Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Thoughts on Vainglory

"There is a glory that comes from God, Who says: Those who glorify Me, I will glorify (I Kings 2:30). And then there is the glory that follows us diabolically, as it is written, Woe, when all men shall speak well of you (Luke 6:26). You will know the second kind of glory when you do something, no matter how small, hoping that others are watching." (St. John Climacus, The Ladder).

I don't think I'd ever heard of the passion called vainglory until I read a small booklet called "The Teachings of the Holy Fathers On the Passions". I have to admit, when I first read this section of the book, I didn't feel that it was a passion I struggled with. But I have since been drawn back to it and have started to realize just how subtle a passion this can be, and how virtually every Christian must struggle with this on some level. How often do we walk away after having done some act of service, feeling as though we had not been adequately thanked or appreciated for what we had done? How often do we volunteer to do tasks that get no notice or special attention from others? How much do we crave the praise of men?

St. John Chrysostom says this of vainglory: "This passion is a sort of deep intoxication from which it is hard to recover. It detaches the souls of its captives from heaven, nails them to the earth, and does not allow them to look up to the true light. It persuades them to ever wallow in the mire." And Christ says, "How can ye believe, which receive honor of men, and seek not the honor which cometh from God?" (John 5:44).

At the heart of vainglory is pride. It is the desire to please others (which brings honor to yourself) rather than the desire to please God. How often do we concern ourselves more with the approval of others than with the approval of God? This is a worthy question to contemplate.



LifeSpark said...

Very worthy of our contemplation.

Anonymous said...

Amen. How right you are. I have seen this in myself and you are right. It is, or can be, very subtle.

It reminds me of the account of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke chapter 10. Martha is busy serving and complains to Jesus that her sister is just sitting around, not helping. In a sense Martha may have had this same issue, whereby she was not getting praised for her hard work whereas her sister was monopolizing the attention of Jesus.

V & E said...

That's an interesting take on Ss. Mary & Martha.

My grandfather was of the mind that Ss. Mary & Martha typified two different, but equally valid, forms of spirituality.

So you would see St. Martha as showing a less-than-saintly demeanor in this passage...

- V.

Anonymous said...

There are a number of ways of looking at this, I suppose.
I was thinking that perhaps there was a certain need for attention in Martha's complaint, even a sort of jealousy perhaps. But implicit in it is a sense that she believes what she is doing is more important than just sitting around. She has that kind of work ethic that has difficulty tolerating perceived idleness in others.
As one who has spent much of my life in a place of pride in having "done it myself" without any assistance, I have had to become painfully aware of the fact that nothing I have done or could do, has ever been totally in isolation starting from the fact that my own birth was not of my own doing, nor was my re-birth in Christ. So perhaps I see something of myself in Martha.
The test for me is very similar to the honesty test. Can I help, put my back into something as it were, in the service of Jesus Christ even when nobody will ever notice? Do I do it out of love for Him? Do I need to be concerned about what someone else is doing or not doing to pitch in? At the point where I don't even notice how much someone else is doing, or how they are doing it, I find peace.
And, of course, getting back to your original remarks about vainglory, it is when I compare myself to others and seek the praise of others, even, as you pointed out, in helping others; it is then that I fall back into that prideful trap.
I think in Jesus response to Martha was the underlying question; Why are you serving, Martha? Is it because you love me?
If so, it is the same reason that Mary is sitting at my feet.

And, in keeping with what our Lord told us were the two greatest commandments, Martha can go that step farther by serving just so that Mary will have the opportunity to sit at Jesus feet!