A Comparison: Francis of Assisi and St. Seraphim of Sarov
During my prayer two great lights appeared before me
(deux grandes lumibres m'ont ete montrees)one in which I recognized the Creator, and
another in which I recognized myself.
Francis' own words about his prayer
He (Fr Serge) thought about the fact that he was a
burning lamp, and the more he felt that, the more he felt a weakening, a quenching of the
divine light of truth burning within him.
L.N. Tolstoy, "Father Serge."
The truly righteous always consider themselves unworthy of God.
Dictum of St Isaac the Syrian
Studying the biographical data of Francis of Assisi, a fact of the utmost interest
concerning the mysticism of this Roman Catholic ascetic is the appearance of stigmata on
his person. Roman Catholics regard such a striking manifestation as the seal of the Holy
Spirit. In Francis' case, these stigmata took on the form of the marks of Christ's passion
on his body.
The stigmatisation of Francis is not an exceptional phenomenon among ascetics of the
Roman Catholic world. Stigmatisation appears to be characteristic of Roman Catholic
mysticism in general, both before it happened to Francis, as well as after. Peter Damian,
as an example, tells of a monk who bore the representation of the Cross on his body.
Caesar of Geisterbach mentions a novice whose forehead bore the impress of a Cross. 
Also, a great deal of data exists, testifying to the fact that after Francis' death a
series of stigmatisations occurred which, subsequently, have been thoroughly studied by
various investigators, particularly in recent times. These phenomena, as V. Guerier says,
illuminate their primary source. Many of them were subjected to careful observation and
recorded in detail, e.g.,, the case of Veronica Giuliani (1660-1727) who was under
doctor's observation; Luisa Lato (1850-1883) described by Dr Varleman,  and Madelaine
N. (1910) described by Janat. 
In Francis of Assisi's case, it should be noted that the Roman Catholic Church reacted
to his stigmatisation with the greatest reverence. It accepted the phenomenon as a great
miracle. Two years after his death, the Pope canonized Francis as a saint. The chief
motive for his canonization was the fact of the miraculous stigmata on his person, which
were accepted as indications of sanctity. This fact is of singular interest to Orthodox
Christians, since nothing similar is encountered in the lives of the Orthodox Church's
Saintsan outstanding exponent of which is the Russian Saint, Seraphim of Sarov.
It should be mentioned here, that the historical accounts of Francis' stigmatisation do
not now give rise to any doubts in the scholarly world. In this regard, reference is made
to Sabbatier who studied Francis' life, and especially his stigmatisation, in detail.
Sabbatier came to the conclusion that the stigmata were definitely real. Sabbatier sought
to find an explanation of the stigmatisation in the unexplored area of mental pathology,
somewhere between psychology and physiology. 
Before proceeding with an explanation of Francis' stigmatisation from an Orthodox
mystical standpointthe primary purpose of this paperan investigation of
stigmata as physiological phenomena will be undertaken at this point, since such an
investigation will contribute valuable information for a subsequent Orthodox evaluation of
the "mysticism" of the Roman Catholic saint.
Guerier includes in his work on Francis the scientific findings of G. Dumas who
analysed the process of stigmatisation from a psycho-somatic viewpoint.  The following
are the conclusions Dumas came to concerning stigmatics:
1. One must recognize the sincerity of stigmatics and that stigmata appear
spontaneously, i.e., they are not self-inflicted wounds, inflicted while the person is in
an unconscious state.
2. The wounds on stigmatics are regarded as phenomena relating to the circulatory
system (blood vessels) and are explained as effects of mental suggestion which does affect
digestion, circulation of blood, glandular secretions. It can result in cutaneous
3. The wounds on stigmatics appear while they are in an ecstatic state which results
when one is absorbed in some sort of contemplated powerful image, and surrenders control
to that image.
4. The stigmata appear not only as a result of one's passive imaging of a wound on the
body, but, according to the testimony of stigmatics, when the imaging is accompanied by
the active action of the image itselfspecifically that of a fiery ray or lance, seen
as proceeding from a contemplated wound, which wounds the stigmatic's body. Often, this
happens gradually, and not with the first vision, until the degree eventually is reached
where the image contemplated during ecstasy finally gains control over the contemplating
Dumas established the following general criteria for stigmatisation: all stigmatics
experience unbearable pain in the affected parts of the body, no matter what form the
stigmata takeimprint of Cross on the shoulder; traces of the thorns of a crown of
thorns on the head; or, as with Francis of Assisi, as wounds on the hands, feet and on the
side. Together with the pain, they experience great delight in the thought that they are
worthy to suffer with Jesus, to atone, as He did, for the sins of which they are innocent.
 (This, of course, is commensurate with the Roman Catholic "satisfaction
theory," which is unknown to the Orthodox Church.) 
