Shawn Ragan & “Prelest”

I am thoroughly enjoying Shawn’s blog. He is a professional Protestant pastor who is willing to walk away from his job and ministry in order to follow Jesus into the Orthodox Church. His posts are very authentic, well-written, and inspiring.

One of his latest posts, called “Prelest,” discusses an issue I’ve faced personally as well. Spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving, are core practices in Orthodoxy. Because of this, it is easy for us who are naturally self-disciplined to take on the mantle of spiritual disciplines with a bit more ease. Add to that my distorted perfectionism, and I can fall prey to the idea that “more is better.” So if praying for 10 minutes every morning is good, then I’m going to shoot for 20 or 30 or 60 minutes. And if I succeed at this, I fall into a second and more devious trap of judgmentalism toward those who can’t or won’t practice spiritual disciplines with any kind of consistency.

Well, all of that is a spiritual deception called Prelest or spiritual pride. And it is demonic. As Shawn explains in his post, if my spiritual discipline is leading toward spiritual pride, demons will actually empower my spiritual discipline. The idea of demons actually empowering my spiritual disciplines so that they further blind and deceive me is absolutely terrifying to me. Simply engaging in spiritual disciplines is not enough for formation. They can actually hurt me if done incorrectly.

Bottom-line, I must remain humble before the Lord in both my knowledge and practice. Jesus alone is my salvation. And I’m reminded over and over that I need the wisdom and nurture of his Church to help me in my journey towards him.

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3 thoughts on “Shawn Ragan & “Prelest”

  1. Jason,
    I am writing this comment before examining Shawn Ragan’s blog. I offer here a few elucidations (hopely not obfuscations!) on this theme of prelest.
    First of all, prelest (slavonic for the Greek, plane–“PLAH-nee”) really means “error” in the basic sense of getting lost on a trip. I THINK I am going to point A, but in reality I find myself at some other point, and thus am lost.
    Spiritually, prelest is a natural concomittant of any spiritual endeavor when this endeavor is undertaken without the guidance of a spiritual father. This is the key point! The practice of conferring with a spiritual father in establishing a personal rule of prayer and ascetical effort is of fundamental importance. Anything we try to do on our own, no matter how carefully we prepare ourselves, is bound to lead us into one error or another: pharasaism, legalism, spiritualism, antinomianism, etc. It is wonderful the spiritual blessing which the virtue of humility and obedience can engender in even the most spiritually simple person!
    Finally, I would want to amend the statement that “demons would empower my spiritual discipline.” yes, there is a deception of spiritualism. but this kind of prelest can ONLY take place where obedience and humility are absent. There is a story of a monk overtaken by what he perceived to be very powerful manifestations of divine presence. when he mentioned this to his spiritual father, the father offered no response. After a few more such mentions, the spiritual father finally said, “when this next takes place, make the sign of the cross and say, ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy on me'” the monk did so, and the so-called experience never took place again. I love this safety in Mother Church!

  2. Fr Patrick, thank you for the clarification. You have pinpointed the problem I’ve experienced these several years — I’ve tried to pursue spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines by myself, without the aid of a spiritual father. While I’ve tried to remain humble, the lack of wise guidance has only caused problems. I am looking forward to conferring with you on these matters in the future.

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