Life of humbleness & meekness (8)
Pope Shenouda III | 28 August 2011
We spoke last week about 17 signs and means of humbleness, now we shall continue with the same subject:
1. A humble person should flee from all aspects and sources of grandiosity.
The humble should flee from love of leadership and superiority, love of domination and haughtiness, and from the desire to be first. All such things lead to perdition, and the Lord warned His disciples against them, saying, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mt 20: 25- 28)
2. If a person is in a great position, let him behave with humbleness, without haughtiness.
It is good for a person to forget his rank and deal with the others with love, without haughtiness or pride as if they were lesser. One should not disdain the others or use one's power to subject them as Haman did, requiring Mordecai to bow and pay him homage (Esth 3: 5, 6)! The humble ought rather to treat the others as David did when he was the leader of King Saul's army, with such friendliness that all Israel and Judah loved him, because he went out and came in before them (1 Sam 18: 16).
The humble treats his subordinates as colleagues and friends, making them feel his love. Let us learn from the Lord Christ, for He called His disciples "friends", saying, "No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends." (Jn 15: 15) It also was said about Him that in all things He was like His brethren (Heb 2)
3. The humble is not puffed up by honors and dignity.
Whatever honors he may receive he never forgets that he is mortal, dust, and ashes. This thought is capable of making him more humble, realizing balance between his inner self and his outer behavior. When the humble attains a high position, a prestigious stand, wealth, or power, he will remember the words of St. Anthony the Great, 'Enduring honors is more difficult than enduring disdain'. On the contrary, to the one who is puffed up the words of the poet will apply:
[When my friend became wealthy; I became sure I lost my friend.]
4. The humble always tries to take the last place according to the Lord's commandment (Lk 14: 7- 10).
The Spiritual Elderly Father said beautiful words in this context: [Wherever you dwell, be the least and servant of your brothers.] It means that one ought not only to avoid haughtiness, but also to be the least and servant to them, for the apostle likewise says, "In honor giving preference to one another." (Rom 12: 10) As the Lord bowed and washed the disciples' feet (Jn 13), so also a person ought to bow and serve everybody, even though the least. That is why the priests of our church call themselves servants.
Here I remember a prayer said by St. Augustine for his congregation, in which he said, 'I implore You, O Lord for my lords, Your servants.' He called them his lords although they were his congregation and his children. Yet the word "servant" should be said with all its significance, not as a mere word.
5. The humble, putting before his eyes the great virtues of the saints, sees all his works much lower.
If he is fought with a certain virtue he has attained, he should remember the high levels the saints attained in that same virtue, and comparing himself with them he will see himself little in spite of the righteousness he practiced. The danger lies in that a person compares himself with beginners or sinners, for he will see himself better. This happened to the Pharisee who stood in the temple saying in his prayer, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector." (Lk 18: 11)
6. The humble puts before his eyes the required perfection, that he may see how he has attained nothing.
He remembers the Lord's words, "You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Mt 5: 48) And seeing that there is a long distance between him and such perfection, his heart will be humbled and will find himself on the scales still light (Ps 62: 9), so he repeats the words, "You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting." (Da 5: 27)
If love is the first of the many fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5: 22, 23), and it has a long program which St. Paul the Apostle mentioned in (1 Cor 13), the humble will find that he has not yet attained the depth of that love nor realized its requirements, how much rather the rest of the fruit of the Spirit of which he has nothing! He then will remember the Lord's words, "When you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'" (Lk 17: 10) He would therefore say, 'Indeed, I have not yet attained the level of those unprofitable servants!'
7. The humble person is also humble with regard to knowledge and understanding.
He puts before his eyes the words, "Lean not on your own understanding … Do not be wise in your own eyes." (Prov 3: 7, 5) He keeps away from the knowledge that puffs up (1 Cor 8: 1), and remembers the words of Mar Isaac, [He who boasts of knowledge will fall in heresy.] Arius and Nestor and Euticus fell in heresies because they had pride in their knowledge and positions and trusted their deep knowledge.
8. The humble is not obstinate, nor insists on his views.
Some people are mentally stubborn, holding to their views and insisting on them obstinately, even though such views are strange or wrong. They refuse any opposition or mere discussion regarding them! Whenever anyone describes the views of such a person as being wrong, he will get angry and speak harshly or even insult that person, as if his views were infallible, beyond any argument or analysis. The humble, on the contrary, readily accepts discussion and different views even though opposite to his own.
9. The humble likes to be a disciple and accepts learning and reproach.
He sees that he has not yet attained that level of knowledge which accepts no increase. All his life he keeps learning and acquiring more knowledge, may be from books, people, nature, or occurrences. He considered himself still a disciple, and has not yet attained the level of teaching without first learning. He humbly accepts all sound views, and admits that he has benefited from them. Yet in case such views are wrong, he will not hurt the person saying them but discusses them calmly with that person.
10. The humble is always free from wrath and nervousness.
As St. Doretheus said, [The humble never gets angry nor causes others to be angry.] He never gets angry because he always blames himself for everything, and never causes the others to be angry because he asks the blessing of everybody, being convinced within that everyone is better than him. That is why humbleness is always connected with calmness and meekness. However not every calm person is humble, but every humble person is certainly calm, meek and kindhearted.
11. The humble is by nature easy to deal with, simply.
He does not consider himself right and whoever opposes him wrong. Therefore he may surrender his opinion if it proved wrong. He even gives thanks with true love to the person who revealed to him his mistake. Moreover, while arguing he does not interrupt the others or stop them in order that he may speak, nor mock their opposite views. He does not seek to destroy the others, but may prove to them gently that their views are wrong without hurting them. That was the way of St. Didymos the Blind, the Director of the Seminary at the times of St. Athanasius the Apostolic. He succeeded in arguing with pagan philosophers and winning many of them to Christianity, and they loved him.
12. The humble heart is never lifted up, in spite of having attained high spiritual levels, gifts, and virtues.
He is convinced that whatever spirituality he has is due to the work of the Holy Spirit and the grace in him, though unworthy. He knows that without God he can do nothing (Jn 15: 5), so he gives thanks rather than boasts.
The humble is aware that the grace will forsake him if he boasts so that he may be humbled before God. He remembers continually the words of the Scripture, "Pride goes before destruction; and a haughty spirit before a fall." (Prov 16: 18) He is aware that he is a man with a nature like the others (Jas 5: 17), not infallible, because sin has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by it were strong people (Prov 7: 26).
13. He never loses his caution regarding any sin nor feels pleasure at it.
He does not say about certain sins that they are of the type which fights only beginners not the advanced in the spirit. He does not see himself above the level of spiritual wars or that he has trodden the devil underfoot. Rather in every war he seeks God's help with deep prayers, because he does not rely on his own power or previous victories.
14. The humble is not ashamed of seeking counsel.
The person who seeks counsel feels that the others have something which he does not have, and that he is in need for an opinion or a solution from them, unlike the proud. He obeys their counsel if it is good. He is sure that whatever knowledge or experience he has in certain matters is less than someone else may have. Even if he did not seek the counsel but it came to him from somebody without asking, he will benefit from it even though the person giving it is lesser or younger.
15. The humble is known for having obedience and respect to his seniors whether in age, position, spirituality, or social relations.
The humble never looks down upon anybody, but treats everybody gently, even the small and the servants. In this way he makes them feel dignity and that they are esteemed by him.
There are still many more means of humbleness which we shall speak about next week, God willing.