When pride affects the soul of a religious person, then the latter becomes bold enough to act as a judge of the faith and the Church. “I don’t believe in this and I don’t recognize that; I find this superfluous and that unnecessary, and that one is strange or funny…” Another manifestation of such a pride is the desire to accuse and teach others. At the same time, the instructions of others are considered dull and obvious.
Hearing about the saints, the self-contented sectarian will say: “Why should I pray to them? They are the same kind of people as others; it is enough to turn to God alone.” He is forgetting that the Lord Jesus Christ helped people many times on the request of their relatives and friends (John 4:46-53, Matt.15:21-28, Mark 2:2-12, Matt.8:5-13, 1 John 5:14). He thus encourages us to love and take care of each other. The saints are our “elder brothers” who intercede before God on our part (Rev. 5:8).
The pride of a religious person is also obvious when one does not realize his sins, and when one is taken over with pharisaic self-esteem. It is interesting to note that it can take on the most diverse and controversial forms, for example:
• The type of the Pharisee — a connoisseur of church law, a zealot of tradition, a fighter for the purity of the faith,
• The “reformer” type — an innovator, the enemy of “superstition,”
• The type of the Sadducee — a career-maker,
• The false starets (a false prophet),
• The self-enchanted preacher,
• The type of an ascetic who is thinks highly of his holiness, or a self-proclaimed starets,
• The aggressive sectarian or self-assigned “prophet.”
St. John Cassian makes the following summary of pride’s fatal effects: “There is no other passion that would devastate virtue and deprive man of holiness as pride. This passion, like an infection of some kind, afflicts the whole person with a deadly infirmity and attempts to drive even those on the top of virtue into demise. Other passions have their borders and each of them confronts mostly one of the virtues. Thus, gluttony is opposed to temperance, lust stains chastity, wrath chases away patience. So that, if someone is defeated by one of the passions, he is not at all alien to other virtues. But this passion, when it gains control over the soul, deprives one of the shield of humility, and then the whole “city of the soul” is demolished to the bottom. Having denigrated and mixed with soil the tall walls of holiness, it bereaves the soul of every evidence of freedom. And the more pride takes over the soul, the more it submits it to the yoke of slavery, divesting it of all the beauty of virtue in the most cruel manner.”
How does one, then, confront pride and evade it, while it is so apt to find a way into one’s heart? — The answer is found in the question itself — through humility and obedience. Obedience to one’s loved ones, to relatives, to the obvious truth, to everything good to be found inside and outside of us. Obedience to the Law of God, to the Church, to its canons, its commandments, its Mysteries.
Fortunately enough for us, we lack no daily circumstances to demonstrate how much constrained and inconsequential our nature is. We thus do not have any real ground to be proud. A trivial virus in our organism is enough to produce a fatal illness. If we exceed some of our acquaintances by our gifts, there are always those who will exceed us, in turn. Gaining in one sphere, we are losing in another.
The Fruit of Humility
Humility, being the natural state of the soul, places one in the right position as related to God, oneself and one’s neighbour. It thus installs peace among people, serving to improve the family and the society.
1. A humble person realizes his drawbacks and misdeeds; that is why he, instead of persisting in them, as the proud do, repents of them and strives to improve. At the same time, aware of God’s power, the humble man is respectful of His will and has awe as not to violate His commandments. If all people were humble, we would be living in the happiest society imaginable. It would be free of robbery, rape, deceit, insults… It would be paradise on Earth.
2. As a tender and obedient child is towards his parents, the same is a humble person towards the Heavenly Father. That is why God loves the humble and gives them overall assistance, as He said Himself: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and a humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15). And the ancient wise man noted, there are many who are exalted and powerful, but it is to the humble that mysteries are revealed (Syr.3:19-20). The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such that be of a contrite spirit (Ps.33:18). On the contrary, God turns away from the self-reliant and proud, as is said: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). If the Almighty is against the proud one, than all the latter’s efforts are in vain. The Holy Fathers liken pride to a copper wall erected between man and God: it cannot be penetrated by any light, grace or any help from above. For that reason, the proud person is the wretched among the wretched.
3. Humility lends one a realistic view of his powers and capabilities. While the self-reliant often endeavours that which is far beyond his scope and therefore comes to ruin, the humble, calling upon God’s help, receives wisdom and strength from Him. Without unnecessary advertising, he will often do much more than he would by himself.
4. Humility, by instilling peace in the soul, is an instrument to avoid rivalry and quarrels: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt.11:29). The righteous father John of Kronstadt teaches us: “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:21). When someone is rude to you, when you are tempted, when they are breathing into your face with contempt and anger, do not return it in kind, but be silent, meek and benign, respectful and loving towards those who misbehave in front of you. For if you are shaken and start returning their words without peace, if you argue back with rudeness and disdain, it means you are overcome with evil and you should justly apply to yourself the saying: “Physician, heal thyself,” or: “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in your own eye?… First cast out the beam that is in thine own eye” (Luke 4:23, Matt. 7:3-5)… Have pity with the one who has insulted you, because he is so easily conquered with his passions and has an ailing soul. The more he is rude and easily shaken, the more love you should show towards him. This way you will easily overcome him. Good is always stronger than evil and therefore more victorious. Remember, too, that all of us are very weak and easily overcome with passions. Because of this, be meek and condescending towards those who sin against you. You have the same illness as your brother. Forgive your debtors so that your heavenly Father might forgive you your debts.”
