Monthly Archives: March 2017

On Pursuing Virtue: Mildness

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

The virtue we will focus on for this blog post is mildness. How exactly does one define mildness? Merriam-Webster.com offers these words as a definition: balmy, equable, genial, gentle, clement, moderate, soft, temperate. Each of those words applies to mildness in different contexts, but helps us to get an idea of what mildness is. Perhaps the best way to understand mildness is to think of the grievous sin which is its opposite: and that is anger. “The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians” defines anger as “unworthy irritation and lack of self-control.” So perhaps another possible definition for the virtue of mildness is “not getting irritated unnecessarily and having much self control.”

Annalisa Boyd beautifully defines mildness in the context of  parenting in an article called “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers,” published on the GOARCH website in 2014 (see link below). Her definition can help us think about the importance of mildness and why we parents must pursue this virtue:“Mildness is used to fight wrath and anger. It consists of kindness, gentleness, and calm in word and action. Whether you have one child or many children, home can become a chaotic place. Mildness is closely related to temperance and humility because it requires a lot of self-control and humility to address the myriad of issues each home faces with kindness, gentleness, and calm. Of course there will be those days you are tempted to lock yourself in the closet and curl up in the fetal position, but the God of the universe is there on those days, too. As we seek the Lord, through prayer and the observance of the sacraments, we can be the calm in our homes. His power is that big!”

The quote above implies that mildness shows itself in the home as kindness, gentleness, and calm. Perhaps if we learn about and work towards those qualities, we will become more mild! We found the following scriptures (quoted below in the NKJV) related to those three qualities that indicate mildness. We  parents would do well to meditate on these passages and aim to live by them, for they can help us on our journey to becoming mild.

Kindness:

Ps. 117:2 “For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!”

Prov. 19:22 “What is desired in a man is kindness…”

Is. 54:8 “With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,” Says the Lord, your Redeemer.”

Joel 2:13 “Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.”

Coloss. 3:12 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering…”

2 Peter 1:5-8 “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gentleness:

1 Corinth. 4:21 “What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?”

Gal. 6:1 “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”

Phil. 4:5 “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.”

1 Tim. 6:11 “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.”

Calm:

Ps. 131:2 “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

Prov. 17:27 “He who has knowledge spares his words, And a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.”

Mark 4:39 “Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

May God help us all to pursue the virtue of mildness, that we may love Him more purely, follow Him more sincerely, and bless others as we respond to them with mildness (in kindness, gentleness, and calm)!

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for
Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
(The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian)

Read the rest of Annalisa Boyd’s article “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers,” referred to above, here: https://www.goarch.org/en/-/the-ascetic-lives-of-mothers. Purchase the since-published book, full of prayers, here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/ascetic-lives-of-mothers/. Follow her podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/asceticlives.

Here are additional quotes and resources that can help us as we pursue mildness:
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“…parents need to devote themselves to the love of God,” he says. “They need to become saints in relation to their children through their mildness, patience, and love. They need to make a new start every day, with a fresh outlook, renewed enthusiasm and love for their children.” ~ St. Porphyrios

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“As a person progresses in mildness and patience of the heart, so also does he in purity of the body. And the further he has driven away the passion of anger, the more tightly will he hold on to chastity” ~ St. John Cassian

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“Let’s stop fighting and pray in a becoming way. We should put on the mildness of angels instead of the demons’ brutality. No matter how we’ve been injured, we must soften our anger by considering our own case and our salvation. Let us quiet the storms; we can pass through life calmly. Then, upon our departing, the Lord will treat us as we treated our neighbours. If this is a heavy, terrible thing to us, we must let Him make it light and desirable. What we don’t have strength to carry out because of our struggle against sin, let us accomplish by becoming gentle to those who sinned against us.” ~St. John Chrysostom

