Humility certainly figures prominently in anybody’s list of virtues, and most people are more than a little aware of pride playing some role in their spirtual failures. However, knowing that pride is a problem and that humility is a virtue is not saying that we know anything about humility.
First, humility is not precisely the opposite of pride nor is it merely the absence of pride. It is not an absence, but, mysteriously, is truly a fullness (something true of all virtue). Indeed for us, as Christians, to speak of something as a virtue is to recognize that it has a manifestation of the character of Christ. For He truly is the fullness of virtue, and the stature of His fullness is the measure God has set for us in our life in Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
St. Paul offers the most complete description and admonition to true humility:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).
This passage is among the most profound in its revelation of the inner life of Christ. St. Paul says of Christ that he “emptied” Himself – theologically referred to as the kenosis. It is this emptying that at the same time gathers into Christ the fullness of our broken humanity and all creation. His complete emptiness before death is also His complete fullness that will burst forth at Pascha.
More than that, St. Paul makes of this central act of Christ the central act of our own obedience. We are “to have this mind among ourselves – it is God’s gift to us in Christ Jesus. It is not a description of behavior we should try to live up to (morality) – but a description of a charism God has bestowed on us in our union with Christ. In Christ we are able to become empty – in a way that makes room for the other – even the whole universe. It is, I believe, another description of love.
I offer this short explication of humility and will add one other note – this from St. Silouan of Mt. Athos – perhaps the most profound in his grasp of humility of any man in recent years.
When the soul comes to know the Lord in the Holy Spirit, how humble and meek He is, she [the soul] sees herself as the worst of all sinners, and is happy to sit in shabby raiment in the ashes like Job, while she beholds other men in the Holy Spirit shining in the likeness of Christ.
God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble (James 4:6).
I turn now to the second part of this posting – the path forward in Orthodoxy. The only path for Orthodoxy is the path that leads to union with God and with one another. There can be no institutional goals apart from this path, for the Church would not be Orthodox were it not in union with God and with itself.
Of course, there are many instances where the unity of the Church is greatly strained. We live under the strain of multiple jurisdictions where only one should exist. We live with tensions between ancient patriarchates. Some of this is nothing new. Church history is filled with the accounts both of God’s grace at work in the Church and of some in the Church refusing the grace that was given.
In my own jurisdiction (the Orthodox Church in America) we have our own struggles, disagreeable matters that provoke anger as well as discussion. I have chosen generally not to discuss such matters on this blog (it is not my gift). This posting itself is not an invitation to discuss the particular difficulties within the life of the OCA or elsewhere My interest is to speak to every scandal – from a minor distraction in the local parish – to the largest difficulties that face us collectively. For in all scandal there is only one path forward – the path of humility. Justice is not a path, for we will not see justice in this life or receive from it the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that people should not be held accountable for their actions – but simply not to believe that such accountability will move us further along the path to which we have been called.
That path is nothing less than the humility of Christ, the mind we were commanded to have among ourselves and which is God’s own gift to us. Humility will not rejoice at the fall of another, but will weep and seek the restoration of a brother.
I believe it is the vocation of the Orthodox Church to demonstrate in its life the humility of Christ. We already embody this when, at the Vespers of Forgiveness, we prostrate ourselves before one another to ask forgiveness. Before the whole world, God Himself was prostrate, reconciling to Himself everyone and everything.
The next several years will probably be among the most important in quite some time for Orthodox Christians. Many possibilities and opportunities are open to us – but the only choice that one need make before such moments – is the choice to have the humble mind of Christ. That path takes us where we want to go – for that path alone leads to Christ.
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