Tag Archives: Humility

Be Kind

Sunday, November 3 (OS October 21), 2019: 20th Sunday after Pentecost; St. Hilarion the Great of Palestine (371); Martyrs Dasius, Gaius, and Zoticus at Nicomedia (303); Ven. Hilarion of the Kyiv Caves, First Ukrainian Metropolitan of Kyiv (1067).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

Epistle: Galatians 1:11-19
Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

Glory to Jesus Christ!

As He often does, this morning Jesus tells us a story. There are in this story two men: an unnamed rich man and a beggar Lazarus.

Of all the figures we meet in the parable of Jesus, Lazarus is the only one who is named. All the rest go on named. They are types of human affairs but devoid of personal identity.

Lazarus is named because suffering, like love, is always personal. Even when suffering strips me of my dignity, the loss is always a personal loss. It is Lazarus in all his personal uniqueness that lies outside the rich man’s gate hungry and sick.

As for the rich man, he uses his wealth to hold himself apart from Lazarus. He uses his wealth to depersonalize Lazarus but, in so doing, the rich man strips himself of his own dignity. His indifference to Lazarus’ humanity comes at the cost of his own.

And so we have the nameless rich man, an impersonal type and Lazarus whose humanity shines through even in the midst of his suffering.

This Gospel is one of St John Chrysostom’s favorites. Again and again, he comes back to it in his homilies as a priest and later as the Archbishop of Constantinople.

Looking at the relationship between Lazarus and the rich man, the latter is condemned not because he failed to bring Lazarus into his home. His condemnation isn’t the result of an unwillingness to share his table with Lazarus.

Rather he is condemned because he fails to show Lazarus the mercy shown him by “the dogs came and licked his sores.” It wasn’t because he failed to host Lazarus at a great feast but because he failed to feed him “with the crumbs” from his table. It wasn’t because he didn’t offer Lazarus wine but that he didn’t give him the same favor he asked for himself. “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”

Chrysostom says the rich man is condemned because he failed to relieve, however fleetingly, Lazarus’ suffering. The rich man was condemned not for failing to make Lazarus rich but for failing to be kind.

It is this kindness that is at the heart of our evangelical witness and mission here on the Isthmus.

St Paul in his epistle the Gospel he preaches comes not from man but from God. This isn’t meant to undermine the importance of the Church. Far from it in fact!

After preaching the Gospel with great success for three years in Arabia, the Apostle goes to Jerusalem. The fact that he received the Gospel from Jesus Christ doesn’t mean Paul can do without the Church.

St John Chrysostom says in traveling to Jerusalem, St Paul reveals the depth and breadth of his humility. He doesn’t enter Jerusalem like Cesaer but quietly. He doesn’t seek out the praise of the Church but a quiet meeting with Peter and later James the brother of our Lord.

He who was called by Christ in humility seeks to be confirmed by Peter.

Here we need to pause and ask ourselves, how does Peter receive Paul? He doesn’t castigate Paul for having persecuted the Church. Instead, he receives him as a brother. Rather than shame for the great harm he has done, Peter extends the hand of friendship.

Both in Paul’s humility and Peter’s reception of Paul, we see what it means to respond with evangelical kindness.

When people come to us, we need to open wide the doors of the Church. Far from responding with polemics or words that shame them for past deeds, evangelical kindness demands we lift from their shoulders the burdens that bind them.

To do this requires the humility of both Peter and Paul.

Like Paul, the Gospel we have received comes not from man but God. And, again like Paul, far from separating us from the Church, from those who have gone before us in the faith, the Gospel binds us ever more tightly together.

Like Peter, we must be always willing to receive freely and without demand anyone who comes to us no matter how imperfect and lacking their repentance. After all if, like Paul, they have been chosen by God how can I turn them away?

Brothers and sisters in Christ! Let us learn from Peter and Paul and the failures of the rich man! Let us practice simple kindness. Let us make kindness our daily rule for how we will respond to those God brings to us.

Let us simply be kind and so win the souls of those burdened by sin.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

The Boldness of Humility

Sunday, May 19 (OS May 6), 2019: 4th Sunday of Pascha, Sunday of the Paralytic; Righteous Job the Long-suffering (c. 2000-1500 B.C.); Martyrs Barbarus the Soldier, Bacchus, Callimachus, and Dionysius in Morea (362); Martyr Barbarus the former robber in Epirus (IX). Righteous Tabitha of Joppa (I). (moveable feast on the 4th Sunday after Pascha).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

Epistle: Acts 9:32-43
Gospel: John 5:1-15

Christ is Risen!

