There is a certain type of religious piety that sets my teeth on edge. I thought, at one time, I would have only encountered this outside the Orthodox Church, but sadly, no. Occasionally some Orthodox show the same symptoms. What could this be that so disturbs me? It is called by some: “being holier-than-thou.” Of course when people come over like this they are often horrified to learn that they are being judgmental, yet this is precisely what they are doing. In the technical language of the Church this is called ‘hubris’ or ‘prelest’, in more common speech, pride masquerading as piety. As Metropolitan Kallistos recounts from the lives of the desert fathers in a famous article on spiritual fatherhood :
Pride gives rise to religious nuts and I suspect nobody feels comfortable in their presence. Humility gives rise to spiritual fruit-bearers, and, conversely, being in the presence of such as these is life itself, the presence of God. So, how might we order our lives to become fruitful in the Spirit rather than self-centred and overbearing?
The 15th chapter of St John’s Gospel records that Christ taught his disciples precisely about such matters before his passion. In this chapter he uses the image of the vine, its branches and its fruit. He is the True Vine, the Father the Vinedresser and we are the branches. First he strikes a note of humility: “without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). With one fell swoop our Lord deals a fatal blow to the root of our pride. We should be grateful for that and take it to heart. We learn that our confidence should be in Him, His power, His life in us. In Him we must actively abide and indeed in his commandments through the doing of them (John 15:10). As St Augustine taught : “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”
Then comes the great commandment:- “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This love is the same that a man has in laying down his life for his friends. We have friendship with God if we follow in this way of the cross, for in this Way we shall know him as He truly is, the Philanthropos, the Lover of Mankind (John 15: 13-15). St Paul understood this Great Love well. Spiritual gifts are good but only insofar as they bear fruit in Love, the most wholesome of all the fruits of the Spirit. “…but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23).
This then is how we can bear fruit and avoid like the plague religious “nuttery.” Love until Christ is ll.