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“In order for us to become one with God, we are first and foremost required to exhibit meekness, as the Lord Himself says: “Come unto Me…and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29)….It is clear that without meekness we will never come to Christ, we will never become one with Him, and consequently, instead of experiencing bliss, we will be most wretched.
Only the meek are under God’s special protection. And this protection is the source of all the indescribable bounties which God showers upon us, of all our happiness and bliss, both temporal and eternal.
This leads us to understand why the Holy Fathers say: “Do not seek miracles, but rather seek a meek person, who is the supreme miracle.” Therefore, let us seek meekness above all and strive to attain it. But to this end we must understand, what exactly is meekness? Meekness is the mildness of a tender age, and not only tender age, but angelic mildness, and not only angelic, but Divine mildness. The most prominent and essential characteristic of saints was precisely such meekness.” ~Saint Seraphim (Sobolev), wonderworker of Sophia, http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/ct_love_meekness.html
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“To converse with mildness, what a gain it is!” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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“…mankind was endowed with the image of God from the first moment of his existence, man can only acquire the likeness of God by degrees. Saint John Chrysostom indicates that we become like God to the extent of our human power… We resemble Him in our gentleness and mildness and in regard to virtue.” ~ from http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2014/3/10/triumph-of-orthodoxy-first-sunday-of-holy-and-great-lent.html

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On Pursuing Virtue: Chastity

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

The third virtue listed in “The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians” is chastity. Chastity is the virtue which we must pursue in contrast to the sin of lust, which is the impure and unworthy desire for something evil. But how exactly do we define chastity? So often we think of chastity only in terms of sexual purity. That is an important part of it, but chastity is much more than that! Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “the quality or state of being chaste” (with sub-definitions which include abstention from sexual intercourse, purity in conduct, and even simplicity in design) as well as “personal integrity.”

St. Cyprian offered an even simpler definition: “For what is chastity but a virtuous mind added to watchfulness over the body?” In other words, to live a chaste lifestyle, we must have pure thoughts and carefully watch over what our body does. He understood that it is a constant process, offering the solution of how we can manage to live in that constant state of mindful purity: “chastity is ever to be cultivated by men and women; it is to be kept with all watchfulness within its bounds. The bodily nature is quickly endangered in the body, when the flesh, which is always falling, carries it away with itself… But in the midst of these things, nay, before these things, in opposition to disturbances and all vices, help must be sought for from the divine camp; for God alone, who has condescended to make men, is powerful also to afford sufficient help to men.” So we need to ask for help, and only God is able to help us to live in chastity!

St. John the Ascetic suggested that chastity, or purity of heart, should be the underlying goal for everything we do. “Everything we do, our every objective, must be undertaken for the sake of purity of heart…” He also offered practical advice for how we can go about living in that way: “…we must practice the reading of the Scripture, together with all the other virtuous activities… to hold our hearts free of the harm of every dangerous passion and in order to rise step by step to the high point of love.” Some of those practices are easier than others to carry out! But God will help us to do so, if we ask Him for help.

Fr. Justin Popovich suggested the following ways to measure whether or not we are attaining purity: “The sign of purity is: to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep; to be in pain with the sick and in anguish with the sinners; to rejoice with the repentant and to participate in the agony of those who suffer; to criticize no man and, in the purity of one’s own mind, to see all men as good and holy.” That’s a tall order, and helps to explain our earlier statement that God alone can help us live a chaste life. But it will be worth it: the person who lives a chaste life will be blessed. How blessed, you may ask? Well, St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote, “Every man who loves purity and chastity becomes the temple of God.” There is no greater blessing than to have God Himself dwelling within you!

So, dear brothers and sisters, let us pursue chastity with all of our hearts! It will not be an easy task. But with God’s help, we can grow in purity and slowly become a temple where He will dwell!

