One should never believe in oneself or trust oneself in anything
Not to rely on oneself is so necessary in our
struggle, my beloved brother, that without this, be assured, not only
will you fail to gain the desired victory, but you will be unable to
resist the smallest attack of the enemy. Engrave this deeply in your
mind and heart.
Since the time of the transgression of our
forefather, despite the weakening of our spiritual and moral powers, we
are wont to think very highly of ourselves. Although our daily
experience very effectively proves to us the falseness of this opinion
of ourselves, in our incomprehensible self deception we do not cease to
believe that we are something, and something not unimportant. Yet this
spiritual disease of ours, so hard to perceive and acknowledge, is more
abhorrent to God than all else in us, as being the first offspring of
our self hood and self love, and the source, root and cause of all
passions and of all our downfalls and wrongdoing. It closes the very
door of our mind or spirit, through which alone Divine grace can enter,
and gives this grace no way to come and dwell in a man. And so it
withdraws from him. For how can grace, which comes to help and
enlighten us, enter that man, who thinks of himself that he is
something great, that he himself knows everything and needs no outside
help? May God preserve us from this disease and passion of
Lucifer! God severely reprimands those who are stricken with this
passion of vainglory and | self esteem, saying through the prophet:
'Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their
own sight' (Isaiah v. 21). And the Apostle tells us: "'Be not wise in
your own conceits' (From. xii. 16).
While God abhors this evil conceit in us, there is
nothing He loves and desires to see in us more than a sincere
consciousness of our nothingness and a firm and deep felt conviction
that any good, we may have in our nature and our life comes from Him
alone, since He is the source of all good, and that nothing truly good
can ever come from ourselves, whether a good thought or a good action.
Therefore He takes care to plant this heavenly seed in the hearts of
His beloved friends, urging them not to value themselves and not to
rely on themselves. Sometimes He does this through the action of grace
and inner illumination, or sometimes through external blows and
tribulations, sometimes through unexpected and almost unconquerable
temptations, and sometimes by other means, not always comprehensible to
Yet, although expecting no good from ourselves and
not relying on ourselves is the work of God in us, we on our side must
make every effort to acquire this disposition, doing all we can, all
within our power. And so, my brother, I offer you here four activities,
by means of which, with God's help, you may end by acquiring disbelief
in yourself, and learn never to rely on yourself in anything.
(a) Realise your nothingness and constantly keep in
your mind the fact that by yourself you can do nothing good which is
worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Listen to the words of the wise
Peter of Damascus assures us that Nothing is better
than to realise one's weakness and ignorance, and nothing is worse than
not to be aware of them' (Philokalia). St. Maximus the Confessor
teaches: 'The foundation of every virtue is the realisation of human
weakness' (Philokalia). St. John Chrysostom says; ''he alone knows
himself in the best way possible who thinks of himself as being
(b) Ask for God's help in this with warm and humble
prayers; for this is His gift. And if you wish to receive it, you must
first implant in yourself the conviction that not only have you no such
consciousness of yourself, but that you cannot acquire it by your own
efforts; then standing daringly before the Almiglity God, in firm
belief that in His great loving kindness He will grant you this
knowledge of yourself when and how He Himself knows, do not let the
slightest doubt creep in that you will actually receive it.
(c) Accustom yourself to be wary and to fear your
innumerable enemies whom you cannot resist even for a short time. Fear
their long experience in fighting us, their cunning and ambushes, their
power to assume the guise of angels of light, their countless wiles and
nets, which they secretly spread on the path of your life of virtues.
(d) If you fall into some transgression, quickly
turn to the realisation of your weakness and be aware of it. For God
allows you to fall for the very purpose of making you more aware of
your weakness, so that you may thus not only yourself learn to despise
yourself, but because of your great weakness may wish to be despised
also by others. Know that without such desire it is impossible for this
beneficent self disbelief to be born and take root in you. This is the
foundation and beginning of true humility, since it is based on
realisation, by experience, of your impotence and unreliability.
