Life of Virtue & Righteousness (3)
Pope Shenouda III | 25 July 2010
The danger of focusing on one virtue
A fault in which many, or the majority, fall, is focusing on one virtue only, contradicting or neglecting other virtues.
Spiritual life is not merely one sole virtue, but it extends to everything, the same as the Holy Scripture, which is not merely one verse or one commandment, but rather an integral Book speaking about good and righteousness as a whole. Therefore, we must observe all its commandments so that we may lead a life of perfection without wrestling; for the lack of one virtue may cause one's perdition! The Apostle therefore says, "Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (1 Cor 13: 2) Imagine somebody focusing totally on one great virtue, faith, but lacking love; he will perish!
The same applies to whoever struggles to reach higher levels of virtue and righteousness but lacks one virtue, humbleness! Such a person may easily fall in haughtiness, self-righteousness, or vainglory and may perish! An example is the Pharisee who stood haughtily praying in the temple, saying that he used to go to the temple for prayer, fast twice a week, and give the tithes of all his money, unlike those oppressors, sinners and adulterers! The Pharisee actually lacked many virtues, not only one; for he lacked humbleness, and he boasted and judged the tax collector. Therefore the latter went down to his house justified rather than the other (Lk 18: 14).
Among the examples of the danger of holding to one virtue is:
Some people hold fast to this virtue of meekness or gentleness because the Lord Christ says, "Learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart," (Mt 11: 29) "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (Mt 5: 5) However, some others take meekness or gentleness to mean calmness and refraining from anger.
Such people do not take action in cases that require bravery, courage or valiance, thinking it against gentleness and calmness!
Without taking a brave action in such a situation, under the pretext of meekness, will not be virtue, but rather default causing blame, for the Wise Solomon says, "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." (Eccl 3: 1)
• Abraham the father of the fathers was meek, for he bowed himself down before the people of Heth when he bought from them the cave of Machpelah for a burial place for Sarah (Gen 23: 12). Yet his courage and valiance appeared when he heard that Lot his brother was taken captive; he armed his trained servants and went in pursuit (Gen 14: 14). He fought four kings and defeated them, freed Lot and the Sodomites, and when the King of Sodom wanted to give him of the goods he refused and said with dignity, "I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap … lest you should say, 'I have made Abram rich'." (Gen 14: 23)
• The monks were meek, but were not satisfied with meekness alone, but showed courage when time came for defending faith. It is not right to be satisfied with meekness and dispense with bravery; otherwise, one will turn into a motionless body, whereas both virtues are necessary and each should be used in the suitable time.
Meekness does not mean weakness, nor power means violence.
Meekness and power each should mix with wisdom and understanding. A weak person cannot be the image and likeness of God, nor a powerful person is rash and void of meekness and decency.
Moses the Prophet was meek and humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth (Num 12: 3), but he also was brave and powerful. He stood against the people when they worshiped the golden calf, and rebuked his brother Aaron the high priest who became afraid and confused before him. He took the calf, which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and he scattered it on the water (Ex 32).
David the Prophet likewise gathered between courage and power, and meekness. He was truly meek, as we say in the Psalm, "Lord, remember David and all his afflictions." (Ps 132: 1) However, he was not satisfied with meekness, for when he found the whole army terrified before Goliath the valiant, he said to them, "Let no man's heart fail because of him." (1 Sam 17: 32) With all courage, he fought and killed him, and removed away the shame from all the people.
Though the Lord Christ was meek, gentle, and lowly of heart (Mt 11: 29), He also was powerful.
He stood against the scribes and Pharisees, and said to them, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" (Mt 23) He also stood against the Sadducees and Lawyers, and rebuked the priests (Mt 22: 21).
Kindheartedness is another virtue:
It is a virtue that distinguishes the prophets and saints, but if a person practices this virtue without understanding or discernment, he will become a plaything mocked by the others. Kindheartedness ought to be accompanied by wisdom and discretion, for the Lord Christ says, "Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men." (Mt 10: 16, 17) Be kindhearted, but do not lose your dignity and awe, lest some would hate such virtue that makes people mistreat and mock them.
