St Ignatius (Brianchaninov). "On prelest". On true and false humble-mindedness.
'Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility' (Col 2:18).
True humility is found in obedience and following Christ (Phil. 2: 5-8). True humble-mindedness is spiritual wisdom. It is a gift of God; it is the work of divine grace in the mind and heart of a person.
But there can also be a voluntary humble-mindedness - it is created for itself by the vain soul, the soul deceived and flattered by false teaching, the soul that flatters itself, the soul that seeks flattery from the world, the soul that totally strives for earthly success and earthly pleasures, the soul that has forgotten eternity and God.
Voluntary, self-invented humble-mindedness consists of a countless variety of tricks through which a person's pride tries to snatch the honour due to true humble-mindedness, seeking it from the blind world, from the world that loves its own, from the world that praises sins masqueraded as virtue, from the world that hates virtue when virtue appears in its holy simplicity, in the holy and firm obedience to the Gospels.
Nothing is as antagonistic to Christian humility as willful humble-mindedness that rejects the yoke of obedience to Christ, and under the hypocritical mask of service to God instead blasphemously serves Satan.
If we will constantly look at our own sins, if we will try to study them in detail, then we will find in ourselves not a single virtue, certainly not humble-mindedness.
True humility hides true and holy virtue, in the same way that a chaste virgin veils her beauty and the Holy of Holies was hidden from the eyes of the people by a curtain.
True humble-mindedness is an evangelical feature, it is a way of life according to the Gospel, an Gospel manner of thinking.
True humility is a divine mystery. It is unattainable by human efforts. Being the biggest wisdom, it is considered madness by the carnal mind.
The divine mystery of humility is revealed by Our Lord to his faithful disciple who constantly sits at His feet and hears His life-giving words. Even when revealed, it remains secret, for it is impossible to express with the words and tongues of the world. It is inconceivable for the carnal mind. It is ineffably revealed to the spiritual mind, and when it is revealed, still remains inconceivable. Humility is the heavenly life on earth. A grace-filled, miraculous vision of the greatness of God and his countless benefits to man, the grace-filled experience of the Redeemer, the emulation of Christ with self-denial, seeing the abyss into which the fall has cast humanity - these are the invisible signs of humility, these are the first chambers of the spiritual palace creates by the God-Man.
Humility does not consider itself to be humble. On the contrary, it sees all manner of pride in itself. It tries to find all its possible roots, and when it finds them it continues to search for more, knowing how much there is still left to be found.
St Macarius of Egypt, a true Spirit-bearing Father called ‘Great’ by the Church for the perfection of his virtues, especially for his profound humility, said in his exalted, holy, mystical writing that even the purest and most perfect human beings have in themselves a grain of pride (Homily 7, chapter 4).
This holy man reached the highest level of Christian perfection. He lived in a time replete with saints, even seeing the greatest of monks, St Anthony the Great. Still, he said he did not see a single person who could be completely perfect (Homily 8, chapter 5). Only false humility considers itself humble, and it pitifully finds solace in this delusional, soul-killing vision.
Satan sometimes appears as an angel of light, and his followers sometimes appear as the apostles of Christ (2 Cor. 9:13-15). His teaching pretends to be teaching of Christ. The states that are produced by his delusion often appear to be superficially similar to exalted, grace-filled spiritual states. His pride, vanity, and also their attendant self-deception and delusion take the form of the humility of Christ. Oh! How is it that the words of the Saviour hide from these pitiful dreamers, so terribly satisfied with themselves and their state of self-deception, who imagine that they are enjoying true blessedness. How is it that these words of the Saviour hide from them: Blessed are you who weep now. Woe to you who are full! Woe to you who laugh now! (Luke 6:21-25)
Beloved brother! Look intently and without prejudice at your own soul. Is not repentance more fitting to it that any pleasure? Is it not better for you to weep on this earth, in this vale of tears where sorrow is appropriate instead of inventing for you premature, delusional, foolish, damaging pleasures?
Repentance and tears over your sins gives eternal blessedness. This is well known, this is true, and this was said by Our Lord Himself. Why do you not submerge yourself into these holy states, why do you not remain in them, instead of inventing for yourself false exaltation? Why do you find enjoyment in it, why are you filled by it, why are you content with it, and why do you destroy in yourself the blessed hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God, the blessed and salvific sorrow over your sins and your sinfulness?
Hunger and thirst after God's righteousness are proof of poverty of spirit. Tears are an expression of humility, its very voice. The lack of tears, self-satisfaction, and contentment in yourself and in your falsely spiritual state prove the pride of your heart.