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for
Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
(The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian)

Here are additional quotes and resources that can help us as we pursue chastity:

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“Chastity is the dignity of the body, the ornament of morality, the sacredness of the sexes, the bond of modesty, the source of purity, the peacefulness of home, the crown of concord. Chastity is not careful whom it pleases but itself. Chastity is always modest, being the mother of innocency; chastity is ever adorned with modesty alone, then rightly conscious of its own beauty if it is displeasing to the wicked. Chastity seeks nothing in the way of adornments: it is its own glory. It is this which commends us to the Lord, unites us with Christ; it is this which drives out from our members all the illicit conflicts of desire, instills peace into our bodies: blessed itself, and making those blessed, whoever they are, in whom it condescends to dwell.” ~ St. Cyprian, “Of the Discipline and Advantage of Chastity” This epistle by St. Cyprian on chastity is a challenging but necessary read: http://orthodoxchurchfathers.com/fathers/anf05/anf05129.htm#P9762_3046993


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“Let us begin with an explanation of the word chastity. In Russian, the word is ‘tselomudrie,’ which means literally, “integrity of thought,” and consists not only in physical preservation (one can remain a virgin in body, but commit terrible acts of depravity in the mind; and to the contrary—one can live in a pious marriage and preserve his or her soul from sin), but also in a proper, wholesome, undisturbed view of the opposite sex, with purity of soul.” Read more about the role of chastity in relationships between men and women in this article by Priest Pavel (Gumerov): http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/46284.htm

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“Purity means that we put on the angelic nature. Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly heaven of the heart. Purity is a supernatural denial of nature, which means that a mortal and corruptible body is rivaling the celestial spirits in a truly marvellous way.” ~ St. John Climacus

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“Indeed, who was ever able to grasp Christ or His Spirit perfectly without first purifying himself? Chastity is the exercise which from childhood prepares the soul for glory by making it attractive and lovable, and with ease brings this adornment for her to the next world untried. It holds up great expectations as the reward for small toil and renders our bodies immortal. It is only fitting then that all should gladly praise and esteem chastity above all other things; some, because by practicing virginity they have been espoused to the Word: others, because by chastity they have been emancipated from that condemnation, `Earth thou art, and unto earth thou shalt return.’” ~St. Methodius, “The Symposium: A treatise on Chastity”

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“Offer to the Lord the weakness of your nature, fully acknowledging your own powerlessness, and imperceptibly you will receive the gift of chastity.” ~ St. John Climacus

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A person can be raised up above the earth by two wings, one is simplicity and the other is purity of heart. You must be simple in your actions and pure in your thoughts and feelings. With a pure heart you’ll seek God and with simplicity you’ll find Him and be glad. A pure heart passes through Heaven’s gate with ease. Elder Amphilochios Makris – http://agrino.org/cyberdesert/makris.htm

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“In an age where sexual expression is seen as one’s right, and where the view that one can not be fulfilled if they are not sexually active, keeping oneself chaste can be a daunting task, indeed.” Read Abbot Tryphon’s blog post on the need to submit to a spiritual father when pursuing chastity, here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2016/12/lust-6/

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“Chastity means being faithful to God first, in both soul and body.” Read this statement about chastity and purity from this SOYO document on Purity, Virginity, and Chastity: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2011_pvc_packet.pdf

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Chastity is the virtue we struggle towards as we combat lusts of all sorts. We can learn so much from the lives of saints who have successfully fought against lust. Here are four whose success in this area we can emulate: http://www.ocf.net/four-saints-who-struggled-with-lust/

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Confession is an excellent beginning in our struggle toward chastity. Prayer is the reinforcement that we need to uphold that confession. Here are a collection of prayers that will help us: http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2010/01/prayers-for-purity.html

On Pursuing Virtue: Liberality

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also  desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

The second virtue listed in the “Pocket Prayer Book” is the virtue of liberality. What exactly does that mean? The Free Dictionary.com offers a few definitions, including “The quality or state of being liberal or generous.” That is the meaning on which we will focus, for generosity is the virtuous antidote to the sin of greed. Indeed, the best way that we can struggle against greed, or “too great a desire for money or worldly goods,” is to respond instead with generosity, or “being liberal in giving”.

