Life of Virtue & Righteousness (6)
Pope Shenouda III | 22 August 2010
The three levels governing man's behavior
The individual level, the social level, and the spiritual level are three levels governing man's behavior as regards virtue and ambitions. A few benefit from the three, while some choose one or two only, and either benefit from them wisely or deviate.
The individual level:+
On this level, a person attempts to lift himself up by acquiring certain virtues or ambitions, developing his mentality, his understanding, and his talents, or acquiring new talents through exercises of memory and reaching conclusions. Some exercises may develop intellectual ability and perception through training on solving problems or quizzes, all of which may give a person a keen and discerning eye.
Some people may be interested in developing their knowledge and education and acquiring new knowledge in various sciences and arts. This provides them with theoretical knowledge and practical experience in various fields.+
A person may focus on having a sound mentality free from fear, anxiety, confusion, hesitation, doubt or any other inner infirmities, otherwise he may seek the reasons and the cure to restore his soundness. Another type may focus on enjoyment by innocent means of pleasure and amusement, such as reading, music, games, and other arts or sports, even excelling in them or admiring their heroes. Others may focus on health and physical strength, seeing that a sound mind requires sound health to be able to lead a good life free from diseases and pain. For this purpose they may set for themselves a firm way of living which they never avoid for any reason. While men care about their physical strength, women care about their beauty and elegance.
The majority, on the individual level, seek success in life, each in his own field: a student in his studies, an employee in his work, a businessman, a scholar or a thinker, a parent or anybody else in responsibility, and each in a different level of success: ordinary, distinction, or genius. People also may differ in the way or means of attaining such success, whether a post, accuracy in doing work, or the like.
The social level: +
The virtues practiced by a person on the social level are those connected with social relations, such as:
1. Longsuffering: A virtuous person does not easily get angry or nervous at an act from somebody, hurting or insulting or threatening, but can control himself well at the time of anger and does not lose his self-control due to an offence, nor make a quarrel. He is aware that such behavior degrades him. Nevertheless, avoiding anger and nervousness is a passive virtue.
2. Cheerfulness and meekness are on the contrary positive virtues: A virtuous person is always cheerful with peaceful features that gain for him the others' love. He is known for his innocent merriment, gentleness, and spirit of fun, and for his meekness, good-heartedness, and forbearance. He never allows any clashes with the others, and can remove away tensions or offences with a joke or gentle word. In general, he is a merry person. On the contrary is a bad-tempered person who easily loses the others, who avoid him for fear of losing their peace. Such is the troublesome wife who meets her husband with crying, distress, questioning, and severe blaming for the slightest matter. Her husband prefers to flee from home and spend his time with his friends away from troubles.
3. Cooperation, good relations, and spirit of service likewise are social virtues: A person with such virtues does not live for himself but is always ready to serve the others and cooperate with them, avoiding whatever may cause harm to anyone. This gains for him their love and friendship.
4. Tongue virtues have their impact and danger, for any speech takes place between two or more persons, and the Lord says, "By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Mt 12: 37) Some people cause themselves problems, and the others either hate or at least avoid them. Others, on the contrary, attract people with their sweet words coming from a pure heart that never hurts or embarrasses anyone.
Truth is a tongue virtue.+
An honest person gains people's confidence. They trust his words and testimony, especially if he is known for accuracy and freedom from exaggeration. On the contrary, nobody trusts a liar, for to cover his lies he fall in other lies, thus losing people's respect whatever his position may be. Connected with the tongue virtues is the purity of the tongue. A virtuous person cannot utter an improper, impolite, or indecent word that may hurt the ears of the others. Even if there is need to speak about something embarrassing, he will use decent words, as those of the Lord to the Samaritan woman, which had their social and spiritual depth, for He said, "You have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband." (Jn 4: 18)
A pure tongue avoids sexual or impudent words, bad jokes, insults, or defaming, and avoids ridiculing or degrading others. The words of such a person are positive, full of knowledge. People benefit even from his way of speaking, for he does not waste the time in chatter or in things not of his concern. Every word he utters is balanced, and trustworthy, based on studies and research.
5. Charity, compassion, and honesty are among the social virtues. A person with such virtues benefits the others, and they feel that he is aware of their needs, has compassion on them, and is honest towards them. This is the same goal of social institutions: compassion upon people, providing their needs continually, generously, and without embarrassing them.
6. A successful sociable person is usually fair, never does injustice to anyone, nor takes the side of one against the other. He gives the others their rights even from himself, and never allows himself to be exalted or take rest at the expense of the others. He is always ready to apologize for any wrong he may do, therefore everybody loves and reveres him.
7. A sociable person is active and lively, and is never sluggish, but fills the place with life and blessing. Whatever responsibility laid upon his shoulders he fulfills successfully and gains the admiration of the others for his liveliness. They lay their trust in him and nominate him for greater responsibilities.
The spiritual level: +
This level relates to the heart and its purity, and to the spirit and its attachment to God. Some would care about external attachment with God in prayer, fasting, Bible reading, attending the church, and practicing the church sacraments, while the heart is far away from God with no emotions of love or awe. To those the words of the Lord apply: "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart if far from Me." (Mt 15: 8; Isa 29: 13) The Lord God in the past refused such false outward practices (Isa 1: 11- 16), and the Lord Christ likewise refused them from the hypocrite scribes and Pharisees who "for a pretense make long prayers" (Mt 23: 14), whom He described as, "whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." (Mt 23: 27)
Such people focus on external good, to be an example or to gain praise, or to avoid criticism or offending others, without having the love of good in the heart! Examples of those are they who give charity to the poor, not because of love for the poor or for giving; or those who fast outwardly without spirit of fasting but with the desire for food appearing in various ways during the fast! Such are not the spiritual level we mean.
The spiritual level appears in focusing on the love of God, of good, and of people in a practical way.+
At this level a person attains to God's love through prayer in awe and fervency and faith, and says with the Psalmist, "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day." (Ps 119: 97) "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God," (Ps 42: 1) "My soul thirsts for You." (Ps 63: 1)
On fasting, he fasts with his body and soul, feeling indifferent to food, not merely abstaining from eating. He rises above the material level into the divine and heavenly level. On this level, worship comes as a fruit of faith in the heart, and yields fruit, for, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Gal 5: 22, 23) We ought then to be aware that spirituality is not mere prayer, fasting, or church, but an expression of living faith, as the Lord says, "By their fruits you will know them." (Mt 7: 20) Every good tree shall certainly bear good fruit (Mt 5: 17, 18).
The spiritual level also is the life of holiness growing into perfection, where a person is not satisfied with God's love, but extends to spreading His love among others, in which case individual and social levels take a deeper significance. The individual level becomes a means to purifying oneself and getting attached to God, using every gift and every knowledge for the Kingdom of God, and is crowned with self-sacrificing, putting before one's eyes the words of the Lord, "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." (Mt 10: 39)
The spiritual level also gives the social level a spiritual character, for the spiritual person within his community loves, serves, and cooperates with everybody for what is good and righteous, with a spirit of sacrifice and in secret. Therefore he is revered by everybody for his pure heart and tongue, for he does all this not seeking praise, but because, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings froth good things." (Mt 12: 35) The spiritual level is higher than the individual and the social levels, which are introductory to it. It rises above both without abolishing them, but rather giving them part of spirituality.