Humbleness does not mean that you descend from a higher to a lower level, nor to feel that in spite of your greatness you undervalue yourself or conceal your greatness, for such feeling of being great yet willing to descend, or concealing it, does not reveal humbleness, because although you conceal it, you see it clearly.
God alone is the Highest, and He alone condescends from high, while all human beings are dust and ashes.
Humbleness in truth, as the church fathers say, is to know oneself, to know who you are: You are of the dust of the earth! Rather, the dust is older than you are, for God created it first, before creating you!
I once conversed with the dust in a poem, saying:
O, you dust of the earth, my grandfather,
Even the grandfather of all people;
You are my origin, you who are,
Older in age than Adam;
You are my destiny in tomb,
When I will be laid in ground.
Brother, if you think over the matter with humbleness, you will see that the dust did not raise God's anger as you did with your sins. Know then that you are not only dust, but also sinful and weak.
You ought to be not only aware of that but also convinced, with true feeling within. Even when you are in the depth of your power, be sure that such power is not from you, but a heavenly gift to you from God who supports your weakness. If the grace forsakes you even for one moment, you will fall as you did before.
Many people utter humble words, which may gain for them esteem in the sight of the others. They know this and desire it. Someone may see that he is sinful and weak, yet when one faces him with it, he is stirred up and gets angry, and his heart changes against that person and does not take him as a friend.
True humbleness comes first from within.
It comes from conviction of the heart, not by hypocrisy or show up, nor as an outer garment to appear righteous in the sight of people. You know well from your past life and by evidence that you are weak and sinful.
Therefore, it is not enough that you know yourself and your weakness, but you ought to deal with yourself as you actually are.
If people treat you as a sinner, you should not get angry or grumble or retaliate, but be convinced that you deserve that. On the other hand if people do not treat you according to your sins because they do not know you well, you have then to be humbled within and thank God from your heart for the way they treat you while you do not deserve it, and for covering your sins and not revealing them to the others.
Therefore, the humble never dares to praise himself.
The humble does not see himself as merely sinful and weak, but even the most sinful and weak, at least because he could not benefit from the opportunities granted him. He never considers himself better than others, and even if he is better in a certain aspect, he knows for certain that he is weaker in many other aspects he knows about himself. That is why the humble never judges anybody.
The humble always takes the lowest place according to the Lord's command in (Lk 14: 10).
By the lowest place is meant the dignity, not the location, as the spiritual elderly said, 'wherever you go, be the least of your brethren and their servant.' It is also said, 'Be the last to speak, and do not interrupt a speaker to say a word.' 'Try to learn, rather to teach and reveal your knowledge.'
A humble person likes to do virtue in secret according to the Lord's command in (Mt 6).
It is not proper for the humble to speak about what good works he does or what honors he attains. St. Paul, who was taken up to the third heaven and heard unutterable words, did not say that such a matter happened to him. He rather said, "I know a man – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God know – such a one was caught up to the third heaven … he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2 Cor 12: 2- 4)
The virtue of a humble person is like a treasure hid in a field. (Mt 13: 44)
The biographies of the saints reveal to us stories of humble saints who hid their virtues and their knowledge, denied themselves, and lived unknown to people, satisfied that God knows them. To them apply the words of the Lord in the Song, "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed." (Song 4: 12)
When St. Makarius the Great was asked which virtues are the greatest, he said, 'Since pride made an angel fall from his high state, and made man fall, so also humbleness lifts up the humble from the lowest places.' Indeed, for God lifts the needy out of the ash heap, and seats him with the princes of His people (Ps 113:7, 8) "He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly." (Lk 1: 52)
• St. Augustine says: The humble are like a rock, which is firm and solid, and does not drop down, while the proud are like smoke while rising up and spreading, it vanishes and disperses.
Another example introduced by the saints about humbleness and pride is: 'A tree branch full of fruit is usually bent down because of the heaviness of what it bears, whereas an empty branch is lifted up!'
Another example is the foundation and the building: the foundation works in secret, and is hidden inside the earth, invisible to everybody, though it carries the whole building with self-denial! It also reveals the beauty and greatness of the building, yet people praise the building, being visible to them, and hardly does anybody praise the hidden foundation!
• St. Moses the Black said, 'Humbleness of the heart comes on top of all virtues, the same as pride is the source of all evils.'
• Mar Isaac says, 'To know one's own sins is better than to benefit the whole world by one's appearance, and to regrets one's sins, is better than to raise the dead, and to be worthy of realizing one's own sins is better than deserving to see angels!'
• Some saint likewise said, 'Be like the tax collector so that you may not be condemned like the Pharisee.'
• Another saint said, 'I prefer to be defeated by my humbleness, than be victorious by boasting.'
• A brother once said to St. Timothy, 'I see my thoughts always with God.' The saint said to him, 'It is better to see yourself below all the creation.'
• An elderly father once said, 'Humbleness saved many without labor, while labor without humbleness is in vain, because many labored, became proud, and perished.'
• Some other saint said, 'If humbleness goes down unto Hades, it will rise unto heaven, and if greatness rises unto heaven, it will go down unto Hades.'
• Abba Bimen said, 'The earth does not fall, because it is established down, so also the humble never falls.'
• St. Evagrius said, 'Devils fear the humble, because they know that he is the dwelling place of the Lord.' 'As the multiplicity of fruit brings down the branches, so also the multiplicity of virtues brings down man's heart.'
• When people once asked an elderly father, 'How is it that some people say they see angels?' The father answered them, saying, 'Blessed is he who sees his sins always.'
• Simeon Al Amoudi (the pillar) said, 'Humbleness is the dwelling place of the Spirit and the place of His rest. The humble never falls, for how could he fall while his conscience and thoughts are below everybody? … Great is the fall of pride, and great is the loftiness of humbleness. Let us then train ourselves from now on to hold to humbleness, and make it our custom, even against our heart's will.'
• St. Doretheos said, 'Actually, there is nothing more powerful than humbleness, for nothing can conquer it.'
• Mar Isaac likewise said, 'The branches of a tree full of fruit bends down and does not move with every wind, whereas the branches of a tree with no fruit is lifted up and moves with every wind.'
• He also said, 'It is acceptable to God to fall with humbleness and regret, more than be lifted up by boasting.'
• Some father once said, 'When the first man desired to have the glory of divinity, as Satan said to him, "You will be like God" (Gen 3: 5), he lost the glory of humanity which he had, being created in God's image (Gen 1: 27).
Some more is still to be said next week, God willing.