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NoeticPrayerAsMissionAgainstHeresyIn his renowned epistles, Elder Joseph the Cave Dweller vividly describes for us the process by which delusions and heresies are born. In particular, he writes the following in Epistle Thirty-Six:

Take, for example, a spring by the seashore that wells up clean water. Suddenly a storm breaks out, the sea rises, and our little spring is polluted with sea water. No matter how clever you are, you will not be able to separate the sea water from the spring’s water. The same thing happens with the nous.

The demons are spirits. Therefore, they are akin to and can be assimilated with our spirit, the nous. The nous is the purveyor of the soul, for it brings every appearance and perception of a noetic movement to the heart, which in turn filters it and gives it to the intellect. Therefore, the nous can be deceived just as the spring was polluted in the example. That is, the unclean spirit stealthily pollutes the nous, which in turn, as usual, gives whatever it has to the heart. If the heart is not pure, it gives the murk to the mind, and then the soul is darkened and blackened, constantly accepting fantasies henceforth instead of theorias. In this manner, all the delusions arose and all the heresies occurred.2

Once the mind falls into delusion, it is very hard for it to return; the devil has a powerful grip on it. The delusion of the mind is terrible and difficult to understand. At another point, Elder Joseph emphasizes:

For when someone gripped by delusion obeys someone else, it is possible for him to be delivered from it, and for the evil one to lose control of him. This is why the devil advises and persuades him not to believe anyone anymore and never to obey anyone, but henceforth to accept only his own thoughts and trust only in his own discernment. Lurking within this haughty attitude is that huge ego, the Luciferian pride of the heretics and of all who are deluded and do not want to return to the truth.3

It is very hard, if not impossible, for the atheist, the heretic or for any deluded man to come to an understanding of his condition, which presupposes repentance. It is hard for him to believe that he is in error, that what he believes does not represent the truth but falsehood. On the contrary, the sinner always has the chance to be saved.

One modern-day elder had the following opinion:

If we had on one side a thousand deluded people and on the other a thousand extremely sinful people, nine hundred ninety-nine of the sinners would be saved, except for one unrepentant person; while of the deluded, the issue is whether one would change. And this is because a deluded man does not change easily. Delusion is a sweet pill. The sinner may be saved with one “I have sinned” as the thief on the cross. But with a deluded man things are very difficult. He is gravely ill, as one with advanced leukemia; it is conceit, in fact, a feeling of being different than others.

Even the thirst for learning which distinguishes them (i.e. heretics) is adulterated. All the virtues are contaminated: humility with acting humble, silence with acting the part of an ascetic, love with fleshly desires, prayer with showing off, tears become an end in themselves, faith with heresy, et cetera.

Their thirst of knowledge is morphed into pleasure derived from reading, a pleasure which has to do with “being someone special.” This pleasure passes into the body, which is wholly shaken in a whirlpool of self-love. One is intoxicated with knowledge. This pleasure is a spiritual passion, which takes over the soul entirely, affecting the body as well. Thus, having taken the intoxication of knowledge as theological revelation, the Gospel and Patristic texts are misinterpreted.

Many of those who delight in reading the beautiful and highly theological writings in Holy Scripture and the commentary of the Fathers understand them and have their fill of them, so to speak. But unfortunately afterward, having grown too bold and familiar with them, they treat them as if they were their own creations. This spiritual familiarization of them with the mind, which is already darkened by the passions of vainglory and conceit, begets the fruits of cacodoxy, delusion, wickedness, and heresy. This is somewhat how the great heresiarchs and all the heretics fell.4

Deficiency or excess in the means of the spiritual struggle may lead to heresy. Deficiencies and excesses are the evils that must be avoided. In the erecting of the soul’s spiritual structure, moderation in everything is the royal way. One must also be careful with respect to the imagination.

Usually the imagination is divided into four sub-groups: (1) that which has to do with the promotion of the passions of every kind, (2) that of musing or daydreaming, (3) that of artists and cultural creators, and (4) the most dangerous, theological imagination or that of theological creation. This last kind thrusts the praying Christian into the pit of heresy and delusion. “Raw knowledge is united with the rational intellect through the imagination, giving birth to theological apparitions, offspring of delusion, of theosophy, and children of pride.”5

We continue:

The heart must first be cleansed and then it can become the abode of the Holy Spirit, that is, when pride and delusion are uprooted. Long before this, however, when the intellect is still blinded by the passions and desires to pray noetically, that is when it begins to believe somehow that it feels the God’s consolation. This, of course, is [within the realm of] the imagination and not the senses. If we rely on our imagination, it will form whatever images it desires, even of the Lord Himself, the Theotokos, the saints, paradise, etc.

