Sunday, January 5, 2020

On Pride

Pride is a sin I wrestle with. It’s a serious sin because it is known to be the root cause of other sins and separates us from God. Below are some thoughts on pride by Church fathers and others to help us understand this common sinful tendency.

Saint John Climacus says pride is:
“the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy.”... It involves “the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out.” “The proud man wants to be in charge of things.” “A proud man despises the meek.” “Pride makes us forget our sins...” “Pride leads to unholy thoughts.” “It ends with the spurning of God's help, the exalting of one's own efforts and a devilish disposition.” “I have seen people who speak aloud their thanks to God but who in their hearts are glŠ¾rifying themselves.” “Blasphemy is the child of dreadful pride.”
Saint John of Kronstadt says,
When we hear anything bad said of anyone, then, inwardly comparing him with ourselves, we say in our heart: "I am not such; I am perfection in comparison to him," and thinking thus of ourselves and inwardly judging others, we are delighted at our superiority over others. This is the pride of Satan; this is the stench of the carnal, sinful man. May such thoughts flee from the soul! Our self-love and pride would like everything to be as we wish, that we should be surrounded by every honor and comfort of this temporal life; would like all men, and even — how far is pride carried! — all nature itself, to speedily and silently obey a sign from us...Spiritual pride also manifests itself by insensibility to our sins, by the Pharisee's self-justification and self-praise, by insensibility to God's mercies, by ingratitude to God for all that is good, by not feeling the need of praising God's greatness. Spiritual pride also manifests itself in boastfulness, in the proud man's pretended knowledge of everything, whilst in reality he knows very little or his spiritual eyes are entirely blind. "That is not worth reading," he says; " it is all well known; these sermons are not worth reading; they contain the one same thing which I already know.'' 
Saint Tikhon writes:
A proud man seeks honor, glory and praise by every means. He complains, he is displeased, he curses when deprived of honor and leadership. He begins labors that are beyond his strength which he is not able to manage. Out of self-will he interferes in the affairs of others. He desires to direct everyone...He boasts of himself shamelessly and exalts himself. He looks down on and humiliates other people. He does not submit, he does not obey his authorities and his parents. The goods they have they ascribe to themselves, to their own efforts and labors, and not to God. He greatly dislikes reproach and admonition. He is impatient, is displeased, complains and even curses when in destruction, in contempt, in misfortunes and calamities. He displays haughtiness and is somewhat pompous, etc. in word and deed.
So what is pride? Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves. Is this love of ourselves pride? Prof. Paul Sands wrote an excellent article on this topic. He points out that the word “pride” has many different meanings. We often confuse it with “self-respect.” While pride that is to be avoided includes a feeling of superiority, self-respect does not. This is what Jesus meant when he says “as we love ourselves.” He means the proper regard for oneself as a human being. Self-esteem is another good concept that differs from the kind of pride we are to avoid. Self-esteem involves the proper judgement of our capabilities that Paul labels “sober judgement” (Rom 12:3). Neither should pride be confused with “feeling proud” of others when they do good. When we feel  proud of our children’s accomplishments this is an expression of our love. But in feeling proud of our own accomplishment can involve the dangerous notion of superiority. To avoid the sin of pride we must alway recognize God’s action in our lives. Remembering that we are His creation, made from the earth. In His eyes we are all equal, but He gives us differing gifts. We are expected to use them for the benefit of all, to do His will. When we lose this connection for our accomplishments and think everything is achieved only by our own will we are guilty of pride. If we attribute our achievements to the work of the Holy Spirit then we avoid the sin of pride. Paul’s says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gal 6:14) In Philippians 2:16 he says, “as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” Legitimate, godly pride has nothing to do with ourselves. (Romans 15:17)

Sinful pride blocks us from loving our neighbor by comparing ourselves to them, criticizing them, and feeling better than them even in little ways. We criticize others often because it makes us feel better than the other. The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector provides an example, showing how destructive it can be to relationships: 
"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess'" (Luke 18:11-12). 
When we are prideful in a sinful way we forget that God created us equal, in His image and likeness, and we begin to credit ourselves for our accomplishments and develop a feeing of superiority over others. 1 Corinthians 4:7 states, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” Our sinful pride tempts us to be self-sufficient rather than God reliant.

Prideful people who see themselves as superior to others are described in the following ways: “stuck up”, they “look down their noses,” we say they live in “an ivory tower,”  as acting “high and mighty,” or puffed up”, “inflated” with self-importance. The proud assert their opinions while discounting and ignoring those of others. They seek to glorify themselves, and fantasize their own greatness.

Shyness is another kind of pride. A person who seems reserved and does not speak out much may also suffer from pride. We tend to be shy because we fear that others will find out how imperfect we are. When shy we link our self-esteem with an idealized view of ourselves. We fail to see that being God’s children we are equal in His eyes, but, because we have differing gifts, we have also weaknesses, that this is normal. We shouldn’t fear having weaknesses or compare ourselves with others. When you can see you own weakness and not fear exposing them you will also praise the gifts that others have. The proud person will see their shyness as a virtue rather than a form of sinful pride that we must overcome.

