“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, … taking the form of a bondservant … He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:5-8
“But give instead to your servant a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love.” – St. Ephrem of Syria
This is the last week of the Great Lenten Fast for Orthodox Christians before heading into Holy Week and our celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection (The Orthodox Church calculates Pascha, Easter, according to the older Julian Calendar). This is the last week of making prostrations while offering the prayer of St. Ephrem, a very influential Syriac Father. Having to fall to one’s knees three or four times tends to make someone think about the words of the prayer.
With the recent examples of violence in America, it may be helpful if all Christians would earnestly seek what Ephrem prayed for and Jesus epitomized. Our society doesn’t seem to do a good job of pursuing humility. In fact, we are more likely to pursue pride than humility. There is nothing wrong with having a sense of dignity and self worth. I am not opposed to anyone trying to be the best at a profession or pastime. When we seek these characteristics for reasons other than the glory of God, we become prideful. The scriptures denounce this as a sin and those infected with it will fail (Isaiah 13:11, Jeremiah 50:31, 32, Luke 1:51, 1 Peter 5:5 for example). Among the early Church fathers, John Cassian describes pride as a harsh tyrant that completely destroys and razes the foundation of our souls (1). Many a person, people, and nation have been destroyed seeking to avenge their “honor.”
Humility, on the other hand, is a virtue that allows us to overcome being tempted to violence. In two stories of Abba Macarius the Great, the tempter could not harm the old man just because of this pillar of his soul (2). In humility, the faithful do not seek ways of harming or insulting others. This same Macarius didn’t even want to bask in his own glory when proven innocent of a humiliating scandal (3). No doubt, the saint learned such behavior from the Lord and Deacon Stephen who sought forgiveness for their tormentors (4). The Apostle Paul even recommends acts of kindness as a means of tormenting enemies (5).
There well be no end to violence unless we seriously seek to imitate the humility of Christ and the saints. Ethnic, national, and self pride cannot be used as excuses to reject this powerful healing virtue.
(1) Phlokalia Vol. I, pg. 91
(2) Sayings of the Desert Fathers, pgs. 129, 130, 136
(3) Sayings of the Desert Fathers, pgs. 124, 125
(4) Luke 23:34, Acts 7:60
(5) Romans 12:20, 21