Following the biblical witness, the fathers of the Church saw bodily infirmity–blindness, deafness, or in the case of today’s readings paralysis–as symbolic of humanity’s fallen condition. The Venerable Bede writes that “anyone who embraces the unstable joys of the present is as through flattened upon his bed, devoid of energy” trapped as they are by the “sluggishness” of “worldly pleasures” (Commentary of Acts of the Apostles, 9.33).

It’s important to say that neither Bede nor any of the fathers were denying the goodness of Creation or the delights that are to be found in this life. Marriage, to take only one example, is a sacrament of the Church and according to St Paul a revelation of the love Christ has for the Church (see Ephesian 5:32).

No, the problem is not the goodness of Creation but the human hearts indifference to God. As in any relationship, indifference today becomes hostility tomorrow.

It is this hostility born of indifference that leads some among the Jews to condemn the paralytic for violating the law by carrying his pallet on the Sabbath. They do this, St Augustine says, because to condemn the healing would have been to invite the rebuke they heard from Jesus at another time. “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 14:5, NJKV)

Instead of criticizing Jesus–and so have their hypocrisy exposed–“they addressed the man, … as if to say: Even if the healing could not be delayed why command the work?” Even so, the question exposes their hypocrisy. Augustine says that to ask this is to invite a response that testifies to the divinity of Christ: “Why should I not receive a command if I also received a cure from Him?” (Tractates on the Gospel of John 17:10)

For the person, indifferent and even hostile to the presence of God brings with it a heavy cost. Unaware of God’s presence in their lives means as well that they live unaware of His great love for them and for the dignity to which they are called in Jesus Christ.

The full implications of what has happened will take the rest of the paralytic’s life to understand. But while his understand is immature, his experience of God’s love for him makes him bold!

When confronted the man doesn’t conceal the miracle. He doesn’t hesitate to proclaim that he had been cured “of his illness.” And when falsely condemned he did not ask “for pardon. Instead, he boldly confessed the cure. This is how he acted” and this is how we are called to act as well (St John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, 37.2).

Both sin and love make us bold. But where the boldness of sin is fool hearted and rash, love’s boldness is courageous.

Look at St Peter.

At this point in Acts, he has already been arrested twice and beaten once. Stephen has been martyred, Saul is arresting and handing Christians over to the authorities, and “a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1).

And yet, Chrysostom says, Peter walks about “like a general … inspecting the ranks.” Because of his great love for Jesus, Peter always

…goes about first. When an apostle had to be chosen, he was first; when the Jews had to be told that these were not drunk, he was first; when the lame man had to be healed, he was first; when the crowd had to be addressed, he was before the rest; when the rulers had to be addressed, he was the man; when Ananias had to be addressed, when healings were worked by the shadow, still it was he.

When “the situation is calm” the disciples “act in common.” But when “there was danger” Peter acts alone. In all of this he “did not seek a greater honor. When there was need to work miracles, he leaps forward, and here again he is the man to labor and toil” (Homilies on Acts of the Apostle, 21).

And when it is time for the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles, Peter once again takes the lead in following the path Paul has blazed.

In the Christian economy, evangelical boldness the fruit of humility. Peter like Jesus, “Who conquered persecutors [here] below and reigns over angels [in heaven] above spoke … in a humble voice,” (St Ephrem the Syrian, Homily on Our Lord, 26.1) because the word he speaks is not his but God’s word to him for the life of the world (see, John 7:16, 12:49, 14:10).

To remain silent about the Gospel is not humility. We have all of us been given a word to speak; we are all of us in baptism called to be witnesses of the Resurrection and evangelists of the Gospel.

But a problem remains. If remaining silent when we are called to speak is not humility, how then are we to speak? In this as in all things, Jesus shows us the way.

Before He heal the paralytics Jesus asks the man “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus invites the man to cooperate with grace.

Jesus question reflects the humility of the Father Who never imposes Himself on us but woos us. In doing this He also makes clear “the cruelty of those … who were well” but who never lifted “their hand to help” the man but instead treated him “like an enemy” when he asked for help (Amphilochius of Iconium, Oration, 9).

