A CRITICAL TEST FOR THE SEEKER OF GOD
“IT IS NOT HE WHO INSULTS OR BLAMES HIMSELF, THAT IS THE HUMBLE PERSON, BECAUSE WHO CAN NOT BEAR HIMSELF? BUT THE TRULY HUMBLE PERSON IS HE WHO STANDS THE BLAMES AND THE INSULTS OF OTHERS WITHOUT DIMINISHING HIS LOVE FOR THEM” (ST. JOHN EL-DARGY).
Pride is a prison; it can creep into a man’s heart and imprison the man from even a shadow of humility. Pride makes decisions based upon wants and desires of our human nature. It does not take into account the righteousness or the spiritual worth of the decision or choice but rather the earthly gain. It does not consider the ill effects of the desire upon those it will entail. There are many questions that can readily determine pridefulness.
Does your desire for accomplishment and reputation exceed your love of God? Does your apology for a wrong not readily occur because you need to stop and evaluate how it will affect others perception of you? Does the need to repay a slight enter into your consciousness more than the need to forgive? Does your heeding gossip overcome your respect of another and you favor its bearer by listening? Have you considered the gossip may be a falsehood especially with a non-witnessed act? Do actions such as these make you peaceful and prayerful or discontent and anxious?
While pride puffs up a man, humility lowers him. Lowly humility is the foundation for all other virtues to nurture and grow in strength. Humility is the graciousness of the soul of man. Humility is not an expression, an outer appearance, tone of voice, or captured into words. Humility does not come programmed into man but rather it is cultivated with each control of will, each immoral inclination defeated, and each bodily desire contained. As each ungodly act is diminished, humility begins to take a stronghold within man. Man finds that he is being raised up closer in his relationship to God. A clear sign of this is the true happiness man begins to feel dwell within him. The bearing of humiliation becomes not an impossibility but action towards achievement of it.
Many of those who battled pride in the Holy Bible often succumbed to its consequences. Those who chose the virtue of humility were often honored because of it. Pride expelled angels from Heaven, confused the language of those whom considered themselves mighty, raised a man sold as a slave, drowned a pharaoh in the Red Sea, and a man who needed another to speak for him became a leader.
- Pride expelled angels from Heaven and humility entreated the Son of God to come down from Heaven to become a servant of man on earth. It has often been written that before man’s creation within God’s fathomless eternity, there were angels. God made the angels, heavenly spirits, somewhat similar to the soul of the man he would create. Lucifer was one such angel, who was not satisfied to be a heavenly spirit of God and desired to be as great as the Lord Himself. His pride having overtaken him, Lucifer refused to worship and serve the Lord our God. Archangel Michael, the defender of our Lord led the battle which drove Satan (Lucifer) from Heaven to eternal punishment. Those angels who accompanied Lucifer in the battle he waged against our Lord became commonly known as “devils”. Pride is a powerful sin, one in which even the heavenly angels are plagued with and can fall from grace if allowed to overcome them.
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.'” (Isaiah 14:12-14).
The Lord Jesus Christ chose to come down from Heaven to become man. He was born of humble surroundings to a humble virgin of a humble family. The Lord Jesus Christ humbly came to serve, to preach, to teach, to heal, and to save the lost. He endured ridicule, accusations of blasphemy, nails driven through his wrists and feet, and shamefulness as outer clothing was publicly taken from His Holy Body. The Lord Jesus Christ’s closest male companions all, but one ran away rather than defend His Righteousness. This humble man would rise on the third day as an untouchable being. The Lord Jesus Christ’s Holy Ascension would complete the union of God and man.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.”” (John 20:17).
- Pride confused the mighty builders of the Tower of Babel and humility scattered peoples with different languages so they would learn to seek God. After the Great Flood, the whole earth was of one race and one language. They desired to make THEMSELVES one great city with one great tower whose top would reach the heavens. They rationalized that with these accomplishments they would “make a name for THEMSELVES”. They had forgotten the name of the Lord their God who had saved only their lineage in the Great Flood.Without warning, one solitary shared language changed into multiple incoherent languages. The mightiness of the people was quenched with the inability to communicate and coordinate tasks. The Tower of Babel’s top was never raised.
“So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city and the tower” (Genesis 11:8).