Prof Paul says there are three kinds of pride. Vanity, conceit and arrogance. Vanity is a preoccupation with appearances. Conceit is having an exaggerated opinion of your good qualities and achievements. It presupposes a superiority over others so everything about one’s self tends to be exaggerated and one criticizes the abilities of others to inflate their own superiority. Arrogance is the feeling of superiority. Arrogance needs no comparison to others. It’s beyond conceit. Those who suffer from this madly of pride cause all kinds of trouble by overestimating their own abilities and knowledge. They tend to set unreasonable goals and disregard normal limits. They will make poor judgements as they pursue goals to glorify themselves without having adequate knowledge, resources or planning.

Pride is a way people compensate for low self-esteem. In such cases people will develop an imaginary, idealized and unrealistic view of themselves. They suppress weaknesses and exaggerate their skills. This can cause psychological problems like depression when they cannot live up to this ideal image. They tend to minimize their failures or blame someone else or the circumstances. It’s too painful for them to admit mistakes or failures. Any form of criticism is defended against. 

Those with pride often find themselves in the midst of self-made controversies. Wanting to be first or recognized above others can lead to quarrels, envy, and even resentment. Remember when the disciple of Jesus were quarreling? 
At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me." (Mark 9:33-41)
Having wealth can also exaggerate the notion of superiority, leading to expectations of special privileges, or not having concerns about needs of others with less resources or poor. They may even blame them of being lazy. In the Parable of the Sower, it is said: "And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in; it chokes the Word, which becomes unfruitful" – Mark 4:19.

The most dangerous aspect of pride is that it separates us from God. A proud person sees himself as being self-sufficient, knowing even more than God. It is only their own mind that has truth. He believes only in his own skills and way of life. Everything he has or achieved is seen through his self-will. God is distant and unnecessary. The problem of God for one with pride is that God is someone who is superior. It destroys the self image of self-sufficiency. They become their own God.

Think about what Jesus has taught and how difficult His teaching is to accept for one suffering from pride. He said that we can only save our lives by losing them (Mat 10:39; 16:25; Mk 8:35; Luke 9:24), he also told his followers to “take up their cross” and “deny themselves” (Mk 8:34; cf. Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23). Jesus calls His followers to follow Him alone and to put their trust in Him and have faith in the Kingdom to come. His way of life always exemplified humility and obedience to the Father.

St. Macarius wrote about the main signs that humility or pride is present in a person: 
“Let the following be for you a sign of humility or pride: the latter blames, reproaches, and sees blackness in others, while the former sees only his own bad state and doesn’t dare to judge anyone.”
Elder Ephriam on  answering the question, “When can we realize that we have egotism?
When one of our brothers makes a comment to us or when the elder reproaches us or points out one of our faults. If you feel bothered, upset, full of turmoil, dismay, distress, and anger internally, you can gage the corresponding size, depth, and length of egoism that exists within you. When someone is humble he accepts advice, criticism, and insults....At last, we must recognize our problem, we must acknowledge that egoism exists within us, and we must take a stance and put up a fight against it. When others point out mistakes and try to correct us, we should blame ourselves, accuse ourselves, scourge ourselves internally, strike our ego, take full responsibility, justify the person who corrected us and give thanks to God for attempting to cleanse us....We must fight against egoism, this evil wickedness, armed with the Jesus Prayer. The words “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” should not stop day and night, if possible,
Here is a list of questions to evaluate the condition of pride created by Fr. William Casey
  • In your heart of hearts, do you see yourself as being better than others because of who you are, what you have, or what you know?
  • In conversation with others, do you always seem to bring the subject back to yourself?
  • Do you always seem to talk about yourself, your interests, and your affairs?
  • Are you overly concerned about what people think of you?
  • Are you always trying to make yourself look good in the sight of others?
  • Are you always ready to stretch the truth — lie, that is — if that’s what it takes to build yourself up?
  • Do you always have to be right and hate to be contradicted?
  • Do you hold on to your own opinions even when they are proven to be wrong?
  • Do you find it easy to dissent from the teaching of the Church on faith and morals?
  • Do you think that you know better than the Holy Spirit, the Holy Scriptures, the whole Church, and the whole company of the saints? (Bonus question: Are you ready to bet your immortal soul on that?)
  • Are you ultra-sensitive to criticism, and do you struggle to accept even mild fraternal correction?
  • Do you find it easy to gossip?
  • Do you take satisfaction in hearing somebody else being torn down?
  • Do you jump on every chance to point out the faults and the mistakes of others?
  • Do you find it hard to forgive even the slightest offense?
  • Do you always feel a need to get even, and are always ready to hold a grudge?
  • Do you organize your life for the sake of appearances, and do you always feel the need to be noticed?
  • Do you perform your good works in order to win the praise of others, like the Pharisees who preferred the praise of men to the glory of God?
The opposite of pride is humility. To overcome pride we need to develop this virtue. This will be our next topic.

The Deadly Sin of Pride, Family and Community ministries, by Prof. Paul Sands of Baylor University, George Truett Theological School.
The Danger of Pride and the Power of Humility, by Fr. Willian Casey,
Journey to Heaven by Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk
My Life in Christ, by Saint John of Kronstadt

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