November 12, 2020

On the Dangerous Vice of Pride (St. Varnava Nastic)


“In this article, one can sense ... the humble spirit and modesty that adorned the ancient spiritual giants of old Egypt, Sinai and the Holy Mountain. As if the author were outside of time and space. Not a single temptation of the twentieth century touched him and failed to separate him from the holy people of the early Christian centuries,"- this is how St. Nikolai Velimirovich reacted to the article "Something About Pride", written by the then student of the Theological Faculty in Belgrade, Vojislav Nastic, who today the Serbian Orthodox Church honors as Saint Varnava, Bishop of Khvostansky, commemorated on the 12th of November. Below is a translation of the article on Pride he wrote as a student of theology:
The proverb says that "laziness is the beginning of all sin." Meanwhile, this is only partly true. The whole truth reads: "Every sin is the beginning of all sin." Every sin carries in itself the germ of all other sins. It is enough to take just one step and you will be ready to commit all the others. The first offense is a scout preparing for the imminent arrival of the entire army of vice.

But every story has only one beginning. And the story of sin has its beginning: pride. Among the myriad of sins, the lot of pride fell to begin the terrible, dark and woeful story of sin. From pride came the first sin in heaven: the falling away of Satan from the Creator. The first sin on earth also originated from pride: the falling away of Adam from the Creator. And this role, which is assigned to pride in the drama of universal tragedy, indicates its magnitude and strength in the ugly family of evil.

This dark honor was given to pride by the Church when she put it in the list of deadly sins in the first place. And neither this role, nor this honor is accidental, but has a deep and far-reaching meaning.

We said that every sin carries the germ of all others. But there is one addition to be made. Indeed, this happens with all sin, but not to the same extent. If one sin carries in itself only an inclination to other sins, then another already contains a sufficient readiness for them, and the third cannot be committed on its own, but always accompanied by a rich retinue of small and great evils. And the list that would like to present the fertility of sin in this sense, undoubtedly, should have started with pride. Pride is the killing of all virtues. It is the death of all good, and the fullness of all evil. Therefore, Satan became Satan the very moment he became proud. Having committed the first and greatest sin, he in the course of things became the father of many-sided evil.

First of all, pride is the grave of love. Where there is pride, there is no love. Where there is love, there is no pride. For "love ... is not proud," writes the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 13:4). And this is one of the most important features of love. Love means hiding other people's faults. Pride means showing one's worth. Love is a source of undisguised joy. Pride is a source for innermost hatred and secret envy. Love openly mourns the fall of a neighbor. The pride of this fall secretly rejoices - for this is one less competitor for it. Love ascribes its good to another. Pride appropriates someone else's good. Love sees itself in other people's flaws. And pride sees in its own shortcomings only the shortcomings of others. Love, looking at its neighbors, sees the beautiful in the ugly. Pride sees ugliness in what is beautiful among neighbors. Love serves your neighbor. Pride serves itself. Love first thinks about others, and then about itself. Pride thinks about itself first and then about others. Love means complete and universal unity. Pride means complete and total separation.

And love is commanded to us.

This is not some kind of secondary, accidental, small or half-hearted love, but full and all-embracing love, love without compromises and boundaries: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:33). And more than yourself. For it is said: “There is no greater love than if someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Half love is not love. An even less love is the principle “good for good”. Good for evil, bread for a stone, forgiveness for offense, life for death - this is love. And nothing else. For love is the most obvious property of God, and the properties of God, like God Himself, are endless, perfect in their fullness and crystal in their purity. Therefore, love can only be all-love. If it has at least one foreign atom in its all-encompassing fabric, it is no longer the divine love that is commanded to us. This is why pride is the grave of love.

