My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True Lord, God, and Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
FORMS OF EXPERIENCE OF THE
GRACE OF GOD
By Archimandrite George, Egoumenos (Abbot) of
the Holy Monastery of Saint Gregorios of
Mt. Athos, Greece.
Which are the experiences of the Grace that the Christian can receive, so that the faith and the Christian life are not something intellectual and external for him, but A TRUE SPIRITUAL FEELING OF GOD, A COMMUNION WITH GOD, A FAMILIARITY WITH GOD, IN WHICH THE WHOLE MAN PARTAKES?
An experience of God is, first of all, AN INNER ASSURANCE THAT THROUGH FAITH IN GOD, THE CHRISTIAN FINDS THE TRUE MEANING OF HIS LIFE. He feels that his faith in Christ is a faith that satisfies him internally, that gives meaning to his life and guides him, that is a strong light which enlightens him. When he thus feels the Christian faith inside him, he has started to live the Grace of God. God IS NOT something external for him.
Man receives another experience of the Grace of God when he hears in his heart the invitation of God to repent for his obscure and sinful deeds and to return to the Christian life, to confess, to enter the path of God. This voice of God that he hears inside him IS A FIRST EXPERIENCE OF THE GRACE OF GOD. For the many years that he lived away from God, he did not understand anything.
He starts to repent, he confesses for the first time in his life to a spiritual father. After confession he feels deep peace and joy, such as he has never felt before in his life. And then he says, “I am relieved.” This relief IS THE VISITATION OF THE DIVINE GRACE IN A SOUL THAT HAS REPENTED AND WHICH GOD WANTS TO CONSOLE.
The TEARS OF THE REPENTANT Christian when he prays and asks for forgiveness from God or when he confesses, are tears of repentance. These tears bring great relief. They bring much peace to man’s soul and then man feels that these are a gift and experience of the Divine Grace.
The deeper man REPENTS and the more LOVE he has for God and prays with a divine eros, the more those tears of repentance BECOME TEARS OF JOY, TEARS OF LOVE AND OF DIVINE EROS. These tears that are superior to the tears of repentance are also a higher visitation and an experience of the Grace of God. Having repented and confessed, with fasting and spiritual preparation we come forward to partake of the Body and the Blood of Christ. What do we feel after Holy Communion? Deep peace in our soul, spiritual joy. This also is an experience and a visitation of the Grace of God.
At other times, during prayer or divine worship or Divine Liturgy, we feel unspeakable joy. This is also a visitation of the Divine Grace and an experience of God. However, there are other, still higher experiences of God. The highest experience of God IS THE VISION OF THE Uncreated Light. This is the Light the Lord’s Disciples saw on the Mount of Tabor during the Transfiguration (Metamorphosis) of Christ. They saw Christ shining like the sun with a heavenly and Divine Light which was NOT MATERIAl, NOR CREATED LIGHT AS IS THE SUN AND THE OTHER CREATED LIGHTS. IT WAS Uncreated Light, the Light of God, the Light of the Holy Trinity.
To be rendered worthy to see the Uncreated Light is one of the highest experiences of God, not granted to everyone but A VERY FEW, TO THOSE WHO HAVE ADVANCED IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE… Of course we must say that each one who sees a light, does not necessarily see the Uncreated Light. The devil deceives men and shows them other lights, demonic or psychological, to make them think it is the Uncreated Light, although it is not.
