“Humility is the chariot in which the ascent to God is made upon the clouds”

The spiritual champion of evil is full of resources for its furtherance. It has often happened that as soon as the foundations of virtue have been laid in a soul, he has begun to under­mine them with despair and lack of faith. Often, too, when the walls of the house of virtue were being built, he has assaulted them by means of inertia and indolence. Even when the house has been roofed over with good works, he has used arrogance and presumption to destroy it. Nevertheless, stand firm and do not be afraid, for anyone zealous in doing good is even more resourceful. In resisting evil, virtue has the greater power, since it receives heavenly assistance from him who can do all things, and who confirms all virtue’s lovers in goodness. Consequently, virtue not only remains unmoved by the manifold wicked wiles of the adversary, but even has the power to raise up and restore those sunk in the depths of evil and easily to lead them back to God through repentance and humility.

The present parable is sufficient proof; for the tax collector, in spite of his profession and of having lived in the depths of sin, joins the ranks of those living upright lives through a single prayer, and that a short one; he is relieved of his burden of sin, he is lifted up, he rises above all evil, and is admitted to the company of the righteous, justified by the impartial Judge himself.

The Pharisee, on the other hand, is condemned by his prayer in spite of being a Pharisee, and in his own eyes a person of importance. Because his “righteousness” is false and his insolence extreme, every syllable he utters provokes God’s anger.

But why does humility raise us to the heights of holiness, and self-conceit plunge us into the abyss of sin? It is because when we have a high regard for ourselves, and that in the presence of God, he quite reasonably abandons us, since we think we have no need of his assistance. But when we regard ourselves as nothing and therefore look to heaven for mercy, it is not unreasonable that we should obtain God’s compassion, help, and grace. For as Scripture says: “The Lord resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

“This man went away justified, and not the other,” says the Lord; “because all who exalt themselves will be humbled but those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

For since the devil is pride itself, and arrogance his own particular vice, this sin conquers and drags down with itself every human virtue tinged with it. Similarly, humility before God is the virtue of the good angels, and it conquers every human vice to which a sinner has fallen prey.

Humility is the chariot in which the ascent to God is made upon the clouds that are to carry up to him those destined to be with God for endless ages, according to the apostle’s prophecy: “We shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we be always with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17). For humility is like a cloud. Produced by repent­ance, it draws streams of tears from the eyes, makes unworthy people worthy, and raises up and presents to God those freely justified by reason of their right dispositions.

St Gregory Palamas

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1 Response to “Humility is the chariot in which the ascent to God is made upon the clouds”

  1. dianelos says:

    That’s excellent.

    I was thinking that as repentance is the process of transforming us into the likeness of Christ and thus literally moving us close to God and to freedom and joy, sinning is the process of transforming us away from the likeness of Christ and thus moving us far from God to fall into spiritual slavery and anguish. Humility is the opposite of pride (“the devil is pride itself” as St Gregory Palamas above says). And we all know from personal experience that pride easily moves us to anger which in turn easily moves us to hate and violent sin. In contrast humility makes the evil that befalls us kind of slip off us without spiritually injuring us: When we have humility it is easier to not get angry with those who hurt us and to forgive them. In contrast pride makes of us a bigger target for evil. Indeed, when we have humility we realise that everything we have is ultimately a gift, and that we are not entitled to anything. Which opens for us the door of steadfast happiness. The practice of humility is thus a great joy and peace and freedom giver. I am reminded of how eastern religions teach us about the strength of the bamboo to bend to the wind instead of breaking like the tree does. Indeed true humility comes from strength and not from weakness as some philosophers such as Nietzsche thought. Of course there is also false humility, the pretense, the hypocritical humility – which as all lie moves us away from God.

    Christ’s way of being is the axis around which our entire life turns– it is indeed the reason of creation. The only thing that is truly significant every day in our lives is whether we have moved a little towards Christ or away from Him. Now I happen to think that Christ’s death on the cross was not what saved the world. After all I can’t believe that the salvation of the world ever hang on whether Pilate would judge Jesus rightly or not. I believe that what saved the world was Christ’s incarnation and suffering among us, for that event connected earth and heaven; by that event the limited human nature was connected to the infinite nature of God. I hold that Christ’s crucifixion was simply a tragic accident; perhaps one that was probable to obtain given the conditions of the time and place, but not that God required Christ’s death on the cross as a means or tool for the salvation of the world. It seems amazing to me that those who argue that is is never the case that an evil deed produces a good result would also argue that one of the worse evil deeds ever committed would produce the greatest possible good. On the other hand, how Jesus responded to that very great evil done to Him is a great example for all of us: He responded with humility and forgiveness. Very few of us will ever suffer such a great evil. So if innocent Christ responded with humility and forgiveness to that terrible evil, that is the least we should do when suffering some evil.

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