On Pride

Saint John Climacus. "The Ladder of Divine Ascent". Step 23.

Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. It is the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of barrenness. It is a flight from God's help, the harbinger of madness, the author of downfall. It is the cause of diabolical possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy. It is the fortress of demons, the custodian of sins, the source of hardheartedness. It is the denial of compassion, a bitter pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God, It is the root of blasphemy.

Pride begins where vainglory leaves off. Its midpoint comes with the humiliation of our neighbor, the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out. It ends with the spurning of God's help, the exalting of one's own efforts and a devilish disposition.

Listen, therefore, all who wish to avoid this pit. This passion often draws strength initially from the giving of thanks, and at first it does not shamelessly urge us to renounce God. I have seen people who speak aloud their thanks to God but who in their hearts are glоrifying themselves, something demonstrated by that Pharisee with his "O God, I thank You" (Luke 18:11).

Pride takes up residence wherever we have lapsed, for a lapse is in fact an  indication of pride. And an admirable man said once to me: "Think of a dozen shameful passions. Love one of them, I mean pride, and it will take up the space of all the other eleven."

A proud monk argues bitterly with others. The humble monk is loath to contradict them.

The cypress tree does not bend to the ground in order to walk, nor does the haughty monk in order to gain obedience.

The proud man wants to be in charge of things. He would feel lost otherwise.

"God resists the proud" (James 4:6). Who then could have mercy on them? Before God every proud man is unclean and who then could purify such a person?

For the proud correction is a fall, a thorn (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7) is a devil, and abandonment by God is madness. Whereas in the first two instances there are human cures available, this last cannot be healed by man.

To reject criticism is to show pride, while to accept it is to show oneself free of this fetter.

Pride and nothing else caused an angel to fall from heaven. And so one may reasonably ask whether one may reach heaven by humility alone without the help of any other virtue.

Pride loses the profits of all hard work and sweat. They clamored, but there was none to save them, because they clamored with pride. They clamored to God and He paid no heed since they were not really trying to root out the faults against which they were praying.

An old man, very experienced in these matters, once spiritually admonished a proud brother who said in his blindness: "Forgive me, father, but I am not proud." "My son," said the wise old man, "what better proof of your pride could you have given than to claim that you were not proud?"

A help to the proud is submissiveness, a tougher and humbler mode of life, and the reading of the supernatural feats of the Fathers. Even then there will perhaps be little hope of salvation for those who suffer from this disease.

While it is disgraceful to be puffed up over the adornments of others, it is sheer lunacy to imagine that one has deserved the gifts of God. You may be proud only of the achievements you had before the time of your birth. But anything after that, indeed the birth itself, is a gift from God. You may claim only those virtues in you that are there independently of your mind, for your mind was bestowed on you by God. And you may claim only those victories you achieved independently of the body, for the body too is not yours but a work of God.

Do not be self-confident before judgment has been passed on you. Remember the guest at the marriage feast. He got there, and then, tied hand and foot, he was thrown into the dark outside (cf. Matt. 22:13). So do not be stiff-necked, since you are a material being. Many although holy and unencumbered by a body were thrown out even from heaven.

When the demon of pride finds a place for himself among his own, he appears to them, in sleep or awake, and he looks like a holy angel or martyr and he hints at mysteries to be revealed or spiritual gifts to be granted, that the wretches may be deceived and driven utterly out of their minds.

If we were to die ten thousand times for Christ, we would still not have repaid what we owe, for in value rather than physical substance there is no comparison between the blood of God and that of His servants.

We should always be on the lookout to compare ourselves with the Fathers and the lights who have gone before us. If we do, we will discover that we have scarcely begun the ascetic life, that we have lurdly kept our vow in a holy manner, and that our thinking is still rooted in the world.

A real monk is one whose soul's eye is not haughty and whose bodily senses are unmoved.

A monk is one who fights his enemies, like the wild beasts that they are, and harries them as he makes his escape from them.

To be a monk is to know ecstasy without end and to grieve for life.

A monk is shaped by virtues in the way that others are shaped by pleasures.

A monk has an unfailing light in the eye of the heart.

A monk is an abyss of humility in which every evil spirit has been plunged and smothered.

Pride makes us forget our sins, for the remembrance of them leads to humility.

Pride is utter poverty of soul disguised as riches, imaginary light where in fact there is darkness. This abominable vice not only stops our progress but even tosses us down from the heights we have reached.

The proud man is a pomegranate, gone bad within, radiant outside.

A proud monk needs no demon. He has turned into one, an enemy to himself.

Darkness is alien to light. Pride is alien to every virtue.

Blaspheming words rise up in the hearts of the proud, heavenly visions in the hearts of the humble.

A thief hates the sun. A proud man despises the meek.

It happens, I do not know how, that most of the proud never really discover their true selves. They think they have conquered their passions and they find out how poor they really are only after they die.

The man ensnared by pride will need God's help, since man is of no use to him.

I captured this senseless deceiver once. It was rising up in my heart and on its shoulders was vainglory, its mother. I roped them with the noose of obedience and flailed them with the whip of humility. Then I lashed them and asked how they had managed to gain access to me. "We have no beginning and no birth," they said, "for we are the source and the begetters of all the passions. The strongest opposition to us comes from the contrition of heart that grows out of obedience. We can endure no authority over us, which is why we fell from heaven where we surely had authority. In short, we are the authors and the progenitors of everything opposed to humility, for everything that favors humility brings us low. We prevail everywhere except in heaven. So, then, where will you run to escape us? You will find us often where there is patient endurance of dishonor, where there is obedience and freedom from anger, where there is willingness to bear no grudge, where one's neighbor is served. And our children are the falls of those who lead the life of the spirit. Their names: Anger, Calumny, Spite, Irascibility, Yelling, Blasphemy, Hypocrisy, Hatred, Envy, Argumentativeness, Self-will, Disobedience.