From this, each of us sees how necessary it is for a
man, who desires to participate in heavenly light, to know himself, and
how God's mercy usually leads the proud and self reliant to this
knowledge through their downfalls, justly allowing them to fall into
the very sin from which they think they are strong enough to protect
themselves, so as to make them see their weakness and pre wnt
them from relying foolhardily on themselves either in this or in
anything else. This method, although very effective, is also not
without danger, and God does not always use it, but only when all the
other means we have mentioned, which are easier and more natural, fail
to lead a man to self knowledge. Only then does He finally let a man;
fall into sin, great or small, in accordance with the degree of his I
pride, conceit and self reliance. So that where conceit and
self-reliance are absent, instructive failures do not occur. Therefore,
if you happen to fall, run quickly in your thought to humble self
a knowledge and a low opinion and sense of yourself and implore I God
by persistent prayer to give you true light, so as to realize your
nothingness and confirm your heart in disbelief in yourself,! lest you
again fall into the same or even worse and more destructive sin.
I must add that not only when a man falls into some
sin, but also when he is afflicted by some ill fortune, tribulation or
sorrow and especially a grievous and long drawn bodily sickness, he mi
understand that he suffers this in order to acquire self knowledge
namely the knowledge of his weakness and to become humb With this
purpose and to this end God allows us to be assail by all kinds of
temptations from the devil, from men and from our own corrupted nature.
St. Paul saw this purpose in the temp tions he suffered in Asia, when
he said: "'But we had the sense of death in ourselves, that we should
not trust in ourselves, 1 in God which raiseth the dead'1 (II Cor. i.
And I shall add another thing: if a man wants to
realise weakness from the actual experience of his life, let him, I do
i say for many days but even for one day, observe his though words and
actions what he thought, what he said, what he d He will
undoubtedly find that the greater part of his though words and actions
were sinful, wrong, foolish and bad. This experiment will make him
understand in practice how inharmonic and weak he is in himself. And if
he sincerely wishes himself this understanding will make him feel how
foolish it is to anything good from himself or to rely on himself alone.
CONCERNING THE ENMITY AND CONFLICT
BETWEEN FALLEN NATURE AND THE COMMANDMENTS OF THE GOSPEL
If you deny yourself and constantly renounce your
own opinions, your own will, your own righteousness, or what amounts to
the same thing, the knowledge, understanding, will and righteousness of
fallen nature, in order to plant within you the knowledge of God, the
will of God, and the righteousness of God taught us in the holy Gospel
by God Himself, then fallen nature will open fire within you and
declare a savage war against the Gospel and against God. Fallen spirits
will come to the help of fallen nature.
Do not fall into despondency on this account. By
your firmness in the struggle show the tenacity of your purpose and the
stability of your free will. When thrown down, get up. When duped and
disarmed, re arm yourself afresh. When defeated, again rush to the
fight. It is extremely good for you to see within yourself both your
own fall and the fall of the whole of mankind. It is essential for you
to recognize and study this fall in your own experience, in your heart
and mind. It is essential for you to see the infirmity of your
knowledge and intellect, and the weakness of your will.
The vision of one's fall is a spiritual vision. The
vision of one's infirmity and weakness is a spiritual vision. In this
matter the spectator is the mind. The vision is obtained by grace,
which is planted in us by baptism. By the action of grace the blindness
of the mind is dispelled, and it begins to see clearly in the arena of
its struggle what hitherto it has not seen through being outside this
arena. It discovers the existence of what it did not even suspect.
Another spiritual vision is associated with the
vision of the fall of man; the vision of fallen spirits. Again this
vision is a spiritual vision, a gift of grace. In this case, too,
the spectator is the mind. From the practice of the commandments and by
striving to fulfil them in the most exact manner, the mind gradually
begins to discern fallen spirits in the thoughts and feelings which
they bring, begins to discern the distressing intercourse of human
beings with fallen spirits, the subjection of men to fallen spirits,
the activities and wiles of spirits for the destruction of men.
In spiritual visions there is nothing sensory. They
are acquired by care and diligence in the practice of the commandments
of the Gospel and by struggling with sinful thoughts and feelings. A
person who has not known these visions by experience can have no
conception of them whatever, cannot even know that they exist.
The Holy Spirit has superbly described in the
Psalter the war and struggle of an athlete of Christ with his own fall
and with fallen spirits. The monks of early times learned the Psalter
by heart, and they expressed in the words of the Spirit their prayers
for their rescue from the pit of the passions, for deliverance from the
jaws of the enemy, the devil.
 St. Isaac the Syrian, Ch. 61 (Ch. VIII of Eng.
Trans.). Psalm 91:12.
 St. Peter Damascene, Bk. I, On the Eight Mental
Visions (Philokalia). Ladder 27:26.
 Peter 5:8; 2 Timothy 4:17; Psalm 21:22; Wisdom