Virtue of the Week; Humility

posted Oct 29, 2012, 8:47 AM by rthompson@stjohnsacademysf.org   [ updated Oct 29, 2012, 2:42 PM by swinslow@stjohnsacademysf.org ]
One of the greatest Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century, Fr.
Dumitru Staniloae, called humility "the supreme consciousness". In
other words, we know we have achieved true humility when the mind no
longer thinks in its old, arrogant, egocentric way - as if it could
figure everything out through the raw power of reason and logic - but
rather when we crucify the mind so that it descends into the heart
where it abides in the noetic wisdom of faith in God's saving work on
Golgotha, hope in God's glorious future in the world to come, and
attentive love for God as He is present here, in each naked moment,
both now and forever.

However, being one of the most powerful and effective powers of the
soul bestowed upon us by God's Grace in a life lived for Christ,
humility also happens to be the most misunderstood and misapplied of
all the virtues. Like all virtues that are distorted versions of
virtue in the golden mean, there are (at least) two ways that humility
can all too easily be turned into its opposite.

The first way is through the exercise of the kind of sanctimonious
false humility exhibited most often in many converts, and not a few
cradle Orthodox with revived interest in the behavioral norms of our
ascetic tradition. One thinks of those who tiptoe into church
services, head deeply bowed, but with sweeping and dramatic signs of
the cross before entering the nave; deep, drawn out prostrations;
prayer ropes flying from every wrist; penitent sighs and lowered
glances: the bathic humility of the super-duper Orthodox. This kind of
false humility always has one eye trained on any possible onlookers at
this "great" and humble piety.

However, there is an even more insidious action that is sometimes
mistaken as an attempt to instill humility in others, but which
actually manifests as the soul-killing vice of humiliation. This
occurs when we try to force someone - usually a subordinate or a child
- to understand the meaning of humility by demeaning them, calling
them names or otherwise crushing their spirits. I hope that we are
all aware as parents and teachers that any authentic manifestation of
humility must necessarily come from the conscious free-will of the one
who recognizes the need for it, rather than from some artificial,
external pressure of a would-be preacher or disciplinarian. If I am
to realize the true meaning and extent of my nothingness before God, I
can only do so as the result of insight that I have arrived at myself,
with the help of God's Grace. Nothing - other than shame and shattered
self-confidence - has ever come from bullying, berating, belittling, mocking or
insulting another person into humility. The awareness of one's need for this
virtue must come from within.

Sincerely,

Mr. Winslow, Principal

Painting by A. Kosnichyov's A Monk (2006)
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