St. John Climacus, the author of “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” once said “Humility is the only virtue that no devil can imitate. If pride made demons out of angels, there is no doubt that humility could make angels out of demons.” Humility is what kept 2/3rds of the angels in heaven and pride is what drove 1/3rd of the angels to fall. This pattern of ascent and descent is at the very start of the Christian story, and we are better when we wake up to this wise narrative!
Because humility feeds attentiveness. St. Gennadius of Constantinople declares “Whoever thinks about the multitude of his own sins in his heart never wants to make the sins of others a topic of conversation.” We cannot escape the degenerative effects of pride to blind us to how great the salvation God has won for us truly is and how this salvation is surely meant to transform us from the inside out!
Look at our lesson today in Hebrews 2:2-10:
Brethren, if the message declared by angels was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will. For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou carest for him? Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.
The writer of Hebrews is inviting us to embrace the foundational wisdom of humility by revealing to us three vital insights into why Humility is the only path to true freedom and peace.
First, God made us because He loved us. The Lord made us, not because He needed us (He doesn’t. He is complete within Himself) but because He already loved us and He “crowned” us with glory and honor to draw us UP toward Himself so that we could become by grace what Christ is by nature! He even gave us everything He has (except uncreatedness) so that He “left nothing outside his control.”
Next, God made us “a little lower than the angels.” But then He exalted us above the angels by making us His eternal companions in a very physical way! So, if pride drove angels to become demons, then the effects of pride will drive us lower still! We were made physical and then God made Himself physical for our sake. He didn’t take on angelic nature. He took on human nature to show us the heights that are possible for us IF we embrace humility and not arrogant pride!
Finally, God made us to be like Jesus. Jesus, God in the flesh, becomes the “new Adam” and embodies all we humans were created to be and then He (Jesus) humbles Himself to death on a cross to show that by embracing humility we can join Him in the destruction of arrogant death, and sin, and Satan.
Today, angels are real and they serve us in drawing us up toward the Father THROUGH humility. They remained faithful because of their humility and we will rise to become eternal companions with God in His Divine Council by the same path of humility and love. Being Orthodox on Purpose aligns us with the host of heaven and lifts us up to where we were made to be!
P.S. Dear Lord of Glory, You have made us to be like Your Son, our Lord Jesus. We will not become what You’ve made us to be through self-centered pride and our own strength. No, You have set repentance as the way of salvation, and repentance requires that I humble myself. Not through self-loathing, which is just another form of pride, but through a sober and honest confession of my need for You and Your grace in every moment of my life. Grant me this humility, Lord, for my salvation and the witness to all around me of Your great mercy. Amen!