Life of humbleness & meekness (7)
Pope Shenouda III | 21 August 2011
I would like to present to you some brief exercises on humbleness, which I will expound in more detail afterwards.
1. If pride is represented in self-assurance and grandiosity, humbleness appears clearly in self-denial.
So many are the exercises on self-denial, and the Lord has put self-denial foremost of the conditions of discipleship to Him. He said, "The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit." (Ps 34: 18) Indeed, for by self-denial a person can attain to humbleness, and will not seek glory or greatness.
2. A humble and self-denying person usually does not defend or justify himself concerning anything.
The humble accepts quietly whatever may be said about him as the Lord Christ –glory to Him- did, not defending Himself before Pilate, nor before Herod. Joseph the Righteous is one of the many examples in this respect, for he did the same (Gen 39). Yet, in general a humble person may defend himself only for the sake of the others.
3. A humble person always lays all blame upon himself, whether secretly or before the others, honestly, being convinced.
Once Pope Theophilus visited Nitria Mount, where some hermits dwelt, and inquired from the elderly father of that mount about the virtues they had attained, but that father answered the Pope saying, 'Believe me, father, nothing is better than blaming oneself in everything. It is the virtue of the humble.'
4. Blaming oneself leads to contrition of heart and spirit.
Self-blame makes a person aware of his own unseen shortcomings, and he becomes cautious against any aspects of grandiosity and nearer to God, as the Psalmist says, "The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit." (Ps 34: 18) "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart - these, O God, You will not despise." (Ps 51: 17)
5. A sign of heart contrition is the feeling of unworthiness.
The Lost Son, on returning to his father's house, said "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son." (Lk 15: 21) The Centurion likewise said, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof." (Mt 8: 8) St. John the Baptist considered himself unworthy of loosing the sandal strap of the Lord Christ (Jn 1: 27). The humble therefore feels not deserving all God's benefits to him nor the honor people bestow on him, for he knows himself well.
6. With such a feeling the humble leads a life of continual thanksgiving.
He gives thanks for everything, feeling not deserving anything. Whatever he receives, though it may be very little, he holds as a blessing. If people treat him well or honor him he expresses his gratitude, seeing himself unworthy of that. If they treat him unjustly or insult him, he gives thanks, feeling that he receives the punishment of his sins here on the earth.
7. A truly humble person, who knows his own sins, accepts whatever may befall him.
He says within himself, 'If God deals with me according to my sins, I will not be worthy even to live.' He considers whatever insults or maltreatment he receives are much lesser than what he deserves, so he accepts them with thankfully!
As an example King David the Prophet, when insulted hard by Shimei the son of Gera, did not permit his men to punish him, saying, "Let him curse, because the Lord has said to him, 'Curse David.'" (2 Sam 16: 10). He considered that a natural result of his previous sins.
8. A humble and heart-contrite person always puts his sins before his eyes.
His sins humiliate him within, and press his eyes with tears, increasing his contrition and reminding him of his weakness. He never forgets his sins even though they are forgiven by God! David did so, weeping over his sins after being forgiven, saying, "My sin is always before me." (Ps 51) St. Paul the Apostle likewise remembering his sins said, "I am the least of the apostles …not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Cor 15: 9)
9. A humble person, though attaining the highest ranks, will be always aware of his shortcomings, feeling that he had not yet achieved what he ought to!
St. Paul the Apostle who was taken up into the third heaven and labored more abundantly than all the other apostles (1 Cor 15: 10), said, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of …" (Phil 3: 12) He was in danger of being exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations (2 Cor 12: 7)! The Great St. Arsanius who used to spend the whole night in prayer, who was used to solitude and silence more than all the others, and whose eyelashes dropped of much weeping, whose blessing the saints sought, even Pope Theophilus who asked him a word of benefit! This Great Saint did not feel that he had yet started the monastic way, and used to pray, saying, 'Grant me, O Lord, that I begin'!
10. A humble person does not speak about himself words that may bring him praise.
He considers it unreasonable to speak about great things worth praise while he knows his own weaknesses well and blames himself continually. The Pharisee was not justified by God when he stood praying in the temple and speaking about his virtues (Lk 18: 12). Therefore I wonder how a newly repentant be invited by some church or congregation to tell his experiences that the others may benefit spiritually from them, and he stands speaking words that would bring him praise.
11. If talking about oneself gives room to making a person a good example to others, this is not the way a humble person takes to make of himself an example.
He says to himself, 'Who am I to be an example to the others?! I fell in such and such sins! I have not yet repented or returned to God. I am in the scales very light, and I fall every day!'
12. A humble person is aware of the triviality and danger of pride and vain glory.
For what is the value of praise coming from others? What is its worth or benefit? Or rather how harmful it is, destroying the person! All glory of the world is vanity and grasping for the wind as Solomon the Wise said (Eccl 1: 14). Nothing is stable, permanent, or useful. Nothing will accompany or benefit a person in eternity or when standing before God.
Only a mean soul rejoices at the admiration and praise of the others, but the soul improves and restores its divine image nothing of the glory of the world or the praise of the others can dazzle it, especially if that which people say is the opposite of what one knows about oneself and feels within.
13. A humble person flees from the love of praise and dignity.
The humble never desires or seeks praise or dignity. He does not even permit it to enter into his heart nor rejoices at it, and knowing well that he does not deserve it he does not take it seriously or at least is not affected by it even though it may be true. He rather blames himself for it and say, 'I fear I have become a hypocrite to such an extent that I appear to the others in a different image!'
14. A humble person always ascribes every good thing he does to God's grace.
He says with St. Paul the Apostle, "Not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Cor 15: 10), and puts before him the words of the Lord, "Without Me you can do nothing." (Jn 15: 5) In this way he turns all praise to God and to God's Grace and work within him. If he is fought within by the thought that he has done something good, he will say to himself, "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor 15: 10)
15. A humble person conceals his righteousness from the others as far as he can.
He trains himself to have his virtuous deeds done secretly as far as possible, and cares about inner virtues more than on apparent virtues. He puts before his eyes the words of the Lord concerning those who want to show their good works that they may be seen by men, that they have already had their reward (Mt 6: 5).
16. He even tries to conceal his virtues from himself, according to the words of the Lord, "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." (Mt 6: 3)
He gives without counting what he had given, and tries to forget what good he had done that it may not be apparent before his own eyes or in his own mind or memory lest he be fought with it. He ascribes what good he had done to God's power, or rather is convinced that God had done it through him and could have done the same through anyone else, and may be in a better way. Then he begins to blame himself for not doing it better!
17. A humble person praises the others rather than himself.
In every good work he gives credit to the contribution of the others and the importance of their role leading to the success of such work, commending what they did and ignoring that he had done it. Above all he remembers God's hand causing the success of that work, and disappears that God may appear and that others may appear. In everything he loves to do good for itself not for the sake of receiving the reward or appreciation from others.
There is still many to be said in this context which I will explain next week – God willing.