Signs of Grace and Delusion
After a long hiatus, it is my hope now to pick up with my reading of the Philokalia with some regularity; in particular, reading those texts set down by a staretz in the “Way of the Pilgrim” as most appropriate for beginners. I turn now to take a look at a work 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. St. Gregory (b. circa 1265, d. 1346) after embracing the monastic life in Cyprus, received the the full monastic profession at Mt. Sinai, and then travelled to Crete where he was taught by a monk called Arsenios about ‘guarding the intellect, true watchfulness and pure prayer, including the Jesus prayer; and so was initiated into the hesychastic tradition to which the writings of the Philokalia bear witness. From Crete, Gregory went to Mt. Athos where he lived for 25 years in a secluded hermitage not far from the monastery of Philotheou, until being forced to leave due to the Turkish incursions. He lived out the remainder of his life in the remote wilderness of Paroria on the border between the Byzantine Empire and Bulgaria. Five of his works have been included in the Philokalia.
Though very brief, “Signs of Grace and Delusion” addresses inner prayer, in particular the Jesus prayer, and contains a much needed description of how one discerns between what is of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit and what is of the fallen self and Satan, the source of delusion and falsehood.
Often we lose sight of our dignity and destiny as sons and daughters of God - those given new life through baptism. God has given us all we need to know Him and His will and to converse intimately with Him through the pure prayer of the heart. St. Gregory describes this sad state with simplicity and candor:
“As the great teacher St. John Chrysostom states, we should be in a position to say that we need no help from the Scriptures, no assistance from other people, but are instructed by God; for ‘all will be taught by God’ (Isa. 54:13; John 6:45), in such a way that we learn from Him and through Him what we ought to know. And this applies not only to those of us who are monks but to each and every one of the faithful: we are all of us called to carry the law of the Spirit written on the tablets of our hearts (cf. 2 Cor. 3:3), and to attain like the Cherubim the supreme privilege of conversing through pure prayer in the heart directly with Jesus. . . Unaware of the surpassing grandeur of the honor and glory in which we share, we fail to realize that we ought to grow in soul and spirit through the keeping of the commandments and so perceive noetically what we have received. On account of this most of us fall through indifference and servitude to the passions into a state of benighted obduracy.”
Having failed to keep His commandments in obedience and to purify the the eye of the heart through unceasing prayer (“the continuous invocation of the Lord Jesus”. . . “that sets the heart alight with the ineffable love for God and man”), we no longer see and perceive what God has given us. Rather, we fall into an unyielding and inflexible state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance; no longer sons and daughters of Light but those whose faith is “formal, lifeless and ineffectual.”
For every beginner, St. Gregory tells us, there are “two forms of energy at work, each affecting the heart in a distinct way” and each generating different kinds of fervor that can be prompted either by grace or delusion. We would do well to study them thoroughly. The following three paragraphs excerpted from this text will hopefully be a helpful introduction:
ON DIVINE ENERGY
“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.”
“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.”
This is just a taste of St. Gregory’s work, which should be read in its entirety. Within it, he 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.