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Every day, we meet those who ask for our help in coming to know Jesus Christ; every day we meet those who even if they do so poorly ask us about the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ.

Humility, to say nothing of love, demands we speak.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Invited to Believe

Wednesday, March 21 (O.S., March 8), 2018: Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent; St. Theophylactus the Bishop of Nicomedia († 842-845); New Hieromartyr Priest John († 1923); New Martyr Vladimir (1942); Venerable Dometius († 363); Hieromartyr Priest Theodoritus of Antioch (4th C); Apostle Hermas of the Seventy (1st C); Venerable Lazarus († 1391) and Athanasius (14th C) of Murom; St. Felix of Burgundy, Bishop of Dunwich and Enlightener of East Anglia.

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 41:4-14
Vespers: Genesis 17:1-9
Vespers: Proverbs 15:20-16:9

Creation testifies to the goodness of God, His mercy and fidelity.This is why idolatry, economic sins and sexual immorality are so roundly condemned by the prophets. These obscure and even undermine the testimony of God’s holiness of God and concern for His people.

The stability of creation, the ability of human beings to create wealth and engage in trade and the fidelity of husband and wife, all join together to affirm what God says to Israel

“You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

While they are all of different moral weight, floods, earthquakes, double-dealing in the marketplace, fornication and adultery, all shake our confidence in God’s offer of friendship. They do this by violating our sense of trustworthiness of creation, of each other and, ultimately, of God Himself.

Our trust in God is important because God Himself is the guarantor of the covenant with Israel and the promise of salvation in Christ. “I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’”

Abraham (as he’s now know), is the exemplar of this trust in God. At “ninety-nine years old” he is still waiting for the son through whom God will make of him a great nation and give him “all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession.” This doesn’t mean he doesn’t struggle to be faithful. Rather it means he is never overwhelmed by his doubts.

The majesty and stability of creation, economic fair dealing, and chastity all testify to God’s faithfulness. Not only that. They also serve to foster a similar fidelity in us.

Without this fidelity to God, as Solomon makes clear, my life falls apart.

The LORD tears down the house of the proud, but maintains the widow’s boundaries. The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD, the words of the pure are pleasing to him. He who is greedy for unjust gain makes trouble for his household, but he who hates bribes will live.

As Abraham’s example makes clear, in a fallen world, trust in the promises of God will always be a struggle. There is no shortage of occasions to doubt God. Creation is marred by pollution. Greed afflicts our economic relationships. Marriages fail. To those who look, there is ample evidence to justify mistrust in God.

Solomon is aware of this. His counsel in response is not to close our eyes and pretend that the world isn’t fallen. Instead he counsels intellectual humility. He reminds us that “The plans of the mind belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”

Hearing that answer, requires that, like Abram, I quiet myself. Good though they may be, to hear God I have to lay aside my plans and projects and instead “commit” or more likely, re-commit my “work to the Lord.”

The evidence of God’s fidelity is there to be seen. As Solomon reminds us the “LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” Understanding how “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28), however requires effort on my part. God dpesn’t impose faith on me. Rather, He invites me to belive.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: From Guilty Sorrow to Cheerful Fidelity

Sunday, Feb 5, 2017: Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee; Triodion Begins Today; Agatha the Martyr, Polyeuktos, Partriarch Of Constantinople, Antonios the New Martyr of Athens, Theodosios, Archbishop of Chernigov, Afterfeast of the Presentation of Our Lord and Savior in the Temple, Theodosios of Antioch

Epistle: 2 Timothy 3:10-15
Gospel: Luke 18:10-14

We misunderstand the relationship between the Church and the world if we assume that it is simply one of contention and conflict. Yes, the world frequently sets itself against the Gospel—this, in fact, is what the Scriptures mean by the phrase “the world.” More specifically, “the world” refers to the creation, under the guidance of human beings, in rebellion against God.

We shouldn’t make any mistake here.

Creation’s rebellion against the Creator is led not the air or water, by seed-bearing plants or animals, but by us. This is why St Paul’s says that “the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19, NKJV). Sin has not only corrupted the human heart but, working through our hearts, corrupted creation as well.

This corruption, this state of rebellion, isn’t the whole story, however.

Sin’s power over creation isn’t absolute because it’s reign over the human heart isn’t absolute. Sin corrupts but it doesn’t destroy; it obscures but it doesn’t obliterate the image of God in us.

