Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in Oakmont, PA

St. John Cassian
On The Eight Vices — Vices 7 & 8: On Self-Esteem and Pride

(Philokalia Volume 1)

On Self-Esteem
Our seventh struggle is against the demon of self-esteem, a multiform and subtle passion which is not readily perceived even by the person whom it tempts. The provocations of the other passions are more apparent and it is therefore somewhat easier to do battle with them, for the soul recognizes its enemy and can repulse him at once by rebutting him and by prayer. The vice of self-esteem, however, is difficult to fight against, because it has many forms and appears in all our activities — in our way of speaking, in what we say and in our silences, at work, in vigils and fasts, in prayer and reading, in stillness and long-suffering. Through all these it seeks to strike down the soldier of Christ. When it cannot seduce a man with extravagant clothes, it tries to tempt him by means of shabby ones.

St. John Cassian When it cannot flatter him with honor, it inflates him by causing him to endure what seems to be dishonor. When it cannot persuade him to feel proud of his display of eloquence, it entices him through silence into thinking he has achieved stillness. When it cannot puff him up with the thought of his luxurious table, it lures him into fasting for the sake of praise.

In short, every task, every activity, gives this malicious demon a chance for battle. He even prompts us to imagine we are priests. I remember a certain elder who, while I was staying in Sketis, went to visit a brother in his cell. When he approached his door, he heard him speaking inside; thinking that he was studying the Scriptures, he stood outside listening, only to realize that self-esteem had driven the man out of his mind and that he was ordaining himself deacon and dismissing the catechumens. When the elder heard this, he pushed open the door and went in. The brother came to greet him, bowed as is the custom, and asked him if he had been standing at the door for a long time. The elder replied with a smile: "I arrived a moment ago, just when you were finishing the dismissal of the catechumens." When the brother heard this, he fell at the feet of the elder and begged him to pray for him so that he would be freed from this delusion. I have recalled this incident because I want to show to what depths of stupidity this demon can bring us.

The person who wants to engage fully in spiritual combat and to win the crown of righteousness must try by every means to overcome this beast that assumes such varied forms. He should always keep in mind the words of David: "The Lord has scattered the bones of those who please men" (Ps. 53:5. LXX). He should not do anything with a view to being praised by other people, but should seek God's reward only, always rejecting the thoughts of self-praise that enter his heart, and always regarding himself as nothing before God. In this way he will be freed, with God's help, from the demon of self-esteem.

On Pride
Our eighth struggle is against the demon of pride, a most sinister demon, fiercer than all that have been discussed up till now. He attacks the perfect above all and seeks to destroy those who have mounted almost to the heights of holiness. Just as a deadly plague destroys not just one member of the body, but the whole of it, so pride corrupts the St. John Cassian whole soul, not just part of it. Each of the other passions that trouble the soul attacks and tries to overcome the single virtue which is opposed to it, and so it darkens and troubles the soul only partially. But the passion of pride darkens the soul completely and leads to its utter downfall.

In order to understand more fully what is meant by this, we should look at the problem in the following way. Gluttony tries to destroy self-control; unchastity, moderation; avarice, voluntary poverty; anger, gentleness; and the other forms of vice, their corresponding virtues. But when the vice of pride has become master of our wretched soul, it acts like some harsh tyrant who has gained control of a great city, and destroys it completely, razing it to its foundations. The angel who fell from heaven because of his pride bears witness to this. He had been created by God and adorned with every virtue and all wisdom, but he did not want to ascribe this to the grace of the Lord. He ascribed it to his own nature and as a result regarded himself as equal to God. The prophet rebukes this claim when he says: 'You have said in your heart: I will sit on a high mountain; I will place my throne upon the clouds and I will be like the Most High." Yet you are a man, and not God' (cf. Isa. 14:13-14). And again, another prophet says, "Why do you boast of your wickedness, 0 mighty man?" and he continues in this same vein (Ps. 52:1). Since we are aware of this we should feel fear and guard our hearts with extreme care from the deadly spirit of pride. When we have attained some degree of holiness we should always repeat to ourselves the words of the Apostle: "Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Cor. 15:10), as well as what was said by the Lord:

"Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). We should also bear in mind what the prophet said: "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it" (Ps. 127:1), and finally: "It does not depend on-man's will or effort, but on God's mercy" (Rom. 9:16).

Even if someone is sedulous, serious and resolute, he cannot, so long as he is bound to flesh and blood, approach perfection except through the mercy and grace of Christ. James himself says that "every good gift is from above" (Jas. 1:17), while the Apostle Paul asks: "What do you have which you did not receive? Now if you received it, why do you boast, as if you had not received it?" (1 Cor. 4:7). What right, then, has man to be proud as though he could achieve perfection through his own efforts?

The thief who received the kingdom of heaven, though not as the reward of virtue, is a true witness to the fact that salvation is ours through the grace and mercy of God. All of our holy fathers knew this and all with one accord teach that perfection in holiness can be achieved only through humility. Humility, in its turn, can be achieved only through faith, fear of God, gentleness and the shedding of all possessions. It is by means of these that we attain perfect love, through the grace and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory through all the ages. Amen.

Vice 1 — Gluttony
Vice 2 — Unchastity
Vice 3 — Avarice
Vice 4 — Anger
Vice 5 — Dejection
Vice 6 — Listlessness
Vice 7 & 8 — Self-Esteem & Pride

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