Dumas' generalizations are extremely interesting since they imply that in the process
of stigmatisation, apart from the impassioned emotional state (an emotional ecstasy of the
heart) a great role is also played by: a) a mental element; b) a mental imaging presenting
acute suffering; c) auto-suggestion, i.e., a series of mental and volitional
impulses directed toward translating the sufferings of the imagined image into; d)
physical feelingspain; and, finally, e) the production on the self of marks (wounds)
Dumas' observations recognize factors more than the emotional (which William James
considers the source of mysticism)  which play an equal, if not greater role in the
process of stigmatisation. These may be summarized as:
1. An intense labor of mental imagination,
3. Sensual feelings, and,
4. Physiological manifestations.
The significance of these will be apparent later.
Following the brief scientific analysis concerning stigmaties in general, specific
data, regarding Francis' ecstasy and vision, as contained in the work Fioretti, which
will give the background leading to the vision, as well as a description of the
The stigmatisation of Francis of Assisi, due to the results of his vision, are ascribed
to a singular prayer. The prayer is an intense pleading on his part that he may experience
the sufferings of Christ in his body and soul. In the prayer, Francis desires Divine
instigation of the experience and thirsts to experience this not just with his soul, but with
his body. Thus, surrendering himself to ecstatic prayer, he did not renounce his body,
but was inviting earthly, or bodily sensations, i.e., physical suffering.
Francis' prayer was answered. The chronicle says that, "Francis felt himself
completely transformed into Christ." This transformation was not only in spirit, but
also in body, i.e., not only in spiritual and psychological sensations, but also in
physical ones. How did the vision actually occur?
First of all, quite unexpectedly for him, Francis saw something described as
miraculous: he saw a six-winged Seraph, similar to the one described by the Prophet
Isaiah, coming down from heaven to him. (First stage of vision). Then, after the Seraph
approached, Francis, thirsting for Jesus and feeling himself "transformed into
Christ," began to see Christ on the Seraph, nailed to a cross. In the words of the
chronicle, "And this Seraph came so close to the saint that Francis could clearly and
distinctly see on the Seraph the image of the Crucified One." (Second state of
vision). Francis recognized in the image of the Seraph Christ Himself Who had come down to
him.  He felt Christ's suffering on his body, whereupon his desire to experience this
suffering was satisfied. (Third stage of vision). Then the stigmata began to appear on his
body. His striving and fervent praying appeared to be answered. (Fourth stage of vision).
The amazing complexity of Francis' vision is startling. Over the initial vision of the
Seraph, who had, apparently, descended from heaven for Francis, was superimposed another
imagethe one Francis thirsted to have above all, that of the Crucified Christ. The
developing process of these visions leaves one with the impression that the first vision
(that of the Seraph), so unexpected and sudden, was outside the realm of Francis'
imagination, who longed to see the Crucified Christ, and to experience His sufferings. In
this manner, it can be explained how such a complex conception, in which both visions,
both imagesthat of the Seraph and of Christ found room in Francis'
The experience of Francis of Assisi is remarkable and of singular interest to Orthodox
Christians, since as mentioned above, nothing similar is encountered in the experience of
the Orthodox Church with a long line of ascetics, and equally long history of mystical
experiences. As a matter of fact, all of the things Francis experienced in the process of
his stigmatisation are the very beguilements the Church Fathers repeatedly warned against!
Recalling how the ascetics of the Orthodox Church understand the highest (spiritual)
prayer as detailed in the Philokalia, it is to be emphasized here that they regarded this
prayer alongside their own personal strivings, as a synergetic operation (man co-operating
with God) to achieve detachment, not only from everything physical or sensory,
but also from rational thought. That is, at best, a direct spiritual elevation
of the person to God, when the Lord God the Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for the
supplicant with "groanings which cannot be uttered."  As an example, St
Isaac of Syria in his Directions says, "A soul which loves God, in God, and in
Him alone finds peace. First release yourself from all your outward attachments, then your
heart will be able to unite with God; for union with God is preceded by detachment from
matter."  It is the plain speaking of St Nilos of Sinai, however, that slashes
through with distinct clarity to present a serious juxtaposition to the alleged
Divine visitation that Francis experienced. In the Text on Prayer, he admonishes:
"Never desire nor seek any face or image during prayer. Do not wish for sensory
vision or angels, or powers, or Christ, lest you lose your mind by mistaking the wolf for
the shepherd and worship the enemiesthe demons. The beginning of the beguilement (plani)
of the mind is vainglory, which moves the mind to try and represent the Deity in some
form or image. 
Francis' ecstatic prayer was answered, but in the light of both St Isaac's and St
Nilos' counsels, clearly not by Christ. The chronicle says that "Francis felt himself
completely transformed into Christ," transformed not only in spirit, but also in
body, i.e., not only in spiritual and psychological sensations, but also in physical ones.
