Saturday, December 29, 2012

Is Humility Possible Today?

I'm still working my way through Everyday Saints. I recommended this book a few posts back.  Now about 4/5ths of the way through, my praise for the collection of stories has not dwindled.  However, I do not want to praise Everyday Saints in this post so much as I want to talk about humility: humility as it is evidenced in the life of one of the "everyday saints" Archimandrite Tikhon tells about.

In a set of stories called "His Eminence the Novice," Fr. Tikhon tells the life of, and of his experiences with, Bishop Basil Rodzyanko.  The bishop refers to himself as a novice monk because he was tonsured a monk only shortly before he was made a bishop.  This often happens when a married priest loses his wife and the Church needs a bishop.  Orthodox Bishops are chosen from among the monastics, so it has become the practice in many Orthodox jurisdictions, when the hierarchs want to consecrate a widowed priest a bishop, to tonsure him a monk shortly before making him a bishop.

Fr. Vladimir (Bishop Basil's name as a priest), took his tonsure (at the age of sixty-six) very seriously.  Therefore, he was troubled.  He said to his spiritual father that he understood poverty and chastity very well and willingly embraced them, but obedience would be difficult.  A little worried, his spiritual father asked him to clarify what he meant.

"Well I mean," Father Vladimir reasoned, "instead of starting me out as a simple monk, you're immediately making me a bishop.  In other words, instead of being a novice and obeying the commands of others, my job will mean that I'm the one who will have to command and make decisions.  How then do I fulfill the vow of obedience?  To whom will I be a novice?  Whom will I obey?"

His spiritual Father, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, after a moment's thought replied: "You will be in obedience to everyone and anyone whom you meet on your journey through life.  As long as that person's request will be within your power to grant it, and not in contradiction with the Scriptures."

Father Vladimir was very pleased by this commandment.

Others, however, were not very pleased with this commandment because once consecrated Bishop, Bishop Basil was a very difficult bishop to manage.  While obeying little old ladies and people on the street, he would often be very late to important meetings with important people.  He would find himself on long journeys to small churches, blessing houses or doing other smaller liturgical acts usually done by a junior priest--in obedience to the "anyone" who asked him.  

Fr. Tikhon, who sometimes traveled with Bishop Basil and witnessed first hand many of his adventures, reflects on the meaning of a life lived in obedience to anyone:

Gradually I began to grasp that it was through this humble vow of service and obedience, remaining a novice even upon attaining the rank of a senior cleric, that our sovereign Bishop Basil taught himself how to sensitively hear and to obey the will of God.  Because of this his entire life was nothing more nor less than one constant search for the knowledge of the will of God, one mysterious yet absolutely real conversation with our Saviour, in which He would speak to mankind not with words, but with the circumstances of this life, while granting unto His listeners the very greatest reward there is--a chance to be His instrument in this world.

In my opinion, this sort of humility lived regardless of one's position in life is evidence of saintliness in the world today.  St. Benedict in his Rule for monks says that obedience is the first step in the ladder of humility.  Even in today's world, humility is attainable.  Bishop Basil has proved it.  Humility will always be attainable so long as there is someone, anyone, to obey.


Unknown said...

This is wonderful, Father! Thank you so much for this reflection on Everyday Saints. Makes me think I should read it and learn obedience!

Fr. Michael said...

Yes, I recommend that you read it. But as for obedience, I only wish it could be obtained by reading.

Unknown said...

Well, now that you've recommended I read it, it seems obedience and reading are one, for now :)

Father bless!

Unknown said...

but I'm sorry, I did not mean to ignore your comment. thank you Father. I will try to read it and try to learn obedience beyond the words on the pages.