5. Humility gives ones a modest, silent and well-wishing disposition. Indeed, if one realizes that all the perfections of human nature are very conditional, how will he treat others find-faultily and in a hostile manner? God exalted the repentant publican above the “righteous” Pharisee, as we see in the Gospel proverb (Luke 18:10-14). While the proud one is anxious to prove his superiority to everyone, and is therefore agitated and aggressive, the humble person deals with the others with understanding and benevolence. This, in turn, helps to establish a peaceful and friendly climate both in the family and in the society as a whole.
6. Humility, which carries us to God, is the inevitable condition for spiritual growth. “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11). St. Isaac the Syrian wrote: “As an antidote to subtle vanity, confess sincerely your weakness and ignorance to God when you pray, so that you are not abandoned by God and fall prey to unclean passions.”
7. By unanimous evidence from the Holy Fathers, it is not so much one’s holiness as one’s humility that works wonders. (There is the well-known story of the prostitute who, with her humble prayer, brought a dead child back to life).
The following is a summary of the respective qualities of humility and pride, and of the corresponding states of the soul.
The two directions of one’s will.
Related virtues: Modesty, meekness, patience, compassion, the ability to understand, to yield and to forgive, tactfulness, generosity, courage in acknowledging one’s faults, repentance, trust in God, the incentive to improve, respect for another’s opinion, respect for another person. Imaginary advantages: A strong-willed character, of the “Byron” type, purposefulness, strong motivation, born to lead on and to command, brave, courageous, knowing one’s value, straight, firm… He looks like it, but take a closer look at him, and you’ll notice the following:
Possible distortions of humility: Servility, indecision, gloominess, tearfulness, sluggishness, timidity, cowardice, all kinds of fears and phobias. The qualities of pride: having a high opinion of oneself, vain, hypocritical, stubborn, capricious, mistrustful, unpredictable, over-anxious, punctilious regarding himself, nagging, self-loving egoist, susceptible, impertinent, whimsical, quick-tempered, inclined to criticize and to reproach, hungry for power, haughty, envious, irreconcilable, rancorous, cruel, quick to insult, caustic, abnormally active, a defier of every authority. A revolutionary and nihilistic spirit. Satan, as the first revolutionary, lauds any kind of revolt as a fight for “freedom.”
This was a brief account of the humble state of mind and soul as described in patristic writings. As one can see, it has nothing to do with its vulgar understanding, when genuine humility is mistaken for servile self-disparagement. A humble person sees his imperfection and always turns to God for help. Acknowledging God as the ultimate Law-maker and Judge, he obeys Him in everything, bows to His will and does his best to abstain from sin. Being busy enough with improving himself, the humble person does not notice the mistakes of others and is always willing to forgive. He yearns for perfection, getting closer to God and glorifying Him is his most important objective.
No one is guaranteed against falling into an exaggerated opinion of oneself. The thirst for appraisal, the intention to put forward one’s success, the desire to instruct and to command are negative traits that require correction. They are the steps towards vanity and pride, which render a man disagreeable for society and repulsive in the eyes of God.
The humble disposition is the most healthy and natural one. When one gets nearer to God through rightly directing his mind, or feels the touch of His all-encompassing grace in prayer, he cannot help feeling his minuteness and imperfection. Pride is the result of an exaggerated notion of oneself and one’s abilities. It stems from spiritual blindness, when one is constrained within himself and fails to perceive God.
The Christian faith summons us to be modest and humble, accepting that everything good in us is not ours but belongs to God. Indeed, everything comes from God: our life, the beautiful world around us, our health, and all the various talents and advantages that we enjoy. For our faith, for the forgiveness of our numerous sins, for the deliverance from unknown dangers, for the grace-filled gifts, for the imperceivable ways of His providence along which He is leading us towards His Kingdom — for all of this, and for a lot more should we ever be grateful to our Heavenly Father, Who is giving us all of His goodness for the sake of His Only-Begotten Son, Who died on the Cross for us, sinners. If we did not prevent God from saving us, we would have all been in Heaven. It is our own stubbornness and pride that is destroying us — there are but no other causes!
Thus humility is the precious poverty that leads one up the ladder of virtue, making one rich with spiritual gifts and, finally, placing him at the very entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let us complete this essay with a praise to humility from the Elder Siluan:
The soul of a humble man is like the sea: when you throw a stone into the sea, it will upset its surface just for a moment and drown immediately in its depth.
Thus grief drowns in the heart of the humble, because the Lord is with him.
Where do you abide, humble soul, and who abides within you, and what can you be likened to?
You are alight brightly like the sun, but you do not burn, and you give away your warmth to those beside you.
Yours is the land of the meek, according to the word of the Lord.
You are like a blooming garden, with a beautiful house in its depth, wherein the Lord likes to stay.
The Heaven and the earth love you.
The holy Apostles, Prophets, Hierarchs and Ascetics love you.
The Angels, Seraphim and Cherubim love you.
The All-Holy Mother of God loves you, the humble one.
The Lord Himself loves you and rejoices because of you.