Three main virtues must be involved in every virtue, like thread in rosary beads, without which a virtue shall not be considered a virtue. These are wisdom, love, and humbleness. Every virtue should be practiced prudently otherwise it may turn into something different or to a distorted form of virtue. Moreover, a virtue should include love for God, love for good, and love for others, or it will lose its value. And as the saints say, it should be practiced with a humble heart otherwise it may become a means for nourishing vainglory.
Here we shall speak about examples of the relationship between humbleness and certain virtues or gifts.
The connection between humbleness and Grace:
The Scripture teaches us that, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (Jas 4: 6) For when grace gives gifts, the proud boasts of them and becomes lifted up. Therefore the Lord entrusts His grace and gifts to the humble who always say, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory." (Ps 115: 1) See what deep words Mar Ishak says in this regard, 'If God gives you a certain gift, ask Him for humbleness to protect it.'
Actually, humbleness protects the gifts against boasting and vainglory. That is why we are astonished at those who ask God for the gift of speaking in tongues, while there are no foreigners who need such tongues to understand the preached word. Here tongues will be a means for vainglory and claiming to have attained "the fullness of the Spirit"!!
How dangerous are gifts for those who have not yet attained humbleness, for they rejoice at them to satisfy the ego and its desire for elevation! Here we remember the seventy disciples sent by the Lord to preach the word and given the gift of casting away demons. They returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." But the Lord rebuked them, saying, "… do not rejoice in this … but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven." (Lk 10: 17, 20)
The same applies when the grace helps someone to acquire a certain virtue.
The humble ascribes all credit to God, not to himself, and says with St. Paul the Apostle, "By the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Cor 15: 10) The humble fears lest, in case of boasting or pride, the grace forsakes him, and he falls. With self-denial, the humble tries to conceal his virtues, and to forget them, and his feelings turn into gratitude rather than pride.
The proud is liable to lose their virtues or not benefit from them or be justified by them, as in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18: 9, 14).
The Pharisee stood in the temple boasting of his virtues, even before God! He said, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men —extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess." Nothing of these, the tithes, fasting, doing no sin, benefited him, for he did not remember the work of grace with him. So, he went down from the temple unjustified.
The connection between humbleness and repentance:
Only the humble can repent, while the proud cannot.
The proud cannot see any defects that need correction, or any sins that need repentance. He is righteous in his own eyes. He refuses any word about repentance and holds who says it as an enemy. How then could he repent, while seeing nothing wrong in himself?!
The proud, seeing that he is beyond the level of sinning, becomes incautious, and falls.
While claiming to be powerful he incautiously exposes himself to causes of falling. So the devil strikes him unto death … that is why the Scripture says about sin that it has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by it were strong (Prov 7: 26). By "strong" here is meant those who suppose themselves strong.
Mar Ishak speaks about arrogance as a cause of failure, saying, 'Who boasts of virtue falls in sin, and who boasts of knowledge falls in heresies and heterodoxies.' This is true, for the Scripture says, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." (Prov 16: 18)
Even if the proud admits being a sinner, and seeks repentance, he will depend on his own will power and spiritual exercises!
The proud supposes he has self-control, but he soon discovers that he lacks the power that enables him to resist all the wiles of the enemy, or to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph 6: 16). Nevertheless, he may insist on this claim!
The humble on the contrary admits his being sinful and weak, and in need for power from above to help him repent. He does not rely on his own power, but from all his heart he repeats the deep words, "Restore me, and I will return" (Jer 31: 18), and the words of the Psalm, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow … Create in me a clean heart … renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Ps 51: 7, 10) He prays the words of the Third Hour Prayer, "Purify me from the filthiness of the body and the spirit."
When God facilitates for the humble the way of repentance, he would not ascribe this to his spiritual struggling, but to God's grace that delivered him from sin. So he gives thanks instead of boasting.
The humble, being aware of his weakness, guards himself against the slightest spiritual wars.
The humble is cautious against the slightest slip, even that which fights beginners. He says the words which St. Anthony with humbleness said to the devils, 'I am too weak to fight the least of you!' So, when he repents, he does not forget his previous sins and weaknesses, but feels contrition and weeps like David in his repentance.
There is an exchanged relationship between repentance and inner humbleness:
Humbleness leads to repentance, and repentance leads to humbleness. It leads the repentant to contrition of heart, and the humble is not abhorred by God. David, as an example, in his repentance, humbleness, contrition, and tears, says to the Lord, "My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word." (Ps 119: 25) "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; eek Your servant." (Ps 119: 176) "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes." (Ps 119: 71) "I am weary with my groaning; all night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears." "Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak." (Ps 6: 6, 2)
The connection between humbleness and confession:
Humbleness helps a person confess his sins and reveal his thoughts and wars, but the proud would not reveal his wars and weaknesses, so they remain without correction.
By confession, the humble feels humiliation, but considers this useful, to hold him back from returning to the wrongdoing. The proud on the contrary tries to avoid confession and tries to justify himself, or refrains under the pretext of feeling ashamed or not desiring to be a stumbling block to the others. Actually, the devil removes away the feeling of shame from a person when committing sin, and introduces it at the time of confession. Therefore, the humble overcomes embarrassment by humbleness. Being aware of his weaknesses and failures, he feels compassion on sinners.
Compassion on sinners:
Knowing the weakness of mankind and the strength of the diabolic wars makes the humble feel compassion on sinners and treats them kindly, putting before his eyes the words of St. Paul, "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them - those who are mistreated - since you yourselves are in the body also." (Heb 13: 3) "… considering yourself, lest you also be tempted." (Gal 6: 1)
He says in his heart, 'we all are of weak nature!' remembering Elijah the Prophet, who though "a man with a nature like ours," could make heaven not rain, then he prayed and the heaven gave rain (Jas 5: 17).
The humble forgives the sinners, seeing that he also is in need for being forgiven like them.
He has mercy upon them, as the holy fathers say, 'Who has mercy upon the others will find the door of mercy open for him, for the Lord says, blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Mt 5: 7). I am like them, a sinner, in need of mercy. What man sows the same will be reaped, as the Lord says, "With the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."' (Mt 7: 2)
The humble, in his mercy upon the sinners and the weak, would not distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving, for he says, 'If mercy is confined to the deserving, I will not receive it.'
Our compassionate God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Mt 5: 45). Therefore, the humble never disdains anybody, is never provoked against anybody, or judges anybody. He treats everybody with compassion, kindness, and love. He shows mercy even to those who cause him troubles, and looks after their needs instead of seeking to take revenge.
The proud on the other hand, may look disdainfully and proudly upon the sinners, like a mountain top looking over a swamp down in the valley, as if he has never sinned and will never sin! That is why he judges the sinners and despises them, and may even defame them.
Next week, God willing, we will speak about the relationship between humbleness and other virtues.