No matter how powerful the grip of sin, divine grace, mercy, and love still attracts us. If this weren’t the case then, then Paul couldn’t say that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3; see also Genesis 15:6).

And, as we will celebrate on Pascha, whatever hold sin and death had over the heart is now broken. Simply put, Christ’s Resurrection has destroyed the power of sin and death.

Because sin’s reign is not absolute, there are moments when the world makes common cause with the Church. The parable of the publican and the Pharisee is one of these moments. Or at least, part of the parable is.

The one sin that our culture seems willing to name and condemn is hypocrisy. That this sin would be the worst sin make sense in a culture that has largely dispensed with objective moral standards. What offends us so about the hypocrite, is that he pretends to hold to moral standards the rest of the culture rejects.

In other words, the hypocrite pretends to be better than me.

I know he’s pretending because, if I’m following along with the culture’s thinking, morality is subjective. There is no right or wrong. The hypocrite is a liar; he pretends to hold to standards he, and I, know don’t really exist.

Basically, he’s lying to me.

Our cultural condemnation of hypocrisy is why at least part of this morning parable resonates with many. We recoil when the Pharisee and say: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.”

Hearing this, many see the Pharisee as stuck up. We condemn him because he thinks he’s better than everyone else. He is, in a word, “judgey.”

And all this is said without a hint of irony or self-knowledge.

So hated is this one sin that pointing it out in others exempts me from any self-reflection. In the face of hypocrisy, I’m exempt from self-examination. The sin must be condemned and its condemnation overrides any other considerations.

And yet, what actually happens in the Gospel? Jesus doesn’t condemn the Pharisee. If anyone does, it’s me. And that’s my sin.

What Jesus does instead is commend the publican for his humility.

For the fathers of the Church, the sin of pride—which is the sin that parable condemns—is only cured by humility. The “tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”

Yes, the sinful human heart is drawn by grace and the world’s rebellion is always only partial. But for all this, sin still holds us, holds me, in its grip. Reflecting on the parable, St Gregory the Great warns us that pride takes many forms. And whatever its form, humility is the only cure.

We need to be careful here that we don’t mistake the publican’s repentance for the virtue of humility. St Basil the Great says that when the “soul is lifted up towards virtue” we experience “cheerfulness” even in the midst of sorrow. Repentance is the door to humility.

St Basil says humility allows us to remain faithful to Christ and our vocation even when we are troubled by events or the opposition of others. Humility fosters in us a “loftiness of mind” that differs from “the elevation” which comes from pride. The latter, he says, is like “the swelling flesh which proceeds from dropsy.” But humility of soul is like the “well-regulated” and healthy body of an athlete.

Pride casts us down “even from heaven,” St John Chrysostom says, but “humility can raise a man up from the lowest depth of guilt.” This is precisely what we see in the parable. Jesus shows us the opening moments of the publican’s transformation, of his journey from guilty sorrow to cheerful fidelity to Christ. Having laid aside his sin, he is now on the path to spiritual health.

If I condemn the Pharisee, I remain enslaved to sin. If I am unrepentant, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are of no more value to me that they were to Pharisee. Instead, these works—good as they are in themselves—will stand in witness against me in the life to come because they were done without repentance, without humility.

My brothers and sisters in Christ!

We shouldn’t be quick to condemn anyone’s sin but our own. We must make our own the words of today’s Kontakion:

Let us flee the proud speaking of the Pharisee and learn the humility of the Publican, and with groaning let us cry unto the Savior: Be merciful to us, for Thou alone art ready to forgive.

To acquire humility, as we hear throughout at Matins through Great Lent, we must pass through the “door to repentance.” It is when we pass through this door that we learn to walk in cheerfulness, live in fidelity to our vocation, and to love one and other.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh on Humility

Humility in Russian means a state of being at peace, when a person has made peace with God’s will; that is, he has given himself over to it boundlessly, fully, and joyfully, and says, “Lord, do with me as Thou wilt!” As a result he has also made peace with all the circumstances of his own life—everything for him is a gift of God, be it good or terrible. God has called us to be His emissaries on earth, and He sends us into places of darkness in order to be a light; into places of hopelessness in order to bring hope; into places where joy has died in order to be a joy; and so on. Our place is not necessarily where it is peaceful—in church, at the Liturgy, where we are shielded by the mutual presence of the faithful—but in those places where we stand alone, as the presence of Christ in the darkness of a disfigured world.

