This is part one in a three part series. My great desire would be to have a discussion on these, but private reflection is also beneficial. Enjoy.
Part One – St. Simeon the New Theologian, On Faith
There are three methods of attention and prayer, by which the soul is uplifted and moves forward, or is cast down and destroyed. Whoever employs these methods at the right time and in the right way, moves forward; but whoever employs them unwisely and at the wrong time is cast down.Attention should be linked to prayer as inseparably as body is linked to soul. Attention should go on ahead, spying out the enemy, like a scout. It should be the first to engage sin in combat, and to oppose evil thoughts entering the soul. Prayer should follow in its wake, instantly exterminating and destroying all the evil thoughts with which attention has been battling beforehand; for attention alone cannot destroy them. On this warfare against thoughts by attention and prayer hangs the life and death of the soul. If by means of attention we keep prayer pure, we make progress; if we have no attention to keep it pure but leave it unprotected, it becomes soiled with bad thoughts and we remain futile failures.Thus, since there are three methods of attention and prayer, we must explain the distinctive features of each, so that he who loves salvation should choose the best.
1. On the first method of attention and prayer
The distinctive features of the first method are as follows; if a man stands at prayer and, raising his hands, his eyes and his mind to heaven, keeps in mind Divine thoughts, imagines celestial blessings, hierarchies of angels and dwellings of the saints, assembles briefly in his mind all that he has learnt from the Holy Scriptures and ponders over all this while at prayer, gazing up to heaven, and thus inciting his soul to longing and love of God, at times even shedding tears and weeping, this will be the first method of attention and prayer. But if a man chooses only this method of prayer it happens that, little by little, he begins to pride himself in his heart, without realizing it; it seems to him that what he is doing comes from God’s grace, sent as a solace to him, and he prays God to grant him always to remain in this doing. But this (that is, to think in this way of this method of prayer) is a sign of prelest; for the good is no longer good if it be not rightly done. If then such a man gives himself up to utter silence (that is, becomes a hesychast, an anchorite) he can scarcely avoid going out of his mind (he will be in extreme danger of suffering this). If by any chance he is not driven out of his mind, it will in any case be impossible for him to acquire virtue or passionlessness. This method contains another danger of going astray; namely, when a man sees light with his bodily eyes, smells sweet scents, hears voices and many other like phenomena. Some have become totally possessed, and in their madness wander from place to place; others have been led astray, mistaking the devil for an angel of light, in the guise of which he appeared to them without their recognizing him. Thus they remained incorrigible to the end, refusing to listen to any brother’s advice. Some of them, instigated by the devil, have committed suicide: have thrown themselves over a precipice, or have hanged themselves. Who could enumerate the various forms of prelest by which the devil seeks to seduce, since they are innumerable? From what we have said, it is not difficult for a man of sense to understand what harm comes from this first method of attention and prayer (if it is taken as the final perfection in prayer). If however someone avoids incurring these evils while practicing the first method, because he lives in a community (for it is the solitary who is especially subject to them), he will still remain all his life without success (in spiritual life).