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How to Recognize Vainglory

Often in our spiritual practice we find ourselves struggling.  We try and try but the effort seems so hard.  What is the problem?  Why do we often feel anxious that our efforts do not yield the results we seek?  Why does God seem distant and unreachable even when we try so hard? Elder Paisios gives us some insight into this common problem. He says,

We need to be careful in our spiritual life.  When spiritual people are affected by vainglory, they feel very little satisfaction, and they are left with a sense of emptiness in their heart.  There is no fulfillment, no rejoicing of the heart, and as their vanity increases, the emptiness inside makes them suffer even more.  Where there is anxiety and despair, there is a demonic spiritual life.  You should not feel anxiety over anything at all. Anxiety comes from the devil.  Wherever you see anxiety, you must know that the devil has been at work.  The devil will not go against the current.  If there is a predisposition, he will push in that direction in order to cause us trouble and deceive us.

When in the course of our spiritual struggle we feel anxiety we must know that we are not moving within the realm of God…
In other words, one should not strive with an unhealthy fastidiousness… Christ is full of love, kindness and consolation and He never stifles, but gives abundant oxygen and divine consolation.

So what do we do to avoid this condition. We must be kind to ourselves and accept that we are prone to make mistakes, to be tired. We need to have humility and set aside our self-proclaimed righteousness depending on our own efforts. 

Elder Paisios advises us to live the spiritual life not in our minds, but in our hearts. He says,

Never do a job without putting your trust in God with great humility, because otherwise you will agonize and you will tire your mind and soul. It is a lack of faith that hides behind anxiety, but pride can cause anxiety also.

If you cannot complete your required prayer rule, don’t force yourself through your own efforts.  Relax and turn to God.  If it is because you are too tired to complete it, ask God’s forgiveness and get some sleep. Then the next day arrange your schedule so that you will not be in this same condition again.  Entrust everything to God and God will guide you. 

The Elder tells us to keep the mind always close to God.  This applies to all situations where you are having difficulty in completing your task.  Trust in God and seek His help.

When we try through our own efforts and feel anxiety, this is the sign of vainglory.

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