HAVING LITTLE OR NO FOUNDATION in the genuine sources of Christian spiritual
experience - the Holy Mysteries of the Church, and the spiritual teaching
handed down by the Holy Fathers from Christ and His Apostles-the followers of
the "charismatic" movement have no means of distinguishing the grace
of God from its counterfeit. All "charismatic" writers show, to a
lesser or greater degree, a lack of caution and discrimination toward the
experiences they have. Some Catholic Pentecostals, to be sure, "exorcise
satan" before asking for "Baptism in the Spirit"; but the
efficacy of this act, as will soon be evident from their own testimony, is
similar to that of the Jews in the Acts (19:15), to whose "exorcism"
the evil spirit replied: "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are
you?" St. John Cassian, the great 5th-century Orthodox father of the
West, who wrote with great discernment on the working of the Holy Spirit in his
Conference on "Divine Gifts," notes that "sometimes the demons
[work miracles] in order to lift into pride the man who believes himself to
possess the miraculous gift, and so prepare him for a more miraculous fall.
They pretend that they are being burnt up and driven out from the bodies where
they were dwelling through the holiness of people whom truly they know to be
unholy... In the Gospel we read: There shall arise false Christs and false
The 18th-century Swedish "visionary," Emanuel Swedenborg - who was
a strange forerunner of today's occult and "spiritual" revival- had
extensive experience with spiritual beings, whom he frequently saw and
communicated with. He distinguished two kinds of spirits, the "good"
and the "evil"; his experience has been recently confirmed by the
findings of a clinical psychologist in his work with "hallucinating"
patients in a state mental hospital in Ukiah, California. This psychologist
took seriously the voices heard by his patients and undertook a series of
"dialogues" with them (through the intermediary of the patients
themselves). He concluded, like Swedenborg, that there are two very different
kinds of "beings" who have entered into contact with the patients:
the "higher" and the "lower." In his own words:
"Lower-order voices are similar to drunken bums at a bar who like to tease
and torment just for the fun of it. They suggest lewd acts and then scold the
patient for considering them. They find a weak point of conscience and work on
it interminably...The vocabulary and range of ideas of the lower order is
limited, but they have a persistent will to destroy...They work on every
weakness and belief, claim awesome powers, lie, make promises, and then
undermine the patient's will... All of the lower order are irreligious or
anti-religious... To one person they appeared as conventional devils and
referred to themselves as demons."
"In direct contrast stand the rarer higher-order hallucinations... This
contrast may be illustrated by the experience of one man. He had heard the
lower order arguing for a long while about how they would murder him. But he
also had a light come to him at night, like the sun. He knew it was a different
order because the light respected his freedom and would withdraw if it
frightened him... When the man was encouraged to approach his friendly sun he
entered a world of powerful numinous experiences... [Once] a very powerful and
impressive Christ-like figure appeared... Some patients experience both the
higher and lower orders at various times and feel caught between a private
heaven and hell. Many only know the attacks of the lower order. The higher
order claims power over the lower order and, indeed, shows it at times, but not
enough to give peace of mind to most patients... The higher order appeared
strangely gifted, sensitive, wise, and religious" .
Any reader of the Orthodox Lives of Saints and other spiritual literature
knows that all of these spiritsboth "good" and "evil," the
"lower" with the "higher" - are equally demons, and that
the discernment between true good spirits (angels) and these evil spirits
cannot be made on the basis of onešs own feelings or impressions. The
widespread practice of "exorcism" in "charismatic" circles
offers no guarantee whatever that evil spirits are actually being driven out;
exorcisms are also very common (and seemingly successful) among primitive
shamans,14 who also recognize that there are different kinds of spirits - which
are all, however, equally demons, whether they seem to flee when exorcised or
come when invoked to give shamanistic powers.
No one will deny that the "charismatic" movement on the whole is
firmly oriented against contemporary occultism and satanism. But the more
subtle of the evil spirits appear as "angels of light" (2 Cor.