Presuppositions for Authentic Experience of the Grace of God
The first presupposition is that we must be REPENTED MEN. If we do not repent for our sins and do not purify ourselves from our passions, WE CANNOT SEE GOD. As our Lord says in the Beatitudes, “BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART, FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD.” The more man is cleansed from HIS PASSIONS, REPENTS AND RETURNS TO GOD, the better he can feel and see Him. The Holy Fathers tell us, “Give blood and receive spirit.” That is to say, if you do not give the blood of your heart through repentance, PRAYER, FASTING, and through THE WHOLE SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE, you can not receive the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
The true spiritual experiences are given to those who, OUT OF HUMILITY, do not ask for them. Instead, they ask God for repentance and salvation. TRUE SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES ARE GIVEN TO THOSE WHO ARE HUMBLE AND SAY, “MY GOD, I AM NOT WORTHY TO HAVE EXPERIENCES. I AM NOT WORTHY TO RECEIVE SPIRITUAL GIFTS. I AM NOT WORTHY TO RECEIVE VISITATIONS OF YOUR GRACE, DIVINE AND HEAVENLY CONSOLATIONS AND SPIRITUAL PLEASURES.” However, to those who WITH PRIDE ask God to give them experiences, He WILL NOT GRANT THEM TRUE AND AUTHENTIC ONES. On the contrary, the devil will take advantage of this and will give them deceitful and diabolic experiences, DUE TO THEIR PRIDE
The third presupposition, necessary for the reception of true spiritual experiences, is TO BE IN THE CHURCH, NOT ESTRANGED FROM HER. Because estranged from the Church, the devil will lead us astray. If the sheep is isolated from the flock, the wolf will devour it. Safety is within the flock. If he departs from Her, he lays himself open to his own deceptions, to those of other people and to the demons’ deceptions.
It is very helpful to pray purely and zealously. The truth is that during the time of prayer God gives man most of his spiritual experiences. That’s why those who pray with desire, with zeal and with patience, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the feeling of the Grace of God.
As you know, there is a prayer we recite on Mount Athos and maybe you recite it too, ‘LORD JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY ON ME THE SINNER.’ This prayer which is called A CEASELESS PRAYER OF MIND AND HEART, when recited humbly with desire and with persistence, brings little by little, into 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 THEY CAN RECEIVE THE GRACE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT ON THEIR OWN AND WITH THEIR OWN POWERS EITHER IN HERESIES, IN GROUPS OR IN RELIGIOUS GATHERINGS OUTSIDE THE CHURCH.
Experiences in the heretical congregations are not only psychological but, at other times, demonic as well. The devil takes advantage of the search by some people for such experiences and he presents to them various signs, which are NOT of God, but his own, diabolic. These people can not understand that they are the devil’s victims. They take these signs to be heavenly and of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the devil gives them some prophetic capability, as he gives to the demonic ‘mediums.’ The Lord, however, had warned us, “For there shall arise false christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders” (Matthew 24:24). Not only will they perform miracles, but great and prodigious miracles, fearful signs. Likewise, when the Antichrist comes he will not do evil deeds. He will do benevolent deeds, healings of sick people and other marvelous things in order to deceive people. If possible, to deceive those chosen by God too, so that they believe him to be their saviour and follow him…
“… As the devil can transform himself into an angel of light, we must be cautious about experiences. The Apostle John advises, “Beloved, believe NOT every spirit” (John 4:1). Not all spirits are of God. According to Apostle Paul, only those who have THE GIFT TO DISCERN BETWEEN THE SPIRITS CAN DISCERN IF THE SPIRITS ARE OF GOD OR ARE THE DEVIL’S” (1 Corinthians 12:10).
The spiritual fathers of our Church are endowed with this gift OF DISCERNMENT. For this reason, when faced with such a problem, we must turn to our spiritual father who will discern the origin of every experience. It is possible even for monks to be deceived. We have cases on Mount Athos where monks were led astray by such experiences. For example, the devil, disguised as an angel, appeared to a monk and told him, “Come up to the peak of Mt. Athos and I will show you great miracles.” He led the monk there and would have nearly thrown him down the cliffs had the monk not appealed for Divine help. The monk made THE MISTAKE OF BELIEVING THAT THE VISION WAS FROM GOD. He should not have believed so because monks know that when they see a vision they must disclose it to their Elder (Geronda), who will tell them if it is from God or from the demons. Therefore, WHEREVER PRIDE EXISTS, DELUSION IS VERY PROBABLE. (Source: Experiences of the Grace of God)
“Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Divine and Glorious Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God