Genuine and false experiences of the Grace of God
Recorded speech of the Abbot, Archimandrite George of our Holy Monastery of Saint Gregory of the Holy Mountain at Stratoni of Halkidiki, on 14/27 January 1989, at the invitation of the Most Reverend Nicodemus, Metropolitan of Hierissou, of the Holy Mountain and Ardameri. Taken from the magazine "Saint Gregory" of the Holy Monastery of Saint Gregory, of the Holy Mountain.
I am very pleased to see at this evening's meeting, a holy and blessed gathering, the honourable presbytery led by the preacher of the Holy Metropolis, but also yourselves, a pious crowd, who through the blessing and invitation of your Most Reverend Metropolitan and Head Shepherd, are gathered here this evening so that all of us may confess our true faith to our God-Man Lord. Your presence this evening is not only the attendance for a lecture but also the witnessing of the Orthodox faith, which my humility will profess by mouth while you profess it with your presence. And as the Lord said in the Holy Bible: "Whoever confesses Me in front of men, I shall confess him in front of My Father in Heaven".
The purpose of our life, as you know, is our union with God. As the Holy Bible says, man was created "in the image and the likeness" of God, namely to unite with Him. The likeness of man with God, our holy Fathers call "theosis". Can you see how great the purpose of man's life is? Not to simply become better, more virtuous, more courteous by God, by grace. And what is the difference between Holy God and the deified man? That our Maker and Creator is God in nature according to His nature, while we become gods by grace, for although by nature we remain men, by His grace we are deified.
When man unites with God by grace, he receives also the experience of God; he can sense God. Otherwise how could we unite with God without feeling His grace?
Before the first-created ones in Paradise sinned, they could converse with God, they could feel divine grace. God created man to be priest, prophet, king. Priest, to accept His existence and the world as gifts of God, and to offer in return himself and the world to God eucharistically and doxologically. Prophet, to understand the mysteries of God. King, to reign over material creation and himself. To use nature, not as a tyrant but as a ruler. Not to abuse creation but to use it thankfully. Today's man does not use nature logically but instead acts self-centeredly and foolishly, and as a result, destroys his natural surroundings and within it, destroys himself.
If man had not sinned and replaced his love and obedience to God with his selfishness, he would not have separated himself from God; he would have been king, priest and prophet. However, Holy God who hurts for His creature, wishes to return man back to the state where he can again become a true priest, prophet and king. To be able to again attain the experience of God and unite with Him. It is for this, that in the narrations of of the Old Testament we see God gradually preparing mankind's salvation with the coming of His Only Son. He thus provides the gifts like those that man had before his fall - for example, the gift of prophesy. In the Old Testament there were men, like the prophet Elijah, the prophet Isaiah, the prophet Moses, who received the prophetic gift and who sighted the glory of God. However this gift was not generally given to all, nor was it for the entire duration of their lives; it was a partial grace that God had given them for a specific purpose and for circumstantial occasions. Namely, whenever God wished these just men to proclaim the coming of Christ to the world or to declare His Will, they were given the capacity to receive certain experiences and revelations.
However, the prophet Joel had prophesied that a time will come when God will bestow the grace of the Holy Spirit - not only to select men and for a specific purpose - but to all people. Here is what the prophesy of Joel says: "........I shall pour My Spirit upon all flesh", I shall give My Spirit to every person, "and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:28). Namely, my people will see spiritual visions; they will see the mysteries of God. This pouring forth of the Holy Spirit took place during the day of the Pentecost. On that day, the grace of the Holy Spirit was bestowed upon the entire assembled Church. This grace was not bestowed during the period of the Old Testament because Christ was not yet incarnate. The communion of man with God had to first be restored, for God to give the grace of the Holy Spirit to all the people. This communion our Saviour Christ achieved through His incarnation.
The first union that God had with man in Paradise was not hypostatic, which is why it failed. The second union is hypostatic namely personal. In the hypostatic person of Christ, human nature was united, undisturbed, properly, indivisibly, inseparably, with the divine nature forever. No matter how much men sin, it is no longer possible for human nature to be separate from God, because in Jesus Christ, the God-man, it is united forever with the divine nature.
