All posts by Raphael F

Got an agnostic wife, a crazy dog, 2 cats, and way too much free time. I also collect prayer books.

Article 2: Humility

“Salvation begins and ends with humility”  – Saint John Chrysostom

humilityAs discussed in Article 1: Pride, humility is the cure,  just as the saint said. When pride rules our emotions and actions, the world around us changes. It seems as if even God becomes distant, and, in a sense, that may be true. It is well-known among monastics that there are periods when God takes a step back for this very purpose, to remind us of our dependence on Him, to humble us. But what about the distance we feel in our state of pride?

One night, in a drunken haze, I was walking past a church, and began pounding on the door. As I beat my fists I railed against God, asking where He was, “Why can’t I see You?” That was a moment I look back on with a bit of tender fondness. It was a small light in a life otherwise devoid of anything real. In my state of complete self-absorption it was a blessing from the curse. Had I not been there, at that moment, and in that state, I may never have come to understand just how broken I was; why I was feeling so alone. In that moment the seed was planted. God had not turned away from me, I had turned away from God. For me this was the beginning of humility.

In the book of Proverbs we find a number of very simple, very plain statements about humility. Let’s take one for example, 29:23 which states “Arrogance humbles a man, but the Lord supports the humble-minded with glory.” Huh? How does that make any sense? Well, to put it plainly, what happens when you fall? You land. In recovery programs it’s called “rock bottom”, the end of the line. It’s the point at which we see very plainly our impending doom, and decide whether to live or die. At that moment one of two things can happen: we look up and see our lowliness; we humble ourselves, or we refuse to see the depths, and dig deeper into our grave. It’s not the fall that kills us, it’s the injury. A wounded pride, folks, can kill us. But, just as the proverb implies, God allows us this arrogance, that we may learn humility, so that He may raise us up. So, we have gotten prideful, fallen away from reality, and are presented with the chance to humble ourselves before God. How do we learn humility? I’m glad you asked.

“Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:6-7

The humble are unpretentious, modest. They are meek. By yielding all rights and possessions to The Lord, by responding properly to anger, by simple patience waiting to be heard instead of demanding, humility begins to take hold. Virtue comes with this cost. Our due diligence in this area may earn us God’s blessings, the true treasures of His kingdom. Honor, wisdom, unity, eternal life. Here on earth, we can manifest these gifts in our service to one another, taking the seat in the back. Humility manifests a calm spirit. It opens us up to God, and allows truth to penetrate us. Through prayer fasting, and good works (there it is again!) the old self falls away, and we are made new. We become an asset. We become the children God wants us to be.

The world doesn’t want us humble. the world wants consumers, takers, sinners of the finest caliber. TV, film, the internet, inundates us with enticing images of our selfish desires. Our only hope is to look up, and accept the humility that God has granted us. Only then can we hope to be lifted by His mighty and loving hand.

Humility, dear brothers and sisters, is Theosis distilled. It is the beginning, and the end.

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Article 1: Pride

Pride[In this series of 14 articles, I hope to look into the 7 grievous sins, and 7 capital virtues. Since every sin has a virtue to combat it, one will follow the other. (Hopefully, this will keep the writer from falling too far into a state of self-dejection and deepening acedia.)]

Dear brothers and sisters, pray for me, a sinner. Today, my sin is Pride.

Here’s a bit of history:

Pride, as listed in the seven grievous sins, is the product of the amalgamation of the previous list by the monk Avagarius (4th century AD), derived from Hubris, and Boasting. Thank you, Saint Gregory! These days we see pride in two forms, and for our purpose here, we will focus more on the spiritual aspect, that being of inwardly directed emotion, inflated sense of self, and outward expression.

Today it is not at all uncommon to see pride all around us, hanging on walls, flashing from the screen, dripping down off of people’s very flesh. It’s the prime “virtue” promoted by the secular society we live in. “Let your freak flag fly”. Every media outlet tells us this. Gay and proud! Gun owner, and proud! Proud to be an American! We are told to be proud of our looks (and ashamed if they are not to a prideful standard), to show it with our accumulated material goods. Nice car, nice clothes, nice hair, etc. Who among us doesn’t look in the mirror every day to assess our selves, and groom and clothe accordingly?  Then again, where do we draw the line?

Pride, as some may know, is usually the source of all other sin. It is the voice of the enemy telling us that not only do all these things matter, but are of the utmost importance. We develop a high self-esteem, we think we are so great, and it begins. “Pride comes before the fall”. Just ask Satan. He was the first. And he wants us to follow him. So, with our inflated, sometimes bloated, ego, we commence to lust for things, we get greedy, possessive, and defensive to a fault. We begin to feel that we are above reproach, and become angry with any one who defies our thinking. Through it all, we boast, and boast, and boast. We are so this, that, or the other.  Pride has become the first step to spiritual death.

“Wherever arrogance enters, there also is dishonor, but the mouth of the humble meditates on wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2

When we fall victim to pride, we stop caring. The opinions and views of others become more annoying, and in a rage we lash out. We become bigots, racists, elitists. We ignore Gods wisdom, we pay no attention at all. We forget who we really are. Not to say that all of us are doomed to fall to the lowest depths of this sin, but we all have our moments.  For example, when in the choir at church, or when I’m reading the Hours, more often than not, I have to stop and realign myself. I begin singing too loud, boom too much. Puffing my feathers, as it where. “I’m a trained singer, by golly, and you need to know it.” No, no you don’t. In those moments, I have to hang my head, and start again. Lower my voice, dial back the bravado. I cross myself, and ask God for another shot. No joke, this happens EVERY SUNDAY. I am beginning to see why so many priests have a slight bow to their posture.

In Dante’s Inferno, penitents of pride walk around with stone slabs on their backs to keep their heads bowed. So, what’s our slab? Assuming we are, in fact, penitent for this sin, how do we combat it in our daily lives, how does it SHOW? As we all know (I hope!) the cure for sin is a triple-decker sandwich of prayer, fasting, and good works. Yet, there in is a virtue we can practice, a discipline, a rule we can live by to destroy our pride, and return to God…

HUMILITY

First among sinners

imageIt was another typical day at work. I stood behind the counter, leaning over to look at the people around me. Attractive co-eds, not so attractive co-eds. Annoying people, snarky Muslims, snarkier professors. Ignorant evangelicals, ethnocentric Orthodox. Atheists. People with a generally poor attitude. And me. A judgmental, lazy, lustful, selfish, unworthy sinner. My food was too good for them. My food wasn’t good enough for them. I was too white, too old, too…

Sinful.

To my right, on the east wall, I kept two icons; St. Euphrosynos and the Port Arthur icon of The Theotokos. I looked at them, crossed myself, and cursed myself, begging help a dozen times a day. Anything to deliver me from myself, to save these people from me, lest my lechery and hate rub off on them.

Save them, Lord, save me.

I was not at all surprised when I was fired. Thank God. They’re safe. Now, what next? How do I save the world from myself, from the antithesis of St. Seraphim I see myself as? Simple, I don’t. God does. Now, if only I could begin to trust in that belief. “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!”

Now, let’s make this abundantly clear, I’m an Ortho-newb. I was chrismated on Pentecost of 2013, after a year-long catechumenate. To say that I am in my spiritual infancy would be an understatement. God willing, some day I may get a clue. That being said, I DO know a thing or two about sin. Actually, I know a lot about it. I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I’m good at it. I’m sinning right now. So, when asked to tackle the subject for the blog, you could imagine my surprise, and dismay. What could I possibly have to bring to the table? According to a few people, quite a bit.

It’s easy to beat yourself up over sin. For an ego driven fun lover like me, it can even be a thrill. In Orthodoxy, “holier than thou” takes on a whole new dimension, as we constantly are encouraged to acknowledge —and by God’s grace, receive forgiveness for—our sins. “I am a greater sinner!”, “no, no! I, my friend, am the greater sinner, because…” And so on. But what happens when we step back from the ego flagellation, and give ourselves a deep, thorough look?

In 12 step programs, they call it a “moral inventory”. Call it what you will. It’s in the little red prayer book, the one in your back pocket. It’s called “Preparation for Confession”. So, we take a look. We begin to see where our faults lie. Do I really need to give a list here? Each of us knows what they can be. The question is, “we’ve  gone to confession, received absolution, taken the precious life giving Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and now, here we are, being schmucks again. What gives?” Well, the answer is simple, and you’ve probably heard it numerous times.

Try again.

Every day we wake up and say our prayers, drink our coffee, and commence to sin. But that’s never the plan. No, the plan is usually to live a day free of sin, to try, with God’s help, to overcome our sinful nature, and hopefully, spread it around a little bit. But we fall short. So, what do we do, wallow in it? No, brothers and sisters, we revel in it! It’s another chance for grace, another beginning. We look at the icon, we make the sign of the cross, we shoot an arrow into the heavens, and, by God, we try again! Will we always be this way? God knows. Will we always be found ready, repentant, and on guard? God knows. Can we, a generation coming down, taught by the world we were born into to give in, give up, and live completely for self, have any hope of true repentance? Well?

God willing.

Because, chances are, if you’re reading this, you are already two steps ahead of me—a sinner, and chief among them.