11:14), and a great gift of discernment, together with a deep distrust of all
onešs extraordinary "spiritual" experiences, is required if a person
is not to be deceived. In the face of the subtle, invisible enemies who wage
unseen warfare against the human race, the naively trusting attitude towards
their experiences of most people involved in the "charismatic" movement
is an open invitation to spiritual deception. One pastor, for example, counsels
meditation on Scriptural passages and then writing down any thought
"triggered" by the reading: "This is the Holy Spirit's personal
message to you" (Christenson, p. 139). But any serious student of
Christian spirituality knows that, for example, ŗat the beginning of the
monastic life some of the unclean demons instruct [novices] in the
interpretation of the Divine Scriptures...gradually deceiving them that they
may lead them into heresy and blasphemy" (The Ladder of St. John,
Step 26: 152).
Sadly, the attitude of the Orthodox followers of the "charismatic
revival" seems no more discerning than that of Catholics and Protestants.
They obviously do not know well the Orthodox Fathers or Lives of Saints, and
when they do quote a rare Father, it is often out of context (see later
concerning St. Seraphim). The "charismatic" appeal is chiefly one to experience.
One Orthodox priest writes: "Some have dared to label this experience 'prelest'
- spiritual pride. No one who has encountered the Lord in this way could fall
into this delusion" (Logos, April, 1972, p. 10). But it is a very rare
Orthodox Christian who is capable of distinguishing very subtle forms of
spiritual deception (where "pride," for example, may take the form of
"humility") solely on the basis of his feeling about them without
reference to the patristic tradition; only one who has already fully
assimilated the patristic tradition into his own thought and practice and has attained
great sanctity can presume to do this.
How is the Orthodox Christian prepared to withstand deception? He has the
whole body of God-inspired patristic writings which, together with Holy
Scripture, present the judgment of Christ's Church for 1900 years with regard
to virtually every conceivable spiritual and pseudo-spiritual experience. Later
we shall see that this tradition has a very definite judgment precisely on the
chief question the "charismatic" movement raises: concerning the
possibility of a new and widespread "outpouring of the Holy Spirit"
in the last days. But even before consulting the Fathers on specific questions,
the Orthodox Christian is protected against deception by the very knowledge
that such deception not only exists, but is everywhere, including within
himself. Bishop Ignatius writes: "We are all in deception. The knowledge
of this is the greatest preventative against deception. It is the greatest
deception to acknowledge oneself to be free of deception." He quotes St.
Gregory the Sinaite, who warns us: "It is not a little labor to attain the
truth precisely and to make oneself pure of everything that opposes grace;
because it is usual for the devil to show his deception, especially to
beginners, in the form of truth, giving a spiritual appearance to what is
evil." And "God is not angry at him who, fearing deception, watches
over himself with extreme caution, even if he should not accept something which
is sent from God... On the contrary, God praises such a one for his good
Thus, totally unprepared for spiritual warfare, unaware that there is such a
thing as spiritual deception of the most subtle sort (as opposed to obvious
forms of occultism), the Catholic or Protestant or uninformed Orthodox
Christian goes to a prayer meeting to be "baptized (or filled) with the
Holy Spirit." The atmosphere of the meeting is extremely loose, being
intentionally left "open" to the activity of some "spirit."
Thus do Catholics (who profess to be more cautious than Protestants) describe
some of their Pentecostal gatherings: "There seemed to be no barriers, no
inhibitions...They sat cross-legged on the floor. Ladies in slacks. White-robed
monk. Cigarette smokers. Coffee drinkers. Praying in free-form... It occurred
to me that these people were having a good time praying! Is that what they
meant by the Holy Spirit dwelling amongst them?" And at another Catholic
Pentecostal meeting, "except for the fact that no one was drinking, it
seemed like a cocktail party" (Ranaghan, pp. 157, 209). At interdenominational
"charismatic" meetings the atmosphere is likewise sufficiently
informal that no one is surprised when the "spirit" inspires an
elderly woman, in the midst of a fit of general weeping, to stand up and
"dance a little jig" (Sherrill, p. 118). To the sober Orthodox
Christian, the first thing noticeable about such an atmosphere is its total
lack of what he knows in his own Divine services as genuine piety and awe,
proceeding from the fear of God. And this first impression is only strikingly
confirmed by observation of the truly strange effects which the Pentecostal
"spirit" produces when it descends into this loose atmosphere. We
shall now examine some of these effects, placing them before the judgment of
the Holy Fathers of the Church of Christ.
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