Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | March 21, 2013

Dorotheos of Gaza on Humility (and Fasting)

As we begin the Great Fast, the temptation to wonder the point of it all, “Can we do this?”and as it unfolds even “Can we keep doing this?” FWIW, I find my enthusiasm is always high until that first plate of Lentils and rice looks back at me from the placemat… and then my ardor cools. But none of this is about diet, or achievement, or anything other than bending our will away from serving ourselves – quite literally in this case, and more toward love and serving others. For by this small step of fasting (and all the disciplines the Church gives us) and the series of small steps that each year’s Great Fast brings and even each day that we manage within it – it’s by all of this that we begin to awaken to making a less conscious, more natural bending towards behavior more becoming in our Way. The point is to find Christ less in the momentous singular acts of giving, and more in the everyday moments God places before us… as in, “It ain’t much, but if you’ve got a moment, would you take a look at this and give it a shot?” Fact is, He’s done the big stuff. The idea that He’s saving something really important “just for us” to do down-the-road and we can just skate by for the time being… waiting for that big day… seems a bit of a presumption. Even we know we’d fail at that. And more to the point, the follow-0n that we’ll just say, “Hey…. I tried. That’s enough, isn’t it?” Well, I’m just not so sure. Did we do our job… the one we were REALLY asked to do, or the one we chose for ourselves a tad beyond our skill level… ’cause it looked cool and all? Grabbing the headlines is one thing. Having them read the way we’d like often nothing but a fantasy. As the Great Basketball Coach once said that “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Do the little stuff. See it as important. We fail here, too, but our chances with time… lot’s of time… years and even a lifetime… is that, yes, with training… and this IS our training, we can do this. And if we can do this, we can take on much more. But ordering our lives this way and the tasks we set ourselves to is important… even if we can’t (always) see it that way.

One day Zosimos was talking about humility. There was a certain sophist present who, hearing what he said, wanted to enquire more deeply into it and he said, “Tell me how you can reckon yourself a sinner. Do you not see that you are a holy man? Do you not see that you have already acquired virtue? Do you not see that you are fulfilling the Commandments? How can it be that doing all these things you still reckon yourself a sinner?”

The old gentleman did not quite know how to answer, and he said, “I do not know how to explain it to you, but it is quite true.” The sophist then brushed this aside and repeated his request to know how this could be true. But the old gentleman still could not find a way of explaining it and began to say with his usual holy simplicity, “Do not try and confuse me. I tell you this is exactly how I feel.”

Since I saw the old gentleman hesitating to reply, I said to him, “Is this not rather like sophistics or medicine? When a man is studying it carefully and is practising it little by little, by doing the work he acquires the state of mind proper to a sophist or a doctor, and he is unable to say and does not know how to explain how little by little he was led into that state of mind, for the soul absorbed it imperceptibly. The same sort of thing is found as regards humility; the work of fulfilling the Commandments generates a state of humility and the process cannot be explained in words.”

When he heard this Abbot Zosimos was glad and embraced me and said, “You have found the answer; it is as you say.” The sophist, hearing this, had his difficulty laid to rest and accepted the explanation. For the elders used to say that by doing certain things we intend [to cultivate] humility; when the state of true humility is generated [in the soul], no one can find an adequate description of it. – Dorotheos of Gaza, “Discourses and Sayings”, “On Humility” pp. 99 – 100

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