This being the Sunday of the Tax-Collector and the Pharisee, the beginning of the Triodion, we thought that we might break our silence first with the text of the Nicene Creed and then with a discussion of spiritual pride. We all know what pride is from our own personal lives, so the real question is: what do we mean when we use the term spiritual pride? How is spiritual pride different from regular, everyday, garden-variety pride?
Everyone would agree, we think, that the Pharisee evinces spiritual pride. What can that tell us about spiritual pride?
We think the answer is this. Everyday, garden-variety pride seeks its own way and doesn’t humble itself but it doesn’t set itself up as a teacher of God’s truth: it just wants its own way. Spiritual pride sets itself up as a spiritual teacher of others, as a judge of others, especially in spiritual matters. This is especially clear of the Pharisees, High Priests and Rulers of the People in the Gospel—in their treatment of Jesus.
We met a man with spiritual pride recently, a man who teaches false doctrine. What struck us about his spiritual pride was that it made him impervious to rebuke, one; and, two, set him up as a spiritual teacher.
What we can see from this is that spiritual pride is demonic in a way that normal pride is not: spiritual pride is the activity of a demon in us, one of what are called the princely demons, ones responsible for heresy and false doctrine. This spiritual pride, as an activity of this sort of demon, enters into the person and blinds him in a way that not even regular pride can. You can talk within reason to a man with regular pride. To a man with spiritual pride? Not a chance.
A man with love will pray for someone who has harmed him without recompense. A man with humility will lower himself to teach only when he is obliged. A man with love will pray for someone and be free of worry: his loves conveys a dignity to the praying person; this is an activity of the Holy Spirit that dignifies his heart. A man with humility will lower his heart to teach, out of obedience, out of respect for the other person, out of love.
In advanced cases, the man with spiritual pride has visions. Then he can’t be talked out of his delusion (plani, prelest) by any means whatsoever. We are reminded here of Leo Tolstoy, who essentially invented his own religion. A truly spiritual man might have visions, but they are of a different sort, and with a different result on him. A true presence of the Holy Spirit leads to humility: it cannot possibly do otherwise; there is no possibility of the presence of the Dove leading to spiritual pride.