On Correctness and Self-Esteem

New Martyr St. Barlaam 1878-1942

We are not justified by correcting ourselves, not by good deeds; all this is undermined by our common sinfulness, and in any case we are obliged to do it by our God-like nature. But we are justified by humility and repentance: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a hear that is contrite and humble God will not despise. You will find this somewhere in the letters of Optina Elder Macarius. Therefore, it is good that you have failings and weaknesses; with repentance and contrition they will lead you into Paradise. But if you do not have any, then a trust in your own correctness can hinder you greatly through secret self-esteem and a pharasaical trust in the labors and virtues you have borne: “I have earned it — pay me!”

We are all insane over self-esteem, and therefore when we correct ourselves a little in some way or other, we at once give value to ourselves and unnoticeably become refined pharisees: we praise ourselves for what grace has done, according to God’s mercy, and not because of our achievements. Therefore, in spiritual matters correctness can do us more harm than incorrectness with a feeling of repentance. You will say: “With correctness one can also repent.” Repent of what, if we see ourselves as correct? It is just a step away from deception. True correctness cannot exist. Therefore, the Holy Fathers teach that deeds do not justify us, even if we are obliged to do good deeds (by the power of God), as a bird is obliged to sing, for that is why it is created. We are created to do good deeds; such is our nature. It would be silly to become proud that we have to arms and two legs — such is our nature. And if we do not do good deeds, then we err severley against our nature and God’s will. Therefore, it is good to the deeds, but not in order to boast in our struggles and achievements, but in order to acquire a greater degree of humility and repentance. He who fasts and prays not to acquire humility and repentance, but for pleasing God and self-justification — is quite mistaken. (Russia’s Catacomb Saints pp. 277, 280-281)