The proud falls by exaltation:
St. Augustine, in his commentary on Psalms (37, 73), explained how the proud disperses while rising high, as smoke while rising high is dispersed and vanishes. A flame, on the contrary, not rising high, maintains its power.
The Psalmist describes the proud as one in great power, spreading himself like a native green tree. What then? He continues, "Yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more; indeed I sought him, but he could not be found." (Ps 37: 35) They will perish, the Psalmist says, "Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away." (Ps 37: 20) While rising high, the proud is puffed up, and dissolves. The same applies to God's enemies, when they begin to glorify themselves and rise up they consume away like smoke (Ps 37: 20)
Some people, when aided by the grace and find their lives changed, boast of such change and renewal. They proceed into speaking about their experience "we had been … we have become …"!
The grace may forsake such a person who boasts and he will fall. Would that we remember the words of the Scripture, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." (1 Cor 10: 12)
If you are standing do not think it will continue, but remember the saints who fell so that your heart may be humbled, for humbleness is capable of protecting you, because the Lord is near to those who are contrite. Be on your guard, for the humble, recognizing his weakness, feels afraid, is cautious and keen on avoiding stumbling blocks so as not to fall. The proud, on the contrary, boasts of his strength and is indifferent, so he is stricken by sin while not watchful.
The devil has long experience extending thousands of years in fighting human beings. When you are on your guard against a certain sin, he ignores it and fights you with another sin which you think yourself fortified against!
He may leave you for a long period until you become indifferent thinking you have surpassed the level of wars, then he returns while in your heart elevation you are not ready. In this state you fall easily, and only then you recognize that you are not beyond falling!
Do not think that only beginners are liable to falling!
Do not imagine that you are no more a beginner because you have walked a long way in spirituality! When you were humble and cautious you used to pray fervently asking for God's help so as not to fall, but now you do not pray for yourself, but perhaps for others asking help for them that they may not fall! In this way you receive no help, and you fall!
See what Mar Isaac says commenting on the words, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall", he says:
[The more the heart feels arrogant, the greater the fall and the destruction permitted by God will be, for God never forsakes a person unless such a person submits to the thoughts of grandiosity.
Those who deviate from the way of humbleness will be forsaken by the grace and will fall. Who boasts of knowledge will be incautious and will fall in blasphemy, and who boasts of asceticism will be careless and will fall in adultery, and who boasts of wisdom will fall in the snares of ignorance and darkness.
If a person persists in pride, the guarding angel who was moving him to righteousness will keep aside, and the deceiver will advance and prevent him from attaining righteousness. Elevation of heart was the real cause of the fall of Satan, as the Book of Ezekiel says, "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor." (Ezek 28: 17) The Book of Isaiah likewise says, "For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God … I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.' Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit." (Isa 14: 13- 15)
Satan, being unsatisfied with the glory he had and aspiring for more, lost what he had. Man likewise, aspiring for the glory of divinity, lost the glory of humanity which he had!
Strange enough that the majority of the proud claim that they are not proud!
Due to their haughtiness, the proud seek to justify themselves continually, so they fall in another sin: self-justification.
The proud justifies himself:
The proud never desires to appear as sinful, so he defends himself continually. He is always "righteous in his own eyes", and wants to be righteous in the eyes of the others. If anyone draws his attention to a clear offense, he will cover it with lies or with excuses, instead of confessing or repenting.
Our father Adam did not admit his sin, but tried to justify himself, and so did our mother Eve (Gen 3). We likewise inherited self-justification from them.
A sinner adds to his sin another sin: justification of that sin. The proud finds various means to justify himself, as for instance laying all blame on the others or on the surrounding circumstances, complete denial of the act, claiming to have good intent, or accusing the others of misunderstanding him. All such excuses are far from spirituality!
Actually it is so hard for a proud person to say, 'I have sinned', for it hurts him, unless it brings him praise or satisfies his pride! In fact the proud never feels wrong, and if he says sorry it will be from the mouth not from the heart, and without humbleness.
The proud do not admit their sins, but judge the others to cover themselves.
They always blame the others, as if they themselves were totally infallible. That is why a proud person argues much to justify himself. Dealing with the proud is not easy, for mutual understanding to him is not to accept the views of the others, but rather that the others accept his own views and get convinced with them! If he could not convince the others reasonably with his views he gets angry and nervous.
Usually anger accompanies pride.
In all this the proud loses his meekness, unlike the humble who is always gentle and meek, loved by everybody, and submitting to the others in love, winning them to his side. When the humble faces a problem he solves it in the meekness of wisdom (Jas 3: 13).
The sin of the proud is not confined to the spiritual side, but extends to the social side, for due to his pride he loses the love of most people.
The proud by justifying himself strays from the life of repentance.
This is true, for what repentance can a person have if he always sees himself righteous?! Are those who are well in need of a physician? (Mt 9: 12) How can the proud correct his faults if he is always justifying them?
A person never stops doing wrong unless he admits within himself that he has done wrong, but if he thinks he is right he will never change.
The problem of self-conceit and arrogance is that they hinder a person from admitting his sins even before his father confessor! Sometimes such a person confesses certain sins he is not ashamed of and hides the others, or refers to them quickly, or gives excuses for committing them. Sometimes he does not confess any sins, but his confession turns into complaint against the others, as if he confesses the sins of the others, not of himself!
In justifying oneself a person may call his sins virtues!
He may describe his malice and cunning as being a kind of wisdom, wrong pampering of his children as love and kindness, cruelty as disciplining and firmness, and judging the others and wrath as holy zeal and desire to correct. The danger of self-justification is that the sinner tries to give a philosophical explanation and reasoning to convince the others. This causes confusion to some people, not knowing what is right and what is not. This concerns justifying one's behavior, but justifying one's views is a serious matter, for it is related to values and principles and has its impact on the others. Justification of wrong views is very dangerous, because the ego is behind it, and the person is influenced by psychological factors.
The proud in justifying himself cares only on how the others look to him and how they revere him, not caring about his own eternity!
He defends himself and defends his own thoughts and actions, causing the others to stumble. He cares about nothing except proving himself innocent and blameless. In justifying himself he may accuse and hurt the others, not caring about anything except pleasing himself.
In this self-justification a person may fall in a heresy, and persists in it because his pride prevents him from admitting his fault. His conscience loses all power over him, and he is led by self-conceit and arrogance.
Amazing indeed that those who justify themselves may pray asking forgiveness of their sins, though within their heart they think they are not wrong! Actually a person benefits nothing from self-justification, but rather benefits from repentance, because repentance purifies the self, whereas justification only conceals one's faults and the person continues doing wrong. Repentance exposes one's faults and rebukes for them, but the proud refusing to reveal his wrongdoings, stays away from repentance.