Fr. George Morelli, in his article “Living as a Christian in a Post-Christian World” (Orthodoxy Today.com, see link below) suggests that liberality is how we demonstrate St. Paul’s admonishment in 1 Cor. 12 that we are all part of Christ’s body and therefore must care for one another. He continues, “It does not mean mindless helping, but caring for those unable to care for themselves and at the very least doing what one can to enable that all in the world have a means to help themselves physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Caring for all in the world is a tall order. However, if we truly look at others as God sees them, we will notice that we are, indeed, one human family and we are thus mutually responsible. It falls to each of us to be generous with the other, to ensure that everyone has what is needed. St. John Chrysostom stated that generosity is not just a nice thing to do, but rather that it is necessary for salvation: “The rich exist for the sake of the poor. The poor exist for the salvation of the rich.”

So it appears that for the sake of our very soul, it is imperative that we evaluate our own lifestyle. We must look at our home, our bank account, our expenditures, our attention, even how we spend our time. As we examine each, let us ask ourselves: are we living in a manner driven by greed? Or are we walking in the virtue of liberality and being generous (with our time, attention, and assets) to all? Our salvation depends upon it.

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for
Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
(The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian)
Read Fr. George Morelli’s article here: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/view/morelli-living-as-a-christian-in-a-post-christian-world-discernment

Here are additional links and resources that can help us to learn more about and better walk in liberality:

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“There is no more practical way to love someone than to be generous with them and we’re not simply talking about money… How often have we neglected to simply give someone attention?…This generosity is within the capacity of each of us to give to the other: …it is time, it is attention, it is compassion, and yes, for those who are in need, it is even things, it is financial resources…” Listen to this podcast of a sermon on generosity: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/sermonsatstnicholas/cultivating_a_generous_spirit_lk_1619_31

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“If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity…” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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Children can teach us generosity. Read this short story and/or watch your own children’s generosity. Be prepared to learn from them: https://www.becomingminimalist.com/a-generous-appeal/

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“The amount we give is not judged by the largeness of the gifts but the largeness of our hearts. The poor woman who shares her meager pot of stew with another poor woman is far more to be praised than the rich man who throws a few gold coins into a collection at church.  But although most Christians acknowledge the truth of this, their words and actions convey a different message.  When a rich man makes a large gift to the church, he is heartily thanked; and although he will not feel the lack of that money himself, he is praised for his generosity.  When a poor man makes a small gift, nothing is said, even though that gift may cause him to go hungry, no one praises him or thanks him.  It would be better to praise no one than to confine our praise to the rich.  Better still, we should take trouble to observe every true act of generosity, whether by the rich or the poor, and then offer our praise.  Indeed let us be as generous with our praise as people are generous with their money.” ~ St. John Chrystostom

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“We know that God loves cheerful giving.  And why shouldn’t we be cheerful in giving?  In reality, we are not giving away what we have earned.  We are giving back what He has blessed us with.” Read more in this article on being generous with our time and attention as well as our  money: http://myocn.net/generosity-of-time/

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St. John Climacus’s “Ladder of Divine Ascent” includes this: Step 16, “On Love of Money:” “The lover of money sneers at the gospel and is a deliberate transgressor. The man of charity spreads his money about him. …the person who has conquered this vice has cut out care, but the person trapped by it can never pray freely to God.”
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“To have and to not share is greed.  To have and to share is gratitude.  Thanksgiving manifests itself in generosity, and generosity is giving without expecting anything in return.  It is a willingness not only to help a neighbor or a friend but even an enemy.” Read this encouraging meditation on the Good Samaritan here: http://myocn.net/thanksgiving-manifests-generosity/

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“We are God’s eyes, we are God’s feet, we are God’s ears, we are God’s arms… God is asking you and me to give, and … give… generously.” Challenge your perspective on generosity with Fr. Nicholas Louh’s homily on the topic here: http://myocn.net/generosity-having-a-giving-heart/

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“You are a sample engineer… every day you’re giving out a sample of God to people. Every day in our actions, what we do, in our generosity, we’re saying, ‘here, taste some of this.’ And the way in which I live will either draw people to God or draw people away from God.” Continue to learn about generosity in this homily by Fr. Nicholas Louh on the topic: http://myocn.net/be-a-giver/

