Philokalia Ministries
The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Six Part IV

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Six Part IV

May 25, 2017
St. Isaac began his teaching with a few warnings last evening. The constancy of a soul and its purity is tested by the subtleties of vainglory. The moment one begins to trust in the strength of his virtue and to think it is invincible, he begins to speak freely of licentious subjects. He will then be inundated by unchaste thoughts and his mind will be defiled.  The greater the vainglory the greater the subjugation to the passion. 
Purity must be guard by bodily toil, reading of the scriptures, and care for the virtues until cleansing tears rise from the depths of the heart creating a fervent longing for God. Yet if tears are lost through negligence or sloth one cannot presume that this precious gift will be regained. 
Affliction alone solidifies and purifies the virtues in the heart and once the heart is purified the Holy Spirit becomes the teacher and guide. Fervor and the desire it expresses guides one to God with an ever greater swiftness. 
The pursuit of God must not be made in an over calculated fashion, where fear of perils hinders movement. Free reign must be given to desire and not held back by a false prudence masking a lack of courage. 
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Fourteen On Spiritual Knowledge Part II

Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Fourteen On Spiritual Knowledge Part II

July 23, 2015

We labored through a few pages of the conference where Abba Nesteros lays out the types of Spiritual Knowledge that exist - tropology, allegory and analogy.  Of these various types of knowledge the tropological is most necessary early in the spiritual life - that which pertains to correction of life and to practical instruction in the conquering of vice and growth in virtue.  One cannot find perfection in the words of others but rather in the virtuousness of their own acts.  Our hearts must become sacred tabernacles, cleansed of every contagion of sin and ready to receive the Word of God.

Great care must be taken to remain silent, guarding the teachings of the elders in the heart rather than rushing to teach them to others.  Avoid all vainglory in questions and never seek to show off your learning. Don't teach unless you have previously lived the truths you put forward; for Abba Nesteros writes "whoever neglects many great things and dares to teach them is certainly not merely least in the Kingdom of Heaven but should be considered greatest in the punishment of Gehenna."
Conferences of St. John Cassian: Conference Five on the Eight Principal Vices Part III

Conferences of St. John Cassian: Conference Five on the Eight Principal Vices Part III

July 17, 2014

The group continued to discuss Cassian’s exposition of the Eight Principal Vices. We followed as Cassian defined each of the vices and how they manifest themselves, how a vice such as the self-esteem associated with vainglory can be used to prevent an individual from following into lesser vice such as fornication through the shame it causes, and how we should spy out and focus our struggle against the worst of our vices. A rather lengthy discussion ensued about the nature of the spiritual struggle as presented by the desert fathers and how one understands this in light of life in the modern world and worldly pursuits. Reading the desert fathers can be summed up in one word: discomfiting. The group struggled, as it often has, to understand the radical call to holiness with the affective and often subjective and individualistic approach to the spiritual life and response to the demands of the Gospel. How does one live in the modern world and in the modern culture without isolating oneself on one hand or compromising the call to live completely for Christ on the other? How do we pursue that which is good and beautiful within the world without making our faith an auxiliary construction or placing the pursuit of virtue on an equal footing with earthly goals or achievements?

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step 23 on Pride

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step 23 on Pride

October 17, 2013

 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."
Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step 22 on Vainglory

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step 22 on Vainglory

October 10, 2013

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." 
Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App