by H.H. Pope Shenouda III
Humility is not just a word. It is a life that has its spiritual rules. It is related to a great number of virtues that cause humility, or that are caused by it. We have to meditate upon all that, and know the means which would lead us to humility and to its practice.
First of all, let us know the true humility, and keep away from false humility. There are many who use expressions of humility, while they are very distantly far away from the spirit of humility.
They would say that they are weak sinners, while they absolutely do not bear anyting like this to be said to them. They would bow their heads in front of others, while their hearts and their thoughts, never bow.
Once I was astonished to read the front article of a coptic magazine. The writer was speaking about the humility of the Christ our Lord during his baptism; and how he bowed in front of John the Baptist who is incommensurably less than Him; and that, in order to fulfill all righteousness. Then the writer finished his article with the expression: "O God, give us too, to bow in front of those who are less than us, in order to fulfill all righteousness!" And yet, if this writer beleives in his depths that the others are less than himself, would his bowing be counted as humility? How can that be, while the heart inside is exalted over the people he looks upon, belittling them? This is false humility.
There is a story which Jean Cassian told about Saint Serapion the Great:
Once a wandering monk visited him. When the saint invited him to begin the prayers or the meditation of the Bible, he replied that he was not worthy. When he invited him to sit down on the mat instead of sitting on the ground, he also replied that he was not worthy. Then the saint advised him to keep in his cell, and not to ramble here and there. Then he grew intolerant, and his face became red and he was like a lion. Then said Serapion said to him: "My son, humility is not that you vainly blame yoursel. But humility resides in tolerating the blame that comes to you from others."
The wisdom spoken by the saint is evident to us when we see someone depicting a trait in himself that he does not believe he really has, just to have puff him up. Or he would describe himself as a week sinner, in order to make people say that he is humble, and so, he would gain the praise of others. But if these qualifications were said about him, he would be angry; and if he knew that people would believe the false description that he purports about himself (such as "Ii am a terrible person. I am an unworthy servant..."), he would absolutely never say such things.
As for you, let real humility be yours, with the interior true conviction that you are so, that you possess the defects which you say about yourself.
Saint Isaac said guard against using expressions of humility as a means to pride: "If you deprecate yourself in order to be honored, the Lord will expose you... And if you censure yourself aiming at truth, the Lord will make his creatures open in front of you, the door of his glory of which He speaks from eternity, and they would glorify you and glorify the Creator, because in truth you would be to His image and His resemblance."
The Wisdom of the Fathers on the Virtue of Humility
Once a brother asked saint Pachomius, the father of communal monasterial life, saying: "Tell us about a vision from the visions which you see, so that we may profit by it."
The saint replied: "Those who are like me, a sinner, are not given visions. But if you want to see a brilliant vision from which you can truly profit, I shall guide you to it. If you see a humble man with a pure heart, that would be greater than all the visions; because through that vision, you would see the invisible God. Do not ask for a better vision." (That is, he means that he sees the image of God in that man.)
Saint Augustine said, "You want to acquire everything. Ask for that by means of humility. When the canaanite woman said: "Yes Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master's table", she heard his word: "O woman, great is your faith!" (Matt. 15:27-28).
And also when the centurion said: "I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof", the Lord said: "I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!" (Luke 7: 6-9).
Let us hold on humility. If we have it not till now, let us learn it. If we have it, let us not lose it.
Saint Ebraxius said, "The tree of humility which raises up, is lowliness". He also said, "Imitate the publican, so that you would not be judged with the pharisee."
Saint Anthony said, "Love humility, because it covers all sins."
Saint Barsenophius said, "Acquire humility, because it breaks all the snares of the enemy."
Saint Isaiah said, "Love humility, because it guards you against sin."
Saint Pacomius said, "Walk in the way of humility; because God does not let the humble go back unsatisfied. But he lets the proud fall down, and his fall would be hideous. Beware of the haughtiness of the heart, because it is the most horrible vice."