For man therefore to be able to receive the Holy Spirit, to become priest, king and prophet, to know the mysteries of God and to feel God, he must become a member of the Body of Christ, of the Church. Jesus Christ is the only one, true and perfect priest, king and prophet. What Adam and Eve were created for and had failed on account of sin and selfishness, was effected by Christ. Now all of us, united with Christ, can partake in the three offices of Christ, the royal, the prophetic and the priestly. At this juncture we must clarify that with Holy Baptism and Chrismation, a Christian receives priesthood, but not the special priesthood that is obtained through tonsuring and through which the officiators of the Church receive the grace to perform the Sacraments in the Church and to shepherd the lay flock.
Laity, however, is not only the non-priests but also those who through Holy Baptism and Chrismation receive the right to be members of the people of God and the Body of Christ, and to participate in the three offices of Christ. In fact the more healthy, conscious and active member of the people of God and of the Body of Christ that the Christian is, the more closely he participates in the hierarchal, prophetic and royal right of Christ, and that far greater experience and feeling of His grace that he receives, we can see in the lives of the Saints of our Faith.
Forms of experience of the grace of God
What are the experiences of grace that a Christian can receive so that his faith and Christian life will not be for him something mental and external, but a true spiritual feeling of God, a communion with God, a habitation of God in which the complete man participates.
It is first and foremost an inner information that through faith in God, he will find the true meaning of his life. He feels that his faith in Christ is a faith that comforts him internally; that it gives meaning to his life, and guides him, that it is a strong light that illumines him. When he perceives the Christian faith within himself this way, he begins to live the grace of God. God is not something external to him.
Another experience of the grace of God man receives when he hears in his heart God's invitation to repent for his dark and sinful deeds, to return to the Christian way of life, to confess, to enter the path leading to God. This voice of God that he hears inside him is a preliminary experience of the grace of God. All the years that one lives far away from God, one cannot understand anything.
He begins to repent: he confesses to the Confessor for the first time in his life. After confession he feels a great peace and joy that he has never felt before. And then he says: "I have been comforted". This comfort is the visitation of divine grace in a soul that has repented and one that God wishes to comfort.
The tears of a repenting Christian when he prays and asks to be forgiven by God or when he confesses are tears of repentance. Those tears are very comforting. They bring lots of peace to the soul of man. Man will then feel that these are the gift and the experience of divine grace.
The deeper man repents and reaches a greater love for God and prays with a godly eros, whereby most of his tears of repentance become tears of joy, tears of love and divine eros. The tears that are above and beyond the tears of repentance are also proof of a loftier visitation and experience of the grace of God.
We approach to commune the Body and Blood of Christ having repented, confessed, with fasting and spiritual preparation. After receiving Holy Communion what do we feel? Deep peace in our soul, and spiritual joy. This too is a visitation of Divine grace and an experience of God.
There are however other, superior experiences of God. The supreme experience of God is the vision of the Uncreated Light. This was the Light the disciples of the Lord had seen on the Mount of the Transfiguration. They saw Christ shine like the sun with a heavenly and divine light, which is not a material, created light, like the sun and other created lights. It was the Uncreated Light, namely the Light of God, the Light of the Holy Trinity. Those who are completely cleansed of their passions and sins, and who pray with a sincere and clean prayer, are the ones who are deemed worthy of this great experience of seeing the Light of God in this lifetime. This is the Light that will be shining in the eternal life. They not only see it from now, but they are also seen in this Light even now, for this Light envelops the Saints. We do not see it with our eyes, but the clean of heart and saints do see it. The bright halo that is painted around the heads of the Saints is the Light of the Holy Trinity that has illumined and sanctified them.
In the life of Saint Basil the Great we read that when praying in his cell, they could see him entirely enveloped by the Light, and his cell also was flooded by that Uncreated Light. We see the same thing in the lives of many saints.
Therefore for someone to be found worthy of seeing the Uncreated Light, is one of the highest experiences bestowed by God, and is not given to every one but to very few - to those who have progressed in spiritual life. According to Abba Isaac, in each generation, barely one person manages to clearly see the Uncreated Light. There are however even in our day Christians who are worthy of this unique experience of God.
Of course we need to stress that everyone who claims to have seen the light does not mean that he has seen the Uncreated Light. The devil deceives them, and shows them other lights - demonically or psychologically - fooling them into believing that it is the Uncreated Light, when it is not. For this reason, every Christian that hears something or has a certain experience, must not readily accept it as though it comes from God, because he could be deceived by the devil. He must however confess it to his Confessor who will then tell him whether it is from God or if it is a deceit of demons. A lot of caution is needed in such cases.
Determination of a pure experience of the grace of God
Let us now look at the conditions which ensure whether different experiences we have are genuine and not false.
