Humility: Divine Protection from Spiritual Deception
“A sinner can easily repent, but it is difficult for one in delusion…” (Elder Daniel of Katounakia, Contemporary Elders, p. 258).
“All of us are subject to spiritual deception. Awareness of this fact is the greatest protection against it. Likewise, the greatest spiritual deception of all is to consider oneself free from it. We are all deceived, all deluded; we all find ourselves in a condition of falsehood; we all need to be liberated by the Truth. The Truth is our Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 8:32-14:6)… With tears let us cry out to the Lord Jesus to bring us out of prison, to draw us forth from the depths of the earth, and to wrest us from the jaws of death! ‘For this cause did our Lord Jesus Christ descend to us,’ says the venerable Symeon the New Theologian, ‘because he wanted to rescue us from captivity and from most wicked spiritual deception.’” (St. Ignatius, On Spiritual Deception).
The following is a story about Elder Daniel of Katounakia’s spiritual insight into delusion, from the book Contemporary Elders written by Elder Cherubim and published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (pp. 259-260). May God protect us from similar delusions and spiritual deceptions by granting us the virtues of humility and obedience!
When Elder Daniel Katounakiotis (+1929) was in the Russian Monastery, he observed that a certain monk living in asceticism in a kathisma outside the Monastery played a role of a great ascetic. He fasted severely, wore the most wretched clothes, walked around barefoot even in winter, etc. Among other things, while the rule called for 300 prostrations a day, he made 3000. For this reason the other monks marveled at him.
Elder Daniel, even though he was younger at the time, displayed no enthusiasm. His clear-sighted eyes discerned a situation that was not pleasing to God. He noticed that the door of his kathisma contained an opening which allowed the passers-by to look in and praise his great asceticism.
His love moved him to report the situation to the abbot, and thus save the brother from delusion. The abbot set out for the kathisma of the “super-ascetic”.
“How are you doing here, father?”
“By your prayers, Elder, well. I struggle and weep over my sins.”
“Only you never come to tell me your thoughts.”
“What could I tell you, Elder? You know them all. I am a sinner who struggles.”
“How do you struggle? Tell me, do you make prostrations?”
“Yes, Elder, I make a few.”
“By your prayers, 3000 a day.”
“What! Why 3000? Who gave you a blessing to do so many? No, don’t ever do 3000 again. What are you trying to portray – a ‘super-ascetic’? From now on do only fifty, so you won’t get proud.”
With that the abbot left. The incision had been made, and the abscess soon revealed its foul contents. For the former “great ascetic” made a 180-degree turn. He was unable to make even fifty prostrations. Instead of ragged clothes he now wore whatever was most expensive, and had the choicest foods brought to his poor table. Naturally, the other fathers were astonished, and they understood that his excessive ascetic practices had been fed by the spirit of pride. This explained this surprising change, for the spirit of delusion runs after extremes. According to Patristic wisdom, the extreme, the superfluous, and the excessive are “of the demons”.
—Elder Daniel Katounakiotis