While granting that Francis was fully convinced that he had been spiritually taken up to
the Logos, the rise of special physical sensations cannot, according to St Isaac, be
ascribed to the action of a spiritually good power.
Francis' physical sensations can be explained as the work of his own mental imagination
moving parallel to his spiritual ecstasy. It is hard to say, in this given instance, which
was dominant in Francis' beguilement (plani): his spiritual pride, or his mentalism
(mental imaging); but, in any case, the mentalism was rather strong. This is confirmed by
the substantive circumstances of the unusually complex vision which was presented to
Francis after he felt himself completely transformed into Jesus which is clearly a very
severe state of plani, having its roots, as St Nilos says, in vainglory.
The exaggeratedness of Francis' exaltation, which was noted in the description of his
vision, is revealed very boldly when compared with the majestic vision of Christ which St
Seraphim of Sarov experienced while serving as a deacon on Great Thursday of Passion Week.
In contrast to Francis, St Seraphim did not seek to "feel himself transformed into
Jesus" through his prayers and labors. He prayed simply and deeply, repenting of his
sins. During the course of his prayer, and as a result of his great ascetic acts, the
mystical power of Grace grew in him which he neither felt, nor realized. Standing before
the throne (Holy Table) with a burning heart, as in the words of Elias of Ekdik
"...the soul, having freed itself from everything external, is united with prayer,
and that prayer, like a sort of flame surrounding the soul as fire does iron, makes it all
fiery,"  St Seraphim unexpectedly was stunned with the appearance of the
Mysterious Divine Power. St Seraphim neither imagined, nor dreamt, nor expected such a
vision. When it occurred, he was so stunned that it took two hours for him to "come
to his senses." Later, he himself described what had happened. At first he was struck
by an unusual light as if from the sun. Then he saw the Son of Man in glory, shining
brighter than the sun with an ineffable light and surrounded "as by a swarm of
bees" by the heavenly powers. Coming out of the North Gate (of the sanctuary) Christ
stopped before the amvon and, lifting up His hands, blessed those who were serving and
those who were praying. The vision then vanished.
Several items in the account of St Seraphim's vision are of interest in this study.
Firstly, in direct contrast to prayer, St Seraphim's prayer is devoid of any element that
would remotely suggest that he desired any visible (sensory) signs of the Divine Presence.
Least of all, did he think in his life that he was ever worthy of being "transformed
into Jesus," as Francis prayed. The key characteristic of the Saint's prayer is a
profound humility, evidenced by his articulated confession of sinfulness which prompted
him toward prayerful repentance. The significance of this, as the Church Fathers
repeatedly point out, is that true humility effectively prevents one from falling into
A second profound aspect of St Seraphim's prayer is the fact that no favor of Divine
Manifestation is asked of God. Neither, of course, as mentioned previously, was anything
extraneous to his repentance, thought or imaged while he prayed. This, of course, would be
commensurate with St Seraphim's repentance, since his articulation of it indicates quite
clearly that he himself was never deceived to think that he had achieved a level of
worthiness where, in spite of his sins, he could boldly ask for Holy things. If he had
thought about himself in this manner, he would have easily slipped into conceit. St
Seraphim's prayer was intended for the exact opposite which did indeed make him worthy of
the Divine Vision. St Maximos the Confessor in the First Century of Love expressed
it thus, "He who has not yet attained to knowledge of God inspired by love, thinks
highly of what he does according to God. But a man who has received it repeats in his
heart the words of our forefather Abraham, when God appeared to him, 'I am earth and
Concerning St Seraphim's vision, it should be noted that the highest spiritual state,
attained through the way indicated by the ascetics in the Philokalia, develops in
a person's heart outside the mental and sensual spheres, and,
consequently, outside the sphere of mental imagination. Abba Evagrios in his Texts
on Active LifeTo Anatolios, says:
The mind will not see the place of God in itself, unless it rises above all thoughts of
material and created things; and it cannot rise above them unless it becomes free of
the passions binding it to sensory objects and inciting thoughts about them. It will
free itself of passions by means of virtues, and of simple thoughts by means of spiritual
contemplation; but it will discard even this when there appears to it that light
which, during prayer, marks the place of God. 
The experience of man's mystical union with God is, therefore, usually very difficult
to convey in human terms. It happens, however, that visions are allowed people who have
cultivated passionlessness in themselves, but in the majority of these cases these visions
are momentary, and they strike the inner being of the personthey come as if from
within. St Isaac the Syrian elaborates: "If you are pure, then heaven is within you;
and in yourself you will see angels, and with them and in them, the Lord of Angels."
 The Fathers of the Orthodox Church teach that all these experiences are beyond any
expectation of the humble man, for the ascetic in his humility does not feel himself
worthy of this.