The first condition is that we should be persons of repentance. If we do not repent of our sins and cleanse ourselves of our passions we cannot see God. As the Lord says in His beatitudes, "Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God". The more man cleanses himself from his passions, repents and returns to God, the more he will feel and see God.
To attempt to achieve experiences of God through artificial means and methods - as is done by the heresies of Hinduism, Yoga, etc., is a mistake. Those experiences are not from God. Those are experiences derived through psychological means.
The Holy Fathers tell us: "Give blood and receive spirit". In other words, if you do not give the blood of your heart with your repentance, prayer, fasting, asceticism, you cannot receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. True spiritual experiences are given to those who through humility do not ask for spiritual experiences but ask God for repentance and salvation. To those who are humble and say, "My God, I am not worthy of receiving a visitation of Your grace and divine and heavenly solace and spiritual pleasures". To those however who through pride ask God to give them experiences, He will not give them true and genuine experiences due to their pride. So therefore the second condition is humility.
The third condition for receiving a true spiritual experience is to be within the bosom of the Church. Not outside the Church; because outside the Church the devil will deceive us. When a sheep becomes separated from the flock, it will be devoured by wolves. Within the flock there is safety. The Christian is safe, inside the Church. However, when he leaves the Church, he is exposed to his own deceits, and those of other people and of the demons. We have innumerable examples of many people who did not heed the Church and in their spiritual state, eventually fell victim to deceit. They even believed that they saw God or that they were visited by God when in reality the experiences they had were demonic and destructive. It also helps greatly to offer pure and fervent prayers. The truth is, that during the time of prayer God gives most spiritual experiences to man, which is why those who pray with longing, zeal and patience, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and feel the grace of God.
As you may know, there is a prayer we say at the Holy Mountain and which you may also be saying: "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me the sinner". This prayer which is characterized as noetic, heartfelt and unremitting when it is said with humility, with longing and persistence, brings in the heart of man the feeling of the grace of God.
False experiences of the grace of God.
People have false experiences of God when they believe that by themselves, with their own powers, in heresies, in groups, in religious gatherings, outside the Church, they can receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. They gather and some new "prophet" acts as their leader and they believe they are receiving the grace of God.
It so happened that I was present at a gathering of Pentecostals in the States in 1966 during my visit there. Their "church" was a school assembly hall. At first, someone began to play some music with soft and gentle sounds which, as time moved on, became increasingly more intense, deafening and frantic, and aroused excitement in the assembly. The music finished and the preacher started. He too began with gentle tones and as he continued, he began to shout increasingly louder. He too eventually created an excited atmosphere. And after all the crowd had been subjected to auto suggestion and hysteria, they too began to shout and move their arms about frantically, while uttering totally unintelligible noises. I could sense that the Spirit of God was definitely not there, given that the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of peace and not of such turmoil and excitement. The Spirit of God does not visit through artificial and psychological means. I felt rather sorry for the children that were there with their parents, as they were to suffer the consequences of this mass neurosis.
A young man who had become a monk at the Holy Mountain after first becoming involved in Hindu Yoga (you should know that there are approximately 500 Hindu heresies in Greece), described to me what experiences they strive for in there. Whenever they desired to see light, they would rub their eyes until they could see little stars. Whenever the desired to hear unusual sounds they applied some sort of pressure on their ears so that they could create sounds.
Similar psychological experiences that are produced artificially, are attributed by some heretics to the Holy Spirit.
Other experiences in heretic gatherings are not only psychological. They could also be demonic. The devil manipulates the seeking of such experiences by some people and presents them with various "signs" that are not from God but from them; i.e., diabolical. These people cannot understand that they allow themselves to become victims of the devil. They actually believe such "signs" to be heavenly and brought by the Holy Spirit. The devil can also give them some prophetic abilities, the way he does to the various "mediums" and "psychics". The Lord has however forewarned us: "For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect." (Matth.24:24). They won't merely perform miracles and wonders, or scary signs: just like the Antichrist, who will not do bad things when he comes. He will perform good deeds, heal the sick and various other impressive things that will deceive people, if possible even the elect, so that they will acknowledge him as a saviour and follow him.
That is why we must be careful. Every one who can perform signs and prophesies is not always from God. Again as the Lord says: "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matth.7:22-23).
I knew a young man who was led astray by occult and Pentecostal heresies, who admitted that the various experiences they had when they were members of these heresies, were obviously diabolical.