"There is only one thing with which we cannot interfere, and the violence you do us will make us admit what this is. If you can honestly condemn yourself before the Lord, then indeed you will find us as flimsy as a cobweb. For, you see, Vainglory is pride's saddle-horse on which I am mounted. But holy Humility and Self-deprecation will laugh at the horse and its rider and will joyfully sing the song of triumph: 'Let us sing to the Lord, for He has been truly glorified. Horse and rider He has thrown into the sea' (Exod. 15:1), into the depths of humility."

Such is the twenty-third step. Whoever climbs it, if indeed anyone can, will certainly be strong.

Concerning unspeakably blasphemous thoughts

As we have already heard, from a troublesome root and mother comes a most troublesome offspring. What I mean is that unspeakable blasphemy is the child of dreadful pride. Hence the need to talk about it, since it is no ordinary foe but is far and away the deadliest enemy of all. Worse still, it is extremely hard to articulate and to confess it and therefore to discuss it with a spiritual healer, and the result has been to cause frustration and despair in many people, for like a worm in a tree this unholy enemy gnaws away all hope.

This atrocious foe has the habit of appearing during the holy services and even at the awesome hour of the Mysteries, and blaspheming the Lord and the consecrated elements, thereby showing that these unspeakable, unacceptable, and unthinkable words are not ours but rather those of the God-hating demon who fled from heaven because, it seems, of the blasphemies he uttered there too against the Lord. It must be so, for if these dreadful and unholy words are my own, how could I offer humble worship after having partaken of the sacred gift? How could I revile and praise at the same time?

This deceiver, this destroyer of souls, has often caused men to go mad. And no other thought is as difficult to admit in confession, which is why so many are dogged by it all their days. In fact nothing gives demons and evil thoughts such power over us as to nourish them and hide them in our hearts unconfessed.

If you have blasphemous thoughts, do not think that you are to blame. God knows what is in our hearts and He knows that ideas of this kind come not from us but from our enemies.

Drunkenness leads to stumbling. Pride leads to unholy thoughts The drunkard will be punished not for his stumbling but for his drunkenness.

Those unclean and unspeakable thoughts come at us when we are praying, but, if we continue to pray to the end, they will retreat, for they do not struggle against those who resist them.

This unholy demon not only blasphemes God  and everything that is divine. It stirs up the dirtiest and most obscene thoughts within us, thereby trying to force us to give up praying or to fall into despair. It stops the prayer of many and turns many away from the holy Mysteries. It has evilly and tyrannously caused the bodies of some to be worn away with grief. It has exhausted others with fasting and has given them no rest. It has struck at people living in the world, and also at those leading the monastic life, whispering that there is no salvation in store for them, murmuring that they are more to be pitied than any unbeliever or pagan.

Anyone disturbed by the spirit of blasphemy and wishing to be rid of it should bear in mind that thoughts of this type do not originate in his own soul but are caused by that unclean devil who once said to the Lord: "I will give you all this if only You fall down and adore me" (Matt. 4:9). So let us make light of him and pay no regard whatever to his promptings. Let us say: " 'Get behind me, Satan! I will worship the Lord my God and I will serve only Him' (Matt. 4:10). May your word and your effort rebound on you, and your blasphemies come down on your own head now and in the world to come." To tackle the demon of blasphemy in any way other than this is to be like a man trying to hold lightning in his hands. For how can you take a grip on, seize, or grapple with someone who flits into the heart quicker than the wind, talks more rapidly than a flash, and then immediately vanishes? Every other kind of foe stops, struggles a while, lingers and gives one time to grapple with him. But not this one. He hardly appears and is gone again immediately. He barely speaks and then vanishes.

This particular demon likes to take up residence in the minds of simpler and more innocent souls, and these are more upset and disturbed by it than others. To such people we could quite rightly say that what is happening to them is due not to their own undue self-esteem but to the jealousy of the demons.

Let us refrain from passing judgment or condemnation on our neighbor. If we do, then we will not be terrorized by blasphemous thoughts, since the one produces the other.

The situation here is like that of someone shut up in his own house who overhears but does not join in the conversation of passers-by. The soul that keeps to itself overhears and is disturbed by the blasphemies of devils who are merely transients.

Hold this foe in contempt and you will be liberated from its torments. Try cleverly to fight it and you will end up by surrendering, for the man who tries to conquer spirits by talk is like someone hoping to lock up the winds.

There was once a zealous monk who was badly troubled by this demon. For twenty years he wore himself out with fasting and vigils, but to no avail, as he realized. So he wrote the temptation on a sheet of paper, went to a certain holy man, handed him the paper, bowed his face to the ground and dared not to look up. The old man read it, smiled, lifted the brother and said to him: "My son, put your hand on my neck." The brother did so. Then the great man said: "Very well, brother. Now let this sin be on my neck for as many years as it has been or will be active within you. But from now on, ignore it." And the monk who had been tempted in this fashion assured me that even before he had left the cell of this old man, his infirmity was gone. The man who had actually experienced this told me about it, giving thanks to Christ.

He who has defeated this vice has banished pride.