Recapitulating St Seraphim's experience, it can be seen that it bore the following
4. An unexpected vision beyond sensory and rational categories;
5. Spiritual ecstasy or ravishment.
Emphasizing the last item, St Isaac, quoted above, explains: "...the contemplation
of a hyper-conscious vision, granted by Divine Power, is received by the soulwithin
itself immaterialy, suddenly and unexpectedly; it is discovered and revealed from within,
because, in Christ's words, 'the kingdom of heaven is within you'This contemplation
inside the image, imprinted in the hidden mind (the higher intellect) reveals itself
without any thought about it." 
From the above points taken from a comparison of the two visions and of what Francis
and St Seraphim experienced in these, there is a sharp difference in the mysticism of the
two. St Seraphim's mysticism appears as a purely spiritual ecstasy, as something bestowed
on the ascetic, as a gift of a spiritual vision, as an enlightenment of his higher
intellect,  while Francis' spiritual experience is a mysticism induced by his will,
and obviously darkened by his own imagination and sensuality.
A further distinctive difference between the two is the different relationship
expressed by them toward Christ. In contrast to Saint Seraphim, who experienced Christ's
spiritual power in his heart and accepted Christ within himself, Francis in his imaging,
received his impression primarily from Christ's earthly life. Francis was absorbed in
Christ's external aspect of suffering. This impression came upon him at Monte La Verna as
if from without.
Concomitant with his very strong desire to experience Christ's suffering, was his
compulsion to imitate other earthly aspects of Jesus' life. He not only sent his own
"Apostles" to various regions of the earth to preach, giving them virtually the
same instructions the Saviour gave to His Apostles,  but he even produced before his
disciples not long before his death something similar to the great Mystical Supper itself.
"He recalled," says his biographer, "that sanctified meal which the Lord
celebrated with His disciples for the last time."  This presumption cannot be
excused on the basis of his flamboyant life, regardless how severe his asceticism was or
how many virtuous things he did. It stands as a prime indication, from an Orthodox point
of view, of the severity of his fall into the condition of spiritual beguilement.
Before proceeding it is imperative to outline briefly the condition called plani.
In general terms, according to Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky, plani (prelest,
in Russian) usually results when the devil deludes the person by suggesting the thought
that he has been granted visions (or other gifts of Grace). Then the evil one
constantly blinds his conscience, convincing him of his apparent sanctity and promises him
the power of working wondrous acts. The evil one leads such an ascetic to the summit of a
mountain or the roof of a church, and shows him a fiery chariot, or some other such
wondrous thing, which will bear him to Heaven. The deluded one then steps into it (that
is, he accepts the delusion) and falls headlong into the abyss, and is dashed to death
without repentance. 
What is clear from such a brief analysis of plani is that the subject who
undergoes the experience usually has succumbed to some form of pride, usually vainglory,
hence the presumption that one has finally achieved a state from whence he is deluded to
think that he no longer must be watchful concerning the possibility of a fall into sin, or
even blasphemy against God. It is, of course, the Luciferian sin, and by definition the
most difficult to contend with, hence, the importance and constant emphasis in religious
writing, concerning ascetic obedience and humility until the very end of one's earthly
It has already been shown above that Francis' vision contains strong marks of spiritual
deception. What remains, therefore, is a characterization of Francis' work and acts which
will stand as the prime characterization of his mysticism. Presenting a few incidents from
Francis' life, and then, contrasting these with incidents from the life of St Seraphim of
Sarov, it will be possible to draw a final conclusion regarding the mysticism of these two
ascetics. It should be stated here that the example incidents chosen are generally
characteristic of the subjects.
It is recorded in the Fioretti that Francis at one time failed to fulfil the
rules of a strict fast because of an illness. This oppressed the ascetic's conscience to
such a degree that he decided to repent and punish himself. The chronicle states:
... he commanded that the people be gathered on the street in Assisi for a sermon. When
he had finished the sermon, he told the people that no one should leave until he returned;
he himself went into the cathedral with many brethren and with Peter de Catani and told
Peter to do what he would tell him to do according to his vow of obedience and without
objecting. The latter answered that he could not and should not desire or do anything
against his [Francis'] will either to him or to himself. Then Francis took off his
outer robe and ordered Peter to put a rope around his neck and lead him half-naked out to
the people to the very place from which he had preached. Francis commanded another
brother to fill a cup with ashes and, having climbed up onto the eminence from which he
had preached, to pour these ashes on his head. This one, however, did not obey him, since
he was so distressed by this order because of his compassion and devotion to Francis. But
Brother Peter took the rope in his hands and began dragging Francis behind him as the
latter had commanded. He himself cried bitterly during this, and the other brothers were
bathed in tears from pity and grief. When Francis had thus been led half-naked before the
people to the place from which he had preached, he said, 'You and all who have left the
world after my example and follow the way of life of the brethren consider me a holy man,
but before the Lord and you I repent because during this sickness of mine I ate meat and
meat drippings'. 