Pride means the destruction of not only love, but also harmony and, in general, the destruction of true realities; for it means a loss of the sense of reality. How tragic a proud man is! How blind to reality inside and outside himself! He sees everything in himself, and nothing outside himself. He does not see the world as it really is: full of gifted and noble people, much more gifted and famous than a proud man - geniuses. It seems to him that the whole world consists of stupidity, weakness and simplicity and that his exceptional and precious talent in this round dance of insanity shines with a kind of unearthly radiance, like a gold ingot glows in the dirty mud of some African or Asian river. A proud person has only one concern: to show the world his inexhaustible merits. All other concerns are of value insofar as they serve this main purpose.According to his deep and innermost conviction, if it were not for him, the sum of the whole world would be equal to zero. This intimate judgment about oneself is one of the most characteristic features of pride. There are very few arrogant people who would like to have their arrogance visible. They with all their might reject reproaches from themselves for this. But, worst of all, they themselves do not admit this sin to themselves. And this is where the most terrible power of this most insidious of all diseases is rooted. A proud person is always insincere and hypocritical. They themselves do not admit this sin to themselves. And this is where the most terrible power of this most insidious of all diseases is rooted.

Yes, pride means losing your sense of reality. Therefore, reality is the greatest defense against pride. Think, are you the wisest and greatest of all your companions? Take a closer look and lose faith in this belief. But with such a study, it is necessary to abandon diminutives and magnifying glasses, and from black and rose-colored glasses. Look with an unarmed, healthy eye. Whoever wants to see reality will see.

Pride is the most secret, but also the most common sin. She infected almost all of us with her demonic sprouts. We are all her lowest and most humble slaves. Pride covertly penetrates into all corners of our soul, infecting all our thoughts and permeating our every action. No time and no human age is deprived of it.

Pride is flexible and adapts successfully to all types of human spirits. Satan is most successful in capturing people with the same net that he himself was caught. And the more earthly a person is, the easier and deeper he falls under the power of this evil. In vain do we want to proclaim our proud isolation from society as a natural manifestation of the spirit "which is endowed with a deep metaphysical understanding of the world." It is in vain that we want to interpret our contemptuous ridicule of the world as "a well-intentioned reminder of a person who sees clearly." We want to justify ourselves in vain. Pride remains pride. If we manage to convince society, then we will not be able to convince ourselves, and if we are able to convince ourselves, we will not be able to convince the One whom even Satan could not convince.

Pride is the destruction of true realities, for the one who is proud puts a distance between himself and those over whom he is proud. He firmly believes that in comparison with the rest, the "simple" world, he is a different, higher species. But "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created He him" (Gen. 1:27). And God did not create more kinds of people, but only man. All people are the same, all are created in the image of God. This means that everyone is the same in what makes a person human. However, pride entered into a thankless battle with this truth.

A proud person forgets that he has received everything he has. He passively considers what he has received as deserved. He looks at someone else's as his own. Therefore, a proud person is a thief who takes away the goods that belong to God alone. After all, wisdom, strength, beauty and kindness belong only to God, for “no one is good but God alone” (Matthew 19:17). A proud person seemed to have never heard the words: “Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Or the words: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). A proud man, in his blindness, thinks that he is doing honor to God. When he enters the temple, he expects that the saints from the icons will bow to him, impressed by the unprecedented honor of his precious visit.

Pride is the common evil of all people: the highest, the middle, and the small. We do all through it and nothing without it. If a person on this earth could be proud of anything, it would be perfection in Christ. But what do we see? Those who are perfect in Christ are not proud. This is because they have declared a merciless war on this first devil - pride. Therefore, they are also perfect in Christ the Lord, the most perfect Humility.

From a battle with pride, rarely does anyone emerge victorious. Perhaps this is the most difficult struggle for a person. It is known that many ascetic monks with great difficulty ascended the ladder of Christian virtues, and at the moment when they could no doubt repeat about themselves the words: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), these conquerors of the world were conquered by pride!

Here is one example of patristic precaution against this danger. One of the holy fathers was walking with his deacon. On the way, they came across a large poisonous snake. The deacon got scared and ran away. The saint also ran. When the danger was over, the deacon said: “Father, it is not surprising that I ran away from the snake, for I have neither great faith nor great deeds. I am amazed at you that you ran, having both!" The saint humbly answered him: "I was not afraid of the snake, but of pride, into which I could fall if I had not run from the snake." The struggle with pride is hard. She is overcome by only one thing: looking at the meek and humble Lamb of God.

There is one intimate connection between pride, hypocrisy, and stupidity. This connection was also revealed to us by a popular proverb: "Pride, hypocrisy and stupidity grow on the same branch."

Source: Translation by John Sanidopoulos.