Be afraid, lest your empty, delusional ecstasy does not lead to eternal sorrow, which is promised by God for those who are satisfied with themselves, in contradiction to the will of God.
Vanity and its children - false spiritual states that appear in the heart which have not been pierced by repentance - create the apparition of humility. This appearance becomes a substitute for true humility in the soul. The apparition of truth, having taken the temple of the soul by force, blocks all entry into the soul for Truth Himself.
Alas, my soul, you temple of truth created by God! When you accept within yourself the mere appearance of truth, when you bow to it instead of the real Truth, you become a pagan temple!
Inside this pagan temple is an idol - delusional humility. Delusional humility is the worst kind of pride. With great difficulty pride is rooted out, even when the person admits its presence. But how can a person root out pride when he believes it to be humility?
This pagan temple contains an abomination of desolation! In this temple, incense is burnt constantly before the idol and hymns are sung to it that make the hell rejoice. There the thoughts and feelings of the soul taste the forbidden food offered to idols, and they get drunk on wine mixed with deadly poison. The temple, the house of idols and all impurity, is closed off not only for divine grace and gifts of the Spirit but it also shut to any true virtue, for any commandments of the Gospel.
False humility so weakens a person that is forces him not just to think to himself or gently hint to others that he is humble, but he openly announces this and loudly proclaims it (Imitatio Christi, III,2).
Falsehood cruelly ridicules us when we, deluded by it, believe it to be the Truth.
Grace-filled humility is invisible, just as the Giver of grace, God, is also invisible. It is hidden by silence, simplicity, sincerity, genuineness, freedom.
False humility is always connected with external manifestations - it wants to make himself seeing in public.
False humility likes being in the spotlight, through such means it fools itself and others. The humility of Christ is clothed in the raiment and vesture of Christ (John 19:24) into the most common homespun. In such clothing, it is not noticed or recognized by people.
Humility is a token in one’s heart, a holy feature of the heart with no name. It is a divine skill born unnoticeable in one’s soul fulfilling the commandments of the Gospel (St Abba Dorotheus, Homily 2).
The effect of humility can be compared to the effect of avarice. The more a person who is infected with love for earthly treasures gathers for himself, the more he hungers and the less he is satisfied. The richer he becomes, the more he appears to himself to be destitute. In the same way, the more a humble man enriches himself with virtues and spiritual gifts, the poorer and weaker he appears before his own eyes.
This is natural! When a person has not yet tasted of the highest goods, then his own virtue, though it is defiled by sin, seems to him worth something. When he comes into contact with divine, spiritual good, then his own virtue appears useless to him, since it is united and befouled by evil.
For the poor man, even a bag of pennies gathered with difficulty over a long period of time is precious. But then a rich man unexpectedly pours a countless multitude of gold coins into the poor man's lap, and he throws aside the little bag of copper pennies with disdain because now it is a useless burden to him.
The righteous, long-suffering Job, after undergoing cruel temptations, was found worthy of the vision of God. Then he said to God in an inspired prayer: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.” And what is the fruit of this divine vision for the righteous man? "Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 52 5:6).
Do you wish to acquire humility? Follow the commandments of the Gospel. Through them, your heart will acquire and assimilate holy humility, the qualities of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
The beginning of humility is poverty of spirit. The middle of the path toward humility is the peace of Christ, which surpasses all wisdom and understanding. The ending and perfection of humility is the love of Christ.
Humility is never angry, never tries to please men, never gives way to sorrow, never fears.
Can the person who has at the beginning determined himself to be worthy of all sorrows ever feel any sorrow?
Can the one who has condemned himself to suffering as a way to salvation ever fears calamities?
The saints of God came to love the words of the Wise Thief who was crucified near Our Lord. During their sorrows, they would usually say: 'We receive the due reward of our deeds. Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.'(Luke 23:41-42; 27:34)) They greet every sorrow with the admission that they have deserved it (St Abba Dorotheus, Homily 2).
Holy peace descends into their hearts merely for words of humility! It brings the cup of holy consolation to the bedside of the sick man, to the prison of the one behind bars, to the one persecuted by men and demons.
The cup of consolation is brought by the hand of humility even to the one crucified on the cross. The world can only bring him vinegar mixed with gall (Matt. 27:24).
The humble man cannot have any anger, any hatred; he has no enemies. Should anyone upset him, he considers this person a sword of justice or Providence.
The humble man considers himself to be fully in the hands of God. He has not his own life any longer, but God is now his life.
The humble man has no self-confidence, therefore he always search the help of God and prays constantly.
