Repentance and Humility and The Struggle for Virtue
In beginning to read The Struggle for Virtue by Archbishop Averky, the introduction was enough for me to realize I wanted to read the rest of the book. If you have not read the previous post yet, please do so. As with many books in the realm of Orthodoxy, skipping the introduction on this book is a bad idea.
While the introductory material defines asceticism and makes the case for why it is still so important for our world, chapter one emphasizes the contrast between pride and humility to serve as the basis for our ascetic struggle.
Fittingly, the beginning of our struggle against our fallen nature starts with the fall itself:
The essence of our primogenitors’ sin was that they did not want to obey God, but rather desired to become gods themselves.
By following our own desires above God’s desires for us, and by claiming authority for ourselves to determine our life (authority which belongs to God), we set ourselves up as gods. This is the essence of pride. We lift ourselves to a position not merited. In the case of the garden, it was the desire to become like God which drove Adam and Eve to disobedience.
“Repent” — that is, lay aside your pride, acknowledge yourself as a sinner, and hasten to God not with a feeling of self-satisfied superiority, but with the feeling of your spiritual poverty, your nothingness, your indecency, and pray to God for the forgiveness of your sins and for mercy.
Here we see the remedy for such pride: humility. It seems logical enough that if we elevate ourselves beyond our proper place—and in so doing fall into sin — the only remedy for such sin is that we be brought low, either by voluntary or involuntary means. For our First Parents, this humility was involuntary, as seen when they were cast out of the garden. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to be brought low of our own volition, though God still does often humble us before we recognize our need for humility.
According to the Lord’s words, those who desire to enter the Kingdom of God must humble themselves like little children.
pride always sooner or later disgraces itself, and the proud man falls, perishing with all his self-confidence, plans, and calculations.
Indeed, and this is why sometimes God allows such terrible things to happen to us. In being brought low we may turn back to him in humility. Conversely, we may see our own pride and in turn acknowledge our spiritual poverty. In either case, if such humility is necessary to enter the Kingdom, it seems that nothing should cause us offense if it brings about humility and repentance.
Such, then, is the “spirit of Christ”! The spirit of Christ is the spirit of humility, the antithesis of the spirit of self-asserting human pride.
Pride and humility are antithetical to one another. We either seek humility and thus the spirit of Christ, or we become self-asserting and seek the spirit of pride.
Archbishop Averky then critiques the modern world’s disposition towards pride, and this it’s method of fostering self-asserting pride:
in order to put the voice of the conscience living in one’s spirit to an end once and for all, the very spirit is declared nonexistent. There is no spirit; there is only one material: the flesh, requiring satiation
This is exactly what St. Paul talks about in his epistles when he contrasts “the flesh” with “the spirit”. That which is prideful always seeks to satisfy the self, the fleshly desires. In order to do this without the nagging of one’s spiritual conscience, modern man has numbed himself to even the existence of the spiritual. Such rejection by it’s very nature prevents humility.
They neither saw nor understood that modern evil is rooted in the depths of the human soul, that mutual grievances and oppression came from the fact that people had renounced the “spirit of Christian meekness and humility,” and had become hard-hearted egoists due to the growth and intensification in their souls of the “spirit of self-asserting human pride.”
Here an important point is made regarding the source of evil in our world: the human soul. We create evil in the world through our pride, yet we cannot accept this since we have raised ourselves up as gods! Thus, the source of evil must be explained.
They naively thought that all evil came from imperfect (in their opinion) governmental and social structures and that it would be enough to change these in order immediately to establish general prosperity on earth, with life becoming “paradise.”
Ah, yes. Politics. The blood sport of modern man. Rather than turning inward to find the source of evil in our world within one’s own heart, it becomes only natural for the prideful to seek the source of evil elsewhere. The most obvious candidate to bear the burden is those who have power (and, by reason, fail to do enough good with it).
Naturally, those of us wishing to seek humility must ask ourselves how we are able to discern that which will lead us to humility against that which will puff us up with pride, which is the subject of the next chapter.