when they, because of their pride, have contempt for others, speak poorly of them, yet keep that they are worthy, in their mind, to be pastors to the sheep and their teachers, they resemble a blind man wishing to show they way for other blind men.”
St. Ignatius Bryanchaninov
Perhaps the title is slightly harsh, but this is how I perceive a group of people who purposely stand out, and finally step out, of the dynamics of Church life; tearing at, and finally tearing away into schism from the very Church which gave them rise.
This time, though, there will be nothing on schismatics and schism; the following words are about prelest and those suffering from it, the ones who feed every schism.
What is prelest?
Fr. Archimandrite Raphael Karein teaches us, “The etymologic breakdown of the Slavic word prelest is composed of the root lest, or lie, deception, and delusion; prefaced with the prefix pre which enhances and increases the strength of the action or characteristics of its root. So, prelest is a particularly dangerous, especially terrible spiritual delusion or deception, given to man from the demons.”
In other words, this is when somebody convinces themselves that they are unique and unrepeatable, more righteous above all the righteous, wondering why their angelic wings have not yet sprouted, so that they may elevate themselves into heavenly heights, above all us unworthy sinners and ordinary mortals. “The basis of prelest, like the basis of every sin, is pride and arrogance. Pride has several aspects, or forms. Pride before men, worldly pride, is what we call hubris. Another form of pride is spiritual, before God; when man thinks that he has the fullness of virtue within himself and everything which is necessary for salvation, considering everything and everyone else lesser. A proud man in prelest, is convinced that he doesn’t require the help of God’s grace, rather that everything is attainable by his own intellect and the conviction of his own will. Here begins the shifting of his spiritual equilibrium from God being the centre, to him, thus giving birth to egocentrism. Man wants to draw spiritual strength from himself, through his own mystical experiences and personal revelations.
Similarities are attracted to each other. This is the law of spiritual attraction. This is why pride attracts man into a relationship, and particular familiarity with the spirit of pride – Satan. The soul of a proud man begins to accept information from the demons; information from the world of the fallen, discarded, dark spirits; information in the form of brilliant ideas, which he perceives as spiritual discoveries and believes that no single spiritual struggles ever had resulted in the struggler being made worthy with such revelation.” (Archimandrite Raphael Karein)
“Prelest starts from disobedience to the Church, and from the seeking of some kind of special road to salvation, that is, some kind of recalcitrant spiritual experimentation.” (Same source as previous)
Their Church is not good enough for them. They always look for, and have convinced themselves that they actually do find, a “better” church which is worthy of them and their outstanding “holiness”. Precisely this is why they try anything and everything, mingling in many places, and not finding anything worthy of their righteousness, they found their own “catacombs”, publishing maps with highlighted directions to the “catacomb”. These “saints”, having learned that when only few Christians remain on Earth the remainder of them will retreat into catacombs and wait for Christ, have chosen themselves among the few precious and select to label themselves as belonging to “catacombs”.
They are more fatal to themselves, than anyone who they find refuge from in their “catacombs”.
The infected with the virus of prelest need to be distinguished from the truly pious, or if you will, holy people. Thank God, there are still such holy people in our day, even if they are rare. Thos who suffer from prelest are much more numerous. Even more than this, St. Ignatius Bryanchaninov says that “all people, without exception, suffer from prelest caused by the fall of our forefathers. The worst form of prelest is thinking that we are free of it.” Nobody is safe from this monster. St. Makarius the Great says that “there is no man who is completely free of pride”, adding that “there is nobody free from the perfidious effects of prelest”.
Take for example one of the former bishops of our Church. We respected him and, I admit, developed solidarity with some of his views. But when he inflated himself, full of his own false grandiosity, like a balloon, floating into heavenly altitudes, he convinced himself that he is the only leader and saviour of the troubled Serbian people. Having refused obedience to his Church, as all those suffering from prelest do, we had to leave him to his own disillusioned delusions and arrogance, so that we also would not be dragged into the depths of this spiritual lair of despair.