The demons, as the most skilled conman, in countless and unfathomable ways pull people into prelest. “He lies in wait secretly, as a lion in his den; He lies in wait to catch the poor; He catches the poor when he draws him into his net.” (Ps. 10, 9) “There are many who ascended into heaven to see the glory of the saints, only to fall and lead lives of debauchery among people.” (An elder of Valaam Monastery)
“The devil transforms himself into an Angel of light, appearing to people in the form of an angel, even appearing as the Saviour. Two demons, in the form of angels, manifested themselves to Venerable Isakius of Kiev, during his seven year long imprisonment saying, “You please God; here comes the Saviour – bow to Him.” The devil appeared in the likeness of Christ in light, and the saint bowed. The demons tortured him so much that he was deprived of reason, like a baby. He had to be fed for two years because he couldn’t eat. After two long years, and many prayers of the venerable father who resided in the Kievan Lavra, he recovered and with God’s help became terrible to the demons and had power over them.” (Same source as previous)
Therefore, no one can be sure of himself that he will not fall into the clutches of the devil. The devil has brought many ascetics and true saints of the Lord to the brink of collapse. An elder of Valaam Monastery tells a story of how the devil showed Saint Simeon the Stylite chariots of fire and told him, “You’ve pleased the Lord, and we will raise you into heaven just like the Prophet Elijah.” Saint Simeon had already stepped forward, but he crossed himself, and the vision disappeared.
Had our “venerable ones” only, by God’s grace, made the sign of the cross over themselves before they embarked on demonic chariots…
Pride is the foundation of all sins, especially prelest. What do I need the Church for, and all of its bishops and elders, when I know best and I can do everything alone? “The one, who does things of his own will, does so because of vanity, and he brings himself, and those who listen to him, as a sacrifice to Satan.” (St. Ignatius Bryanchaninov) “The beginning of prelest is always superfluous confidence in oneself.” (Archimandrite Raphael Karelin) A beginner, having only yesterday stepped into church and recently being baptised allows himself to suddenly instruct the teachers, and be a priest to the priests. He begins to spread his “wisdom”, and judge and justify, condemning everyone. “Infected with the bumptiousness of their own dignity, especially of their own holiness, they are prepared to partake in all villainy, hypocrisy, cunning, deception, and evil. They burn with irreconcilable hostility against the servants of the truth, especially when others fail to recognize the piety which they speak of.” (Bishop Varnava Belaev)
Orthodox spiritual fathers say that prelest is an incurable disease. Prelest makes people irretrievable, they say. When lies replace the truth, a person suffering from prelest poisons their whole mind, heart, soul, and even their body, with this demonic virus. Everything is in disarray; their criteria are deranged and the mind is clouded. This is how prelest brings people into obvious mental disorder. Fr. Karelin says, “these people are degraded spiritually and mentally, usually becoming the object of ridicule for those around them”. However, this does not bother them one bit. On the contrary it gives them further conviction in their ways and their exclusivity. “Everyone around me is spiritually decrepit. I am a tall tree of righteousness and from this height I spit on their poor souls. People didn’t understand the prophets before me either, so how can they accept me.”
St. Ignatius Bryanchaninov testifies how far prelest can take somebody. He says, “Those who find themselves in demonic prelest get sympathy from those who, much like them, are mentally and spiritually slaves of a demonic and cunning spirit. They are a funny scene, being made to be mocked by the evil spirit which rules them; the very spirit which brought them into this state of abasement by implanting the seed of vanity. They do not understand their own enslavement, or the oddity of their behaviour, no matter how apparent this servitude and irregularity may be.
