What is the Church’s teaching on vanity?
Vanity is the desire or the need that prompts us to seek through our services and/or accomplishments the glory, praises, and good testimony of the people around us. It is the illusion that admiration of the people is a priority in our life. It is the wrong perception that the good testimony of people is more important and influences our decision-making process far more than the invisible glory that comes from God.
Vanity is a cruel passion that causes us to loose our crown and reward from God, because it leads us to display all the good things we do- almsgiving, fasting, caring for others, struggling to do the right thing, and more- for the purpose of pleasing other people. This is why Saint John Chrysostom describes vanity as “the mother of hell that greatly kindles that fire.”
How is vanity cured?
The first step to be healed from this passion is to understand that it is a spiritual ailment. Whenever we are tickled by the desire to tell others about our well-doings, we should look to God continually, be content with the glory from Him, and remind ourselves that by making our good deeds public knowledge, we lose the heavenly reward that we would have gained.
Also, Saint John tells us to remember that the opinion of most people is distorted and corrupted and withers away very soon. They may admire you for the time being, but they will very soon forget about you, or even let their admiration turn to jealousy or distain. God, however, never forgets our good deeds.
Turn away from complimentary speeches and praise so you do not make yourself less worthy by developing a need to hear the good words of others. You are the servant of God and you should only look to God who hired you to pay you your wages and not your fellow servants: “Behold, as the eyes of a servant look to the hand of his master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God” (Psalm 123:2).
Vanity takes away from us the serenity of our souls; the analogy of a storm is what Saint John Chrysostom uses to describe our situation under the pressure of this passion. The vain man is like a person in the middle of a storm, trembling and fearing, as if he is trying to cater to a thousand masters. But he who is clear of this slavery is like men in heaven, enjoying the fruits of untainted liberty that are hard to attain. This is not to mention that people respect the person who looks down upon the glory more than the person who is constantly seeking glory and praise from people.
In the life of our Orthodox Church, there are countless numbers of model people whose example we should follow. These faithful people have struggled to live a Christian life in silence, praying with tears and compunction in their private place. Their virtues were made manifest by God to other people, either at certain point of time in their life, or even after their death, and they became known to us as saints. Now they enjoy our love and respect, and, prayerfully, we ask for their intercessions and know with certainty that they will look upon us and pray to God from their heavenly dwelling for our sake.