Of course Francis' sin was not so great and hardly deserved the dramatic form of
penance in which Francis clothed his repentance, but such was a general characteristic of
Francis' piety. He strove to idealize everything which an ascetic was obliged to do; he
strove also to idealize the very ascetic act of repentance.
Francis' idealization of Christian acts of asceticism can also be noted in his
relationship to the act of almsgiving. This can be seen in the way Francis reacted to
beggars. In Francis' eyes beggars were creatures of a very high stature in comparison to
other people. In the view of this Roman Catholic mystic, a beggar was the bearer of a
sacred mission, being an image of the poor, wandering Christ. Therefore, in his
instructions Francis obliges his disciples to beg for alms. 
Finally, Francis' idealized enthusiasm was especially revealed in his recollections of
Christ's earthly suffering. In the biography of Francis it says that, "being drunk
with love and compassion for Christ, blessed Francis once picked up a piece of wood off
the ground and, taking it in his left hand, he rubbed his right hand over it as if it were
a bow over a violin, while humming a French song about the Lord Jesus Christ. This singing
ended with tears of pity over Christ's suffering, and with earnest sighs, Francis, falling
into a trance, gazed at the sky...." 
There can be no doubt, as even Francis' biographers euphemistically attest, that this
important founder of the Franciscan Order was demonstrative in his acts of repentance,
revealing quite graphically the absence of a critical degree of watchfulness necessary in
the ascetic life for the acquisition of true humility. As a matter of fact, whenever
indications of Francis' humility are expounded upon in the Fioretti they are never
lacking in a compromising presumptuousness whether God allegedly speaks to him, as an
example, through the mouth of Brother Leon,  or when he presumes that he has been
chosen by God "to see good and evil everywhere," when tested by Brother Masseo
for his humility.  It is true that Francis describes his vileness and wretchedness,
but there is lacking in all this any attendant remorse, or contrition that would indicate
that he considered himself unworthy before God. Although he frequently spoke of the
necessity of humility, and gave the Franciscan brethren useful instruction in this regard,
he himself throughout his life experienced this only in isolated fits, albeit very strong
ones; it came in fits not entirely free, as indicated above, from exaggeration and
melodrama. Nothing can be so revealing in this matter, however, as his own statements to
the brethren. At one time he was to say to his disciples, "I do not recognize any
transgression in myself for which I could not atone by confession and penance. For the
Lord in His mercy has bestowed on me the gift of learning clearly in prayer in what I have
pleased or displeased Him."  These words, of course, are far from genuine
humility. They suggest, rather, the speech of that virtuous man who was satisfied with
himself (the Pharisee) who, in the parable, stood in the temple, while the Publican
prostrated himself in a corner, begging God in words of true humility: "God be
merciful to me a sinner."
When Francis' acts of "humility" are compared with St Seraphim's thousand day
struggle on the rock, a stark contrast results. There, while in battle with his passions,
 St Seraphim cried out the very words of the Publican over and over again: "0 God
be merciful to me a sinner." In this feat there is neither exaltation, nor
ostentatious display. Saint Seraphim is simply having recourse to the only possible means
open to him for forgiveness after, a. recognition of his passions; b. a contrition
welling forth from his remorse over his spiritual condition; c. a need to overcome the
passions; d. his awareness of his inability and unworthiness to accomplish this alone and;
e. his long and arduous appeal to God for mercy.
Even during his last years, when Saint Seraphim experienced many perceptions of
extra-ordinary spiritual strength, as well as direct communion with God, he never
succumbed to self-satisfaction, or self-adulation. This is quite apparent in his now
famous conversation with N. Motovilov, as well as during his talk with the monk John
when he manifested, through the Grace of God, an unusual luminosity. Indeed, Saint
Seraphim was unable to express the state of the latter luminosity in his own words. Also,
it is well known that Saint Seraphim was the bearer of an extraordinary gift of
clairvoyance as well as of prophetic vision. The hearts of people who came to him were an
open book to him, yet not once does he compromise the extraordinary gifts he has received
with any display of self-importance or conceit. His statements and acts (in contrast -to
those of Francis of Assisi- Francis' consciousness was that he had atoned for his sins and
was pleasing to God) are in consonance with what the ascetics detail in the Philokalia,
about the humble man. In the words of St Isaac the Syrian:
The truly righteous always think within themselves that they are unworthy of God. And
that they are truly righteous is recognized from the fact that they acknowledge themselves
to be wretched and unworthy of God's concern and confess this secretly and openly and are
brought to this by the Holy Spirit so that they will not remain without the solicitude and
labour which is appropriate for them while they are in this life. 
Francis' emotional impulses toward humility, similar to the above mentioned incident in
the square of Assisi, were in general rare manifestations. Usually his humility appeared
not as a feeling, but as a rational recognition of his weak powers in comparison to the
Divine Power of Christ. This was clearly stated in his vision on Monte La Verna when,
"two great lights," as it says in the chronicle, "appeared before Francis:
one in which he recognized the Creator, and the other in which he recognized himself. And
at that moment, seeing this, he prayed: Lord! What am I before You? What meaning have I,
an insignificant worm of the earth, Your insignificant servant, in comparison to Your
strength?" By his own acknowledgement, Francis, at that moment, was submerged in
contemplation in which he saw the endless depth of the Divine Mercy and the abyss of his
Needless to point out, it is the first declaration of the "two great lights,"
that manifestly bares the cognitive character of his subsequent query addressed to God
which, in essence, is a very daring process of comparison. There appears, therefore, a
severe contradiction in the passage that cannot be compared in any sense to the lucid
scriptural or patristic accounts regarding humility.
St Seraphim's humility, as noted, was not so much a rational consciousness of his sins,
but a constant deeply felt emotion. In his teachings, both oral and written, nowhere does
it say that he compared himself to the Divinity, drawing conclusions from this regarding
his spiritual status. He constantly gave himself up only to a single emotional impulse:
the feeling of his own unworthiness (imperfection) which resulted in heartfelt contrition.
Theophan the Recluse, a Russian ascetic of the Orthodox Church, expressed the sense of
this thus: "The Lord accepts only the man who approaches Him with a feeling of
sinfulness. Therefore, he rejects anyone who approaches Him with a feeling of
If, as a result of the above, one were to draw a conclusion about Francis' humility on
the basis of the ascetic prescriptions for monastics regarding humility in the Philokalia,
then the Latin mystic does not appear as the ideal of Christian humility. A
substantial dose of his own righteousness was added to his consciousness that he was
pleasing to God. Something similar, from an Orthodox analysis of Francis' mysticism, may
be applied from Lev Tolstoy's story Father Serge: "He [the ascetic Serge]
thought," says Tolstoy, "about how he was a burning lamp, and the more he felt
this, the more he felt a weakening, a quenching of the spiritual light of truth burning in
Recalling St Nilos' warning, mentioned before, this sad evaluation of the spiritual
results of Francis' asceticism is corollary, or more to the point, is an antecedent plani
to the severe beguilement he underwent on Monte La Verna, where he announced that he had
become a great luminary.
Thus, Francis' consciousness that he also was "a light," that he had the gift
to know how to be pleasing to God, meets with the dour pronouncement of the father of the
ascetic life, Antony the Great, who states that if there is not extreme humility in a
person, humility of the whole heart, soul and body, then he will not inherit the Kingdom
of God.  St Antony's affirmation recognizes that only deep humility can root out the
evil mental power leading to self-affirmation and self-satisfaction. Only such humility
entering into the very flesh and blood of the ascetic can, according to the sense of the
teaching of the Orthodox Christian ascetics, save him from the obsessive associations of
prideful human thought.
Humility is the essential power which can restrain the lower mind with its mental
passions,  creating in a man's soul the soil for the unhindered development of the
higher mind,  and from there, through the Grace of God, to the highest level of the
ascetic lifeknowledge of God.
"The man wise in humility," says St Isaac the Syrian, "is the source of
the mysteries of the new age." 
The chief cause which obfuscated the path of Francis' ascetic life may be attributed to
the fundamental condition of the Roman Catholic Church in which Francis was nurtured and
trained. In the conditions of that time and in the conditions of the Roman Church itself,
true humility could not be formed in the consciousness of the people. The "Vicar of
Christ on earth" himself with his pretensions not only to spiritual, but also to
temporal authority, was a representative of spiritual pride. Spiritual pride greater than
the conviction of one's own infallibility cannot be imagined.  This basic flaw could
not but affect Francis' spirituality, as well as the spirituality of Roman Catholics in
general. Like the Pope, therefore, Francis suffered from spiritual pride. This is very
evident in his farewell address to the Franciscans when he said: "Now God is calling
me, and I forgive all my brethren, both those present and those absent, their offenses and
their errors and remit their sins as far as it is in my power." 
These words reveal that on his death bed, Francis felt himself to be powerful enough to
remit sins like the Pope. It is known that the remission of sins outside the Sacrament of
Penance and the Eucharist in the Roman Church was a prerogative of papal power. 