A former Pentecostal man for example admitted that during the Pentecostal gatherings when some "prophetess" would utter a "prophecy" he could feel a disturbing demonic presence and that when he tried to say the prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me the sinner", the "speaking in tongues" would begin, and would drown out his attempt and impede him from saying the prayer.
Given that the devil can transform himself into an angel of light, we must be careful with experiences. The Apostle John advises us "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). Not all the spirits are from God. Those who have the Apostle Paul's gift of discernment of spirits (1 Cor. 12:10) can discern if the spirits are from God or from the devil. The Confessors of the Church have this gift. That is why when we have such problems we must seek our Confessor and he will determine the source of every experience.
Even monastics can be deceived. We have had cases at the Holy Mountain where monks were deceived by such experiences. For example, an angel appeared to a monk -which was in fact the devil- and told him "Come to the peak of Athos, so I can show you great miracles". He guided him there and he would have fallen off the precipice, had he not invoked divine help. He made the mistake of believing that the vision was from God when he shouldn't have. Monastics know that when they have a vision, they must tell it to their Elder and he will tell them if it is from God or from the demons. Where there is pride, deceit is very possible.
The experiences of the Pentecostals are not from God. It is for this reason that are not enabled to enter the Church but instead, are driven away from Her. Only the devil is interested in drawing people away from the Church.
Furthermore, their own divisions into numerous sub-heresies and groups is proof that they do not comprise the One, true Church of God. Protestantism consists of thousands of heresies. One of the protestant heresies is Pentecostalism. In the USA alone, there are over 39 different Pentecostal groups. Many of the Pentecostal heresies have no communion between them. Here are the titles of some of the Pentecostal groups: "Congregation of the Church of God of the Mountain", "Integrated Congregation of the Church of God", "Theater Gar", "Sleepless Mission", "Church of Mother Horn", "Church of Mother Robertson", "Jesus and Sleepless Mission", "Remainder of the Church of God", "Fire born Church of God's sanctity of America", "Church of Mogara Cook", "National Spiritual Davidic Union Temple Church of God", "Church of the Square Bible"......
If the Spirit of God truly existed in these groups, there would have been a union between them all; there would have been one unified Church and not so many different and opponent groups.
Also, some of the phenomena that take place during their assemblies, such as shaking, dropping to the floor as if dead ("slain in the Spirit"), screaming unrecognizable and useless utterances, are not gifts that come from the peaceful Spirit of God. Similar phenomena are found in idolatrous religions. They also have many similarities with occult spiritualist phenomena.
They also encourage a spirit of pride, by believing that the entire Church that dates almost two thousand years is deluded, and that they are the ones who have supposedly discovered the truth, in 1900. The first one who created the group of Pentecostals is an American. The first Pentecostal in Greece, Michael Gounas, preached, "After so many centuries in the land of Greece, the onset of the visitation of God happened like on the day of the Pentecost". According to him, the visit of Christ started in Greece by him, the way it did on the day of the Pentecost! All the other years there apparently was nothing. Can you see the satanic egotism and pride?
So, what about this "speaking in tongues" (glossolalia) gift that is so coveted by them? Indeed, in the New Testament there is a reference to "speaking in tongues". The holy Apostles on the day of the Pentecost spoke to the crowds of people who had come on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, in order to tell them the Good News. The miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit was that even though the Apostles were preaching in their own native tongue, the foreigners in the audience (who had various, differing national languages) were able to understand in their own language what the Apostles were saying!
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. 7 Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God." 12 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another,"Whatever could this mean?"
The gift of the speaking in tongues is a gift given by God to the Apostles for a specific purpose: To proselytize the non Christians to the Christian faith. The holy Apostles when speaking in tongues, did not speak meaningless sounds like demoniacs. They spoke tongues, not any tongues, but the tongues of those who were in Jerusalem and could not speak the Jewish language, so that they could hear of the greatness of God and believe. So the meaningless cries have no relation to the gift of "speaking in tongues" which the Pentecostals maintain.
The Orthodox Church is the place of the genuine experience of the Grace of God
The Church of the Pentecost is our Orthodox Church. And why is She? Because She is the Church of the incarnation and humanism of Christ, of His crucifixional death, His Resurrection and of the Pentecost. When, out of the overall opus of Christ we isolate only one part, overemphasize it and falsely explain it, this becomes one sided and a heresy. Only the Church that accepts and lives the overall opus of Christ, including the Pentecost, is the true Church of the Pentecost. Can there be Resurrection without a Cross? Unless man crucifies himself with fasting, prayer, repentance, humility, asceticism, can he truly see God? The Cross is precedent in the life of Christ and of every Christian, and the Resurrection and Pentecost follow. However, they want the Resurrection and spiritual gifts, without "crucifying" themselves through repentance, asceticism, fasting and obedience to the Church. That is why they do not comprise the Church of the Pentecost.