The winter of 1828-1829 I spent in the Ploshchan Monastery (Diocese of Orlov). At that time an elder suffering from prelest resided in the monastery. He had cut off his own hand, thinking that he was fulfilling an evangelical commandment, and preached that his hand was an incorrupt relic, being protected in the St. Simon Monastery in Moscow, over five hundred measures away. More than that, when the archimandrite of Simon’s monastery, and the brotherhood, would kiss his hand, he would feel it. The elder would begin to tremble and hiss loudly, considering that the fruit of his prayers. Observers saw in this a degradation, worthy of pity and laughter. The children who lived nearby ridiculed and imitated the old man, and he would in turn get extremely upset at the children, yelling and pulling their hair…None of the respected monks were successful in convincing the old man that he is in a false state of grace, in mental disarray.”
Similarly, a young man, from here, whom I listened to the first time he read the Epistle in church, has found his own pond where like a territorial toad, he engulfed in prelest can croak his fables to others suffering from prelest. That hothead, dared to stand in front of eighteen priests and a bishop, even though many of us are old enough to be his parents, and stirs up the courage to hold theological lectures to us. Even if at some point we may have believed that he had some good spirit, based on the lies and deceit which he founds his stance on, the bare spiritual eye can see that, burning with prelest, he has given his soul to the devil. For days he abused us, doing so on account of his “correct” beliefs and loyalty to “his bishop”, and this bishop in turn now claims, that he gave him a canonical release from the diocese and “gifted” him to another church jurisdiction. According to this it appears that this bully, as a member of some other church jurisdiction, was enacting strictness over us, priests of the Serbian church. Having declared himself to be the protector of our monastery, along with the one who greeted us with a crowbar in hand, and their comrades, he shamelessly insulted us leaving to his mercy who would be allowed to set foot in the monastery and who cannot, scandalously evicting a wedding and countless other offenses.
“Those who suffer from prelest are strangely artificial; they are drunk with themselves, and their self-denial does not allow them to see that they are not in a state of grace. They are imbued with false reasoning and pride, and to those who judge according to appearance and not the fruits of their labours, as the Saviour teaches us (Mat. 7, 16: “By their fruits you will recognise them” V.T.), or even less by the spiritual sense which the Apostle speaks of (Heb. 5, 14: “Strong food is for the perfect, whose senses are trained to differentiate good from evil” V.T.) they seem to be humble. “It has been observed that lay persons, even some monks, who do not possess spiritual discernment, almost always get carried away by cheaters, hypocrites, and those who dwell in demonic prelest; respecting them as sacred and holy.” (St. Ignatius Bryanchaninov) Did St. Paul have such people in mind when he says, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Gal. 1, 6-7)
“The actions of grace are clear; a demon cannot issue them,” says Bishop Varnava Belaev. “He cannot give meekness, quietness, appeasement, freedom from this world. He does not subdue the temptations and vainglory as grace does. His effect is flatulence, and arrogance, artificialness, fear – in one word, all forms of evil.”
Seeing the webs of prelest spread all over the land, St. Anthony the Great quivering, turned to the Lord asking, “Lord who will avoid these?”. To this he heard a voice answering him, “humility”.
Do not allow your pride to master over you, and raise you up high. When you fall from a great height, you’ll shatter like a pumpkin.
Humble yourself. Look deep into your frailty and sinfulness.
Turn to someone who is more experienced and follow their instructions. Do not believe yourself; do not give your trust to others easily. “Study the Holy Scripture and the wirtings of the Holy Fathers, especially practical ones, so that compared with the teachings and actions of your teacher and elder, you may recognise them as if you were looking into a mirror. Do this so you may adopt and hold that which is in accord with Scripture, and discard and reject that which is corrupt and false, so that you are not deceived.” (St. Simeon the New Theologian)
“Know that, in our day, many deceivers and false teachers have emerged.” (St. Ignatius Bryanchaninov)
Do not bear on your feeble shoulders ascetic deeds which are above your capabilities. Tread slowly; don’t skip steps – you will fall and hurt yourself. If your Church has produced so many saints, humble yourself, fulfill the commandments of the Gospel and in the bosom of the Church you will find a place for yourself among the saints in the calendar.
Do not turn right or left.
“A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit. God will not despise a contrite and humbled heart”. (Ps. 51, 17)