The time of fasting has come, the time of beautiful hymns has arrived, the time of spiritual ascension and our approaching God is upon us. For, during Lent, even if we only attend to the words read in church, the hymns, and all the Church offers us during this period, it is impossible not to draw near to God a little more; it is impossible not to know Him. We know, we feel, we live God and His presence through the Holy Sacraments. But many times, a person or we all remain as if naked, deprived. It is as though we did not always feel the presence of God. And do not think it happens only to us—it also happened in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, throughout the existence of mankind. Man came closer or farther to God; he knew Him more or less.
What can we do to get to know God and draw nearer to Him? Is faith enough?! Faith is absolutely necessary; we need it! We need trust, we need deeds! For in the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete we heard how deeds rendered some worthy to see God. We have the example of Jacob: his good behavior and his parental obedience made him worthy to see that ladder on which the angels of God ascended and descended; and at the top of the ladder, he was worthy to see, to know, and to feel God. So he became worthy of all that. St. Andrew says in the Canon that Jacob saw this ladder as our ascent to God through good deeds, as we heard in the fourth ode: “The ladder seen of old by the great Patriarch Jacob is an example, O my soul, both of ascent through action and of ascent through spiritual understanding.” Therefore, that ladder is the model for all the right deeds thought prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. And you know very well that the wings of the soul are fasting and prayer. When you have these two wings, then you easily get closer to God. But in one of the troparia read in the first part of the Canon, the Fathers of the Church and St. Andrew of Crete particularly highlight a great, lofty virtue—humble mindedness.
What is humble mindedness? Saint Andrew of Crete’s profound thought, found in the sixth ode, fourth troparion, is an example of humble mindedness: “In life’s course, O Savior, there has been no sin, no deed, no wicked thing that I did not commit.” What does he mean? How could he have committed all those evil things? He tells us how: “I have sinned […] in mind, word and intent, in purpose, thought, and deed.” So most of them are found in the mind. But the saint takes humble mindedness further and adds: “And no one has sinned more than I.” To wit, he sinned in all deeds; he took upon himself all the evil deeds ever committed. “I have sinned as no one has ever before”—so not only more than his contemporaries, but also more than all those who came before him. This is an example of humble mindedness.
Well, my beloved, if we want to live the presence of God as much as possible, if we want to feel God, Christ the Lord, in our lives, we have no other way than His. He brought us humility. He took our sin upon Himself. Did Christ the Lord sin in any way?! He blamelessly endured all things for us and for our salvation. We do find in the lives of the saints and of monastics, but also in your lives of lay Christians, some person who takes upon himself the sin of someone else. This is what it means to engage in humble work or humble mindedness. It means to assume something that you did not do. To accept a deed that you did not even fathom, did not receive in your thought, did not even allow your mind to be overcome by it. To take as if it were yours. I have seen many examples of wives or husbands sharing in the epitimia of their life partner, and together they atoned for the sin although perhaps one of them was innocent. This leads to family unity. But it should not be done reproachingly because that no longer means taking it upon oneself. Feel the person’s guilt as yours just as Christ did when He took upon Himself our sin, the sin of disobedience. And by His obedience, He saved us from our disobedience. He saved the whole of Adam.
For this reason, my beloved, now, at the beginning of Lent and on the first day of the Great Canon, our exhortation is to draw closer to God through humility and humble mindedness, for the whole Canon of St. Andrew is a humble contemplation of the deeds of the righteous and the mistakes of the unrighteous. And a permanent return to our core, to ourselves. One must always turn inward and see oneself. “He who is made worthy to see himself is greater than he who is made worthy to see angels” (Saint Isaac the Syrian).
May God help us that by humbling ourselves we may draw closer to Christ, that by following the words of St. Andrew of Crete and the Church Fathers contained in this wonderful book called The Triodion, found in all our Orthodox churches, we may adorn ourselves thusly with the virtue of humility and humble mindedness. This way, we will rejoice in the Resurrection of the Lord even more. Because on Resurrection, we will not only celebrate Him, the risen Christ, but also our victory over sin and our resurrection, for as St. Paul says in Corinthians: if Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.17). But Christ is risen, and so we also understand the transformation, the renewal, the resurrection of each one of us. Amen!
Archimandrite Melchisedec Velnic