During every Divine Liturgy of our Church, we have another Pentecost. How does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ? Aren't they transformed through the descent of the Holy Spirit? That's Pentecost! Every Holy Altar of the Orthodox Church is the attic of Pentecost. At every Baptism we have Pentecost. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, man becomes a Christian and becomes one with the Body of Christ. Every tonsuring of a Deacon, priest and of course a hierarch is a new Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descends and makes a man an instrument of God.
Every confession of a Christian is again a Pentecost. The moment that the Christian kneels before his Confessor and with humility tells him his sins with repentance and the Confessor reads him the blessing of forgiveness, he is forgiven by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
At every gathering and at every mystery of the Church it is a continuation of Pentecost, because they are performed in the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is why almost all activities, prayers and Mysteries of the Church begin with a prayer: Heavenly King, the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth...... come and dwell inside us......" We ask the Paraclete to come: the consoler, the Holy Spirit. And He comes. Wherever the Orthodox Church meets, the true Church of Christ, there also is the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Every Saint of our Church is a spirit-bearing man, full of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, a man of Pentecost.
The Sunday prayer requests: "Thy Kingdom come" meaning: "May the grace of Thy Holy Spirit come". The kingdom of God is a grace of the Holy Spirit. So it is with the Lord's Prayer also, that we seek the Holy Spirit.
The prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner", is also recited through the grace of the Holy Spirit. For as the Apostle Paul says: "no-one can say Lord Jesus, if it is not said in the Holy Spirit (1Cor 12:3). No one can invoke Jesus Christ but only through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, only the holy water of the Orthodox remains unspoiled indefinitely. Those of you who keep holy water at home, already know that no matter how old it is, it never spoils.
This is our faith, the true and Orthodox one.
Depart from this faith and follow certain American Johnny-come-lately "saviours" who believe that the Church has Her beginnings with them? Just imagine what demonic conceit they have! The Church has existed for over two thousand years, and yet they dare to claim that from them - the Pentecostals and other heretics - the true faith originates!
When in the 14th century the western monk Varlaam fought against the Orthodox teaching on the divine energies and the Uncreated Light as experienced on the Holy Mountain, God brought forth the Hagiorite Hieromonk, Saint Gregory Palamas - a major theologian and teacher of the Orthodox Faith. Just like now: if the Pentecostal heresy had not existed, we would not have gathered here. We would not have made our faith even stronger; we would not have confessed our faith. Thus, whatever the heresies and the devil set out to achieve against the Church eventually turns against them. The Apostle Paul says: " For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may be recognized among you." (1 Cor.11:19). Heresies must also exist, in order for the faith to become apparent in those who persevere in it. Now that our holy Church is being attacked by atheism, carnal pleasures and heresies through radio, television, newspapers and other media, this is the time that the faithful and true Orthodox Christians and fighters and witnesses of the Orthodox faith will appear.
In these very critical times, any Orthodox Christian who perseveres in his Orthodox faith in Christ, will receive great blessings and great rewards from our Holy God. And this is because in this evil and corrupt time he was not led astray by contemporary idolatry and false gods, nor did he bend a knee to them, but remained steadfast and immovable in our Orthodox Faith.
We wish therefore that no Orthodox become a traitor, a Judas and apostate of our holy Orthodox faith. May all those who were led astray by the evil one due to their ignorance into deceits and heresies, be illumined by God and return to our holy Orthodox faith, so that they may have the hope of salvation.
We may all be sinners but when we are within our holy Orthodox Church we have the hope of salvation. On the contrary, even if we were "righteous" outside the bosom of the Church, we have no hope of salvation. All of us who are within the Church shall repent, shall confess, shall be forgiven, and God will have mercy on us. Outside the Church who will save us? What Holy Spirit will forgive our sins and which Church will intercede after our death for our souls? Therefore, any Orthodox who dies Orthodox should know he/she has a hope of salvation. However, anyone who departs from the Church, even if he believes he has done good works, has no hope of salvation.
For this, our brothers, let us remain within our Orthodox Church, faithful and immovable, with a holy stubbornness on our part so that we may all have, with the grace of God and the blessing of the Theotokos hope for our salvation.