- Pride in the disguise of jealousy sold Joseph and humility gained Joseph control of all Egypt’s vast resources. Jacob plainly let it be known that Joseph was his favorite son. It became the root of jealousy among his other eleven brothers and they planned to kill him. One man’s poor judgment should not be allowed to grow and cultivate within others. The prideful nature of the brothers, rather than humility, took a stronghold among them and they plotted to be rid of him.Rather than kill Joseph, the brothers decided upon selling him for twenty pieces of silver to merchants whom would take Joseph to Egypt. Joseph remained humble in Potiphar’s house, in jail, and with Pharaoh. He gave God the homage for all his dreams which came to fruition. Only Pharaoh on the throne of Egypt was above Joseph as ruler of Egypt. Even at that, Joseph had the signet ring of Pharaoh carrying his seal in which Joseph was trusted to sign for the king and to seal for the king. Humility made a hurtful, painful family ill deed into a prosperous one. Joseph would later feed his family during famine with the same humility that he rose to power on. Not only would the humbleness of Joseph feed his family, he would provide them with fertile lands in Goshen. Joseph’s humbleness not only found favor with Pharaoh but with Jacob his father.
“Moreover, I have given to you one portion above your brothers; I am giving you Shechem, which I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and bow” (Genesis 48:22).
- Pride drowned Pharaoh and humility lifted up the hand of Moses. As Moses led out of Egypt, the six hundred thousand Israelites descended from the seventy who came there with Jacob. Pharaoh and his men realized they would have to perform the tasks of the servants who no longer served them. Desiring to serve no man nor themselves, Pharaoh and his great army with chariots and horsemen went after the Israelites with feverous intent. Moses believed God would help the Israelites all the while knowing without God they had no hopes to fight and win.Moses prayed for God’s help. Moses was instructed by God to stretch his staff over the Red Sea. A strong wind burned through the night and the next morning the wind had divided the waters of the turbulent sea. The Israelites walked to the other side of the sea on a dry path. Then the Egyptians, close behind, attempted to follow the dry path of the Israelites. Moses lifted his hand again as directed by the Lord His God and the waters came rushing upon them, not one single Egyptian, horse, or chariot survived. Death served those whom had need of a servant to serve him. Pride drowned a ruler and a mercenary army with the raising of a humble man’s arm.
“So the Lord saved Israel that day from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore” (Exodus 14:30).
- Pride transformed Nebuchadnezzar into a wild beast and humility turned a brave widow into a defender of the faith. Nebuchadnezzar sought to demolish all the gods of his lands. He sought to destroy all the people’s sacred places so that the all would be forced to worship him only. Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed his divinity boastfully with the titles of “the great king” and “lord of all the earth”. He sent out his generals and armies to enforce religious restraint to all but him. In the end it was not Nebuchadnezzar but Judith’s hand which was decisive in Whom should be worshipped.Judith fasted, prayed, and wore sackcloth and ashes because the Jews had placed all faith in walls and armies against the decree rather than trust in God. As a pious widow strong in faith with no previous training in either warfare or battle strategy she took the head of an Assyrian general and directed all praise to God. Judith, with trust in the help of God, defended a city without an army, military training,, or her own sword.
“Then she approached the bedpost, near the head of Holofernes. She took out his sword which hung there. She then came closer to the bed, and taking hold of the hair of his head, she said,’O Lord God of Israel, at this moment strengthen me.’ Then she struck his neck twice with all her might and cut off his head” (Judith 13 6-8; Orthodox Study Bible).
Many of the desert fathers sought to explain and continually maintain humility due to its essentiality as the cornerstone of all other virtues. Humility is a virtue that must be consciously and unrecognizably acquired rather than taking a few small steps to receive.
Shenouda El-Suriany (Late Bishop Youanis) wrote: “If pride is considered the worst vice, the mother which begets, surrounds, and strengthens many serious sins, then without a doubt humility is the top mothering virtue, which begets virtues and saves many from sins. It is considered the basis of all virtues. Hence, he who masters humility lays a good strong foundation for the building of his spiritual life. It is described by the one of the fathers’ as ‘The tree of life, whoever eats from it never dies.'”
No one is exempt from the learning process as evidenced by this monk who dedicated his life to God and denounced the worldly seeking good standing of another.
“A monk once seeking the favor of St. Timothy the hermit said, ‘”I find that my mind is always with God.’ St. Timothy the learned hermit replied, ‘Better still is to see you below all creation, as there is no fall from humility.'”
Life’s stories and lessons teach us to honor and seek humility. Just as Archangel Michael, Joseph, Moses, and Judith discovered God was with them when they sought Him first and pride last.
The wise Joshua Ben Sirach said, “Because gold is tested in fire and acceptable men in the furnace of abasement” (Sirach 2:5; Orthodox Study Bible).
May we all seek to achieve undisclosed humility critically testing if we are seeking the Lord whom taught “…learn from Me for I am gentle and lowly in heart…” (Matthew 11:29)
God bless you,
Abbot, St. Mary and St. Moses Abbey