Francis' assumption of this prerogative could only have been with the assurance of his own
In contrast, the ascetics of Holy Orthodoxy never allowed themselves to appropriate the
right of remitting sins. They all died in the consciousness of their own imperfection and
with the hope that God in His Mercy would forgive them of their sins. It suffices to
recall the words of the great fifth century Thebaid ascetic Saint Sisoe in support of
this. Surrounded at the moment of his impending repose, by his brethren, he appeared to be
conversing with unseen persons, as the chronicle relates, and the brethren asked:
"Father, tell us with whom you are carrying on a conversation?" St Sisoe
answered, "They are angels who have come to take me, but I am praying them to leave
me for a short time so that I may repent." When the brethren, knowing that Sisoe was
perfect in virtue, responded, "You have no need of repentance, father," the
Saint answered, "Truly I do not know if I have even begun to repent." 
Finally, as evidenced in the preceding paragraphs, the mysticism of Francis of Assisi
reveals that this highly regarded founder of the Franciscan Order moved progressively in
his life in a growing condition of plani from the time he heard the command to
renew the Roman Catholic Church, through the extraordinary vision of the Crucified Christ
on Monte La Verna and until the time of his death. As startling as it may appear to some,
he bore many characteristics which are prototypical of Antichrist, who will also be seen
as chaste, virtuous, highly moral, full of love and compassion, and who will be regarded
as holy (even as a deity) by people who have allowed carnal romanticism to replace the
Sacred Tradition of the Holy Church.
The sad fact is that the attainment of a true spiritual relationship with Christ was
never a possibility for Francis, for being outside the Church of Christ, it was impossible
that he could have received Divine Grace, or any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. His
gifts were from another spirit.
1. Guerier, V., Francis, pp 312-313.
2. Seventeen year old Luisa Lato, usually enjoying complete good health, fell into a
condition of ecstasy every Friday; blood flowed from her left side, and on her hands and
feet were wounds exactly corresponding to the position of the wounds on the body of the
crucified Saviour, in the form of the wounds depicted on crucifixes.
3. Guerier, pp 314-315.
4. Ibid., p 308.
5. Dumas, G., "La Stigmatisation chez les mystiques cretiens," Revue des
deux Mondes, 1 May 1907; in Guerier, pp 315-317.
6. Guerier, p 315.
7. According to the Orthodox, the Cross was not a necessity imposed on God, nor
was the blood of the Only-begotten Son a source of satisfaction to God the Father,
as the Latin Scholastics teach. The matter of "satisfying the Divine Justice of
God" is a phrase nowhere to be found in the Scriptures, nor in the writings of the
Church Fathers, but was a fabrication of Anselm of Canterbury (ca 1100) which was
developed by Thomas Aquinas to become the official soteriological doctrine in the Latin
West. (compare this with Athanasius the Great, The Incarnation of the Word of God).
8. It will be evident from the comparison in this paper that "mysticism'' in the
Orthodox Church is beyond all sensory as well as all rational categories. The normative
for this in the ascetic life is dispassion, or detachment from all needs, feelings and
even, ultimately, thoughts, positive or negative (compare, Abba Evagrios to Anatolios,
cited above, p 9).
9. See the life of St Isaaky the Recluse of the Kiev-Caves, Gods Fools.
Synaxis Press, Chilliwack, B.C., Canada, 1976, p 21.
10. Hyperconsciousness, p 292-293, 2nd ed.
11. Kadloubovsky, E. and Palmer, G., Early Fathers from the Philokalia, "St
Isaac of Syria, Directions on Spiritual Training," Faber and Faber, London, 1959.
(hereafter referred to as Early Fathers).
12. Early Fathers, p 140, paragraphs 114, 115, 116.
13. Saint Seraphim of Sarov, pp 61-62 (Rus. ed.), cited in the notes translated
from the Russian, see above.
14. Philokalia, Vol 3, p 322, para 103 (Greek ed.).
15. Early Fathers, p 297, 47.
16. Op. cit., p 105, para 71.
17. Works of St. Isaac the Syrian, 3rd ed., Sermon 8, p 37.
18. Philokalia, Vol 2, p 467, para 49. Here we must note that the quoted dictum
of St Isaac the Syrianthat a spiritual vision is unexpectedshould not be
understood as an absolute law for all instances of such visions. By way of an exception to
the cited dictum, but as completely exceptional phenomena, certain holy ascetics have had
such unusual visions which were anticipated by them; but they had a presentiment as an
unconscious prophecy, as a prophecy about what unavoidably must happen. Such an
exceptional instance, as it were, a prophecy of a miracle which was going to happen,
occurred with St Serge of Radonezh at the end of his life. This instance is described in
detail in the Russian work, Hyperconsciousness, p 377. (The bibliography was not
available to the author. It was cited in the notes translated from the Russian, see
19. See footnote 13, Ch 1, pp 13-22.
20. "Go by two's to various regions of the earth, preaching peace to people and
repentance for the remission of sins." Guerier, p 27 (cf Mk.6:7-12.)