The branch of a tree, which bears fruit, bends down to earth as it is loaded with many heavy fruit. A branch with no fruit but with fruitless scions only grows straight up high.
The soul that is rich in Gospel virtues, dives deeper and deeper into the see of humility, finding in it priceless pearls, which are the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The pride is the true sign of a futile man, a slave of his passions, whose soul did not let the teaching of Christ in.
Do not judge of a man according to appearance considering him to be proud or humble. Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment; Ye shall know them by their fruits (John 7:24; Matt. 7:16). Our Lord taught us to know men by their actions, their behavior, and the results of their actions.
'I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart’(1 Sam. 27:28), said a neighbor of David to him; but God said about David: ‘I have found David My servant; with My holy oil have I anointed him’ (Psalm 88:21, LXX). ‘The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart'(1 Sam. 16:7).
Blind judges often consider a hypocrite as a humble person but he is full of vanity.
On the contrary, these uneducated judges consider the person to be proud, because he does not seek praise from men, he does not crawl before them; but he truly is the God’s servant; he realized the glory of God, which only humble people can see and he has turned his face away from the stench of the human glory.
A great Saint was asked, "What is faith?" He replied, “Faith consists in remaining in humility and showing mercy” (Alphabetical Patericon. About Abba Poemen the Great).”
Humility hopes in God, not in itself or in other people, and so a humble person is simple, direct, firm, and noble in his behaviour. The blind world calls such behaviour proud.
Humility considers earthly goods to be useless. In the eyes of the humble man, only God and the Gospels are great. He strives toward them, giving neither attention nor glance to the perishable things of this world. His holy indifference to the vanity of the world is considered to be pride by the sons of the world who serve vanity.
There is holy bowing that comes from humility, from respect for your neighbour, from respect to the image of God, from respect for Christ in your neighbour. And there is sinful bowing, avaricious bowing that is simultaneously people-despising, the bowing hateful to God. This is the bowing that Satan demanded of the God-Man, when he offered him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
How many people nowadays bow only to receive earthly benefits! Those people to whom they do obeisance praise them as humble.
Be attentive and pay attention! Is the one who bows before you bowing out of respect for you as a person, from feelings of love and humility? Or is his bowing only flattering your pride, hoping to gain from it some personal benefit?
You who are considered great in the world! Pay attention! Before you are slithering vanity, flattery and depravity! When they have achieved their goals, they will laugh at you and betray you at the first opportunity. Never waste your generosity on a vain man. Although he prostrates himself before the great, he lords it over and torments those who are below him (Ladder of St John the Climacus, Homily 22, chapter 22). You will recognize the vain man by his special talent for flattery, for servility, for lying, for everything that is base and depraved.
Pilate was offended by Christ's silence, which seemed to him proud. He says, “Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?” (John 19:10). Our Lord explained that His silence was through the revelation of God's will, whose blind tool Pilate was, though Pilate imagined himself capable of acting independently of it. Pilate, because of his own pride, could not understand that he was faced with the most exalted humility - the incarnate God.
The exalted soul, the soul with spiritual hope, the soul that despises the goods of the world, is beyond all pitiful people pleasing and servility. It is incorrect to call such a soul proud only because it refuses to act according to the requirements of your passions. You make a mistake considering this soul ‘proud’ for it does not correspond to the requirements of your passions! Haman, venerate the blessed and divine pride of Mordecai; this pride is nothing else that holy humility (Esther, chapters 4-6). Haman the Macedonian was the favorite and the viceroy of Artaxerxes, the king of Persia. Mardocai the Jew was a very pious man, and, although he was a courtier, he did not humiliate before the viceroy and did not bow down to him. This behavior of Mordecai made Haman mad with anger; he ordered a high gallows to be built to hang Mordecai. He hated Mordecai as an exception of the people-pleasing society. But the situation changed and Haman was hanged on the very gallow he prepared for Mordecai.
Humility is the Gospel teaching, an evangelical virtue, the mystical vesture of Christ, the mystical power of Christ. He who is clothed in humility, God Himself, appeared to man, and whoever clothes himself in humility becomes like God (St Isaac the Syrian, Homily 33).
'If any man wishes to follow Me,' said Holy Humility, 'Let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.' (Matt. 16:24). Otherwise it is not possible to be a disciple and follower of the One who humbled himself even to the death of the cross. He sat at the right hand of the father. He is the New Adam, the Father of a new holy, chosen nation. Faith in Him makes one a member of this chosen nation. The new member is accepted by Holy Humility, and confirmed by Holy Love. Amen.