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Having shown us the danger of pride, St. John wishes to lead us step by step to the virtue of humility (Step 25). Before we consider humility, however, he insists that we must seek meekness. What is meekness? St. John answers: "Meekness is a mind consistent amid honor and dishonor; meekness prays quietly and sincerely for a neighbor however troublesome he may be; meekness is a rock looking out over the sea of anger which breaks the waves which come crashing on it and stays entirely unmoved; meekness works alongside of obedience, guides a religious community, checks frenzy, curbs anger."
A meek person 1) is not quick to defend or justify himself in the presence and thoughts of others. He is not easily unsettled by the words and opinions of others, 2) guards his heart carefully against the intrusion of thoughts of "frenzy (against any thoughts which disturb his internal peace), 3) is calm in the midst of disturbing events; he is not easily excited or provoked, 4) watches over his words, carefully choosing to utter only those which bring peace, 5) does not project himself into conversations or situations in which his presence is not desired, 6) does not jump in to correct everyone and everything, 7) is willing to wait for God to act and does not believe that his action is necessary to God, 8) knows how to pray and to be quiet, 9) has no personal agenda and is concerned only for God's will - recognizing that God's will unfolds itself in ways that are unusual and unexpected. Thus, even in his concern for God's will, he is willing to calmly wait for God to accomplish His purpose. When he must act, he does so out of calm faith rather than panicky unbelief.


It is interesting that St. John connects meekness with simplicity and guilelessness: "A meek soul is a throne of simplicity, but a wrathful mind is a creature of evil." "Guilelessness is the joyful condition of an uncalculating soul." He use three images as illustrations: childhood, Adam in the Garden and St. Paul the simple. 
 
During childhood, he tells us, there is an absence of concern to "fit in". Those who have struggled for simplicity live much the same. Fitting in with the crowd, and compromising one's integrity to do so, are not a part of their lifestyle. They are free from the necessity to change themselves (becoming social/spiritual chameleons) to "fit in" and to meet the expectations of others. 
 
From Adam in the Garden we learn that simplicity is the absence of self-awareness. St. John writes: "As long as Adam has simplicity, he saw neither the nakedness of his soul nor the indecency of his flesh." Adam was free from the desire to "look in the mirror" and the necessity of "standing on the scale." Does not a lot of vanity spring from an unhealthy desire to look good in the eyes of other people or to find out how we look to others? Here we see why St. John keeps mentioning hypocrisy as he discusses simplicity. Our outside appearance often becomes the equivalent of a mask, designed to keep people from seeing us as we really are. Our outside appearance becomes divorced from our inner self. The inherent, simple connection between our inner soul and outer body becomes distorted. This distortion wreaks havoc on our spiritual lives. From St. Paul the Simple, we learn that simplicity is linked to obedience and firm faith. St. Paul was a disciple of Antony the Great. St. Antony thought him too old to be a monk, but Paul submitted to the severest disciplines with such unquestioning obedience that in a relatively short time he acquired holiness and spiritual powers even greater than his master's. After relating this story, St. John draws this conclusion: "Fight to escape your own cleverness. If you do, then you will find salvation and an uprightness through Jesus Christ. . . " 
 
If we follow the simple path - distrusting our own wisdom, doing the best we can yet realizing that our mind, without warmth of heart is a very weak tool - - then a Godly life will begin to be formed in us.
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Pride Part II

St. John says that pride flows out of our love of the praise of men (Vainglory). Its midpoint is "the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out." It is "the spurning of God's help, the exalting of one's own efforts and a devilish disposition." In rather frightening words, St. John writes: "A proud monk needs no demon. He has turned into one, an enemy to himself." 

 
How can we recognize that this spiritual ailment is afflicting us? In a series of proverbs, St. John gives us several signs which manifest its presence in our hearts: 1) a know-it-all, argumentative spirit, 2) a refusal to obey, a belief that we know better than our spiritual elders, 3) an aversion to correction, a belief that we are beyond the need for reproach and/or instruction, 4) a desire to lead and an innate belief that we know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done better than others, 5) a false humility, 6) a lack of awareness of our own sins and shortcomings, 7) an inflated opinion of our own virtues, 8) a belief that we have attained the blessedness of heaven, a forgetting of the need to finish the race and of the possibility of failure.