21. Guerier, p 115.
22. Khrapovitsky, Antony, Confession: A Series of Lectures on the Mystery of
Repentance. Holy Trinity Monastery Press, Jordanville, N.Y., 1975.
23. Guerier, p 127 (our emphasis).
24. Op. cit., p 129.
25. Op. cit., pp 103-104.
26. Brown, Raphael, The Little Flowers of St. Francis. Image Books, Garden City,
N.Y., 1958, p 60.
27. Ibid., p 63.
28. Guerier, p 124.
29. The word passions, as used here, denotes all the contranatural impulses of man
(pride, vanity, envy, hatred, greed, jealousy, etc.) that resulted after the disobedience
and fall of the forefathers.
30. Motovilov, N.A., A Conversation of St. Seraphim. St Nectarios Press,
Seattle, 1973 (reprint).
31. Works of St. Isaac the Syrian, 3rd ed., Sermon 36, p 155.
32. Collected Letters of Bishop Theophan, 2nd part,
Letter 261, p 103.
33. Posthumus Artistic Works of L. Tolstoy, Vol 2, p 30.
34. Philokalia, Vol 1, p 33.
35. Hyperconsciousness, On Mental Passions, 2nd ed., pp 65-74.
36. See above, On the Lower and Higher Minds, pp 6-23.
37. Works of St. Isaac the Syrian, p 37.
38. Compare Dostoevsky, The Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov.
39. Sabbatier, p 352.
40. In the 15th century, Luther protested against this prerogative as expressed in the
practice of granting indulgences.
41. Lives of Saints, Book 11, pp 119-120.
From Chapter 4 of Light Invisible: Satisfying the Thirst for Happiness, by M. V. Lodyzhenskii.
+ + +
Francis of Assisi
In the OCA, we have a strong devotion to St. Francis of Assisi, and a lot of us have
Icons of him....Your bishop's opposition to this great Christian figure is strange. I
read a statement in which he said that while he enjoyed some of the poetry of St. Francis,
that he was not a Saint and was spiritually deluded. No Orthodox writer of father ever
said anything like that. Nicholas Zernov once compared St. Francis to St. Seraphim of
Sarov. Your bishop's views are not traditional, it seems to me, and you are the real
innovators. (M.P., NY)
The Orthodox Church does not include Francis of Assisi among its Saints. He was a
fanatic Papist, lived after the separation of the Roman Catholic Church from Orthodoxy,
and practiced a romantic and emotional spirituality foreign to genuine Orthodox spiritual
traditions. One can indeed appreciate the literature attributed to Francis, as Archbishop
Chrysostomos of Etna has rightly pointed out, but devotion to him, let alone in the form
of the veneration of his "Icons," is wholly un-Orthodox. We would hope that what
you say about such in the OCA is exaggerated; if not, perhaps that jurisdiction's Greek
Catholic roots are showing and need, to be sure, some trimming.
With regard to the Fathers of the Church, among whom no sober individual
haswhatever his opinion of the manever included Nicholas Zernov, Francis of
Assisi is not held in high esteem in Patristic writings. Characteristically, St. Ignaty
(Brianchaninov), the famous ascetic Bishop recently Glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate,
speaks of Francis' life in the context of spiritual delusion:
'When Francis was caught up to heaven,' says a writer of his life, 'God
the Father, on seeing him, was for a moment in doubt to as [sic] to whom to give
the preference, to His Son by nature or to His son by graceFrancis.' What can be
more frightful or madder than this blasphemy, what can be sadder than this delusion[?]! [The
Arena, Ch. 11]
For several centuries, various Orthodox intellectualsamong them, Nikos
Kazantzakis (1885-1957), the famous Greek writer, and numerous Slavic men of letters
(e.g., S. Sitianovich [1629-16701, L. Tolstoy [1828-1910], and many of the "Paris
School" in the twentieth century)have succumbed to the lure of a theatrical and
romantic Western vision of sanctity largely unknown in the pre-Schism East or West (except
as a symptom of spiritual delusion), but perfectly captured in the cultus of Francis of
Assisi. Not only have these individuals contributed to the distortion of our Orthodox
Faith, a distortion which still plagues the Church, but have sometimes betrayed the Church
and lost their personal Faith. The kind of splenetic firmness that your question shows in
calling untraditional Archbishop Chrysostomos' wholly traditional outlook on Francis of
Assisi, we are obliged to say, is a first step in the process by which these individuals
came to spiritual ruin. We would ask you and all those with a personal, emotional
commitmentand especially a peevish oneto post-Schism Western notions of
sanctity and to post-Schism Western "saints" to reflect on this observation.
Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XII, No. 2, 41-42.