The problem then is not in kindheartedness, but in not mixing it with wisdom and strong personality.
You should weigh every virtue accurately, and not practice it away from other virtues. Any shortcomings are not due to the virtue but due to lack of other virtues accompanying and protecting it. Kindheartedness does not mean to let others lead you, or to take part in the sins of others because of your weak personality or out of courtesy!
The Lord Christ was very kindhearted, as it is said of Him, "He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench." (Mt 12: 19, 20) Yet He was very powerful with His convincing words and influence, powerful with His love and His sacrificing, and in facing all situations. He loved His children and showed kindness to them. He defended the sinful woman, putting to shame those who accused her, and making them go out one by one (Jn 8:7- 9). His kindheartedness permitted Satan to try Him, but when Satan surpassed all limits, the Lord rebuked him, "Away with you, Satan!" (Mt 4) So, Satan went away immediately. The Lord also permitted the officers to arrest Him, yet, when He said to them, "I am He," they drew back and fell on the ground (Jn 18: 6)!
Fathers and teachers ought to be kindhearted, but at the same keep their awe.
Firmness is another virtue:
Some monks may be kindhearted, fit to be fathers but not bishops, because this type of monks lacks the power of management. Whenever such a monk takes a firm stand or rebukes or punishes someone his conscience will be uneasy, as if firmness and management contradict spirituality!
A spiritual person can gather between both virtues, but should never use kindheartedness without firmness for this will cause harm and spoil others.
Joseph the Righteous was very firm in managing the affairs of Egypt, but he had a sensitive heart full of kindness. He was very firm in dealing with his brothers to the extent that they became terrified and afraid when he said to them, "I am Joseph; does my father still live?" (Gen 45: 3) However, he could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him while he made himself known to his brothers, and he wept aloud (Gen 45: 1, 2)
The Lord Christ loved His disciples but he sometimes rebuked them. He loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end (Jn 13: 1), but when Peter wanted to prevent Him from crucifixion, He firmly said to him, "Far be it from You, Lord!" "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, Satan!" (Mt 16: 23)
In the same way the Lord rebuked His disciples James and John, even John who had leaned on His bosom, because when they entered a village of the Samaritans and they did not receive Him, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?" The Lord turned and rebuked them, saying, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." (Lk 9: 53- 56)
It is strange that parents sometimes divide love and firmness between themselves, love for the mother, and firmness for the father, while both should have both qualities! The mother may warn her child lest he makes his father angry! She ought to tell him that both she and his father will be angry. The child will be confused and will do good only to avoid his father's anger. Another example is a priest who disregards God's rights to win the love of his congregation, or a boss who disregards the duties of his post to please his subordinates. None of those has both the love for people and the love for God and honesty in work!
Ministry and meditation:
Some ministers lay their focus on one virtue, ministry, and getting involved in ministry they disregard the importance of prayer and meditation for their life and neglect their spirituality. This is against the integrity of the life of spirit.
The Lord Christ used to go about all the cities and villages, preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Mt 9: 35), nevertheless He also used to spend the whole night praying on the Mount of Olives and in the Garden of Gethsemane (Jn 8: 1). John the Baptist, likewise, spent 30 years of his life in the deserts, till the day of his manifestation to Israel (Lk 1: 80).
Elijah the Prophet had his ministry and destroyed the prophets of Baal and of Asherah, and rebuked King Ahab (1 Kgs 18), yet he had his retreat on Mount Carmel. Paul the Apostle likewise led a life of meditation, by which he was caught up into Paradise (2 Cor 12: 2), but at the same time, his ministry was strong. He labored more abundantly than all the other apostles (1 Cor 15: 10), preached in Asia and Europe, and wrote 14 Epistles some of which he wrote while in prison.
A perfect person combines between both types of life, so as not to let ministry be at the expense of meditation or the opposite, nor be satisfied with one virtue only and neglect the other.
This topic will continue next week, God willing.