Elder John on Accusation in Vainglory

Letters of Valaam elder John (Alexeev)


New Valamo

Letter 118

Schema-hegumen John (Alexeev)

Honoured in Christ N.

I have received your letter, and you are rebuking me for having vainglory, saying that I write letters because of my vainglory.

I am very surprised myself why I started corresponding merely by chance with different people. Certainly, the reason is that I am a priest and a spiritual advisor.  Some of my spiritual children asked me different questions, and I, in my madness, answered their questions, saying what I had in my heart; I never had an idea to publish my letters. There were some people asking me for my agreement to publish my letters and I agreed with their proposal. I said: ‘If you have found something useful, God bless you, you may collect my letters. I gave them the addresses of my correspondence.’

I cannot say that I have no vainglory. This is a sophisticated passion, mixing with every virtue, attacking even Saints, sticking even on them. However, they are so afraid of this impudent passion that consider it as spraying tar on white clothes.

This insane passion can be noticed only in case of very attentive spiritual life. If one guards one’s heart with prayer, he will see the vainglory thought attacking his heart. O insane vainglory, you like to show off your works so much! Sometimes you work even more to make people see them and praise you. The work of a vainglorious man are in vain: fasting, prostrations and other bodily works, because he is doing than for his one glory. However, Our Lord commands to do everything in secret, and rebukes the Pharisees for their vainglorious behaviour.

Some more about this subject. The humankind invented politeness instead of love, and under this politeness hides vainglory, wile, hypocrisy, anger and other passions of the soul. To all appearances, such a person has a just heart of gold, and it is difficult to tell what sort of a person he really is. But, his basis being not love, soon one can discover his inner condition, for such a man is hypocritical, saying one thing and behaving in a way that is different from what he says.

But the person who is based on love is not hypocritical, for he has simplicity, open-heartedness and naturalness. Only ascetics have this feature. There are people who have these gifts by nature; the fruit they bring can help us to recognize them. The vinegar and the water are of the same colour but taste differently, for ‘the palate tastes food.’ [1]

Who want to know more about passions, must read the second volume of Philokalia. There the Holy Fathers have thoroughly explained the subject based on their own experience.

Their writings are the greatest benefit for us. They went on the spiritual way by experience and left their teaching as milestones for future generations. They explained spiritual life thoroughly.

I did not want to say that but I will speak as a fool.[2] Nowadays the teaching of the Holy Fathers are not studied very much. Some people speak a lot how they understand things and the letter that kills the spirit prevails (2 Cor 3:6). Oh yes - the godly man ceaseth[3] - and nowadays we are lacking this great benefit – living under the guidance of an experienced Elder – for there are not such people. The Holy Fathers foresaw with their spiritual eyes our depletion of living guides, so they left us their teachings. However, it is not easy to understand their teaching in the correct way, for they wrote from their own experience, and one needs here someone’s own experience even if it is feeble. It would even be better to have a partner of the same spirit; it is easier for two people to study the teaching of the Holy Fathers. At theological academies and seminaries they study only the book cover of the Holy Bible, but do not teach its spirit.

Yes, it is good to write and to speak about spiritual things, but one needs asceticism in order to lead the spiritual life; not without reason the saints fought with themselves as with an enemy. It is good to read the Holy Fathers, there one can see one’s nothingness and this fact humbles down our pseudo piety.

Elder of Valamo monastery


[1] Job 34:3, New King James Version

[2] 2 Cor 11:23 King James Version

[3] Ps 12:1 (In Orthodox Bible Ps 11:1)