“It’s best for a man to become a clay vessel, which is useful to all people and for all kinds of daily work, for food, water, and so on. But golden vessels are put in safes and locked up in cupboards. For fear of thieves they are seldom used, maybe only once a year. A clay vessel has its daily use and service to man. So also is a humble man who does not seek honors and rank. He remains insignificant even amid men of lower rank, but he benefits, counsels, and helps everyone, and all seek him out and rejoice with him. Humility is a great gift to monks and all Christians!”
This beautiful words inspired me to write a small reflection on humility, just in time for Nativity. Here it is:
As we approach the great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, the greatest act of humility that the entire cosmos has ever seen, it is only proper to speak about this great virtue in the hope that some will take heart from the words and advance in the practice of it in their Christian lives.
Humility is not something Christians own in exclusivity. Even the pagan religions and the philosophers recognize the great benefit of meekness and have the concept embedded in their worldview; there is no place however that cherishes and fosters humility more than Christianity. The Old and the New Testament, the writings of the Holy Fathers, the Church dogmas and practice are profoundly soaked in this noble virtue.
The reason for this central place is that God Himself is the first One, not only to teach, but also to act in humility. Here is what St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “Humility is God’s robe. The Word who became human clothed himself with humility, and spoke with us in our human body.” What greater proof we can ask other than the fact that the Creator of the world, the Unoriginate, the Almighty, the One Who deserves all the glory and praise, would put aside all of it, leave the heavens and become earth to save us sinners, undeserving as we are? There is nothing to match this act and is the very reason why humility and not pride, for our achievements, material or spiritual, should guide our lives.
Pride is the very opposite of humility; is to take pleasure in being praised, to have your accomplishments recognized: your talents, your beauty, your intelligence, your heritage. Pride is to say aloud: I did it, I deserve it all! Recognize me! About this Jesus Christ says : “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full”(Mathew 6:2).
The proud way is a faulted way of thinking because we cannot take credit for any of it. God has, after all, fashioned us and gave us all we possess; we are who we are because of the gifts we have freely received. Any good thing that we do has its roots into our godly origin. Forgetting this is to forget about God Himself.
A proud person will ceaselessly push out of his life anything that competes with him and his great achievements. Without realizing it he chases away everyone, including God, and he finds himself isolated in an ivory tower of self-righteousness. He sits there by himself unwilling and, after a certain point, incapable of any progress. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) The proud, even if he expresses exterior piety, is as far from God as the earth it is from heaven. Any day a repenting publican enters the kingdom ahead of a proud Pharisee.
Humility on the other hand is a permanent remembrance of God, is to recognize God’s presence in every aspect of our lives. The humble cries out with the King and Prophet David “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalms 138: 7-11)
Recognizing Gods presence in our lives is to be in communion with Him, is to receive His grace, is to let oneself guided by the Spirit of Truth and not by the spirit of the world. Humility brings spiritual dimension in our lives and restores everything in its proper place. Humility is the fulfillment of mankind’s potential that was lost through the pride of our Forefathers in paradise.
Humility brings all together in communion while pride separates us from one another. The Holy Apostle Paul observes this when writing to the Philippians: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
This is the ultimate role of humility: to unite people, to make them one with each other and together with God “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one-I in them and you in me-so that they may be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:22-23)
God comes at Nativity and receives our flesh so He can change us into something better. As St. Athanasius puts it: “God becomes Man so man can become god.” He wants to lift the course of pride and sin and replace it with humility and virtue. He invites all to follow His lead into heavens: “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29.)
At this festive time I wish everyone of you to rejoice in brotherly love, together receiving the great gift of the Incarnation of our Lord. Let the humble infant that is born in the manger of Bethlehem grow inside of us until it reaches the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ”.
May He be glorified to the ages with His Unoriginate Father and the All Holy Spirit.