Homily on Wednesday of the First Week of Great Lent. On the Danger of Hypocrisy
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the
Vainglory and its offspring, hypocrisy, are ruinous at their very root—they deprive a person of all heavenly reward, representing the vain human praise he has chosen and desired as the only reward. The Lord condemned vainglorious hypocrites. Teaching His disciples to do good works in secret, the Lord says: Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly (Mt. 6:1, 2, 5, 16, 17, 18).
Vainglory and hypocrisy are terrible when they grow and mature, when they take command of a person, and become the rule of his behavior, a character trait. They shape a pharisee, who strives with frenzied and blind resolve to do all lawlessness and evil. They shape a pharisee, who needs a mask of virtue only in order to more freely and successfully drown in evil acts. The blind and hardened Pharisees committed a most horrible crime in between their human crimes: they committed deicide. And if only a worse crime could exist, they would not have hesitated to commit it as well.
Such is the lamentable picture of moral emptiness and moral calamity created by vainglory and hypocrisy in fallen human nature. Our Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave us the most effective cure against all our infirmities both bodily and spiritual, commands us to cure hypocrisy at its root, at its source—in vainglory. Vainglory hungers and thirsts for human glory. The Lord commands us to mortify it with the hunger that is natural to it. He commands us to take away vainglory's food and drink: human praise. He commands us to scrupulously hide all our good deeds from human eyes; He commands us to bring all good deeds, even our love of neighbor, wholly as a sacrifice to the One God. The Old Testament, which teaches holy truth to the mystical Israel through foretypes, says: And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt (Lev. 2:13). The salt in every gift and sacrifice to God made by the Israelite is the Christian's thought and aim of pleasing God in every good deed.
In the light of Christ, in the light of the Holy Spirit, looking into the depth of the human heart and seeing there an image of the workings of various passions, the holy fathers and teachers of the Church call vainglory a multiform passion, the most subtle and difficult to fathom. All other passions disturb a person's peace and are quickly reproached by the conscience, while the passion of vainglory, to the contrary, flatters the fallen son of Adam, brings him supposed delight, and appears to be a spiritual consolation—a reward for his good deed. All other passions can be directly counteracted by their opposite virtues: gluttony is counteracted by abstinence, anger by meekness, and love of money by generosity. Vainglory apparently cannot be counteracted by a single virtue. Like a thief, it steals from a person his remembrance of God, His unspeakable magnificence, His unspeakable sanctity, in Whose sight even the heavens are not clean (cf. Job 15:15), and draws fallen man into admiring himself with approval and pleasure. I am not as other men are (Lk. 18:11), it says. In its blindness, from its own self-satisfaction, vainglory thanks God, forgetting that fallen man can only be thankful to God when he sees the multitude of his own sins and weaknesses; a vision united with the vision of the Creator's inexpressible beneficence for His creation—perishing creation. Vainglory rejoices when it sees that a person is rich in virtues. It hopes to turn every virtue into a sin; it hopes to make every virtue a cause and reason for that person's condemnation at Christ's Judgment. It attempts to prophecy! It brazenly strives to work miracles, and dares to temp the Lord! Foreign to spiritual gifts, it seeks to represent itself as having them, or at least to induce the suspicion in other people that it possesses something supernatural. It deleteriously seeks to console itself through this deception. It is near the ascetic when he fasts, when he prays, when he gives alms, when he keeps vigil, and when he kneels, attempting to steal the sacrifice brought to God, and defiling it with man-pleasing, to render it useless. It stalks the slave of Christ in the solitude of his cell, in his reclusion. Not having an opportunity to bring the ascetic soul-destroying praise from onlookers, it brings him praise in his thoughts. It paints human glory delusively in his imagination. Often it acts without thought and fantasy; but it can be recognized only by the heart's absence of blessed contrition, blessed remembrance of and contrition over sins. "If you do not have heartfelt lamentation," said one great father, "you have vainglory."
Let us resolutely and with self-denial withstand the soul-destroying and flattering passion of vainglory! Let us withstand it, establishing on the rock of Christ's commandments our weak heart, which wavers easily by itself as in the wind from the influence and force of various passions. Having rejected, and continually rejecting vainglory, we will thus be safe from another passion: from the terrible passion of hypocrisy. We shall perform our good deeds and podvigs according to the Savior's instructions: in secret. When participating in the Church services and rites, we shall be cautious not to show any special flights of piety that might sharply differentiate us from our brothers. "Pay attention," says St. John Climacus, "that when you are with your brothers, you would not seem more righteous than they are in anything. Otherwise, you will be committing two evils: you will wound the brothers with your spurious zeal, and unfailingly give yourself cause for high-mindedness. Be zealous in your soul, without exposing it by any gesture, look, word, or intimation." If we are in solitary reclusion, at solitary prayer, or at soul-profiting reading or contemplation, and a vainglorious thought slips in through a closed door, penetrating our very mind and heart, and portrays to us human glory to entice us like a painted harlot—let us quickly raise our thoughts to heaven before God. When the human mind is enlightened by spiritual contemplation of Divine glory and magnificence, and then descends from it to contemplation of its own self, it no longer sees any magnificence of mankind. It sees its poverty, sinfulness, weakness, and fallenness; it sees a death sentence pronounced upon all; it sees the corruption and stench of all, the gradual culmination of the sentence that no one can revoke. It will ascertain a correct understanding of man, foreign to vainglorious delusion, and cry out with St. Job: My Master, Lord! I have heard the report of thee by the ear before; but now mine eye has seen thee. Wherefore I have counted myself vile, and have fainted: and I esteem myself dust and ashes (Job 42:5-6 [Septuagint]). True humility comes from the knowledge of God. Amen.
01 / 03 / 2012
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