The Ladder of Divine Ascent – Step Twenty-Two: Vainglory

26-28            How the demon works on us.

A man of insight told me this: “I was once sitting at an assembly,” he said.  “The demon of vainglory and the demon of pride came to sit on either side of me.  One poked me with the finger of vainglory and encouraged me to talk publicly about some vision or labor of mine in the desert.  I shook him off with the words: `Let those who wish me harm be driven back and let them blush’ (Ps. 39:15).  Then the demon on my left at once said in my ear: `Well done!  Well done!  You have become great by conquering my shameless mother.’  Turning to him I answered appropriately, making use of the rest of the verse: `Defeat and shame on all who say, “Well done!  Well done!”‘”  And how is it, I asked him, that vainglory is the mother of pride.  His answer was this: “Praise exalts and puffs me up, and when the soul is exalted, pride lifts it up as high as heaven – and then throws it down into the abyss.”

29-32            St. John then describes how vainglory is overcome through accepting dishonor and humiliation, checking one’s thoughts, mourning and the blessed fear of God, remembrance of death, fear of shame, and the remembrance of the multitude of one’s sins.

The Lord often humbles the vainglorious by causing some dishonor to befall them.  And indeed the first step in overcoming vainglory is to remain silent and to accept dishonor gladly.  The middle stage 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.

If ever we seek glory, if it comes our way uninvited, or if we plan some course of action because of our 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.