Where any Pride is, no Divine Visions Can Appear

Archimandrite Seraphim (Aleksiev). "Homily about self-esteem and about false visions".

Archimandrite Seraphim (Aleksiev) (1912-1993)

There are many dark tricks of Satan that bring him closer to the soul, but the path that Satan prefers to follow and tries to lead the humans is pride. For he knows well that even if God’s commandments are fulfilled, pride alone is enough to make an ascetic perish. He himself, having no other sins, has fallen from God through his pride only.

Sinful people are usually proud. They sin only because of their pride, which prevents them from accepting God’s will and obeying God’s commandments. Devil, a cunning tempter, knows how to make a man have a sense of grandeur about oneself. Those who are not of high intelligence, he tries make proud by telling them that they are smart or that they have some other exceptional qualities. He puts an idea to the mind of clever people that they have unique properties of their minds. To the wicked, he gives a proud persistence against the will of God. The pious, following his hints, begin to put on airs because of their execution of God’s commandments. Thus, all get by pride under the power of Satan – all those who have not stood up against his tricks, believers and unbelievers; clever and stupid; and sinful and righteous.

Where there is pride and there are visions - they cannot be from God, but surely from the evil one. Some say: ‘We know that those who have divine visions are virtuous people as they fast, pray, act honestly, visit the sick, give alms, show great love for their neighbours... Can these people indeed have visions from the Satan?’

But we will also ask them the question: ‘Do you know for sure that these people believe in God correctly, or do they work hard to follow some heretical dogma, contrary to the word of God and the testimony of the Church? In addition, if they believe correctly, are their virtues based on humility? Is not there hidden pride behind all these good deeds; for the reason being that a proud man can follow all virtues and renounce all vices except his pride. Pride can stop a man from lying. A proud person can be very honest. By pride, he can make all kinds of sacrifices to be told: “Look how generous he is!” Pride and praise can even lead to self-sacrifice.’

One day St Paisios the Great was asked which virtue is the highest. He replied: ‘The one that is done secretly, and no one knows about it.’

Pride is not expressed in just one external arrogance only, or in contempt for others and in condemning the unpleasant people. Pride has many subtle and minute manifestations. When someone looks at us sideways or says some insulting word and it hurts us, it shows that we are proud. When people do not show us the attention we are looking for, they pass by us, and we get angry in our hearts, it means again that we are proud. When we want to hear good things about our actions or our qualities, we are again guided by pride. When the Lord humbles us through our misfortunes and we are unhappy with fate and we weep for God, we are overwhelmed by pride because we consider ourselves worthy of a better fate.

Those who judge themselves fairly must admit that we are simply made of vanity, self-esteem, and pride. We cannot bear it if we are treated badly or, God forbid, insulted openly. On the contrary, we yearn for esteem and respect. In everything we want to shine, we expect admiration and praise.

Pride can be even the engine of our spiritual life. When we pray, fast, give alms or talk about God, we want to hear praise. And by doing so, we reveal that the good deeds we do are, in fact, driven by our pride, though we may not realize it. But virtues without humility are false diamonds, unfit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

One monk was said to have fasted a lot and practiced asceticism as hard as he could while living among his brethren in the cenobitic community. But when he left for the desert, ostensibly for a more harsh asceticism, he fell into relaxation. One day he was visited by some monks and, having noticed a change in him, asked: ‘Why in a monastery you have fasted so strictly, but here you do not any longer?’ He answered: ‘Because there was someone to look at me and to praise me for my diligence, but there is no one here to do it.’

Is it not the same with us? Do not we often have pride, ambition, thirst for praise as hidden engines of our pursuit of virtue? And if that is true and we have visions, what could they be if not satanic visions?

St. John of the Ladder tells the following story. A wise elder spiritually admonished a proud brother, but he in his blindness said: ‘Excuse me, Father, I am not proud.’ The wise elder said to him: ‘What clearer proof of this passion could you have given us, son, than to say, “I am not proud”?’  (The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Step 23:14. On mad pride, and, in the same Step, on unclean blasphemous thoughts).

Pride is not such a feasible sin that you always can notice. Pride can hide in the best manifestations of humility. A man can admire himself for acting humbly and having the fame of a humble. In short, a man can be proud of his humility without noticing that he is moving in a vicious circle. He can have the honest intention of saving his soul; he can genuinely seek to rid himself of pride. But because of his spiritual inexperience and ignorance, he can run with pride and take pride in having achieved humility, i.e. coming out of one point of the circle, rounding it, returning to it.

This is the tragedy of all those who do not “strive lawfully”(And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully (2 Tim 2:5)) but beat the air (I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air (1 Co 9:26). Prayers, fasting, good deeds and all the deeds of such men are in vain. Because through these deeds they do not seek to reach the depths of humility, where the sources of grace are gushing, but quietly indulge in the mirages of the high mountains of the pride with the cold wind of spiritual death.

A brother came once to Abba Serapion. The Elder offered him, in accordance with the custom of the monks, to say a prayer. But the guest refused, calling himself sinful and unworthy of the monastic rank. The elder wanted to wash his feet. But he did not allow it, refusing with the same words. He then offered to share his modest meal with him, and as they ate, the elder began to say with love: ‘My son, learn to sit in your cell and listen to yourself. Because frequent movement from place to place can do you no good, unlike silence’. Upon hearing this, the brother changed so dramatically that the disappointment on his face could not escape the elder. At that time, Abba Serapion said to him: ‘Up to that point, you called yourself a sinner and spoke of yourself that you were unworthy of life, and when I told you with love what was good for you, you immediately became offended. If you want to acquire true humility, learn to courageously endure all the insults that your neighbour does to you, rather than indulge in idle humility.’ After hearing this, the brother asked the elder for forgiveness, realizing the error of his opinion and received great spiritual benefit.

Here you can find the fine words of St. John of the Ladder. ‘It is not he who depreciates himself who shows humility (for who will not put up with himself?) but he who maintains the same love for the very man who reproaches him (The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Step 22. On the many forms of vainglory).’

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