This is where the descent of the so-called enlightened ones begins, who are all deluded, as they believe they supposedly venerate the angels, our Lord, the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit and so much else.

They even go further, giving their own arbitrary interpretations and creating unfortunate circumstances in the Church.

When excessive gladness and stillness of the intellect exist through humility, a lack of restrain leads the inexperienced to vanity, the attempt to please others and a sick sentimentalism regarding spiritual matters. According the experience of the neptic Fathers, in all spiritual matters, even with respect to the divine energies of the uncreated Light of the Trinity, when Divine Grace contracts there lurks the ever-present threat of hidden demonic attacks of vanity.6 “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”7

The heretics forget that which the Fathers, who theologize because they know God, continuously call to mind: to stand as babes, continually with humility, as beginners and forever students of Grace. And this is given to them as a perpetual, well-grounded feeling and internal acknowledgment.

Elder Joseph writes:

For example, you say, “I am a sinner!” But deep down, you consider yourself to be righteous. You are unable to avoid delusion. Grace wants to remain, but since you haven’t really found the truth yet, necessarily it has to leave. For without a doubt you will come to believe in your thoughts that say that you are something you are not. Consequently, grace does not stay.8

Likewise, the unquenchable thirst for spiritual knowledge and lofty spiritual matters leads to undesirable circumstances. Again, as Elder Joseph writes:

If you ask for grand things before their time, the Lord does not give them to you, because He gives things in due order. But if you keep burdening Him with your requests, He allows the spirit of delusion to imitate grace and deceive you by showing you nonsense. Therefore, it is not beneficial to ask inordinately.9

Likewise, the incorrect confession of deeds, but mostly of hidden thoughts, may lead to a serious problem. Hidden thoughts, pushed back into the depths of the heart, are reinforced, and “as they operate secretly and imperceptibly, they mature further,”10 notes Saint Neilos of Ankyra.

In conclusion, we will touch on the second part of the present study saying that a serious and collected man makes sure to stay aware of the conflicts of his soul. He is reconciled with the unpleasant and disagreeable experiences of life, “so that he not collect repressions in the depths of the unconscious part of his personality which will disturb his soul’s equilibrium.”11

Professor Cornarakes writes: “Through repression, a person believes that he has nothing to do with it, yet his unconscious is occupied with confronting the problem, without the person knowing how his unconscious operates. Therefore, repression does not rid us of the (psychological) problem. On the contrary, it entangles us in an affair that is not unfolding under the light of the consciousness but within the darkness of the unconscious.”12


1. 1 Cor. 11:19.

2. Monastic Wisdom: The Letters of Elder Joseph (Florence, AZ: St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, 1998), 187-188.

3. Ibid., 189.

4. Notes of an elder with the title, Counsels of a Spiritual Father, unpublished, 221 [in Greek].

5. Anagnostopoulos Stephanos, Protopresbyter, Ανασασμοί Σωτηρίας [Breathes of Salvation], Piraeus, 1999, 568 [in Greek].

6. Anagnostopoulos Stephanos, 14.

7. 1 Cor. 10:12.

8. Monastic Wisdom, Ninth Letter, 75.

9. Monastic Wisdom, Tenth Letter, 81.

10. Ascetic Homily, St. Neilos, Ch. 48. See: Ιω. Κορναράκη [John Kornarakis], Αναφορά στα Θέματα Ποιμαντικής Ψυχολογίας [On Issues Related to Pastoral Psychology], εκδ.Κυριακίδη, Θεσσαλονίκη, [Κyriakides Press, Τhessaloniki], 1991, 97.

11. Ιω. Κορναράκη [John Kornarakis], Ψυχολογία και πνευματική ζωή [Psychology and Spiritual Life], εκδ.Κυριακίδη, Θεσσαλονίκη, [Κyriakides Press, Τhessaloniki], 1980, 29.

12. Ibid., 28-29.


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Posted with the kind permission of Protopresbyter Peter Heers.