Michael Haldas is the author of Sacramental Living: Understanding Christianity as a Way of Life. Michael’s focus is on understanding and applying our faith to everyday living, which supports OCN’s mission to provide material “to provoke discussion and contemplation about the issues we face in daily life.” His work has been featured in Theosis Magazine, The National Herald, Pravmir, and other publications. He is a member of the Orientale Lumen Foundation, the Orthodox Speakers Bureau and is on the board of the Washington Theological Consortium. He teaches adult religious education and high school Sunday school at the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in Bethesda, Maryland, and has worked with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Religious Education Department to create educational lessons and materials.
“God condescends whenever He is not seen as He is, but in the way one incapable of beholding Him is able to look upon Him. In this way God reveals Himself by accommodating what He reveals to the weakness of vision of those who behold Him.” (St. John Chrysostom)
We often think of condescension as something negative. The dictionary definitions of condescension read, “to show that you believe you are more intelligent or better than other people,” or, “to do something that you usually do not do because you believe you are too important to do it.” The Microsoft Word thesaurus feature lists the following synonyms for condescension: patronizing, disdainful, superior, haughty, pompous, arrogant, lofty, snooty, snobbish, and contemptuous. Sadly, we are often very condescending to each other. Fortunately, God is also condescending to us. How can this be so? There is another meaning to condescension and we should literally thank God that there is. Condescension also means deferential and dictionary definitions read: “to waive privileges in rank,” or, “to descend to a less formal or dignified level,” or “to come down voluntarily to equal terms with inferiors.”
It is often that the common way we think, experience, or define things by worldly standards is the opposite in Christianity. Condescension is a prime example. As Christians, we are (or should be) thankful for condescension. Even though we most often consider it a negative, it is actually the greatest positive in our lives. It is because God was deferential enough to us that He descended to a less formal or dignified level and came down to us inferiors voluntarily in the person of Christ.
This is how we understand the actions of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He condescended to us and became one of us to save us. He exemplified loving condescension in all His words and actions. He dealt firmly, gently, and lovingly with everyone He encountered except the self-righteous. For everyone else – even the worst of sinners such as the adulteress, the tax collector, and others – He offered the opportunity to be healed, changed, and saved. For example, when He spoke to the adulteress after He had said to the crowd who wanted to stone her that whoever is without sin should cast the first stone, He simply told her He did not condemn her and not to sin anymore. He did not offer any excuses for her behavior, but rather saved her life out of love and told her do not behave that way again. When He asked Peter three times if he loved Him, He used the word agape the first two times. But Peter was not ready to receive agape love. Christ then used the word philo and condescended to the place Peter was spiritually.
The Role of Christ’s Love in Our Lives
It is Great Lent, a time for increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. One of the greatest ways we give is of ourselves to each other. Christ shows us how to give of ourselves. We need to condescend to one another like He did. Christ did not condemn or condone. He simply met people where they were as the physician of their souls. We need to do the same. We do not have to compromise what we know is right. In the example of the adulteress, Jesus did not say that adultery is excusable. It was against the Jewish Law, and He states clearly that He came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:18). Rather, He upheld what was right while at the same time extended compassion to her in her weakness just like He continues to do for us in our weakness. We need to do the same. We should stay true to what we know is the truth but then consider how we condescend to each other out of love to be Christ-like and seek to facilitate healing and transformation. As best we can, we should resist thinking anyone or any situation is beneath us, especially during Lent when we are called to be even more Christ-like, and love each other as He loves us.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
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