On Pursuing Virtue: Humility

This is the first in a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that we as Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also  desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

We’ve heard the Proverb, “Pride comes before a fall,” and unfortunately, most of us have probably tested its truth the hard way: by experience. St. James says that “God resists the proud…” (James 4:6). If we don’t want God to resist US, then it appears that we need to stop being proud. That sounds so cut and dry, and is easy to say. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to do. We are tempted at every moment to fall into pride. However, we should not only turn away from pride, we should instead be making strides towards its counterpart, humility. St. James’ statement continues, “…but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we need as much grace as He will give to us. The promise of receiving God’s grace when we walk in humility should seal the deal for us in terms of choosing how we will live. To live a truly Christian life, one must live humbly, and continually turn away from pride.

But what exactly is humility? It is a starting point, a reality check, and the perfect companion to every other virtue.The Orthodox Church of America’s website offers a helpful article about humility (see link below). The article suggests that humility is where we must begin if we wish to live a truly Christian life. “In the Orthodox tradition, humility has often been called the ‘mother of all virtues,’ and pride has been named ‘the cause of all sin.’ The wise and honest person is the one who is humble.” It continues, “Genuine humility means to see reality as it actually is in God.” St. Isaac the Syrian suggests that humility is the seasoning that must accompany every other virtue in our life: “What salt is for any food, humility is for every virtue. To acquire it, a man must always think of himself with contrition, self-belittlement and painful self-judgment. But if we acquire it, it will make us sons of God.”

How can we begin to attain humility? For starters, we must study the Perfect Model of Humility, consider others better than ourselves, and then look for ways to serve all of creation regardless of whether that service is “in our job description.” Our Lord Himself modeled humility for us, as the Creator took on the form of the creature and humbled Himself throughout his earthly life, so we can certainly look to His example to see how One Who is Truly Humble would act. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians offers practical steps which we can follow in our pursuit of humility: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2.3–11) And the previously-mentioned OCA article also suggests this step: “the humble lay aside all vanity and conceit in the service of the least of God’s creatures, and to consider no good act as beneath one’s dignity and honor.”

This is only a tiny glimpse at the virtue of humility. There is so much for us to learn! In order to better pursue this virtue, we will need to continue to learn about it. Below are more quotes about the virtue that can help us to continue to grasp the depth and importance of this virtue in our lives and suggest ways for us to successfully pursue it. May we humble ourselves as Christ Himself did, so that, with the help of humility, we can better attain all of the other virtues and thus become closer to who He created us to be.


O Lord and Master of my life,Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, meekness of mind, patience and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Find the OCA’s article on humility here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/humility

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“True humility for the sinful man is to know that indeed, according to one’s own possibilities and gifts, each one is truly the first and greatest of sinners (cf. 1 Tim 1.15), for each one has sinned in his own way “like no other man” (Saint Andrew of Crete, 7th c., Penitential Canon). The truly humble person is the one who, confessing his sins, is “faithful over little,” and doing so, is exalted by the Lord and is “set over much.” Only such a person will “enter into the joy of his Master” (Mt 25.14–23, Lk 19.17). (https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/humility )

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“The holy Fathers also tell us that Theosis has stages. It begins from the lowest and progresses to the highest. Once we have humility, in order to become cleansed from the passions we start our asceticism by applying the holy commandments of Christ, beginning our daily struggle in Christ with repentance and much patience. The holy Fathers say that within His commandments God himself lies hidden. When a Christian observes them out of love and faith in Christ, then he unites with Him.” ~ from http://www.greekorthodoxchurch.org/theosis_qualifications.html

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“…true humility does not say humble words, nor does it assume humble looks, it does not force oneself either to think humbly of oneself, or to abuse oneself in self-belittlement. Although all such things are the beginning, the manifestations and the various aspects of humility, humility itself is grace, given from above. There are two kinds of humility, as the holy fathers teach: to deem oneself the lowest of all beings and to ascribe to God all one’s good actions. The first is the beginning, the second the end.” ~ St. Gregory of Sinai

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“A man who is truly humble is not troubled when he is wronged and he says nothing to justify himself against the injustice, but he accepts slander as truth; he does not attempt to persuade men that he is calumniated, but he begs forgiveness” ~. St. Isaac the Syrian, from The Ascetical Homilies

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“Humility is a nameless grace in the soul, its name known only to those who have learned it by experience. It is unspeakable wealth, a name and gift from God, for it is said: “learn not from an angel, nor from man, nor from a book, but from Me, that is, from My indwelling, from My illumination and action in you; for I am meek and humble in heart and in thought and in spirit, and your soul shall find rest from conflicts and relief from thoughts.” (Matthew 11:29) ~ St. John Climacus

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‘Seek God daily. But seek Him in your heart, not outside it. And when you find Him, stand with fear and trembling, like the Cherubim and the Seraphim, for your heart has become a throne of God. But in order to find God, become humble as dust before the Lord, for the Lord abhors the proud, whereas He visits those that are humble in heart, wherefore He says: ‘To whom will I look, but to him that is meek and humble in heart?’” ~ St. Nectarios of Aegina

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“When anyone out of kindness praises you to others, and they pass on these praises to you, do not consider them as a just tribute of esteem really due you, but ascribe them solely to the kindness of heart of the person who spoke of you in this way, and pray for him that God may strengthen him in his kindness of heart and in every virtue; but acknowledge yourself to be the greatest of sinners, not just out of humility, but truthfully, actually, knowing as you do your evil deeds.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“Since salvation comes to you as a free gift, give thanks to God your saviour. If you wish to present Him with gifts, gratefully offer from your widowed soul two tiny coins, humility and love, and God will accept these in the treasury of His salvation more gladly than the host of virtues deposited there by others. Dead through the passions, pray like Lazarus to be brought to life again, sending to God these two sisters to intercede with Him; and you will surely attain your goal.” ~ St. Theognostos

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We can have a “checkup” on our humility, via these words from St. Isaac the Syrian: “Humility is accompanied by modesty and self-collectedness: that is, chastity of the senses; a moderated voice; mean ( i.e. unadorned) speech ; self-belittlement; poor raiment; a gait that is not pompous; a gaze directed toward the earth; superabundant mercy; easily flowing tears; a solitary soul; a contrite heart; imperturbability to anger; undistracted senses; few possessions; moderation in every need; endurance; patience; fearlessness; manliness of heart born of deliberations that are ponderous, not light; extinction of thoughts; guarding of mysteries; chastity; modesty; reverence; and above all, continually to be still and always to claim ignorance.”

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“Humility is the thought and conviction of our heart that we are more sinful than all men and unworthy of the mercy of God. Reviling ourselves does not mean that we have true humility. True humility is when someone shames and abuses us publicly, and we endure it and say, “God ordered that brother to shame me for my many sins.” We should receive everything as a command from God. When someone shames you, say that God commanded him to do it. When someone takes something of yours, God commanded him to take it, in order to make you a monk. When you are removed from a higher place, God changed your place so that you would change from your passions and bad habits. This is true humility. And the pride is when we trust in ourselves, in our mind, our strength, when we think we are more capable than someone else, better, more beautiful, more virtuous, more pleasing to God. Then it is certain that we are overcome by the ugly sin of pride, from which may God, who humbled Himself for our salvation, preserve us. Let us humble ourselves, brethren, because a proud man cannot be saved. Let us weep for our sins here, so we can rejoice forever in the next life, for after we leave this world everyone will forget us. Let us not hope in men, but only in God…” ~ St. Paisius

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“What does purity of heart have to do with humility? Everything!” Read Fr. George Morelli’s Lenten reflection on humility here: http://www.antiochian.org/node/17377

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“If you wish to be truly humble, then consider yourself lower than all, worthy of being trampled on by all; for you yourself daily, hourly trample upon the law of the Lord, and therefore upon the Lord Himself.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
Read more of his hard-hitting-but-truthful words on humility in this blog: http://livingorthodoxfaith.blogspot.com/2009/11/on-humility-by-st-john-of-kronstadt.html

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“What is our level of humility? What can we do to become more humble yet not neglect any of our duties nor fully use our talents?

