April 11, 2022

An Interpretation of the Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian: On Humility (7)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

"Lord and Master of my life, bestow on Your servant a spirit of humility."
Remember that the commandment of humility is the first commandment of the beatitudes, and if the first, then the most important. Have you ever heard the word of God, proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah: “Thus says the High and Exalted One, who lives forever — His name is Holy. I live on high in heaven and in the sanctuary, with the contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and revive the hearts of the contrite” (Is. 57:15).

Don't you want God Himself to live within you? If so, remember well: He Himself says that He lives in the heart of the humble and revives their hearts, but how much we need the quickening of our hearts!

Don't you want God to look upon you? If so, know and remember that God looks down on the humble in heart. Remember also the words of the Apostle James: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

Do you want the Lord to resist you, don't you want to receive grace? If so, remember what humility is, what a holy virtue it is that is so pleasing to God, for which God lives within us and looks down on upon us.

This is the opposite of pride. The humble are the poor in spirit, remembering their shortcomings, directing their gaze into the depths of their hearts, they always tirelessly observe the movements of their hearts, they follow any impurity that they see in their hearts.

The saints, who always kept the commandments of Christ, loved Christ, and always had the Lord on their minds, constantly remembered humility and always prayed for it.

Christ says: "Learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matt. 11:29). The Lord commands to learn humility from Him, the Lord commands to imitate Him in humility. Humility was manifest throughout the Lord's earthly life. It began from His very birth, for He was born as the humblest, simplest, most inconspicuous person, He was born in a den for cattle, was laid in a manger.

And then all His life, didn't He give countless examples of humility? When Herod burned with rage, wanted to kill the Newborn Savior and sent his soldiers to slaughter the Bethlehem babies, couldn’t the Lord send one legion of angels from the legions that were always at His disposal, couldn’t He strike Herod? Of course He could, but He preferred to show humility and fled to Egypt from the wrath of Herod.

And then how much humility He showed in His life, walking 200 kilometers on foot to Jerusalem, at the first call of those in need of His help, not having where to lay His head.

Didn't He set a perfect, extraordinary example of humility by washing the feet of his disciples? This represents the epitome of humility.

And about the humility that He showed before the court and after the court, when He was led to Golgotha, crucified on the cross - human lips do not dare to speak about it, it is so immeasurable, so great.

The Lord tells us to learn humility from Him. And who now remembers humility? Humility is a quality of the human soul, which the proud stigmatize with contempt, for these people do not believe in Christ, they chose not the path of Christ, but other paths: they say that this is the spirit of slavery, that the humble are slaves, deprived of the quality of the most necessary, deprived of the spirit of protest, resistance by force to the grave calamities of mankind.

Is there any truth in this? None, not a trace. It is necessary to say about the humble not what the slanderers say, but something completely different: that they are not slaves, subject to evil and violence, but the only conquerors of evil and violence. It must be said that only they are waging a real fight against evil, for they eradicate the very sources of evil from their hearts and the hearts of other people. They do not believe that the cause of evil lies only in the imperfection of social relations.

The humble is a true warrior of Christ, not a slave.

But how little there is of humility, infinitely little now! The vast majority of people despise humility, strive for primacy and predominance in this world. It is almost impossible to find truly humble people, they do not think about humility; humility is forgotten, completely forgotten. Those who walk with all their hearts along the path of Christ, who learn humility from Him, think about humility. Only saints are truly humble.

It may seem strange how saints, who surpass other people to a great extent in moral virtues, in the height they have reached, can consider themselves completely sincerely lower than all others. The basis of their holiness is that they do not exalt themselves over anyone, but condemn their hearts.

The saints with extraordinary vigilance watched every movement of the heart and saw the slightest impurity in it, and if they saw it, they always remembered this impurity and therefore considered themselves unworthy before God.

People who are proud and daring dare to judge everything that is most lofty and holy; the humble are devoid of insolence, modest, quiet. We find many examples of this in Holy Scripture and in the lives of the saints.

Who is greater before God than the righteous Abraham, who heard great promises and is called the friend of God, and this Great One never ceased to call himself dust and ashes. Who is greater before God than David, the prophet and king, and he said about himself: "I am a worm, and not a man - a reproach among people" (Ps. 21:7). These were his completely sincere words. Who was greater before God in his labors than the Apostle Paul? And he calls himself the first among sinners, he was so alien to impudence and exaltation: he was timid, not impudent, he spoke of himself that he was among the Corinthians "in weakness and fear and great trembling" (1 Corinthians 2:3). This deep humility is an example for all of us, who are infinitely far from it.

We need to diligently always think about humility and ask God for it. We cannot acquire this virtue by any of our own efforts. Humility - a great gift of God - is received by those who love God with all their hearts and strive to fulfill the commandments of Christ. Only to them will the Lord give this great gift. Their heart is humble, and when a person's heart is humble, the Holy Spirit dwells in him.

See what a great happiness it is to be humble, see how difficult it is to be humble. Have hope and know that every step along the path of Christ brings you closer to holy humility. If you frequent such steps, like the apostles and saints, by this you will draw closer to God. The Lord Jesus Christ told the disciples: “Let the greatest of you be a servant to all, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:11–12).

How infinitely often these words of Christ come true, how many proud, striving to rise above all, then fall below all. How many were humble, insignificant, born in a beggarly family, who lived in poverty at the beginning of their lives, and then became great people. Such is the story of the great Moscow saints.

Many, many others also came from the lowest social background and were exalted by God for their great, immeasurable humility. The Lord says: “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mt. 19:30). This is how it happens in our life, this is how it will be at the Last Judgment. The first will be the last, and the last, the insignificant, the despised, will be the first. A lot of work is needed in order not to forget humility, a lot, a lot of work in order to acquire it.

We must remember the words of the Apostle Peter: “All the same, being subject to one another, clothe yourself with humility of mind, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). Remember, God opposes the proud, and only gives grace to the humble. Remember that even before the death of the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ humbled Himself. We need to strive for humility, constantly ask God for it: "Lord and Master of my life, bestow on Your servant a spirit of humility!"

Know and remember that if a person constantly keeps these holy words in mind, he will receive from God the deep virtue of humility. Amen.