Read the rest here: Spirituality & the Role of the Spiritual Father

Imitating the Humility of God

Sunday, September 13, 2015: Forefeast of and Sunday before Exaltation of the Cross; Consecration of Resurrection Church in Jerusalem

Epistle: Galatians 6:11-18
Gospel: John 3:13-17

The Gospel this morning is very short, just four quick verse. Though short, it is an important Gospel to reflect on ending as it does with the assurance that God doesn’t send His Son to condemn us but to save us. And this He does out of His great love for us. There are two things here that we should note carefully if we are to avoid misunderstanding the nature of God’s love and how we are to respond.

First, His love comes to us at a terrible cost; the life of Jesus Christ. Unlike the act of creation, the salvation of the world is not accomplished merely by divine fiat. To the spoken word of creation is added now the incarnate Word Who comes down from heaven and Who  suffers and dies for us. Only then, after accomplishing our salvation, does He ascends once again to the right hand of the Father.

Our salvation comes from the self-emptying (kenosis) of the Son of God “Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

It is only following the impoverishment of the Son that God exalts Christ and gives Him “that name which is above every name.” Yes, “every knee should bow, … those in heaven, and … those on earth, and … those under the earth, and … every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” but they do so not simply in response to His majesty but above all the humility of His great love for us (Philippians 2:6-11).

To say that I believe “in Him,” (John 3:15) and this is the second point, means not simply to admire the divine humility but to imitate it (Philippians 2:5; Ephesians 5:21). Imitating the humility of God will put us at enmity not only with the world but also with those in the Church who would have us make “a good showing in the flesh…in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:11).

Though the world’s disapproval can be hard, to bear, it is something that we expect. What is not expected, and so what can tempt me to bitterness and even cause me to lose my faith, is when my fellow Christians condemn me for not meeting the world’s expectations.

The folly of all this, as Paul is quick to point out, is that no one can meet the world’s expectations. It isn’t so much that the world demands hard things from us as it is that its expectations are always changing. And how could it be otherwise? Creation as it comes from the hand of God is dynamic; to be alive, to grow, means to always change. What sin does is make changing, rather than Christ, the goal.

Daily life’s myriad changes are meant to bring us into an ever greater likeness to Christ. G.K. Chesterton writes that “The old humility,” that is Christian humility, “was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder.” The world asks us to change not to become more like Christ but to make us “doubtful about” the possibility of salvation and so make us “stop working altogether” to become more like Christ.

As I said a moment ago, sometimes the call to meet the world’s expectations has the “form of godliness.” What it conceals is that denies the power of God. “And from such people,” Paul tells us, “turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6-7).

St Augustine says of these people that they are like Simon Magnus. They have been “baptized and yet did not lay aside” their sin. They have “the form of the sacrament” but not its power. St John Chrysostom says of these people that they are “like a painted figure.” Though their words are lovely to hear, they outdo “the Greeks in impiety,” are “a mischief” to the Church, cause “God to be blasphemed” and the Gospel “to be slandered.”

This is why we must always return to the Cross. Like the Apostle to the Gentiles we are to preach nothing “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). And like Paul we are to glory in nothing “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified” to us and we “to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

So what does it mean to imitate the humility of God?

First it means to commit ourselves to be disciples of Christ. Second it means to actively witnesses to the peace and mercy that He brings.

But I can’t do this if I continue to the world’s approval matters to me. Notice I didn’t say, “If it matters to me more than Christ.” No, the world’s approval simply can’t matter to me. St Gregory Palamas says that “the passion for popularity brings such injury upon those it masters that it shipwrecks faith itself. ”

The worldly person, whether Christian or not, only serves himself . He does so because he only loves himself. We are called to something else, something better then the pursuit of mere self love or popularity.

Christ calls us to lay aside everything in us that would destroy love. Turning my back on God or being indifferent to my neighbor poisons my soul, it cripples me and eventually makes me unable even to do what should be easiest for me, to love myself. The great sorrow of the being unrepentant—again whether baptized or not—is that I can’t even truly love myself.

So let us imitate the humility of Christ and Him crucified. In ways great or small, let us work not simply for the good of others but also for their salvation and, in so doing, be faithful to the commandments of Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory