On Spiritual Deception

by Fr. Dcn. Charles Joiner

The author of the Orthodox Way of Life blog, Fr. Dcn. Charles tells it like it is.

Having recently discovered that throughout much of my Christian life I was involved with “spiritual deception,” I find it necessary now to seek ways to fully understand and totally reject this error.

My deception began with a well meaning pastor at the United Methodist Church where I grew up. I asked him,

“Why are there so many different religions? How can we say that the Christian way the the best way?”

His answer was,

“There are many paths to God. Ours is the most direct and easiest path.”

He did not know how to answer this question from a true Christian perspective and advise me of the struggle that I would necessarily face. I now know that what he taught me was a serious deception. It is very clear now that the other paths will not lead to a God-oriented spiritual life and union with God. They only lead one to a life of self-satisfaction and greater pride.

Jesus Christ came after these early attempts to reach God which were inadequate and showed all mankind how to gain union with God. He showed us the need for extreme humility in our relationship with God. He showed us a path that involves purifying ourselves and continually struggling against many things, yet relying on God’s will. I discovered that the path He opened for us is not an easy path.

It is a difficult one along which we are easily deceived by seeking pleasures though various forms of meditation, yoga and others activities, taught by well meaning teachers from other eastern religions who have not discovered for themselves the way of Jesus Christ.

I now know this from experience, having experimented with Vedanta, a Hindu religion, Buddhism, and Eastern forms of meditation. Regrettably, I even led an effort to find the “universal principles” of all religions and then set up a organization (formally organized as a church under IRS rules, no less) to teach this to others. Oh, how easily we are deceived by psychic level religious experiences which only serve to boost our pride and our sense of self-sufficiency.

Through this experience, I learned that it is essential to recognize that we are engaged in spiritual warfare as Saint Paul so clearly tells us. In my youth I was never prepared for this battle by being properly instructed in the spiritual disciplines.

I didn’t appreciate the power of the Sacraments that Christ initiated for us to help us in this battle. Growing up Methodist, communion was symbolic. It was grape juice and a wafer symbolizing the blood and body of Jesus Christ. Powerless when compared to the actual Blood an Body of Jesus Christ that is offered in the Orthodox Church for remission of sins and eternal life in union with Him. I faced many such deceptions along the path. Fortunately, I have a very strong guardian angel that kept me on a path seeking God and who taught me the Jesus Prayer in the midst of these deceptions.

It was this prayer that protected me and led me back to Orthodoxy.

Seraphim Rose saw this attitude I experienced as one that permeates much of Christianity today. He wrote on this sad condition of “Christians” in his book, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. Here is an excerpt.

The life of self-centeredness and self-satisfaction lived by most of today’s “Christians” is so all-pervading that it effectively seals them off from any understanding at all of spiritual life; and when such people do undertake “spiritual life,” it is only as another form of self-satisfaction. This can be seen quite clearly in the totally false religious ideal both of the “charismatic” movement and the various forms of “Christian meditation”: all of them promise (and give very quickly) an experience of “contentment” and “peace.” But this is not the Christian ideal at all, which if anything may be summed up as a fierce battle and struggle. The “contentment” and “peace” described in these contemporary “spiritual” movements are quite manifestly the product of spiritual deception, of spiritual self-satisfaction––which is the absolute death of the God-oriented spiritual life. All these forms of “Christian meditation” operate solely on the psychic level and have nothing whatever in common with Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality is formed in the arduous struggle to acquire the eternal Kingdom of Heaven, which fully begins only with the dissolution of this temporal world, and the true Christian struggler never finds repose even in the foretastes of eternal blessedness which might be vouchsafed to him in this life; but the Eastern religions, to which the Kingdom of Heaven has not been revealed, strive only to acquire psychic states which begin and end in this life.

From Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future by Seraphim Rose, pp 187-188

Some of my friends will think this is a bit harsh and it is not my intent to condemn those who sincerely seek union with Jesus Christ no matter what their form of Christianity is. But I can say without a doubt, that we can be deceived as I know I was.

For me, I found the fulness of the Truth in the Orthodox Church where the sacramental life is emphasized and practiced with regularity. It was in the context of the Orthodox Church that I found I could surrender and then seek, not my own way, but instead follow the way the Church sets out for all of us.

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