One discipline to help us in this is the Jesus Prayer. It is a prayer of humility and one that when practiced like the Fathers instruct us will lead us to a mind where this prayer going continually no matter what we are doing.” This practical advice on pursuing humility was found here: http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2016/03/one-necessity-humility.html (See the bottom of the blog for links to many more blog posts about humility!)

 

On Pursuing the Virtues: an Introduction

Author’s note: During Great Lent Orthodox Christians focus more intently on becoming more godly and less self-centered. Because of this, Great Lent seems the best possible time to feature a series of articles on pursuing virtue. We will spend the next few weeks learning about virtues in order to better pursue them. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

In this series of blogs, we will focus on how we parents can work to acquire the virtues. We will focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians: humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence. As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to become more like God, or to grow in theosis, we must not only repent and actively turn away from the sins in our life, but we must also labor actively towards attaining the virtues. Each blog post will focus on one virtue and ways to work towards attaining that virtue.

We are purposefully choosing to focus these blog posts on ourselves, the parents, rather than on our children. This is an intentional choice. We parents are the models, the ones who should be best living a godly life in our family. Throughout the ages, the saints have spoken about this very thing:

“The spirit of faith and piety in the parents should be regarded as the most powerful means for the preservation, upbringing, and strengthening of the life of Grace in children.”~ St. Theophan the Recluse
“What saves and makes for good children is the life of the parents in the home. The parents need to devote themselves to the love of God. They need to become saints in the relation to their children. And the joy that will come to them, the Holiness that will visit them, will shower grace on their children.” ~ St. Porphyrios

Because we parents are responsible to lead godly lives before our children, and because godly lives are filled with virtue instead of sins, we will focus these blog posts on ways to actively seek the virtues. When we actively pursue the virtues we are not just running  away from evil: we are struggling towards something, towards virtues. Carole Buleza, director of the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education recently explained it like this: “We are made in God’s image and likeness. The image is like God’s stamp on us as a human person. It cannot be changed. The likeness, on the other hand, can change and grow. It is the potential to grow evermore godlike… Acquiring virtues [is] a way to grow evermore Godlike. The virtues are specific, [as are] the rungs on St. John Climacus’ ladder. We can choose one, and with prayer, proceed to discipline ourselves so as to acquire it. When our lives are not focused on a major struggle with evil, we need to struggle in the positive direction by seeking to attain the virtues. The saints tell us that suffering (or struggle) is a necessary component of theosis.”

So, fellow parents, let us learn together about the capital virtues. By the grace of God, let us focus in on at least one of them and struggle towards it with all of our heart. Let us lead our family by example, struggling against sin not just by fleeing/fighting our passions, but also by actively struggling towards virtues. By the grace and mercy of God, may we grow evermore like Him. And as we do so, may our children watch, learn, and follow.

This prayer of St. Ephrem will be a great aid to us in this struggle:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, meekness of mind, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Here are some links that will help us as we begin to think about obtaining the virtues in our life:
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The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians  is available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-pocket-prayer-book-for-orthodox-christians-vinyl-cover/ and is an excellent companion for any Orthodox Christian! It fits in a pocket or purse and contains prayers, thought-provoking information such as the capital virtues which we are working to attain, the entire Divine Liturgy, preparation for confession, and more. Some of the prayers in the book (but not the section on virtues, unfortunately) are also available online here: http://www.antiochian.org/orthodox-prayers

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“All the virtues are aspects of the one great virtue, the virtue of love. When a Christian acquires love, he has all the virtues. It is love that expels the prime cause of all the evils and all the passions from the psyche of man. This cause, according to the holy Fathers, is selfishness. All the evils within us spring from selfishness, which is a diseased love for one’s own self. This is the reason why our Church has asceticism. Without asceticism, there is no spiritual life, no struggle, and no progress. We obey, fast, keep vigil, labour with prostrations, and stand upright, all so that we may be cleansed of our passions.” Read this and more in this excellent article on theosis: http://www.greekorthodoxchurch.org/theosis_qualifications.html

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“Let us cleanse ourselves, brethren, with the queen of the virtues: for behold, she is come, bringing us a wealth of blessings. She quells the uprising of the passions, and reconciled sinners to the Master. Therefore let us welcome her with gladness, and cry aloud to Christ our God: O risen from the dead, who alone art free from sin, guard us uncondemned as we give thee glory.” (one of the Four Sichera at the Praises, Matins, Meatfare Sunday, as found here: http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2015/02/16/four-stichera-at-the-praises-matins-meatfare-sunday-i-think-upon-that-day-and-hour-when-we-shall-all-stand-naked/)

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“The goal of the Christian life is not to resist temptation but to acquire virtue. We are called to seek the Kingdom of God, not just to avoid hell.”  (Mamalakis, “Parenting Towards the Kingdom”, page 168)

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“Christians, have we understood the great responsibility that we have taken on before God through baptism? Have we come to know that we must conduct ourselves as children of God, that we must align our will with the will of God, that we must remain free from sin, that we must love God with all our hearts and always patiently await union with Him? Have we thought about the fact that our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbor? Do we have the feeling that we must become holy and perfect, children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? We must struggle for this, so that we may not be shown unworthy and rejected. Let none of us lose our boldness, nor neglect our duties, nor be afraid of the difficulties of spiritual struggle. For we have God as a helper, who strengthens us in the difficult path of virtue.”
+ St. Nektarius of Aegina, The Path to Happiness, 2 http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/09/15/st-nektarios-christians-have-we-understood-the-great-responsibility-that-we-have-taken/

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“Every Christian has the power to heal infirmities—not of others, but his own, and not of the body, but of the soul—that is, sins and sinful habits—and to cast out devils, rejecting evil thoughts sown by them, and extinguishing the excitement of passions enflamed by them…

“…But your job is to work upon yourself: for this you are chosen; the rest is in the hands of God. He who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
+ St. Theophan the Recluse, Thoughts for Each Day of the Year: According to the Daily Church Readings from the Word of God http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/09/02/st-theophan-the-recluse-every-christian-is-chosen/

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This book is an excellent resource for helping parents to nurture the virtues in their children:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/walking-in-wonder-nurturing-christian-virtues-in-your-children/ Read a few excerpts here: http://www.antiochian.org/node/16620

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“A troubled mind and chaotic thoughts are the fruit of a disordered life, and these darken the soul. When passions are driven from the soul with the help of the virtues, and the curtain of passions is drawn back from the eyes of the mind, then the intellect can perceive the glory of the other world. The soul grows by means of the virtues; the mind is confirmed in the truth and becomes unshakable, girded for encountering and slaying every passion. Freedom from passions is brought about by crucifying both the intellect and the flesh. This makes a man capable of contemplating God. The intellect is crucified when unclean thoughts are driven out of it, and the body when passions are uprooted. A body given over to pleasure cannot be the abode of the knowledge of God. True knowledge i.e. the revelation of the mysteries – is attained by means of the virtues, and this is – the knowledge that saves.” – Saint Justin (Popovich) of Cheliye Monastery in Serbia

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“Sailors need to know when to use ballast or throw down the anchor, lest the ship sink and they drown. In like manner, the virtues enable us to respond correctly to those moments of life that are the moral equivalents to such conditions at sea. However, an ability to discern these moments and respond appropriately entails more than formal techniques of decision-making; just as successful sailing requires that one knows more than just the techniques of good navigation. As the latter requires a knowledge of and familiarity with the sea that cannot be taught in books but can only be learned from sea-faring itself, so the moral life requires that we also be virtuous. The virtues are not just the moral equivalent of techniques of good sailing; rather they are the way as well as the end of goodness and happiness.” from http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/art/awakening-the-moral-imagination-teaching-virtues-through-fairy-tales.html (written by an Orthodox author)