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Fr. P.: The next question would be about those examples that are often taken by the Orthodox as indicators of false orientation of Catholic mysticism. If for the East the crystal purity of the soul is the main condition for inner work in order that the Divine Light would act in it, then the examples of such ascetics as Teresa of Ávila show something very opposite: the aim of podvig is to attain to ecstasy where a person experiences God. Could you please comment on this?
Fr. G.: There are two types of mysticism in the Catholic Church: restrained (inner work) and ecstatic. Both schools are rooted in the monastic tradition. The first school that originated in Sts. Macarius, Anthony, and Evagrius is the inner mysticism, “inner work.” But St. Macarius’ Homilies contain the other school too, more affective mysticism. Therefore he is traditionally considered to belong to the softened or semi- Messalianism, that is a kind of ecstatic monasticism. I think, that here we could see just two different spiritual temperaments that confront one another. That’s why it’s difficult to find a common language. The follower of the inner work could say to his opponent, “You are too sensual,” and the latter could reply, “You are too reasonable. You don’t have any inner experience.” And both these opinions would be wrong.
However, I have to admit that in the Middle Ages there were purely women’s mystical movements on the West that seem strange to me and are beyond my comprehension. I belong to a different school. I don’t have anything that could help me to understand or feel deeply that affective, ecstatic mysticism. The main rule of any spiritual life for me is restriction and lack of exaltation because exaltation itself is a ground for demonic prelest. This experience we can find today in charismatics. To avoid mistakes that Evagrius calls imitation of spiritual and mystic states, we have to be very careful, wise, and to possess simplicity and purity. Today it is called a self-suggested condition, that is, an imaginative mystic (spiritual) condition.
St. Theophan the Recluse, who is very popular in the West, by the way, understood the matter of western mystics very subtly. Once he exclaimed: “Oh, these Western people, they cannot distinguish between psychic and spiritual!” And really, when I talk to people who come for confession, I see how often they mix these things. One has to teach and help people to see the difference between their feelings and true spirituality from God. People quite often feel something deep inside and think “Here it is, here is that true spirituality.”