Vanity takes its roots in our inability to live before God and see Him as the living God. It comes from our unwillingness to walk before Him and follow His Divine will. It is the product of our selfish, sinful, materialistic pursuits that ultimately bring us destruction and decay. People are unhappy because they are not looking to God, but are preoccupied with satisfying their infinite passions and desires. Our souls are Christian by nature, and they can only find comfort in seeking God and finding Him.
Saint Paisios of the Holy Mount once received a coffee machine as a gift. Immediately, he put it aside and said that he did not need it. To him, the electric device was too much of a burden. He would have to wash and clean it, put electrical wires in his cell, and procure fine-ground coffee to make it work. But Elder Paisios was happy enough to drink tea out of an empty tin and boil the water on the open fire outside the cell. That left him a lot more time for prayer and contemplation.
I believe that we could all benefit from this example of a simple life from Elder Paisios. As Saint Ambrose of Optina used to say, where there is simplicity, there are a hundred Angels, but where there is cleverness – there are none.
Yet, rather than seeking simplicity, we become slaves to our passions. We begin to live and die for the acquisition of material wealth. I have seen many examples of such acquisitiveness. I know a man who spent his whole life saving money and building up his assets. He had built a house and bought all the outfits for it. He had a housewarming party there. He was looking forward to many years of life in the comfort of his new house when suddenly he died. That was the end of his story. His grave, two by one metres, became his home.
I also know a couple who live in wealth but are still unhappy. The family is coming apart. They had been working to build their nest, make it comfortable and follow the latest fashion. They did it all. But their family still fell apart. The reason? They both saw it more as a joint venture to build a home and a comfortable life. They accomplished their mission. But there was nothing but a void beyond it. A meaningless existence! Buying a plasma TV, a Bentley car, or even a five-room flat in the capital city cannot become the goal of a person’s life. We must strive for something higher than that. We will be miserable if we do not.
We may be sitting at the top of the tallest skyscraper, at the window of a large and comfortable flat, and still feel like prisoners in a golden cage. But we can be like the holy monk Theodosius of Kiev, who is happy in his dark cell with no windows or doors.
In one of his works, actor Piotr Mamonov recounted a story about an elder from Mount Athos: he asked his disciples to brick up the window of his cell. His disciples objected. “You have a great view of the mountains, the sea and the sky. You can sit in front of it and rejoice in the beauty of the world!” But the elder replied, “I have a light within me, and I want nothing to overshadow it.”
Without this inner light, no man can be happy. It is hell not to be able to live with this light or without it.
What can we do to learn to live with the light within us? First, we need to take a break. Acquire inner calm. Stop the wild run, and the chasing after the wind. Vanity permeates the world; it is present everywhere. It is a formidable weapon with which the devil is trapping the blind and confused souls. In his play “On the run”, the Russian author describes a common state of most people. “We are always on the run. Gazing into the eyes of all the people rushing by, one cannot help exclaiming, ‘My dear man or woman! Do not you see that you are dying; you are exhausting yourself, you are doing damage to your health. Your nerves are like overstrained strings ready to snap at any moment!” Psychiatric wards are full of people who took on too much stain and broke under its weight.
It is beautiful autumn. The trees are clad in gold. Take time to enjoy a quiet walk in the part, and look at nature. Call in at a church, put up a candle, stand at a worship service. Give yourself some quiet time, put yourself above the bustle of the day and turn your inner eyes towards the world of the spirit. Learn to live in the moment. Do not pressure yourself. Enter a conversation with God. Stop worrying about any unfinished business. With God, there is nothing that you cannot accomplish.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has laid in store for us an exciting journey to His Kingdom, promising us endless joy and wonderful discoveries at every step of our way. For He is himself infinite and boundless. All we need for our journey is to adjust our lives to His way of things. May His commandments be your wings that will bring you to the joy, happiness and peace of being with Him.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds