Tag Archives: humility

All human conventions are destroyed.

Seeing posts of those who are at the beginning of Lent prompts mixed feelings in me. Orthodox Easter, or Pascha, does not come to us until May 2 this year, and our Great Lent begins March 15th, by which time western Christians will be halfway to their April 4th Easter.

Part of me is envious, and wishes we were already there, in that blessed season of “bright sadness.” But probably the greater part says, “Thank God we have a few more weeks!”

Yes… and I do want to take advantage of that time so that Lent itself won’t fly past without any effect on me. The Orthodox Church gives us five Sundays of preparation, and last Sunday was the first of those, Zacchaeus Sunday. Our rector emphasized to us that Zacchaeus climbed to a good vantage point because he wanted to see who Jesus was.

I appreciated Patriarch Kirill’s homily for the day in which he explained how Zacchaeus “…received his post from the hands of the Romans, the people who captured Israel, who enslaved the Jewish people. In modern terms, Zacchaeus worked in favor of the occupation power. And the freedom-loving Israelites, who painfully experienced everything that had happened to them – the fact that pagans seized power over the chosen people and over the holy places – treated those who voluntarily served the Roman authorities, collecting taxes from their own people, with contempt and indignation. That is why, in the minds of the Israelites of that time, the publicans were equal to the greatest sinners.

“But one of these tax collectors, Zacchaeus, was so eager to see the Savior that, being short, he climbed up a tree to see Him from there. The act itself is out of the ordinary, because Zacchaeus was one of those who had power, and adults who have power usually do not climb trees. If they need to see something, they have the opportunity to come closer: to push through the crowd, to make people part. But Zacchaeus climbed a tree, humiliating himself, only to see the Savior.”

And oh, my, wasn’t he rewarded! He did see Jesus, and apparently not just superficially. His humble act led eventually to true repentance and salvation; can you imagine how the whole town must have been astounded? As another has put it, “He lived in luxury from what he stole in the name of a hated foreign power.” It likely was not an easy process to make restitution to all the people through whom he had made himself rich, and to disentangle himself from the corruption of the political system, but however it happened, he went on to become one of the Seventy Apostles described in Luke Chapter 10.

Patriarch Kirill goes on to say, “Everything in this story is so simple and so unexpected. All human conventions are destroyed by the power of humility.” If we also can act in such a way that we begin to see Jesus more clearly, there is no telling what huge changes might begin in any of us, for the glory of God and our full salvation.

We seek a happy and peaceful path.

“Woe to our times: we now depart from the narrow and sorrowful path leading to eternal life and we seek a happy and peaceful path. But the merciful Lord leads many people from this path, against their will, and places them on the sorrowful one. Through unwanted sorrows and illnesses we draw closer to the Lord, for they humble us by constraint, and humility, when we acquire it, can save us even without works, according to St. Isaac the Syrian.”

+ St. Macarius of Optina

Wings or the woodworm.

“An offspring of [the sin of] pride is censure, which is unfortunately also a habit of many Christians, who tend to concern themselves more with others than themselves. This is a phenomenon of our time and of a society that pushes people into a continuous observation of others, and not of the self.

“Modern man’s myriad occupations and activities do not want him to ever remain alone to study, to contemplate, to pray, to attain self-awareness, self critique, self-control and to be reminded of death. The so-called Mass Media are incessantly preoccupied with scandal-seeking, persistently and at length, with human passions, with sins, with others’ misdemeanors. These kinds of things provoke, impress, and, even if they do not scandalize, they nevertheless burden the soul and the mind with filth and ugliness and they actually reassure us, by making us believe that ‘we are better’ than those advertised.

“Thus, a person becomes accustomed to the mediocrity, the tepidity and the transience of superficial day-to-day life, never comparing himself to saints and heroes. This is how censure prevails in our time – by giving man the impression that he is justly imposing a kind of cleansing, by mud-slinging at others, albeit contaminating himself by generating malice, hatred, hostility, resentfulness, envy and frigidity. Saint Maximos the Confessor in fact states that the one who constantly scrutinizes others’ sins, or judges his brothers based on suspicion only, has not even begun to repent, nor has he begun any research into discovering his own sins.”

-Monk Moses of Holy Mount Athos

I thought I would re-publish a few posts from the early days of my blog, say ten years ago, such as the quote above from Monk Moses, also known as Elder Moses the Athonite. I ran across a video of him talking about humility, and noticed that I’d also commented on it back then, about how helpful it was. I followed my own recommendation and listened once more. Oh, yes. The elder seems to emanate the joy and meekness that he talks about; I’m so glad I watched again, and got reacquainted. His words come alive through the sweetness of his countenance, especially when he is quoting Scripture or a saint, which he does quite a bit for such a short video.

In it he warns us that pride “like a woodworm eats away at the whole trunk” of our life, but humility begets “joy that has to do with internal calm, sobriety and serenity, that gives the sweetness and redemption of Christ.”

“Humility’s the guard dog of all the other virtues, and humility, says St. Basil the Great, is the raiment of the Godhead. Out of His extreme humility Christ came down, abandoned the glory of the heavens, and became the least of all people.”

“Humility and love, as St. Kosmas Aitolos says, are the two wings that fly us straight to heaven.”

I hope you will watch this video and through it meet Father Moses yourself:

“Humility, the Foundation of all Virtues.”

Jacinto and the Bishop

When they are traveling around the American Southwest visiting the many and remote parishes in their huge diocese, the French priests in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop often have an Indian companion along. At night they camp on the desert sand. This passage is excerpted from the tale of one such journey:

Kneeling on either side of the embers they repeated their prayer together and then rolled up in their blankets. The Bishop went to sleep thinking with satisfaction that he was beginning to have some sort of human companionship with his Indian boy. One called the Indians “boys,” perhaps because there was something youthful and elastic in their bodies. Certainly about their behavior there was nothing boyish in the American sense, or even in the European sense.

Jacinto was never, by any chance, naïf; he was never taken by surprise. One felt that his training, whatever it had been, had prepared him to meet any situation which might confront him. He was as much at home in the Bishop’s study as in his own pueblo — and he was never too much at home anywhere. Father Latour felt he had gone a good way toward gaining his guide’s friendship, though he did not know how.

The truth was, Jacinto liked the Bishop’s way of meeting people; thought he had the right tone with Padre Jesus, and that he had good manners with the Indians. In his experience, white people, when they addressed Indians, always put on a false face. There were many kinds of false faces; Father Vaillant’s, for example, was kindly but too vehement. The Bishop put on none at all. He stood straight and turned to the Governor of Laguna, and his face underwent no change. Jacinto thought this remarkable.

-Willa Cather

Maybe the Bishop and Jacinto share some qualities of character, and that’s why they appreciate one another. One aspect of Bishop Latour’s character that I see is his humility. In fact, perhaps there is a double meaning in the book’s title: not just the usual meaning of the ending of his earthly life, which we read about in the last pages, but also the little deaths that come to him day by day, not adding up but subtracting bit by bit from the possibility of earthly glory that might have been his, if he had given his fine mind and life to a different life back in France. Instead of fame and accomplishment, he sees defeat on many levels. But he accepts that.

Fr. Stephen Freeman recently wrote in “The Despised God” about the humility of God. He says, “The ‘glory’ of God is not the glory of wondrous success, shining fame and an incomparable reputation. Instead, we are told that we behold the glory of God ‘in the face of Jesus Christ.’… The crucifixion of Christ for Paul is more than an event that accomplishes salvation – it is an event that reveals Him in His fullness.”

“For many, such meekness in Christ is treated as something of a disguise, or a temporary work for the purpose of salvation. They all too quickly turn away from this understanding to assert that ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead!’ But there is nothing to indicate that the definition of glory is somehow being altered for the sake of the Second Coming. As for the imagery of the Revelation of St. John, it should be read through the Cross rather than used as a corrective for the Cross.

“… the friends of God are foolish, weak, base and despised. That is the narrow way. Interestingly, it is a way that is the most open for all to walk. We need not be wise, strong, and well-thought-of. It turns the world upside-down and our lives along with it.

“Right now the world is desperate for a few fools.”

-Fr. Stephen Freeman