Elder Paisios on Humbleness and Patience
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Jc 4:6)
Father Paisios used to say:- When we patiently endure our problems and turn to God for help, we notice that He gives us the best possible solution. Unfortunately, in our days, people are very impatient. We do not love patience at all. Christ assured us, however, that only the ones who are patient will inherit the Kingdom of God. (“…they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.” Lk 8:15- “but he who endures to the end will be saved” Mt 24:13- “by your endurance you will gain your lives” Lk 21:19.)
“Sometimes God allows for a relative or a fellow worker to cause us problems in order to exercise our patience and humbleness; however, instead of being grateful for the chance God gives us, we react and refuse to be cured. It is like refusing to pay the doctor who is giving us a shot when we are ill.”
“The good Christian must also endure his corrupt supervisors; for they are amazed by his good behaviour, while they are being unfair to him.”
“God does not want us, His children, to be pestered. He gives us temptations and hardships in order to become perfect. Temptations will cease to exist in our life, when we reach the level of perfection.”
“We, Christians, ought to love afflictions and not try to get rid of them; afflictions are necessary means leading to our perfection.”
“When people treat us unjustly, we must be happy, because God’s justice, which is superior to human justice, will protect us. We should either seek human justice, or patiently wait for the justice of God. We must be careful, however, not to pursue an unjust treatment, because this would be unfair on our part and would indicate lack of love towards other people.”
“It is for our own benefit to hope for divine justice, when treated unfairly, and not react to the injustice done to us. Not only we will profit from this, but later on our children will be benefited as well. However, the opposite thing happens, when people curse us and the curse is just.”
“When God sees that we are proud and arrogant, He allows for the presence of temptations in our life. He will take them away from us, only when He sees that we humble ourselves.”
When I first went to the monastery, I wondered: “Should I humble myself and obey only the elder, or the fathers as well as the novice monks?”
One day, while discussing with Father Paisios a relevant subject, he said to me:
- My mind tells me that even the animals are better than me; so, I humble myself and obey them. Very early this morning, being tired from praying all night and exhausted because of my illness, I lay down to rest. After a while, I heard a kitten miaowing outside my cell as if she needed something. I really wanted to rest, but I humbled myself and went against my own will. I obeyed the kitten and replied to her calling. I went to open the door. It had started to rain and I let her in so she wouldn’t get wet. What do you think then? Should I obey the animals or not? My thoughts tell me I should.
- Elder, should we practice obedience with discretion, or obey with complete trust without questioning?
-After we voluntarily submit ourselves to a good spiritual father who is humble and giving, then we should obey him without questioning. I will give you an example, so that you may understand the way God functions in our lives. Suppose the abbot tells you to go to Iviron Monastery and take the boat to run an errand at Lavra Monastery. And you answer him according to your own logic: “Father, don’t you think it would be of greater spiritual benefit for me to walk through the mountain since I would be alone? The boat is very crowded and I might be involved in useless conversation that would spiritually harm me.” The abbot might tell you to do as you like, because he does not wish to upset you. You, however, must realise that you are acting according to your own will and you are not under his obedience. Thus, God may allow for a mishap while you will be walking through the mountain, i.e. to be bitten by a snake, to fall and hurt your leg or get lost, in order to teach you to be humble and not look selfishly after your own good, but instead let Him do so. On the other hand, if you did not express your own will and obeyed your abbot by taking the boat to Lavra Monastery, then God would have protected you, and He would see that your encounter with the other people wouldn’t have spiritually harmed you.
We should unhesitatingly trust and obey our spiritual fathers. If we think over and examine with our own logic whatever they say to us, then we should know that we are not obedient to our spiritual father, but rather to our judgment and opinion. We must bear in mind that the grace of God is attracted by the simple-hearted people, who humbly trust their spiritual fathers and do not have confidence in their own thoughts.
The aim of complete and trusting obedience of a monk to his Elder is the perfect purification of his mind and the total submission of his own will to divine grace. When a monk is granted this gift then the goal of obedience has been fulfilled and “…against such there is no law” (Gal 5:23).
Father Paisios said that the spiritual work of a Christian should focus on the acquirement of humbleness.
- God loves man very much; He knows very well the problems of each one of us, and wishes to help us before we ask Him to do so. Since God is omnipotent, there are no difficulties which He cannot overcome, except one. The difficulty God faces, and I repeat, it is the only one, is that He “cannot” help us when our soul is not humble. God “feels sad” because, while He sees His creature suffer, He “cannot” offer any help. Whatever help He offers, it will harm the person because he lacks a humble mindset.
Whatever happens to man, depends absolutely on his humbleness. For instance, we see a man striving and finally being subdued by one of his passions. God allows this to happen for only one reason: because his soul is filled with conceited thoughts and pride. Perhaps this man hates this specific passion and fights really hard to get rid of it. He will not achieve anything, however, because God does not help him; and He will not help him unless he humbles himself. Although he hates this specific passion, he is subdued by pride, which is the passion that introduces man to all other passions. “Pride is the cause of every passion,” St. John of the Ladder.
Man wants to progress spiritually and asks God to give him love, prayer, obedience and all virtues. We should be aware that God will not give us what we are asking for, no matter how hard we try, unless we humble ourselves. If our only aim is humility, then God will give us everything for free.
God wants and desires only one thing from us: our humbleness. He does not need anything else; just to humble ourselves, so He can actually make us partakers of His divine grace, which was granted to us through the mystery of Holy Baptism. Although we did not love Him yet, neither had we struggled to acquire His grace, He gave it to us as a gift out of His extreme kindness. He is only asking from us to humble ourselves and respond out of gratefulness and appreciation to His love. Thus, divine grace, which abides in us, will be activated and function accordingly. It will make us love God and get to know Him; it will do everything for us, if we only humble ourselves and allow for it to act. The only obstacle to the energy of God’s grace is our pride, our lack of humility.
St. Peter in chapter 5 of his 1st Epistle helps us clearly understand our fault and tells us what we should do: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.” (1Pt 5: 5-7)