How do we overcome pride in our lives? Once again, St. John's words are practical and to the point. His advice can be summarized as follows: 1) it is helpful to keep before us the struggles and virtues of the holy Fathers and saints. It is so easy for us to compare ourselves with our contemporaries and think that we are doing pretty well. In our day and age, it is a great temptation for those who are trying to live pious and prayerful lives to begin to think that they are somehow doing a lot for the Lord, that they are waging a serious and dedicated struggle and that they have achieved a level of spiritual maturity. One has only to look to the Fathers and the Saints to see how shallow and false this kind of thinking is, 2) it is helpful for us to remember how many blessings we have received and to remember how any advancements we have made in the spiritual life are the result not of our own efforts but God's mercy, 3) it is helpful to remember that everything we obtain by way of struggle in the spiritual life is offered to us only because of the struggle of Christ. No matter how hard we struggle, without Christ there would be no victory. The doors of Heaven would still be closed. The grave would still have its claim on us and we would be shut out from the presence of God. "If we were to die ten thousand times for Christ, we should still not have repaid what we owe, for in value rather than in physical substance there is no comparison between the blood of God and that of His servants."

"Such is the twenty-third step. Whoever climbs it, if indeed any can, will certainly be strong."
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 St. John says that pride flows out of our love of the praise of men (Vainglory). Its midpoint is "the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out." It is "the spurning of God's help, the exalting of one's own efforts and a devilish disposition." In rather frightening words, St. John writes: "A proud monk needs no demon. He has turned into one, an enemy to himself." 

 
How can we recognize that this spiritual ailment is afflicting us? In a series of proverbs, St. John gives us several signs which manifest its presence in our hearts: 1) a know-it-all, argumentative spirit, 2) a refusal to obey, a belief that we know better than our spiritual elders, 3) an aversion to correction, a belief that we are beyond the need for reproach and/or instruction, 4) a desire to lead and an innate belief that we know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done better than others, 5) a false humility, 6) a lack of awareness of our own sins and shortcomings, 7) an inflated opinion of our own virtues, 8) a belief that we have attained the blessedness of heaven, a forgetting of the need to finish the race and of the possibility of failure.

How do we overcome pride in our lives? Once again, St. John's words are practical and to the point. His advice can be summarized as follows: 1) it is helpful to keep before us the struggles and virtues of the holy Fathers and saints. It is so easy for us to compare ourselves with our contemporaries and think that we are doing pretty well. In our day and age, it is a great temptation for those who are trying to live pious and prayerful lives to begin to think that they are somehow doing a lot for the Lord, that they are waging a serious and dedicated struggle and that they have achieved a level of spiritual maturity. One has only to look to the Fathers and the Saints to see how shallow and false this kind of thinking is, 2) it is helpful for us to remember how many blessings we have received and to remember how any advancements we have made in the spiritual life are the result not of our own efforts but God's mercy, 3) it is helpful to remember that everything we obtain by way of struggle in the spiritual life is offered to us only because of the struggle of Christ. No matter how hard we struggle, without Christ there would be no victory. The doors of Heaven would still be closed. The grave would still have its claim on us and we would be shut out from the presence of God. "If we were to die ten thousand times for Christ, we should still not have repaid what we owe, for in value rather than in physical substance there is no comparison between the blood of God and that of His servants."

"Such is the twenty-third step. Whoever climbs it, if indeed any can, will certainly be strong."
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I am sure that each one of us can easily relate to what St. John is describing in this step. Vainglory is the beginning of pride; it is the congratulation of self for work well done. It is the desire to be recognized by others; the love of praise. St. John writes: "The spirit of despair exults at the sight of mounting vice, the spirit of vainglory at the sight of the growing treasures of virtue."


What are the signs that we have succumbed to this passion and been overwhelmed by this demon? St. John list several. Vainglory enters our lives when we grow concerned about what other people think about us. It puts down its roots into our hearts when we begin to worry about their disapproval and to be pleased by their approval. It captures our hearts when we enjoy their words of praise. It takes over our hearts when we begin to work for these words of praise that bring us joy.

