By Father Cleopa
“…For God resisteth the proud,
and giveth grace to the humble.”
(1 Peter, 5:5)
Since in my previous sermons I talked about the kinds of temptations and the reasons for which God allows us to be tempted – to our benefit and for the salvation of our souls –, this time, I have thought about talking about the temptations that present themselves to the humble as well as those that befall the proud. In what follows, it will become evident that Our Good Lord does not allow for all people to be tempted in the same way; but rather, there are many different types of temptations, according to His indescribable and unfathomable wisdom. We will see that in the case of the humble and gentle persons, who realize their powerlessness and unworthiness well, Our Good and All-wise God does not release temptations and problems that are too big. In the case of proud and haughty people, God allows for great and heavy temptations and problems to come upon them, which, many times, surpass their limits of patience. He does this will great wisdom and economy, in order to bring such people back to humility and humbleness, to make them acknowledge their powerlessness and unworthiness here on earth, and make them all come to the holy path of salvation.
Therefore, it is about this truth that Holy Father Isaac the Syrian tells us: “The temptations that are released upon the humble by the spiritual “[beating] staff”, for the development and growth of one’s soul, are: indecision, heaviness of one’s body, weakening of one’s limbs, idling around, confused thinking, a sense that one’s body is powerless, decline of hope, darkening of thoughts, lack of human help, scarcity of bodily necessities, and other similar things.
The result of these temptations is that man will feel his soul deserted and helpless, while his heart will be crushed by much humility. It is through these things that man will be challenged to come to long for the One who made him. Mixed in with these will be moments of comfort as well as moments of sorrowful overcoming; light and darkness, warfare and stability, and, in brief, he will be presented with limitations and consolation alike. And this will be the actual sign that the man is growing, with God’s help.
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The temptations that God allows for the proud, who shamelessly lift their heads high before Him, are: visible temptations by the devils, which will surpass the boundaries of resistance of their souls; deprivation of the wisdom within them; fast sensing of the thought of debauchery, which is released upon them so that they be humbled from their haughtiness; quick temper; desire to make and impose one’s own will; arguing over words; scolding others, then scolding themselves, too, and belittling and becoming sad in their hearts, as a result; perfect delusion of the mind; harboring blaspheming thoughts against God’s name; being struck by fits of understanding that are however either accompanied by laughter or – especially – by tears; being defamed by people and see one’s honor fade away; being the object of mockery and shame from the devils – in many ways (both in private and in full view of everybody); strong desire to mix in and party with other people; talk and badmouth foolishly at all times; and concoct false prophecies based on devilish inspiration and promise many things, above one’s actual powers. These are the spiritual temptations.
As to the bodily ones, the following things happen to these persons: hurtful incidents that they can no longer escape from; encounters with malevolent, Godless people; falling in the hands of people that will torment them; having their heart always inclined towards not fearing God any more, without reason and unexpectedly, and often with terrible suddenness. They will fall off rocky cliffs or other high places or undergo similar things, for the crushing of their body and soul. They will be deprived of help from those who support one’s heart by divine power and of the strength of their faith; in brief, all the things that are apparently unlikely and beyond their power will be brought upon them, to be further combined with their own weaknesses.
All of the things that I have just listed are the types of temptations that await the proud. Let us, however, also show how they take shape in man: that moment is when someone starts to consider oneself wise in one’s own eyes. It is from that point on that all the inner transformations begin within the person, becoming the bad things I have listed; this will happen according to the extent to which s/he has received such prideful thoughts. Therefore, it is based on the kinds of temptations that we deal with that we should understand the paths of our light-mindedness. If we were to note any of these temptations mixed with the ones above, we should know that it is in proportion to their presence within ourselves that pride has taken root within us.” (St. Isaac the Syrian, Comment 46)
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These are, therefore, the various types of temptations – which come upon us with God’s permission, whenever we do not acknowledge our powerlessness and unworthiness and whenever we do not humble ourselves with all our heart, anytime and anywhere, before God. I, the sinner, as one who is permanently full of pride and too blind to recognize and resist the temptations of pride to be ever able to escape their dominion, have, however, wished to make note of them hereby – not because I would have any knowledge or skill in this matter, myself, as I am completely poor in that respect – but based on the teachings – full of spiritual philosophy – shared by Holy Father Isaac the Syrian, who, through the ability of his holy mind, silence, and pure prayer has come to partake of such knowledge and has shared it with us, for the usefulness of all.
If one were to read the notes herein carefully, one will know, based on the movements of one’s mind at every moment, if one is the kind that receives temptations that are sent to the humble thinkers or whether one dwells within the boundaries of the temptations that characterize the proud. Thus, with fear of God and striving to avoid both categories, one will work upon one’s improvement.
Should we feel that we are tempted by both “categories”, we must not get discouraged, knowing that our Lord does not want the “wicked” to die. For as long as we have left on the “stadium” of this life, through persistent prayer and genuine contrition, helped by the mercy and grace of God, we can put our lives right and save our souls. If we ask Him for help from all our hearts, our Good and Almighty Lord will set us free from the “stocks” of temptations and passions and will never put any of those who genuinely call out to Him, to shame.