Orthodox Ascetical Wisdom: The significance of Humility
By Bryan Stiles
Humility is a door, among many others in the great labyrinth, which leads us to our divinization, so that we may become little Christs. Without overcoming ourselves, accepting our faults, submitting everything to the Lord…such a door could not be opened, therefore becoming a tiring obstacle in our wake. Our world, our America is a culture of egotism and the importance of self. It is a temptation that wants us to feel on top of the world, infallible and glorifiable - even though our sinful nature speaks the contrary. Our minds become distorted and our eyes misty, clouding the way to the path of Christ. I have seen too often people seek self-satisfaction in whatever they think and do or lie to maintain their pompous egotism. Such worldliness deprives us of what is the most important; such love for our earthly bodies and persona stray us away from the Good Lord.
Consulting the wisdom of Staretz* (Qashisho) Silouan of Mt Athos, we find he speaks on humility.
"Understand me. It is so simple. People who do not know God, or who go against Him, are to be pitied: the heart sorrows for them and the eye weeps....where there is pride there cannot be grace, and if we lose grace we also lose both love of God and assurance in prayer. The soul is then tormented by evil thoughts and does not understand that he must humble himself and love his enemies, for there is no other way to please God." (Material from Wisdom From Mount Athos: The Writings of Staretz Silouan 1866-1838, by Archimandrite Sophrony) **
Let us dwell on this wisdom, step by step: “People who do not know God, or who go against Him, are to be pitied: the heart sorrows for them and the eye weeps…where there is pride there cannot be grace…” Wherefore do we get off telling ourselves that we are TRULY good? “No one is good, except God alone”, said the Divine Lord. Pride is the toxin of the soul. The holy Fathers advise us to keep the heart pure from all impulses, feelings and fantasies of self, whatever they may be. But what do we do? We always fall back into the temptation of self-confidence. This self-confidence is a hazardous aspect in our earthly life. What we need to do is recognize that we are weak, wholly incapable of resisting the lure of the dominion of Satan. The less we rely on our delusional self-strength, and take on the reliance upon our Lord, the more we are able to stand.
“…and if we lose grace we also lose both love of God and assurance in prayer.” To lose such is a tragedy for a soul. We need complete reliance upon the Lord, for if we make the Lord, and not our own egotism, our protection, we will be ensured that the devil himself will not succeed in his temptation:
My God, in Him I will trust.”
3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler[a]
And from the perilous pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
Even if we fall on this journey, which is quite possible given our nature, one must not be rueful over that fact we failed; that surely demonstrates one is pining over the fact that they failed to meet their own selves. That would then prove to us that only our self-reliance has been hurt. So that we may NOT lose the love He has bestowed upon His Church, the focus of work should be that we are sinners and that we need to put all our trust in God. He who does what the Lord has advised us to do, thanks God for rescuing him from sinking any lower into the self-cult of arrogance.
“The soul is then tormented by evil thoughts and does not understand that he must humble himself and love his enemies, for there is no other way to please God.” What other way can we please God than by following the character of His Son?
“7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)
The Eternal and Divine Son of God took the form of Man, subscribing Himself to a most humble form. He endured extreme humility for the sake of the world, by suffering, being mocked, and dying for the sins of mankind. What can we, Creation, do to live out our New Hope in the Ressurection? Pray God to forgive us and not again to allow us to be reckless, unwary, disobedient, and independent. Pray for grace and mercy and love that He who is All-Compassionate may help us abstain from falling back on our darker half.
I implore all who read this to not be tempted into taking what may seem the easy road, which encompasses accepting the temptation of Satan and the glorification of self. Pride, arrogance, haughtiness, and self-importance are all gems of the conceited man, which solicit what may seem an easy, comfortable life. Yet, what more is richer than glorifying others and the Lord? What more is satisfying than denying ourselves and taking up our cross? It sure beats what the other choice offers and the end result therein.
As the Nativity of Our Most Blessed Yoldath-Aloho (Theotokos) comes into view, let us pray that we may not follow the way of Adam, when he placed the blame upon Eve and the devil. Let us all accept the faults of ourselves and the mistakes that we have made and continue to make, so that each of us may never repeat the situation of Adam – for who wants to be outside the gates of Paradise?
*Staretz: A Russian term for the Syriac: Qashisho; Elder / Presbyrter; also meaning, "a spiritual guide."
*The Writings of St. Silouan the Athonite from Mt. Athos
St. Silouan the Athonite