How can we conquer vainglory? St. John is very clear in his instructions. "The first step is overcoming vainglory is to remain silent and accept dishonor gladly. The middle step is to check every act of vainglory while it is still in thought. The end (insofar as one may talk of an end to an abyss) is to be able to accept humiliation before others without actually feeling it." These words are so easy to type and to read - - but not so easy to put into practice.

John knows that we must work to gradually change our intentions. His advice as always is very practical. "If ever we seek glory, if it comes our way uninvited, or if we plan some course of action because of vainglory, we should think of our mourning and of the blessed fear on us as we stood alone in prayer before God. If we do this we will assuredly outflank shameless vainglory, that is, if our wish for true prayer is genuine. This may be insufficient. In which case let us briefly remember that we must die. Should this also prove ineffective, let us at least go in fear of the shame that always comes after honor, for assuredly he who exalts himself will be humbled not only there but here also. When those who praise us, or rather, those who lead us astray begin to exalt us, we should briefly remember the multitude of our sins and in this way we will discover that we do not deserve whatever is said or done in our honor."

It is very interesting that St. John insists that the battle against pride is either won or lost here. "A worm, fully grown, often sprouts wings and can fly up high. Vainglory, fully grown, can give birth to pride, which is the beginning and the end of all evil." What a valuable insight for the spiritual life. What a great source of hope it is to know that we can deal a fatal blow to our pride by working on our attachment to the praise of others. Each day we can take small steps; asking ourselves difficult but honest questions: "Does my behavior change when no one can see me and when no one is around?" "Do I find myself telling others about all my spiritual efforts and blessings?" "Do I find myself replaying what others have said to me or what I have said to them over and over again in my mind?" "Do I act and talk as if I have experiential knowledge of spiritual truths that I have only read about?" "Do I become discouraged and quit when no one notices what I do or when I do not receive the praise and thanksgiving I think I deserve?" "Do I hide my sins and failings from others, even to the point of lying or shading the truth so that my true faults are not discovered by others?" "Do I become defensive when I am criticized? Do I feel the need to always make sure that everyone knows why I did something?"

Again, this is not easy. But the promise St. John holds out should be enough to make us keep trying: "Anyone free from this sickness is close to salvation." 
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St. John describes this spiritual danger in these words: "Fear is danger tasted in advance, a quiver as the heart takes fright before unnamed calamity. Fear is a loss of assurance . . . it is a lapse from faith that comes from anticipating the unexpected." 

 
This spiritual phenomenon takes place in our lives more than we realize. For each person the fear is slightly different. Sometimes we fail to follow Christ because we are afraid of what it will cost us. There is a cost associated with each step of the spiritual journey; a further detachment from the things of this world, a new step of faith and trust, a great reliance upon Christ. When we face those moments of truth when the cost is made abundantly clear, we can feel very threatened and vulnerable. For so long we have lived in a certain way, for so long our security has been wrapped up in the things and ways that we are now being asked to put aside. The fears can grow very large. Other times we falter in our journey towards God because we are afraid of the reactions of others. As we grow towards God, we change. Very often these changes are not immediately accepted by those who have known us. When we move towards God in positive and challenging ways, we run the risk of misunderstanding, abuse and rejection. Once again, the fears loom large. Other times we are afraid of our own inability to do that which God has asked us to do. Perhaps we have failed so many times in the past that we are afraid of falling again. It seems easier to do nothing than to step out in obedience to the call of God.

These and many others represent the nature of our fears. But St. John pushes us to see the "why" behind the "what." He isolates two factors. First we are overwhelmed with fear because of our pride. "A proud soul is the slave of cowardice. Trusting only itself, it is frightened by a sound or shadow." Secondly, we often are overwhelmed by fear through demonic oppression. St. John describes it this way: "It is barrenness of soul, not the darkness or emptiness of places, which gives the demons power against us. And the providence of God sometimes allows this to happen so that we may learn from it."

How do we overcome such fears? The answer is clear: through sincere humility and heartfelt trust in God and through the rejection of all Satanic fantasies. We must not allow fear to keep us from pursuing God. We must look neither to the right nor to the left, but walk faithfully on that path which God has laid before us, looking to Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith.
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