He also said: "Be humble in order to be joyous; because joy goes with humility. Be humble so that the Lord would protect you and strengthen you; because He says that He regards the humble. Be meek, so that the Lord would fill you with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding; because it is written that "The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way." (Ps. 25:9)
Saint John the Short said, "You must first of all be humble; because this is the first commandment about which our Lord said 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matt. 5:3)
Saint John Saba (also known as the "spiritual old man" said, "My brother, wear humility at all times; because it clothes your soul with Christ who gives it."
Saint Isaac the Syrian said:
"Love humility in all your arrangements, and you will be delivered from all the unknown snares, which always exist outside the ways of the humble."
"Do not ask to be honored while you are internally filled with wounds. Hate dignity, and you wil be dignified. Do not love it, lest you would be offended. Dignity will run away from him who runs after it; and she will go after him who knowingly runs away from it, and will recommend his humility to everybody."
"Be lowly when you are exalted, and do not be haughty when you are disdained. Humiliate yourself, and belittle your value to all people, and then you will be elevated above the chiefs in this world. Be illiterate in your wisdom, and do not feign wisdom while you are illiterate."
"O miserable man, if you want to find life, persevere in faith and humility; so that by them, you may find mercy, aid, and a voice from God in your heart; and if you want to acquire these two (faith and humility), begin by holding on being uncomplicated; and walk in front of God in simplicity and not in understanding."
Saint John Saba said: "The prophet says: 'Woe to him who is wise in his eyes. Therfore be like a slave at the hand of his master, and not like a brother beside his brothers. Be rather in the jobs which others disdain doing them, and be the last to arrange and array things. Always wear humility. and it will make you an abode of God."
He said also: "As a young man must fast and be devout, so old men should be humble and conceding; because they are always associated with suspicion and vain glory, and they need spiritual warfare more than corporal warfare." Also; "A treasure which is hidden underground, does not diminish, and there is no fear from thiefs about it; and the treasure of knowledge which is inside the heart, cannot be stolen by the thoughts of vaine glory."
Saint Ephrem said, "Just as a body needs clothing, alike in hot or cold weather, so the soul always needs the apparel of humility. Humility of mind is a spiritual property chose to walk nude and without footwear, rather than to be denuded of it; because the Lord covers those who love humility."
He also said: "When you see yourself crowned with virtues and exalted in them, at that time you need humility of mind the more, in order to lay sound foundations for your knowledge, and the building would stand firm and unshaken. Do not exalt the condition of your soul; because a severe trial may happen to you, and then those who think well of you, would be reprimanded. Love humility because it is an indestructible hedge in front of the enemy, and a rock of offense which breaks the stratagems of Satan."
Saint Macarius the Great said: "Fasting without prayer and humility, is like an eagle with broken wings."
Saint Isaac said: "If you walk well in the deeds of virtue, and do not feel the taste of its assistance, then do not be astonished from that; because if man does not humble himself, he will not receive the reward of his deeds. The reward is not given for the action, but for humility; and he who has lost humility, has lost his pain and his action."
He also said: "If you pass by all the dwellings of virtue, you will encounter no rest from your pain, and no delivery from the schemes of your enemies, until you arrive to the dwelling of humility."
Saint Anthony said, "If we forget our sins, God will remind them to us; and if we remenber our sins, God will forget them for us."
Beware of forgetting your sins, lest you become self-satisfied and have thoughts about yourself, or become just in your eyes.
If dignity and self-justice combat you, say to yourself: "I do not deserve anything because of my sins; and if God, because of the greatness of his love and mercy, has covered my sins from people, yet I know them well and I do not forget them, lest I become vainly proud."
Saint Isidore said, "The honor of humility is great. The fall of the proud is very horrible. I advise you to keep humility, so that you would never fall."
Saint Augustine said: "Humiliate yourself to the humble God, so that you would be exalted in your glorious God."