Chapter Two: ON THE INSUFFICIENCY OF HUMAN STRENGTH
THE holy Fathers say with one voice: The first thing to keep in mind is never in any respect to rely on yourself. The warfare that now lies before you is extraordinarily hard, and your own human powers are altogether insufficient to carry it on. If you rely on them you will immediately be felled to the ground and have no desire to continue the battle. Only God can give you the victory you wish.
This decision not to rely on self is for most people a severe obstacle at the very outset. It must be overcome, otherwise we have no prospect of going further. For how can a human being receive advice, instruction and help if he believes that he knows and can do everything and needs no directions? Through such a wall of self-satisfaction no gleam of light can penetrate. Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight, cries the prophet Isaiah (5:21), and the apostle St. Paul utters the warning: Be not wise in your own conceits (Romans 12:16). The kingdom of heaven has been revealed unto babes, but remains hidden from the wise and prudent (Matthew 11:25).
We must empty ourselves, therefore, of the immoderately high faith we have in ourselves. Often it is so deeply rooted in us that we do not see how it rules over our heart. It is precisely our egoism, our self-centeredness and self-love that cause all our difficulties, our lack of freedom in suffering, our disappointments and our anguish of soul and body.
Take a look at yourself, therefore, and see how bound you are by your desire to humour yourself and only yourself. Your freedom is curbed by the restraining bonds of self-love, and thus you wander, a captive corpse, from morning till eve. "Now I will drink," "now I will get up," "now I will read the paper." Thus you are led from moment to moment in your halter of preoccupation with self, and kindled instantly to displeasure, impatience or anger if an obstacle intervenes.
If you look into the depths of your consciousness you meet the same sight. You recognize it readily by the unpleasant feeling you have when someone contradicts you. Thus we live in thralldom. But where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (11 Corinthians 3:17).
How can any good come out of such an or biting around the ego? Has not our Lord bidden us to love our neighbour as ourselves, and to love God above all? But do we? Are not our thoughts instead always occupied with our own welfare?
No, be convinced that nothing good can come from yourself. And should, by chance, an unselfish thought arise in you, you may be sure that it does not come from you, but is scooped up from the wellspring of goodness and be stowed upon you: it is a gift from the Giver o life. Similarly the power to put the good thought into practice is not your own, but is given you by the Holy Trinity.