Tag Archives: humility

It will break open my hardened heart.

A word on approaching the Scriptures from Elder Aimilianos, who from 1974 to 2000 was abbot of Simonopetra Monastery on Mt. Athos:

When one undertakes to examine Scripture in an idle, intellectual way, he creates hatred and quarreling. Why? Because the intellectual approach to Scripture does not help us to turn and reflect on our sins, but instead makes us focus on problems and concepts related to the study of Scripture, with the result that our logical and intellectual faculties are aroused to no real purpose.

“Knowledge” by itself does not add anything. On the contrary, it encourages the cultivation of the individual and his private sense of things; it fosters the self-sufficiency of his personal opinions, which he then seeks to justify and impose on others. This kind of approach to Scripture immediately places you in conflict with others; it opposes your will and opinion to theirs, prompting you to disagree and argue with them, and to make enemies of your brothers. Filled as I am with my own opinions about things, I am not able to receive anything from God.

The correct way is to read Scripture with simplicity and to allow God to tell us what He wants to tell us. It’s one thing to read Scripture because you want to collect information, and another thing to read it aimilianos-of-athos-photobecause you want to acquire its true content, that is, the Holy Spirit.

This kind of knowledge is the life of God (cf. John 17:3), the entry and extension of God into our life; it is God’s descent and dwelling among us. We can judge whether or not our study of Scripture is authentic based on the number of tears we shed when we study. To be sure, I can also read Scripture without shedding tears, and without a strong sense of my sins, but with the hope that God’s grace, through my reading of Scripture, will break open my hardened heart. Read Scripture, then, but don’t forget about your sins and reduce Scripture to an object of intellectual inquiry, for at that point it ceases being the word of God and you start seeing it as something human.

The criterion for your study should be this: the way you read the Bible should bring peace to your heart, communion with God, love of neighbors, and the consciousness of your own sinfulness: the recognition of how unworthy and ill-prepared you are to stand before God.

-Elder Aimilianos of Mount Athos

Equal to the soil upon which they walk.

mother-alexandra-glassesBut what does humility really mean? The derivation of the word “humble” is the Latin “humus,” meaning “soil,” and herein lies a most apt metaphor for understanding what is most basic to humility. The humble feel themselves equal to the soil upon which they walk and from which they are made. They cannot be lowered, for they are already low. But this lowliness in no way means servility; it means purity and godliness. Satan’s great fall came from his inordinate pride, which rendered him impure. For us, each time that we let pride get the better of us; we have similarly soiled ourselves. This is the nature of our lowliness: not servility, but a purity shared with the soil, by which we paradoxically remain unsoiled (by pride).

-Mother Alexandra (formerly Her Royal Highness lleana, Princess of Romania and Archduchess of Austria)

All of his riches are within.

On Sept 25th we are remembering St. Sergius of Radonezh, a Russian of the 14th century who “filled the wilderness with ceaseless prayer, and transformed the forest into a holy place of God.” From The Prologue of Ohrid I give you this sweet story:

A saint does not shine outwardly. All of his riches are within, in his soul. A peasant came from afar to the monastery to see St. Sergius. When he asked the monks for the abbot, they told him he was working in the garden. The peasant went to the garden, and there saw a man in poor, ragged clothes, digging like any other peasant on a farm. The peasant returned to the monastery dissatisfied, thinking that the monks had made fun of him. So, to make things clear, he asked again for the glorious holy father, Sergius. Just then, Sergius returned to the monastery, and welcomed the peasant, serving him at the table. The saint saw into the heart of his guest, and knew the low opinion he had of his appearance. He consoled him by promising that he would see Sergius in a little while.

A prince and his boyars then arrived at the monastery, and they all bowed low to St. Sergius, and asked his blessing. The monks then removed the peasant from the room in order to make room for the new guests. In amazement the peasant looked on from a distance, to see that the one he had sought had been nearby all the time. The peasant rebuked himself for his ignorance, and was greatly ashamed. When the prince departed, the peasant quickly approached the saint, fell at his feet and began to beg his forgiveness. The great saint embraced him and said to him: “Do not grieve, my son, for you are the only one who knew the truth about me, considering me to be nothing–while others were deluded, taking me for something great.”

sergius-of-radonezh-1899-mikhail-nesterov

painting by Mikhail Nesterov