Published in the Post and Courier on 3.25.2007 as Extreme humility path to salvation
By Fr John Parker
His appearance: peaceful, serene. Jesus Christ stands in his tomb, in front of the cross, already having been crucified. His hands are crossed, as if bound, but there is no rope holding them together (His self-offering is voluntary). His eyes are closed. Other implements of the crucifixion are evident: the sponge by which he was offered wine-vinegar to drink when he cried out, “I thirst”; the spear which pierced his side, releasing both blood and water, showing him to be truly dead on the cross.
Crucified. Silent. Entombed. This is “extreme humility.”
In His last hours, our Lord Jesus Christ showed this extreme humility in many ways, mostly, though, by his silence. His wordlessness was a silent echo of the prophecy of Isaiah, “As a sheep led to the slaughter, or a spotless lamb before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth…” Our Lord accepted His brutal scourging, crucifixion and death, in almost total silence, with unwavering faith and confidence in the love and will of his Father.
His actions on the Cross, like the example of every moment of his life, were a living out of the very Gospel he incarnated, made flesh. If someone asks you to walk one mile, walk two. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer them the other. If someone takes your cloak, give him your robe as well. All of this recorded, of course in the Gospel accounts of the Passion of Christ. The arduous journey to Golgotha; the offering not just of the other cheek, but of his whole body for beating—and not just for beating, but for death; the stripping of his garments and the lots cast for them. This is extreme humility.
This is the royal road to salvation. By the power of the precious and life-giving Cross—through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—we are invited onto this holy path, the way to healing, wholeness, salvation.
Extreme humility takes many forms which all have similar characteristics. One is drawing little attention to one’s own self and accomplishments while giving credit to God alone for whatever good we appear to have done. God alone is good, and to quote St. Basil the Great’s liturgy from the fourth century “we have done nothing good upon the earth.”
Another is constant self-denial, which even includes denying special ‘spiritual gifts’—visions, tongues, dreams, prophecies, etc—which seem to come from God himself. Why? Because the Christian leading the life of extreme humility, witnessed in the lives of countless saints through the ages, stands with—and perhaps, dare I say, in front of St. Paul—claiming to be the chief of sinners (“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost [literally ‘first’] of sinners” 1 Timothy 1:15.) True humility says, “I am worthy of neither visions nor tongues, nor dreams, nor prophecies. Surely the Lord would choose to give such gifts to others much more faithful than I.” The saints teach, in fact, that it is better to seek the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness) than the gifts of the Spirit, since the former contribute to humility and holiness, while the latter often leads to spiritual pride, the most dangerous of sins. In short, if someone sets up a sign that says, “I’m a healer!” or “I am a prophet!” beware; the true saint not only wouldn’t announce it, he or she would likely deny it if asked.
The royal road to salvation is this: deny thyself, take up thy cross, and follow me (says Jesus Christ). The self denial is not for its own purpose, but rather to take up solely the will of the God who is Love. The Cross is not my own, but joining my burdens, trials, and struggles to the Cross of Christ, which has trampled down death and sin, and has broken the chains which bind us. And to follow Christ in the fullest sense, is to stand, even in the face of the gravest persecutions and tortures, in silence, trusting in the might and mercy and righteousness of God, in extreme humility.
Fr. John Parker is the priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in I’On. He can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 843.881.5010.