There are two forms of humility, just as there are two kinds of pride. The first form of pride is when you destroy another person, when you revile them as if they were mere nothings and think yourself vastly superior to them. If you fall into this kind of pride and don’t take immediate action, with proper care and attention to admonishing yourself, you’ll end up in the second kind of pride where eventually you’re proud even towards God, believing that whatever you achieve is through your own powers, and not through God.
Indeed, brethren, I once knew somebody who was in this wretched condition. In the beginning, if any member of the community said something to him he’d spit on them and say ‘And who’s that? Nobody’s worth anything except Zosimas and his disciples’. Then he’d go on to deride the latter as well, and say: ‘Nobody’s worth anything except Makarios’. After a while, it was: ‘What’s Makarios? A nobody. Only Basil and Gregory are worth anything’. Soon afterwards, he’d be saying: ‘Who’s Basil? Who’s Gregory? Nobodies. Only Peter and Paul count’. I said to him: ‘Brother, you’ll reject them as well’. Believe me, not much later he started saying: ‘Who are Peter and Paul? Only the Holy Trinity’s worth anything’. Then he showed his pride against God Himself and lost his mind. This is why we must struggle, brothers, against the first pride, lest we end up soon afterwards, in absolute pride.
There’s also secular pride and monastic. People have secular pride when they raise themselves above others because they have more money, are better looking, better dressed or more courageous. When we see that vanity among ourselves, because our monastery’s bigger, richer, or we have more monks, we should know that we’re still at the stage of secular pride. It sometimes happens, though, that our vanity is over certain physical gifts. This is what I mean. Somebody’s proud because he has a fine voice and sings well or that he’s skilful, works carefully and serves honestly. This is more modest than the first kind, but still belongs to the realm of secular pride. Monastic pride is when we’re vain about keeping vigils, fasting, being pious, virtuous or diligent. Or it may be that someone humbles himself for the sake of glory. All this is part of monastic pride. Naturally, if we can’t avoid vanity, it’s better that we should be proud of things monastic rather than secular. So we’ve said what the first pride is and the second. And similarly, we’ve distinguished between secular and monastic pride. Let’s now see what the two humilities are.
The first humility is to consider your brethren more discerning than you and better in everything than you. In a word, as that saint said [Saint Sisoë ] you should think of yourself as the worst of people. The second humility is to attribute every success and every achievement to the Grace of God. This is the perfect humility which the saints had. This humility is engendered in the soul as the natural concomitant of faith and the faithful observation of God’s commandments. It is with the soul exactly as it is with trees. When they’re full of fruit, this fruit weighs the branches down and lowers them, whereas a branch without fruit grows straight upwards. Of course, there are also trees that don’t bear fruit unless you tie a stone to their branches to lower them and then they will bear fruit. When the soul is humbled, then it bears fruit. And the more it bears fruit, the more it’s humbled. The closer the saints come to God, the more they see themselves as sinners.
I remember we were talking about humility one time when a leading member of society from Gaza heard us saying that the closer we get to God the more we see ourselves as sinners. He was very surprised and, since he didn’t know, wanted to know the reason. I said to him: ‘Sir, tell me how you see yourself when you’re in your home town?’. ‘I consider myself great and first in the town’. ‘If you go to Caesarea, how do you see yourself there?’ ‘I would consider myself of less importance than the local leaders’. ‘And if you went to Antioch. What then?’ ‘I’d feel like a pagan ( here = ‘country bumpkin’, because pagan beliefs persisted in rural communities). And if you went to Constantinople, next to the emperor?’ ‘I’d feel like a pauper’. Then I said to him, ‘That’s exactly how the saints feel. The closer they come to God, the more they see themselves as sinners. When Abraham saw the Lord, he called himself dust and ashes (Gen. 18, 27). Isaiah said: ‘I am wretched and unclean’ (6, 5). The same is true of Daniel. When he was in the lion’s den and Habakkuk came to him with a meal and said to him: ‘Accept the food which the Lord has sent to you’, Daniel replied: ‘For the Lord has remembered me’ (Dan. 14, 36-37). He had great humility in his heart when he was in the lion’s den, because they didn’t devour him straight away, or even afterwards, and so, with great surprise he said: ‘the Lord has remembered me’.